Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Israel and Gaza
(November 3, 2023)
5:12 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us on short notice this evening. We found some time with a senior official and thought we would seize on the opportunity to hopefully give you all a little more context on the week and our work here thus far.
This call is going to be held under embargo until the end of the call. It’s on background, and it will be attributable to a “senior administration official.” For awareness but not for reporting, joining us on tonight’s call is [senior administration official]. With that, I’ll waste no time and hand it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [moderator]. And thanks, everybody, for joining us. I think tonight at 2:30am or so — so, tomorrow morning — is when those of us working on this first got notified of what was first rockets coming out of Gaza, and then the events unfolded from there. So, we’re about a month into this crisis, and it’s a good time to just kind of provide a broader update of what we’re doing, and also, hopefully, I’ll be able to go into some detail with some of the specific issues that you saw unfold this week.
Just to kind of review the — kind of the framework that we’re working through, which I think is very similar to how we described it even the early — earliest days of the crisis: Number one, obviously, our support for Israel in responding to the barbaric attacks of October 7th, and I’ll talk a little bit about that; containing the conflict to Gaza and deterring further aggression; third, the humanitar- — humanitarian response, which is now significantly ramping up, as you heard from Secretary Blinken and others today and throughout the week; and then, finally, our focus on the hostages and American — and American citizens.
I thought, given that a lot happened this week, I would just kind of start there. And then I’ll go back through the other — the other areas, but to give a bit of a microcosm for just how things get done and also why a lot of this is difficult.
So, today — or just yesterday, we finally had foreign nationals begin to leave Gaza, again, about a month into the crisis. I’m kind of often asked, “Well, why did it take so long?” So, let me just kind of explain what’s happened over the last month.
Quite frankly, Hamas, which is a terrorist group, did not allow anyone to leave Gaza. So, this includes about 6,000 foreign nationals. It includes — I want to be careful with numbers, but about a thousand American citizens and — including their families — about 4- to 500 American citizens, and mostly dual nationals, including some locally employed staff that we work with. All could not leave Gaza because Hamas would not allow anybody to leave.
We worked throughout this crisis, including, obviously, the daily work of David Satterfield. Once he got out there working, he’s doing an incredible job. But also, the President, including his nine calls with Bibi, two calls with President Sisi, and direct almost-daily engagements from Jake, Jon Finer, myself, others nearly every day to get something moving.
Hamas would not allow anybody to leave, and then they said that they would allow foreign nationals to leave subject to a number of wounded Palestinians being allowed to leave as well, which, of course is not objectionable. But the list that was provided, once it was vetted, had about a third of the wounded Palestinians on the list were members of Hamas, fighters. They’re members of Hamas. That was just unacceptable to Egypt, to us, to Israel.
And so, this went on for some time. Eventually, what was worked out was that the wounded Palestinian civilians leaving with the foreign nationals were not Hamas fighters — truly, individual civilians caught in this awful, horrific tragedy, who, obviously, were very happy to see — be able to get out of Gaza. But that’s what was going on.
In addition, if you know the history of Rafah Crossing, this is not really the crossing where large numbers of civilians typically pass. And Egypt obviously has concerns about going back to 2008, where there was a breach of the Rafah Crossing due to Hamas, which led to, you know, tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands of Gazans pouring into Egypt.
So, we had to work very carefully with the Egyptians and with the U.N. to get the mechanisms in place for — to have the crossings at Rafah for thousands of people to pass through and have their passports checked as they left Gaza and entered Egypt.
The two calls the President made over the weekend, one to Sisi and one to Bibi, but particularly with Sisi, this was a main focus of the call. And I think that call, in particular, led to a breakthrough in terms of how this was actually going to go.
And then we finally, just yesterday, got this opened, and we now see — again, I want to be careful with numbers. But we’re seeing foreign nationals get out, and we’re seeing Americans get out, and that’s going to continue. And that’s something that — again, the work of the team, from the President on down, helped get that done.
But I just wanted to kind of give you a bit of a sense of even an issue like that, that could look like, “Well, of course, foreign nationals should be able to get out,” but just how — how difficult it is and what it takes to actually get these things done.
