New Political Pressures Push U.S. and Europe to Stop Israel-Gaza Conflict


BRUSSELS — A diplomatic flurry from the White House and Europe added pressure on Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday to halt their 10-day-old conflict before it turned into a war entangling more of the Middle East.

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — their second phone call in three days — telling the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” administration officials said. Although they portrayed the call as consistent with what Mr. Biden had been saying, his decision to set a deadline was an escalation.

And in Europe, France and Germany, both strong allies of Israel that had initially held back from pressuring Mr. Netanyahu in the early days of the conflict, intensified their push for a cease-fire.

French diplomats sought to advance their proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would call on the antagonists to stop fighting and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Gaza. It remained unclear on Wednesday if the United States, which has blocked all Security Council attempts to even issue a statement condemning the violence, would go along with the French resolution.

The German foreign minister, Heiko Mass, said he hoped to fly to Israel on Thursday for talks with Israelis and Palestinians.

Taken together, the developments represented a more determined Western effort to halt the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the impoverished coastal territory of two million Palestinians ruled by Hamas since 2007. It has been a chronic flash point in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Despite suggestions by some officials that a cease-fire could come within days, violence flared throughout Wednesday, spilling beyond Gaza into the occupied West Bank and in northern Israel, where the Israeli military exchanged fire with militants across the border in Lebanon. So far, Israel’s Gaza bombardment has killed at least 227 people, including 64 children. In Israel, 12 people have been killed by Hamas rockets.

Mr. Netanyahu did not comment on the conversation with Mr. Biden or specify if Israel was de-escalating. But in a Twitter post afterward, he said, “I especially appreciate the support of our friend @POTUS Joe Biden, for the State of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

None of Israel’s allies have publicly condemned the country’s actions in Gaza. And for Mr. Biden, that approach to Israel, America’s strongest friend in the Middle East, has become a tricky balancing act, with objections to Israel’s behavior growing among Democratic constituents who are pushing him to take a more assertive stand with Mr. Netanyahu.

The president’s unwavering support for Israel also has hurt the United States at the United Nations — at a time when Mr. Biden has been seeking to improve America’s engagement with the 193-member organization often denigrated by his predecessor, Donald J. Trump.

The killing of so many civilians inside Gaza has roiled Democratic members of Congress. On Tuesday, Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, confronted Mr. Biden during his trip to a Ford plant, and pleaded with him to address the growing violence in the region and protect Palestinian lives.

Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who witnessed that interaction, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu’s reluctance to negotiate a cease-fire had made it harder for Democrats across the political spectrum to defend Israel’s actions.

Some saw the second phone call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu as messaging to placate domestic constituents.

Democrats have been pushing Mr. Biden “to take a tougher line and this was his opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing so,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. He also said Mr. Netanyahu “does not want to give the impression that he’s been told to end this conflict before it’s the right time to do so.”

For European nations, the intensified push for a cease-fire also is based partly on political calculations.

With Hungary and Austria most prominent among Europe’s fierce Israel supporters — a group that includes key officials in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia — the European Union is more divided on the issue than before.

In Europe at least, one reason was a political shift “toward Israel, a rightward, more anti-Islamic slant,” Mr. Barnes-Dacey said.

But as public opinion turns against Israel, he said, “European governments have to react more proactively, and there is a sharper sense that enough is enough, and that this cannot go on.”

That has been part of the motivation driving France, which has tried to mediate and simultaneously push the Biden administration to pressure Israel into halting the campaign in Gaza and demand an immediate cease-fire before the conflict escalates — as happened in 2014, when a war that included Israeli ground troops lasted seven weeks.

President Emmanuel Macron of France has been particularly active this week, meeting with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan and issuing a joint statement on Wednesday.

The three “called on the parties to immediately agree on a cease-fire” and to work with other nations “to reach such a cease-fire, including through the U.N. Security Council,” followed by “effective negotiations” to achieve lasting peace.

But given the many civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Mr. Seibert said, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”

Mr. Maas, the German foreign minister, said on Tuesday that “ending the violence in the Middle East is the first priority,” followed by political negotiations. But he also blamed Hamas for the escalation.

He appeared to be responding to domestic criticism that the government has been too lenient in the face of pro-Palestinian and sometimes anti-Semitic protests.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented that Germany should “concentrate on internal affairs and reflect that the ‘welcome culture’ extended to refugees was astoundingly naïve when it came to anti-Semitism.”

The question for Germany now, the paper said, “is how do we teach those for whom a hatred of Israel is in their DNA that Israel’s security is part of their adopted homeland’s raison d’être?”

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Jim Tankersley and Katie Rogers from Washington. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.



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