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Peace and Conflict

Biden announces Gaza pier in state of the union | Update 8th March 2024

Biden announces Gaza pier in state of the union via BICom

What’s happened: In his State of the Union address, President Biden said the US military would establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast to help deliver humanitarian aid.

  • The emergency mission is to build a pier that would be able to receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters and, according to Biden, “would enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.” The pier will take a number of weeks to be built.
  • In his speech, Biden stressed that there would be no US boots on the ground. While urging that the humanitarian situation be addressed, Biden also reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself, and emphasised that the crisis began with “Hamas’ massacre”. “The 1,200 innocent people - women and girls, men and boys - slaughtered, many enduring sexual violence. The deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust; 250 hostages taken.” 
  • “Israel has a right to go after Hamas. Hamas could end this conflict today by releasing the hostages, laying down arms, and surrendering those responsible for October 7th. Israel has an added burden because Hamas hides and operates among the civilian population. But Israel also has a fundamental responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.”
  • Biden also discussed the destruction in Gaza, calling it heartbreaking. “This war has taken a greater toll on innocent civilians than all previous wars in Gaza combined. More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed.  Most of whom are not Hamas. Nearly 2 million more Palestinians under bombardment or displaced. Homes destroyed, neighbourhoods in rubble, cities in ruin. Families without food, water, medicine.”
  • Biden also stated the importance of humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Gaza. “To the leadership of Israel, I say this: humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.”
  • He added “as we look to the future, the only real solution is a two-state solution.”
  • Reports suggest that as Ramadan approaches, the chances for a hostage deal remain slim.
  • While Israel has responded positively to the blueprint put forward by the US, Egypt and Qatar, Hamas has reportedly increased its demands to include a complete IDF withdrawal from Gaza and a higher number of prisoners released.  Official US sources said the deal is stalled because Hamas is refusing to release sick and elderly hostages.
  • This week, in an attempt to calm tensions in the Arab world and ensure humanitarian aid reaches Gaza via alternative routes, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military secretary Major General Gil secretly visited the UAE.
  • Asked to by Israel, the US, UK and France submitted an official request for an emergency UN Security Council session on special representative Pramila Patten’s report accusing Hamas of sexual crimes on October 7 and beyond.

Context: Biden’s speech comes in the context of increased tension between Israel and the US regarding the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Strip. Cabinet minister Gantz, who this week visited Washington and London, came under criticism for Israel’s response to this issue as well as the IDF’s plan to operate in Rafah.

  • The increase of humanitarian aid reaching the Gazan population has been a repeated concern on the administration.
  • In joint operations with Jordan, Egypt, and France, the US has intensified its air-drops of aid into the Gaza Strip, yesterday dropping 28,000 meals, bringing the total dropped this week to 112,896 meals.
  • The US hopes that by increasing the total tonnage of aid through the new sea route and with air drops, more aid can reach the population, overcoming widespread looting and Hamas obstruction. The US will continue to act in conjunction with Israel to ensure the latter’s security needs are met in the aid delivery process.
  • Yesterday, the UN began to assess using an Israeli military road bordering the Gaza Strip to deliver aid into the territory. Israel has consistently maintained that it is not responsible for aid bottlenecks, and that the UN has failed to keep pace with Israel’s checking and clearing of aid trucks.
  • Senior defence officials have said in closed-door meetings that looting aid in the Gaza Strip won’t stop until trucks carrying humanitarian aid entering Gaza are protected by armed officials. (For more, see Israeli Media Summary below.)
  • The basic formula for a deal presented during meetings in Paris and Cairo includes different stages:
    • The first stage would include Hamas freeing about 35 Israelis - women, the elderly, and ill or wounded in exchange for several hundred Palestinian prisoners in Israel. This would be alongside a six-week ceasefire, during which talks would be held about freeing the remaining hostages.
    • Stage two would include the return of the rest of the hostages in exchange for a full IDF withdrawal from Gaza Strip although Israel has not committed to this.
  • Gaps remain regarding the number of "heavyweight" prisoners Israel will release. Hamas is demanding the first stage include the release of about 100 prisoners who have murdered Israelis, as well as the nature of the transition to a permanent cease-fire and the end of the war, and the number of Palestinians who will return to northern Gaza. Israel is willing to allow women and children while Hamas want all residents.
  • Without a deal and a pause in the war, there is a fear of escalation surrounding the Temple Mount during Ramdan. The site has traditionally been a scene of tension which could lead to protests in the West Bank and wider Arab world.

Looking ahead: The Turkish Red Crescent will today send its largest aid package yet to Gaza. 3,000 tonnes of food, medicine and equipment left for the Egyptian port of Al-Arish yesterday and will be transported to Rafah in 200 trucks.

  • CIA Director William Burns is in the Middle East to try to create a breakthrough on a hostage-release deal. Burns arrived in Qatar yesterday after a secret visit to Cairo.
  • If a deal for a hostage release and a ceasefire is not reached before Ramadan, the policy challenge over a ground operation in Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah in central Gaza and / or Rafah will increase.

via BICom