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Biden Calls for End to Gaza War, Endorsing Israeli Cease-Fire Proposal

The president outlined a plan to try to get Hamas and Israel to break out of a monthslong deadlock that has resulted in the killing of thousands of Palestinians.



Biden Endorses Israeli Cease-Fire Proposal

President Biden at the White House on Friday outlining a new three-phase proposal from the Israeli government that ideally would lead to a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

Israel has offered a comprehensive new proposal. It’s a road map to an enduring cease-fire and the release of all hostages. This proposal has been transmitted by Qatar to Hamas. This is truly a decisive moment. Israel has made their proposal. Hamas says it wants a cease-fire. This deal is an opportunity to prove whether they really mean it. Hamas needs to take the deal. For months, people all over the world have called for cease-fire. Now it’s time to raise your voices and demand that Hamas come to the table, agrees to this deal and ends this war that they began. At this point, Hamas no longer is capable of carrying out another Oct. 7. And the Palestinian people have endured sheer hell in this war. Too many innocent people have been killed, including thousands of children. It’s time to begin this new stage. The hostages come home, for Israel to be secure, for the suffering to stop. It’s time for this war to end, and for the day after to begin. Thank you very much.

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President Biden at the White House on Friday outlining a new three-phase proposal from the Israeli government that ideally would lead to a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.CreditCredit…Cheriss May for The New York Times

Declaring Hamas no longer capable of carrying out a major terrorist attack on Israel, President Biden said on Friday that it was time for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and endorsed a new plan he said Israel had offered to win the release of hostages and end the fighting.

“It’s time for this war to end, for the day after to begin,” Mr. Biden said, speaking from the State Dining Room at the White House. He also gave a stark description of Hamas’s diminished capabilities after more than seven months of Israeli attacks, saying that “at this point, Hamas is no longer capable of carrying out another Oct. 7.”

“This is truly a decisive moment,” Mr. Biden said. “Israel has made their proposal. Hamas says it wants a cease-fire. This deal is an opportunity to prove whether they really mean it.”

With that statement, Mr. Biden appeared to be revealing his true agenda: making public elements of the proposal in an effort to pressure both Hamas and Israel to break out of a monthslong deadlock that has resulted in the killing of thousands of Palestinians.

American officials have described Hamas’s leader, Yahya Sinwar, as interested only in his own survival and that of his family and inner circle, as they presumably operate from tunnels deep under southern Gaza. But officials have also said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has little incentive to move to a real cease-fire, because of the widespread belief in Israel that as soon as the surviving hostages are returned, and a last cease-fire begins, he will most likely lose his fragile hold on power.

Mr. Biden’s remarks came at a pivotal moment in his re-election campaign, a day after his rival, former President Donald J. Trump, was convicted of 34 felony charges. At the same time, he has been facing growing pressure at home over the bloodshed in Gaza, which has led to eruptions on college campuses and on the streets of American cities, and alienated many of his own supporters.

Mr. Biden described the three-phase Israeli plan as a “comprehensive new proposal” that amounted to a road map to an “enduring cease-fire.” But at several moments in the past few months, Mr. Netanyahu has directly contradicted Mr. Biden. And so far Hamas has never accepted a comprehensive proposal, declaring in its public statements that fighting must end before major hostage releases or any agreement with Israel.

ImageA column of smoke rises over damaged buildings in Rafah.

Smoke rising after an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Friday.Credit…Eyad Baba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hints of differences came almost as soon as Mr. Biden finished speaking. Following his speech, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said the Israeli government was “united in the desire to bring home our hostages as soon as possible.”

But it added that Mr. Netanyahu had stipulated to Israeli negotiators that they could not reach a deal that would end the war before all their goals were achieved, including the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capacities in Gaza.

“The exact outline that Israel has offered — including the conditional progression from stage to stage — enables Israel to maintain that principle,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said.

Hamas reacted positively to Mr. Biden’s speech in a statement on social media, saying that it was willing to deal “constructively” with any cease-fire proposal based on a permanent truce, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes and a “serious prisoner exchange.”

