Nov 3, 2023 - World

Scoop: Blinken tells Israelis humanitarian pause will buy Israel time for Gaza operation

Blinken gives a press conference in Tel Aviv.

Blinken gives a press conference in Tel Aviv. Photo: Gil Cohen-Magan/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken told his Israeli counterparts on Friday that agreeing to a humanitarian pause will help the U.S. fend off growing pressure it is facing over its support of Israel's operation in Gaza and in turn help Israel buy more time for its ground offensive, according to one U.S. and three Israeli officials with direct knowledge of the talks.

Why it matters: The Biden administration says it supports Israel's goal of dismantling Hamas' military capabilities but it is increasingly under pressure from some Democrats in Congress and its allies and partners in Arab countries to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.

  • Blinken told his Israeli counterparts that the Biden administration is taking a lot of fire domestically and internationally because it is giving Israel its full backing, the Israeli officials said.

Behind the scenes: Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the members of Israel's war cabinet that he understands Israel's operation against Hamas will last longer than a few days.

  • But because of the pressure the U.S. is facing, a humanitarian pause will help Israel buy more time for its ground operation, the U.S. and Israeli officials said.
  • Blinken's message, according to one U.S. and two Israeli officials, was: "We don't want to stop you, but help us help you get more time."
  • Israeli leaders, including Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi and Netanyahu, told Blinken a pause wouldn't happen unless the hostages were released, the Israeli officials said.

Two U.S. officials said the Israeli message in private was more nuanced than the one made in public by Netanyahu shortly after his meeting with Blinken.

  • Blinken and his aides think the Israeli leaders haven't shut the door on the idea of a temporary ceasefire and that they can get them to agree to some kind of pause like they did when Israel agreed to allow aid trucks into Gaza, the officials said.
  • Israeli officials say the issue of humanitarian pauses will continue to be discussed with the U.S., but they don't believe anything will change in the next few days.

The big picture: In his conversations with the Israeli leaders, Blinken stressed that the growing number of civilian casualties in Gaza and pictures like the ones from the Israeli strike on the Jabaliya refugee camp earlier this week don't help the Biden administration fend off the pressure the U.S. is facing at home and abroad.

  • Gallant defended the Jabaliya strike, claiming the Hamas militants targeted, including a senior commander the IDF said was killed, surrounded themselves with dozens of civilians as they fought Israeli ground forces.
  • He also claimed the commander and the 20 militants killed were involved in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. Hamas denied the commander was killed.
  • More than 9,200 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

Between the lines: "The Biden administration is with us but they have their constraints — also domestically. We want to help them," a senior Israeli official told Axios.

  • Israel is trying to look for ways to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza, Israeli officials said.
  • "Whoever wants to win this war needs to support as much humanitarian aid as possible," a second Israeli official said.

Zoom out: In his meetings on Friday, Blinken also raised the need to start planning for the day after the war, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

  • Blinken presented three principles when thinking about the day after the war: no Hamas rule in Gaza, no Israeli occupation in the Strip and no chaos in the enclave.
  • U.S. officials said they stressed to their Israeli counterparts that they need to take into consideration that some of the choices Israel makes now might influence what happens in Gaza after the war ends.

What's next: Blinken on Saturday is expected to meet with a group of Arab foreign ministers in Jordan to discuss the Gaza war.

  • Those invited included the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Hussein al-Sheikh, Palestinian President Abbas' chief adviser.
  • U.S. officials said they are concerned the meeting will turn into an onslaught of criticism over the Biden administration's policy regarding the Gaza war.
  • Blinken and his advisers think the war has created a shift in thinking among Arab governments and a sense of urgency regarding the need to move towards a Palestinian state on the day after the war.
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