The US president’s comments mark a subtle shift from Washington’s earlier rejection of ‘red lines for Israel’.
President Joe Biden has expressed support for a humanitarian “pause” in Israel’s war in Gaza as the United States pushes for the evacuation of all Americans trapped in the besieged Palestinian territory.
“I think we need a pause,” Biden said during a campaign speech on Wednesday, after being interrupted by a protester who called for an immediate ceasefire.
Asked what the pause meant, Biden said it was “time to get the prisoners out” — a reference to prisoners from Gaza’s ruling group, Hamas, which the White House later clarified.
The US president’s comments marked a shift in the White House’s stance, which had previously said it would not dictate how Israel conducts its military operations.
“We are not drawing red lines for Israel,” White House spokesman John Kirby said last week. “We will continue to support them.”
On Friday, the United States was one of 14 countries in the United Nations to vote “no” to a resolution calling for a “ceasefire” in the General Assembly.
The United States is Israel’s strongest ally, sending billions of dollars in aid annually. In support of Israel’s ongoing military offensive, Biden has asked Congress to approve a $14.3 billion military aid package for the country.
The US president has faced growing pressure from rights activists, fellow world leaders and even progressive members of his own Democratic Party to restrain Israel from its relentless attacks on Gaza, which have killed at least 8,800 people, including 3,500 children.
He faces a particularly harsh backlash from Arab Americans, a key constituency of the Democratic Party, for his staunch support for Israel in the war.
Biden’s support from Arab Americans has fallen to 17 percent, according to a survey by the Arab American Institute (AAI), a think tank.
“It’s incredibly complicated for Israelis,” Biden added during his speech. “It’s also incredibly complicated for the Muslim world … I support the two-state solution, and I have from the beginning.”
US citizens leaving Gaza
Biden’s latest push for a “pause” in the fighting comes as the US administration makes progress in securing the safe exit of its citizens trapped in Gaza and begins to talk about Gaza’s post-war future.
On Wednesday, American citizens were among hundreds of foreigners who began leaving the besieged territory through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, part of an Egypt-brokered deal to allow safe passage for wounded and foreigners.
White House Press Secretary Kirby said Wednesday that he hopes the United States will pull all Americans out of Gaza in the next few days.
About 400 US citizens in Gaza have told the State Department they want to leave the territory.
Biden’s shift in rhetoric comes amid a flurry of US diplomatic moves in the region, including the confirmation of a new ambassador to Israel and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s upcoming trip to Jordan and Israel.
Kirby said Jack Lew, Biden’s newly confirmed ambassador to Israel, will soon assume his post.
He will be tasked with “supporting U.S. efforts to create the conditions for a humanitarian pause to address the dire humanitarian conditions facing Palestinian civilians.”
Lew, in a Senate confirmation hearing, said his main concern was “Israel’s struggle for security” and that he would “make sure Israel does what it needs to defend itself.”
I send my congratulations on the confirmation of Jack Lew as US Ambassador to Israel. I look forward to working closely with Lou as ambassador at this critical time in Israel’s history and the Israel-US relationship. pic.twitter.com/HTMN7zCimR
— Ambassador Michael Herzog (@AmbHerzog) October 31, 2023
Blinken will travel to Jordan and Israel on Friday with an agenda to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid and reduce casualties.
“[Blinken] “We will reiterate U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense under international humanitarian law and discuss the need to take all precautions to minimize civilian casualties and our mission to provide humanitarian assistance,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.