Biden Offers an Israeli Proposal to End the Gaza War

On May 31, President Joe Biden announced in live remarks from the White House that Israel had offered a “comprehensive new proposal… a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire and the release of all hostages” in Gaza. Biden said that the proposal, which Qatar has transmitted to Hamas, includes three phases.

The first phase, according to Biden, would last six weeks and include a ceasefire; the withdrawal of Israeli forces “from all populated areas of Gaza”; the release of “a number of hostages—including women, the elderly, the wounded” along with American hostages, in exchange the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners; the return of Palestinians to their homes throughout Gaza; the return of some remains of hostages who have been killed; and a surge of humanitarian assistance into Gaza “with 600 trucks carrying aid into Gaza every single day.”

During the second phase, Biden said, all remaining living hostages would be released, and Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza. Biden stated that during this phase, “as long as Hamas lives up to its commitments,” a temporary ceasefire would become a permanent cessation of hostilities.

In phase three, the President said, a “major reconstruction plan” for Gaza would begin, supported by the United States, partner Arab governments, and the international community. And any final remains of hostages who have been killed would be returned to their families.

After laying out the plan, Biden warned that Israel’s current path toward “indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of ‘total victory’” would not bring an “enduring defeat of Hamas” and would lead only to “draining the economic, military and human resources.” Biden also stated that “if Hamas fails to fulfill its commitments under the deal, Israel can resume military operations,” adding that “Israel will always have the right to defend itself against the threats to its security.”

Following Biden’s remarks, on May 31 and June 1 Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with foreign ministers from Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia to reiterate the urgency of a full ceasefire agreement with the release of all hostages and a surge of humanitarian assistance. Blinken argued that the proposed deal would address immediate concerns and “achieve lasting peace and security in the Middle East, including through greater integration among countries in the region and a pathway to a Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel.”

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Resolution Introduced Supporting US-Bahrain Relations. On May 28, Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) introduced H.Res.1263, which affirms US diplomatic ties with Bahrain, including the 2023 Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement.   

Legislation to Target Iranian Officials Introduced in House. On May 31, Rep. Young Kim (R-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Mike Lawler (R-NY), and David Trone (D-MD) introduced the Targeting Oppressive Officers to Mitigate Abuse in the Iranian Judiciary Act (“TOOMAJ”) Act.  Named for Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who was sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic for criticizing the regime, the bill calls for sanctions on judges, prosecutors, and investigators of Iran’s Revolutionary Courts for their role in repression.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Congress Reacts to Rafah Strike. Several Democratic members of Congress took to social media to condemn Israel’s May 28 airstrike that killed 45 and injured nearly 250 people in a tent shelter in Rafah. Particularly strong reactions included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY), who wrote on (formerly Twitter) that “the IDF’s attack on a tent camp of innocents in Rafah is an indefensible atrocity. This was done in open defiance of POTUS’s red line and the ICJ’s call for a ceasefire. It is long past time for the President to live up to his word and suspend military aid.” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) asserted, “The deadly strike on Rafah displacement camps underscores the truth that Netanyahu’s conscious indifference to civilian deaths is not making Israel safer. Hamas atrocities cannot justify this.” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) added that “Netanyahu’s admission that the horrific strike on a camp in Rafah was an ‘accident’ demonstrates exactly why POTUS warned him against attacks where displaced Palestinians were taking refuge.” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) stated that she is “deeply dismayed by Israeli leaders describing the horrific weekend bombing in Rafah as a ‘mistake.’ Rafah is crowded with refugees from other parts of Gaza, and it is unconscionable, even in a time of war, to strike when there are so many civilians at risk.”

House Oversight Committee Continues Investigation of Campus Activism. On May 29, Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, announced that the committee continues to “investigate organizations reported to be funding and organizing illegal actions, including at institutions of higher education, by individuals spreading pro-Hamas propaganda and engaging in antisemitic harassment and civil rights violations against Jewish students.”

Also on May 29, Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK), co-chairs of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona requesting that he “designate a senior official with the responsibility of overseeing the Department’s efforts to counter antisemitism on college campuses.”

Netanyahu Invited to Address Congress. On May 31, the House and Senate leadership officially invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress. The invitation does not specify a date.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Says No ‘Red Lines’ Crossed Yet in Gaza. At a May 29 press briefing, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby maintained that the Biden administration did not see a major Israeli ground operation occurring in Rafah—President Biden’s “red line”—despite intensified Israel Defense Forces (IDF) activity along the Philadelphi Corridor bordering Egypt. White House Advisor John Kirby noted that the administration is awaiting the results of an IDF investigation into the recent Israeli airstrike on Rafah camp. On May 30, reporters pressed Department of State Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel over reports that the munitions used by Israel in its deadly May 28 strike in Rafah was US-made; Patel stated, “It is not for us to speak to. We can’t speak to individual weapons loadouts to Israeli aircraft, so I will let the IDF speak to their investigation findings and indicate – including anything that they have to share about what weapons were used.”

