President Joe Biden and the White House are showing little willingness to bend to pressure from liberal Democrats calling for more robust condemnation of Israel’s actions amid the worst regional violence in years.
Speaking at the White House, The US President said he did not ascertain an irregular response to Hamas’ rocket attacks from Israel, which has launched airstrikes in Gaza which has killed at least 87 people so far, including 18 children and eight women, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry.
A press statement by the secretary Jen Psaki declined to say whether Biden pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the growing Palestinian civilian death toll in a telephone conversation on Wednesday.
“In our view, attacks from Hamas into civilian neighborhoods is not self defense, so he certainly reiterated that, but also reiterated the need to move to de-escalate the situation on the ground,” she said.
Behind the scenes, officials have been more forceful with their Israeli counterparts, urging against the eviction of palestinian from their homes in East Jerusalem, according to officials familiar with the matter on ground. And a readout of Joe Biden’s phone call with Netanyahu said he “shared his conviction that Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith from around the world, must be a place of peace.”
But in his public statements on the crisis, Biden has clung to toward staunch support for Israel, despite calls from within his own party to adopt a tougher stance.
“One of the things that I have seen, thus far, is that there has not been a significant overreaction. The question is, how we get to a point where — they get to a point where there is a significant reduction in the attacks, particularly the rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centers,” Biden said at the White House when asked whether Netanyahu is doing enough to stop violence from escalating.
His answer reflected the longstanding view of both Republicans and Democrats that Israel has a right to defend itself against terror attacks from Hamas, which the US considers a terror organization. A day earlier,Joe Biden told reporters Israel “has a right to defend itself when thousands of rockets is seen flying into your territory.”
Biden has only spoken publicly about the increasing violence in Middle East, when questioned at the end of events. Officials said they believe he can play a more dynamic role in confidential discussions, including with Netanyahu, than in making public statements.
But officials are been mindful of the delicate — and somewhat new — political pressures Biden is facing on the matter. Though he has been versed in this issue for decades as a senator leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as vice president, a growing strain of Democratic politics has been harshly critical of Israel’s actions.
The progressive Democrats pounced on biden’s statement on wednesday that Israel has a right to defend itself without mentioning anything about the Palestinians.
“Blanket statements like these with little context or acknowledgement of what precipitated this cycle of violence – namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al Aqsa – dehumanize Palestinians & imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations. It’s wrong,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on Twitter.
Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, responding to the White House’s readout of Biden’s telephone call with Netanyahu, decried its lack of mention of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians
“No mention of Sheikh Jarra. No mention of the al-Aqsa raid,” she wrote, referring to recent incidents in Jerusalem, including the planned evictions. “No mention of the 13 innocent children killed in air strikes. No mention of the ongoing occupation of millions in an open air prison.”“You aren’t prioritizing human rights. You’re siding with an oppressive occupation,” she wrote.
“Let me be very clear: it is a tragedy for the loss of any life — civilian, a child — and we’ve certainly seen that as this violence has escalated. Our objective and our approach is to work with leaders in the region, whether they’re the Israelis or the Palestinians, or leaders from other countries who can play an integral role in influencing Hamas, to de-escalate and move toward a more stable peace,” she said.
Officials said part of his optimism has been rooted in the conversations American officials have been having with allies in the region, including Egypt and Qatar, who have relations with Hamas and could help strike a deal to end the bombardments. His national security adviser Jake Sullivan has spoken to officials from both countries over the past two days.
“What our objective is in the short term is that Egypt, Tunisia, other important countries in the region certainly can play a role in conveying to Hamas and leaders of Hamas the reasons for de-escalation, and how that could be beneficial. And that’s a role they have played historically, at moments in time,” Psaki said on Thursday.