President Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank in the aftermath of the October 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 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 some attacks have been fatal, 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, said settler violence in the West Bank had forcibly displaced hundreds of Palestinians since October 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 Israel's relations with some of its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
The president also said that after the Israel-Hamas conflict ends, 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."
The Hamas-run Health Ministry says more than 6,500 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in retaliatory strikes. Biden said he doubted 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 also that he had not directly sought assurances from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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 the news conference. "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.