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Biden Cites His Team's Quiet Diplomacy In Cease-Fire Plan Between Israel And Hamas

President Biden delivers remarks Thursday after news of a cease-fire plan between Israel and Hamas militants emerged.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden delivers remarks Thursday after news of a cease-fire plan between Israel and Hamas militants emerged.

Updated May 20, 2021 at 6:44 PM ET

Speaking at the White House an hour before an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire was set to go into effect in Israel and Gaza, President Biden expressed gratitude for the deal — which, if successful, would put at least a temporary halt to rocket attacks, airstrikes and other violence that has killed more than 200 Palestinians, as well as at least a dozen Israelis.

Biden's remarks were fittingly brief: just three minutes. The administration shied away from public pressure or public statements throughout the conflict, instead prioritizing what White House officials constantly referenced as "quiet" diplomacy.

In fact, Biden's Thursday evening statement was the first time he delivered formal remarks in the 11 days of fighting. Every other time Biden weighed in, it was at the prodding of reporters after he had finished speaking about other topics.

Throughout this period of relative silence, the White House emphasized how often Biden and other key figures, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, were on the phone with officials in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other Middle Eastern states.

By Thursday, the total number of calls White House officials were touting to reporters had grown to 80, including a half dozen conversations between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — as well as calls to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and others.

A good portion of Biden's remarks Thursday was simply thanking the various officials his administration had worked with to bring about a cease-fire.

"These hostilities have resulted in the tragic deaths of so many civilians, including children," Biden said. "I sent my sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones, and my hope for a full recovery for the wounded."

The flare-up was the latest in a cycle of conflict between Israel and Hamas, which have fought similar battles like this three times previously. But this escalated faster than the others.

Both sides warned the other that they could resume attacks if the cease-fire is not honored, and it will take some hours to determine whether it is realized.

Throughout the conflict, Biden emphasized Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks, as he did again Thursday. As the death toll mounted, Biden faced increased pressure from Democratic allies in Congress to ramp up pressure on Israel to scale back its strikes on Gaza, and to speak more about Palestinians, as well.

Biden ended his remarks by promising U.S. support for "reconstruction efforts" in Gaza. "We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority — not Hamas," he said, "in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal."

"I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy. My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end," Biden said.

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Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.