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Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, sought to increase pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a political solution to the war in Gaza and a regional deal with Saudi Arabia in talks with the Israeli prime minister.

Sullivan’s push came during a whirlwind trip to the Middle East which included talks on Saturday in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a stop in Israel on Sunday for meetings with Netanyahu and other top officials.

The visit came as the White House has grown increasingly frustrated with Israel over its plans to launch a ground offensive in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. Tensions have risen after setbacks in the negotiations over a ceasefire deal that would free hostages held by Hamas, and Israel’s continued resistance to a Middle East peace plan that includes Palestinian statehood.

“Mr Sullivan reaffirmed the need for Israel to connect its military operations to a political strategy that can ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all the hostages, and a better future for Gaza,” the White House said on Sunday.

One of Washington’s top goals for the Middle East revolves around an ambitious three-way agreement that would involve a security agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia, a normalisation of diplomatic relations between the Saudis and Israel, and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The White House said Sullivan held “constructive” talks with Prince Mohammed on Saturday, then briefed Netanyahu and his team on “the potential that may now be available for Israel, as well as the Palestinian people”.

But in the meetings with Israeli officials, Sullivan also sought to put pressure on Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza in the near term. The White House said Sullivan had proposed “a series of concrete measures to ensure more aid surges into Gaza”, and discussed the establishment of “fixed corridors” for that assistance to flow through. The US has insisted it could not support a full Israeli invasion of Rafah, where about 1mn people have been sheltering during the conflict, unless an adequate plan was crafted to protect civilians.

Sullivan’s pressure on Netanyahu came as Benny Gantz, a key opposition figure and former general who joined Netanyahu’s coalition after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, told the prime minister the government needed to agree to a new plan for the war and its aftermath or he would leave the coalition.

But the administration in Washington is facing its own domestic pressures as well. With less than six months left before the November US election, President Joe Biden is still grappling with a backlash from parts of the leftwing base of his Democratic party, who are angered by his support for Israel.

During a commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically black university in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, Biden said he was “working to build a lasting durable peace”.

“The question is, as you see what’s going on in Israel today: What after? What after Hamas? What happens then? What happens in Gaza? What rights do the Palestinian people have?” Biden said, adding: “This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world.”

For the first time since the conflict in Gaza started, the US has withheld a shipment of bombs to Israel because of the fear they could be used in dense urban areas, though Washington has otherwise kept military aid to Israel flowing. 

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