Via Teleconference

2:35 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone.  And thanks so much for joining today’s call.  Apologies we’re a few minutes late.  As you saw from the invite, this call is on background, attributable to a senior administration official.  And it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.

For your awareness, not for your reporting, on the call today we have [senior administration official].  [Senior administration official] will have a few words at the top, and then we’ll take your questions. 

With that, I’ll turn it over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  So I’ll just — a little bit at the top and then we’ll do Q&A.  So, thanks for joining. 

So today, as you know, President Biden delivered an update on his efforts to secure a deal that would lead to the release of all the hostages, an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, a further surge of humanitarian assistance into and distributed throughout Gaza, and ultimately — ultimately, and potentially, the end of the crisis. 

The President’s message was clear.  There is now a roadmap in place to do all of this after months of diplomacy that he has led together with his negotiators and Israel, Qatar, and Egypt. 

He made clear that Israel’s security is paramount and that this deal is the best path to both end the crisis in Gaza and to ensure Israel’s security today and over the long term, with the hostages coming home. 

The President described the comprehensive proposal now on the table in some detail.  This proposal has been accepted by Israel and was transmitted to Hamas yesterday.  And as he said, “This is…a decisive moment.  Israel has made their [offer].  Hamas says it wants a ceasefire.  [And] this deal is an opportunity to prove whether they really mean it.” 

Israel can make this offer without further risk to their own security because Israel has so degraded Hamas’s forces over the last eight months, as the President explained.  At this point, of course, Hamas is no longer capable of carrying out another October 7.  Its military capacity has been significantly eroded.  And its leaders are dead or in deep hiding. 

For the Palestinian people and the people of Gaza, this is an opportunity to end the suffering of the past eight months.  Again, as the President said, too many innocent people have been killed in this war.  And the deal now on the table offers a roadmap to end the suffering for the hostage families waiting for their loved ones to return and for the people of Gaza caught in this terrible war that Hamas started. 

The President also called on Israeli leaders to stand behind this deal no matter what pressure comes.  And we know there are debates about these issues in Israel, of course.  He made clear that this is a far better path than alternatives, and it’s the only path that is available to both bring the hostages home and to ensure Israel’s lasting and long-term security. 

The President reemphasized that Israel will always have what it needs to defend itself and always retains the right to defend itself from threats, and, of course, to bring justice to those responsible for October 7th, which we have talked about in the past.

With this deal in place, what can follow would include agreements on the northern border to allow people to return to their homes in safety; beginning to rebuild Gaza together with the international community and the Arab partners, Palestinians, and Israelis in a manner that does not allow Hamas to rearm or threaten Israel; pursue an Israel more integrated regionally, including through a deal with Saudi Arabia, and the security integration the President discussed — the successful defense of Israel against an attack from Iran just last month through regional integration and coordination; and create the conditions for a future of freedom and self-determination for the Palestinian people. 

The President ended with a clear call to action.  “For months,” he said, “people all over the world have called for a ceasefire.  It’s time to raise your voices and to demand that Hamas come to the table, agree to this deal, and end this war that they began.” 

He concluded, “Everyone who wants peace now must raise their voices and let the leaders know they should take this deal, work to make it real, [work to] make it lasting, forge a better future out of this tragic terror attack” of October 7th and the subsequent conflict.

So I think the President laid it out today very clearly.  And you — obviously you’ve seen or you have his remarks, and I’m happy to address any questions.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  Our first question will go to the line of Steve Holland.  You should be able to unmute yourself

Steve, I think you might be muted. 

Q    Is that better?

MODERATOR:  Steve, I think we just hear static.

Steve, we’ll come back to you.  We’ll go to Alex Ward.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Hi.  Thanks so much for doing this.  Two questions.  One is: By saying that, you know, Hamas is no longer capable of carrying out another October 7, is the President saying that, effectively, Israel has won this war and there’s really no need for a continued military campaign against Hamas?

And then, sort of two related: Of course, the administration’s stance has been to not see a major military ground operation in Rafah similar to others seen in Gaza City and Khan Younis, but we do have, as of right now, six Israeli brigades in Rafah, the same that the Israelis have had in Khan Younis.  So is part of the reason — one, is this — it feels like this fits the definition of a major ground operation.  But two, is part of this messaging to say to the Israelis, hey, it’s — you know, it’s time to not go forward with the way you’re conducting in Rafah?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  First, there are not six Israeli brigades in Rafah, so I’m not sure where that information is from.  We have a very good picture of exactly what’s happening in Rafah.  I think one reason that we’ve spoken so clearly about is because we actually know exactly where Israeli forces are, what they’re doing, what the objectives are.  And so far, I think we have a pretty clear understanding and sight picture of precisely what they’re doing and what they aim to do. 

