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Blinken, Netanyahu
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told Isreali leaders to agree to a deal with Hamas leaders over hostages. Ronaldo Schemidt/AP

Democrats Doubt Netanyahu as Cease-Fire Negotiations Come Down to the Wire

As Biden pushes for progress in Israel-Hamas negotiations, Democrats in Congress say Netanyahu is acting out of political gain.

As the Biden administration projects confidence in negotiations between Israel and Hamas leaders, Democratic lawmakers in Washington are questioning Benjamin Netanyahu’s motivations.

“Netanyahu’s decision-making seems increasingly connected to his own political realities,” Sen. Chris Murphy told reporters Wednesday. “The administration will have to make up its mind as to whether they want to continue to support Israel if they go forward with a potentially nightmarish invasion of Rafah.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli leaders Wednesday in an effort to push them to make a cease-fire deal with Hamas. This came after a meeting with Arab leaders in Riyadh about “ongoing efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza that secures the release of hostages,” per the State Department.

The administration has preemptively placed the blame on Hamas, should negotiations break down, reportedly telling Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, “the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas,” of a cease-fire agreement.

The trip to Tel Aviv comes just a day after Netanyahu said he would go into the city of Rafah in Gaza, regardless of an agreement over hostages — comments that are worrying Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“The track record hasn’t been very good,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen told NOTUS. “Netanyahu indicated once again that he plans to launch the invasion of Rafah, even though President Biden said that was a red line.”

Several Democratic lawmakers told NOTUS that they thought the Israeli prime minister was responding more to his own political standing in Israel than pushing for a solution in the region. Netanyahu has escalated concerns in recent days that the International Criminal Court will issue arrest warrants against him for possible war crimes. “He is putting his own interest and his political survival ahead of his own country,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said.

“We’re hearing a lot of rhetoric from Netanyahu, trying to save himself from criminal prosecution by remaining in office,” Rep. Hank Johnson said. Johnson said he had confidence in Biden, though, saying that if the administration says they’re seeing concrete progress, “I take them at their word.”

Earlier this week, leadership from the Congressional Progressive Caucus met with national security adviser Jake Sullivan in a closed-door meeting, and they said that they concretely demonstrated progress for “getting us to a lasting peace that guarantees safety for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Still, Netanyahu’s comments on Rafah loomed large.

“The United States has to be clear, and the president has to be clear that we have red lines,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the CPC who also attended the meeting, said. “[Netanyahu] cannot count on our continued assistance to do things that are directly against American law, policy and our values and interests.”

Even Israel’s defenders in Congress had words of warning for the Israeli prime minister.

“We’ll still be with Israel, but the Jordanians and the Saudis are not going to be there if they take this all-out assault on Rafah without taking care of innocent civilians,” Sen. Mark Warner said. “There’s even the question of where the British and French would be. So Israel is stronger when it maintains allies.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.