That also includes, of course, the humanitarian response. At the beginning of the crisis, there were no border crossings open with Gaza. We set up, through Rafah, the beginning of the humanitarian aid. And it was the President’s trip to Egypt — I’m sorry, the President’s trip to Israel and a very direct conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli War Cabinet and then followed by his phone call to President Sisi on Air Force One on the way back which finalized the modality to begin to move the trucks from Egypt into Gaza.
It started with about 10 trucks. And we are now at the point of about 100 trucks a day, and we look to see that significantly ramp up over the coming — over the coming days.
So, that’s another one where, again, I think the President’s direct intergage- — engagement hands on with leaders and then from the team on down to David on the ground, was able to get that — to get that moving.
Just on the other lines of effort I mentioned, support for Israel obviously goes without saying as the first principle — guiding principle from the beginning of this — of this conflict — Israel’s right to defend itself not just against Hamas, but also Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran, and the many threats that Israel faces. I think the supplemental we have in Congress speaks to that and, obviously, the prosecution of this campaign.
And as we said — you’ve heard us all say, Israel has an added burden because Hamas takes civilians as human shields, uses civilian infrastructure for its own military purposes, lives underground. You’ve seen situations where, if Israel destroys a tunnel, an entire city block falls into that tunnel.
So, this is an incredibly difficult, difficult situation.
I think what the President said when he was in Tel Aviv in his speech where he talked about being the first U.S. president to visit Israel in a time of war, talking about his making wartime decisions, how difficult it is, that it’s never easy. There are never clear choices; there are always costs that requires being deliberate, asking hard questions, requires clarity and objectives and honest assessment about whether the path you’re on will achieve those objectives.
And, frankly, that kind of rigor — that rigorous inquiry is something that has guided our engagement with the Israelis on a — truly a daily basis. So, the nine calls from the President to the Prime Minister, the daily calls from Jake to his counterpart, the visit by Secretary Blinken today, meeting with the entire War Cabinet, and the conversations we’re having with the Israelis and others throughout the region, but on a — on a daily — a daily basis. Very direct — very direct conversations about the directions the Israelis are going, about what their objectives are, and so on.
But I think we have to keep in mind, and we do, that Hamas started this war. Hamas is living underground. They’re living in tunnels. And it is an incredibly difficult proposition.
I think it’s also just safe to say — you’ve heard Tony say this throughout the week — but everyone working on this, I mean, from the — from the earliest moments as things unfolded and realizing what happened in Israel and to these Israeli families and to a number of Americans — and, frankly, we learn more about the facts every day. And it’s just absolutely horrific.
And anyone — it just — it affects all of us. And it affects us, similarly, the loss of Palestinian life, and a father holding his dead child.
So, this is something that we are all living through in real time. And I know a number of you are as well.
But just it goes without saying that the human tragedy of what is happening is enormous. But we are focused very much on the task at hand here.
On containing the conflict to Gaza, a tremendous amount of work obviously has gone on from the earliest days. This is something the President, as Commander-in-Chief, is directly hands-on focused on, regular engagements with Secretary Austin and General Brown, including one, again, just yesterday just about our deployments to the region, our deterrence posture, and our preparations to respond to any significant threats.
I think working to contain this conflict — and Secretary Blinken spoke with it — to this today — has been a overriding priority of ours. It’s something that remains the case. And I will just say we are ready and prepared for whatever may come, but we are doing an awful lot to ensure that we deter some of the more aggressive moves that, frankly, could have happened over the last month but, so far, have not. But it’s something we focus on all the time.
I’ll just finish on hostages. I mentioned kind of what went into just getting foreign nationals out of Gaza. I have to say there is just as intense a process ongoing on the hostages. I just can’t talk too much about it here. But it is a incredibly intense process.
I think, as we did confirm last night, we are using — these are unarmed DOD assets to try to help locate some of the American hostages that we believe are in Gaza. And Hamas needs to release these hostages, period. And we are going to do all we possibly can to make sure that all the hostages of all nationalities come out of Gaza.
So, there is an active process going on here with multiple lines of effort, including indirect engagement to try to find a framework to get the hostages out of Gaza. So, that is something that is very much ongoing.
Hopefully, when we do a future call, that we can have some good news on that. But it is incredibly difficult, complex, time consuming.
