Joe Biden expresses 'support' for cease-fire in Netanyahu call
Washington, May 18: The White House says President Joe Biden expressed "support" for a cease-fire in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday, the eighth day of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Biden's move signals US concern for an end to Israel's part of hostilities with Hamas, although it falls short of joining growing Democratic demands for an immediate cease-fire.
The Biden administration distanced itself Monday from growing calls by Democrats and others for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers as fighting entered a second week, with more than 200 people dead, most of them Palestinians in Gaza.
The United States, Israel's top ally, also blocked for the third time what would have been a unanimous statement by the 15-nation UN Security Council expressing "grave concern" over the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the loss of civilian lives.
The final US rejection Monday killed the Security Council statement, at least for now. White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States instead was focusing on "quiet, intensive diplomacy."
As missile and rocket exchanges between Israel and Hamas surged to their worst levels since 2014 and the international outcry grew, the Biden administration — determined to wrench US foreign policy focus away from the Middle East and Afghanistan — has declined so far to criticize Israel's part in the fighting, send a top-level envoy to the region or press Israel publicly to wind down its latest military operation in the thickly populated Gaza Strip, as some past US administrations have done.
Appeals by other countries so far show no sign of progress. The US administration's publicly tempered response comes despite calls from Security Council partners, some Democrats and others for President Joe Biden' and other international leaders to wade more deeply into diplomacy to end the worst Israel-Palestinian violence in years and revive long-collapsed mediation for genuine peace there.
Speaking in Copenhagen, where he was making an unrelated tour of Nordic countries, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ticked off other, quieter US outreach so far to try to de-escalate hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel, and said he would be making more calls Monday. "In all of these engagements we have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a cease-fire," Blinken said. He said he welcomed efforts by the UN, Egypt and other nations working for a cease-fire. "Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we'll support," he said.
"And we are again willing and ready to do that. But ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire." Pulling back from Middle East diplomacy to focus on other policy priorities — such as Biden's emphasis on dealing with the rise of China — carries political risk for the administration. That includes weathering any blame when violence flares as the US steps back from conflict zones in the Middle East, and Afghanistan. But a relatively hands-off approach in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict also could spare the US years of shuttle diplomacy in support of a peace process that neither side actively supports.
At least 200 Palestinians had been killed in the strikes as of Monday, including 59 children and 35 women, with 1,300 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.
Blinken also said he had asked Israel for any evidence for its claim that Hamas was operating in an Gaza office building housing The Associated Press and Al Jazeera news bureaus that was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike over the weekend. But he said that he personally had "not seen any information provided."
Blinken's comments came after UN Security Council diplomats and Muslim foreign ministers convened emergency weekend meetings to demand a stop to civilian bloodshed, as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attacks Sunday in the week of fighting.
Biden's ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told an emergency high-level meeting of the Security Council on Sunday that the United States was "working tirelessly through diplomatic channels" to stop the fighting. She warned that the return to armed conflict would only put a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict even further out of reach. However, the United States blocked moves by China, Norway and Tunisia in the Security Council for the statement by the UN's most powerful body, including a call for the cessation of hostilities.
The proposed statement called for an end to "the crisis related to Gaza" and the protection of civilians, especially children. In Israel, Hady Amr, a deputy assistant dispatched by Blinken to try to de-escalate the crisis, met with officials. Blinken himself has no announced plans to stop in the Middle East on his current trip.