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White House ratchets up urgency for temporary Israel-Hamas cease-fire

The Biden administration is ramping up urgency around securing a temporary cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war as it faces its own domestic pressures over President Biden’s handling of the conflict.

White House officials have aggressively lobbied for a six-week pause in fighting to allow hostages out and to get more aid into Gaza. Both Biden and Vice President Harris have in recent days called for an “immediate” cease-fire and argued the onus is on Hamas, the terrorist group that rules over Gaza, to accept the terms. 

But there are clear signs of strife between the White House and Israel as well, particularly when it comes to letting more aid into the enclave, a situation that Harris on Sunday deemed a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” Harris said Sunday in remarks from Selma, Ala. “They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel, sites, and convoys are not targeted. And they must work to restore basic services and promote order in Gaza so more food, water, and fuel can reach those in need.”

Harris’s remarks put the vice president at the forefront of an issue Biden has struggled with politically, causing him to lose support from progressives and other segments of the Democratic Party.

Harris on Monday also met with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war Cabinet and a political rival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss efforts to secure a cease-fire. Gantz was expected to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan as well, though he reportedly did not have the permission of Netanyahu to do so.

The urgency around a temporary cease-fire comes after voters in Michigan sent Biden a clear message of discontent last week, with more than 100,000 voters casting a ballot for “uncommitted” to protest his pro-Israel stance. There are similar efforts underway to cast protest votes against Biden in Super Tuesday states such as Minnesota, Colorado and North Carolina.

Activists see Harris’s remarks as a signal to organizers and progressives that the administration is paying attention. 

“I think what we’re seeing here is at least a political recognition from the administration — a recognition that they have a political problem with core constituencies,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the progressive political organizing group Our Revolution. 

“They’re paying attention. If anything, the vice president’s speech signals that they understand the problem with their base and they have to address it.”

Geevarghese also argued that the attention Harris received for her remarks may have been in part because she delivered them to mark Bloody Sunday.

“The imagery of Bloody Sunday and the Civil Rights backdrop I think was resonant. And the administration invoking this backdrop may have been trying to signal some moral equivalence between what was happening to African Americans and the suffering that’s being imparted on the people of Gaza,” he said.

Indeed, Harris on Sunday spoke both of the need to eliminate Hamas given the threat it poses to Israel and to come up with a longer-term plan that would allow Palestinians the right to self-determination.

“The threat … Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated. And given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire — for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” she said.

“This will get the hostages out and get a significant amount of aid in. This would allow us to build something more enduring to ensure Israel is more secure and to respect the right of the Palestinian people to dignity, freedom and self-determination,” she continued, which drew further applause.

Public support for Israel has wavered since the start of the war, particularly among young Americans who are key to Biden’s coalition heading into November. A Gallup poll published Monday found 58 percent of Americans have at least a “mostly favorable” view of Israel, down 10 percentage points from a year ago. Among Americans ages 18-34, Israel’s favorability is down 26 percentage points.

The same poll found support for the Palestinian Authority at 18 percent, its lowest level since 2015.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians, said last week that 30,035 people had died in Gaza since the war began. International aid groups have said the majority of the dead are women and children.

Harris on Monday attempted to dispel the notion there was daylight between her and Biden on the issue of the Israel-Hamas war, particularly in calling for an “immediate case-fire,” after her remarks prompted significant media attention.

“The president and I have been aligned from the very beginning,” Harris told reporters. “Israel has a right to defend itself. Too many Palestinian civilians, innocent civilians, have been killed.”

Biden, for his part, in recent days has expressed support for a six-week pause in fighting in order to allow hostages to be freed and more aid to enter the Gaza Strip. Biden has indicated for the first time in recent weeks that a pause could help lead to a more long-term end to the fighting.

The White House is pressing for a temporary cease-fire to begin at the start of Ramadan, which begins Sunday evening. 

Source: The Hill

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