Wednesday May 12, 2021
Violence between Israel and Hamas
Joe Bidens Nahost-Dilemma
In view of the violence in the Middle East, Joe Biden comes under pressure, and party friends are also calling for more involvement in the region. For the US president, the conflict harbors several risks – the international nuclear agreement with Iran plays an important role in this.
Joe Biden actually wanted to stay out of the Middle East powder keg as much as possible. Many US presidents have already bitten their teeth into the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the new man in the White House wanted to focus on other regions of the world. But with the renewed flare-up of violence, Biden is also coming under domestic political pressure to play a more active role in the Middle East.
The political veteran’s reluctance is no surprise. “The Biden administration sees this as a low-value, low-return endeavor that carries political risk,” said longtime US Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, who now works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There is no prospect of success on this subject.” The best the US government could do would be to reduce violence.
USA sends top diplomats to the region
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have been trying since last week to urge both sides to exercise restraint. But they could not prevent the escalation of violence. Blinken now said that he had asked the responsible top diplomat Hady Amr to travel to the region immediately and meet with leading representatives from both sides. Amr will also press for a de-escalation of violence on behalf of Biden.
After taking office in January, Biden vigorously tackled a number of major issues, including the corona pandemic and dealing with Russia and China. In the Middle East conflict, on the other hand, the democrat was noticeably reticent. It was around a month before Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first phone call.
This is also because it is unclear who Biden will be dealing with in the region in the future: The political future of Netanyahu and also of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is uncertain. And the US government is still sticking to a two-state solution, but at least currently sees little chance of success. In January, Blinken said that “realistically” there is little progress to be expected in the near future.
Trump realigned Middle East policy
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had moved away from the longstanding US line of acting as an impartial arbitrator and mediator in the conflict. He pursued a policy that was clearly friendly to Israel and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel despite sharp protests from the Palestinians.
In the final months of his term in office, Trump then focused on achieving recognition of Israel by Arab states – with some success: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan agreed with Israel to normalize their relations. Biden endorsed this development, but otherwise returned to more traditional diplomacy.
Domestically, too, the Middle East conflict is sensitive for the president. Supporting Israel is a high priority, especially among the conservative Republicans. Trump openly attacked his successor this week in view of the escalation of violence in the Middle East: “Because of Biden’s weakness and lack of support for Israel, our allies are the target of new attacks,” said the ex-president.
Pressure from our own ranks is growing
At the same time, Biden’s democrats – especially in the left wing – are growing distance from Israel because of Netanyahu’s tough Palestinian course. Influential Senator Bernie Sanders recently called for the US to take a clear stance against “the violence of extremists allied with the Israeli government”. In April, Democratic MPs tabled a bill that stricter requirements for US aid to Israel.
Biden has to pay attention to the mood in his country – and also sees the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in a larger international context. Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies believes that Biden will not tighten his course on Netanyahu.
Because the US wants to return to the international nuclear agreement with Iran, which is strictly rejected by Israel. But Washington will hardly expect more from Netanyahu, says Bennis. “Israel doesn’t want us to go back to the agreement, and we’re doing it anyway. So we’re not going to do any more that Israel doesn’t like.”
Russia reports contact with Hamas
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry is apparently in contact with the Islamist Hamas organization, whose military arm has been firing rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel since Monday. According to Russian sources, a high-ranking Hamas representative has signaled a readiness to cease the attacks. This must be done on a “mutual basis”, demanded the Foreign Ministry in Moscow in a statement.
The representative of the organization had also told a Russian state secretary that the international community should act on Israel to stop the use of force by security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The riots there preceded the mutual shelling by Israel and radical Palestinians, which has been going on since Monday.