Israel to open more aid routes to Gaza after pressure from Biden

April 5, 2024
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According to two U.S. officials, Biden strongly implied to Netanyahu that the U.S. could condition military aid to Israel on what it does to address humanitarian concerns in Gaza and get to a ceasefire as soon as possible.

“That was the message,” one of the officials said.

After issuing his warning to Netanyahu, Biden told the prime minister that his position doesn’t negate his love for Israel, according to the two U.S. officials and a person familiar with the call.

Biden’s comments appear to be a preemptive attempt to push back on the notion that anyone who is critical of Israel’s approach to its war against Hamas isn’t a true supporter of the Jewish state.

The person familiar with the call said Biden told Netanyahu that there’s no other leader outside of Israel who takes Israel’s security more seriously than he does, and reiterated that he’s been a strong supporter of Israel for decades.

Asked to elaborate on potential policy changes the White House hinted at in the readout, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the daily White House press briefing that he wouldn’t preview specific steps that the U.S. might take.

“What we are looking to see and hope to see here in the coming hours and days is a dramatic increase in the humanitarian assistance getting [into Gaza], additional crossings opened up and a reduction in the violence against civilians and certainly aid workers,” Kirby said, adding that they want to see Israel “take practical immediate steps to protect aid workers on the ground and to demonstrate that they have that civilian harm mitigation in place.”

Kirby was pressed repeatedly about whether the U.S. could withhold military aid to Israel and said he wouldn’t get ahead of any decisions.

“There are too many civilians being killed,” Kirby said. “The risk to aid workers is unacceptable. Now we have certain aid organizations that are reconsidering whether they’re even going to be able to continue operations in Gaza, while famine looms, so there has to be tangible steps. Let’s see what they announce, let’s see what they direct, let’s see what they do.”

The two U.S. officials said Biden told Netanyahu to begin letting more trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza immediately and to be less stringent about what materials are on them.

Biden also shifted his stance on a ceasefire in Gaza during his call with Netanyahu, telling the prime minister he must agree to one, and that the easiest way to achieve that is a deal that would implement a ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages by Hamas, the two U.S. officials said. If Netanyahu does not agree to a ceasefire, the president made clear that U.S. relations with Israel would significantly change, the officials said.

The White House readout said the president told Netanyahu that “an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians.” Biden told Netanyahu to “empower” his negotiators to reach a deal that would include a return of the hostages being held in Gaza.

“The two leaders also discussed public Iranian threats against Israel and the Israeli people,” the White House added. “President Biden made clear that the United States strongly supports Israel in the face of those threats.”

This moment, after Israel’s killing of seven aid workers for World Central Kitchen, one of the U.S. officials said, “is an inflection point in this war.”

During the call, which a senior Biden administration official said lasted for about 30 minutes, Netanyahu reiterated his statement that Israel didn’t deliberately kill the aid workers on Monday, Kirby said.

Netanyahu also spent Thursday meeting with a Republican congressional delegation in Jerusalem, which was organized by the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, and discussed threats from Iran at an Israeli security cabinet meeting.

Republicans signaled opposition to the possibility of conditioning aid to Israel, with House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., writing on X on Thursday night that Biden “should not undercut our ally amidst an existential threat by conditioning our support.”

“The president’s ultimatums should be going to Hamas, not Israel,” he added.

The call between the leaders was arranged after the strike on the aid workers occurred, a U.S. official said, describing Biden as being “very angry” about the incident.

The president’s anger is “indicative of the broader problem of how the Israelis are conducting their operations,” for “either not passing on to their military the deconfliction details from World Central Kitchen, or they’re being received and ignored,” the official said.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was traveling to North Carolina on Thursday, also listened to the call.

The seven workers killed on Monday included a dual U.S.-Canada citizen, according to chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. Biden called Andrés “to express that he’s heartbroken” over their deaths, the White House said on Tuesday.

Israel said it didn’t intend to target and kill the humanitarian aid workers, but the charity said that its team had coordinated its movements with the Israel Defense Forces and that they were traveling in a “deconflicted zone” in vehicles that included two armored cars branded with the World Central Kitchen logo.

After the attack, the nonprofit organization said it was immediately pausing operations in the region.

Biden and Netanyahu last spoke by phone on March 18. In that call, Biden warned the Israeli leader against authorizing a military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Top U.S. and Israeli officials held a virtual meeting Monday to discuss Israel’s plans for a possible ground invasion of the city, which grew contentious after the Americans pushed back on Israel’s proposal to evacuate Palestinian civilians sheltering there, two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official familiar with the meeting said.

Israel proposed moving 1.4 million civilians from Rafah into tents north of the city, but the plan didn’t include addressing sanitation, food and water needs or sourcing for most of the tents, the officials said.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close Biden ally, came out for the first time Thursday in support of putting conditions on U.S. military aid to Israel if it decides to go into Rafah without making provisions to protect civilians or provide humanitarian aid. “I think we’re at that point,” he said in an interview on CNN.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said the U.S. should stop funding Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

The Biden administration “has a responsibility to stop financing the Netanyahu government’s strategy, which has so disproportionately killed civilians, aid workers, and medical personnel, used food as a weapon, and that has no vision to establish a viable, independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel,” he said.

Meanwhile, Biden met with members of the Muslim community at the White House on Tuesday. One of the participants, Salima Suswell, the founder of the Black Muslim Leadership Council, told NBC News that the president told the group that first lady Jill Biden has been privately urging him to end the war between Israel and Hamas.

Biden made the remark after a doctor who had been treating injured people in Gaza told the president that his wife didn’t want him to join the meeting. Biden shared that he could relate and that the first lady had told him, “Stop it, stop it now,” Suswell said. The New York Times first reported the comments.





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