The two Americans we were able to get out a couple weeks ago was a bit of a pilot to see if it was possible. It is possible. But the numbers we’re talking about is extremely difficult.
And when you heard the President say the other night, talking about a pause in the context of a prisoner release, the release is to get the hostages out. And the numbers that we’re talking about, it would take a very significant pause in the conflict, in the fighting to be able to do this.
It is something that is under a very serious and active discussion, but there’s no — there’s no agreement as of yet to actually get this done. But it’s something we’re working on extremely hard. And, again, hopefully, God willing, we’ll have some good news on that in a future call. But unfortunately, it’s something we cannot guarantee.
So, with that, I think I’ll — happy to turn it over. Take some questions.
MODERATOR: Yep. We’ll open it up to questions now.
Our first question is going to go to Steve Holland with Reuters.
Q Steve Holland here. Thank you, [senior administration official]. Tell us a little bit more about efforts to arrange a pause. Apparently, Netanyahu today said no. What’s — what’s going on behind the scenes there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Steve. I think there’s a couple — you know, there’s a couple aspects of this. Number one, on the — when it comes to the hostages, it goes without saying when you’re talking about — nobody knows the exact number of hostages, but it is in the — well over 100 and maybe over 200.
So, any arrangement to get 200 hostages out of Gaza is going to require a fairly significant pause in hostilities. And the framework being discussed, should we get to that point, that would obviously go into place. And I think that is something that the President — the President is briefed on regularly.
And so, should that get into place, there would be a very significant pause in hostilities to make sure that that arrangement can actually be implemented.
In fact, when we got the two Americans out a couple weeks ago, there was a — you know, a limited pause to test that — kind of a testing pilot about — to ensure that the hostages would be handed over the ICRC and then taken out of Gaza. So, that was something that had been worked out and went quite well.
I’d also say, in the course of any military operation in an environment like this, it’s fairly natural to build into a campaign pauses to allow civilians to move, to ensure humanitarian aid is getting into place and getting to those who need it. And that is something that Secretary Blinken discussed with the Israelis today.
And so, I think — you know, David Satterfield is on the ground working the humanitarian response. I think this is going to be a very active area of follow-up conversations over the coming days, and I just — I don’t want to get ahead of it here.
But those are the kinds of contexts in which — in which that issue is being discussed.
Q Thank you, [senior administration official].
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Aamer with the AP. Sorry. Next, we’ll go to Aamer Madhani with the AP.
Q Hi. Can you hear me now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Aamer. Yeah, gotcha.
Q Hey, I’m sorry about that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Gotcha.
Q Sorry, for the — I’m talking about this framework that’s been tested that you’re trying to build broader. How soon do you think that this could start coming to fruition? And then, secondly, do you have any reaction to Nasrallah’s speech today? And how are — how are you all interpreting that? Is Hezbollah wanting to become more involved and make this into a broader war? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think your question on the framework, I think you meant the hostages. I just — there’s no — I can’t put a timeframe on it. This is not — this is not a process in which, you know, two parties are sitting at a table to get — work something out.
The difficulties of actually communicating with those who would actually be responsible to implement any arrangement, getting fidelity on exactly how many hostages there are, who would come out when — it’s a very complicated and complex process. And, frankly, we’re dealing with Hamas. So, you know, this is not something that anyone is expecting good faith.
So — but I would say it is a — the discussions have been intense and detailed. We have proven that it is possible. And, again, we’re hopeful and doing everything we possibly can to get hostages out. But I — there is absolutely no guarantee, A, that it’s going to happen or, B, when it’s going to happen.
Yeah, Nasrallah gave a speech. I think he spoke for over two hours, someone told me. We’ve taken note of that speech. I think our deterrent posture in the region speaks for itself and, so far, I think has been fairly effective.
But I — I think his — I’m not going to characterize the speech. I would just say we took note of it, and we’re in regular contact with the Lebanese government and with others in Lebanon to make sure that this war does not spread to Lebanon. That would be an absolute disaster for Lebanon.
And that’s something that — that’s something that is in Nasrallah’s hands, and I think he knows our position very clearly. And I’ll just leave it at that.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Nick Schifrin with PBS.
