Timeline: The Biden administration on Gaza, in its own words

Al Jazeera looks at Washington’s main statements and positions on Israel’s war in Gaza and how policy shifted over time.

U.S. President Joe Biden is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
US President Joe Biden is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023 [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

Washington, DC – As Israel’s war in Gaza prompts mounting human rights concerns, the United States has slowly notched up criticism of the Israeli government while simultaneously continuing to arm and support its ally.

On Sunday, US Vice President Kamala Harris delivered the sternest statement yet on the war’s toll, marking a shift in rhetoric within the administration of President Joe Biden. An estimated 30,800 Palestinians have been killed, with more at risk of malnutrition and starvation.

“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane, and our common humanity compels us to act,” Harris said. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid — no excuses.”

However, critics were quick to point out that the Biden administration is pushing forward with its military and diplomatic support for Israel, despite acknowledging the crisis.

Thursday marks five months since the Palestinian group Hamas launched its attack on southern Israel, starting the present-day war. Israel has led a deadly bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, in addition to a siege that limits Gaza’s access to key resources like food and water.

As the conflict enters its sixth month, Al Jazeera looks at key statements from the Biden administration on the war and how Washington’s position evolved over time.

October 7, 2023: Shortly after Hamas’s attack on Israel, Biden delivers a message of uncompromising support to the US ally while also warning other parties against entering the war. About 1,100 Israelis were killed in the attack, with more than 200 others taken captive.

“My administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering,” Biden says.

October 10, 2023: Biden sets the stage for a forceful Israeli response after speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I just got off the phone — the third call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I told him if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive and overwhelming,” he says.

October 12, 2023: Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Israel to voice support for the country.

“If you’ll permit me a personal aside, I come before you not only as the United States secretary of state but also as a Jew,” he tells Netanyahu.

October 16, 2023: Biden warns Israel against establishing a permanent military presence in Gaza.

“I think it’d be a big mistake,” he tells CBS News.

October 18, 2023: After the US sends aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Biden again warns parties in the region to not enter the war.

“My message to any state or any other hostile actor thinking about attacking Israel remains the same as it was a week ago: Don’t. Don’t. Don’t,” he says during a visit to Israel.

October 18, 2023: The US vetoes a United Nations Security Council proposal that would have called for a humanitarian pause in the fighting.

“We are on the ground doing the hard work of diplomacy. We believe we need to let that diplomacy play out,” US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield says after the vote.

Photos: The aftermath of Israeli strikes in Rafah
Palestinians gather to inspect a destroyed building following the Israeli attacks in Rafah on March 5 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency]

October 25, 2023: Biden questions the mounting Palestinian death toll.

“I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war,” he says.

October 26, 2023: White House national security spokesperson John Kirby acknowledges that there have been a large number of civilian casualties and predicts that more innocent people will be hurt in the conflict.

“That’s what war is. It’s brutal. It’s ugly. It’s messy,” Kirby tells reporters.

November 3, 2023: Blinken calls for humanitarian pauses to allow more aid into Gaza and enable the release of Israeli captives.

“We believe that each of these efforts would be facilitated by humanitarian pauses,” he says.

November 8, 2023: Senior State Department official Barbara Leaf says the Palestinian Authority should rule post-war Gaza.

“Whatever its shortcomings, it is the government for the Palestinians in the West Bank. We do believe that ultimately Palestinian voices and aspirations have to be at the centrepiece of post-conflict governance and security in Gaza,” she tells US lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

November 15, 2023: Washington abstains on a UN Security Council resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses”, with Thomas-Greenfield decrying the council’s failure to condemn Hamas.

“What are they afraid of? Let’s be crystal clear: Hamas set this conflict in motion,” she said.

November 21, 2023: Biden welcomes a deal for a four-day pause in the fighting.

“I appreciate the commitment that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have made in supporting an extended pause to ensure this deal can be fully carried out and to ensure the provision of additional humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza,” the US president says in a statement.

