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President Biden makes critical remarks on Israel's response to Hamas attacks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden offered words of caution for Israel in its war against Hamas.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Biden has strongly supported Israel's right to defend itself, especially publicly. That hasn't changed, but in some off-camera remarks, he said Israel is losing support over its, quote, "indiscriminate bombing" of Gaza. His comments reflected the divide between the U.S. and the Israeli governments over what should happen once the fighting in Gaza comes to an end.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is in our studios. Franco, good to see you.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good to see you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. So I'm trying to think about this. President Biden from the beginning has said, I support Israel, but listen, guys. Be careful. Don't overreact. Don't be emotional. Now he's saying something, well, a little bit further along the same lines. What is he saying and why?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, Steve, Biden is reiterating that Israel still has the right to go after Hamas, and he's emphasizing that. But he's also saying as long as it follows the rules of war and that they try to protect civilians. And he emphasized that the U.S. and Europe still have the support - or are supporting Israel. But Biden said, quote, "they're starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place." And that's the end of the quote.

INSKEEP: That's really interesting. So he's essentially saying, you're doing the thing that I cautioned you not to do...

ORDOÑEZ: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Some weeks ago. I should say that you're reading these quotes from an official White House transcript. We're not going to hear the sound of the president's voice because it was not on cameras at a fundraiser. How is this different from what he said in more public settings?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, he and his officials have been very careful not to give an evaluation of how the military campaign is going. They have said that the U.S. is telling Israel privately to protect innocent civilians. But Biden's description at that fundraiser as, quote, "indiscriminate bombing" is pretty blunt.

INSKEEP: And is there any chance this is what they would call a gaffe, that the president did not intend to go this far?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, no. I mean, this was not a throwaway line. He talked about this kind of in depth. I mean, he not only talked about Bibi; he talked about other officials and basically said that this is - he's dealing with the most conservative government in Israel's history.

INSKEEP: Oh, now that's interesting when you say Bibi, Benjamin Netanyahu, here - longtime friend of the president of the United States, who's been involved in foreign policy for decades. But now Biden is saying to Netanyahu, you're being pushed too far by your right-wing government. And Netanyahu yesterday is saying he disagrees with the United States over the future, who should be running Gaza once this war is stopped. What is the president saying about that?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Biden didn't address Netanyahu's statements directly, but he acknowledged that they are not on the same page right now. He said that Netanyahu has got a tough choice to make, and he's been pushing - Biden, that is - for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to take over and govern Gaza, as well as the West Bank. You know, he's long been an advocate for a two-state solution. And he says Netanyahu is in a bind because of the right flank of his government and that they oppose any type of role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. And according to the transcript, Biden said, you cannot say there's no Palestinian state at all in the future. And that's really going to be the hard part for them.

INSKEEP: Which is something that Netanyahu and a lot of right-wingers have said - that they can't allow a full Palestinian state. Hasn't Biden even singled out Israel's national security minister by name in some of these remarks?

ORDOÑEZ: Yes, he has. He says that the minister not only wants to go against Hamas, but wants retribution against all Palestinians.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.