We’ve also been watching this closely.  And if that changes, and if some of the plans go back to where they were a couple months ago, that might be a different story.  But right now, I think we have a very clear understanding of what they’re doing.  And sometimes there might be, you know, a story of an Israeli unit in central Gaza.  We kind of know what the unit is doing.  We have a good understanding of that communication with the Israelis. 

But again, this is something that’s an ongoing process.  It’s been an ongoing process for the last 10 weeks or so and, I think, ultimately, a fairly productive one.  But it’s an ongoing issue. 

And on your second question: No, I think the President was actually laying out that there is a new proposal on the table. It is a very forward-leaning offer.  And I think the reason the Israelis are able to make this offer is because of some of the success they’ve had in degrading Hamas’s military capacity.  I don’t think this offer would have been possible three months ago.

This has been a difficult, painstaking negotiation.  And at the heart of it, of course, is the core demand to see hostages coming home.  And with hostages coming home, there is now really a roadmap to the end of the crisis.  It is a detailed four-and-a-half-page agreement.  It has been negotiated, again, in painstaking detail.  And what’s on the table now is, really, kind of an end game to the process. 

And so we thought it is important, I think, to come out and lay this out because often these deals get characterized by those who might not want to see the deal. 

So I think the President laid out particularly what is in the first phase of the deal, what would unfold, and what is on offer.  And, again, I think we give credit to the Israelis for putting this offer down.  And the President made very clear that the onus here is on Hamas.  I would say that this — what is on the table now is extremely close, in almost every respect, to the deal that Hamas has said they would take not too long ago.  

So, this is going to continue.  The President made clear there are details to work out.  This is not going to be done tomorrow.  But, kind of, the roadmap is very much now on the table, in place.  And I think with some coordinated efforts in the region, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this done.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to the line of Aamer Madhani.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Hey, thank you.  The President alluded to hurdles to get from phase one to phase two in this plan.  I was just hoping you could draw a little bit of a picture of concerns, biggest hurdles that you see between phase one and phase two.  And then secondly, there wasn’t mention, I don’t think, of a two-state solution.  Where does that come in, if at all, in this process?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, from phase one to phase two — and the elements of phase one, again, were laid out — it is comprehensive.  It is the release of a category of hostages — I think many on this call are familiar with; we’ve talked about this before — but also with not only the further surge of humanitarian assistance and distribution across the strip, but also the beginning of rehabilitation of essential services, clearing of rubble, and relief to the people of Gaza, including temporary shelters, temporary housing, everything else.  It was all mapped out in the deal.  And that all happens immediately in the first six weeks. 

The second phase of the deal is for the release of all remaining — remaining hostages.  And some of those hostages are Israeli soldiers, male Israeli soldiers.  The women come out in the first phase.  And that will require a subsequent negotiation during the first six weeks for the ratio of a potential prisoner exchange and some other things. 

So everybody agrees that has to be worked out.  We’re not going to work that out now, but it’ll be worked out over the first six weeks.  And so long as those talks are ongoing, the benefits to the deal for everybody in the first phase would continue and the mediators would try to make sure that that, in fact, happens. 

So it would be our hope and expectation that the deal would move into phase two and everything that comes from phase two and then into phase three.  But we’re also realistic, and the President said, “I’m going to level with you” — there’s still pieces here to work out.  But that’s basically what still has to be discussed once you’re in a ceasefire and in the first phase.  And I think we’re quite confident that we could get that work done. 

I think the President spoke quite depth — in some depth about the importance of this deal and the ensuing calm for the aspirations of the Palestinian people and where that can lead.  And so, again, we’re realistic about that process as well.  We have to have a Gaza that — with Hamas no longer in power, with Hamas no longer able to threaten Israel.  We have to work to reform the PA and the West Bank, which is ongoing, and ultimately having an interim administration in Gaza that can help with stabilization and a pathway forward there.  So that is all kind of in train. 

And when the President talks about the importance of the day after in his speech, that kind of — all the elements of that are part of the day after.  But this speech was focused on this deal that is now very much before us, not with every single detail of the day-after planning.  But the day-after planning, I think we’ve been making some progress on that. 

Obviously, we have done extensive work within the United States and all of our experts in the interagency and with our partners around the world and in the region.  And that process is now very much joined with the Israeli side.  And I think over the last few weeks, it’s fair to say there’s been more progress than there has been to date. 

