Speed Reads

Crisis in Israel and Gaza

Biden, harboring low expectations, wants Israel and Gaza to give 'calm' a chance

President Biden is trying to tackle a number of big problems, and he pretty clearly was hoping Mideast peace wasn't going to be one of them. But the long-simmering conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted again last week, more than 200 Palestinians and 10 Israelis are dead, and the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas rockets for Israel show no sign of letting up.

Biden said Monday that he had voiced support for a ceasefire in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he isn't publicly pressuring Israel to accept a pause in fighting and Netanyahu has made clear he's not currently interested. Instead, Biden and his top aides have used some version of urging "calm" or a "sustainable calm" or de-escalating "tensions" more than 40 times over the past week, Politico reports. "What about 'peace,' 'peace talks,' or even 'ceasefire'? Not so much."

Biden and his team "have devoted relatively little time and staffing to the Israeli-Palestinian issue." Politico reports. "The administration, and many other observers, for that matter, also concluded that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have the political will to engage in serious negotiations." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "every statement we make is with the objective of reducing the violence and bringing an end to the conflict on the ground."

Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official, said calm may be the most realistic hope right now. "Honestly, every Israeli and Palestinian I talk to tells us not to use the word 'peace,'" he told Politico. "They tell us nobody in both societies thinks that is possible right now."

But advocates for Palestinians say Biden is aiming too low. Khaled Elgindy, director of the Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, said calls for "calm" benefit Israel, because Israelis will resume relatively normal lives when the violence ends while Gazans, still under Israeli occupation, will return to bombed-out buildings and heavy casualties.