The ceasefire in Gaza that the United States is negotiating with other allies in the Middle East would last “at least six weeks,” according to statements made by U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday after he met with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House. The comments come as Israel prepares a ground offensive against Rafah, where 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering in overcrowded conditions. Humanitarian organizations warn that such an assault on the Gazan city on the border of Egypt would lead to a “bloodbath.”
In his address Tuesday, the Democratic leader was optimistic that a ceasefire agreement would be reached soon. The deal will see Hamas release Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a ceasefire that is intended to pave the way for “something more enduring.” “The key element of the deals are on the table,” said Biden, while conceding: “There are gaps that remain.”
The president was more critical of the war in Gaza than in previous speeches. Standing beside his Arab ally, who traveled to Washington to ask for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid for the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in the Strip, Biden spoke of “the unimaginable pain and loss” of the Palestinian people. “They’re packed into Rafah — exposed and vulnerable. They need to be protected,” he said. In the four months since the war began, many Gazans have been displaced multiple times as a result of the Israeli bombings.
“The United States is working on a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, which would bring an immediate and sustained period of calm into Gaza for at least six weeks,” said Biden.
The president — who is widely criticized by sectors of his own party for his unconditional support for Israel — reiterated the warning he made on Sunday in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: that the planned operation in Rafah should not proceed unless Israel has a “credible” protection plan for the Palestinian population.
Biden — who in November questioned the death toll provided by the Palestinian Health Ministry, alleging that it was controlled by the radical Hamas militia — admitted on Tuesday that the number of people killed in Gaza now exceeds 27,000, including thousands of children, and that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lack access to food, water and basic services. But he stopped short of demanding a permanent ceasefire, nor did he announce punitive measures against Israel, as demanded by international representatives, including the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
The King of Jordan, however, did call for a permanent end to the hostilities. “We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end,” said Abdullah II, who was on his first visit to Washington since three American soldiers were killed in a drone attack carried out by pro-Iranian militias from Iraq against a U.S. outpost in Jordan. The Jordanian leader also warned against Israel’s planned offense in Rafah. “We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”
The Hashemite monarch also demanded the entry of more humanitarian aid into Gaza “through all possible entry points” and defended UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. Several Western countries, including the United States, have suspended funding to the agency while they investigate allegations that some UNRWA employees played a role in the Hamas attacks against Israel on October 7. “It is imperative that UNRWA continues to receive the support it needs to carry out its mandate,” said King Abdullah II, who added that the restrictions on aid relief were “leading to inhumane conditions.”
In addition to the ceasefire negotiations, Biden and Abdullah II also discussed Gaza’s future after the war during their meeting in Washington. Biden said that the two spoke about the need for the Palestinian Authority to “urgently” reform so that it can replace Hamas and assume at least partial control in Gaza. “They must prepare to build a state that accepts peace, and does not harbor terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” said Biden.
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