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Spared angry protests at Morehouse, Biden pushes postwar Gaza plan

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden was not shouted down by pro-Palestinian protesters Sunday at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, but he used a commencement speech to address the anger that has fired up many other campuses and sent a key signal about his Middle East policy.

The speech at the private, all-male historically Black college was billed as a potential early touchstone of the 2024 campaign. At an event that featured only a few silent protests, Biden delivered a speech on a wide range of topics to mostly polite applause at a time when he has lost support among Black voters.

Free from the distractions of protesters and hecklers that have interrupted some of his public remarks this year, Biden instead used the graduation address to urge stakeholders in the Middle East to begin discussing how post-war Gaza will be secured and governed.

“What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking. Hamas’s vicious attack on Israel, killing innocent lives and holding people hostage. I was there nine days after, pictures of tying a mother and a daughter with a rope, pouring kerosene on them, burning them and watching as they died,” the president said. “Innocent Palestinians caught in the middle of all this. Men, women and children killed or displaced … in desperate need of water, food and medicine. It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“That’s why I’ve called for an immediate cease-fire — an immediate cease-fire to stop the fighting, bring the hostages home,” he added to applause. “And I’ve been working on a deal as we speak, working around the clock to lead an international effort to get more aid into Gaza, rebuild Gaza.”

But then Biden added a new objective to his policy approach to the conflict and region.

 

“I’m also working around the clock for more than just one cease-fire. I’m working to bring the region together. I’m working to build a lasting, durable peace,” Biden told graduates and their guests. “Because the question is, as you see what’s going on in Israel today: What after? What after Hamas? What happens then? What happens in Gaza? What rights do the Palestinian people have? I’m working to make sure we finally get a two-state solution — the only solution for (the) two people to live in peace, security and dignity.”

That’s a goal that Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, described as “both simple and complex” during a White House briefing last week.

As Biden was speaking to Morehouse graduates, Sullivan was meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet in Jerusalem. Sullivan echoed Biden’s words about a new Gaza governing structure — and put a finer point on the administration’s latest policy effort since Hamas killed 1,400 people in Israel on Oct. 7.

Sullivan landed in Jerusalem after huddling with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, a conversation the White House said in a Sunday statement included talks about “a comprehensive vision for an integrated Middle East region.” To that end, Sullivan briefed Netanyahu on his discussion with the Saudi leader “and the potential that may now be available for Israel, as well as the Palestinian people,” according to the White House.

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