• By The Financial District


With his muted response to the Gaza conflict, President Joe Biden is largely sticking to a time-worn US playbook despite pressure from progressive Democrats for a tougher line toward Israel and from America’s allies for a more active role to end the violence, Steve Holland, Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick wrote for Reuters.

By citing Israel’s right to defend itself against a rocket barrage from the Hamas-ruled enclave and only nudging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toward a ceasefire, Biden has effectively given Israeli forces more time to press their offensive against Palestinian militants there.

Biden was confronted with the issue on Tuesday on a trip to Michigan, where he was met by US Representative Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress and a leading progressive Democrat. She told him that “Palestinian human rights ... must be protected, not negotiated,” according to an account provided by a Tlaib ally.

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US officials hope both sides will reach a point when they will be ready to wind down their attacks in the coming days and that quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy involving regional players such as Egypt will help achieve an end to the hostilities, people familiar with the matter say.

However, Biden’s effort to cautiously navigate the crisis in the Gaza Strip will be put to the test if in the meantime the fighting increases and the civilian death toll rises sharply.

"There’s a playbook that’s being followed,” said Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East peace negotiator for Democratic and Republican administrations. “But there’s always room for the unpredictable.”

When Biden took office in January, he made it clear that he wanted to focus on the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn at home and challenges such as China, Russia, and Iran abroad.

Tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something that has bedeviled US presidents for decades, was not a top priority, though he had promised to revise some policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, that were widely considered heavily biased in favor of Israel and which alienated Palestinians.

Taking note of the disproportionate casualties, some progressive Democrats, a group that helped Biden win the Democratic nomination and the presidency, are pushing for him to be more assertive with Israel. “We need to have a ceasefire. The president should demand it, not just say he supports it,” US Representative Ro Khanna said.


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