And it remains a concern of ours, as you’ve heard expressed from Jake and others, that without a military strategy that’s connected to a political and diplomatic strategy, the military gains often can be fleeting, as we’ve seen in the past.  So that day-after process is critically important.

MODERATOR:  Next up we’ll go to the line of Karen DeYoung.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Hi, thank you.  I just wanted to ask for a clarification of two things.  What the President described as Israeli withdrawal from populated areas, that would also include, in phase one, withdrawal from Rafah, yes? 

And secondly, the President talked about phase two, assuming Hamas lived up to its commitments, there would be a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.  Israel has said in the past, and certainly Prime Minister Netanyahu has said very recently, that Israel would maintain security responsibility for Gaza.  And they’ve already put in place a buffer zone around it.  Both of those things would disappear, assuming Hamas lived up to its commitments.  Is that correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, Karen, we’re describing what’s in the deal.  So the first phase of the deal is a withdrawal from densely populated areas, from wherever Israeli forces might be — in densely populated areas in Gaza, in the first phase.  And the second phase is a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza subject to conditions being met for the second phase, which, again, would have to be worked out. 

And the President also, of course, emphasized that Israel always retains the right, as does any sovereign country, to act against threats against its security.  And obviously, that would continue. 

But the deal that has been negotiated I think is very clear in its terms, again, subject to — and I think the President was very clear in that passage of the speech — subject to Hamas living up to its terms of the deal and some of the conditions being met.  But that is what’s laid out in phase two, and that’s why this is really such a, I think, a far-reaching and important proposal. 

I think it’s fair to say that if you’re into phase two and phase three, Israel will have some guarantees about its own security in that Gaza can no longer be a platform for terrorism against and threats against Israel, which is very much a focus of ours.

MODERATOR:  Next up we’ll go to the line of Barak Ravid.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Yes.  Thank you.  There is something that was sort of — not in the President’s speech, and you are not referring to it either: Hamas said yesterday publicly, in an official statement, that it will not even enter negotiations on this new proposal until Israel stops its war in Gaza, which is like a whole new hurdle, in addition to what we had until now.  And the President didn’t talk about it; you’re not talking about it.  How are you going to know that they’re willing to even go back to the table?

And second question: You spoke yesterday, I think twice or three times, with the Prime Minister of Qatar, who is the leading negotiator right now.  What did you hear from him about how much pressure Qatar is willing to put on Hamas to accept this deal?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think, first, I’m not going to — you know, Hamas — their public statements versus what they say privately.  I would just say a few things. 

This deal does stop the war, and it’s nearly identical to Hamas’s own proposals of only a few weeks ago.  So if that’s what Hamas wants, they can take the deal.  Alternatively, if its leaders choose to live deep underground, holding innocent hostages, including women, as the war goes on and the people of Gaza suffer, that would be their choice.  And I think the onus very much is on those leaders. 

And all countries with an interest in seeing the war come to a conclusion and seeing the ceasefire begin — that’s why the President was very clear — should call on Hamas here to basically live up to its own words, release the hostages and stop the war.  That’s what the deal does. 

And so, conversations with the Qatari Prime Minister and others, I think it’s fair to say there’s a recognition from everybody that’s been working on this that what is now in front of everybody is basically the terms by which Hamas was prepared to move forward. 

So, you know, there are some small gaps.  But again, this is a detailed four-and-a-half-page arrangement.  This is not something like Hamas said something and then Israel presents something completely different.  This is now at the stage where Hamas has said they’d be prepared to do deal X, and what is now on the table is basically that with some very minor adjustments. 

So they just got this last night.  Obviously, they’ll look at it.  And this whole — as the President was very clear, this is not going to be concluded tomorrow.  But he felt very strongly, and also in consultation with other leaders in the region, that it was time to kind of lay out very clearly what is offered in this proposal, and particularly in those first six weeks, kind of laying out in detail the relief that comes to the people of Gaza, the relief that comes to suffering hostage families, and what is available. 

So I’m not going to respond to public statements made by some Hamas officials here and there.  They know what’s in the deal.  They know it’s nearly identical to what they put on the table.  And we’re obviously in deep consultations with the Qataris, Egyptians, and others to try to move this forward.

MODERATOR:  Next up we’ll go to Patsy.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Thank you.  A couple of questions.  What are Israelis agreeing to in terms of this deal, in the context of the survival of Hamas leadership?  Are they willing to accept a deal where Sinwar and others remain alive?  Is there an agreement between the idea of what dismantling Hamas — what it means to Israelis versus what it means to Hamas?

