WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. He also said he was redoubling his commitment to working on a two-state solution to end the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Biden said the attacks by “extremist settlers” amounted to “pouring gasoline” on the already burning fires in the Middle East since the Hamas attack.
“It has to stop. They have to be held accountable. It has to stop now,” Biden said at the start of a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was being honored with a state visit to Washington.
Settler violence against Palestinians has intensified since the Hamas attack, and Palestinians have been killed by settlers, according to Palestinian authorities. Rights groups say settlers have torched cars and attacked several small Bedouin communities, forcing them to evacuate to other areas.
The West Bank Protection Consortium, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations and donor countries, including the European Union, says hundreds of Palestinians have been forcibly displaced in the West Bank due to settler violence since Oct. 7. That’s in addition to over 1,100 displaced since 2022.
Deadly violence has been surging in the West Bank as the Israeli military pursues Palestinian militants in the aftermath of the Hamas attack from Gaza.
The violence threatens to open another front in the two-week-old war, and puts pressure on the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank and is deeply unpopular among Palestinians, in large part because it cooperates with Israel on security matters.
Biden again condemned the brutality of the Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israelis and said he was convinced that Hamas was driven in part by a desire to undo U.S.-led efforts to normalize Israeli relations with some of its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
The president also said that after the Israel-Hamas conflict comes to an end, Israelis, Palestinians and their partners must work toward a two-state solution.
“Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live side by side in safety, dignity and peace,” Biden said, adding, “When this crisis is over, there has to be a vision of what comes next. And in our view, it has to be a two-state solution.”
Biden emphasized that point during a Wednesday afternoon call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling the Israeli leader it will be important to focus “on what comes after this crisis” including “a pathway for a permanent peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” according to a White House statement.
The leaders also discussed ongoing efforts to locate and free the more than 200 hostages that Hamas and other militant groups captured, the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and ensuring safe passage for foreign nationals looking to leave the strip.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry says more than 6,500 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in retaliatory strikes. Biden said he had doubts about the accuracy of the Hamas death count, but stressed that it was critical for Israel to move carefully in its response to minimize civilian deaths.
“I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war,” Biden said. “Israel should be incredibly careful to be sure that they’re focusing on going after the folks that are propagating this war.” Biden said.
Biden also said he has not directly sought assurances from Netanyahu that Israel will hold off on an expected ground invasion into Gaza before hostages can be released.
“What I have indicated to him is that if that’s possible, to get these folks out safely, that’s what he should do. It’s their decision,” Biden said at news conference at the White House. “But I did not demand it. I pointed out to him, if it’s real, it should be done.” About 10 Americans remain unaccounted for amid the Israel-Hamas war, according to the White House.
Biden also said Wednesday that he warned Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, that if Tehran continues to “move against” U.S. forces in the Middle East, “we will respond.” American bases in Iraq and Syria have been targeted recently by drone and rocket attacks, and Iranian-backed militias have threatened to attack U.S. facilities because of American support for Israel.
Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.