Biden Not in Favor of Sanctions on ICC or ICJ. On May 28, White House Advisor Kirby told reporters that the Biden administration does not support congressional calls for sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ), despite the administration’s opposition to the courts’ recent moves regarding alleged Israeli crimes in Gaza. On May 30, 19 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen outlining their support for ICC sanctions. The letter decries the “the biased and erroneous arrest warrants the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.”   The House is expected to vote this week on legislation to sanction the ICC and its judges.

White House Says Fresh Ceasefire Deal on the Table. On May 29, White House Advisor Kirby commented that there is a new ceasefire draft proposal that Israel is “fully supportive of.” Kirby also addressed US plans to vote against an Algeria-proposed Gaza ceasefire resolution circulating at the United Nations Security Council. He said, “We believe it is imbalanced and it fails to note a very simple fact—and this is the same thing we have objected to with previous resolutions: It does not note that Hamas is to blame for this conflict and that the fighting in Rafah could end tomorrow if Mr. Sinwar did the right thing and agreed to this deal and get a ceasefire and to get the release of the hostages.”

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Speaks with SAF General, Urges End to Sudan Conflict. On May 28, Secretary Blinken spoke with Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. According to the State readout, they discussed the need for an end to the conflict in Sudan, the imperative to protect civilians and deescalate hostilities in El Fasher, North Darfur, and the need for unhindered humanitarian access to the Sudanese people.

Senior Department Official Resigns. On May 28, the Washington Post reported that another Department of State official resigned in opposition to the Biden administration’s Gaza policy. The Post reported that Stacy Gilbert, who worked in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, told colleagues that the Department was wrong to conclude that Israel had not obstructed humanitarian assistance to Gaza. On May 30, the Guardian reported that Alexander Smith, a USAID contractor, resigned over Gaza. Smith told the Guardian that he was “given a choice between resignation and dismissal after preparing a presentation on maternal and child mortality among Palestinians, which was cancelled at the last minute by USAID leadership.”

Secretary Blinken Meets with Turkish Foreign Minister. On May 30, Secretary Blinken met with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on the sidelines of a NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Prague. According to the Department of State readout, the two officials discussed “efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement in Gaza that secures the release of hostages, as well as the importance of increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza and preventing regional instability,” among other NATO-related topics.

Secretary Blinken Says Aid Impact in Gaza “Insufficient.” Speaking from Prague on May 31, Secretary Blinken told reporters that the impact of humanitarian aid in Gaza “remains insufficient in terms of addressing the acute needs of children, women, and men.” The Secretary acknowledged that the “effective distribution of aid is being impeded” and asserted that the United States is working to improve conditions on the ground.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Somali President. On June 1, Secretary Blinken spoke with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud about security issues in the Horn of Africa, counterterrorism objectives, planning for a successor mission to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.

3) Department of Defense

Pentagon Updates on Efforts to Fix Humanitarian Pier. Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh alerted the press on May 28 that four US Army vessels supporting the maritime aid mission in Gaza were affected by inclement weather conditions, causing sections of the newly built humanitarian aid pier to break free. Singh said that the pier must be repaired before it can return to operation.

Defense Officials Meet with Israeli Counterparts. On May 29, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israeli Minister Yoav Gallant to, according a Department of Defense readout, “discuss Israel’s operations in Gaza, the need to sustain increased deliveries of humanitarian assistance, and the urgent importance of opening the Rafah Border Crossing for the continued flow of aid.” The officials also discussed conditions facing hostages and the need to improve communications between humanitarian providers and the Israeli military. On May 30, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Amanda Dory met with Israeli Ministry of Defense Director General Eyal Zamir to discuss the Gaza war and US-Israeli collaboration to counter Iran.

US Strikes Houthi Targets in Yemen. According to media reports, US and British forces jointly struck Houthi targets in Yemen on May 30, targeting underground facilities, missile launchers, command and control sites, vehicles, and other facilities. The Houthi rebels said the airstrikes killed at least 16 people and wounded 35 others.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Targets Iran UAV Production. On May 31, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against an Iranian executive of Iran Aviation Industries Organization, a subsidiary of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, in addition to four entities associated with the already-designated Rayan Roshd Afzar Company.  All were sanctioned for their role in Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.

5) United States Agency for International Development

Administrator Power Says Gaza Conditions Worse Than Ever Before. On May 29, USAID Administrator Samantha Power wrote on (formerly Twitter) regarding Gaza, “Conditions are worse now than ever before. Israeli military operations and closed crossings are making it extremely difficult to distribute aid.” That same day, Power met with senior United Nations officials and international donor partners to discuss relief efforts in Gaza. According to a USAID readout, conversations focused on the need for all aid routes to be “open and maximized, particularly land routes, to ensure safe, effective aid delivery,” as well as on other efforts to increase aid into Gaza.