Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave separate press briefings after their meeting in Jerusalem today, but both men were nonetheless on the same page. Let’s hope it stays that way.
The Biden administration has taken to publicly instructing Israel on the need to minimize civilian casualties, partially as a signal to the Democratic base that although the president stands by Israel he is not unconcerned with Palestinian noncombatants. Blinken did so again this afternoon, though his wording was notable.
“We urge Israel to do more to help civilians knowing full well that it faces an enemy that would never hold itself to those standards,” Blinken said. “An enemy that cynically embeds itself among men, women, and children, and fires rockets from hospitals, from schools, from mosques, from residential buildings. An enemy whose leaders surround themselves with hostages. An enemy that has declared publicly its goal to kill as many innocent civilians as it can, simply because they are Jews, and to wipe Israel off the map.”
Kudos to Blinken for making clear the hypocrisy of the pro-Hamas position. But more than that, for saying the word “Jews.” It lays bare the true nature of the current conflict: Hamas wants to kill civilians because they are Jewish, not because it wants land or has a geopolitical gripe with Israeli leaders. Hamas has no legitimate grievance, and its supporters are cheering this—not an objection over land but simply and explicitly a genocidal campaign to kill Jews wherever they are.
Hamas has a single-issue raison d’etre. Let it be stamped on the foreheads of the screaming mobs of the terror group’s fans in America and Europe.
After his prepared remarks, Blinken was asked by an Al-Jazeera reporter: “Is it in any way acceptable to the U.S. for Hamas to be playing a role in governing Gaza in a day-after scenario?”
Blinken gave a one-word answer: “No.”
He also repeated throughout his remarks that it was his job to help construct a path toward a better Middle East but not to tell Israel what to do.
The upshot of all this is that Blinken clearly used his meetings and his public remarks today to try to reset the vibe after getting on the Saudis’ nerves yesterday and earning a public rebuke. He did not frustrate his hosts today.
Indeed, Netanyahu sounded a triumphant note in his own presser. Hamas’s latest counteroffer in the hostage talks was dismissed by Blinken several times today as a “nonstarter,” so Netanyahu was unburdened from the perception that he’s the intransigent party.
“The victory is within reach,” Netanyahu said, referring to Israeli forces’ continued gains in the Hamas stronghold city of Khan Younis. Throughout his comments, Netanyahu returned time and again to an important point: The only message that matters right now is “Hamas must go,” because any wavering on this—especially, though he did not say so explicitly, by the U.S.—makes postwar planning impossible.
This is key. If regional actors—the Saudis, Egypt, Jordan (which has a large Palestinian population)—think America is wavering on the total defeat of Hamas and the expulsion of its leaders, they simply won’t commit to facilitating the transition in Gaza. Nobody’s going out on that limb if they think there’s a chance Biden will cut it down. Nor would they want to commit manpower to any civil administrative role if they think they’ll “get a bullet in the head” from remnants of Hamas left behind, as Netanyahu put it today.
The same is true for any Saudi normalization deal with Israel, since Hamas has shown it can torpedo any progress at will. “There will be no agreement if Hamas is not defeated,” Netanyahu said.
The postwar goals that are so dear to the Biden administration are only possible if a united front leads to complete victory. Every day that is spent by Biden or Blinken sowing doubts about Israel’s mission or showing impatience is a day spent undermining normalization and obstructing any path to Palestinian self-determination. Israel is currently in the process of removing the roadblock to the Biden administration’s wish list.
The schizophrenic policy whereby the White House impedes the fulfillment of its own demands is wearing out its welcome. Today Blinken’s message was clear, and it was in line with the intent of our Mideast allies. But those allies need to believe the same will be true tomorrow, and the day after that.