Biden ramps up pressure on Israel by providing aid to Gaza as six Americans remain hostage

Potential deal to release some of the 130 hostages in Gaza remains elusive.
Joe Biden, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023

President Joe Biden is exerting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protect people in the Gaza Strip as Biden looks to appease his far-left base ahead of the 2024 election by sending more humanitarian aid into the territory, even as Americans remain hostage. 

At the same time, a potential deal to release some of the 130 hostages in Gaza remains elusive as the start of Ramadan on Monday threatens to further ignite conflict in the region. 

Tensions between the two global leaders came to a head after Biden's State of the Union address when he was caught on a hot mic saying that he said he told Netanyahu: "You and I are going to have a 'come to Jesus' meeting." 

Biden defended using the Christian phrase, which refers to having a blunt conversation that typically precedes a major change, in reference to the Jewish leader. 

Biden said in an MSNBC interview that aired Saturday that Netanyahu "knew what I meant" by the phrase. 

Netanyahu "has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas, but he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives lost as a consequence of the actions taken," Biden said. 

He also said he wants to "see a ceasefire ... starting with a major, major exchange of prisoners."

Netanyahu's office said Saturday that Mossad Director David Barnea met with CIA Director William Burns to discuss a potential deal that could see the release of at least some of the 130 hostages, including six Americans, who have remained hostage since Oct. 7, 2023.

"At this stage, Hamas is holding to its position as if it was uninterested in a deal and is striving to ignite the region during Ramadan at the expense of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip," the prime minister's office said.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad last week called for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan to be filled with "terror and panic." Israeli officials have warned that Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, the latter of which operates out of Lebanon, are attempting to turn the month of fasting into another stage of the October 7 invasion, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 people in Israel and the kidnappings of about 250 others.

Of the 130 people who remain in captivity, around 30 of the hostages are presumed to be dead, and Hamas has refused to release their remains. 

The U.S. citizens who are believed to be alive include Itay Chen, 19, Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35, Edan Alexander, 19, Omer Neutra, 21, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, and Keith Siegel, 62. Their ages are current as of the date of their kidnappings.

Officials confirmed in December that U.S. couple Judi Weinstein Haggai, 70, and Gadi Haggai, 73, died as a result of the Hamas attack and their bodies are being held in Gaza.

In addition to the six Americans being held hostage, it is believed that Hamas has two children in custody – infant Kfir Bibas and his 4-year-old brother Ariel Bibas, although the terrorist group claimed in November that they had been killed during Israel's shelling of the strip.

At least 19 women, including four teenage girls, are also being held by terrorists in Gaza, and a United Nations report last week found that there are "reasonable grounds to believe" the hostages are being subjected to ongoing "conflict-related sexual violence including rape and sexualized torture and sexualized cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

The last ceasefire in November saw the release of 105 kidnapped civilians – mostly women and children – in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners who had been convicted or suspected of terror in Israel, per the BBC.

International mediators have been hoping to reach a 45-day truce that could see the release of up to 40 women, elderly and sick hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, per The Jerusalem Post

Meanwhile, a U.S. ship is heading to Gaza to establish a temporary pier to deliver aid and the U.S. has already conducted at least half a dozen airdrops with aid into Gaza.

However, Gaza's Civil Defense Spokesperson Mahmoud Basal said on the messaging app Telegram that an airdrop on Friday killed five people. This sparked Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, to demand the "entry of aid through land crossings and its delivery to the competent authorities for distribution," as translated. 

Although the U.S. did conduct a joint airdrop with Jordan on Friday, U.S. Central Command denied that it was responsible for the fatalities, per ABC News

Biden may be trying to appease more radical members of his party ahead of the 2024 election as polls show he lags behind former President Donald Trump.

Biden's efforts so far to appease the anti-Israel left appear to have not helped his case so far. 

For example, on Feb. 23, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel's expansion of cities in the West Bank is "inconsistent with international law." This is a major reversal from the Trump-era policy that deemed such settlements as being fine under international law. 

However, the move did not seem to help him days later in Michigan's 2024 presidential primary. More than 13% of Democratic voters in the vital swing state cast their ballots as "uncommitted" in the primary, as a large Muslim population in Michigan has threatened to mobilize against Biden if a ceasefire in Gaza is not reached. 

Trump is currently ahead of Biden in polls of Michigan.

In what may be further capitulation to the radical wing of his party, Biden recently began using the same death toll promulgated by the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Biden said during his State of the Union address that "more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of whom are not Hamas."

Israel said last month that about 12,000 members of Hamas have been killed since Oct. 7, although Hamas claimed that about 6,000 of its fighters died during that same time frame, per The Times of Israel

Biden's increased pressure on Israel does not appear to be enough for many pro-Palestine activists. For example, #ListenToMichigan, which led the effort to vote "uncommitted" in the state's Democratic primary, criticized his comments during the State of the Union address.

"President Biden continues to not hear the voices of the anti-war movement across our country calling for a permanent ceasefire and an end to US weapons funding for Netanyahu’s genocidal campaign," the group said on X, formerly Twitter. 

Follow Madeleine Hubbard on X or Instagram.