Johnson says Biden’s criticism of Israel undermining hostage talks

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said President Biden’s policies toward Israel and criticism of its military operations are harming efforts to secure the release of Americans held hostage by Hamas, in a letter to the White House on Wednesday.

“The failure to resolutely support Israel in its military objectives to eliminate Hamas has made it harder to help facilitate the release of those being detained, including American hostages that Hamas brutally kidnapped on October 7, 2023,” Johnson wrote in the letter.

“Instead of focusing on bringing home the Americans and Israelis held hostage, your administration has spent months pressuring and attempting to micromanage Israel.”

Johnson also called for Biden to “restore the use of emergency authorities” to fast-track weapons shipments to Israel, following criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. has slowed down delivery of needed munitions.

The White House rejects Netanyahu’s characterization, although an unnamed U.S. official told the Times of Israel that the administration has returned to a normal pace of weapons deliveries, compared to an emergency authority used to fast-track military aid in the months immediately following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

Johnson’s letter underscores the increasing partisan divide in Washington over Israel’s war in Gaza. Republicans have largely dismissed growing Democratic concerns over the destruction and death toll in Gaza, and criticized Biden for holding back some heavy bombs.

Johnson’s letter also comes a few weeks before Netanyahu is set to deliver a controversial address to a joint session of Congress, following an invitation by the Speaker.

The speech is deeply divisive in Washington and in Israel, prompting some Democrats to pledge to boycott his speech. Netanyahu’s critics have accused him of prioritizing military operations in Gaza over diplomacy to free the hostages. A diverse grouping of prominent Israelis on Wednesday issued a call for Congress to rescind Netanyahu’s invitation.

Biden has sought to maintain his support for Israel’s military response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and ensuring its defense against other regional threats while also raising concern over its conduct in the war in Gaza.

The United Nations has identified at least 25,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza throughout the war, with half of that number women and children. The U.N. says that about 10,000 people are reported missing.

Biden has in recent weeks ramped up pressure on both sides to accept a three-phase cease-fire proposal, most recently blaming Hamas for haggling over the terms of the deal instead of allowing an immediate, six-week truce to take effect.

The cease-fire would require Hamas to release the estimated 120 hostages it holds, alive and dead, including eight Americans.

But Johnson criticized Biden’s policies as undermining Israel, and he said they contradict “your claim to have an ‘ironclad’ commitment to Israel’s security. It is long past time your administration instead put maximum pressure on Hamas and its enablers.”

Johnson also asked the administration to brief congressional leadership and relevant committees before July 10 on the U.S. strategy to release the hostages, support Israel to defeat Hamas, deter Lebanon’s Hezbollah on its northern border and push back against other Iranian threats.

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