What President Biden Should Say in the State of the Union Address

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on March 4, 2024


On Thursday night, President Biden will deliver the 2024 State of the Union. Undoubtedly, the catastrophic war in Gaza that has followed the horrific October 7 Hamas attack will be front and center.

The following is an open letter to the President regarding his consequential speech.

Dear President Biden,

I hope you are well aware of the deep gratitude most Jewish Americans and friends of Israel feel toward you for the support you demonstrated to the state and people of Israel following the horrific October 7 Hamas attack.

You have shown amazing empathy for the victims, the hostages and their families, as well as for the trauma still being experienced by Israelis and their friends across the world.

You have also stated clearly that the government of Israel must pursue its defense of the country’s borders and people, the release of the hostages and pursuit of the perpetrators of the attack within the bounds of international law. You have urged the Israeli government to live up to standards that liberal democracies must embrace not just as a matter of law, but of morality.

It is deeply painful for many of us who care about Israel to acknowledge that the Netanyahu government has failed to uphold those moral – and possibly even legal – standards in its conduct of the war.

On Thursday, I hope you will find a way to demonstrate deep, personal concern both for the Israeli people and for the people of Gaza. I know, as you do, that the suffering of the Palestinian people and the humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions they are enduring is not simply due to the Israeli offensive but that Hamas bears much responsibility for the suffering as its leaders and fighters hide beneath and among the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region need more than empathy, though. They need your leadership. They look to the United States as the “indispensable player” – and those of good will hoping for a more secure and peaceful future are looking to you for a vision and a plan to get there.

To that end, I hope you will make six key points on Thursday:

  1. There must be an immediate negotiated ceasefire that stops the fighting for a considerable period, frees the remaining hostages and surges humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.
  2. You will do all in your power to ensure that sufficient humanitarian assistance – food, fuel, water, medicine, shelter – reaches Gazans in the coming days, with or without a ceasefire. Acknowledge that you personally understand that lives hang in the balance and that you are committed to ensuring the necessary help. In tandem, you will, I know, reiterate your deep, personal commitment to the security of the people of Israel not only from attacks by Hamas, but Hezbollah, the Houthis and other Iran-backed groups in the region.
  3. Recognize that nearly 57 years of Israeli occupation must end and declare your support for the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. You can express your hope to be the American President who formally recognizes the state of Palestine and supports its admission to the United Nations. You can make clear that – for this to happen – very serious reforms are needed from the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization, and you should list out some of the more prominent conditions, including reform of the prisoner payments program, addressing corruption, shoring up democracy and more.
  4. Reiterate Secretary of State Blinken’s recent statement that Israeli settlements in the territory it occupies are inconsistent with international law and that the United States will take meaningful actions to crack down on settler violence and ensure that Israel stops expanding settlements in areas that will be part of a Palestinian state and ends practices such as home demolitions that undermine the possibility of ending the conflict.
  5. Outline how eventual statehood for Palestine is only one piece of a bold vision for the future of the region – one in which Israel has meaningful security, guaranteed by fully normalized relations with all its neighbors. Make clear that you intend in the coming months to pursue normalization for Israel with Saudi Arabia and other nations in the Arab and Muslim world, provided Israel agrees to a pathway to a Palestinian state. You should be the first President to formally mention and support the Arab Peace Initiative in a State of the Union.
  6. Finally, make clear to the Israeli and Palestinian people that the future is in their hands. There is a path to security, dignity and prosperity for both peoples, and there is also the path of never-ending conflict and bloodshed. The US will rally friends around the world to support the two peoples if they choose a future of peace and mutual recognition. You should make it equally clear that those not willing to sign on to that vision and respect the rule of law will no longer have our unquestioning support.

Mr. President, a balanced speech along these lines that speaks directly to the people involved – over the heads of leaders who have been obstacles to peace in the past – is not only the right policy for the United States, it meets the political moment. Your supporters and the majority of the American people want peace and security for both peoples and a regional security architecture that protects our national interests.

Please know that – in J Street – you have a partner in taking the bold steps needed to end the current nightmare and build meaningful opportunity out of this horrendous disaster.