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As Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli towns, Israeli airstrikes and artillery destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip and violent mobs attacked the streets of Israel, President Biden has remained mostly silent in the face of the escalating crisis.
Biden did not publish hastily arranged remarks on violence in the Middle East, or even touch on the subject himself when he appeared in public. The times Biden has spoken publicly about the issue, reporters have specifically asked it. And when he spoke, the president seemed to weigh every word very carefully, and spoke in muted tones.
“I expect and hope this will end sooner or later,” Biden said Wednesday at the White House.
“Israel has the right to defend itself when thousands of rockets fly over your territory,” Biden added. “My hope is that we will see this come to an end as soon as possible.”
This low-key public approach, according to the White House, is intentional. The Biden administration is prioritizing behind-the-scenes diplomatic outreach from Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and others.
“Constant contact” is how Biden put it to reporters. He personally spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Blinken spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. A State Department envoy visited the area. And calls are being made to officials in Egypt, Jordan and Qatar – countries the White House considers to have communication and influence with Hamas militants who launch rocket attacks.
Biden’s cautious public response is perhaps magnified by the lingering contrast to how former President Donald Trump relentlessly weighed in on all global matters, including even how to put out the Notre Dame Cathedral fire. and a mysterious and non-existent crisis in Sweden.
“I think so far they are finding the right balance to make sure it’s clear that it’s a priority to talk to as many parties as possible, but also not to create those expectations that states “The United will dive in and end this like magic,” said Ilan Goldenberg, who helped coordinate the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy of the US State Department towards the end of the Obama administration. He now heads the Center for a New American Security’s Middle East Security Program.
Like many areas of Middle East diplomacy, Goldenberg said the presidential statements were a high-level act. On the one hand, “it is important for the president to weigh and make it clear that this is a priority, because it sends a message to all parts of the region that the United States cares about this issue.”
But weighing too much creates its own problems, according to Goldenberg, especially since the Biden administration has made it clear that it is much more interested in focusing foreign policy resources on competition with China and economic issues that directly affect the American middle class, rather than getting caught up in the Middle Eastern conflicts that have frustrated many American presidents.
“The fact that the president or other high officials weigh relentlessly and constantly begins to diminish [efforts], because we can’t really follow through with the kind of action, that decisive action that ends the conflict, ”Goldenberg added.
Asked what the White House was able to change thanks to its phone calls to Israeli, Palestinian and other regional leaders, a national security official, speaking anonymously to discuss sensitive issues, highlighted the decision to change the route of an Israeli parade through Jerusalem to avoid an area that has been a point of conflict, as well as the delay of a key Israeli Supreme Court ruling on whether Palestinians can legally be expelled from the houses in Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.
“I don’t know if the American intervention was decisive in this regard, but it was significant and significant and I think it played a role,” Goldenberg said. “Unfortunately, he arrived a bit too late and things had already gotten worse.”
Even though he has limited his public statements, Biden has been criticized for what he puts – and isn’t – emphasizing.
Many former Trump White House officials have criticized Biden for failing to show more publicized support for Israel. They regard the Abrahamic Accords that Jared Kushner helped forge between Israel and a number of Arab neighbors as one of the administration’s most enduring achievements, and they were praised by Biden officials during their took office earlier this year.
At the same time, several progressives claim that Biden has been silent in his sympathy for the Palestinians killed in Gaza, especially his statement that “there has been no significant overreaction” on Israel’s part, making reference to Israeli airstrikes and mortar retaliatory rocket attacks. attacks.
More than 120 people have been killed in Gaza. At least eight people have been killed in Israel.
Netanyahu was keen to thank his “friend, President Biden” for recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense in an otherwise dazzling statement on Friday that warned that Hamas militants “are paying, and will pay, a very heavy price. tribute for that. This is not yet the case. over. “
“If we are historically committed to playing an honest brokerage role, we must fulfill that role,” New York Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez said Thursday. “The president and many other figures have said that Israel has the right to defend itself, and that is a sentiment that reverberates throughout this body. But do the Palestinians have the right to survive?”
“It’s not about both sides,” she added. “This is an imbalance of power.”
Israel has much heavier firepower and, along with Egypt, has limited the flow of people and goods into Gaza for years.
The White House rejected this characterization. A national security official argued that every statement released by the administration broadly condemns the violence that claims civilian lives, regardless of its origin.
Yet, given the critics, it was remarkable that a statement by Biden on Friday afternoon marking the Muslim holiday of Eid noted that “the situation in the Holy Land hangs over Muslims everywhere.”
“Palestinians – including in Gaza – and Israelis also deserve to live in dignity, safety and security,” Biden said in the statement. “No family should have to fear for their safety in their own home or place of worship. We think especially of the children of these societies who face the trauma of conflict far beyond their control.”