US announces $53 million aid package for Palestinians

Biden: To survive, Israel must take opportunity for peace, security with Palestinians

Singling out Ben Gvir, president warns ‘incredibly conservative government’ will cost Israel global support; Netanyahu pushes back, says ‘we have significant successes’

US President Joe Biden talks with Seth Meyers during a taping of the 'Late Night with Seth Meyers,' February 26, 2024, in New York. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden talks with Seth Meyers during a taping of the 'Late Night with Seth Meyers,' February 26, 2024, in New York. (AP/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden said Monday night Israel must make peace with the Palestinians to survive while warning that its “incredibly conservative government” would cost it international support.

Speaking in an appearance on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, Biden also signaled that a temporary ceasefire in Gaza could be at hand, saying that Israel has agreed to pause its offensive during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some hostages held by Hamas.

The US president, who stressed that he is a Zionist, said the “only way Israel ultimately survives… here’s the deal, they also have to… take advantage of an opportunity to have peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians who are being used as pawns by Hamas.”

A temporary ceasefire “gives us time to begin to move in directions that a lot of Arab countries are prepared to move” in terms of normalizing relations with Israel, he said.

“For example, Saudi Arabia is ready to recognize Israel,” he said, referencing Riyadh’s desire to forge ties with Israel if it commits to concrete steps towards a two-state solution.

He added: “I think that if we get that temporary ceasefire, we’re going to be able to move in a direction where we can change the dynamic — and not have a two-state solution immediately but a process to get to a two-state solution, a process to guarantee Israel’s security and the independence of the Palestinians.”

Amid mounting tensions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden told Meyers that if Israel continued with the “incredibly conservative government they have, and [far-right National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir and others… they’re going to lose support from around the world. And that is not in Israel’s interest.”

Biden has repeatedly spoken of the diplomatic difficulties created by the inclusion of ultranationalist parties in the Israeli government.

In response, Netanyahu put out a video in Hebrew on Tuesday evening, arguing that there is widespread support in the US for the Israeli government.

“From the beginning of the war, I have been leading a diplomatic campaign whose goal is to thwart the pressure to end the war prematurely, and at the same time to also gain support for Israel,” said Netanyahu.

“We have significant successes in this area,” continued Netanyahu, pointing to a Harvard Harris poll published Monday showing 82 percent of people in the US support Israel in its war against Hamas.

“This gives us another source of strength to continue our war against Hamas until total victory,” Netanyahu concluded.

Both Israel and Hamas downplayed on Tuesday the idea that a breakthrough on a Gaza deal was imminent after Biden expressed optimism that a deal could be ready “by the end of the weekend.”

Representatives from Egypt, Qatar, the US, France and others have acted as go-betweens for Israel and Hamas, seeking a halt to the fighting and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Biden gave more details of what a deal could look like when he spoke on the issue Monday night.

“There is a path forward, with difficulty,” he told Meyers when asked about how to end the conflict.

Mediators have been hoping to get a deal in place before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said.

Biden has previously spoken of a six-week ceasefire.

Palestinians check destroyed buildings following an overnight Israeli air strike in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on February 27, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Biden has firmly supported Israel despite the soaring death toll in its offensive in Gaza following the deadly Hamas onslaught on southern communities on October 7, supporting Israel’s goal of returning the hostages and ensuring Hamas can never attack Israel again.

But he has been increasing pressure on Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties, particularly in Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah.

Israel had “made a commitment” to evacuate significant parts of Rafah before they “go and take out the remainder of Hamas,” Biden added while conceding that the military had recently slowed down attacks.

Biden’s comments come after his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday that representatives from several parties — although not Gaza’s rulers Hamas — met in Paris over the weekend and reached an understanding about the “basic contours” of a temporary ceasefire.

US announces $53 million in new Palestinian aid, urges access

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) on Tuesday announced another $53 million in humanitarian assistance for Palestinians as Washington’s aid chief pleaded for protection to relief workers in Gaza.

USAID said the aid would go through the World Food Program and non-governmental groups, as Israel and Western powers criticize the UN refugee agency in Gaza.

Announcing the aid in a video from Jordan, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said the new assistance “has to reach people in need.”

“The aid workers who are on the ground in Gaza are risking their lives to get food to people in desperate, desperate need — those aid workers have to be protected,” she said.

“They have to know they can do their jobs without being shot at and killed,” she said, without naming either Israel or Hamas, which had controlled Gaza.

The assistance brings total US emergency assistance to the Palestinians to $180 million since October 7.

The US has previously flown aid by military plane to Egypt to cross into Gaza.

But Washington and other Western nations have suspended funding to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, in response to Israeli allegations that some of its staff participated in the October 7 massacre.

File: A worker carries bags of humanitarian aid that entered Gaza by truck through the Kerem Shalom border crossing on February 17, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The UN fired the employees accused by Israel and has begun an internal probe of UNRWA.

With UNRWA blocked from aid deliveries, the UN has warned of looming famine threatening virtually everyone in Gaza.

War broke out after thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into southern Israel from Gaza by land, air and sea on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid horrific acts of brutality and sexual assault.

In response, Israel launched a wide-scale offensive in Gaza aimed at eliminating the terror group’s military and governance capabilities and returning the hostages. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to Hamas-run health authorities, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 12,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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