News Roundup for December 21, 2023

December 21, 2023
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Top News and Analysis

Biden: No New Gaza Hostage Deal Expected for Now, Axios
President Biden doesn’t expect a new hostage deal between Israel and Hamas to come soon, he told reporters on Wednesday, but stressed that the US is “pushing” for one. “There’s no expectation at this point, but we are pushing,” the president said. Israel said it would pause the fighting in Gaza for at least one week as part of a new deal that would require the release of more than three dozen hostages the terror group is holding, Axios reported on Tuesday.

Investigation Into Killing of Israeli Hostages by IDF Reveals a String of Errors and Flaws, Haaretz
The military investigation determined that the soldiers and senior commanders operating in the area were not aware of the possibility that hostages might be held there. They were likewise not informed of a building discovered in the area on which the words “Help, 3 hostages” and “SOS” were painted. On December 13, a day before the hostages were killed, drones identified a building in the area on which the hostage’s pleas for help were scrawled. As far as is known, the command post dealing with hostages and missing persons, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, was not informed of this.

Israel Uncovers Major Hamas Command Center in Gaza City as Cease-Fire Talks Gain Momentum, AP
The army said it had exposed the center of a vast underground network used by Hamas to move weapons, militants and supplies throughout the Gaza Strip. Israel has said destroying the tunnels is a major objective of the offensive. The announcement came as Hamas’ top leader arrived in Egypt for talks aimed at brokering a temporary cease-fire and a new deal for Hamas to swap Israeli hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Democratic Lawmakers Demand Oversight on US Assistance to Israel, The Washington Post
President Biden has faced mounting pressure from Congress in recent weeks as his administration has stood resolutely by the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East. Now, lawmakers are urging Biden to impose conditions on US aid to Israel, to pressure the Jewish state to change course or to push for a cease-fire. But the information needed to guide policy decisions has been lacking, Democrats in the House and Senate have said.

IDF Says It Is Probing Deaths of Several Gazans at Its Detention Centers, The Times of Israel
Hundreds of Palestinians are being held in detention centers in southern Israel, having been detained in military operations across Gaza since the war erupted on October 7. On Tuesday, the Haaretz daily reported that “several” of the detainees had died at one of the Israeli detention facilities — the Sde Teiman base near the city of Beersheba. The detainees held at the facility are “blindfolded and handcuffed for most of the day and the lights are on at the facility throughout the night,” the report said.

Key Hamas Plotters of Oct. 7 Elude Israel’s Grip on Gaza, The New York Times
Israel’s stated goal in the war is to destroy Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that rules Gaza and set off the war there by attacking Israel on Oct. 7. But despite a military campaign that has caused nearly 20,000 deaths in Gaza and reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble, Israel has yet to locate Sinwar and other senior Hamas figures considered key plotters of the attack 10 weeks ago. The elusiveness of top Hamas figures is depriving Netanyahu’s government of tangible proof to show both his domestic audience and a growing chorus of foreign leaders calling for a cease-fire that Israel is progressing toward its goal of wiping out Hamas.

Biden Knows That Netanyahu Is Not a Partner at All for Postwar Gaza, Haaretz
Alon Pinkas writes, “In terms of postwar Gaza, Netanyahu is not a partner at all as far as the Biden administration is concerned. A central theme of his fabricated narrative is that this is all about a Palestinian state that he, the historic hero, prevented and is now standing firm against US pressure to advance that goal. Yet the fact is that Biden has never pushed him for a Palestinian state. Biden only described the desirable framework in the future and is asking that Israel doesn’t undermine the feasibility of that solution.”


Gaza Children Dizzy From Hunger as War Impedes Food Deliveries, Reuters
Hunger has become the most pressing of the myriad problems facing hundreds of thousands of displaced Gaza Palestinians, with aid trucks able to bring in only a small fraction of what is needed, and distribution uneven due to the chaos of war. Some trucks have been stopped and looted by people desperate for food. Even in Rafah, which has a crossing to Egypt through which aid trucks enter and is an area where the Israeli army has told civilians to seek refuge, the dearth of food and clean water is so severe it is causing people to lose weight and get ill.

