Biden Says Temporary Cease-Fire in Gaza Could Come Next Week

Omari Daniels/The Washington Post
Demonstrators outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Monday.

President Biden on Monday said he hoped a deal between Israel and Hamas could emerge as soon as next week, providing for the release of many of the remaining hostages in Gaza in exchange for a temporary pause in the fighting in the Palestinian enclave.

Asked on Monday when a Gaza cease-fire could start, Biden said: “I hope by the end of the weekend. … My national security adviser tells me that we’re close – we’re close – we’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a cease-fire.”

Biden and his top aides have for weeks been almost singularly focused on securing a weeks-long cease-fire in the fighting in Gaza in exchange for the release of many of the more than 100 remaining hostages. The negotiations have proved difficult as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to appease far-right members of his government, who have opposed the deal, and Hamas has made demands that Israel finds unacceptable, including on the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s nearly five-month-long military campaign, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel launched its retaliatory campaign in Gaza after Hamas militants rampaged through the Israel-Gaza border fence on Oct. 7 and killed 1,200 people, many of them civilians, and took about 250 others hostage.

If a cease-fire deal is reached, Israel has vowed to continue fighting after it expires, saying it will move ahead with plans to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering in decrepit conditions after being told by Israel to evacuate there for safety. Biden and his top aides have made clear they oppose an Israeli military operation in Rafah without a “credible” plan to evacuate the Palestinians there – a task that many experts have said is impossible given the destruction in Gaza and the sheer number of civilians who would need to be relocated.

The White House hopes a temporary pause would lay the groundwork for a permanent end to the fighting. Biden’s tight embrace of Israel, refusal to call for a permanent cease-fire and reluctance to condition military aid to Israel have hurt him politically, as polls show young voters, progressives, people of color, and Muslim and Arab Americans are deeply opposed to his handling of the war.

A key test for Biden will come in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Michigan, where activists are urging Democrats to choose “uncommitted” rather than voting for the president. Organizers of the effort have said they hope that at least 10,000 people will vote uncommitted, sending a message to Biden that he should alter his policy and call for a permanent cease-fire – a step Biden has resisted taking, saying Israel has a right to defend itself by destroying Hamas.

Netanyahu has become increasingly defiant of U.S. demands and has rebuffed Biden’s specific requests, causing a rift between the two leaders. U.S. officials hope that a long-term pause will make it harder to resume fighting on the same scale and that Israel will shift to a more targeted, less deadly military operation.

Earlier in the fighting, about 100 hostages were freed as part of a deal that led to a week-long pause in the fighting. Officials believe that about 130 hostages from Israel now remain in Gaza, including about two dozen who Israeli authorities suspect have died. About a half-dozen of the remaining hostages have American citizenship.

If a multiweek pause in the fighting does materialize, U.S. officials hope it would provide an opportunity to finally end the war, which has provoked global criticism of Israel and the United States. But Netanyahu has said that Israel would resume fighting following such a pause.

Speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Netanyahu said of a hostage deal: “We’re all working on it. We want it, I want it.”

As for whether a deal is close, Netanyahu said: “Hamas started out with just crazy demands. And, you know, it’s too soon to say if they’ve abandoned them, but if they do abandon them and get into what you call the ballpark, they’re not even in the city. They’re in another planet. But if they come down to a reasonable situation, then yes, we’ll have a hostage deal. I hope so.”

Netanyahu also suggested that an incursion into Rafah would be the last phase of the full-scale fighting.

“Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion,” he told CBS. “Not months, weeks away from completion.”