Many of the hard-liners in Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition did not immediately respond to Mr. Biden’s address because of the Jewish Sabbath, which began before his remarks. Mr. Netanyahu’s nationalist allies, like Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, have said they could leave the government if an agreement ended the war before Hamas’s complete destruction.

“I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely,” Mr. Biden said, adding that some in Mr. Netanyahu’s government have made clear they want to “occupy Gaza.”

“They want to keep fighting for years, and the hostages are not a priority to them,” Mr. Biden said in what appeared to be a direct message to the far-right members of Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet. “I’ve urged leadership of Israel to stand behind this deal.”

Mr. Biden has faced questions over how long he was willing to support Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, and particularly its most recent attacks in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The bloodshed in Gaza has left more than 36,000 people dead.

Israel’s national security adviser said this week that he expected the war to continue through at least the end of the year.

Global pressure to scale down the military operation increased after the International Court of Justice, an arm of the United Nations, ruled last week that Israel must halt its military offensive in Rafah. The court, however, has no means of enforcing the order.

An Israeli tank near the border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday.Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Friday’s remarks were Mr. Biden’s first public comments about the war since an Israeli strike and subsequent fire on Sunday killed at least 45 people, including children, and wounded 249 in an encampment for the displaced, according to Gazan health officials. A visual analysis by The New York Times found that Israel used U.S.-made bombs in the strike, forcing the White House to face difficult questions over American responsibility for rising death toll.

Mr. Biden said on Friday that he saw the “terrible images” from the deadly fire.

“The Palestinian people have endured sheer hell in this war,” Mr. Biden said after describing the pain of those whose relatives were “slaughtered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7” and the “anguish” of Israeli families waiting for hostages to be released.

Mr. Biden also said too many innocent people had been killed in Gaza, “including thousands of children,” and addressed the many Americans who are infuriated over the way his administration has handled the conflict.

“I know this is a subject on which people in this country feel deep passionate convictions,” Mr. Biden added. “So do I. This has been one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There’s nothing easy about this.”

In describing the four-and-a-half page Israeli proposal, Mr. Biden said it would be broken into three phases. The first would begin with a roughly six-week cease-fire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas of Gaza and a release of elderly and female hostages held by Hamas, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian detainees. Mr. Biden said there were still details that still needed to be negotiated to move on to the next phase — apparently including how many Palestinians would be released in return for each freed Israeli hostage.

In the second phase, as described by a senior administration official who briefed reporters after Mr. Biden spoke, all the remaining Israeli hostages would be released, including male soldiers. All hostilities would end, and, the official said, all Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza. In the past, Mr. Netanyahu has publicly rejected a complete withdrawal, maintaining that would result in a resurgent Hamas, once again in control of the territory.

It is unclear, from the description given to reporters in the briefing, who would govern the territory, though in the past the United States has said that would most likely be the Palestinian Authority, which has struggled to run the West Bank.

In the third phase, the remains of hostages who have died would be exchanged, rubble cleared and a three- to five-year reconstruction period would begin, backed by the United States, Europe and international institutions. But that plan sounded almost aspirational, given the level of destruction and the near-famine conditions.

Mr. Biden, however, portrayed this road map as reasonable — if the terrorist group goes along. “As long as Hamas lives up to its commitments, a temporary cease-fire will become, in the words of the Israeli proposal, a cessation of hostilities permanently,” Mr. Biden said.

American officials said they believed that following the meeting in Paris last weekend between William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, and David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Israel made significant concessions on the hostage talks. Those included reducing the number of live hostages they required to be released in the early phase.

Still, a person briefed on the matter said the negotiations were “on pause” while Israel conducts its operation in Rafah.

Mr. Biden has also been involved in the hostage talks, even though he has not traveled for any of the negotiating sessions. Mr. Biden’s role, officials said, has been most notable in the pressure he has put on Mr. Netanyahu to continue to negotiate and reduce Israeli demands.

But on Friday, Mr. Biden was clearly focusing his pressure on Hamas, arguing that taking this offer was their best shot at ending the war and moving toward a cease-fire.

“Everybody who wants peace now must raise their voices,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the public should let Hamas leaders “know they should take this deal. Work to make it real, make it lasting and forge a better future out of the tragic terror attack and war.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.

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