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Biden and other top U.S. officials fear a new wave of Palestinian civilian casualties if such an offensive should take place.

Dems squeeze Biden on Israel as hostage deal looms

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — President Joe Biden is facing new pressure from the left over Israel’s military operations in Gaza, with some progressives now calling for conditions to be imposed on U.S. military assistance to Israel.

This comes as the Biden administration is trying to broker a deal to release dozens of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a temporary ceasefire. That would allow for more humanitarian aid to flow into southern Gaza — a chief demand of Biden’s critics.

The looming agreement also allows the White House to address progressives’ criticism of Biden’s posture toward Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, which has resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths.

White House officials warn they won’t accept conditions on aid for Israel. However, they note there’s been intense pressure both publicly and privately from top administration officials, including Biden, over Israel’s conduct of its Gaza offensive.

Biden, who strongly backed Israel following the Oct. 7 terror attacks, has seen his poll numbers crater over his handling of the conflict. A new NBC poll released Sunday showed Biden at just 40% approval. Younger Americans — a key group for Democrats — are especially upset.

“There’s more and more of us who can’t ignore the reality that Israel does not have a plan… The plan right now is to just continue pulverizing Gaza in search of Hamas,” Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told us on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday.

“Clearly, you need humanitarian aid,” Welch added. “But the best humanitarian aid is to have a war plan that doesn’t create such a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Congress often conditions military assistance to security partners on that country’s human-rights record. Support for Israel, though, has long been seen as non-partisan, with U.S. presidents and Hill leaders approving a steady supply of the most sophisticated American weapons systems.

In Halifax, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said simply that “restricting and directing the conduct of the war — I don’t think you’ll see in statute by Congress.”

Administration officials said Democrats across the board support Biden’s position on Israel.

“There is diverse, bipartisan support in Congress — including among progressives — for President Biden’s policy of backing Israel’s right to self-defense in accordance with international humanitarian law, and working to lay the conditions for a two-state solution to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples,” said Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary.

Still, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was among those calling for specific conditions to be placed on further U.S. aid, saying Israel is waging “almost total warfare against the Palestinian people.” Sanders wants a “significant pause in military operations” to allow for more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another leading progressive, has called on Israel to “stop the bombing NOW,” but she isn’t pressing for a ceasefire. Several dozen protesters gathered outside Warren’s home in Cambridge, Mass. on Sunday, showing how charged this issue has become for progressives.

The Biden administration and other U.S. allies have tried to toe the line between supporting Israel’s right to defend itself after Hamas’ attacks and urging its military leaders to exercise more caution in Gaza.

A top White House official ducked the question Sunday when asked by CBS’ Margaret Brennan on “Face The Nation” whether Israel has violated the “Leahy Law,” which bars U.S. aid to governments that violate human rights.

“I’m not going to get into legal determinations in public,” said White House Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer. “No countries are obviously exempt from laws of armed conflict or from the U.S. statutory restrictions, but beyond that, I’m not going to say more.”

Biden’s allies on the Hill argue his administration’s public pressure on Israel has already worked.

“We haven’t yet seen the kind of concrete changes in strategy that maybe [Welch] is hoping for. I would argue there have been some changes in strategy,” Coons said, citing humanitarian pauses to allow aid into Gaza.

Republicans remain firmly behind Israel’s efforts. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and the lead GOP senator in Halifax, said it’d be inappropriate for the United States to dictate Israel’s war plans. Risch noted Hamas routinely uses civilians as human shields while also building its command posts in densely populated civilian areas.

Israel sees Hamas as an existential threat, much like the United States viewed the Nazis during World War II, Risch added.

“I don’t know who was yelling for a ceasefire when we marched across Germany at the end, but there were lots and lots of civilian casualties,” Risch told us.

— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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