UN Security Council Again Delays Gaza Aid Resolution Vote as High-Level Talks Try to Avoid US Veto, AP
The United States is seeking to change the text’s references to a cessation of hostilities in the Israel-Hamas war and to putting the United Nations in charge of inspecting trucks to ensure they are actually carrying humanitarian goods, which Israel opposes. Biden told reporters that “we’re negotiating right now at the UN the contours of a resolution that we may be able to agree to.”

Humanitarian Groups Urge Austin to Halt Israel Aid Over Gaza Operations, Politico
The groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, urged Austin in the letter to “withhold US assistance, in accordance with US law and policy, that would facilitate violations of international humanitarian law” and “refrain from transferring explosive weapons to Israel for use in Gaza.” The letter, which POLITICO obtained, was also sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser.

Police Question 19 Guards in Connection With Fatal Beating of Palestinian Prisoner, The Times of Israel
According to Hebrew media reports, several of the officers were suspected of entering Tair Abu Asab’s cell at Ketziot Prison and beating him, hours before the Prison Service announced his death on November 19. In the weeks after his death was announced, a number news outlets cited eyewitness reports from recently released Palestinian prisoners who claimed to have seen the fatal beating of Abu Asab by guards.

Hostage Families Return to Beeri as Pressure Builds for New Releases, The Washington Post
Ziv hoisted another large cardboard box, navigating around his dead mother’s wilting garden, before adding it to the growing pile inside the white truck outside. His mother, Marcel, was shot in the head by Hamas militants just down the street on Oct. 7, 75 days ago; on Wednesday, he and his three siblings decided it was time to pack up her things.

VP Harris: Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself, and How It Does Matters [Video], MSNBC
Vice President Kamala Harris joins MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss how the Biden administration is handling the crises in Ukraine and in Israel, where VP Harris explains how the administration is working “toward equal measures of security, prosperity and freedom for Israelis and for Palestinians” in the future.

IDF Freezes Operations of ‘Hilltop Youth’ Unit Linked to Anti-Palestinian Violence, The Times of Israel
The unit, called “Sfar Hamidbar,” or Desert Frontier in English, was known for recruiting so-called “hilltop youth” — extremist settler activists involved in building illegal outposts in the West Bank and frequently alleged to be involved in violence against Palestinians. The unit was involved in violent attacks against Palestinian civilians, including a report in October by Haaretz that soldiers from the unit had beaten and severely abused Palestinian residents of Wadi al-Seeq.

Opinion and Analysis

The Pro-Israel Case for a Negotiated End to the War in Gaza, JTA
Rabbi Jill Jacobs shares, “Those of us who care about the long-term flourishing of Israel must ask whether those conducting this war have a strategy and whether the price of victory — whatever “victory” may mean — will be too high. […] Just as the United States learned in Afghanistan, a war might be justified, but it is very difficult to conduct justly, or wisely, especially when driven by strong emotions of shame, humiliation, rage, and revenge. It can end with extremists still in power — and even strengthened.”

Would Israel Be Any Different Without Netanyahu?, Haaretz
Gideon Levy argues, “Netanyahu corrupted the political system and infected it, destroyed the justice and law enforcement systems, and as for his personal conduct, it’s better not to start. But when it comes to the core of the matter, […] it appears that Netanyahu acted as his predecessors did and as his successors will. Apart from the commendable efforts of former prime ministers such as Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon to find a solution, if only partial, none of them had any intention of giving the Palestinians the minimum justice they deserve, without which there is no solution.”

Mahmoud Abbas Must Go, The New York Times
Samer Sinijlawi writes, “The Palestinian people will not accept being led by any party after the war that does not emerge from Palestinian elections, or perhaps in the first stage, a unity government that includes those opposed to Mr. Abbas within the Fatah movement, nonpartisan national figures and any nonmilitarized Islamist political party that might emerge, replacing Hamas in its current form. But first, Mr. Abbas must go. There are an easy way and a hard way for that to happen. The easy way would be for Mr. Abbas and his opposition in Fatah to reach a friendly understanding, in which he peacefully hands power over to a new administration that assumes responsibility for Gaza and the West Bank.”