The White House declined again Tuesday to insist on an immediate cease-fire after nine days of violent clashes between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement, resisting growing global criticism that Washington has been on the sidelines as the clashes and the death counts have escalated in both Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Israel too has refused to consider a halt to its military campaign as it targets key Hamas officials and infrastructure in densely populated Gaza City.
“The president’s objective is clear, which is that he wants to see an end to the violence on the ground and to the suffering of the Israeli and the Palestinian people,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Asked if Mr. Biden, who spoke by phone Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was insisting on an immediate cease-fire, Ms. Psaki said the White House position was unchanged from Monday — Mr. Biden favored a halt to the fighting and was working with regional partners like Egypt who have been trying to broker a deal.
The Associated Press, citing White House sources, said Mr. Biden behind the scenes is pressing more forcefully for Israel’s military to wrap up the campaign, the worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in seven years. But the Palestinian representative to the United Nations complained Tuesday that the White House has refused to use its leverage to force a deal.
“If the Biden administration can exert all of their pressure to bring an end to the aggression against our people, nobody is going to stand in their way,” Ambassador Riyad Mansour said.
Tuesday saw more violence: Two Thai nationals working at a packaging plant in southern Israel were reported killed by a missile strike launched from inside the Gaza enclave. Israeli airstrikes decimated a six-story building that housed bookstores and educational centers used by the Islamic University and other colleges, the AP reported. Israel warned the building’s residents ahead of time, and there were no reports of casualties. Israel said it was targeting militants, their tunnels and rocket launchers across the territory.
At least 213 Palestinians have been killed since May 10, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,440 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed by rocket attacks launched toward civilian areas in Israel, the AP reported.
Ms. Psaki said Tuesday that the best way to end an international conflict typically doesn’t involve public debate.
“As I’ve noted in the past, our focus and our strategy here is to work through quiet, intensive diplomacy, and he’s been doing this long enough to know that the best way to end an international conflict is typically not to debate it in public,” she said.
Washington has faced sharp criticism from China and other countries for blocking an effort by the U.N. Security Council to issue a statement calling for an end to the violence.
Ms. Psaki said Tuesday that Washington’s action were guided by the goal of ending the violence on the ground.
“We’re not going to take actions or steps that we think would hinder that effort,” she said.
She added, “We continue to believe … that Israel has the right to defend itself. There have been more than 3,000 rocket attacks from Hamas, more overnight into Israel. Civilians have lost their lives. Palestinian civilians have also lost their lives and our goal is to get to the end of this conflict.”
In addition to international criticism, Mr. Biden is taking flak from liberals in his own Democratic Party who are critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who says Mr. Biden has been too deferential to Israel, greeted the president upon his arrival in Michigan on Tuesday to visit an electric vehicle facility.Mr. Biden and Ms. Tlaib spoke for several minutes after the president touched down, according to a pool report.
“Americans are standing strong and they’re standing and saying, “Enough, President Biden,’” Ms. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, said this week on MSNBC. “‘You will not do this on our watch. You have to speak out against this violence in a very aggressive way that holds Netanyahu and his leadership accountable.’”
But lawmakers from both parties who are traditionally supportive of Israel reject the idea of “both sides” equivalence in the fighting.
“Hear me clearly: the hand-wringing calls for a cease-fire are tantamount to Hamas propaganda,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.