The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to delve into the more deadly clashes since 2014, with hundreds of rockets being launched by Hamas from Gaza, IDF striking back at Hamas’ hideouts, and with Israeli military forces even considering a ground invasion of Gaza. With the Middle East in turmoil, all eyes naturally turn to Washington DC, where President Biden is facing an Israel Dilemma.
Initially the Biden White House kept a rather low profile when addressing the issue. While many GOP and Democratic politicians quickly took sides on the issue, the government only published a readout between the National Security advisor with his Israeli counterpart where they announced the US expressed “deep concerns” over the evictions at Sheikh Jarrah.
This initial outreach attempt by the U.S was not necessarily well received by Tel Aviv, with Israeli officials arguing behind doors that the Biden administration should not be playing a role in the internal conflicts between palestinians and israelis over territorial disputes within Jerusalem, according to an Axios report.
While the US planned its official response towards the increasingly violent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, other nations reacted quickly with the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemning the Hamas attacks over Israel via a tweet posted on May 10th.
Eventually, the government via Anthony Blinken had a direct conversation with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, where the Secretary of State extended his support to the Israeli government efforts to “defend itself” and expressed the government’s condolences to those who have lost their lives as a result of the rocket barrage over the last few days.
Biden finally talked to embattled PM Netanyahu yesterday and he reaffirmed his “unwavering support” to the Israeli defense efforts and condemned the Hamas rocket attacks launched towards the country, while also conveying his desires to the PM that the US is encouraging finding a pathway for the region to find a “sustainable calm”.
After some days of some ambivalence or silence from the Biden administration, it appears that the White House has decided to keep the American public support towards the Israeli government during the ongoing conflict between both parties. However, there might be some political costs for that decision.
Is the Israel bipartisan support in danger?
Any foreign policy decision has two aspects: the geopolitical/national interest, and the internal political scenario. When decision-makers take well, decisions, they need to calculate both the effects that such decision would have in the international arena while also taking great care that any action will not cause great opposition back home.
The israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only not the exception to this rule, but is rather an issue that is heavily influenced by these internal political forces, as it is one of the most publicized and controversial international issues in the American political arena. Any role the U.S wants to play in the solution (or management) of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum will unavoidably include domestic calculations for either party who is in power at the time.
Historically, American public support towards Israel has been considered as relatively widespread and bipartisan. With a 48.47% of average support of the American people towards the Israeli side of the conflict compared with a 12.89% suport towards the Palestinian based on Gallup polls taken since 1967.
Which is one of the reasons why both Democratic and Republican administrations have provided support to the Israeli government during much of its history, for example in 1973 the US provided significant logistical support after Israel was attacked during the Yom Kippur War. Furthermore, Israel has become one of the key allies of the United States in one of the most volatile regions in the world.
However, there has been an increasingly partisan division on the issue of U.S Support to Israel. Although both parties have overwhelmingly positive views of Israel (85% for the GOP and 64% for Democrats), there is a vast majority of Republicans (80%) supporting the Israelis over the Palestinians, while only 43% of Democrats say the same thing with 38% supporting the Palestinians, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2021.
Although these numbers indicate that there still is a plurality of Democrats who still support Israel over Palestine in the conflict, it also shows that there is a significant and vocal percentage of Democrats whose sympathies lie more with the Palestinian side of the argument. Additionally, Democrats tend to believe that the US should apply more pressure to the Israeli government than Republicans.
What these numbers indicate is that since the GOP base is overwhelmingly in favor of Israel, it is easier for a Republican president to have a more openly friendly position towards Israel than a Democrat, since the latter would have to contend with a party that is divided on the issue.
Biden’s Israel dilemma: Foreign ally, Domestic trouble?
It is no surprise then, that there is a significant amount of Democrat politicians who have a strong sense of support towards the Palestinians over the Israelis, something that was clearly observed with the tweets by both Rep. Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) who openly criticizing Biden’s public support to Israel’s defensive military operations, with the former saying that the administration is taking the “side of occupation” and the latter accusing the President of “siding with an oppressive occupation”
Being a Democrat politician and expressing open support for Israel might bring some fallout, something that NYC mayor candidate Andrew Yang experienced when he had to post an apology on twitter after he received sharp criticism due to his previous tweet supporting Israel earlier this week.
This growing division within the Democratic Party over the issue of Israel and Palestine might bring some real headaches for President Biden as he tries to keep stable a region that is world-known for its instability, specially when you take into account that Biden will need the goodwill of all of his party if he wants to get anything done with his bare-majorities in both houses of Congress.
Hence, here is where Biden faces a dilemma when addressing the Israel-Palestine issue: On one side ensuring the stability of Israel is key for American interests in the region while also being broadly popular with the general population, however, doing so would also earn him a fair amount of criticisms from the left-wing of his party, whose support he will need if he wants to get anything done in Congress.
Biden might have been wishing to simply ignore the Israeli-Palestinian gordian knot and try to “extricate America from Middle Eastern wars” as a recent article at The Telegraph explained but the facts on the ground have compel him to take the hard route and face his Israeli Dilemma head on.