Q Hey, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing this. One on the blocking of American citizens. I’ve done a couple of interviews over the last few days with Americans who have left who said that nothing was actually blocking them from getting to Rafah. So, can you explain exactly how Hamas was blocking people from leaving?
And can you zoom out a little bit and engage with an idea that a lot of commentators are kind of talking about U.S. policy overall about — and take us through a focus that you’ve had, that the administration has had on Israel-Saudi normalization, on a kind of future version of the region, and not as much a focus on a two-state solution — you know, Jake’s first draft didn’t even have two-state in it in Foreign Affairs — and whether you think that that focus, in retrospect, was not as full as it needed to be, whether there needs to be more focus on Palestinian-Israeli issues specifically. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, in Gaza, just on the Rafah and the getting people out, you had to have arrangements on the Gazan side of the border, which is Hamas. So — and including the people who work there would have to have the arrangements in place to get people out. And those arrangements could not be set up until this demand on the wounded, which was a demand, which was basically being held as the kind of collateral to be able to get a deal to get people out. That was just something we had to work through.
It could not all be done just from the Egyptian side of the border. So, I recognize there are a lot of people there. We made sure that they were safe as best we could. But until that arrangement was worked out — and, again, the list of wounded that Hamas handed over had — originally had about a third of people that were actually Hamas fighters, which was not going to be part of the deal.
So, that’s what kind of complicated and took a while for it to get worked out. And, again, I think Qatar and Egypt were critical in that — in that regard.
On the second point of your question, it’s interesting, because I think, on the Saudi-Israel normalization process, in fact, the Palestinian component of those talks was, like, fundamental to those talks. And I think it’s just — obviously, when you’re in a negotiation, we don’t — this isn’t public information, so we don’t talk about it. But I think there would have been no deal without what’s truly a transformational package, particularly for the West Bank.
I can just give some stuff that’s been in the — that was in the news, obviously, before this crisis. But, I mean, the President’s conversation with Bibi in New York, I think nearly two thirds of it was focused on the Palestinian component of that deal. There would not — never be a deal unless there was not agreement on a very significant Palestinian component.
The Palestinians themselves were basically a part of this process. Palestinian leaders visiting Saudi Arabia, effectively taking part in that — in those talks. Saudi Arabia engaged in the West Bank for the first time with officials, visiting Ramallah for the first time in decades — I think since 1967 — and appointing a representative to do that full time.
So, it’s just simply false — totally false to say that the effort on Israel-Saudi normalization was somehow doing an end run around the fundamental issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, because it’s actually quite the opposite.
And I think as MBS said himself and as others have said, again, before this — before this crisis, there had to be a significant component for the Palestinians. And I would just say, were that deal to get done, I think it is a truly transformational element. But we don’t have a deal, and so — even before this crisis.
But I think, at the end of the day, what we would like to see — and I think there’s some consensus here in the region; although, in the middle of the — of the crisis we’re in, it’s hard to focus on it. But obviously, we want to see governance restored in Gaza and a unified government — governance between the West Bank and Gaza, which is really an essential component to actually getting to — ultimately to two states.
No, but this is something the President has spoken to repeatedly and consistently. His speech when he visited Ramallah last year talked about his vision for two states, which has not changed. The Prime Minister at the time, Prime Minister Lapid, talked about his vision for two states standing next to the President. Obviously, we’ve had, I think, three Israeli governments since we came into office.
So, you know, we are working on a number of issues. But the idea that there was not an intensive focus on — on issues relating to the Palestinians is just totally false. If you look at it through the prism of the Israel-Saudi talks, which I discussed, or also just everything we’ve done since we came in in restoring aid to the Palestinians and under- — and everything else, which had effectively been severed by the last administration. We worked to turn that back on.
When it comes to Hamas, no, Hamas was not a part of the of the Saudi-Israel normalization process, quite obviously. And it’s safe to say that the attacks of October 7th was something that I’m not aware of any analyst anywhere predicting that 2- to 3,000 Hamas fighters would breach the border fences and invade Israel and kill 1,400 people and take 200 hostages and then go back into Gaza and live underground in their bunkers.
That was just not something that the Israelis saw coming. Frankly, it is not something that we saw coming, either. If there’s someone out there who predicted it, I’m happy to have a conversation with them.
