Biden’s Warmed-over Ceasefire Proposal

In the midst of what the White House touted to supporters as a significant update of his administration’s diplomatic efforts regarding the eight-month-old unabated crisis in the Middle East, President Joe Biden floated on May 31, 2024, a curious and surprising ceasefire proposal to end the war in Gaza. He revealed the plan as the administration continues to face harsh and relentless criticism, both at home and abroad, for its one-sided policy of support for the genocidal Israeli military campaign waged in the Gaza Strip that has killed almost 37,000 Palestinians and injured close to 83,000 others since October 7, 2023.

The three-phase plan, which the president characterized as an Israeli-offered initiative, focused essentially on the need to achieve “a durable end to this war”; bring “all the hostages home”; ensure “Israel’s security” against future attacks from Gaza; create a better “day after in Gaza without Hamas in power”; and setting the stage for “a political settlement that provides a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.” However, as seemingly inclusive and lofty as these goals might be for Washington, they do not constitute a breakthrough in US diplomatic efforts nor a meaningful change in the administration’s policy toward the conflict in Gaza since its inception. After all, most of the plan’s provisions have been circulated by the mediators last month after securing Hamas’s approval, to be summarily rejected by the Israeli government on May 6, 2024.

The “New” Israeli Proposal

In response to his administration’s “intensive diplomacy,” according to President Biden, Israel has now offered what he defined as “a comprehensive new proposal” tantamount to “a roadmap to an enduring ceasefire and the release of all hostages.” The proposal, as the president summarized it, has three basic phases.

In phase one, Israel and Hamas are expected to implement the following steps:

  1. The establishment of a full and complete ceasefire for six weeks;
  2. The withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza;
  3. The release of a number of Israeli and American hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel;
  4. The return of displaced Palestinian civilians to their homes in all areas of the Gaza Strip;
  5. A surge of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, up to 600 trucks per day;
  6. The beginning of negotiations between Israel and Hamas on necessary arrangements leading to a permanent end to hostilities;
  7. The US, Egypt, and Qatar would ensure the continuation of negotiations until all agreements are reached and phase two is set to begin.

In phase two, all remaining living hostages will be exchanged, including male soldiers, Israeli troops would withdraw from Gaza, and the temporary ceasefire implemented in phase one will evolve into a permanent cessation of hostilities. Finally, phase three will bring about the return of the remains of dead hostages and the beginning of massive reconstruction of the decimated Gaza Strip. Biden committed the United States to join its partners in the rebuilding of “homes, schools, and hospitals in Gaza to help repair communities that were destroyed in the chaos of war.”

In his attempt to convince both parties to endorse and adhere to the plan, Biden promised Israelis the security they have not been able to achieve through continued fighting in the pursuit of “total victory” in Gaza. In addition, he held out once again the Israeli-coveted prize of regional integration and security, including the potential for an American-mediated normalization process between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, in a rare attempt to placate the Palestinian side, the president alluded to the potential for a better future for the Palestinian people, once the deal is struck, including “self-determination, dignity, security, and freedom.” However, he failed to mention Palestinian independent statehood, even in the context of his traditional support for a two-state solution.

Main Stakeholders’ Reactions to the Plan

The Israeli reaction to Biden’s remarks was quite predictable. It was the least consistent and forthright response of all concerned parties, particularly considering the president’s still unconfirmed claim that the proposal is essentially an Israeli offer. The president himself admitted in his remarks that there are Israelis who “will not agree with the plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely.” “Some,” he acknowledged, “are even in the government coalition.” His apprehension subsequently proved fully justified.

Despite the fact that the proposal was admittedly coordinated with Israel, as well as with both mediators Qatar and Egypt, according to Amir Tibon of Haaretz, the immediate answer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on May 31 was viewed as a tacit acceptance of the plan and deemed somewhat encouraging by US administration officials. Still, contradictory and tepid Israeli pronouncements failed to alleviate their fears that “Netanyahu can still create difficulties” for the process.

The immediate answer by Netanyahu’s office on May 31 was viewed as a tacit acceptance of the plan.

The statement issued by the prime minister’s office apparently did not represent a consensus among members of his inner circle. By the morning of June 1, a new Israeli response was issued in English that avoided an explicit rejection of Biden’s proposal but questioned the White House’s depiction of Israeli commitments and intentions regarding the proposed ceasefire. The clarified statement emphasized that “Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’s military capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel.” Netanyahu further added that “the notion that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are fulfilled is a non-starter.” According to Fox News, Netanyahu’s second statement seemed “to contradict President Biden’s comments that would end the war in Gaza.” The US administration’s disagreements with the Netanyahu government seem to widen on June 2 as Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli declared provocatively in New York that there will be “No surrender, not to American pressure, not to anything.” Chikli assured his pro-settler hosts in Manhattan, “We don’t have any other choice but to continue the war and annihilate Hamas, and there is no option to accept a ceasefire while Hamas is still in power.”

