Israel-Gaza: Pressure mounts on Biden to push for cease-fire

The U.N. Security Council and Muslim nations convened emergency meetings as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest attacks in nearly a week of Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli airstrikes.

Muath Freij/Reuters
A demonstrator gestures during a protest to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, near the Israeli Embassy in Amman, Jordan, May 16, 2021.

The United Nations Security Council and Muslim nations convened emergency meetings Sunday to demand a stop to civilian bloodshed as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attacks in nearly a week of unrelenting Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli airstrikes.

President Joe Biden gave no signs of pressuring Israel to agree to an immediate cease-fire despite new calls from some Democrats for the Biden administration to get more involved.

His ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told an emergency high-level meeting of the Security Council that the United States was “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to stop the fighting.

But as fighting in Israel and Gaza surged to its worst levels since 2014 and the international outcry grew, the Biden administration – determined to wrench U.S. foreign policy focus away from the Middle East and Afghanistan – showed no immediate sign of deepening its involvement. Diplomatic appeals by other countries for Hamas and Israel to stop their fire showed no sign of progress.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield 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. And in Israel, Hady Amr, a deputy assistant dispatched by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to try to de-escalate the crisis, met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who thanked the U.S. for its support.

Secretary Blinken himself headed out Sunday on an unrelated tour of Nordic countries. He made calls from the plane to Egypt and other nations working to broker a cease-fire, telling Egypt that all parties “should de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, on Sunday joined Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, in calling on President Biden to step up pressure on both sides to end current fighting and revive talks to resolve Israel’s conflicts and flashpoints with the Palestinians.

“I think the administration needs to push harder on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence, bring about a cease-fire, end these hostilities, and get back to a process of trying to resolve this long-standing conflict,” Mr. Schiff, a California Democrat, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Biden administration officials have urged calm but said nothing publicly about prodding Israel immediately to go along with a push by Egypt and others for a cease-fire. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said U.S. diplomats were engaging with Israel, Egypt, and Qatar, along with the U.N.

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people Sunday, medics said, bringing the toll since Hamas and Israel opened their air and artillery battles to at least 188 killed in Gaza and eight in Israel. Some 55 children in Gaza and a 5-year-old boy in Israel were among the dead.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis in a televised address Sunday that Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. That will “take time,” Mr. Netanyahu said, signaling the war would rage on for now.

Representatives of Muslim nations met to demand Israel halt attacks that are killing Palestinian civilians in the crowded Gaza strip.

The meeting of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation also saw Turkey and some others criticize a U.S.-backed push under which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and other Islamic nations signed bilateral deals with Israel to normalize their relations, stepping over the wreckage of moribund international efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians long-term.

“The massacre of Palestinian children today follows the purported normalization,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

At the virtual meeting of the Security Council, U.N. Sec.-Gen. Antonio Guterres said the U.N. was actively engaging all parties for an immediate cease-fire.

Returning to the scenes of Palestinian militant rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes in the fourth such war between Israel and Hamas, “only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Mr. Guterres said.

Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had thrown U.S. support solidly behind Israel, enthusiastically welcoming Mr. Netanyahu as an ally in Mr. Trump’s focus on confronting Iran. Mr. Trump gave little time to efforts by past U.S. administrations to push peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians, instead encouraging and rewarding Arab nations that signed two-country normalizations deals with Israel.

Mr. Biden, instead, calls Middle East and Central Asia conflicts a distraction from U.S. foreign policy priorities, including competition with China.

He’s sought to calm some conflicts and extricate the U.S. from others, including ending U.S. military support for a Saudi-led war in Yemen, planning to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and trying to return to a nuclear deal with Iran.

Biden administration officials haven’t listed deeper Israel-Palestinian peace efforts at the top of their agenda.

The problem won’t go away, said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East in the Obama administration.

Current fighting “reveals how deeply unstable is the ‘status quo’ between Israelis and Palestinians, and how urgently a new political path is needed to move this conflict toward negotiated resolution,” she said.

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