But I think we have been focused on this problem from day one. While we have had really one major Gaza conflict in 2021, we worked very closely with Israelis, Qataris, Egyptians, and others to de-escalate and try to — try to create the conditions for some stability there. But, again, it’s Hamas we’re dealing with.
And if you want to look beyond this conflict, I think, again, there is opportunity, and we’re hopeful. And I think Secretary Blinken will have the opportunity to discuss this with a number of his counterparts tomorrow in Amman. Those are the main focuses on the immediate crisis, but on the importance and the critical importance, hopefully, of having reunified governance between Gaza and the West Bank and putting the foundation in place for a very serious process that ultimately can lead to two states.
And I’ll just kind of finish where I started to answer your question, that the Saudi-Israel discussions, this was a central, central component. You know, the main topic between the Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden when they met in New York just — just in September. So — and I guess I’ll leave it there.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Andrea Mitchell with NBC.
Q Hello, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi.
Q Hi. I have a question about the attacks on the ambulance today or ambulances, the attack on a cancer hospital in the north, and U.S. efforts that the Secretary may or may not have done — not just a pause — but to try to get more precise targeting. I saw plenty of evidence of bunker buster bombs a few days ago. And so, this week has pretty been — it’s been –and we’re hearing from the Senate, from the people who are long supporters of Israel, 14 senators now, some in the House, but 14 senators not calling for a ceasefire, but also expressing concern about the crisis. Was that expressed, and is there growing concern in the U.S. government?
Granted the support for Israel, the continuing support for Israel having the right to defend and an obligation to defend and to respond, but what about the targeting of the airstrikes? And wouldn’t it be more effective to look for hostages and terrorists on the ground, rather than the kind of airstrikes that — the refugee camp yielded one terrorist and the kind of damage that just, you know, just rang around the world in terms of the cost-benefit ratio for Israel itself? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, Andrea, thanks for your question. I think I — what I’ll say is — and I think you could kind of read between the lines, but I think our — you know, our conversations with the Israelis are, as I mentioned at the beginning, very direct about — about — and, again, I go back to that very important speech the President gave in Tel Aviv about wartime decisions and being deliberate and asking hard questions and constantly asking and ensuring there’s clarity about the objectives you’re seeking and an honest assessment of whether you’re achieving them.
And that’s the conversation that we are having with the Israelis all the time. And they have significantly refined what originally was their plan. It is not our military. It is not a U.S. military campaign. And so, I don’t want to be here armchair quarterbacking.
But I will say, when there are incidents, very certainly, we have conversations with the Israelis. And I would refer you to them about any specific incident.
You know, these horrible images from the refugee camp was a strike in a tunnel complex, and the — that entire block collapsed into the tunnel complex. And according to the explanations we’ve had from the Israelis, it was not just a battalion; it was a battalion commander, a number of his leaders, and a significant — significant contingent of that battalion in that tunnel complex.
But the intent was not to collapse the city block. And the munition did not land on the city block. It hit the tunnel and collapsed the tunnel — sorry, the city block collapsed into the tunnel.
So, this is tragic. And — and it’s something — you know, we do talk to the Israelis about it. I don’t — I think they have a statement out about the incident today, and I would kind of defer to them. I just have not been — had a chance to look into it, nor have I discussed it with them just given everything else going on today.
But I would just say, you know, we’re having very direct discussions with the Israelis, including all of our other — other partners in the region. And that’s why, you know, Tony will be in Amman tomorrow talking to his counterparts from the region and also to Palestinian leaders.
So, I think I’ll leave it there, Andrea. But, yes, we are in regular discussions with the Israelis, offering them some advice from our hard experience. Something, again, I think the President’s speech in Tel Aviv — I was with him there and, you know, worked on the speech on the way over on Air Force One and everything else.
I mean, he really spoke from his conviction about what these — what these decisions are like and also our experience as a country after 9/11, in which he said very clearly mistakes were made, and the importance to be strategic and thoughtful and mindful of unintended consequences.
So, this is a conversation we have with the Israelis at multiple levels every day.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Jacob Magid with The Times of Israel.
