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The U.S. and Israel disagree over what should come next in Gaza

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Top U.S. and Israeli officials held a virtual meeting yesterday to discuss their differences over how the Israeli military is waging war in Gaza. They did not announce any breakthroughs. The two allies have had sharp disagreements in the past. So is this just a short-term dispute or a more fundamental change in the relationship? Here's NPR's Greg Myre.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: The year was 1957. President Dwight Eisenhower publicly scolded Israel for resisting a United Nations resolution that called for Israeli troops to leave the Gaza Strip.

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MYRE: Israel got the message and pulled out shortly afterward.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Israelis begin immediate withdrawal from the captured Gaza Strip, removing supplies and military material.

MYRE: So here we are again with a few new twists. President Biden supports Israel in its war with Hamas. But he's warning Israel against a military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinian civilians are taking refuge. So just how strained are relations right now?

JEREMY BEN-AMI: I do see a very, very real risk for the state of Israel and its long-term interests.

MYRE: Jeremy Ben-Ami is the head of J Street - a Washington group that describes itself as pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy. He puts much of the blame on Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, his right-wing coalition government and their hard-line policies toward the Palestinians.

BEN-AMI: They are leading the country toward the loss of international legitimacy and American support.

MYRE: During his many years in power, Netanyahu has aligned himself with Republicans in the U.S. He's battled the past three Democratic presidents - Bill Clinton, over peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Barack Obama, over a nuclear deal with Iran, and now Biden, over the war in Gaza. One of Israel's strongest supporters, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, recently took the provocative step of calling for new leadership in Israel.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take the precedence over the best interests of Israel.

MYRE: U.S.-Israel relations have rebounded from past disagreements. Robert Satloff, who heads the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes this will happen again.

ROBERT SATLOFF: I expect that out of the current difficulty, with the passage of time, there will be renewed commitment to strengthen this relationship again.

MYRE: However, some things have changed. Older Americans often saw an embattled Israel fighting for its survival. A younger generation sees Israel's aggressive military campaign in Gaza, with thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories. Jeremy Ben-Ami puts it this way.

BEN-AMI: My parents and their grandparents went through the Holocaust. My father's family fought for Israel's independence. It's a completely different life experience than the young person born in the 21st century. It's not at all a surprise that there is a completely different conversation happening on college campuses versus what's happening in senior citizen centers.

MYRE: In every generation, the U.S. and Israel have had pointed conversations. When President George H.W. Bush wanted to launch a Mideast peace process in 1990, he felt Israel was dragging its feet. His secretary of state, James Baker, delivered this blunt message in congressional testimony.

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JAMES BAKER: It's going to take some really good-faith, affirmative effort on the part of our good friends in Israel. Everybody over there should know that the telephone number is 1-202-456-1414. When you're serious about peace, call us.

MYRE: That was - and is - the White House phone number. The current moment includes this paradox. Biden is proposing $14 billion in military assistance to Israel, which is already the leading recipient of such aid. Yet the president is also criticizing Israel's military operations and telling the country what not to do in Gaza. In the past, Israeli leaders have often accepted military advice from U.S. presidents, says Robert Satloff.

SATLOFF: The historical precedent is that the president certainly has the ability to impose his will if he wants to go that far.

MYRE: It's not clear what will happen this time. Netanyahu says he'll stand up to pressure from anywhere, including the White House.

SATLOFF: I think we're seeing this complicated relationship evolve in real time before our eyes.

MYRE: And the war in Gaza is stressing this complicated relationship with each passing day.

Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington. 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.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.