US President Joe Biden described on Thursday Israel’s response to Hamas’s October 7 massacre as “over the top,” adding that he was seeking a “sustained pause” in the war.
“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
“I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire. There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying and it’s gotta stop,” he said.
The remarks come as the Democratic president is under intensifying domestic pressure to press Israel to end the fighting ahead of the November election in the US
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to the nation that his government would not agree to the “delusional demands” Hamas is making as part of ceasefire-for-hostages negotiations.
Bowing to the terrorist organization’s demands would lead to another massacre and a “major disaster” that no Israeli citizen can accept, Netanyahu emphasised, adding: “We are on our way to total victory. Total victory over Hamas will not take years. It will take months. Victory is within reach.”
Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “held a long and in-depth meeting in private” in Jerusalem.
During his trip to Israel, the top US diplomat stressed it was “essential” to go ahead with ceasefire talks, noting that “there’s still a lot of work to be done. But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential, and we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it,” Blinken said.
Israel has repeatedly rejected proposals for a permanent ceasefire and maintains that it will continue in its goal to eradicate Hamas, return the remaining 136 captives and ensure that Gaza can never again pose a threat to the Jewish state.
For its part, the Biden administration is reportedly bucking decades of US foreign policy by considering a plan to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state, despite deep opposition to the move within Israel.
Both Axios and The New York Times reported about this potential major shift in the American approach towards Palestinian statehood, which hitherto has emphasised direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
In the months since Hamas’s October 7 terrorist assault, the Biden administration has been pushing for Palestinian statehood as part of a major normalisation pact and regional security initiative between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Palestinian issue was not reportedly seen as a major obstacle to a Jerusalem-Riyadh detente before the Hamas attack, but Washington’s stance has apparently changed.
There is widespread opposition among the Israeli public to the creation of a Palestinian state.
According to the most recent “Peace Index” survey released by Tel Aviv University, when asked whether they support the creation of a “Palestinian” state alongside Israel, 66% of Jewish respondents said they opposed such a move, while 27% expressed support for the creation of a “Palestine.”
Meanwhile, Biden on Thursday issued a memorandum requiring allies who receive US military aid to provide “credible and reliable written assurances” of their adherence to international law.
Under the new guidelines, the State Department and the Department of Defense will be required to issue periodic reports on whether American allies are meeting the requirements.
The memo does not mention specific countries but comes amid increasing calls in the US to condition aid to Israel due to its offensive to eliminate Hamas.
On February 1, the Biden administration issued an executive order sanctioning “persons undermining peace, security and stability in the West Bank,” citing “high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages and property destruction.”
Adopting what it calls a “holistic approach” to the Middle East regional crisis, the White House named four Israelis, whom it is sanctioning: David Chai Chasdai of Givat Ronen; Yinon Levi of Meitarim Farm; Einan Tanjil of Kiryat Ekron; and Shalom Zicherman of Mitzpe Yair.
In response, Netanyahu said that “the overwhelming majority of residents in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are currently fighting—as conscripts and reservists—to defend Israel.
“[My government] acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere. Exceptional measures are unnecessary,” added the premier.