During the weeks of violence in Jerusalem sparked by Israel’s attempt to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Democrats, activists and experts are calling on President Joe Biden to vigorously oppose the American ally’s actions to pronounce.
The problem is, he and the best members of his team are unlikely to miss an opportunity to contain the violence and avert greater conflict.
For decades, Israeli settler organizations have aimed to evict Palestinians in East Jerusalem from their homes, dismantle their homes and replace them with hundreds of housing units for Jews. It has long been a source of simmering tension and anger grew in April as eviction cases continued in Israeli courts. This resulted in Israeli police increasing their presence in the city and dealing with Palestinian protesters.
The stalemate has spawned worrying scenes, such as Israeli police on Saturday blocking buses from Palestinians praying for the holiest night of Ramadan in Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
But there was nothing like the crescendo of violence on Monday.
Far-right Israelis planned to march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, a provocative annual tradition that celebrates the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War – a day known in Israel as Jerusalem Day. But the Palestinians don’t like the event because they claim East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed, as the future capital of their sovereign state.
Anger at the parade escalated conflict between Palestinians and Israeli authorities.
On Monday morning in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, stone-throwing Palestinians faced the Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets and stunned grenades. Around 330 Palestinians were injured, with 250 local health officials said 250 were hospitalized from the fight.
Then, on Monday evening, Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, fired seven rockets at Israel – some even set off airstrike sirens in Jerusalem. A rocket is said to have fallen west of the capital and damaged some houses.
The danger of rocket fire was so real that the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, had to evacuate in the middle of a session.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, said the rocket attack was in retaliation for what he called the “crime and aggression” of Israel.
“This is a message that the enemy must understand well,” he continued. Hamas had given Israel until 6 p.m. local time to remove its police forces from the grounds of the Aqsa Mosque.
Health officials in Gaza later said explosions in the area killed 20 people, including three children, and injured around 65 others. The Israeli military later confirmed that it had carried out strikes in Gaza.
In response to the ongoing rocket fire into Israel from the Gaza Strip, we have now hit numerous Hamas terrorist targets in Gaza, including:
2 rocket launchers
2 military posts
8 Hamas terrorists
Terror targets civilians. We aim at terror.
– Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 10, 2021
Although Gaza militants sporadically fire rockets at Israel and are again hit by Israeli air strikes, the current tensions have feared some that this latest exchange could mark the start of a larger struggle.
In a speech, Netanyahu accused Hamas of crossing a “red line” with the recent rocket attacks and promised a tough reaction. “Anyone who attacks us will pay a high price,” he said, warning that the struggle “could go on for a while.”
The Biden government said it was concerned about the violence in Israel and denounced the Hamas rocket attacks as an “unacceptable escalation”. However, some are calling on Biden to take a more forceful stance and condemn Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem.
This could not happen, however, as experts find that the political costs of convening Israel far outweigh the benefits of adhering to the president’s nominally human rights-based foreign policy.
Biden wants to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy. Israel is a test.
In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration would put human rights at the center of US foreign policy. “The United States is committed to a world where human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable,” he said.
Israel’s attempt to evict the Palestinians is the perfect time to show that the government means what it says it means, experts say.
“The world is watching; This topic is important, ”said Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. “The administration has to show that not everything is talked about. You have to demonstrate this principle when it’s difficult, not when it’s politically free. “
The US has already made statements on this matter. Last Friday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “We call on Israeli and Palestinian officials to act decisively to ease tension and stop the violence.” Two days later, the White House published an advertisement of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s phone call with his Israeli counterpart saying the government had “serious concerns about the events in Jerusalem”.
But that’s too small a gesture for many who say it is more important for Biden – or at least Blinken or Sullivan – to denounce Israel’s actions on camera.
J Street, an Israel-focused liberal advocacy group, released a statement Monday calling on the Biden government “to make it publicly clear that Israeli efforts to evict and evict Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are for The United States is totally unacceptable to the continued use of intimidation and violent, excessive force against Palestinian protesters and worshipers – especially during Ramadan. ”
Some Democrats in Congress are also putting pressure on Biden.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, tweeted on Saturday: “If the Biden government puts the rule of law and human rights at the center of its foreign policy, this is not a time for lukewarm statements. “It also linked up with a statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that the evictions could be a” war crime “.
As this shows, evictions of families in East Jerusalem would violate international law. If the Biden government puts the rule of law and human rights at the center of its foreign policy, this is no time for lukewarm statements.
– Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) May 9, 2021
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a progressive leader in Congress, tweeted something similar: “The United States must speak out strongly against the violence of government-allied Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and clarify that the evictions of Palestinian families must not be pushed forward.
House lawmakers, including Squad members Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – a Palestinian American – also supported the Palestinian cause.
Biden and other prominent members of his government have so far not openly blown Israel up, but decided to condemn the actions of both sides. Telhami, of the University of Maryland, said there are good reasons, namely that Biden needs Jerusalem’s support to re-enter the Iranian nuclear deal and the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a priority for most Americans.
Still, he said, “The problem here is public profile. When something like this happens, you have to put your foot down. “
But the administration probably won’t, Khaled Elgindy of the Middle East Institute told me. If they denounced the Israeli government harshly, he said, “They would have done it by now. Why should they suddenly have a moment of clarity? “
Experts said there are other ways Washington could reprimand Jerusalem, such as sanctioning Israel or curbing arms sales, but none of them expect any of this to happen. When it comes to the US’s defense of human rights, “Palestine is usually the exception,” said Elgindy, who served as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership from 2004 to 2009. “Who will press the Israelis for human rights?” It won’t be the US. “
While inaction is expected, it is no less problematic, he continued. With no one energetically and openly calling for an end to the violence, the situation could “escalate very quickly into what looks like 2014”. In a fight between Israel and Hamas earlier this year, more than 2,100 Palestinians and 71 Israelis were killed and over 10,000 people, mostly Palestinians, were injured.
In this case, Elgindy said, the US would have “no choice but to get involved”. The irony there is that Biden’s inaction now could lead him deeper into growing conflict down the line.
Israel is already showing no signs of withdrawal. “Israel has no choice but to protect its citizens from these indiscriminate attacks,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement Monday.
And neither does Hamas. Obeida, the spokesman, said more attacks will come if Israel goes back to the Aqsa Mosque or evicts Palestinian families.