Sullivan: Israel’s bombings in Gaza must ‘match its intent’ to protect civilians; revamped PA should ultimately rule

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, interviewed on Channel 12 news, is asked about the differing US and Israeli visions for post-war Gaza, with US President Joe Biden speaking of a revitalized Palestinian Authority and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing a PA role.

Sullivan says the US view “is that ultimately governance of the West Bank and Gaza needs to be connected, and it needs to be connected under a revamped and revitalized Palestinian Authority.”

Pressed on what exactly this means, Sullivan says, “It will require reform. It will require an updating of how the Palestinian Authority approaches governance. It will require the participation of other countries in the region to contribute financial resources and other forms of support.”

He says consensus can be achieved on this “if all of us approach it in good faith.”

Ultimately, he elaborates, “The goal should be to have a West Bank and Gaza connected under common leadership that does not represent any form of terrorist threat to Israel. And we are determined to arrive at that.”

He says the Israeli government has been prepared to discuss the issue: “We had some of these conversations today about what the question of governance and civil administration looks like, the question of security and the question of reconstruction. And in each of those areas, there’s work to do to get to clear answers going forward.”

Ultimately, he adds, “At the heart of those answers has to be the aspirations of the Palestinian people themselves. But it also has to take into account Israel’s security needs, and we’re determined to do both of those.”

Sullivan is questioned about Biden’s remarks at a campaign reception this week on Netanyahu’s need to change, and on his government constraining him. “Does the president think that Israel should change its government?” he is asked.

The national security adviser is adamant that the answer is no. Biden was “explaining to a group of his supporters how he sees things generally unfolding in Israel,” says Sullivan. “He’s going to let the Israeli people decide for themselves what their government looks like and what their elections look like. A very seasoned politician, he believes in democracy and he believes that the citizens of a country should choose their own government and would not have it any other way.”

Next, Sullivan is pressed on Biden’s criticism of Israel’s ostensibly “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza: “Does the United States think that Israel is bombing indiscriminately in Gaza?”

Sullivan avoids a direct answer and instead references statements Biden made at a press conference with President Zelensky of Ukraine: “And what he said was, look at what Israel’s up against. There is a country that was attacked viciously, ruthlessly, savagely by terrorists. 1,200 people slaughtered. And then those terrorists turned around and went and hid behind a civilian population. They used hospitals and schools and other protected sites to continue to commit terrorist attacks against Israel. Their spokespeople went out and said they would do October 7 again and again and again. Their entire credo is about destroying Israel as a Jewish state. That’s what Israel’s up against. And so they need to operate in a way against a foe that is entrenched among the civilian population, using citizens as human shields. And somehow Israel has to navigate that to destroy that terrorist threat. That is an unbelievable burden.”

Elaborates Sullivan: “The president was saying that Israel’s intent is to conduct that campaign in a way that distinguishes between innocent Palestinians and Hamas. And what he would like to see as this campaign unfolds is that the results of the bombing campaign and the ground campaign match that intent.”

Biden and Netanyahu, he adds, have “talked at length about this question of civilian protection.”

Asked whether US military and other aid will continue throughout this war, Sullivan says he was checking with Washington today “on the status of the supplemental budget request that the president has put forward: $14 billion in aid to Israel, so that it has the necessary tools it needs to be able to defend itself and to go after the terrorists who attacked it so brutally on October 7. We are going to continue to support Israel in its campaign against Hamas because we see Hamas as an ongoing threat to the state of Israel, one that Israel has not just a right but a duty to get after.”

Asked about how to handle the escalating hostilities on the northern border, and the 65,000 Israelis who dare not return to their homes, Sullivan says he does not believe “military action is inevitable or is necessary to produce an outcome that generates the security that Israeli citizens need to feel to return to their homes in the north.” Rather, he says, “We think that there can be a negotiated outcome… What we are saying to Israel today is let’s exhaust our options, let us work through the diplomatic process.”

Finally, turning to the threat by the Houthis to shipping, he says what the Houthis are doing “is a threat not just to Israel, but to the entire international community. It is a threat to freedom of navigation. It’s a threat to commercial shipping. It is a threat at a critical choke point, a critical artery in global commerce.”

He says the US “is building a coalition of countries” to tackle this. “We’ll work closely with the Israelis and many other countries that are interested in this, not just from the region, but from all over the world.”

He notes that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be in the region “in the next couple of days. And part of his visit, not just here, but to the Gulf, will be about beefing up the international response to what the Houthis are up to.”

He adds that it’s Iran that is “arming, equipping and enabling” the Houthis. The international community, “including countries that have pretty close relations with Iran,” he says, “have a responsibility to go to them and say, you are responsible for this threat, and it is your responsibility to end this threat.”

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