On the Palestinian side, Hamas responded swiftly and positively to Biden’s proposed roadmap, issuing an informal statement that said that the group remained “ready to deal positively and constructively with any proposal based on a permanent ceasefire, full 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.” According to Reuters, Hamas leaders now perceive a decrease in the US knee-jerk bias toward Israel and in Washington’s earlier obstructionist stand on negotiating a durable ceasefire.

The two Arab mediators in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, namely Qatar and Egypt, promptly joined the United States in issuing a joint statement calling on both Hamas and Israel to finalize a ceasefire and hostage release agreement “embodying the principles outlined by President Biden on May 31, 2024.” The three parties to the ongoing Gaza negotiations process emphasized that the plan revealed by Washington did take into consideration “the demands of all parties,” and offers “a roadmap for a permanent ceasefire and ending the crisis.” Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari stated on June 4, 2024, that the Israeli proposal his country delivered to Hamas “was now much closer to the positions of both sides.” Al-Ansari “stressed that there should be a clear position from both parties to reach a ceasefire deal.”

Furthermore, the domestic reaction to Biden’s statement was equally swift and predictable demonstrating the centrality of the domestic political context of the diplomatic gesture undertaken by the White House in the face of growing criticism within the left wing of the Democratic Party, as well as among young voters nationwide. In a rare public comment on this crisis, former President Barack Obama welcomed the proposal, which he described as “clear, realistic, and just,” while expressing his hope that the proposed ceasefire can “put a stop to the ongoing bloodshed, help families reunite and allow a surge of humanitarian aid to help desperate, hungry people.” Obama’s unusual comments reflect a widespread sense of relief among progressive Democrats resulting from Biden’s statement.

More Questions than Answers

The Biden roadmap has yet to generate a clear-cut endorsement from either Israel or Hamas. Nonetheless, the plan has not been totally rejected by either side. The fundamental problem with the rushed plan lies in its inherent failure to answer some essential questions that have hindered the emergence of a workable ceasefire agreement since October 7, 2023. For both sides, the plan suffers from sins of omission rather than commission. As Lazar Berman argues from an Israeli perspective in The Times of Israel, the devil is in the details. That is true, but Biden’s details were too scant and quite flimsy to treat both parties equitably and seek to bridge the wide gaps separating them for eight long months of bloodletting.

The rushed plan fails failure to answer some essential questions that have hindered the emergence of a workable ceasefire agreement.

Why should Hamas, for example, willingly endorse a plan that it is accused of obstructing in advance? After all, the president made it clear that “Hamas is now the only obstacle to a complete ceasefire and relief for the people of Gaza.” What does Biden mean by achieving an “enduring ceasefire”? What if Israel accepts phase one of the proposal, then pulls out of the process, as Netanyahu has already suggested? What type of guarantees does the United States offer to maintain the integrity of the process? What if the Netanyahu coalition government collapses before concluding a final agreement with Hamas?

In spite of these concerns, the plan did receive positive endorsements from various US allies, including the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who characterized it as a “realistic” ceasefire proposal which presents a “genuine opportunity to end the conflict” in Gaza. Her colleague Josep Borrell added his support to the Biden roadmap, concluding that “[t]he war has to end now.” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressed the hope of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the Biden plan “will lead to an agreement by the parties for lasting peace.” Nonetheless, this expected international support did not alleviate the extensive list of concerns and questions left unanswered.


In presenting his roadmap to ending the war in Gaza, President Biden claims that he now seeks a durable end to the war. Yet, for the past eight months, the president and his advisers insisted that Israel’s need for vengeance after Hamas’s October 7 attack was righteous and fully justified. The administration’s adamant support for Israel to finish the job never wavered throughout the crisis despite the erosion of US credibility and the isolation it faced at home and abroad. The president stubbornly resisted any effort in support of a humanitarian ceasefire, whether temporary or permanent. What caused this sudden presidential epiphany whereby a durable end to the war has become the administration’s central objective after eight long months of equivocation and personal disapproval? The fate of the plan now rests on the remaining residue of personal credibility that might have survived ill-conceived US support for this war that the president referred to as “sheer hell.”

Finally, if the plan is to have any chance at implementation, it must be accepted clearly, fully, and unequivocally by the state of Israel. After all, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. It is unfortunate that President Biden has left the impression in his May 31 remarks that the prospects for success of this plan rest on Hamas’s coming to the table and accepting this deal. In presenting what is essentially an end of war quid pro quo arrangement, Biden implied that he expects Hamas to quid as Israel simply reaps the benefits of the plan. That negates the concept of “something for something.” For such sensitive arrangement to succeed, it must be implemented fairly and equitably; otherwise, its fate will be like its predecessor on May 6.

The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC, its staff, or its Board of Directors. 

Featured image: Flickr/The White House