fbpx
DAMAGE CONTROL

White House reiterates Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas amid confusion over tweet

A senior administration official said a tweet criticizing violence in the Middle East 'is not a change in policy'

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden holds a press conference following a solidarity visit to Israel, on October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

For several hours on Tuesday night, a tweet from President Joe Biden’s campaign account put observers of the Israel-Hamas war on high alert. The three sentences came from a speech Biden gave on Saturday about the hostage releases. 

But read on their own, it was unclear to many whether Biden was outlining a policy shift — and whether he was, for the first time, embracing progressive activists’ calls for a ceasefire. 

“Hamas unleashed a terrorist attack because they fear nothing more than Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace,” the tweet read. “To continue down the path of terror, violence, killing, and war is to give Hamas what they seek. We can’t do that.” 

A senior journalist with the Middle East news publication Al-Monitor said Biden “essentially endorse[d] a ceasefire” with the tweet, arguing that he was “reject[ing] ‘path of war.’” One far-left activist called it a “major shift in tone.” 

But a senior Biden administration official told Jewish Insider that the White House’s support for Israel and its military campaign against Hamas remains unwavering, and that “this is not a change in policy,” noting that it came from a longer speech.

“The president continues to strongly believe that Israel has every right to defend itself from an active terrorist threat. We have seen Hamas officials say publicly that they want to try to commit the atrocities of October 7 again and again,” the official said. “As the president has said many times, Israel has every right and even the responsibility to protect its citizens from an active terrorist threat, so the president continues to strongly stand with Israel as it defends itself from Hamas.”

The quote in the tweet came from remarks Biden delivered last week after Hamas had released its first round of hostages in the ongoing, several-day humanitarian pause in fighting. The passage came at the end of a section reiterating Biden’s support for a two-state solution.

“He meant that we can’t lose hope for peace, ultimately, in the region, that it’s still incredibly important that we continue to lay the groundwork for, and create the conditions for, a lasting peace, and that involves a two-state solution,” the senior administration official told JI on Tuesday night.

And, the official added, the lines that were quoted in the tweet were “a reference to how Hamas does not want peace.” A two-state solution will not be possible with Hamas ruling Gaza, the official noted.

“We want this to be the last war, and we recognize that, for that to happen, Hamas can’t be the governing authority,” the senior official said. “They have to be out of power, because if you have Hamas in power, you’re likely to have another conflict.”

The Biden administration has expressed support for the current truce to be extended in order to release more hostages and get more humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“We want the pause to continue for as long as possible because we want as many hostages to get out,” the senior official said. “But once that is done, we recognize that Israel has every right to defend itself.” Israel has pledged to continue its war against Hamas — with a goal of eradicating the terrorist group — when the pause ends. 

Once Israel’s operation resumes, the official cautioned Israel to take efforts to differentiate between Hamas targets and civilians. 

“As Israel defends itself from terrorism, they have the obligation to do everything possible to prevent any civilian casualties and distinguish between terrorists and civilians,” the official said. “Even though Hamas commits international humanitarian law violations by actively embedding itself within the civilian population, Israel still has the obligation to do everything they can to prevent civilian casualties.”

The official’s expression of support for Israel’s war against Hamas comes amid emerging disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem over Israel’s conduct in Gaza. Officials in the Biden administration have increasingly begun to warn Israel to consider reining in its potential operations in southern Gaza, cautioning that large-scale Israeli military activity in the south could cause a humanitarian disaster.

Earlier on Tuesday, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby urged Israel to hold off on expanding its military operations in southern Gaza until more has been done to locate people displaced internally in Gaza.

“We don’t support southern operations unless or until the Israelis can show that they have accounted for all the internally displaced people of Gaza,” Kirby said. Israel has focused much of its military campaign on northern Gaza.

The day before, a different senior White House official expressed similar concerns.

“It’s very important that the conduct of the Israeli campaign, when it moves to the south, must be done in a way that is to a maximum extent not designed to produce significant further displacement of persons. It cannot have the sort of scale of displacement that took place in the north replicated in the south,” the official said Monday. “It will be beyond disruptive. It will be beyond disruptive. It will be beyond the capacity of any humanitarian support network.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.