The US leader’s remarks mark a subtle shift in position after Washington had previously rejected “drawing 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 to evacuate all Americans stuck in the besieged Palestinian enclave.
“I think we need a break,” Biden said during a campaign speech Wednesday, after being interrupted by a protester who called for an immediate ceasefire.
Asked what a pause meant, Biden said it was “time to get the prisoners out” — a reference to captives held by Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, the White House later clarified .
The US president’s remarks mark a shift in position from the White House, which had previously said it would not dictate how Israel conducts its military operations.
“We don’t draw 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 United Nations countries to have vote “no” to a General Assembly resolution calling for a “ceasefire.”
The United States is by far Israel’s strongest ally, sending it billions of dollars in aid each year. To support Israel’s ongoing military offensive, Biden has asked Congress to approve a $14.3 billion military aid package to the country.
The US president faces growing pressure from human rights activists, fellow world leaders and even progressive members of his own Democratic Party to rein in Israel in its relentless attacks on Gaza, which have killed at least 8,800 people, including 3,500 children.
He faces a particularly intense backlash from Arab Americans, a major group in the Democratic Party, for his unwavering support for Israel in the war.
Arab American support for Biden has collapsed to 17 percent, according to a survey by the Arab American Institute (AAI) think tank.
“This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis,” Biden added during his speech. “It’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well…I supported a two-state solution from the beginning.”
American citizens leave Gaza
Biden’s latest push for a ‘pause’ in fighting comes as the US administration makes progress in ensuring the safe exit of its citizens stuck in Gaza and begins talking about the future of a Post-war Gaza.
U.S. citizens were among hundreds of foreigners who began leaving the besieged territory through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing on Wednesday, part of an Egyptian-brokered deal to allow the safe passage of wounded and foreign nationals.
White House spokesman Kirby said Wednesday he hoped the United States would get all Americans out of Gaza in the coming days.
About 400 U.S. citizens in Gaza have told the State Department they want to leave the territory, and along with family members, U.S. officials say they are trying to help about 1,000 people leave the territory.
Biden’s change in rhetoric also comes amid a flurry of U.S. diplomatic moves in the region, including the confirmation of a new ambassador to Israel and an upcoming trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Jordan and Israel.
Kirby said Biden’s new ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, would take up his post soon.
He would be responsible for “supporting U.S. efforts to create the conditions for a humanitarian pause to address the deteriorating humanitarian conditions facing Palestinian civilians.”
Lew, during a Senate confirmation hearing, said that “Israel’s fight for security” was his main concern and that he would “ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself.” .
I extend my congratulations to Jack Lew on his confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. I look forward to working closely with Ambassador-designate Lew at this critical moment in Israeli history and Israeli-US relations. pic.twitter.com/HTMN7zCimR
– Ambassador Michael Herzog (@AmbHerzog) October 31, 2023
Blinken will visit Jordan and Israel on Friday with the aim of strengthening the delivery of humanitarian aid and reducing the number of casualties.
“(Blinken) will reiterate U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international humanitarian law and discuss the need to take every precaution to minimize civilian casualties, as well as our work to provide humanitarian assistance,” he said. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said. said.