“I’m the guy that convinced Bibi to call for a cease-fire to let the prisoners out,” the president said, referring to Mr. Netanyahu. But Mr. Netanyahu adamantly opposes any cease-fire, nor has that been U.S. policy at any point.
Mr. Biden said earlier at the event that he favored a “pause” in the fighting, saying that it “means give time to get the prisoners out” — in another apparent reference to the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, several of whom are believed to be Americans.
As a political matter, many Democrats facing pressure from liberal activists angry over the civilian toll of Israel’s offensive have embraced the idea of a “pause.” That position allows them to show sympathy for the Palestinians of Gaza without angering hawkish pro-Israel voters.
But that middle ground can also be awkward. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, had been slammed by some longtime progressive allies for backing a pause but not a cease-fire.
“I don’t know how you could have a cease-fire, permanent cease-fire, with an organization like Hamas, which is dedicated to turmoil and chaos and destroying the state of Israel,” Mr. Sanders told CNN on Nov. 5.
“Biggest political disappointment of our generation,” Briahna Joy Gray, who was the national press secretary for Mr. Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, retorted on X.
Amid the general confusion, the Biden administration has made its position clear in recent days: Pauses good, cease-fire bad.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken brought that message during a visit to Israel late last week. Speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan, Mr. Blinken ruled out U.S. support for a cease-fire, which he said “would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7.”
But Mr. Blinken endorsed the idea of briefer “pauses.”
“We believe pauses can be a critical mechanism for protecting civilians, for getting aid in, for getting foreign nationals out, while still enabling Israel to achieve its objective: defeat Hamas,” Mr. Blinken added.
He said he “spoke in depth with Israeli leaders about how, when, and where such arrangements could be implemented, and what needs to be done to make them possible.”
Mr. Blinken — or whoever runs his official account on X — has himself tripped up on terminology. A day after Hamas’s October attack, a post appeared on Mr. Blinken’s account saying that, in a call with Turkey’s foreign minister, he had “encouraged” Turkey’s advocacy for a cease-fire. The post was quickly deleted, and a State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, called it “unfortunately worded.”
Shortly after Mr. Blinken left Israel, Mr. Netanyahu had appeared to rebuff any talk of stopping Israel’s military offensive. “I made clear that we are continuing full force and that Israel refuses a temporary cease-fire, which does not include the release of our hostages,” the Israeli leader said of his meeting with the U.S. secretary of state.
But in an interview with ABC News that aired on Monday, Mr. Netanyahu appeared to soften his position, saying that Israel was open to “tactical little pauses, an hour here, an hour there.” A senior Israeli official echoed that sentiment in a briefing on Tuesday, saying that his government was considering localized pauses in specific areas to allow for increased humanitarian aid flows.
The official added that Israel would only agree to pauses that did not affect the momentum of its military operation, and that pauses were not required for aid trucks to enter southern Gaza from Egypt.
During an interview with CNN on Tuesday, an Israeli military spokesman said his country was already implementing pauses to allow Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, where the heaviest fighting is occurring.
The spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said that for the past four days Israel had allowed for “windows” between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. “where the Palestinians are informed ahead of time by us that we are going to hold our fire” to allow civilians to evacuate from northern Gaza “to the relative safety of the south.”
But aid groups say far more is required, including a major increase in the number of trucks allowed to cross into Gaza from Egypt to deliver humanitarian supplies like food, water and medicine to an increasingly desperate population.