President Biden made clear in a speech today that he wants the war in Gaza to end without Hamas’s eradication. Unveiling the outline of a ceasefire agreement, Biden said that “the people of Israel should know they can make this offer without any further risk to their own security because they have devastated Hamas forces over the past eight months. At this point Hamas no longer is capable of carrying out another October 7.”

Thus have the goals shifted, although that process began in December with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s comments that the U.S. “will continue to support Israel’s efforts to do everything possible to ensure that Hamas cannot repeat the horrors of October 7. And that means, among other things, that Hamas cannot remain responsible for governance in Gaza and it cannot retain the capacity to repeat those attacks.”

This was the Biden administration’s way of telling the public what it had told Israeli leaders earlier that day in December: The U.S. would no longer support the original goal of Hamas’s eradication.

Today, President Biden made that point himself. “Indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of total victory will only bog down Israel in Gaza,” the president admonished, “draining the economic, military, and human resources and furthering Israel’s isolation in the world.”

According to Biden, Israel’s long-professed characterization of victory isn’t possible. Continuing its operations in Gaza “will not bring an enduring defeat of Hamas.” He described a path that instead would see Israel out of Gaza and becoming part of “a regional security network” that ideally would include Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile Gaza will be rebuilt with the help of the international community “in a manner that does not allow Hamas to rearm.” So, again, the president envisions Hamas continuing to exist. Of course, “Israel will always have the right to defend itself against threats to security and to bring those responsible for October 7 to justice.” Translation: If at some point in the future Yahya Sinwar turns up at the Super-Pharm in Tel Aviv to pick up some Advil, go ahead and arrest him.

With that end state in mind—Hamas and its leader, the mastermind of Oct. 7, still in Gaza—the six-week, first phase of the ceasefire plan would look like this:

  • IDF would withdraw from “all populated” areas of Gaza;
  • Release of an undetermined number of “humanitarian” hostages—women, children, the elderly, and the sick or badly wounded—with American hostages and the bodies of some dead hostages among them;
  • Release of “hundreds” of Palestinian arrestees in Israel’s prisons;
  • Return of Palestinian civilians to their homes “in all areas of Gaza, including in the north”;
  • The arrival of 600 humanitarian aid trucks per day.

Phase two would see the return of the remaining living Israeli hostages, including male soldiers, and the IDF’s withdrawal from the rest of the Gaza Strip.

In phase three, “a major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence, and the final remains of hostages who’ve been killed will be returned to their families.”

One other part of the president’s remarks bears mentioning. In a particularly nasty passage reminiscent of the way the Obama administration (in which Biden served as vice president) smeared opponents of the Iran nuclear deal, Biden said: “There are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely. Some are even in the government coalition, and they have made it clear they want to occupy Gaza. They want to keep fighting for years, and the hostages are not a priority to them.”

The president likely meant to aim this dig at Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, two right-wing members of the governing coalition about whom Biden has routinely and publicly complained. But it is a slap in the face to any who believe Israel can save more hostages by increasing the pressure on Hamas. That category includes the mother of two rescued hostages Maayan Zin, who posted recently: “Amit Buskila, a 28-year-old fashion stylist, was found in a Hamas tunnel in Rafah. She was brutally murdered—a result of Israel being restrained by its own allies. Israel should have pushed forward with its military operations months ago, the same ones that eventually led to freeing my girls.” Biden clearly feels stung by the (entirely fair) criticism that he has been apathetic toward the remaining hostages, but this is a low and counterproductive road to take.

Further, because of the administration’s open hostility toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the criticism will be seen as directed at him—all the more so because Biden characterized this ceasefire plan as having been provided by Israel.

Speaking of which, Bibi put out a statement after Biden concluded his remarks, in which he said he “authorized the negotiating team to present an outline for achieving [the return of the hostages], while insisting that the war will not end until all of its goals are achieved, including the return of all our hostages and the elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities.”

The interpretation of that last sentence is sure to be a point of contention in the ceasefire talks, although Netanyahu didn’t mention Biden’s address and the White House declined to confirm the two leaders were talking about the same plan. “I have no doubt that the deal will be characterized by Israel and will be characterized by Hamas, but we know what’s in the deal. We know what the expectations are,” was all an administration official would tell reporters.

Meanwhile, Hamas seemed to reject these conditions yesterday, saying they were willing to return to negotiations only if Israel ended its operations in Gaza.

All of which suggests the purpose of Biden’s speech was to put public pressure on all parties to agree to terms that nobody except Biden finds acceptable. And since Hamas doesn’t have a voting public to pressure it, that effectively means the speech was, in fact, intended to force the hands of Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet and set Bibi up as the fall guy should talks fail again.

Biden is tired of the war. But that does not magically make the war over. It’s time for the president to come back to reality and deal with the world as it is.

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