Monday, June 21, 2021

De-escalate today, Biden tells Israeli PM

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President Joe Biden on Wednesday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he “expected significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire” in the Gaza conflict, setting a deadline amid growing calls for an end to hostilities, including from his political allies.

Though still staunchly supportive of Israel, many Democratic lawmakers have called for a ceasefire and pressed the administration to do more.

“The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” the White House said in a readout of their call.

The US president has not yet explicitly called for a ceasefire and has calibrated his comments from saying in his first remarks on the ongoing violence on May 13 – that “Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory”.

By Monday, the US president had shifted his position significantly. In a phone call with Netanyahu, he “expressed his support for a ceasefire”.

The United States has been “engaged in quiet, intensive diplomacy” in the West Asia conflict with conversations with Israel and the Palestinians, but not with Hamas, which controls Gaza. The United States has designated Hamas a terrorist group. Egypt and Qatar are dealing with Hamas.

Senior US diplomat Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, has been in the region and conducted talks with both sides.

But, Biden has seemed increasingly at odds with many Democrats. Last week 28 Democratic senators – more than half the party’s strength in the chamber – jointly called for a ceasefire, including majority leader Chuck Schumer, a staunch supporter of Israel. Other known backers have also expressed public unease with Israel’s actions.

Progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives are also calling for the administration to do more. “The president needs to tell Netanyahu to stop,” Ro Khanna told the Washington Post. “While Biden’s ceasefire comments were a marginally positive step,” Khanna said, “I think it has to be much stronger.”

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