WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said he’s pushing for a six-week pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow for the release of hostages, saying those conditions could lay the groundwork for broader peace.
Such a pause “would bring an immediate and sustained period of calm into Gaza for at least six weeks, which we could then take the time to build something more enduring,” Biden said Monday following a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House.
Biden’s comments were his most detailed yet about the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas, which the U.S. is helping to facilitate. “The key elements of the deals are on the table,” Biden said, adding that the U.S. “will do everything possible to make it happen.”
Biden and Abdullah met as concerns grow about a potential Israeli ground offensive in the city of Rafah that threatens to further inflame tensions as well as the humanitarian crisis in the region. Biden said he and the king had discussed Rafah and how to bring more aid into Gaza.
“We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe,” the king said. “We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting cease-fire now. This war must end.”
The U.S., its Arab partners and other nations must step up efforts to reach a ceasefire by immediately “working to create a political horizon that leads to a just and comprehensive peace on the basis of the two-state solution,” Abdullah added.
Abdullah’s visit comes as Israeli forces launched more airstrikes on Rafah Monday, ahead of possible ground operations in a city where more than a million people have sought refuge. Many refugees fled the north of Gaza after Israel launched its retaliatory campaign against Hamas for the group’s Oct. 7 massacre.
Biden faces criticism from Arab- and Muslim- Americans over his handling of the conflict, a potential challenge to his 2024 reelection bid. Michigan — a battleground where Biden trails Republican frontrunner Donald Trump by 5 percentage points according to a January Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll — is home to one of the nation’s largest Arab and Muslim populations.
Biden has stepped up his criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to do more to shield civilians. Biden has pressured Israel to allow more aid into Gaza and has said Israel should not push into Rafah without first having a “credible and executable plan” to ensure the civilian safety.
“They need to be protected. And we’ve also been clear from the start. We oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza,” Biden said.
Biden and Netanyahu spoke on Sunday, and the Israeli leader said he was working on a plan to move civilians out of the Rafah area. Netanyahu has said the war on Hamas must continue until the group, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, is destroyed.
Once peace is secured, Biden said the Palestinian Authority must reform.
“Once Hamas’ control of Gaza is over, they must prepare to build a state that accepts peace and does not harbor terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” he said.
(With assistance from Hadriana Lowenkron and Jordan Fabian.)
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