President Joe Biden is hosting Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in Washington on Monday, marking the first time an Arab leader has visited the White House since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
It’s also the first time the allies have met since three American service members were killed at a U.S. base in Jordan last month, an attack Biden blamed on Iran-backed militias. The troops were the first casualties among U.S. armed forces in the Israel-Hamas war.
Abdullah, who has been a vocal proponent of a ceasefire in Gaza, is expected to double down on calls to end the fighting and increase humanitarian aid to the region. Also on the agenda is freeing the remaining hostages held in Gaza, which has been a top priority for the Biden administration as well.
Talks come as concerns about Palestinian civilians intensify
The talks come as Israel ramps up its ground offensive on Rafah. Israeli forces killed dozens in airstrikes overnight Monday and said they successfully freed two hostages taken by Hamas. Rafah is considered the last stronghold of the group, but the crowded urban area “is also the last refuge, perhaps, of well over a million internally displaced Palestinians,” the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen told NPR. Many civilians were directed to seek shelter there earlier in the war.
Biden warned last week that any Israeli military operation in Rafah must come with a “credible” plan to protect civilians, calling Israel’s conduct in the Gaza Strip “over the top.” U.S. national security spokesperson John Kirby has said that a military operation in Rafah would be a “disaster” for civilians there.
U.S. could re-up calls for a two-state solution
While Biden is unlikely to join Jordan’s push for a ceasefire, “expect Biden to formally support a two-state solution, which could also be leveraged in efforts to normalize Saudi-Israeli relations,” geopolitical publication Foreign Brief wrote. The U.S. has supported a two-state solution for decades, the possibility of which has appeared increasingly unlikely as volatility grows in the region, though the Biden administration maintains that it’s possible.
King Abdullah II has long been a proponent of a two-state solution. In a Washington Post op-ed in November, he wrote that it is “hard to imagine” any “realistic alternatives” to such a plan, which he said would be a “victory for our common humanity.” The king prides himself on his close relationship with the U.S., Appalachian State University professor Curtis Ryan told Al-Monitor, and likely intends to speak frankly to Biden. “This may be one last roll of the dice to get powerful Western allies to listen,” said the professor, who studies Jordan.
Israel said it would move Palestinians before assault, then didn’t
A person familiar with Israel’s internal deliberations told the Financial Times that “Israel understands the sensitivity surrounding Rafah, they see the U.S. siding with Egypt on the issue,” and the country’s government is concerned about damaging relations with both states.
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored warnings from Biden and other allies, saying an attack on Rafah is necessary to eradicate Hamas. In an interview televised Sunday, he said Israel was “working out a detailed plan” to move Palestinians out of Rafah ahead of a ground assault. But an evacuation plan does not appear to have been carried out. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said Israel killed at least 67 people in the city on Sunday night, while humanitarian organizations reported more than 100 casualties.