But all suggested that President Joe Biden should not back down from what this policy has accomplished so far. “It’s vindication,” one of the officials said, “but there’s still a lot to do.”
Increasing demands from progressive Democrats for a ceasefire and an end to support for Israeli retaliation have fallen on deaf ears at the White House. Biden and his team have repeatedly said that the only way to make meaningful humanitarian progress is with a hostage deal to calm passions and temporarily prevent bombs from falling throughout the enclave.
To reach such a moment, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, already facing immense pressure from hostage families and a restive nation, could only be hugged in public and through discreet cajoling.
The deal could yet fall apart, with U.S. officials insisting that nothing is really final until it is officially announced, the hostages are brought home and the guns fall silent. Yet as the administration’s biggest diplomatic victory in the conflict approaches, questions are swirling internally about how much credit Biden’s approach deserves.
Three other administration officials, including a senior official in a recorded interview, said that working to secure the release of the hostages and suspend fighting for four or five days was simply necessary as Israel’s retaliation against Hamas after the October 7 attack. devastated Gaza and triggered a humanitarian crisis.
“It’s not about justifying a strategy,” David Satterfield, the U.S. humanitarian official in the Israel-Gaza war, said in a live interview Tuesday with al-Monitor. “It’s the right and necessary thing to do.”
All officials were granted anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions and the status of negotiations. On Tuesday morning, Biden said “nothing’s done until it’s done,” adding that he recently spoke to Netanyahu as well as the emir of Qatar. “But things are looking good at the moment.”
Hostage talks were sometimes complicated by the wide diversity of parties involved – including Israel, Hamas, Qatar and the United States – as well as various outside groups that exploited their own diplomatic channels, a former official said American familiar with discussions. The large number of hostages, varying in nationality and age and, in some cases, with urgent medical needs, added another delicate variable to the situation.
“Hostage negotiations are always difficult,” the former official said. “But this one was very complex.”
The Biden administration insists that Israel has an obligation to defend itself, but must minimize harm to civilians. In recent weeks, the United States has worked to deliver 100 truckloads of aid a day from Egypt to Gaza and is in contact with humanitarian groups about how to further ease the suffering of Palestinians in the enclave.
But the administration remains cautious about Netanyahu’s endgame and the apparent lack of a plan for what to do once Hamas is defeated. The pause was not expected to turn into a longer ceasefire, a senior administration official said. And the administration has worried about an unintended consequence of the pause: It would allow journalists greater access to Gaza and the opportunity to shed more light on the devastation there and turn public opinion toward Israel.
Israel is unlikely to slow down its military operations in Gaza once the temporary pause ends, experts say. Israeli officials have vowed to continue the offensive until it destroys Hamas, arguing in some cases that the enclave’s north-south campaign helped the hostage negotiations by making a stop more attractive.
“There’s no indication on the Israeli side that they think this actually changes what they need to do on the military side,” said Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Daalder, who is close to senior administration officials, added that the White House remains “deeply, deeply concerned” about Israel’s long-term strategy and what the next phase of the war might look like. which makes the next few days crucial for the United States. step up pressure on Netanyahu to reconsider his approach.
“The administration judged that supporting Israel after October 7 was a necessary ingredient to having influence over Israel,” Daalder said. “That’s not to say that the influence was complete… but if they hadn’t done that, they would have had no influence.” And in a way, that remains at the heart of their strategy.
Back home, Biden has resisted calls from his own party to approve a cease-fire and condition military aid to Israel, even as his stance is losing support among young voters as the election approaches. 2024 presidential election.
A House Democratic aide said that, depending on the circumstances of the deal, progressives would use the opportunity to push Biden to support longer pauses in fighting. “If there is no bombing for five days, the goal would be to turn this temporary respite into a more lasting cessation” to deal with humanitarian concerns, the staffer said.
Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland who has held conversations with Democratic senators on the issue of support for Israel, said all sides need a deal now, “including the Biden administration, which is under increasing pressure not only globally, but also among Democrats who I fear Biden will take for granted.
“A break and an exchange of prisoners is of course welcome, but it remains to be seen whether or not this will be an opportunity for the parties to reconsider the disastrous path they have taken,” he said.