Senior US official: Rejecting Biden hostage deal won’t bring total victory

Speaking in Israel, VP Kamala Harris’s national security adviser says Hamas is walking away from own proposal; US envoy says he understands Israel’s ‘impatience’ over weapons

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Vice President Kamala Harris’s national security adviser Philip Gordon speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 24, 2024. (Ronen Topelberg)
US Vice President Kamala Harris’s national security adviser Philip Gordon speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 24, 2024. (Ronen Topelberg)

United States Vice President Kamala Harris’s national security adviser urged Israel on Monday to accept the terms of the hostage deal laid out by President Joe Biden last month, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the day before that he was prepared to accepted only a “partial” accord.

“A rejection of this deal would not bring about some undefined notion of total victory,” said Philip Gordon at Reichman University’s Herzliya Conference, “but it would lead to endless conflict, draining Israel’s resources, contributing to its isolation on the world stage, and preventing the hostages from being reunited with their families.”

Netanyahu has repeated since October 7 that Israel will continue fighting until it achieves “total victory” in Gaza.

Later Monday, Netanyahu seemed to contradict his earlier statement, saying that his government is “committed to the Israeli [ceasefire] proposal welcomed by [US] President Biden. Our position has not changed,” during a Knesset session called by opposition MKs.

The deal Biden presented is “the path to that more hopeful future (that) starts with the ceasefire bill,” Gordon said.

“That proposal offers the opportunity to end the war in Gaza in a way such that Israel is secure, the hostages come home, Hamas no longer governs Gaza, and the Palestinian people have a hopeful political horizon to freedom, security, and an eventual state, living side by side in peace with Israel,” he continued.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 14 in the first interview he has given to an Israeli news outlet since October 7, on June 23, 2024. (Screenshot, Channel 14, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Biden last month presented what he said was a three-phase Israeli proposal to end the war in Gaza, which includes a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

However, negotiations appear to remain stalled, with Hamas reportedly seeking to change the terms of the deal by pushing forward a full Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza into the very initial stages of a phased implementation, as well as insisting that it be a clear end to the war.

Gordon also placed blame on the terror group: “It is now time for Hamas to accept the deal. Let’s be clear, by refusing to do so, Hamas is responsible for ongoing suffering of so many Palestinians. The deal Israel offered at the end of May was almost identical to what Hamas proposed on May 6th. In many ways, Hamas is walking away from its own proposal.”

Troops of the 401st Armored Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout photo published June 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Speaking at the same conference, US Ambassador Jack Lew called for Netanyahu to focus on a plan for the governance of Gaza after Hamas is toppled.

“The challenge right now is we can’t give up on trying to end the war in Gaza in a way that leaves us positioned to win the strategic future,” he said. “None of that will work if there’s not a day after strategy for how to govern Gaza.

“There has to be a vision for a future where you don’t end up back where you started again, because there was no resolution of some of the core issues,” Lew continued. One of those issues, he argued, was “a pathway toward a better future” for the Palestinians.

Since the October 7 Hamas attacks, Netanyahu has rejected discussions about postwar plans for Gaza, and remained adamant in his rejection of the prospect of a future Palestinian state.

Reasonable ‘impatience’

In his speech, Lew also said Israel’s “impatience” about the pace of arms supply from the US is “understandable.”

Netanyahu last week released a video claiming that the United States has been withholding weapons shipments to Israel. The US denied the assertion forcefully, explaining that it has only withheld one shipment of heavy bombs it was concerned Israel would use in the densely populated southern Gaza city of Rafah.

US Ambassador Jack Lew speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 24, 2024. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

“It is a time of crisis,” said the diplomat. “But the US system is moving quickly still. Perhaps not at the speed of October 8, when things were just in an extraordinary pace of response, something that isn’t even physically sustainable because you start running into supply issues.”

“Even after one shipment of large diameter bombs was held, precision guided missiles were still delivered. Other things keep coming,” he insisted.

Lew added that questions about US support for Israel are “frankly, something I don’t understand.”

An IDF soldier prays, while standing next to artillery shells at a position along the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on November 1, 2023. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

That does not mean that the US has not asked questions throughout the war, Lew continued, but “we’ve actually helped provide ideas that have been helpful as the war has been fought, as the response has been designed in terms of humanitarian assistance.”

Biden and Netanyahu have clashed over the course of the war about civilian casualties, the “day after” Hamas in Gaza, and the ground operation into Rafah.

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