- Many Democrats celebrated the news of an Israel-Hamas cease-fire.
- But they also emphasized that the truce doesn’t address the underlying causes of the fighting.
- Progressives are urging Biden to take a more forceful hand with Israel.
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After 11 days of fighting that killed hundreds and raised concerns of a full-scale war in the Middle East, many Democrats welcomed Thursday’s news of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. But they also underscored that the tenuous cease-fire doesn’t resolve the underlying causes of the violence, and are continuing to pressure the Biden administration to take a more forceful approach to the peace process.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement said he was “relieved” by the reports of a cease-fire agreement, but added that he’s “deeply concerned that without meaningful progress towards a two-state future, the conditions of despair will deepen, further fuel extremism and lead to a tragic renewal of the cycle of violence.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, took to Twitter to express hope that the cease-fire holds, but also said it’s “not enough.”
“Our job now is to support desperately needed humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Gaza’s people, and find a way to finally bring peace to the region,” Sanders said.
Other Democrats echoed these concerns, urging the Biden administration to do more to address the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the economically devastating blockade on Gaza. Biden after the cease-fire announcement pledged to help with the reconstruction process in Gaza, and to provide “rapid humanitarian assistance.” But it may not be enough to satisfy progressives.
‘The US must condition funding to uphold human rights’
Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who has family in the West Bank and has been a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s approach to the recent violence, in a tweet said, “A ceasefire is necessary, but will not alone achieve freedom, justice, and equality for all who live under Israel’s apartheid government. The US must condition funding to uphold human rights, and end the funding entirely if those conditions are not met.”
Similarly, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who’s also been critical of the Biden administration with regard to Israel, in a tweet said: “We should all be grateful that a ceasefire will prevent more civilians and children from being killed. But now what? We need accountability for every war crime committed. And we need to stop underwriting crimes against humanity while doing nothing to end the occupation.”
Starting on May 10, Israel pummeled Gaza with airstrikes as Hamas sent thousands of rockets in its direction. At least 243 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed during the fighting, per Reuters. Over 1,900 people were wounded. At least 12 were killed in Israel, including two children and a soldier. The cease-fire has held so far, but tensions are still high.
In an incident that typified how fragile the cease-fire is, Israeli police fired stun grenades and tear gas at Palestinians worshipping and celebrating the cease-fire at the Al-Aqsa mosque on Friday. This came just hours after the cease-fire went into effect and less than two weeks after a police raid at the compound helped spark the recent Israel-Hamas conflict.
A CNN reporter said they also saw police beating reporters with their batons and calling them liars when they attempted to identify themselves as members of the press. The police said they were responding to a riot involving young Palestinians throwing stones at officers.
Responding to Friday’s police raid at Al-Aqsa, Omar in a tweet said, “Israel’s military functions with impunity because the world let’s it. This has to change.”
-Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 21, 2021
Biden’s approach to US-Israel ties isn’t working for a lot of Democrats
The fighting between Israel and Hamas this month has exposed a growing rift in the Democratic party over US-Israeli. relations.
Progressives are urging Biden, who’s shown unwavering support to Israel for decades, to be more critical of the Israeli government when it oversteps. And as evidenced by Tlaib’s response to the cease-fire, Democrats are increasingly pushing for the US to condition or limit the $3.8 billion in annual military aid it provides to Israel in relation to the peace process and occupation.
Indeed, US-Israeli relations are at an inflection point.
“It’s just simply a fact that there was never this kind of pressure vocally from the left on issues related to Israel during the Obama years,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, told NPR.
“There’s now just a much wider spectrum of opinion in the party,” Rhodes added. “And therefore it’s going to be harder to just stick to the old line of essentially unquestioned support for the policies of the Israeli government.”
Biden came into the White House with an array of crises on his plate, with the COVID-19 pandemic at the top of the list. In terms of foreign affairs, Biden has repeatedly made it clear that he views challenging China as his top priority. The Middle East peace process was not something high up on his agenda, but the recent conflict has forced him to get more involved.
His administration has emphasized it prefers taking a quiet, careful approach to diplomacy with Israel. But a slew of Democrats criticized Biden this week for not supporting a cease-fire in more direct, imminent terms, and for blocking efforts in the UN to condemn the Gaza violence.
Biden is rapidly discovering that the old ways of approaching US-Israeli relations just aren’t cutting it for a lot of Democrats. And as long as the fundamental causes of the Israel-Palestine tensions persist, Biden is poised to face mounting pressure to embrace the paradigm shift occuring within his party on the historic conflict.