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The New York Times

Violence in Israel challenges Biden’s “stand back” approach

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden took office in January and for understandable reasons has had little interest in pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. President Bill Clinton hosted an Israeli-Palestinian summit in his freshman year at the White House. President Barack Obama appointed an Ambassador of Peace for the Middle East on his second full day in office. And before he was sworn in, Donald Trump vowed to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement “that no one else could”. All of them failed to reach a peace agreement, as did President George W. Bush, who dealt with the matter later in his presidency. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times. Even before the recent explosion of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip, analysts agreed that the prospects for a successful negotiation in the short term remained hopeless and neither side was willing to make concessions, others would ask. Biden and his senior advisors have largely accepted this status quo. Biden is determined to shift the focus of American foreign policy from the Middle East to China and sees no reliable partner in an unstable Israeli government, led by a contested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has taken tough positions against the Palestinians, a two-state Solution while little effort is made to push the parties into one. With civil unrest, rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, Israel, and air strikes on Gaza that could lead to major conflict mounting, there is growing demand within the Democratic Party for Biden to play a more active role. Some liberals are calling on him to question Israeli settlement activities more, which makes a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians more difficult. “The problem with the Middle East is that you can try to turn your back on it, but it won’t turn your back on you,” said Martin S. Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel and former special envoy for Israel-Palestinian negotiations . Biden government officials on Tuesday publicly urged both sides to show restraint. In recent days, US officials have also pressured Israeli and Palestinian officials in private talks to avoid tension and issued a successful plea for postponing an Israeli court ruling on the displacement of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, following recent clashes in East Jerusalem led the city. Indyk said he did not blame Biden’s “conflict management rather than conflict resolution” approach, as the prospects for peace after Trump’s presidency were poor, culminating last year with a strongly pro-Israel peace plan that the Palestinians rejected on arrival. But Indyk said Biden now needs to be more active and urged the swift appointment to the vacant post of American ambassador in Jerusalem. Indyk also noted that the president had not yet spoken to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. He also said the government should reopen a consulate in east Jerusalem, which had been the United States’ main point of contact with Palestinians before it closed under Trump. “You have to start a dialogue with the Palestinians,” said Indyk. The White House announced Tuesday that Biden and Abbas had exchanged letters after the 2020 election. US officials also had lower-level private contacts with Palestinian officials, including Abbas’ senior adviser Hussein al-Sheikh. Other Democrats urged Biden to put more pressure on the Israeli government over settlement activities and territorial claims, which they say make the prospect of a deal with the Palestinians virtually impossible. “If you resign and the process of creeping annexation can continue unchecked, it will lead to such a moment,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J Street. “You can cross this off your priority list, but this is a conflict with very deep problems and you need attention. And if you leave it unattended, it will catch fire and people will be hurt again, ”said Ben-Ami. “We’re just inches from this runaway blow.” The Democratic Party has moved to the left on Israel in recent years, in part because of Netanyahu’s strong alliance with Trump and other Republican leaders, and also because many of its younger activists and members of Congress are more open to the Palestinian cause than Biden’s generation. After the State Department said last week it was “deeply concerned” about the possible displacement of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem, some Democrats blamed the Biden government for not acting more decisively to stop the Israelis. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland wrote on Twitter: “This is not a time for lukewarm testimony.” At a briefing on Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked after a tweet from Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Who said the deputy mayor of Jerusalem had “ethnically” advocated cleaning in defense of the proposed evictions “Price said the claim was” not something to support our analysis. “Some analysts said that even if Biden shared the view that more pressure on the Israeli government would be effective, he could guard against tensions with Israeli Further tightening leaders who are concerned about its top priority in the Middle East: an attempt to restore the 2015 nuclear deal – Iran, which Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials have long spoken out against. Biden also resigned from office in a tremendous moment political change in which Israel was in the midst of several failed efforts to form a permanent government and the Palestinians were heading for elections – postponed since then, another source of the current unrest – that hampered efforts to clearly develop US policy. Netanyahu is struggling to stay in power, and US officials say Abbas’ influence on Palestinian protests and violence, fueled by militants and social media, is close to zero. Biden also has memories of his days as Vice President of Obama’s call for a freeze on the Israeli settlement and territorial concessions that had little impact on politics in the long run but from Republicans and some Democrats who said Obama did not understand Israel’s security , needs suffered severe political setback. Republicans continue to exploit tensions in the Democratic Party over Israel’s policies. On Tuesday, Trump issued a statement accusing Biden’s “lack of support for Israel led to new attacks on our allies.” However, it was unclear what support the United States was not giving Trump, as his own statement in support of “Israel’s right to defend itself” was in line with the Biden administration’s talking points. Many Democrats, including privately speaking Biden officials, say Trump is a major cause of the current problems. Halie Soifer, chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that when Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump, who strongly supported Netanyahu’s settlement policy and defied warnings of Palestinian unrest, “was ready to be in Israel intervene in domestic politics and elections to pursue its political agenda, regardless of its impact on the region or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Soifer said that Biden deserved to support Israel’s so-called Iron Dome missile defense system, which protected Israeli cities from fire, during the Obama administration. “Our priority is to restore calm. In the long term, our priority may be to act as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, ”State Department spokesman Price told reporters on Monday. “But given the circumstances on the ground – and even before this current flare-up – I don’t think we’re in a position to see any significant progress,” he added. “And our politicians have recognized that.” This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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