U.S. Foreign Policy – Israel Palestine/Gaza

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Israel, Palestine/Gaza May 2020-

Most Americans, including half of young Democrats, disapprove of Biden’s handling of recent Gaza crisis
Shibley Telhami
(Brookings) President Joe Biden’s handling of the crisis that followed Israeli plans to expel Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes in May — which included Hamas firing rockets on Israel and massive Israeli bombings of Gaza, resulting in the death of over 230 Palestinian civilians and 12 Israelis — was notable for the president’s public support for Israel and pinning the blame on Hamas. Biden refused to publicly criticize Israeli actions or even push for an early end of the crisis — to the point that he faced criticism not just from Democratic progressives, but even from usually-reliable pro-Israel Democrats in Congress.
A new University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll conducted from June 22 to July 21 shows … [that] A significant segment of the Democratic public pinned the blame for the Gaza crisis on Israel far more than on the Palestinians, even as Biden took a decidedly pro-Israel tone. More centrally, the poll shows public disapproval of Biden’s handling of the Gaza crisis, including by a significant minority of Democrats — … And the Gaza crisis appears to have led to the largest increase to date in the number of Democrats, especially young Democrats, who want the U.S. to lean toward the Palestinians.

21-25 May
We’re Still Waiting for a Biden Doctrine
By Gabriel Debenedetti
(New York) The violence between Israel and Hamas that has left hundreds of people in Gaza and a dozen in Israel dead has tested Biden’s style of governance (deliberate, commit unswervingly to a plan, deliberate some more) in ways that the domestic horror show has not. …the U.S. position on a cease-fire was garbled: Biden implied support for it without expressly demanding as much, even as his representative at the U.N. was blocking the Security Council’s repeated calls for one.
…The left’s shift on Israel has hardly come out of nowhere. “Why Democrats are more vocally critical of Israel today is because Israeli politics has moved and the Republican Party has moved,” Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who runs the Senate subcommittee covering the Middle East, told me.
Hour-by-hour: Biden’s behind-the-scenes push for cease-fire
(AP) Biden’s first extended foreign policy crisis — one he handled largely by avoiding the cameras and maneuvering instead behind the scenes — had abated.
The president went before cameras in the Cross Hall of the White House to describe “intensive high-level discussions, hour by hour, literally” by the U.S. that involved Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and other Middle Eastern countries.
All of it, he said, came “with an aim of avoiding the sort of prolonged conflict we’ve seen in previous years when the hostilities have broken out.”
Biden and Netanyahu’s talks were just a small sample of the furious diplomacy that the White House conducted. The president and senior aides had over 80 engagements — by phone or in person — as it looked for an endgame to the fighting, according to the White House.
Biden’s speech celebrating the cease-fire lasted just 3 ½ minutes — delivered just in time for evening news broadcasts. He reiterated his belief that Israel has a right to defend itself, expressed condolences for Palestinian civilians who died in the Israeli bombardment and promised that humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip was on its way.
Israel-Gaza: The Democrats’ ‘tectonic’ shift on the conflict
Anthony Zurcher
(BBC) While President Joe Biden has expressed a more traditional view, repeatedly emphasising that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks, he’s finding himself out of step in a party that is now at least as concerned with the conditions on the ground for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank – and Israeli policies viewed as contributing to their plight
Blinken plans trip to Middle East after Israel-Hamas truce