December 8, 2023: The State Department bypasses Congress to deliver thousands of tank shells to Israel on an emergency basis.

“We want to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas,” Blinken says.

December 8, 2023: The US vetoes a UN Security Council measure that would have urged an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

“The resolution retains a call for an unconditional ceasefire. This is not only unrealistic but dangerous; it will simply leave Hamas in place,” US diplomat Robert Wood says.

December 12, 2023: Biden accuses Israel of indiscriminate bombardment in Gaza, a war crime.

“They’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place,” he says of Israel.

December 13, 2023: The White House downplays Biden’s comments on the bombing of Gaza.

“Israel will do exactly what they say they’re doing, which is to continue to go after the terrorist leaders and to do so in a way that minimises civilian harm,” Kirby says.

December 22, 2023: The US abstains on a UN Security Council resolution that called on all parties involved to “allow, facilitate and enable” the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Thomas-Greenfield calls the vote “a glimmer of hope amongst a sea of unimaginable suffering” but again rebukes the council for not condemning Hamas.

January 3: Despite its warnings against expanding the conflict, the White House appears to welcome the assassination of Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut.

“Israel, as I’ve said before, has a right and responsibility to go after the threat that Hamas poses, which means they have a right and a responsibility to go after the leadership of Hamas,” Kirby says.

January 9: In Israel again, Blinken says he urged the protection of Palestinian civilians.

“I pressed on the absolute imperative to do more to protect civilians and make sure that humanitarian assistance is getting into the hands of those who need it and bring back the hostages — Americans, Israelis, and others,” Blinken says in a social media post.

January 11: Biden authorises military attacks against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who had been targeting shipping lanes in the Red Sea in an effort, they say, to bring an end to the war on Gaza.

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” Biden says in a statement that fails to mention the war on Gaza.

January 18: The US president acknowledges strikes against Houthis are not deterring the Yemeni group.

“Are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes,” Biden tells reporters.

January 19: After Netanyahu openly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state, Biden says a two-state solution is possible with the Israeli prime minister in power.

“I think we’ll be able to work something out,” the US president tells reporters.

January 22: The White House says the US is still opposed to a ceasefire and only supports pauses in the fighting.

“We still support pauses in the fighting to get hostages out. We don’t support a general ceasefire, which is usually put in place in the expectation that you’re going to end a conflict,” Kirby says.

February 1: US says it is prioritising a truce deal between Israel and Hamas that would see the release of Israeli captives in Gaza.

“We have pursued this pause intensively, and we have made clear it’s a priority of the United States,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller tells Al Jazeera.

people bury the bodies of Palestinians
People bury the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks in a mass grave in Rafah on March 7 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

February 8: Biden appears to criticise Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza Strip has been over the top,” he says.

February 15: The White House warns Israel against attacking the crowded southern city of Rafah in Gaza without a plan to protect civilians.

“Without that credible plan, a major operation in Rafah would be a disaster,” Kirby says.

February 20: US vetoes another UN Security Council ceasefire resolution.

“Proceeding with a vote today was wishful and irresponsible,” Thomas-Greenfield says, arguing that the US is pursuing its own negotiations to secure a truce deal.

February 26: Biden says a truce deal is imminent.

“My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet,” he tells reporters.

February 28: The White House says Biden is working around the clock to secure a truce deal.

“The president, obviously, and his team has been working 24/7 for some time now to get to a ceasefire,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre says.

February 29: The White House reasserts support for Israel after Israeli troops opened fire on Palestinian aid seekers in Gaza City, killing at least 112 people as they approached trucks carrying humanitarian deliveries.

“They are a close ally that will remain a close ally. They are in the throes of an existential battle – an existential threat to their existence from Hamas — and we’re going to continue to support them in that process,” White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton tells reporters.

March 2: Harris calls for an immediate truce to stop the fighting.

“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least six weeks as is what is currently on the table,” she said.

March 5: Harris stresses support for Israel in talks with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz, who visited Washington, DC.

“She reiterated US support for Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of ongoing Hamas terrorist threats, and underscored our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House says in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera