An Israeli reoccupation of Gaza would be a mistake, Biden says

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President Biden said in an interview broadcast Sunday that a new Israeli occupation of Gaza would be “a big mistake,” comments that came as Israel is expected to launch a hard-hitting ground invasion of the Palestinian enclave.

“I think it’d be a big mistake,” Biden said in a response to a question from “60 Minutes” host Scott Pelley. “Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that … it would be a mistake … for Israel to occupy … Gaza again.”

Biden’s warning against reoccupying Gaza amounted to one of his firmest efforts so far to impose a limit on Israel’s actions in retaliation for Hamas attacks that have killed at least 1,400 people. Still, he added, “Going in but taking out the extremists — the Hezbollah is up north but Hamas down south — is a necessary requirement.”

Biden sought to draw a distinction between Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza and launched a bloody attack on Israel on Oct. 7, and ordinary Palestinians who are now facing dire conditions in the densely populated enclave of over 2 million people, more than half of whom are children.

While he said Hamas needs to be eliminated, he added: “There needs to be a Palestinian Authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.”

Israel captured the Gaza Strip, along with the West Bank, in the 1967 war, but it unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005. In June 2007, Hamas took over Gaza from the Palestinian Authority.

Even without a formal occupation, Israel controls most aspects of life in Gaza, and most Palestinians are not able to exit the territory. Israel announced a full siege of Gaza after the attacks, cutting off food, water, fuel and electricity, a tactic that human rights groups have said violate the laws of war. Gaza is almost out of fuel and many residents do not have access to safe drinking water.

Biden has stood steadfastly by Israel since the Hamas attacks just over a week ago, even as Israel has launched a bombardment of airstrikes on Gaza that have killed more than 2,600 people. The White House is in discussions with Israeli officials about Biden traveling to Israel, potentially as soon as this week, according to a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about private deliberations.

Israeli media reported that during a phone call on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Biden to Israel. Officials of both countries are talking about the feasibility of such a trip, which could present logistical and political difficulties if Biden visits while a fierce Israeli incursion into Gaza is underway.

White House officials would not comment on the potential trip. “We have no new travel to announce,” Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.

Israel last week urged more than 1 million people in Gaza to evacuate within 24 hours in advance of its incursion, an order the United Nations called impossible. Hundreds of thousands of Gaza civilians have fled south, while others chose to stay in their homes after hearing reports of airstrikes hitting potential exit routes.

Asked whether Israel would pursue a path toward a Palestinian state after the Hamas attacks, Biden said “not now.” Still, he added, “I think Israel understands that a significant portion of Palestinian people do not share the views of Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Palestinian gunmen from Hamas launched their surprise attack more than a week ago after breaking through Israel’s sophisticated border fence. The militants hunted civilians in their homes and cars and took scores of people hostage into Gaza, including some Americans. At least 30 U.S. citizens were killed in the attacks, U.S. officials said.

Biden and his top officials have said they are working to secure humanitarian corridors into Gaza to enable fuel and food to come in. Israel’s energy minister, Israel Katz, said Sunday that Netanyahu and Biden have reached a deal to restore water supplies to some parts of southern Gaza.

When asked whether it was time for a cease-fire, given the number of Palestinian civilians that have already been killed in the aerial counterattack, Biden said Israel has a duty to respond to the horrific attacks.

“Israel is going after a group of people who have engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust,” Biden said. “Israel has to respond. They have to go after Hamas. Hamas is a bunch of cowards. They’re hiding behind the civilians.”

Biden, who has spent much of his 50-plus years in politics steeped in foreign policy, has always been firmly pro-Israel even as some parts of the Democratic Party have increasingly questioned the U.S. military and diplomatic support for the country.

Some liberals have raised concerns over Israel’s years-long punishing blockade of Gaza and its aggressive development of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu has also formed the most far-right government in Israel’s history, sought to overhaul its independent judiciary and all but dismissed the idea of a two-state solution.

Biden declined to criticize Israel directly for its siege of Gaza, though he said he would like to see a humanitarian corridor and supplies brought into Gaza.

“I’m confident that Israel is going to act under … the rules of war,” Biden said, a statement he has made multiple times in the past week. “There’s standards that democratic institutions and countries go by. And so I’m confident that there’s going to be an ability for the innocents in Gaza to be able to have access to medicine and food and water.”

Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

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