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Joe Biden
President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the days after Israel’s military killed World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid workers in Gaza. Alex Brandon/AP

Under Pressure, Biden Says He’ll Consider Conditions to Israel Aid

Israel’s attack on humanitarian aid workers with the World Central Kitchen has prompted fierce backlash, even from some of Israel’s supporters.

President Joe Biden, facing increased pressure to change course on the United States’ policies toward the war in Gaza, opened the door to putting conditions on aid to Israel.

On Thursday, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that continued U.S. aid would depend on the implementation of protections for civilians and humanitarian workers. Biden also said a temporary “immediate cease-fire” was “essential” to put that plan in place.

“It’s important to understand, there will be no humanitarian pause in the fighting, no cease-fire, that will leave our hostages in Gaza and leave Hamas in power. That is unacceptable on our end,” Netanyahu’s spokesperson Tal Heinrich said on Fox News shortly after the call with Biden.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby did not detail the measures the administration wants to see in place in Gaza. Kirby said it was up to Israel to decide and implement a plan, after which the United States would evaluate its own policies. The White House is hoping to see changes in the coming “hours and days,” he said.

Biden’s comments to Netanyahu were in direct response to the Israel Defense Forces’ airstrike in Deir al-Balah, killing seven aid workers with the World Central Kitchen, including an American citizen. World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés said the humanitarian workers were “targeted deliberately” after having coordinated their movements with the Israeli military while using clearly marked vehicles. Israel is investigating the incident.

There’s been mounting pressure on Biden to respond to the Monday attack on the WCK workers, even from some unlikely sources.

Sen. Chris Coons, a close ally of Biden’s and self-proclaimed “strong supporter of Israel,” said he thinks the U.S. is “at the point” of needing to condition aid to Israel “if they continue with large-scale military operations in Rafah without making any provision for civilians.”

“I’ve never said that before,” Coons admitted in an interview with CNN about his willingness to vote for constraints on aid to Israel, noting that the U.S. needs to see “real seriousness about addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” Coons said he continues to support “targeted raids, small counterterrorism or special forces raids.”

Richard Haass, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime adviser to George W. Bush and Colin Powell, also called for Biden to penalize Israel for its actions. “At some point, the words become empty,” he said in an interview on MSNBC. “We have to basically have some sanctioning of what Israel did.”

Haass, who supported Israel’s initial response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, has become increasingly outspoken against Israel’s tactics in Gaza; last month, he wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling the war effort “counterproductive.”

Biden first responded to the attack Tuesday morning, saying he was “outraged and heartbroken” but gave little indication of any major shift in the continued U.S. military support to Israel.

“I’m so sick of hearing how upset President Biden is,” Former National Security Council spokesperson under George W. Bush and MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan said on Wednesday in response to Biden’s statement. “If he wants to stop arms sales, if he wants to stop the bombs that are indiscriminately killing civilians, he can. He has the power.”

Since Oct. 7, the Biden administration has made two public military sales to Israel, bypassing Congress and using emergency authority. The administration also fulfilled previously congressionally approved weapons transfers in March and approved the transfer of fighter jets, per The Washington Post. Many U.S. weapons stockpiles held in Israel have also been redirected to the IDF, the Post reported.

According to both U.S. and international law, the administration would be required to pull military aid if evidence of war crimes being committed with U.S. weapons came to light. Those include the deliberate killing of civilians, attacks on diplomatic facilities and attacks on clearly identified aid organizations and NGOs — all situations that the Israeli government has been accused of.

In a briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said they were not able to identify if the weapons used in the strike on the aid workers had been provided by the United States.

“We’re not doing our own independent investigation,” she said. “We investigate ourselves, and we hold ourselves to very high standards as well. We would expect the Israeli government to do the same.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged Tuesday that the victims of the Monday strike “join a record number of humanitarian workers who’ve been killed in this particular conflict.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.