President Joe Biden on Friday said there has been no shift in his commitment to Israel’s security, but insisted a two-state solution that includes a state for Palestinians remains “the only answer” to that conflict.
Biden spoke at a White House news conference on the first full day of a ceasefire after 11 days of Israeli-Hamas fighting.
Biden, speaking at the end of a visit by the president of South Korea, also played down the idea that the newly ended fighting had opened a rift among Democrats, as scores of Democrats split with Biden’s “quiet diplomacy” with ally Israel to publicly demand a ceasefire.
“My party still supports Israel,” Biden said. “Let’s get something straight here,” he added. “Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”
Biden added that he was “praying this ceasefire will hold.”
The president pledged to help organize efforts to rebuild Gaza. He said he and other nations would launch an effort to “rebuild the homes” that were destroyed in the fighting, “without providing Hamas the opportunity to rebuild their weapons systems.
He also said he had told the Israelis to stop “intercommunal fighting” in the flashpoint city of Jerusalem.
The idea of a two-state solution — with a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel and Jerusalem as their shared capital — has been the cornerstone of decades of international diplomacy aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. US policy under former president Donald Trump was criticized in the international community as being blatantly pro-Israel and ignoring the Palestinians.
A Mideast peace plan devised by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was billed as providing for a two-state solution. But that blueprint envisioned a Palestinian state with only limited sovereignty and Israel maintaining security over that state. The plan was rejected out of hand by Palestinian leaders.
Biden on Friday insisted on a full-blown two-state remedy.
“There is no shift in my commitment to the security of Israel, period, no shift, not at all,” he said.
“But I tell you what there is a shift in. The shift is that we still need a two-state solution. It is the only answer, the only answer,” Biden stated.
On Thursday Biden credited the Egyptian government with playing a crucial role in brokering the ceasefire and said he and top White House aides were intensely involved in an “hour by hour” effort to stop the bloodletting.
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Biden said. “My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that.”
He also said he “commended” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for stopping the fighting.
Biden said that during their latest call, Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for the Iron Dome missile defense system, funding for which was first approved by the Obama administration and was responsible for intercepting the vast majority of Gaza rockets headed for Israeli civilian areas. The president said he assured Netanyahu that the US would replenish its Iron Dome missile supply in the future.
Biden made a point of highlighting the US efforts aimed at deescalating the situation on the ground, in an apparent effort to rebuff criticism that the US had been disengaged and even blocking diplomatic measures aimed at bringing about a ceasefire. The US mission to the UN stood alone at the Security Council to block three joint statements calling for an immediate ceasefire and was slated to oppose a French resolution on the matter as well. Washington argued that such measures, which Israel opposed, would not have helped advance ceasefire efforts.
But Biden officials stood by the position, with former Obama special envoy Martin Indyk tweeting Thursday that it had been part of an “arm around Israel” that proved effective in bringing about an end to the violence.
Before Operation Guardian of the Walls commenced, the State Department had been critical of Israel’s actions in Jerusalem, including the looming eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the police crackdown on protesters there as well as at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound.
But that criticism was largely tabled once the rocket fire began on May 10, with US officials repeatedly defending Israel’s right to defend itself and that there was no equivalency between Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians and Israel’s response in which it seeks to avoid civilian casualties.
However, patience in Washington began to run out as the conflict dragged on, as civilian casualties began to pile up, and as pressure from within the Democratic party and from allies abroad grew.
“We held intensive high-level discussions, hour by hour,” Biden said in his Thursday speech. His administration has highlighted over 80 calls and meetings senior officials have held with Israelis, Palestinians and other relevant regional players since the violence started.
The president mourned the high civilian death toll, particularly children, from the conflict. “I send my sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones and my hope for a full recovery for the wounded,” he said.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said over 230 people, including more than 66 minors, were killed by Israeli strikes in the conflict. According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night. The IDF also said some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets falling short and exploding in Gaza.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, were killed in rocket fire, and hundreds injured. Hamas and other Gaza terror groups fired over 4,000 rockets and other projectiles at Israel.