The Israeli attack on Gaza sparked protests in the United States, but experts say Joe Biden hopes to put the issue on the back burner.
After 11 days of Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 200 Palestinians, injuring nearly 2,000 and leaving the territory in ruins, Joe Biden "praised" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for "the decision to end to the current hostilities. " .
The US president has faced unprecedented criticism for failing to demand an immediate ceasefire to end Israel's devastating bombing campaign, and instead issued what rights advocates described as milquetoast statements reaffirming the Washington's unequivocal support for Israel.
But despite that pressure, Biden kept the message in his first remarks since a ceasefire was announced Thursday, emphasizing once again that "the United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks."
Now, as Palestinians in Gaza, living under a brutal blockade in one of the most densely populated places on earth, try to rebuild, experts say the Biden administration hopes the problem between Israel and Palestine will fall again in the second. plane of American foreigners. political priorities.
“When Biden took office, the question of Israel-Palestine was not on the agenda. He assumed, like many other people, that the conflict didn't really matter, that it wasn't a problem, [that] Israel can basically continue to do what it's doing, and we don't need to pay attention to this, ”Nader Hashemi. the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Denver told Al Jazeera in an interview before the ceasefire was reached.
“Of course, the big question here is what happens the next day? What is Biden's plan? There is no zero plan. "
When Israel's military launched attacks on Gaza on May 10, an issue the Biden administration hoped to "de-prioritize" amid other more pressing issues: recovery from COVID-19, racial justice, talks with Iran, were became the center of international attention.
For days, the US president and his top officials reaffirmed Israel's "right to defend itself" while blaming Hamas directly, which had fired a barrage of rockets into Israel. The Palestinian faction, which rules Gaza, said it began firing in response to Israeli attacks on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.
As the Palestinian death toll rose and Israel's shelling destroyed buildings across the land, including a tower that houses the media offices of Al Jazeera and The Associated Press, calls to action, especially from the Biden administration, they got stronger. Thousands of people demonstrated in US cities to demand an end to Israel's attacks, and US lawmakers spoke out against what they saw as complicit silence from Biden, a longtime defender of Israel.
Officials in the Biden administration had insisted they were working behind the scenes to end the violence. But the United States also blocked several attempts by the United Nations Security Council to issue a statement demanding a ceasefire. And, during the Gaza attacks, The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration planned to sell $ 735 million in weapons to the Israelis, in addition to the $ 3.8 billion in military aid that Washington grants to Israel each year.
"[US Secretary of State Antony Blinken] said the Biden administration's strategy is to make Israel feel safer, more comfortable, in the hope that when it does, it will be willing to give concessions to the Palestinians. and be more of a reasonable peace partner, ”Hashemi said.
"All of that sounds nice, warm and confusing, but in fact, the record shows that it is the exact opposite: that the more Israel is pampered, supported and sustained, the more belligerent and uncompromising Israel becomes in making concessions."
Call for accountability
On May 17, eight days after the Israeli offensive, Biden said for the first time that he "expressed support for a ceasefire" in a phone call with Netanyahu. Later, Biden told Netanyahu on Wednesday that he "expected a significant de-escalation ... on the way to a ceasefire."
A day later, the end of the violence was announced; at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, were killed and more than 1,500 injured in Gaza, while tens of thousands of Palestinians were internally displaced. Twelve people, including two children, died in Israel.
"The policies of the Biden administration have been horrible and despicable, and they make the United States 100% complicit in Israel's massacres and atrocities against Palestinians," said Josh Ruebner, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.
Ruebner told Al Jazeera that while it was positive that the Biden administration was finally backing a ceasefire, "it wasn't that they suddenly developed some kind of moral backbone," but that it responded to political pressure on the streets of America. and progressive democrats.
"All of this political pressure is what has been effective in moving the Biden administration into a better position, but that kind of pressure must be maintained now for accountability after the ceasefire," he said, urging a US arms embargo. USA. on Israel and additional charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Palestinian rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the Israeli bombings in Gaza that razed residential houses and targeted media organizations and journalists.
In the United States, even before the Israeli offensive in Gaza began, lawmakers had begun to question the annual US military assistance to Israel. But the vast majority of members of Congress continue to support unconditional aid to Israel, and Biden insists that the relationship between the United States and Israel is ironclad.
However, the proposed $ 735 million arms deal drew widespread criticism from progressive lawmakers, including Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced a resolution Wednesday to block the transfer. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders also introduced a similar resolution in that chamber on Thursday.
"It is inconceivable that even when Israel uses American weapons to target children, journalists, medical workers, and others, the United States sends them more weapons to carry out such violence," Khury Petersen-Smith, Michael Ratner Fellow for the Middle East at the Institute for Policy. The study think tank told Al Jazeera about the sale.
Ruebner said that "the pressure emanating from Congress will continue to pressure the Biden administration in the way it should go, regardless of where it wants to go" in Israel-Palestine policy. However, he warned that the United States could try to restart "peace talks" between Israelis and Palestinians, undermining a wave of global solidarity with Palestine.
"Things will not be resolved through negotiations," Ruebner said. “Things will be resolved by imposing sanctions, by holding Israel to account for war crimes, by isolating Israel as a state recognized as an apartheid state and treated accordingly. This is how things will move towards a resolution, not going back to unsuccessful negotiations. "
"We want liberation"
Meanwhile, defenders of Palestine urge people to keep up the pressure and consider new tactics to defend the rights of the Palestinians.
Mohammed el-Kurd, a Palestinian resident of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, whose family is one of several facing forced displacement to make way for Jewish settlers, said earlier this month that the government's condemnation is not enough.
"I think it is time for governments to sanction Israel," el-Kurd said during a Middle East Institute panel discussion on May 10. "I don't think this is an outrageous request that Israel be sanctioned for the atrocities it has committed against the Palestinians." I think that's the next step. "
Yara Asi, a non-resident member of the Arab Center Washington DC, also said that the idea that things "will calm down" after a ceasefire has been reached in Gaza is dangerous as Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
“In the [previous US] statements, you hear 'a return to calm, a return to peace,' but unfortunately there was no calm and it was not peace. That is not what we [the Palestinians] want; we want liberation. We want human rights. We want total equality, ”Asi told Al Jazeera.
"This always seems to come back only when there are images of terrible bombings and children on the autopsy tables. If we don't want to see those images, we have to stay engaged. We have to show that this is a global priority or it will take a back seat.