By Michael Williams, CNN
Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden and King Abdullah II of Jordan met Monday aiming to figure out how to move the Israel-Hamas war into a new phase in which Israeli hostages are released and fighting stops for a prolonged period of time.
“The key elements of the deal are on the table,” Biden said while addressing reporters alongside the king at the White House. “There are gaps that remain, but I’ve encouraged Israeli leaders to keep working to achieve the deal. The United States will do everything possible to make it happen.”
Biden did not elaborate on what the “gaps” in the deal are. He added that a planned Israeli operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah should not go forward without a “credible plan” to protect civilians.
“Many people there have been displaced, displaced multiple times,” Biden said from the White House on Monday, “fleeing the violence to the north, and now they’re packed into Rafah, exposed and vulnerable.”
“They need to be protected,” Biden added.
Biden added that he and Abdullah discussed “a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, which would bring immediate and sustained period of calm into Gaza, for at least six weeks, which we could then take the time to build into something more enduring,” during the meeting.
But Abdullah, the first Arab leader to visit the White House since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, went further – reiterating his call for a complete ceasefire, which Biden has so far resisted.
“We cannot stand by and let this continue,” the Jordanian king told reporters. “We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end.”
He said it was essential the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the main United Nations agency responsible for Gaza, continues to receive funding. The agency warned earlier this month it may have to halt its work in Gaza after the US and other nations withdrew support last month over allegations some of its staff were involved with Hamas’ October 7 attack.
Abdullah also said in his remarks that a ground operation in Rafah would amount to devastation, adding it would “produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war started,” Abdullah said.
While the Jordanian king called Biden a “dear friend” and said the president’s leadership is “key to addressing this conflict,” the open rifts between Biden and Abdullah underscored the delicate diplomatic balance the president is facing as the war in Gaza enters its fifth month – and as he faces a possible inflection point in his presidency.
In the wake of special counsel Robert Hur’s report, which contained politically embarrassing passages about the president’s memory, Biden is facing perhaps the most scrutiny of his presidency over his mental acuity. The 81-year-old president’s age is his biggest political problem, and the special counsel’s report has struck a nerve, as evidenced by Biden’s amped-up news conference just hours after it published.
But that domestic political pressure has not obscured the foreign crises that have occupied much of the president’s term in office, and it was during that news conference that Biden leveled his latest ramped-up criticism at Israel, calling its response to the October 7 terror attack “over the top.” The president was aiming to show off his command of the issues at hand when King Abdullah, a key regional ally who has been critical of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, comes to the West Wing.
The president’s supporters have frequently pointed to the Israel-Hamas war as evidence of Biden’s mental faculties being in good shape. Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday pushed back against concerns about the president’s age as she recounted in detail the experience serving alongside Biden in the aftermath of Hamas’ October 7 attack, noting that she was in “almost every meeting” with him and his national security team in the days that followed. Biden sat for interviews with Hur on October 8 and 9.
“The president was in front of and on top of it all, asking questions and requiring that America’s military and intelligence community and diplomatic community would figure out and know – how many people are dead, how many Americans, how many hostages, is the situation stable?” Harris said.
And Democratic Rep. Daniel Goldman of New York, who spoke by phone with Biden a day ahead of his October 8 interview with Hur, said the president was “sharper than anyone I’ve spoken to” about the situation in the Middle East.
In his meeting with King Abdullah, Biden had some high-pressure issues to work through as the Jordanians have called on the White House to put more pressure on Israel over its campaign against Hamas in Gaza, which has taken an immense humanitarian toll.
Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority canceled a planned meeting with Biden less than 24 hours before a planned four-way summit in the Jordanian capital, Amman, in October when he traveled to Israel. The cancellation followed a massive blast in Gaza’s Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital that reportedly killed hundreds of Palestinians.
The Jordanian and Egyptian governments have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while Biden has resisted making a similar call.
And the meeting came just weeks after three American soldiers were killed during an attack at a base in Jordan last month, prompting the US to launch dozens of retaliatory strikes that targeted Iran-backed militias.
But the top order of business was how to achieve a cessation to fighting that also involves the release of hostages still held by Hamas since the October 7 terror attack on Israel. There are 136 hostages being held in Gaza, including 132 who were captured during Hamas’ October 7 attack. Twenty-nine of the hostages are dead, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed a deal to secure the release of hostages in Gaza at length on Sunday, according to a senior administration official, who cautioned that while a framework is in place, gaps remain.
Over the last several months, the US has attempted to put more pressure on the Israeli government to support a “humanitarian pause” in its war against Hamas. But those efforts have yielded little success.
Last week, Netanyahu called Hamas’ recent proposals for a ceasefire and hostage deal in Gaza “delusional.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously said negotiations toward an agreement would continue despite the Israeli prime minister’s comments, which Blinken said were referencing the “absolute non-starters” in the proposal.
The full Hamas response proposes three phases, each lasting 45 days, including the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a massive humanitarian effort, and freedom of movement for people throughout Gaza, according to a copy obtained by CNN.
CNN’s MJ Lee, Priscilla Alvarez, Betsy Klein and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
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