Biden says it’s ‘time for this war to end’ as he lays out Israeli ceasefire proposal

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the verdict in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial and on the Middle East, from the State Dining Room of the White House, on May 31. - Evan Vucci/AP

President Joe Biden asserted Friday that Hamas has been degraded to a point where it can no longer carry out the type of attack that launched the current eight-month conflict in Gaza, laying out a three-phase proposal Israel has submitted to wind down the grinding crisis as he declared, “It’s time for this war to end.”

It was perhaps the furthest Biden has gone in telling Israel its stated goals for its operation in Gaza have been met, and that the time has arrived to stop the fighting as part of a hostage deal.

“At this point, Hamas no longer is capable of carrying out another October 7, just one of Israel’s main objectives in this war, and quite frankly a righteous one,” Biden said at the White House.

He had just laid out a three-phase Israeli proposal that would pair a release of hostages with a “full and complete ceasefire,” a plan he said presented the best hope to bring peace to Gaza.

“This is truly a decisive moment,” he said.

Biden said the Israeli proposal was transmitted this week. The first phase would last six weeks and include the “withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza” and “release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.”

He said Phase 2 would allow for the “exchange for the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers.”

“And as long as Hamas lives up to its commitments, the temporary ceasefire would become, in the words of the Israeli proposals, ‘the cessation of hostilities permanently,’” Biden said.

In Phase 3, the president said, a “major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence and any final remains of hostages who’ve been killed will be returned to their families.”

Less than an hour after Biden detailed the Israeli proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the country would not end the war until Hamas is defeated.

“The Israeli government is united in the desire to return our hostages as soon as possible and is working to achieve this goal,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “Therefore, the Prime Minister authorized the negotiating team to present an outline for achieving this goal 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 Prime Minister’s Office insisted that the “exact outline” of Israel’s proposal allows Israel to “maintain these principles.”

Shortly after the statement was released, it was announced that the top four congressional leaders have formally invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress, though no date was specified for it to take place.

Hamas released a statement later on Friday saying it viewed the proposal positively.

“The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas views positively what was included in US President Joe Biden’s speech today,” the statement said. “The movement affirms its position of readiness to deal positively and constructively with any proposal based on a permanent ceasefire, complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, reconstruction, the return of the displaced to all their places of residence, and the completion of a serious prisoner exchange deal if the occupation declares its explicit commitment to that.”

Former President Barack Obama, in a rare statement about current events, said the ceasefire proposal is “clear, realistic and just.”

“A ceasefire alone won’t ease the terrible pain of Israelis whose loved ones were butchered or abducted by Hamas, or the Palestinians whose families have been shattered by the subsequent war,” Obama said. “It won’t resolve the longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or answer contentious issues surrounding a two-state solution or continuing settler activity in the West Bank. But what it can do is put a stop to the ongoing bloodshed, help families reunite and allow a surge of humanitarian aid to help desperate, hungry people.”

‘Nearly identical to Hamas’ own proposals’

Israel’s four-and-a-halfpage proposal was submitted to Hamas on Thursday evening, a US senior administration official said, and matches closely a deal the group itself recently proposed.

“It’s nearly identical to Hamas’ own proposals of only a few weeks ago. So if that’s what Hamas wants, they can take the deal,” the official said.

Indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on securing the hostages’ release were paused three weeks ago after the sides could not come to an agreement on some of the terms.

On Thursday, Hamas said it had informed mediators that it is “prepared to reach a comprehensive agreement” that includes a full hostage and prisoner exchange deal if Israel stops its war in Gaza.

A statement from the group said while it had shown “flexibility and positivity in dealing with the efforts of the mediators throughout all previous rounds of indirect negotiations.” Israel, Hamas said, had used the months of ongoing talks as a cover to continue its war in Gaza.

“Hamas and the Palestinian factions will not accept being part of this policy of continuous negotiations in the face of aggression, killing, siege, starvation, and genocide of our people,” the Hamas statement said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that the war must continue until Hamas is destroyed.

In his speech from the White House, Biden acknowledged divisions inside Israel that could prevent a hostage deal from being reached.

“I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely. Some, some are even in the government coalition,” he said, an unsubtle reference to hardliners in Netanyahu’s government who have resisted efforts to mediate an end to the conflict.

“They made it clear they want to occupy Gaza. They want to keep fighting for years, and the hostages are not a priority to them,” Biden said.

Though he did not name anyone in his speech, Biden has previously singled out National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir as among those in Netanyahu’s governing coalition who are making any progress difficult.

Blinken briefs counterparts on proposal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday briefed his counterparts from Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia about the Israeli proposal.

The top US diplomat’s calls, made from his plane as he returned to Washington after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Prague, are expected to be just the beginning of the diplomatic pressure aimed at getting Hamas to accept the deal. Blinken is expected to have more calls with counterparts on Saturday, a senior State Department official said.

In his calls Friday, Blinken outlined “the benefits of the deal” and walked “the foreign ministers through the deal that was sent to Hamas last night, making sure that they … understood the benefits to the Palestinian people, the benefits to Israel and the benefits to long-term security plans that we’ve been working on,” the official told reporters traveling with Blinken.

Blinken said that the ball is in Hamas’ court to accept the deal without delay, and he specifically emphasized that countries with relations with Hamas – Turkey – should urge the group to take the deal.

The official stressed that the proposal is “materially different” from previous proposals because it would lead to a permanent ceasefire.

The official said the Saudi, Turkish and Jordanian foreign ministers had not been briefed on the specific terms of the proposed deal before their calls with Blinken.

The official said part of the reason the US made the terms of the deal public was to prevent any inaccurate information from getting leaked, potentially endangering the proposal.

“It’s important that the entire world knows the details of this proposal,” the official said.

Appeal for Israeli public support

In his speech, Biden made a direct appeal to ordinary Israelis to voice their support for a hostage agreement that would result in a ceasefire.

“I need your help. Everyone who wants peace now must raise their voices and let the leaders know they should take this deal. Work to make it real, make it lasting, and forge a better future out of the tragic terror attack and war,” he said.

Biden also spoke directly to Americans who have criticized the violence in Gaza, admitting that too many civilians had been killed and calling the situation “one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world.”

“We all saw the terrible images from a deadly fire in Rafah earlier this week following an Israeli strike … targeting Hamas,” Biden said, in his first comments since a strike left dozens of civilians dead. “Even as we worked to surge assistance to Gaza … the humanitarian crisis still remains.”

The president, who returned to the White House from his beach home in Delaware earlier in the morning, had avoided commenting on the situation in Israel for several days.

Earlier on Friday, Israel said its forces have entered central Rafah, the city in southern Gaza that Biden has warned should not be the target of a major ground offensive.

The White House called images from the disaster “heartbreaking” but said the incident had not crossed Biden’s red line for withholding some US weapons shipments to Israel.

The president told CNN’s Erin Burnett in an interview this month that he would limit some US arms to Israel if the country’s military “go into Rafah.”

But he has remained vague about how he will quantify such a decision, leading to frustrations and a degree of confusion over his stance. Many Democrats, along with foreign leaders who the US counts as allies, say Israel’s actions clearly cross a red line – if not Biden’s, then their own and those of international law.

White House officials have sought this week to explain Biden’s stance, suggesting his barometer for changing policy would be a “major ground invasion” of the city.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, Hamdi Alkhshali, Kareem Khadder, Annie Grayer, AnneClaire Stapleton and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

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