President Biden pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Friday to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state after the war in Gaza is over and raised options that would limit Palestinian sovereignty to make the prospect more palatable to Israel.
Hoping to overcome Mr. Netanyahu’s strenuous resistance, Mr. Biden floated the possibility of a disarmed Palestinian nation that would not threaten Israel’s security. While there was no indication that Mr. Netanyahu would ease his opposition, which is popular with his fragile right-wing political coalition, Mr. Biden expressed optimism that they may yet find consensus.
“There are a number of types of two-state solutions,” the president told reporters at the White House several hours after the call, their first in nearly a month amid tension over the war. “There’s a number of countries that are members of the U.N. that are still — don’t have their own militaries. Number of states that have limitations.” He added, “And so I think there’s ways in which this could work.”
Asked what Mr. Netanyahu was open to, Mr. Biden said, “I’ll let you know.” But he rejected the notion that a so-called two-state solution is impossible as long as Mr. Netanyahu is in power — “no, it’s not” — and he brushed off the idea of imposing conditions on American security aid to Israel if the prime minister continues to resist.
“I think we’ll be able to work something out,” Mr. Biden said.
The last time the two leaders were known to have talked was on Dec. 23, in a call that was later described as especially tense. The latest call came a day after Mr. Netanyahu told reporters in Israel that he had rebuffed Mr. Biden’s efforts to pressure him into a two-state solution. Mr. Netanyahu said Israel must maintain security control “over all the territory west of the Jordan,” referring to both Gaza and the West Bank, despite American views. “The prime minister needs to be able to say no, even to our best friends,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters.
Mr. Biden has argued that the creation of a Palestinian state that guarantees Israel’s security is the only viable long-term resolution to a conflict that has dragged on for decades, repeating a position held by most American presidents and European leaders in recent history. In the meantime, Mr. Biden has suggested that a “revitalized” version of the Palestinian Authority, which partially governs the West Bank, take over Gaza as well once Hamas has been removed from power there — another idea Mr. Netanyahu has rejected because he considers the authority corrupt and compromised by support for terrorists.
“The president still believes in the promise and the possibility of a two-state solution,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters at the White House after the call, which he said lasted 30 to 40 minutes. “He recognizes that’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of leadership — there in the region particularly, on both sides of the issue. And the United States stands firmly committed to eventually seeing that outcome.”
Mr. Kirby said the two leaders also discussed hostages held by Hamas, humanitarian aid to Gaza, the release of tax payments to the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank and the shift in Israel’s military strategy to more surgical operations. But Mr. Kirby revealed no specific new agreements and confirmed that the leaders continued to disagree about the prospect of a Palestinian state.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu have known each other for decades, and the relationship between the left-leaning president and right-leaning prime minister has long been complicated. They squared off last year over Mr. Netanyahu’s attempt to strip away some of the power of Israel’s judiciary and over Mr. Biden’s drive to negotiate a new nuclear agreement with Iran.
After the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas killed 1,200 in Israel, they put their differences aside to embrace one another both figuratively and literally. But as Israel’s war against Hamas has devastated much of Gaza, reportedly killing more than 24,000 combatants and civilians, they have grown increasingly at odds again.
The long gap between calls in itself was an indication of friction. In the two and a half months between the Oct. 7 attack and their pre-Christmas conversation, Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu spoke 14 times, or roughly once every five and a half days. This time it took 27 days to reach out again.
But Mr. Kirby sought to play down the discord, characterizing their clashes as honest disagreements between friends. “We’re not going to agree on everything,” he said. “We’ve said that. Good friends and allies can have those kinds of candid, forthright discussions and we do.”
He rejected the perception that Mr. Biden was trying to coerce Mr. Netanyahu into accepting a Palestinian state. “This isn’t about trying to twist somebody’s arm or force a change in their thinking,” he said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has made clear his concerns about that. President Biden has made clear his strong conviction that a two-state solution is still the right path ahead. And we’re going to continue to make that case.”
Mr. Kirby cautioned Mr. Netanyahu about his use of language, referring to the prime minister’s statement that Israel must maintain security control over Gaza and the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu, speaking in Hebrew, referred to “all the territory west of the Jordan” but some translated it incorrectly into English as “from the river to the sea,” wording that has drawn criticism.
The latter phrase, often used by Palestinians and their supporters, is taken by many backers of Israel as an antisemitic statement advocating the eradication of Israel, which lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, as do the Palestinian territories. The House censured Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, in November for using that phrase.
Asked about Mr. Netanyahu’s comment, Mr. Kirby said, “It’s not a phrase that we recommend using because of that context.”