The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is facing a new violent escalation between Israeli security forces, Jewish citizens, Palestinian groups, and armed organizations like Hamas. The conflict has been brewing over the last few weeks, with clashes centring on the ownership of homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood in Jerusalem inhabited mainly by Palestinians but with an increasing Jewish presence.
The conflict appears to be growing in scope and moving away from a local issue, with the Israeli officials reporting that Hamas, the group controlling the Gaza Strip and considered as a terrorist organization by the State Department, has launched dozens of missiles into Israeli territory as a response on the violent riots in Jerusalem where at least 20 people have died, according to health officials.
Some of these missiles even reached Jerusalem, the city which both Israelis and Palestinians consider their legitimate capital. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is facing an electoral stalemate at home, has said Hamas has crossed a red line by attacking Jerusalem, while the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) released a statement condemning the attacks and saying that these actions will not be unanswered.
Any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict passes, in one way or another, through Washington D.C. As Israel is one of the most important allies of the United States in the region, which is why the way American politicians react to the crisis might be crucial to the way the conflict evolves in the following weeks, months, and even years.
American public opinion
American politicians, as in every other developed democracy, represent the views and feelings of the electorate. Meaning that part of the rhetoric and posturing of the political elites need to correspond to the general feelings and views of the population, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no stranger to this phenomenon, as politicians will surely look at the polling to understand where is the public standing on the issue and act accordingly.
According to polling data released by Gallup, the American public has historically had more sympathies towards the Israeli side of the conflict than the Palestinians, a trend that remains today, although there has been an increase in sympathies towards Palestine. Gallup reports that 58% of the population express to be more sympathetic towards Israel than Palestine in the conflict, while only 25% of those surveyed said they lean towards Palestine.
Furthermore, Gallup shows that Israel maintains an overwhelmingly positive image with the American Public with 75% of those surveyed saying they have a favorable opinion on Israel, while only 30% said the same of the Palestinian National Authority.
While Americans, in general, tend to support Israel over Palestine, there is a significant party difference on the strength of support and the way the U.S should behave with Israel. Republicans tend to have more steadfast support towards Israel, with 80% of them saying they support Israel over Palestine in the conflict, 50% of them opposing Palestinian statehood, and only 17% saying the U.S government should apply more pressure to the Israelis.
Democrats, on the other hand, tend to have warmer views towards the Palestinian cause although they keep favoring Israel overall. Only 43% of Democrats say they sympathize with the Israeli side, while 38% say they support the Palestinians, 67% of Democrats support the prospects of Palestinian statehood, and over 67% think the U.S should apply more pressure to Israel rather than to the Palestinians.
Since Democrats tend to have warmer attitudes towards the Palestinians while Republicans overwhelmingly support Israel in the conflict, it would not be a surprise if GOP politicians have a more outspoken position in favor of Israel while Democrats try to hedge their answers as they try to balance their pro-Israel and pro-Palestine constituencies within the party.
It appears this is exactly what is happening as the current crisis escalates towards open conflict. With famous GOP figures like Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz, and Kevin McCarthy releasing tweets supporting the Israeli Defense Forces actions and condemning the missile attacks of Hamas.
Haley, who has been long-rumored to be planning a 2024 run, saying that “Jerusalem is being attacked by violent rioters and the terrorist group Hamas” adding that it is a “shame” the role the left has been playing by trying to push “misinformation” on the issue. Cruz has condemned the Biden White House for displaying “open hostility” to Israel, while House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted that Israel “has every right to defend itself” and that the U.S stands with “Israel and the Jewish people”.
Democrats have not signalled such a unified position towards the issue, with some of the most radical wings of the party showing their open support to the Palestinians while most of the leadership has remained silent over the issue. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) tweeted her support towards the Palestinians a few days ago, accusing the actions of the IDF as “inhumane”, with Rep. Ilhan Omar following even more radical rhetoric as she called the Israeli airstrikes “an act of terrorism.
Not all Democrats have followed this same position, however, with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who is also co-chair of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus tweeted his strong condemnation on Hamas’ rocket attacks, adding that “each rocket is a war crime” while also saying this situation highlights the importance of Israel’s Iron Dome (their missile defense program).
The Biden administration, however, has remained mostly silent on the issue. With neither the President, Vice President, or the Secretary of State publicly commenting on the issue and with the White House only publishing a readout between national security advisor Jake Sullivan with his Israeli counterpart, where the government expressed its concerns over the Israeli actions while also condemning Hamas’ actions and highlighting the U.S commitment on Israeli security.
The congressional top-brass of the Democratic Party, mainly Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have also refrained at the moment to publicly comment on the issue, signalling perhaps deference to the White House in foreign affairs matters.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is entering a new dangerous phase, which is why it is vital for the United States to show resolve and leadership in these crucial times. For now, while Republicans appear to be united in support of Israel, Biden appears to be hedging his options as he balances his foreign policy objectives with the interest of his domestic constituents.