Mar 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden at SOTU tells Israel Gaza aid can't be a "bargaining chip"

Rep. Rashida Tlaib(D-Mich.), center, and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) center right, hold up signs calling for a ceasefire during the State of the Union address  on March 7, 2024.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), center, and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) center right, hold up signs calling for a ceasefire during the State of the Union address on Mar. 7, 2024. Photo: Julia Nikhinson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Israel's government must take the humanitarian crisis in Gaza seriously and not use aid as leverage, President Biden said in his State of the Union address Thursday.

Why it matters: Biden's emphasis in the speech on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the more than 30,000 Palestinians killed in the conflict reflects the shift in the administration's view of the war over the last few weeks amid Democrats' criticism of Biden's backing of Israel.

  • He also called on Hamas to accept a deal for hostages it's holding that would lead to a six-week ceasefire and stressed the need for a two-state solution.

What they're saying: Biden said the war has taken a greater toll on innocent civilians than all previous wars in Gaza combined. "More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed. Most of whom are not Hamas," he said.

  • It was the first time Biden had spoken about Palestinian casualty numbers similar to those published by the ministry of health in Hamas-run Gaza. Earlier in the Israel-Hamas war he expressed doubt about the accuracy of such casualty these numbers.
  • "Thousands and thousands are innocent women and children. Children also orphaned. Nearly 2 million more Palestinians under bombardment or displaced. Homes destroyed, neighborhoods in rubble, cities in ruin. Families without food, water, medicine. It's heartbreaking," Biden said, describing in detail the suffering of civilians in Gaza.

The president said Israel has a right to go after Hamas, but stressed Israel also has "a fundamental responsibility" to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.

  • "But Israel must also do its part. Israel must allow more aid into Gaza. To the leadership of Israel, I say this: humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority," he said.
  • As the White House said before the speech, Biden announced that he directed the U.S. military "to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast" in order to enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.

State of play: Biden stressed the war started on Oct. 7 "with a massacre by the terrorist group Hamas." He noted it was the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, with 1,200 people killed and 250 taken hostage.

  • "Hamas could end this conflict today by releasing the hostages, laying down arms, and surrendering those responsible for October 7," he said.
  • Biden recognized the family members of the American hostages that are still held by Hamas who were in the audience. "I pledge to all the families that we will not rest until we bring their loved ones home," he said.
  • "We've been working non-stop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for at least six weeks. It would get the hostages home, ease the intolerable humanitarian crisis and build toward something more enduring," Biden said.

The big picture: The president said the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a two-state solution.

  • "I say this as a lifelong supporter of Israel … there is no other path that guarantees Israel's security and democracy," Biden said.
  • He stressed that a two-state solution is the only path that guarantees peace between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
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