The Biden Administration struck the perfect moderate pitch during the latest Israel-Hamas flare up. Will it be enough?
“Following up on our quiet, intensive diplomacy to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, I have asked my Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, to travel to the Middle East this week,” read a May 24 statement by President Joe Biden.
“During his trip, Secretary Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” said Mr. Biden. “He will continue our Administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders after years of neglect. And he will engage other key partners in the region, including on the coordinated international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza in a way that benefits the people there and not Hamas, and on reducing the risk of further conflict in the coming months.”
Behind the scenes during the last few weeks, Biden Administration officials have been furiously, if indeed quietly, working first to achieve a temporary cease-fire, then to use this latest violent flare up to launch a fresh attempt to hammer out a longer-term solution.
Thus far in the recent outbreak of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Biden Administration has managed to appease supporters of Israel and Palestine alike, if only barely. Both groups are currently grumbling that President Biden is doing too much for the other, not enough for them- which is usually a sign that mediation is going well.
The measured approach seems to have paid off in the short term.
“My expectation and hope is this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself,” the President told reporters on May 13, 2021, at the height of the exchange of rocket fire.
During a phone conversation with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden is reported to have, “conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians,” and, “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and other high-ranking U.S. officials in the Biden Administration have echoed that sentiment.
“To be very clear, we strongly condemn the rocket attacks out of Gaza that are targeting innocent Israeli civilians, and Israel has the right to defend itself,” said Blinken in a statement to the press.
“I spoke with @IsraeliPM today about the ongoing situation in Israel including rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip targeting Israeli civilians. Israel has the right to defend itself,” Blinken reaffirmed on Twitter May 12.
Blinken continued to defend Israel during a subsequent press conference. Responding to a question from reporters about the higher casualty numbers on the Palestinian side, Blinken was unequivocal in his answer.
“There is a very clear and absolute distinction between the terrorist organization Hamas that is indiscriminately raining down rockets targeting civilians, and Israel’s response defending itself, targeting the terrorists raining down rockets on Israel,” Blinken said.
He then threw Palestinian supporters in the U.S.- predominately on the progressive left- a gesture of goodwill as well.
“Whenever we see civilian casualties, and particularly when we see children caught in the crossfire losing their lives, that has a powerful impact, and I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties, even as it is rightfully responding in defense of its people.”
Nor did the new U.S. Secretary of State end with a mere gesture of goodwill towards the Palestinian cause. He has now made a good faith effort to restart a dialogue with Palestinian authorities and is currently in the process of a sort-of goodwill tour of the war-torn area around Gaza.