Q Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing this. Can you just talk a little bit about the trial limited pause that you guys did? For which of the — first of all, what does that really mean, how long did it last, and which of the two hostages was it for? Was it the first pair that were released, or was it the second pair?
And then — and then if you could talk at all, for the Palestinians that they tried to smuggle out, the Hamas fighters, were they wounded or they’re just general fighters that they were trying to get out? And then, finally, if there’s anything on the agenda for the Secretary’s conference in — in Amman, what are you trying to accomplish there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I’ll be careful, because I’m not sure what — but the two Americans, the mother and the daughter, was negotiated through the same channels by which there is negotiation on a larger package. To get them out, there was a role for the ICRC, and there had — there had to be assurances in place that they’d be able to travel safely, which was not a short distance, to the border to get out.
And so, that had to be worked out. And so, there was a time period for that. And it went generally fairly well, like clockwork, to get them out.
So, as a bit of a pilot, because to see, one, are the people that are — in particular, the Qataris, Egyptians, and others, but the mainly the Qataris in the instance — talking to able to get things done. The answer is yes. And can this be replicated on a larger scale, and the hope is yes.
But as I mentioned earlier, we’re not there yet, but just to kind of give you a bit of an insight into what — what is being discussed and what this would take.
And when the President talks about a pause in the context of hostages, that’s kind of what we’re talking about, recognizing that, should this get done, obviously, you would have a lot of people moving, and you want to make sure that they’re moving safely.
On the Secretary’s visit tomorrow, I don’t want to — I think I’ll let him speak to it. But nothing — there’s nothing more important than face-to-face engagement, particularly during a crisis like this. And so, I think it’s very important for the Secretary to be there and hear from his counterparts and also for them to hear from him.
And the Jordanians are right there, and King Abdullah has been critical. The President just spoke with him the other day. And, you know, they see it front and center.
And, also, I didn’t mention the West Bank, but the West Bank is also something we’re very focused on. The President has spoken to his concerns about extremists’ other violence, something we’ve talked to the Israelis about regularly, including the President’s last phone call with the Prime Minister. And I think that’ll also be, I know, the topic that Secretary Blinken raised today with the Israelis, and also, he’ll have the chance to discuss it tomorrow in Amman.
But in terms of the frame for the visit, I’m sure you’ll get — you’ll get more from him over the course of tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to M.J. Lee with CNN.
Q Hey, [senior administration official], can you hear me? Thanks for doing this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey. Loud and clear.
Q I was hoping you could walk us through how you are thinking about a ceasefire — not a pause, but a general ceasefire. At what point would the administration feel compelled to call for one? Is it once Israel has reached a certain military objective or once the humanitarian or civilian toll has surpassed a certain point? I’m just hoping you could give us a sense of how you and others are thinking about also just the public outcry, the public outrage that you’re seeing about the civilian death toll in Gaza, which is obviously fueling the calls for a ceasefire.
And then just also quickly, back on Nasrallah’s speech today, do you all think that Hamas was disappointed or surprised by the refusal by Hezbollah to get more involved and escalate the war? And was the — was the U.S. relieved, to any extent, by his speech, or how much did the U.S., you know, take the speech at face value?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, M.J. Yeah, ceasefire — in a situation in which a terrorist group takes 200 hostages and kills 1,400 people and is hiding under tunnels, including the leaders, a ceasefire is just not really the word — the word to use. And — but talking about pauses to ensure hostages can be released, as I mentioned, to ensure humanitarian aid is getting where it needs to be, and to ensure that civilians can move out of harm’s way, particularly in the northern part of Gaza, you know, where people should move.
And when we mentioned an example of Mosul or something, it is not because this is like that. It’s different. But — but we have a lot of experience in these very difficult endeavors, in opening humanitarian corridors and allowing people to move before the onset of major military operations. And even in the midst of operations, to have pauses, allow people to move, is fundamental to something that we believe is critically important and that the Israelis, even as they have the responsibility and the right to defend themselves and their citizens, to act consistent with the laws of war and with international humanitarian law.
So, pauses in these — in these categories that Secretary Blinken discussed today and that the President has mentioned is something that we are discussing with the Israelis and think is very important. But a ceasefire, I think, depends on the Israelis feeling secure and ensuring that something like this cannot happen again.