And then also, separately, if you would indulge me, when do you expect to receive Israel’s review of the IDF strike on Rafah that killed 45 civilians over the weekend?  Do you expect them to reveal their collateral effects radius assessment of the strike?  And more broadly, has the U.S. ever been provided with IDF procedures for collateral damage analysis?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, on the leaders and Israel’s inherent right to defend itself and also pursue justice for October 7th, I think the President spoke to that, and we’ve spoken to that in the past. 

On the strike and the horrific aftermath of this weekend, you’ve seen what the Israelis have put out.  The Israelis have presented to us in even more detail exactly what happened and the steps they took before that strike, including the selection of a very small munition and with precision and with a lot of intelligence work that went into it to ensure a very low risk of civilian casualties.  And unfortunately, something happened after the first strike against two Hamas terrorists, and Hamas even put out statements about the loss of its two leaders responsible for West Bank operations. 

There was a secondary explosion, and I think the Israelis are looking into what exactly that was.  They do not believe it was from their munition.  And they’re looking into this in some detail.  They have shared with us everything that they know so far.  And I think we have said we want that work to continue through an independent investigation and see the results.  So that’s where that all stands.

MODERATOR:  We’ve got time for about two more questions.  Next up we’ll go to Michael Gordon.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Thank you.  Much of what you say about phase one — although there’s some additional detail that’s familiar to us, the six-week duration — phase two and phase three are still a little (inaudible).  Is Israel agreeing to discuss phase two, or did they have concrete proposals to what phase two would be?  And can you explain in a little fuller detail what phase two is supposed to be and what Israel has agreed to do then, and what phase three is?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so phase two is the final exchange of all remaining live hostages, and that includes the male soldiers.  So there has to be another negotiation about that.  It includes a cessation of hostilities, permanently, and a withdrawal of Israeli forces.  So those are kind of the basic elements with, again, conditions that will be discussed during the first six weeks. 

And then phase three — and each phase is about 42 days to get the — for the exchange of hostages, for example, in phase two.  And then phase three is an exchange of remaining remains and also outlines a pretty extensive three- to five-year reconstruction program for Gaza that’s fully backed by us, by the international community, and others.  So by the time you get to phase three, I think you’re very much in the rehabilitation of Gaza and stabilization. 

And there are other, kind of, elements that go into this, but those are the basic — you know, the basic contours, all of which are laid out in the proposal.

MODERATOR:  Next up we’ll go to David Sanger.

Q    Thanks.  And thank you, [senior administration official], for doing this.  The Israeli — the Prime Minister’s office turned out a statement tonight, I think after the President spoke, saying that they were united in the desire to bring home the hostages and so forth, but then said the exact outline that Israel has offered, including the conditional progression from stage to stage, enables Israel to maintain the principle that Hamas’s military is destroyed and its governing capacities in Gaza end.  Is that an accurate understanding?  Because I didn’t hear that in the President’s speech.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think the President said Israel’s interests can be protected throughout this negotiation, but it’s also an agreement that clearly lays out the terms and expectations of all sides.  And the U.S. as a guarantor, together with Egypt and Qatar, we would do our best to ensure that the Israelis live up to their commitments as they’ve agreed to do, and, of course, Qatar and Egypt making sure Hamas lives up to their commitments. 

I have no doubt that the deal will be characterized by Israel and be characterized by Hamas.  But we know what’s in the deal.  We know what the expectations are.  We’re also very confident, again, as I think the President laid out very forcefully: This deal, at this stage in the conflict, is the path for long-term security for Israel and the path to bring the hostages home. 

And I think the arrangements and some of the day-after planning, you know, helps ensure that — that Hamas’s military capacity to regenerate in a way that can threaten Israel would be very much foreclosed under this arrangement and, I think the President said in his speech, ensuring that Hamas cannot rearm. 

So this is all part of what has been discussed.  This will require an awful lot of work over the coming months, years, should we be fortunate enough to close this deal.  But that very much is our commitment.  And I have to say the Egyptians and Qataris are very much on the same page with the paramount, immediate interest to get into a ceasefire and to begin this important rehabilitation work and to bring the hostages home.

MODERATOR:  Thanks, everyone.  Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have left.  I know there are lots of questions remaining.  Please send them over to the NSC press team.  We’re happy to follow up with you. 

Thanks, everyone, for joining.  Again, this call was on background, attributable to a senior administration official.  The embargo is now lifted.  Thanks so much.

3:00 P.M. EDT

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