Biden says Israel has agreed to ‘enduring’ Gaza ceasefire proposal

US president’s announcement comes as he faces widespread criticism over his Gaza policy in lead-up to November election.

US President Joe Biden
The proposal is 'a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire', US President Joe Biden says [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

Israel has agreed to a proposal that would lead to a “lasting” ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, US President Joe Biden has announced, as he faces mounting pressure and criticism over his support for the Israeli war effort.

During a news conference at the White House on Friday afternoon, Biden said Israel has put forward “a comprehensive new proposal” to end the war.

“It’s a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire,” the United States president told reporters.

Biden said the proposal involves three phases, the first of which would last six weeks and include a full and complete ceasefire, as well as the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza.

The first phase would also see a number of captives held in the Gaza Strip – including women and the elderly – released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, while humanitarian aid would flow into Gaza.

“There are American hostages who would be released at this stage and we want them home,” said Biden, adding that Qatar had transmitted the proposal to the Palestinian group Hamas, which governs Gaza.

In a statement shared on Telegram late on Friday, Hamas said it welcomed Biden’s remarks and his call for “a permanent ceasefire, withdrawal of [Israeli] occupation forces from the Gaza Strip, reconstruction and prisoners exchange“.

The group also said it was ready to respond “positively and constructively” to any proposal that includes those measures – as well as the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes in Gaza – if Israel “explicitly commits” to it, as well.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the Israeli prime minister authorised the country’s negotiating team to “present a proposal” to advance its goal of securing the release of captives held in Gaza.

The move also allows “Israel to continue the war until all its objectives are achieved, including the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities”, the statement said.

“The actual proposal put forward by Israel, including the conditional transition from one phase to the next, allows Israel to uphold these principles.”


Pressure on Biden

Biden’s announcement came as efforts to reach a ceasefire have faltered amid the Israeli military’s push into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which has forcibly displaced about 1 million Palestinians over the past month.

Deadly Israeli attacks on Rafah have killed dozens of Palestinians and fuelled global outrage. More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza since the war began in early October.

The coastal enclave is also under an Israeli siege, which has led to dire shortages of food, water and other humanitarian supplies, and spurred warnings of famine.

As the crisis in Gaza deepens, Biden has faced widespread protests and criticism for his staunch military and diplomatic support for Israel during the war.

Despite growing anger over Israel’s offensive – including recent deadly assaults on Rafah – and warnings that he risks losing re-election over his stance, the US president’s policy has remained largely unchanged.

A new poll released this week indicated that Biden enjoyed less than 20 percent support among Arab Americans, a key constituency in several US swing states that could decide the upcoming vote.

Biden is set to face off against his Republican predecessor Donald Trump on November 5 in what is expected to be a tight contest.

Palestinians flee as smoke rises in Gaza attacks
Palestinians flee with their belongings as smoke rises in the Tal as-Sultan area of Rafah in southern Gaza, May 30 [Eyad Baba/AFP]

A prolonged Israeli war in Gaza – which could drag on for another seven months at least, according to Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi – will hurt Biden’s re-election prospects, experts have said.

“The signs are clear. The writing is on the wall,” Josh Ruebner, a lecturer at Georgetown University’s Justice and Peace programme, told Al Jazeera this week.

“And should Biden decide to continue this lockstep support for Israel for another seven months, it’s not only going to kill tens of thousands more Palestinians, but it’s also going to lose him the election.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Friday, Palestinian political analyst Nour Odeh said the proposal does not appear to be different “in any fundamental way” from those that have been previously presented.

What was striking, however, is that Biden “put himself on the line”, Odeh said.

“He said the US would guarantee that Israel keeps its end of the bargain so long as the mediators can bring Hamas to accept the deal and keep up its end of the bargain,” she said.

“This is the first time we hear from the president of the United States, the most important ally of Israel, saying, ‘This deal is on the table, it’s good and everybody should take it.’ And I think it will be difficult for Hamas to resist the kind of pressure that will be applied on it, no doubt.”

On May 6, Hamas said it had agreed to a ceasefire proposal by Egypt and Qatar that appears to be almost identical to the one Biden announced on Friday. Israeli leaders rejected that initiative.

Next phases

In his speech from the White House, Biden said the second phase of the ceasefire proposal would see the release of “all remaining living hostages” in Gaza, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territory, and a “cessation of hostilities permanently”.

“Now I’ll be straight with you, there are a number of details to negotiate to move from phase one to phase two,” he said.

“But the proposal says that if the negotiations take longer than [the] six weeks from phase one, the ceasefire will still continue as long as negotiations will continue.”

The US, along with Qatar and Egypt, will work to keep those talks going, Biden added.

Lastly, a reconstruction plan for Gaza would begin in phase three of the proposal and the remains of any captives killed would be returned to their families.

While Biden said Israel had agreed to the plan, he noted that some Israelis – including members of Netanyahu’s coalition government – will disagree with the proposal and call for the war to continue.

“They’ve made it clear: They want to occupy Gaza. They want to keep fighting for years. The hostages are not a priority for them. Well, I urge the leadership in Israel to stand behind this deal despite whatever pressure comes,” Biden said.

Source: Al Jazeera