20 May
At U.N., U.S. defends its efforts to broker Mideast ceasefire
The United States on Thursday defended its efforts to broker a ceasefire in renewed fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants after Washington found itself isolated at the United Nations over its opposition to any Security Council action.
“We have not been silent,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the 193-member U.N. General Assembly as it met to discuss the violence. “In fact, I don’t believe that there’s any country working more urgently and more fervently toward peace.”
The United States has repeatedly objected to a U.N. Security Council statement since fighting erupted 11 days ago between Israel and Hamas militants and other groups in Gaza. The United States then expressed opposition on Wednesday to a French push for a council resolution on the conflict. U.S. says no to French push for U.N. Mideast action
Israel unleashes strikes as expectations for truce rise
(AP) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed back against calls from the U.S. to wind down the Gaza offensive, appearing determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career. Still, officials close to the negotiations say they expect a truce to be announced in the next 24 hours.
… U.S. President Joe Biden told Israel on Wednesday that he expected “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire” — but Netanyahu pushed back, saying he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.” It marked the first public rift between the two close allies since the fighting began and poses a difficult test of the U.S.-Israel relationship early in Biden’s presidency.
Politico (early) morning round-up
On Wednesday night, it seemed like Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu might be heeding Joe Biden’s call for peace.
In a call with Netanyahu on Wednesday (the fourth in a week), Biden again used the c-word — cease-fire — that had been so difficult for him to utter earlier in the conflict. “The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” according to a White House readout.
A couple of notable things about the statement: It omitted the usual boilerplate language about Israel’s right to self-defense. And Biden added the word “today.”
NYT: “Although [administration officials] portrayed the call as consistent with what Mr. Biden had been saying, his decision to set a deadline was an escalation.”
Until Wednesday Biden had avoided going public with his private admonishments to Netanyahu, partly because of fears they would be ignored. Later in the day, that fear seemed justified. After the call with Biden, the Israeli leader announced that Israel was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
And while overnight reports about a potential cease-fire suggest Israel may indeed be poised to wind down hostilities, the violence erupting this morning isn’t a hopeful sign. If the bloodshed continues, it will be a direct rebuke of Biden in his first test of American influence.
WaPo writes that Netanyahu’s “public defiance underlined his disconnect with Biden,” while the AP notes the current crisis is “plunging the two leaders into a difficult early test of the U.S.-Israeli relationship” and that “their current differences over the war in Gaza create a challenge that Biden was trying mightily to avoid.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. has continued to prevent the U.N. Security Council from using the c-word, a position that is seen at the U.N. as increasingly untenable.
Biden faced escalating demands from Democrats to help end the hostilities. A band of House Democrats introduced a resolution Wednesday to halt a recently approved military aid package to Israel, though it has no prospects for passage.
The congressional pressure has had an impact, though. In addition to the Biden-Netanyahu call Wednesday, there were calls between Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi as well as one between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
“Israeli officials said on all three calls, the issue of domestic political pressure from Congress for a ceasefire was mentioned.”
The White House has told Netanyahu in recent days that the ground is shifting in the United States, even among some lawmakers who have long been supportive of Israel.
Finally, amid all of this, the White House, per our Nahal Toosi, can’t seem to settle on an ambassador to Israel.

19 May
U.S. says no to French push for U.N. Mideast action
The U.S. mission to the United Nations said it “will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate” violence between Israel and Palestinian militants when asked on Wednesday about a French push for a Security Council resolution. [US deems UN Mideast action unhelpful]
France circulated a draft text to council members on Wednesday, diplomats said.
The French draft text, seen by Reuters, demands an immediate cessation of hostilities and condemns “the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian areas” without laying blame. It urges protection of civilians and revival of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of creating two states.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
When asked about the French push for a resolution, a spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations on Wednesday reaffirmed its position had not changed.
A history of the US blocking UN resolutions against Israel
Over the past five decades, the United States has vetoed at least 53 UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel.
(Al Jazeera) With the latest escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians now in its tenth day, the US has stuck to that playbook. On Monday, Washington blocked a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas – the US’s third such veto reportedly within a week.
The US’s unequivocal support of Israel has seen it thwart resolutions condemning violence against protesters, illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank built since 1967 and even calls for an investigation into the 1990 killing of seven Palestinian workers by a former Israeli soldier.
Signs That a Gaza Cease-Fire May Be Near, as Diplomatic Pressure Grows
President Biden and other world leaders intensified calls to end the conflict, while Hamas and Israel suggested that a halt may come soon.
U.S. backing on Gaza won’t last much longer, Blinken tells Israeli counterpart
(Axios) Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday that Israel needs another few days to complete its Gaza operation, but Blinken stressed that the U.S. expects the operation to end soon, an Israeli official tells Axios
In their call, Blinken told Ashkenazi the U.S. was blocking a French initiative at the UN Security Council on Gaza but cannot keep backing Israel publicly and diplomatically, mainly at the UN, for much longer, Israeli officials say.
The call between Blinken and Ashkenazi was part of the intensifying diplomatic squeeze to move toward a ceasefire in Gaza, which Israel is still fending off for now.
Rockets fired from Lebanon as Israel expands airstrikes and ceasefire efforts intensify
U.S. President Joe Biden calls for ‘significant de-escalation’ of ongoing conflict
(AP) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday to press ahead with a fierce military offensive in the Gaza Strip, pushing back against calls from the United States to wind down the operation that has left hundreds dead.

18 May
US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his envoy reached out to Palestinian and regional Arab leaders on Tuesday as attacks between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers raged on, maintaining what the Biden administration is calling its quiet diplomacy while still declining to press for an immediate ceasefire.
Blinken, speaking during an unrelated trip focusing on Russia and Nordic countries, also defended the US decision to block what would have been a unanimous UN Security Council statement on the fighting and its civilian toll, and the overall US approach to the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014. President Joe Biden, speaking to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, expressed general support for a ceasefire but stopped short of joining dozens of Democratic lawmakers in demanding one.

