Progressives double down on calls for cease-fire despite Israel-Hamas hostage deal

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Progressives aren’t backing down from their push for a longer cease-fire in Gaza, despite a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas that will pause the fight for four to five days.

For weeks, those lawmakers have denounced the administration’s Israel policy, calling on President Joe Biden to demand a cease-fire and impose conditions on military aid to the U.S. ally. But Biden and his top aides, who agree Israel’s military should uproot Hamas from Gaza, insisted the only way to improve the situation was with a hostage deal. Only then, the administration argued, would there be a pause in fighting that made it safer to bring hostages home and increase life-saving aid to Palestinians.

Now progressives, who remain critical of the U.S. stance in the war, have to navigate pushing Biden their way immediately after he brokered the greatest diplomatic breakthrough of the early 50-day conflict.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), one of Biden’s most strident critics in favor of a cease-fire, was not satisfied with the pause in fighting and pointed to the toll of Palestinians killed or displaced in Gaza. She was among two-dozen lawmakers who, in a letter last week, urged Biden to establish a cease-fire.

“A temporary pause in the violence is not enough. We must move with urgency to save as many lives as possible and achieve a permanent cease-fire agreement,” she said in a statement Tuesday.

“When this short-term agreement expires, the bombing of innocent civilians will continue. We need a permanent cease-fire that saves lives, brings all the hostages and those arbitrarily detained home, and puts an end to this horrific violence.”

The term "cease-fire" has been adopted by those who want to see fighting stopped indefinitely. That is not the Biden administration’s position, which says it supports a "pause," a temporary halt to hostilities. Both definitionally mean the same thing, though there are some legal distinctions.

But in the context of the Israel-Hamas war, the difference is political, meant to distinguish between those who want to end the fighting and those who think breaks are needed to provide more humanitarian aid and secure the release of hostages.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has said a cease-fire would help Hamas but also called for conditions on future military aid to Israel, sketched out a path to better Israeli-Palestinian relations in a Wednesday New York Times op-ed.

“We must demand an immediate end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing,” he wrote. “There must also be a significant, extended humanitarian pause so that badly needed aid — food, water, medicine and fuel — can get into Gaza and save lives.”

The hostage deal is a “promising first step,” Sanders said.

Biden’s clash with the left flank of his party is a problem the president will need to navigate as he looks to keep Democrats united behind him in next year’s election while preventing the conflict from spreading elsewhere in the Middle East.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have also begun to discuss possible conditions for future military aid to Israel. Though those talks are preliminary, the possibility that more Democrats are openly calling for placing conditions on U.S. security assistance will complicate Biden's task.

One Senate Democrat, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said there are no signs progressives will ramp down the fight for their priorities on Israel and Gaza.

The bulk of Democrats still oppose a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. And the question remains as to whether progressives can bring more mainstream Democrats over to their side.

Another cease-fire advocate, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), on social media credited the pause to “the power of diplomacy” and to “our collective advocacy,” adding: “We must keep pushing for a permanent #CeasefireNOW to save lives, return all hostages, & end this horrific violence.”

Progressive PAC Justice Democrats said in order for peace, Washington must end “its unconditional political and financial support for a far-right government,” including Biden’s proposed $14 billion in military aid for Israel. Executive Director Alexandra Rojas said pressure for a cease-fire led to the deal announced Tuesday.

“This was only achieved because millions of people in this country and around the world have rallied and continue to demand a permanent cease-fire, led by a small group of progressive anti-war champions in Congress that we are proud to endorse,” Rojas said in a statement.

Other Democrats said the agreement validated Biden’s reluctance to press Israel to institute a cease-fire.

“I’m also thankful [Biden] did not heed calls for an immediate cease-fire weeks ago, as Israel could not have achieved this breakthrough had one occurred,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Tuesday night on social media. “A unilateral cease-fire only serves Hamas terrorists, who broke a cease-fire on Oct. 7th — and vow to do so again and again.”

Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) had supported a pause in the fighting and argued a cease-fire would benefit Hamas. On Tuesday, he hailed the deal and emphasized the plight of American and Israeli hostages and their families in a statement, calling for the immediate release of all Hamas’s captives.

“The agreement reached today to release some hostages is a hopeful signal for some of the American and Israeli families whose lives have been shattered in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attack against Israel,” Cardin said. “It also allows for a multi-day pause to allow for the increased delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid for innocent civilians in Gaza, which we also see as critical to be clear that Israel’s fight is with Hamas, not with innocent Palestinians in Gaza.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the second senator to call for a cease-fire after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), hailed the new agreement but called it “a temporary cease-fire.” He was using language of those who want fighting to stop indefinitely, and not the wording the U.S. and Israel use, which is “pause.”

“I also hope that the cease-fire can provide an opportunity to negotiate extending the temporary cease-fire and working toward an enduring cease-fire,” Merkley said in a statement Tuesday.

Before a longer cease-fire can be realized, he said, “many challenges have to be resolved.” Those include the release of all the hostages Hamas took during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, an end to Hamas control of Gaza, a huge influx of aid and Israel committing to the right of Palestinians in Gaza to return to their homes.

Still, there were small signs that the agreement may have muted calls for a cease-fire among other Democrats.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a lead House progressive, made no mention of a cease-fire in his message Tuesday night.

“Congrats to [Biden],” Pocan said on social media. “Today’s deal to release some of the hostages in Gaza, allow humanitarian aid to enter, and pause the violence will bring us one step closer to hopefully ending this devastating conflict.”