Israel-Gaza conflict:President Joseph Biden and his senior advisers are dealing with a challenging diplomatic position unlike any other Israeli-Palestinian dispute as they take in the outburst of violence that occurred in Israel on Saturday.
The far-right governing coalition in Israel has strained relations between Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu, his Israeli counterpart, who have been friends for decades.
Finding a trustworthy negotiation partner will be challenging for American officials due to the Palestinians’ broken political landscape.
In the US, a Republican presidential primary campaign that is already in full swing is determined to accuse Biden of encouraging assaults on Israel by virtue of his most recent agreement with Iran.
A historic normalization pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which Biden had anticipated was nearing completion, also looms large in the background.
All of this adds up to one of the most unstable geopolitical circumstances of Biden’s presidency, which is also dealing with a war in Ukraine that has turned into a contentious domestic political issue.
“We stand ready to offer all appropriate measures of support to the government and people of Israel,” Biden told Netanyahu in a phone call on Saturday.
Netanyahu would continue to be in close contact, according to Biden.
Later on Saturday, Biden stated that his administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is “rock solid and unshakeable” in remarks made from the White House.
“I assured Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning that the United States supports the Israeli people in the face of these terrorist attacks when we spoke. Without exception, Israel has the right to protect itself and its citizens, he declared.
Biden and senior American officials were instrumental in brokering a ceasefire the last time significant violence erupted between Gaza and Israel. The president had six conversations with Netanyahu and one each with Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, who has little real power over Gaza, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt.
Additionally, American representatives were in hourly touch with regional leaders and relied on the leaders of Egypt and Qatar to negotiate a ceasefire with the Palestinian militant groups operating in Gaza.
Democrats who were close to the president pushed for a stronger reaction. Yet senior White House officials determined that working quietly with allies to stop the violence would be more effective.
It has been over two years since then. US-Israeli relations have gotten a lot more difficult since then.
Biden has strongly opposed the Netanyahu administration’s efforts to restructure the judiciary, which he and other officials have claimed will undermine democracy. That has strained their relationship and prevented them from meeting in person until last month, when they had meetings in New York during the UN General Assembly. At the time, Biden admitted that the two men needed to talk about many “hard subjects,” including those involving “checks and balances.”
In the end, that discussion was “extremely honest” and “quite helpful,” according to one source. Without any advisers present, it featured a protracted one-on-one portion, and Biden extended an invitation to Netanyahu to visit the White House.
Yet, as he faces pressure for a comprehensive response, Netanyahu’s efforts to maintain the unity of his far-right governing coalition may make American diplomatic engagement in the situation much more challenging.
The Palestinians’ political inaction, whose leader, Abbas, was most recently elected to a four-year term in office in 2005 but is still in power after numerous election postponements, has only made a diplomatic response from the United States more challenging.
Biden had anticipated being close to finalizing a significant agreement with Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish formal diplomatic connections, which could potentially change the entire Middle East, as recently as this week.
It had been anticipated that Netanyahu would consent to the deal’s terms, including possibly suspending settlement construction and recognizing a future Palestinian state.
One US official commented following Biden’s meeting with Netanyahu that it was made plain at the leaders’ meeting that a component dealing with the core issues between Israelis and Palestinians would be necessary for a move like this by Saudi Arabia.
It is really impossible to imagine Netanyahu accepting those compromises right now, given the violence that broke out on Saturday.
Even in the early aftermath of the horrifying attacks in Israel, one thing seemed obvious: It would only be a matter of time before the violent incidents turned into a political campaign against Biden.
Last year, the Biden administration issued a waiver that allowed the unfreezing of billions of dollars in Iranian funds as part of an agreement to release five Americans who the US government believed were being held by Iran illegally. Given that Iran funds Hamas, this decision will undoubtedly be brought up again as critics draw a connection between this funding and the assaults in Israel.
The billions of dollars that the Biden administration unfroze as part of the deal “did not travel to Iran, are entirely for humanitarian purposes, and not a single cent has been spent,” according to a senior administration official on Saturday.