The three Bs: Biden, Blinken and Bibi

The three Bs: Biden, Blinken and Bibi

U.S. President Joe Biden optimistically announced his plan on May 31 for “a durable end” to the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. It “brings all the hostages home; ensures Israel’s security; creates a better ‘day after’ in Gaza without Hamas in power; and sets the stage for a political settlement that provides a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

His proposal has three phases. In the first, lasting for six weeks, there would be “a full and complete ceasefire” during which Israeli military forces would withdraw from populated areas; Israeli hostages would be released in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners; and Palestinian civilians could return to their homes throughout the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Israel, Biden imagines, would reach an agreement to assure a permanent end to hostilities.

With the assistance of the United States, Egypt and Qatar, a second phase would be negotiated. This would include the release of surviving hostages and the withdrawal of Israeli military forces contributing to “the cessation of hostilities permanently” (more likely fantasy than reality). As part of phase three, a major construction plan would be implemented to provide housing for displaced Gazans. Israelis can be comfortable with these phases, according to Biden, because Hamas forces have been devastated, and as such are incapable of another invasion like their Oct. 7 slaughter of 1,200 men, women and children in southern Israel.

According to Biden, Israelis must understand that a commitment to total victory “will only bog down Israel in Gaza” and further their worldwide isolation. His alternative deal would free hostages and lead to “a more secure Israel,” enabling Israelis to return to their homes near the Gaza border without fear of another Hamas assault. He imagines that his “ceasefire-for-hostages” proposal—resulting in the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners—would permanently end Hamas assaults.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Biden’s plan with appropriate clichés added. It is, he announced, “crucial” to move from an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza to “an enduring end” to the war. Determined “to push on an urgent basis to try and close this deal,” he promised that “in coming weeks, we will put forward proposals for key elements of the ‘day after’ plan.” He remains vague about those proposals. “At some point in a negotiation—and this has gone back and forth for a long time—you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he continued. The answer should be obvious.

Hamas has a different plan. Its requirements for peace include the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the Egyptian border, followed by complete withdrawal from Gaza, agreement to a permanent ceasefire and the release of prisoners. Predictably unacceptable to Israel, they nonetheless prompted Blinken to equivocate: “We believe that some of the requested changes are workable and some are not.” As for the release of Israeli hostages, Blinken suggested that “the most effective way to bring everybody home is through an agreement that not only brings them home but gets an immediate ceasefire and leads to a permanent one.” Hamas is unlikely to oblige.

The third “B”—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu—is under intense pressure from Biden to end the war quickly. The president, who once claimed to “love” the Israeli leader, has become increasingly critical as the Gaza war continues, recently accusing Netanyahu of prolonging it to preserve his fragile political position. Biden identified his “major disagreement” with him being what will happen once the Gaza war ends. For the president, there needs to be “a two-state solution—namely, Israel and Palestine side by side. For the prime minister, who will do what is best for Israel and not for Biden, nothing is less likely to happen.

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