columnIsrael at War

Biden’s bait-and-switch speech

If the material is good enough for Hamas to use in the scripts that it's forced the hostages to read on camera, why not parrot it from a podium in D.C.?

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s bait-and-switch speech on Friday evening, timed to prevent religiously observant Israelis from watching and Jerusalem officialdom from issuing a proper response, was as worrisome as it was oxymoronic. Though talking out of both sides of his mouth is typical of the confused incumbent who’s seeking re-election in November, his Shabbat performance was a doozy.

Taking credit for his and his team’s “intensive diplomacy” to end the war in Gaza, he announced that Israel had “offered a comprehensive new proposal: a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire and release of all hostages [that] has been transmitted by Qatar to Hamas. Then, acting as though the plan were crafted in Washington, he “lay out its terms for the American citizens and for the world.”

According to Biden’s interpretation of, or illusions about, the “Israeli” outline, the first of its three phases, to last for six weeks, would be kicked off with a “full and complete ceasefire”; a withdrawal of Israel Defense Forces from all populated areas of Gaza; a release of an undisclosed number of female, elderly and wounded hostages in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian “prisoners” (a.k.a. terrorists, among them those who raped, beheaded, burned, mutilated and abducted men, women and children on Oct. 7); a return of Palestinian civilians to their homes everywhere in Gaza; and a surge in the number of trucks carrying aid into the Strip on a daily basis.  

“All of that and more,” Biden stressed, “would begin immediately—immediately.” During that period, he explained, “Israel and Hamas would negotiate the necessary arrangements to get to phase two, which is a permanent end to hostilities.”

Phase two, he went on, “would be an exchange for the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers; Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza; and as long as Hamas lives up to its commitments, a temporary ceasefire would become, in the words of the Israeli proposal, ‘the cessation of hostilities permanently.’”

In the third phase, he said, “a major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence, and any final remains of hostages who have been killed would be returned to their families.”

Yet again appropriating the proposal as emanating from the White House and Foggy Bottom—with a nudge from their fellow oppositionists across the ocean, Biden stated, “The people of Israel should know they can make this offer without any further risk to their own security because they’ve devastated Hamas forces over the past eight months.”

Yes, he assured, “at this point, Hamas no longer is capable of carrying out another October 7, which is one of the Israelis’ main objectives in this war and, quite frankly, a righteous one.” In other words, he was telling Israel to trust, as it had prior to and on Oct. 6, that Hamas was “deterred.”

Fat chance of that happening before hell freezes over.

This didn’t prevent Biden from making a typically vile, not-so-veiled reference to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir—neither of whom, by the way, ever bought the ridiculous notion that Israel’s southern border was secure.

“I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely,” the American president asserted. “Some are even in the government coalition, and they’ve made it clear: They want to occupy Gaza; they want to keep fighting for years; and the hostages are not a priority to them.”

It doesn’t take a genius to realize where Team Biden is getting its talking points. Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz, a member of the War Cabinet threatening to bolt on June 8, is one source. Another is Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. A third is the anybody-but-Bibi pavement-pounder crowd.

But hey, if the material is good enough for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to use in the scripts that they’ve forced the hostages in their captivity to read aloud, why not parrot it from a podium in D.C.?

Nor did Biden care about contradicting himself, first attributing the initiative to Israel and then claiming proudly to have “urged the leadership to stand behind this deal, despite whatever pressure comes.” Interesting that he needed to persuade the powers behind the proposal to accept it.

Caught off guard, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promptly tried to set the record straight.

“The government of Israel is united in its desire to return the hostages as soon as possible and is working to achieve this goal,” read the Friday-night statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office. “The prime minister authorized the negotiating team to present a proposal to that end, which would also enable Israel to continue the war until all its objectives are achieved, including the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities. The actual proposal put forward by Israel, including the conditional transition from one phase to the next, allows Israel to uphold these principles.”

The delicate formulation was ill-deserved, given Biden’s betrayal. The following morning, the PMO tweeted further clarification, albeit less forcefully than it should have done under the circumstances.

“Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: The destruction of Hamas military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel,” the PMO posted on X. “Under the proposal, Israel will continue to insist these conditions are met before a permanent ceasefire is put in place. The notion that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are fulfilled is a non-starter.”

Despite the background noise at home and abroad geared towards giving the wrong impression, most Israelis want the prime minister to stick to his literal and figurative guns.

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