US diplomatic pressure in the Middle East exposes its limits to persuade Israel | International
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had just completed his tour of the Middle East and was continuing his trip to Japan. The president, Joe Biden, had barely finished his phone call to Israel. Both had expressed, again and again, the same message: the need to protect civilians and implement “tactical pauses” in the Israeli bombings in Gaza. But that same night, this Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out on television granting short-term humanitarian respites and pointed to an Israeli presence and control in the Strip for an indefinite period.
Biden confirmed this Tuesday that in his conversation on Monday with Netanyahu he had asked for a pause in the bombings. Netanyahu and Biden “do not always agree exactly on every issue,” admitted White House spokesman for international affairs, John Kirby. And he downplayed these disagreements: Israel and the United States are allies and do not always have to agree, he insisted.
The latest diplomatic efforts of the United States in the Middle East have revealed, on the one hand, the limits of its ability to influence the Israeli Government - determined to eradicate the Palestinian Hamas militia no matter what the cost of lives - and, on the other, a deep unrest among its Arab allies caused by positions of very public support for Israel. A discomfort that also permeates the progressive ranks of the Democratic Party in the United States and even among State Department officials.
The results of Blinken's four-day tour — his second in three weeks in the Middle East, which has taken him to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey — appear meager at first glance. As on his first trip, the Secretary of State traveled with a complicated mission to say the least: to show support for Israel and at the same time reassure the Arab countries. And this involved trying to extract concessions from the country to which it sends military assistance almost daily: increasing the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, getting residents—and, perhaps, hostages—out, and protecting civilians from indiscriminate violence. On this occasion he also aspired to obtain Israel's approval for humanitarian pauses.
But after his departure, Israel is about to launch a new phase of its offensive in Gaza and has intensified its bombing. It is already in the heart of Gaza City, according to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. More than 10,000 civilians, many of them children, have been killed in this month of attacks, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.
Dismay in Arab countries
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The consternation in the Arab countries, which hoped that the head of American diplomacy would extract Israeli acquiescence to humanitarian pauses, was evident in the meeting in Amman, the Jordanian capital, between Blinken and the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, Qatar , United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia this past weekend. The head of American diplomacy continued to cling to his country's position against a ceasefire, arguing that such a step would only benefit Hamas. Alongside him, the Jordanian and Egyptian officials attacked Israel's campaign in the Strip.
“What happens next? How can we begin to think what will happen in Gaza, when we don't know what kind of Gaza will be left when the war is over? Are we talking about a wasteland? Are we talking about an entire population reduced to refugees? We don't know, we don't have all the variables to start thinking about that," said the Jordanian minister, Ayman Safadi, when asked about the future of the Strip after the conflict.
Blinken assures that he has made progress. Before leaving for Tokyo this Monday, he stressed that “this is all a work in progress.” “I think in every area we have made progress… in every place, (expressed) in various ways, on all of these issues, what I have heard is the indispensability of American leadership, of American diplomacy, of American participation.” From the White House the positions expressed are similar. Kirby maintains that talks on humanitarian respites are only “in their initial phase” but an agreement will eventually be reached.
But Israel shows no signs of softening its positions. As advanced The New York TimesNetanyahu's government has raised the possibility of transferring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to Egypt as fighting continues. In an interview for the American television network ABC on Monday, the Israeli prime minister noted that his country will maintain “responsibility for security” in Gaza for an “indefinite period.”
Washington has immediately distanced itself. The State Department responded this Tuesday that “the United States does not support any forced transfer of Palestinians out of Gaza. "It's not something that's on the table." At the daily White House press briefing, Kirby stressed that an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza “is not the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, the bombings and the images and figures of dead civilians in Gaza, especially children, increase pressure on the Biden Administration, whose apparently unconditional support for Israel ties it inexorably to what its ally does — even if it emphasizes that the Military decisions in that war correspond only to Israel. Some representatives of the Democratic Party, including veteran Senator Dick Durbin, have already begun to call for a ceasefire. Polls indicate a drop in the president's popularity, already normally low, in recent weeks.
Within the State Department, some officials have expressed their opposition to official US policy through internal channels. The staunch defense of Israel “contributes to public perceptions in the region that the United States is a biased and dishonest agent, which at best does not benefit, and at worst harms, US interests.” "USA throughout the world," notes a memorandum obtained by the digital Political.
Senior US officials point out that the United States does exert influence over Israel. “Every time we send weapons, we specify guarantees about respect for the laws of war,” declared Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer to the CBS television network this past Sunday. “When we see circumstances, events, that concern us, we raise them very directly to the Government of Israel. “We will continue to do so as this conflict develops.”
Upon leaving for Tokyo, Blinken also stressed this point. And he recalled that one of his objectives of the tour, to prevent the conflict from spreading to the Middle East, is being fulfilled: "Sometimes the fact that something bad does not happen does not seem like the best sign of progress, but it is."
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