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Peace and Conflict

Israeli officials respond to President Biden | Update 3rd June 2024

Israeli officials respond to President Biden | Update 3rd June 2024 via BICom

Israeli officials respond to President Biden

What’s happened: On Friday President Biden presented what he called an Israeli government plan to reach to release the hostages and achieve a permanent ceasefire.

  • According to Biden, the plan would have three stages:
    • In the first, a cease-fire would be imposed for six weeks, during which Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas in Gaza. Hamas would release female, elderly and sick hostages and Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners. Gazans would return to their homes.
    • Phase Two would see all remaining living hostages released, including male soldiers. Israel would withdraw its remaining forces from Gaza. A permanent cease-fire would be effected if Hamas lived up to its obligations.
    • Phase Three would see a major project of reconstruction begun in Gaza.
  • President Herzog thanked President Biden for his speech and his “ongoing efforts to bring about the release of all the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.“
  • Herzog added on X, “I told Prime Minister that I will give him and the government my full support for a deal which will see the release of the hostages. We must not forget that according to Jewish tradition, there is no greater commandment than redeeming captives and hostages - especially when it comes to Israeli citizens who the State of Israel was not able to defend and protect. It is our inherent obligation to bring them home within the framework of a deal that preserves the security interests of the State of Israel.”
  • On Saturday the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying, “Israel's conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas's military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel. Under the proposal, Israel will continue to insist these conditions are met before a permanent ceasefire is put in place. The notion that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are fulfilled is a non-starter.”
  • The plan received support from Minister Gantz who commented saying, “We are committed to continuing to move forward with the proposal to get back our hostages as was formulated by the negotiations team and approved unanimously by the war cabinet. In light of developments, the war cabinet must be convened as soon as possible together with the negotiating team to formulate the next steps.”
  • However, Ministers Smotrich and Ben Gvir attacked the proposal  and threatened to leave the government. “I just spoke to the prime minister and made clear to him that we will have no part in a government that agrees to the proposed outline and ends the war without destroying Hamas and returning the hostages,” said Finance Minister Smotrich. Ben Gvir added, “This is a reckless deal, one that represents a victory for terrorism and a danger for the State of Israel. Agreeing to a deal like this is not ‘total victory’ but total defeat.”

Context: 124 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, now for 241 days. This number was reduced by one this morning after the murdered body of Dolev Yehud, a 35-year-old resident of Kibbutz Nir Oz, was identified. It had previously been assumed that he had been taken hostage.   

  • President Biden’s address was an endorsement of a compromise proposal, that he gave Israel the credit of agreeing to. 
  • One of the aims of the speech was to place additional pressure on Hamas and signal to the US pro-Palestinian supporters that Israel is prepared to compromise. If this deal fails it will be on Hamas.
  • President Biden’s presented a broad roadmap to end the war, but it isn’t clear whether there is a detailed work plan.
  • It is unusual for a US president to present a plan in someone else’s name. However, it appears that the Israeli war cabinet approved the broad outline of this plan. However, many issues remain unresolved. The most problematic gaps include:  
    • Reaching a permanent ceasefire / ending the war completely, whilst Hamas remains in power.
    • Lack of clarity over how many of the hostages are still alive, and whether Israel was negotiating for live captives or dead bodies.
  • Another concern relates to President Biden’s confidence that the war has been won and Hamas no longer poses a threat. Whilst rockets are still fired out of Gaza and the Hamas leadership is still in control the Israel public does not perceive this as the ‘total victory’ they were promised.
  • In parallel large public protests have continued. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, demanding that the government secure a deal to release the hostages.     
  • Biden reiterated that the ceasefire could also lead to a cessation of Hezbollah attacks from the north as well as a normalisation agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.   
  • Many view this speech as a final effort of President Biden to reach a wider deal. There is a limited window over the summer, after which all US focus will be on the presidential election.     
  • Biden’s speech brought into sharp relief the existing divisions within the Israeli government. Already at the end of last week, Gantz’s party announced they were submitted a vote of no confidence in the current government – an usual move for a party that is currently part of the government.
  • Both Ministers Gantz and Eisenkot have been deeply frustrated by the government’s inability or refusal to present a vision for Gaza ‘the day after’ Hamas. In early May, Gantz publicly threatened to leave the government unless Netanyahu committed to a plan.
  • At that time, Gantz presented the Security Cabinet with a demand to formulate a plan which should include six objectives: the hostages’ return; toppling Hamas and demilitarising the Gaza Strip; deciding on an alternative regime for Gaza; a return home by the residents of northern Israel by September 1; promoting normalisation; and endorsing the plan to broaden military service to all Israelis. 
  • However, even if Gantz were to resign from the government and take his party’s MKs with him, this would still leave the coalition with the governing majority (64 seats in a 120-seat Knesset) it enjoyed before October 7th.

Looking ahead: Efforts to reach a ceasefire are set to continue, whilst the sides await a Hamas response to the Israeli proposal.   

  • Minister Gantz had set a deadline of June 8th for Israel to present a strategic plan or he would quit the government. There is speculation whether the adoption of this plan ensures he will remain in the government in order to develop and implement the ceasefire.   
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu has been invited to address a joint meeting of both Houses of the US Congress. He will be the first foreign leader to address both Houses of Congress for a fourth time.