17 May

Credit Anas Baba, AFP
Hamas rockets from Gaza on the right, Israeli Iron Dome interceptors on the left.

Gaza’s enhanced rocket technology challenges Israel’s defences
By Michael J. Armstrong
(The Conversation) The counts have risen so quickly because Gaza militants have improved their rockets and their usage of them.
The most noticeable change this year is larger quantities. … The firing is also better co-ordinated. …though still far slower than regular army artillery units.
Accuracy has improved, too. About 50 per cent of the rockets arriving over Israel have threatened populated areas. Larger, longer-range rockets are also more common now. During previous conflicts, Israel’s southern cities endured most of the fire. Rocket reliability, however, has dropped. About 15 per cent have failed at launch, versus under 10 per cent during previous conflicts.

RSF asks ICC prosecutor to say whether Israeli airstrikes on media in Gaza constitute war crimes
(RSF/Reporters Without Borders) The first Israeli attack on media outlets occurred four days ago, after Hamas fired a series of rockets into Israel. In the early hours of 12 May, Israeli airstrikes destroyed the Al-Jawhara Tower, a 10-storey building in Gaza City that housed 14 media outlets including the Palestine Daily News newspaper and the pan-Arab TV channel Al-Araby.
The next day, an Israeli airstrike destroyed Gaza City’s Al-Shorouk Tower, a 14-storey building that housed seven media outlets including the Al-Aqsa radio and TV broadcaster. The IDF said they were “striking Hamas weapons stores hidden inside civilian buildings in Gaza.”

Israeli strikes hit Gaza tunnels as diplomats work for truce
(AP) As the fourth war between Israel and Hamas enters its second week, the Israeli military has unleashed airstrikes on the Gaza Strip targeting militant tunnels and the homes of alleged Hamas commanders. Residents of Gaza awakened by the overnight barrage described it as the heaviest since the war began. Meanwhile, the AP’s top editor is calling for an independent investigation into the Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza City building housing the AP, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media.
Netanyahu says Gaza bombing to continue ‘in full-force’
Defiant Israeli prime minister says Gaza bombing campaign ‘will take time’, as Palestinians in the enclave suffer deadliest day with at least 42 victims, including 10 children
The Rivalry That Defines the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The competition for influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia has for decades affected the prospects for peace.
Kim Ghattas, nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
(The Atlantic) Arafat was the first foreign dignitary to visit Iran [February 1979] after the fall of the shah. For him, Khomeini’s success was a win for the Palestinian cause: His guerilla fighters had helped train Iranian revolutionaries in Lebanon, and he was hopeful that, with Khomeini’s help, he would soon be on his way to establishing a Palestinian state.
… that meeting decades ago remains essential to understanding how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is used by those who aren’t directly impacted to advance their own agendas, and how differently it features in the Middle East today compared with even two decades ago.
Iran continues to brandish the Palestinian cause to shore up its anti-imperial credentials and project power in the region, posing as the only true defender of the Palestinians. In Tehran’s view, that offers it a contrast to Arab countries that either signed peace deals with Israel, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, or cozied up to it, such as Saudi Arabia. This is why the Biden administration must view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a piece of the wider puzzle as it seeks to revive the nuclear deal with Iran: because that’s how Tehran sees it.

16 May
Thomas L. Friedman: For Trump, Hamas and Bibi, It Is Always Jan. 6
Just as a mob was unleashed by President Donald Trump to ransack our Capitol on Jan. 6 in a last-ditch effort to overturn the election results and prevent a healing unifier from becoming president, so Bibi and Hamas each exploited or nurtured their own mobs to prevent an unprecedented national unity government from emerging in Israel — a cabinet that for the first time would have included Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab Muslims together.

29 April
Biden hasn’t picked an ambassador to Israel. What does that say of U.S.-Israeli relations?
(LATimes) Biden’s delay in nominating an ambassador follows the unusual amount of time he waited to telephone Netanyahu, even as he spoke to dozens of other world leaders.
Definitely, say veteran diplomats and experts in the region, Biden is making known that Israel, while still an important ally to the U.S., will no longer have the carte blanche it enjoyed under Trump nor become an obsessed-upon foil as it was under President Obama.

7 April
Reversing Trump, Biden Restores Aid to Palestinians
The move will once again make the United States a leading donor to the United Nations agency that assists about 5.7 million Palestinians in the Middle East.
The package, which gives at least $235 million in assistance to Palestinians, will go to humanitarian, economic, development and security efforts in the region, and is part of the administration’s attempt to rehabilitate U.S. relations with Palestinians, which effectively stopped when Mr. Trump was in office.
In a statement on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the United States would provide $150 million in humanitarian aid, funneled through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, a vast agency created 72 years ago to assist displaced Palestinians.

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