Biden urges action Gaza cease-fire agreement: ‘Can’t lose this moment’

Administration officials praised the three-phase deal Israel offered to Hamas as the “best path” to peace in the region
Palestinians fleeing Gaza
Posted at 12:09 PM, May 31, 2024

The Biden administration on Friday shared news of a cease-fire deal it says Israel has proposed to Hamas leaders that would bring about an end to hostilities in exchange for the return of hostages.

In previously unscheduled remarks from the White House, President Joe Biden laid out the terms of the three-phase deal, which he described as the result of “intensive diplomacy” by U.S., Qatari and Egyptian officials, and said Hamas was “no longer capable of carrying out another Oct. 7th.”

“We can’t lose this moment,” Biden said. “Everyone who wants peace now must raise their voices and let the 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.”

The four-and-a-half page proposal was transmitted by Qatari officials to Hamas leaders Thursday night, a senior administration official later told reporters. Biden doesn’t expect an agreement on the matter to be reached immediately given that there are still “small gaps” to be negotiated, the official continued, though he stressed the president views this deal as the “best path” to achieving lasting peace in the region.

Should Hamas accept Israel’s proposal, phase one would require the organization to immediately return any living female or child hostages, in exchange for Israel withdrawing its military from population centers in Gaza. Over the next six weeks, international groups would also be allowed to surge humanitarian aid to the region, begin the rehabilitation of central services, clear rubble and construct temporary shelters and housing for the millions of Palestinians displaced by the violence.

Assuming both parties abide by those terms, phase two would require Hamas to return all remaining living hostages and Israel fully withdraw all troops from Gaza. That agreement still requires further negotiations on the exact terms of a possible prisoner exchange, the administration official said, but could ultimately result in the permanent cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Biden said should negotiations for phase two last past the initial six weeks, the cessation in fighting would continue.

The third and final phase would lay out a reconstruction plan for Gaza over the next half-decade and call for the return of any remaining bodies of hostages held by Hamas. Officials would also work toward agreements on Gaza’s northern border so Palestinians could return to their homes.

The administration has viewed a cease-fire and hostage deal as a path to a "day after" in Gaza, of which an official noted recent progress, and regional integration for Israel, including normalization efforts with Saudi Arabia.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the deal to his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey on Friday. He “underscored that the proposal is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians,” according to a readout of the calls from the State Department.

“That’s the offer that's now on the table and what we’ve been asking for. It’s what we need,” Biden said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement his government is “united in its desire to return the hostages as soon as possible” as well as destroy Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, adding that the proposed deal “allows Israel to uphold these principles.

Biden acknowledged the internal politics in Israel in urging support.

“I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely. Some, some are even in the government coalition. And they’ve made it clear they want to occupy Gaza, they want to keep fighting for years, and the hostages are not a priority to them. Well, I’ve urged the leadership in Israel to stand behind this deal despite whatever pressure comes,” Biden said.

The remarks, which also underscored Israel’s continuing right to defend itself and U.S. support for its defense, marked a significant moment in the efforts to reach a deal.

They were well-timed and strategic, according to Merissa Khurma, director of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center and previous official in the Jordanian government. Khurma called it “a very pragmatic approach moving forward that looks at everybody’s concerns,” while acknowledging some in the region may question why it wasn’t seen earlier.

“I think it was meant to be this detailed and made public in the way that it did as a wake-up call for all parties involved, including Israel and of course adding pressure on Hamas,” Khurma said.

Hamas has not accepted prior proposals put forth in the months-long effort to secure a deal. Earlier in May, after the administration noted compromise by Israelis, a senior administration official said what Hamas returned had changed elements of the arrangement. Friday, a senior administration official said the new proposal on the table was close to what Hamas previously indicated they would take.

The new proposal comes amid international and domestic pressure for a cease-fire, in which Biden noted those who have been vocal about a cease-fire should demand Hamas agree to the deal.

The families of Americans held hostage commended Biden.

"After 238 days since Hamas’s attack on Israel, its massacre of more than 1,200 people, among them 44 Americans, and the abduction of our loved ones, the world must now take every necessary step to end this brutal war and bring all the 125 hostages home from Gaza, including our family members. As the President emphasized, we cannot let this moment pass. It is imperative that the U.S., together with those countries whose citizens are held hostage by Hamas and all well-intended people, follow the US’s lead to apply maximum pressure on Hamas and the Government of Israel to accept this deal and thereby end the suffering of Gaza’s civilians and return our loved ones.

Now is the time for all of us—governments, NGOs, celebrities, and concerned citizens everywhere—to use our voices and demand a deal before it is too late," the group said in a statement.

The initial reaction to Biden’s announcement from the international community was overwhelmingly positive.

The United Nations Secretary-General “strongly hopes that this will lead to an agreement by the parties for lasting peace,” his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said in a statement.

And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who’d previously criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the war, similarly called on Hamas leaders to accept Israel’s proposal. Republican leaders in Congress had yet to weigh in on the deal as of Friday evening.