Biden’s support for Israel-Hamas ceasefire seen as significant shift

US reluctance until now to urge ceasefire seen as way of giving Israelis time to go after Hamas

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and US president Joe Biden.  File photographs: Jack Guez & Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and US president Joe Biden. File photographs: Jack Guez & Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

 

US president Joe Biden told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu he would support a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after days of calling for calm but not publicly seeking an end to the conflict – a significant shift in the US approach to the crisis following days of rising criticism.

“The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement, describing Mr Biden’s call with Mr Netanyahu on Monday.

Hours earlier, Ms Psaki had rebuffed questions about why Mr Biden and his top officials had avoided calling publicly for a ceasefire, saying “quiet” diplomacy was needed behind the scenes to resolve a conflict that has killed at least 222 people, mostly Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

Pressure on both sides

Mr Biden’s support for a ceasefire adds pressure on both sides to end a conflict in which militants have fired barrages of more than 3,100 rockets, while Israel has pummelled Gaza with airstrikes and artillery since the latest fighting erupted about a week ago. At least three more projectiles were launched from southern Lebanon toward Israel on Monday night.

Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm howitzer round at the Gaza Strip from their position along the border with the Palestinian enclave. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty
Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm howitzer round at the Gaza Strip from their position along the border with the Palestinian enclave. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty

Until the latest call, the Biden’s administration’s reluctance to press for a ceasefire was read by many analysts as a way of giving Mr Netanyahu more space to go after Hamas, which runs Gaza and is considered a terrorist organisation by the US, European Union, Japan and other states.

Israeli officials say they have killed more than a dozen top Hamas commanders since fighting started, and Mr Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to do “whatever it takes” to defend his country and “degrade” Hamas.

But the political ground in the US was shifting quickly, with a rising number of Democrats pressing for more concrete efforts to stop the violence. This gained momentum early on Monday when Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer added his voice to that consensus.

“I want to see a ceasefire reached quickly and mourn the loss of life,” Mr Schumer said.

The comments were significant because of Mr Schumer’s role as a key defender of Israel in Congress, and they signalled that Mr Biden may soon have to move past what his press secretary called “quiet, intense” diplomacy and make more public calls for calm. – Bloomberg