Violence in Israel Challenges Biden’s ‘Stand Back’ Approach
At a briefing on Monday, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, was asked about a tweet by Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, who said that the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, in a defense of the proposed evictions, had endorsed “ethnic cleansing.” Mr. Price said the claim was “not something that our analysis supports.”
Some analysts said that even if Mr. Biden shared the assessment that more pressure on Israel’s government would be effective, he might be wary of further exacerbating tensions with Israeli leaders anxious about his top priority in the Middle East: an effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Mr. Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have long opposed.
Mr. Biden also took office at a moment of enormous political flux, with Israel in the midst of several failed efforts to form a lasting government and the Palestinians headed toward elections — since postponed, another source of the current unrest — that complicated efforts to devise a clear U.S. policy. Mr. Netanyahu is struggling to hold on to power, and U.S. officials say the influence of Mr. Abbas over Palestinian protests and violence, driven by militants and social media, is close to zero.
Mr. Biden also has memories from his days as vice president of Mr. Obama’s call for an Israeli settlement freeze and territorial concessions, which had little effect on policies over the long term but drew fierce political blowback from Republicans and some Democrats who said Mr. Obama failed to understand Israel’s security needs.
Republicans continue to exploit tensions in the Democratic Party over Israel policy. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump issued a statement charging that Mr. Biden’s “lack of support for Israel is leading to new attacks on our allies.” But it was unclear what support Mr. Trump felt the United States was not providing, given that his own statement of support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” matched Biden administration talking points.
Many Democrats, including Biden officials speaking privately, say that Mr. Trump is a key cause of the current problems. Halie Soifer, the chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that Mr. Trump, who fulsomely supported Mr. Netanyahu’s pro-settlement policies and defied warnings of Palestinian unrest in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, “was willing to intervene in Israeli domestic politics and elections to pursue his political agenda, regardless of its impact on the region or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Ms. Soifer said that Mr. Biden deserved credit for being a supporter, during the Obama administration, of Israel’s so-called Iron Dome antirocket system, which has been defending Israeli cities from incoming fire.