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“It will be a quick trip”: Biden to head to Israel with a sprawling agenda
The visit, which will also include a stop in Jordan, comes less than two weeks after the Hamas attack and as Congress grapples with the crisis here at home.
President JOE BIDEN will travel to Israel on Wednesday in a dramatic demonstration of solidarity with the US’s closest ally in the Middle East. The visit comes just weeks after the Jewish state suffered a surprise attack at the hands of the terrorist group Hamas that killed more than 1,300 people and led to another 150 people being held hostage. It also will occur ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive that pro-Palestinian advocates believe will result in numerous civilian casualties.
Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN said in a speech in Tel Aviv announcing the trip on Tuesday morning local time that it represents an inflection point for Israel, the region, and the world before outlining a five-part agenda for the president:
Biden will reaffirm the US’s solidarity with Israel and America’s deep commitment to its security. “The President will hear from Israel what it needs to defend its people as we continue to work with Congress to meet those needs.”
The president will reiterate the US’s message against any organization or nation attempting to exploit the crisis to attack Israel. Biden has deployed two aircraft carrier groups and other military assets to the region as deterrents.
Biden will work with Israeli partners to get hostages taken by Hamas released. The hostages include men, women, kids, Holocaust survivors, and American citizens.
The president will be briefed on Israel’s war plan. Experts say the endgame is unclear and there isn’t consensus on how Israel’s military will disentangle itself from Gaza once it believes it has achieved its goals.
Biden will hear from Israel on how it will wage war in a way that minimizes civilian casualties. Some humanitarian groups and the United Nations argue this is virtually impossible because Hamas militants blend in with civilians in the urban terrain that will likely become the battlefield.
“It will be a quick trip over the course of a single day,” White House National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY said. “But it comes at a very critical time and there is an awful lot on the agenda—again, reiterating that Israel has the right to defend itself and to go after these Hamas terrorists and that the United States will continue to support them.”
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Prior to the official announcement, Blinken spent hours negotiating a plan with Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU of Israel to enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and other organizations to reach civilians in Gaza.
The White House’s Kirby disputed public reporting that the Blinken-Netanyahu agreement was a precondition to the visit. Nonetheless, the politics of Biden’s trip would have been more treacherous without it. Still, there’s little reason to assume Hamas won’t seek to disrupt the flow of aid though.
“If Hamas in any way blocks humanitarian assistance from reaching civilians, including by seizing the aid itself, we’ll be the first to condemn it and we will work to prevent it from happening again,” Blinken said in what sounds like tough talk that will be hard to enforce without the US taking a more active role in the conflict.
After the Israel stop, President Biden will travel to Amman, the capital city of Jordan to meet with King ABDULLAH II BIN AL-HUSSEIN, President ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI of Egypt, and President MAHMOUD ABBAS of Palestine National Authority to express that Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinian people’s interests and to discuss the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza.
In the US, while House Republicans hold another floor vote to elect a speaker, Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in US history, is laying the groundwork to shepherd a massive aid package informed by a request the White House is expected to send Congress as early as the end of the week.
“This package must move quickly, a package of military aid, the necessities that Israel needs,” Schumer said in his first floor speech following his weekend visit to Israel. “Intelligence aid to make sure we share intelligence in the best way possible. Diplomatic aid to make sure that the nations of the world stand with Israel. And humanitarian aid to make sure that civilians are given the help that they need.”
And since the House is unable to move legislation, Schumer said his chamber will move first: “If we pass a strong package with strong bipartisan support, it will importune the House, somehow or other, to act, despite the morass they are in.“
Schumer also reaffirmed his sense of urgency to confirm JACK LEW as US ambassador to Israel ASAP. Lew was spotted at the Capitol meeting with senators on Monday ahead of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. (Also on Wednesday: The Senate will receive an all-senators classified briefing on the situation in Israel this Wednesday from senior Biden administration officials, including Secretary Blinken and Secretary of Defense LLOYD AUSTIN.)
And while Schumer claimed Israel has an obligation to end the threat from Hamas, a group of House progressives introduced a resolution on Monday calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine.
“It is incredible to watch my colleagues forget literally every lesson from [the Iraq war] and rush to get us involved in yet another Forever War,” Rep. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, said during a press call with reporters on Monday. “Our government must stop the escalation of death and destruction.”
Rep. CORI BUSH (D-Mo.), the resolution’s lead sponsor, said the US government has a responsibility to use every diplomatic tool to demand and mediate de-escalation, the safe return of hostages, and accountability for all perpetrators who dare violate international human rights law.
Bush argued that a ceasefire is not an extraordinary or unprecedented request and pointed to the 2021 letter hundreds of House Democrats signed urging President Biden to facilitate a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza.
“The US government wields enormous power to facilitate an end to hostilities and it must demonstrate global leadership by acting now,” she said. “Are you for war or against war? Are you for saving lives or get saving lives? The time to decide is now.”
AYANNA PRESSLEY, a Massachusetts congresswoman and another resolution cosponsor, said the international community is in a dark moment when the world’s shared humanity is in the line.
“Let me make it plain: The murder of innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas is horrific and unacceptable. And the murder of innocent Palestinian civilians is a horrific and unacceptable response from Israel,” Pressley added. “If we affirm that all lives have dignity and value, as people of faith, we cannot stand by while civilians are indiscriminately murdered.”
Schumer said he would seek unanimous consent to pass a resolution introduced by Sens. BEN CARDIN (D-Md.) and JIM RISCH (R-Idaho)—the top leaders on the Foreign Relations Committee condemning Hamas and affirming that the US stands with Israel and their right to defend themselves. The House is expected to take up a similar resolution as its first order of business once it elects a speaker.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the ceasefire resolution.