J Street Welcomes Hostage Release and Pause in Fighting; Urges US to Set Red Lines for Netanyahu

November 22, 2023

J Street welcomes the agreement, approved last night by the Israeli government, that when implemented in full will include the release of at least 50 women and children held hostage by Hamas and an exchange of 150 Palestinian prisoners from Israel, over the course of a temporary ceasefire set to last at least four days.

The plight of the hostages and their families is one of the most heartrending parts of the calamity that has unfolded since Hamas’ horrific terror attacks against Israel on October 7. These hostages’ reunification with their families is a cause for great celebration and relief – even as we continue to fear for the safety of the many Israelis and foreign nationals still held in Gaza. Efforts to secure their release must continue to be a top priority.

A sustained pause in the fighting is also desperately needed for the millions of Palestinian civilians in Gaza who are facing an ongoing humanitarian disaster, and for the Israelis continuing to face barrages of rocket fire. The agreement will reportedly allow for hundreds of aid trucks to enter Gaza each day, and in particular for an increase in fuel deliveries, which are desperately needed to operate desalination plants, hospitals and other vital infrastructure.

It is a critical opportunity to surge increased aid deliveries into Gaza – which aid agencies on the ground have warned is nearly impossible while heavy fighting is underway. Yet these relief organizations have also made clear that a pause of this length is far from what would be needed to truly address the deteriorating crisis.

Like the Biden Administration, J Street has been urging a sustained humanitarian pause in the fighting for weeks, and we greatly appreciate the US diplomatic efforts that helped to achieve it. We hope it will be extended well beyond four days, and that it will ultimately result in the release of even more hostages, and the delivery of more aid.

At the same time, we remain deeply concerned about the state of the war – and what could take place when the fighting resumes.

In the wake of the heinous Hamas attacks, in which over 1,200 Israelis were brutally killed, J Street has been clear that we support Israel’s right to take military action, within the bounds of international law, to bring Hamas to justice and protect Israeli citizens from further attack.

We support the US government doing everything in its power to uphold Israeli security, help prevent terror, and ultimately advance a safe, free and peaceful future for Israelis, Palestinians and the wider region.

Over six weeks in, we are extremely concerned that the Netanyahu government’s conduct of the ongoing war in Gaza is imperiling the long-term goals of peace, security and preventing terror. We fear that they have not yet put forward any acceptable vision for the stable post-war future of Gaza or the ultimate resolution of the conflict. We are shocked by the devastating toll that the war is taking on over two million Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

That is why we believe it is absolutely critical – for the sake of US, Israeli and Palestinian interests and for the goal of defeating Hamas – that the Biden Administration set clear red lines and insist on a significant change in the conduct of this military operation.

President Biden has rightly demonstrated that US support for Israel’s security is ironclad. He should also make clear that the US will not provide unbounded support for a war with no limits and no exit strategy. Our ongoing backing and aid to Israel is not a blank check for Prime Minister Netanyahu.

We agree with congressional voices like Sen. Jon Ossoff, who has said, “An unmitigated humanitarian disaster in Gaza is not just a moral failure. It undermines American national security…It sews the seeds of hate and dims the prospects for a long-term, sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” We agree with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who expressed concern that the US had not set clear red lines for the Israeli conduct of this war, saying “that cannot be consistent with American interests and American values.”

As Hamas appallingly embeds itself within and beneath the civilian population, intensive Israeli airstrikes and shelling throughout Gaza have reportedly left over 13,000 people dead, the large majority of them civilians, including 5,500 children, with thousands more injured.

Military operations must make every possible effort to protect civilians from harm, to target Hamas as surgically as possible and to prevent any permanent displacement of civilians. This is crucial in and of itself – and also the only way that the operation could ever hope to successfully deter terror, ensure Israel’s security and receive international legitimacy.

As much of northern Gaza has been devastated, nearly 1.7 million people have been displaced, with most fleeing south, as the Israeli government called for. Most are cut off from food, clean water and medical care – and face spreading hunger and disease. Now, as Israeli forces prepare a major operation targeting Hamas leaders in the south of Gaza, calls for evacuations from some southern neighborhoods have already begun. Yet with their borders sealed, families in Gaza have nowhere left to flee – and fear permanent displacement.

US Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer said this week the US believes that further Israeli military operations in the south “should not go forward until those civilians have been accounted for in their military planning.” We agree – and we believe that the Netanyahu government has so far failed to effectively conduct this operation in a way that protects civilians or prioritizes the release of all hostages.

The Biden Administration should immediately announce – and enforce – clear red lines for the ongoing Israeli operation against Hamas. It must insist that the Netanyahu government dramatically change its tactics; allow an immediate surge in humanitarian aid; reject any future Israeli occupation, annexation or blockade in Gaza; and commit ultimately to the negotiated creation of an independent Palestinian state.

If Netanyahu cannot adopt this approach, then there is sadly no doubt this war will lead only to more bloodshed, suffering and instability, without breaking the cycle of conflict, truly defeating Hamas, or creating a platform for a better future.

President Biden should be clear that the US cannot support an operation if it endangers US and Israeli interests in that way. Hundreds of thousands of lives, and the ultimate future of Israelis and Palestinians, are on the line. Decisive leadership is needed.