In about eight-and-a-half minutes of remarks and answers to reporter questions on Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden said another group of hostages was free and called for more humanitarian aid to Palestinians and for a two-state solution as the only path forward for peace.
“For weeks, I’ve been advocating to pause in the fighting for two purposes—to increase the assistance getting in to the Gaza civilians, who need help, and to facilitate the release of hostages,” Biden said about noon local time in Nantucket, Mass. “We know that innocent children are suffering in Gaza as well because this war that Hamas has unleashed has such consequences. Thousands have been killed.”
Biden said about 200 trucks “loaded with food, water, medicine, fuel, cooking gas” have moved into Gaza each day in a “surge” of assistance. “More is needed,” he said, and the White House hopes the deal will continue.
Under the deal, Israel releases three times as many jailed Palestinians—all at least accused terrorists—as Hamas does civilian hostages, whom it has held for about 50 days.
In the past, the Biden White House has said that it does not bargain with terrorists, and the United States has designated Hamas a terrorist group since 1997. But the president said on Sunday that he and his team have been in close contact with leaders in Qatar, Egypt and Israel, “speaking with each one of them repeatedly over the past few weeks to help secure this deal.”
The hostages released on Sunday are free “under the brokered and sustained, though intensive U.S. diplomacy,” according to Biden.
With Jill Biden, the first lady, to his right throughout his remarks, he said he owed the emir of Qatar a special thanks “to keep the hostage release on track” and for pushing to have Abigail Edan, 4, be part of the release.
“This is the day-by-day approach. Hour-by-hour process. Nothing is guaranteed and nothing is being taken for granted,” he said. “But the proof that this is working and worth pursuing further is in every smile and every grateful tear we see on the faces of those families who are finally getting back together again. The proof is little Abigail.”
‘Today, she is free’
“Two days ago, one of our fellow Americans, a little girl named Abigail, turned 4 years old. She spent her birthday—that birthday—and at least 50 days before that held hostage by Hamas,” Biden said. (It had been 49 days.)
“Today, she is free, and Jill and I, together with so many Americans, are praying for the fact that she is gonna be alright,” Biden said. “You know, she’s free and she is in Israel now. And so those who are wrapping Abigail in love and care. The supportive services she needs. She’s been through a terrible trauma.”
“You know, her mom was killed in front of her when her kibbutz was attacked by Hamas terrorists on October the 7th. Abigail ran to her dad then, who then was gunned down, gunned down as well while using his body to shield little Abigail,” Biden added. “She then ran to a neighbor for help, where they were all taken hostage. That entire house of neighbors were taken hostage by Hamas and held for 50 days.”
“What she endured is unthinkable,” he added. “Thank God, she’s home. I just can’t imagine the enjoyment. I wish I were there to hold her.”
Edan was one of 14 Israeli women and children released on Nov. 26 on the third day of a truce between Jerusalem and Hamas. Hamas also released three Thai nationals. (Biden said Edan was among 13 released.)
The other Israelis were Dafna (15) and Ela (8) Elyakim; Tal (7), Gal (11), Agam (17) and Chen (48) Goldstein-Almog; Oriya (4), Yuval (8), Ofri (10) and Hagar (40) Brodetz; Roni Krivoi (25); Adrienne (Aviva) Siegel (62) and Alma Avraham (84), according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
“She’s now safely in Israel, and we continue to press and expect for additional Americans will be released as well,” he said. “And we will not stop working until every hostage is returned to their loved ones.”
‘Long journey toward healing’
The U.S. president said he will speak soon with Netanyahu, “and we will continue to remain personally engaged, personally engaged to see that this deal is fully implemented and work to extend the deal as well.”
“They can now begin the long journey toward healing,” Biden said of Edan and the other released hostages.
The U.S. president continued to call for a two-state solution. “It’s the only way to guarantee the long-term security of both Israeli and Palestinian people,” he said.
Many, including rivals of Biden’s in the upcoming presidential election, have rejected such an approach.
“We will not pressure them to do a so-called ‘two-state solution’ with Palestinian Arabs. There is no two-state solution,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, told Newsmax last month.
“Those Palestinian Arabs in places like the Gaza Strip, they don’t want their own state as much as they just want to eradicate the Jewish state,” DeSantis said.
Asked at the end of his remarks on Sunday if he has an update on the other Americans being held hostage, Biden said, “We are hopeful, but I don’t have anything firmly to tell you at this moment,” he said. He added that he thinks other militant groups are in control of some hostages, “but we aren’t certain.”
Biden also said that he thinks that other states in the region, which aren’t directly involved in the negotiations, are “looking for a way to end this, so the hostages are all released and Hamas is completely—how can I say it—no longer in control of any portion of Gaza.” (Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have called for Hamas to be eradicated entirely.)
On his way out, Biden appeared to apologize to reporters. “I know you say, ‘What’s he call me with only 10 minutes or so notice,’” Biden said laughing. “That’s the notice I get.”
“I didn’t want to be having this press conference if they weren’t physically—even when they were in the Red Cross ambulance, I didn’t want to do it, because they were not out,” he said. “They were still in Gaza.”
‘Ball is in Hamas’s court’
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that Washington is working to extend the truce.
“It could be that the pause is extended for another day or two days or three days or even more. The ball is in Hamas’s court on that, because what Israel has said is that it is prepared to pause another day of fighting for every 10 hostages that Hamas releases,” Sullivan said on the ABC program “This Week.”
“Hamas could choose on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, to continue to release hostages and then the pause would continue. If the pause stops, the responsibility for that rests on the shoulders of Hamas, not on the shoulders of Israel,” Sullivan said.
“Then, ultimately, Israel is going to want to continue to conduct military operations against Hamas, particularly the leadership of Hamas, that were the architects of this brutal, bloody massacre—the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” Sullivan added. “Hamas represents a continuing threat to Israel. In fact, Hamas leaders have said on television that they would like to repeat Oct. 7th again and again and again.”
Sullivan said that Israel has the right to self-defense. “It will take action to suppress and ultimately eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the state of Israel,” he said. “That is what any country would do to defend its territory and its people.”