Movement on a Cease-fire?

Biden, laying out new cease-fire proposal, ups pressure on Israel and Hamas

In a White House address, Biden described a deal that would end the war in Gaza, bring home the hostages — and, most likely, keep Hamas in power

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Joe Biden announces a proposed cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza while delivering remarks in the State Dining Room at the White House on May 31, 2024 in Washington, DC.

In a surprise Friday afternoon address, President Joe Biden detailed the contours of a new cease-fire agreement he said Israel had agreed to, which would end the war in Gaza, bring home the hostages — and, most likely, keep Hamas in power.

Biden said Israel has agreed to a deal negotiated by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar, which was sent to Hamas on Thursday night. He called on Hamas to accept the proposal, and for pro-cease-fire activists to turn their attention toward pressuring the terror group. He also issued a plea directly to the Israeli people, urging them to pressure their government to stand by the deal and to avoid “indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of ‘total victory.’”

“Israel has offered a comprehensive new proposal. It’s a road map to an enduring cease-fire and the release of all hostages,” Biden said. “It’s time for this war to end and for the day after to begin.” The president said Hamas’ forces have taken a major hit but stopped short of calling for the terror group’s removal from power in Gaza.

“At this point, Hamas no longer is capable of carrying out another October 7th, one of the Israelis’ main objectives in this war and, quite frankly, a righteous one,” said Biden. 

The speech took place just after Shabbat started in Israel, with many members of Israel’s government unable to respond or even watch it. In a brief statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office hinted that Biden mischaracterized some of the details in the proposal approved by Israel. But the statement did not specifically name Biden or refer to his speech.

Netanyahu authorized Israel’s negotiating team to present a plan that would bring home the hostages and “enable Israel to continue the war until all its objectives are achieved, including the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “The actual proposal put forward by Israel, including the conditional transition from one phase to the next, allows Israel to uphold these principles.”

According to Biden, the first six-week phase would include a total cease-fire, a withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas of Gaza, a surge of humanitarian assistance and a release of female, elderly and wounded hostages, in exchange for “hundreds” of Palestinian prisoners. Then, the parties would negotiate toward a second phase, where the rest of the hostages would be released and the two sides would agree to “the cessation of hostilities permanently.”

The proposal that Biden outlined goes further than any approved by Israel until this point. In a briefing with reporters, a senior Biden administration official said that, in fact, the deal is nearly identical to one offered by Hamas, and rejected by Israel, a few weeks ago. 

“This deal does stop the war. And it’s nearly identical to Hamas’ own proposals of only a few weeks ago. So if that’s what Hamas wants, they can take the deal,” the administration official said. 

The stakes for Israel, if the nation does not accept the deal, could be severe, Biden suggested. Continuing the war with the goal of “total victory” would amount to “draining the economic, military and human resources, and furthering Israel’s isolation in the world.”

Biden acknowledged that moving from phase one to phase two, if this deal is accepted, would still be difficult. “Israel will want to make sure its interests are protected,” said Biden, who argued Israel has already successfully done that.

“The people of Israel should know they can make this offer without any further risk to their own security because they’ve devastated Hamas forces over the past eight months,” Biden said. 

Speaking to reporters after the speech, the senior administration official said the deal includes plans for the rebuilding of Gaza after the war “in a manner that does not allow Hamas to rearm or continue or threaten Israel.” The official did not concretely respond to a question asking about the role Hamas will play in Washington’s vision of a postwar Gaza.

“This deal at this stage in the conflict is the path for long-term security for Israel, and the path to bring the hostages home, and I think the arrangement and some of the day-after planning helps ensure that, that Hamas’ military capacity to regenerate in a way that can threaten Israel would be very much foreclosed under this arrangement,” the official said. A graphic from the White House, posted on Biden’s account on X, outlined the deal — with no mention of Hamas.

In the speech, Biden called this a “decisive moment,” and said “Hamas needs to take the deal.” He also called on activists who have been demanding a protest for months to turn their attention to Hamas.

“For months, people all over the world have called for a cease-fire. Now it’s time to raise your voices and to demand that Hamas come to the table, agrees to this deal and ends this war that they began,” Biden said. Hamas released a statement saying the terrorist group “positively views” what Biden laid out in his speech.

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