WASHINGTON – The Biden government “immediately” dispatched a senior State Department diplomat to the Middle East to try to de-escalate the deadly conflict between Israel and Foreign Minister Hamas Antony Blinken announced Wednesday.
President Joe Biden faces mounting pressure to contain violence and heightened international concerns about the US spiraling death toll. The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, warned on Wednesday that the situation is “escalating towards” War in full. ”
More than 80 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, including 17 children and seven women, and an additional 480 people were injured, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. Hamas, the militant Islamic group that took power in Gaza in 2007, admitted that a commander in chief and several other militants were among the dead.
A total of seven people were killed in Israel. Among them were a soldier who was killed by an anti-tank missile and a 6-year-old child who was hit in a missile attack.
The fighting has spread to the streets, and Arab and Jewish mobs have brutally beaten people and set cars on fire. Flights have been canceled or diverted from the country’s main airport.
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“We are very committed across the board,” said Blinken from the State Department to the White House.
But critics say that’s just not true.
“The Biden government came into office with one overarching goal: Avoid Israel-Palestine,” said Peter Beinart, editor at Jewish Currents, a left-leaning magazine and professor of journalism at the City University of New York. When Barack Obama took office, he quickly appointed a high-performing special envoy, George Mitchell, to help get the peace process off the ground.
“Biden has handed the Israeli-Palestinian file to a deputy deputy foreign minister,” wrote Beinart on Wednesday in an essay on Substack, an online publication platform. “The contrast with the Obama administration couldn’t have been stronger.”
Biden has not appointed an ambassador to Israel, and the Trump administration shut down the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, which had served as the White House’s main channel of communication for the Palestinians.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not answer questions Wednesday whether the administration will reopen this diplomatic facility. She said Biden would appoint “a qualified, experienced ambassador to Israel” in the coming weeks and the government had made 25 high-level calls on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 10 of which were made yesterday.
Later on Wednesday, Biden told reporters that he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I expect and hope that this will end sooner rather than later,” he said.
The Israeli-Palestinian fire is a major test for Biden as he seeks to restore US global leadership without losing focus on its domestic political priorities, contain the COVID-19 pandemic and revitalize the US economy.
“The Israelis and Palestinians are used to being treated as if they were the most important issue in the world and you have a president whose first, second and third priority are domestic,” said Ilan Goldenberg, who is involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations worked at the State Department during the Obama administration. Biden’s foreign policy advisers focused more on China than the Middle East.
Khalil Jahshan, a Palestinian-American political analyst and executive director of the Arab Center Washington DC, said the crisis was escalating quickly and seemed to catch many off guard, including the White House.
“Suddenly the question of Palestine is on the screen again, whether you like it or not,” said Jahshan.
The US ability to end conflicts can be “very little”.
The Biden administration enters the geopolitical battle after four years in which the Trump administration strongly advocated Israel’s expansive settlement policy, an approach that fueled deep resentment among Palestinians, Jahshan said.
To make matters worse, he said, “No love is lost” between Biden and Netanyahu. Still, “the US is the only country that has any influence over Israel,” he said, and Biden must pressure Netanyahu to withdraw.
Jahshan said the White House’s approach was “arbitrary” and conventional, “exerting light pressure on Israel at lower levels and pushing Arab allies to control the situation”.
“The most important thing now is that all sides stop the violence, de-escalate and try to calm down,” he said.
Aaron David Miller, who has endorsed US Middle East policy across governments, said, “The Biden administration’s ability to end this … is very slim.”
Israel and Hamas seem determined to keep fighting, and while Hamas is firing rockets at Jerusalem, the White House is unwilling to put pressure on Israel.
“We’re not going to say … that Israel should resign unless Ben Gurion Airport is closed and the Israelis are living in shelters,” said Miller, a senior official with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
If the conflict lasts two weeks, the White House could intervene more directly. “I think the default position is risk aversion,” Miller said.
When asked on Wednesday whether the Israeli response was proportionate to the high number of Palestinian victims, Blinken said there was “a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, which rains down rockets indiscriminately – against civilians – and Israel Answer defends itself. “
He said the Palestinians had “the right to live in safety” but did not mention that the conflict began with an effort Israeli settlers are expected to evict Palestinian families from their long-standing homes in East Jerusalem.
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Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, said the United States is a major player in the conflict, but “we have to be realistic about what we can do.” He noted that American officials are not communicating directly with Hamas, a US-designated terrorist group.
“The main mediators are Egypt and the United Nations,” said Goldenberg. He said Biden must make it clear to Israeli leaders that the United States will support these mediation efforts and tell other international actors to steer clear.
He predicted that the Egyptians would forge a truce.
“The question is whether it will happen in 48 hours or 50 days,” said Goldenberg. “The early returns are not at all promising. … This is a very dangerous moment.”
Contributor: The Associated Press