US President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East has been complicated. Minutes before departing for Israel, the White House announced the cancellation of the second leg of the visit to Jordan. There, King Abdullah canceled a summit scheduled for Wednesday in Amman with Biden and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah. Al Sisi, and of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, after the bombing of a Gaza hospital that killed hundreds of people. Israel and the radical Palestinian militant group Hamas blamed each other for the bombing.
Biden’s task was already difficult: to prevent an escalation of the crisis in the region and to convince Israel to moderate its military campaign in Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks on October 7, in which people were killed. 1,400 people. But the massacre at Al-Ahli Hospital has made that task difficult. Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Arab public opinion accuse Israeli forces, the IDF, of firing a missile at a medical center where thousands of people have taken refuge. In turn, Israel claims the disaster was the result of a rocket fired by Hamas. The event has already sparked protests in Arab cities.
From Air Force One, which was taking him to Tel Aviv, Biden expressed his condemnation of the explosion at the hospital and his “deep sadness” at the “terrible loss of life” it caused. “The United States unequivocally defends the protection of civilian lives in conflict,” he said, adding, “We offer our condolences to the patients, medical personnel and other innocent people killed or injured in this tragedy.” The White House tenant has spoken to Netanyahu and the Jordanian king about the disaster and ordered his national security team to “continue to gather information about what happened.”
Hours earlier, Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh avoided commenting on the bombing at a press conference at the Pentagon, pointing out that she did not know “who was responsible” and that the details of what happened had not been clarified.
The decision to cancel the Jordanian platform was made “by mutual agreement” after talks with King Abdullah, and after Abbas announced he would leave Amman and return to the West Bank, according to a spokesman for the council. National Security, John Kirby, accompanies the US President on the trip. Biden will speak with Egyptian and Palestinian officials on his way back to Washington, the senior official said.
The White House presents the decision not to travel as a matter of practicality and respect. “After consulting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, in light of the days of mourning announced by President Abbas, President Biden will postpone his trip to Jordan and his planned meeting with those two leaders and President Al Sisi,” he indicated. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. “The President sends his deepest condolences to the innocent lives lost in the hospital blast and wishes the injured a speedy recovery,” the source added.
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The White House announced the president’s visit less than 24 hours earlier after an internal debate to decide whether to accept an invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit his country. The head of the Israeli government raised the possibility in a telephone conversation between the two leaders last Saturday. Finally, a visit that included meetings with Israeli officials and Arab leaders was given the green light.
The repeal complicates the delicate balance and mediating role that Biden has sought to maintain. On the one hand, he planned to convey a message of support and solidarity to the Israeli side in the face of Hamas attacks. And, at the same time, pressure Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to avoid civilian suffering. On the other hand, in his meeting with Arab leaders, he plans to insist that the militants do not represent the Palestinian people, or their “dignity and right to self-determination,” according to the White House. In Amman he will also address the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza.
According to Kirby, despite the removal of the cutoff date, those plans are moving forward. In Tel Aviv, Biden will meet with Netanyahu and Israeli President Herzog to learn about the situation on the ground and “Israeli plans for the coming days.” While the president plans to ask his interlocutors “tough questions” as a “friend of Israel,” he will make clear that “protecting civilian lives is absolutely necessary.” Respect for innocent lives is what “separates us, the United States, Israel, and Hamas,” he insisted. He would also stress the need for the conflict to “not spread or worsen.”
At the beginning of the crisis, Biden took Israel’s side strongly. But as the days passed, as the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes rose and the humanitarian situation in Gaza worsened, the US president subtly shifted his stance.
In an interview aired on the show 60 minutes On CBS on Sunday, Biden announced his opposition to the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip. “I think it’s a big mistake,” he pointed out, in his apparent attempt to contain Israel since the beginning of the crisis. A White House tenant has voiced his support for the need to defeat Hamas. But he also argued that “the path to a Palestinian state,” a position the United States has officially defended for decades, must be achieved.