‘Would Be A Big Mistake’: Joe Biden Cautions Israel Over Gaza Occupation

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WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden weighed a trip to Israel while he cautioned against long-term Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip on Sunday, as the White House sought to balance support for the country with fears that the regional crisis could escalate. No decision about whether to travel to Israel had yet been made, according to two people familiar with the internal discussions, and a spokesperson for the National Security Council said the White House didn’t have a trip to announce.

But the possible trip – and acknowledgment of concerns voiced by Palestinians in Gaza and Arab leaders across the region – were the latest signal that the US was trying to keep the crisis from further escalating.

Biden stressed his belief that Israel would act by the rules of war and that innocent civilians would have access to medicine, food and water in an interview with CBS News’s “60 Minutes.” He also said he didn’t believe Israel should control the territory long-term, saying instead the territory should be governed by “a Palestinian authority.”

“I think it’d be a big mistake,” Biden said. “Look, what happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people.”

The interview, which aired Sunday night, came as Israeli Defense Forces were readying a ground invasion of Gaza, prompting hundreds of thousands of residents to flee south. The mass migration has prompted concerns of a humanitarian crisis, and Palestinian officials said more than 2,600 people in Gaza have been killed.

Frayed Relationship

Accepting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation – extended in a phone call Saturday – could both signal solidarity after the deadly Hamas attack and help jumpstart regional efforts to limit the scope of the conflict and provide humanitarian assistance.

Biden and the Israeli leader last met in September during the United Nations meetings in New York. Their relationship has been frayed this year amid Netanyahu’s effort to strip power from Israel’s judicial branch.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to return to Israel on Monday after meetings with Saudi and Egyptian leaders, and Axios reported that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has also invited Biden to an international conference regarding the conflict. Palestinian and Israeli leaders have been pushing Egypt to help mediate the conflict, and the US has pushed the country to open the Rafah border crossing.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also said Sunday that the US had conducted backchannel discussions with Iranian leaders to warn them against escalation.

Safe Zone

In his interview, Biden said his team had been discussing the establishment of a safe zone for Gaza residents, and held talks  with the Egyptian government about assistance in getting women and children out of the conflict zone.

“The Israelis are going to do everything in their power to avoid the killing of innocent civilians,” Biden said.

Biden stressed his belief that Israel needed to respond after the initial attack by Hamas, which killed at least 1,300 people – including 30 Americans – and left thousands more injured. The US president described last week’s attack as being “as consequential as the Holocaust.”

Biden reiterated in the interview that he didn’t see a reason for US troops to intervene directly in the situation, though he pressed lawmakers to provide additional military assistance to Israel and Ukraine. Biden said that dysfunction on Capitol Hill – where House Republicans for over a week have been unable to elect a new speaker to replace Kevin McCarthy – increased danger in the world. — Bloomberg

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