Biden’s meek stance on Gaza ceasefire does little to quell progressive ire

Joe Biden’s expression of support for a ceasefire between Israeli forces and Hamas has not quietened calls from progressive Democrats for more decisive intervention, but may have bought some time with the centre and right of his party.

Biden was left in little doubt about the strength of feeling on the issue on Tuesday when he visited Dearborn, Michigan, home to some 40,000 Arab Americans. The route taken by his motorcade was lined by protesting crowds waving Palestinian flags.

He was greeted there by the local congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, who has been one of the sharpest critics within the party of his response to the new surge in bloodshed in the region, and has lambasted his administration for blocking three efforts to produce a consensus UN security council resolution in the past eight days.

“Apartheid-in-chief Netanyahu will not listen to anyone asking nicely. He commits war crimes and openly violates international law,” Tlaib said on Twitter.

Administration officials have said that the White House statement on Monday saying Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire”, following a phone call with Benjamin Netanyahu did not amount to a demand for a truce but a pledge of support if a truce was agreed.

Israeli reports have cited unnamed officials as saying military operations were likely to wind up in the next day or two. But Biden’s language did little to satisfy Democratic progressives, who believe administration policy is conferring impunity on Netanyahu.

Ro Khanna, a Californian congressman, told the Guardian: “It is not enough to express support for a ceasefire. President Biden should make an unequivocal public statement demanding a ceasefire and support the UN resolution calling for one.”

The Biden statement also falls short of the demand for an immediate ceasefire in a letter signed on Sunday by 29 Democratic senators, well over half the party in the chamber, led by the newly elected senator from Georgia, Jon Ossoff.

However, in at least raising the issue of a ceasefire, the president has received some credit among congressional Democrats.

“I think the administration is caught between a rock and a hard place here,” a congressional Democratic aide said. “The wing of the party who has historically been against a firm US-Israel relationship is trying to squeeze as much juice as they can from this moment, but the reality is that bond is still very much strong and quite bipartisan.

“I think Biden’s support for a ceasefire strikes the right balance that reflects a growing concern in Washington for the spiraling violence, particularly after this weekend’s attacks in Gaza, but I do not believe the president is somehow isolated in trying to ensure our alliance with Israel is not destabilized,” the aide added.

On Tuesday, the administration was able to persuade the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Gregory Meeks, not to send a planned letter asking for a delay in the sale of $735m in precision-guided bombs to Israel.

CNN reported the U-turn on the letter came after late-night discussions on Monday between Meeks and administration officials.

The secretary of state, Tony Blinken, was pressed on the US block on a security council statement on the crisis, during a visit to Iceland. Blinken insisted that the administration was not “standing in the way” of diplomacy, but questioned the purpose a security council statement would serve.

“If we thought and if we think going forward that there’s something, including at the United Nations, that would actually effectively advance the objective, we would be for it,” Blinken said. “But right now, we are very focused on this intensive diplomacy with the objective of bringing violence to an end and, as I said, trying to build something positive in its wake.”

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