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World

Middle East strife drags in reluctant Biden

  • Israel responded with attacks by fighter jets and helicopters, with at least 30 Palestinians and three Israelis now killed in the violence since Monday evening.
12 May 2021

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden entered the White House hoping to avoid entanglement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, like US presidents before him, a crisis is dragging him in sooner than he would have liked.

The flare-up in violence is putting Biden on a tightrope not only diplomatically but also at home, where progressives in his Democratic Party are increasingly vocal in criticism of Israel, which enjoyed zealous support from former president Donald Trump.

"You can appreciate that the Biden administration looks at this as a low-value, low-return enterprise fraught with political risk," said Aaron David Miller, a longtime US negotiator on the Middle East.

"There are no prospects of any success at all on this issue. You don't have leaders on either side who are willing to make decisions," said Miller, now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"The absolute best that the Biden administration could achieve in this conflict would be tamping down the violence," he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan since last week have been looking to restore calm as tensions soared over Israel's potential eviction of Palestinians from east Jerusalem, which the Jewish state sees as part of its eternal capital but is considered occupied by the United Nations.

Following US appeals, Israel postponed a court ruling and rerouted a flashpoint march. But hundreds of Palestinians were injured in clashes with police, and the Islamist movement Hamas -- which controls the Gaza Strip -- fired rockets as it demanded Israeli forces leave the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, holy to both Muslims and Jews.

Israel responded with attacks by fighter jets and helicopters, with at least 30 Palestinians and three Israelis now killed in the violence since Monday evening.

Successive US presidents have tried to tread carefully on the Middle East in their first months, and the Biden administration had made explicit it was in no rush on peacemaking, especially with question marks over the futures of both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.

In his confirmation hearing in January, Blinken backed efforts to create an independent Palestinian state but said that "realistically it's hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that."

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