So, I think I’ll leave it at that
On Nasrallah’s speech and Hamas’s reaction to it, you’ve got to ask Hamas. I don’t know. But I think the speech, from what I understand, was basically kind of what I think we expected. And I do not think it signaled the beginning of a northern front or anything like that.
Obviously, there is tension on the northern border. There has been since the crisis started. I think it will continue. But we would encourage de-escalation on the northern border. And it’s also something that obviously we speak with Israelis about all the time, because the aim here is to try to contain this conflict to Hamas. Hamas started the war, and the conflict is focused on Gaza.
And to kind of dovetail this answer with your first question, I think what we anticipate seeing here over the coming days or the coming week is a significant increase in humanitarian aid getting in now that we have the pathways open and mechanisms in place, the resources, including $100 million from the United States, $100 million from the GCC, and Egypt kind of running full tilt, a significant increase in humanitarian aid coming into the south.
And the overall scale of the air campaign — I’ll let the Israelis speak to this, but kind of a decrease in what we’ve seen and more of a tactical focus on the — on the ground campaign as they’re working to clear out some specific areas where there are tunnel complexes and things.
So, that’s what we anticipate seeing over the next week. But, again, I think I’ll leave the Israelis to — to give you any details.
MODERATOR: And our last question will be Barak Ravid with Axios.
Q Hi, thank you for — for doing this. First question is just, you know, to follow up on a previous question that was asked. You know, it’s true that, when you discussed the Saudi thing, there was a Palestinian component. But for the first two and a half years of this administration, the policy on the Palestinian issue was of containment, and the President was even on the record that he doesn’t think that there could be any progress on a two-state solution. So — and this changed three weeks ago. So, if you can address — address that again.
And second thing, on the same issue, the Israeli government yesterday took a decision to stop some of the money transfers to the Palestinian Authority, something which could open another front in the West Bank. What’s your position on this decision?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, on your first question, again, I would — I think I would go back to the President’s speech in Ramallah, but not just speeches. I think what we’ve done with our actions in terms of actually restoring relations with the Palestinians, which had been totally severed, working now with multiple Israeli governments, and also, yes, dealing with the reality that confronted us in terms of whether or not the foundation was set to actually get the conditions for a two-state outcome in the near term or whether we had a lot of work to do to set those foundation stones in place.
I think what the process between — between the Saudis and the Israelis — I just think this is important; I answered it before — but was not — I mean, it was not a process that we ever saw as kind of an end run to that issue. And, in fact, the Palestinian piece of it was and remains fundamental, something — actually, the President just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia last week about this.
And the way the deal was coming together, I think, actually — and given a component that is in there for the West Bank and the Palestinians — I think would have actually set a very important, foundational element for ultimately moving in that direction.
But, again, I don’t want to get ahead of that process. We still have some ways to go. There is not a deal. But that process itself — and including the direct Saudi engagement in the West Bank, something that has not been seen for decades — you know, potentially quite transformational.
And that’s something that we are working very hard on, and it’s something that very much remains on the table as we ultimately come out of this crisis and the possibility — the possibility, not the guarantee — but the possibility for reunified governance between the West Bank and Gaza with the Palestinians and their voice and their aspirations being central to that vision.
So, just because we didn’t achieve a two-state outcome in the past two to three years, I do not think it’s fair at all to say that it’s not something that we very much recognized was always fundamental to long-term sustainable peace. And the Saudi-Israel normalization process actually was designed to incorporate that principle.
On the decision yesterday, Barak, as I understand it — but I’d refer you to the Israelis. I understand that there was a debate, and the funding that was going to Gaza has been withheld.
But I would just say this is not the time, in our view, to withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority. Quite the opposite. We need to maintain stability in the West Bank. Hamas is an enemy of the Palestinian Authority, as we all know. And so, that very much remains our view, and that’s something that we are obviously in discussions with — with the Israelis on a regular basis and with the Palestinian Authority and with our regional partners — something that I think Secretary Blinken will have the opportunity to discuss tomorrow in Amman.
MODERATOR: All right. That concludes our call. Thank you all for joining us this evening. And have a good evening.
5:56 P.M. EDT