In a significant departure from its previous stance, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced deep concern over the escalating civilian death toll in Gaza, marking a pivotal shift in language towards the Israeli government.
For weeks, the Biden administration staunchly supported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military offensive in Gaza. However, the mounting death toll in Gaza, widespread pro-Palestinian protests globally, and internal discomfort within the White House have strained the U.S.’ unwavering support.
Secretary of State Blinken expresses concern amid rising death toll
“While we have backed Israel’s efforts, far too many Palestinians have been killed, far too many have suffered,” expressed Blinken during a statement in New Delhi. He emphasized the urgent need to prevent harm to civilians and maximize assistance to them.
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“To that end, we’ll be continuing to discuss with Israel the concrete steps to be taken to advance these objectives,” Blinken added.
Despite administration claims of success in addressing the humanitarian crisis, the White House announced on Thursday, November 9, 2023 that Israel had agreed to implement daily four-hour pauses in military operations in parts of Northern Gaza.
Yet, the persistent pressure on Israel by the Biden administration to refine its war plans and clarify objectives has not yielded the desired clarity.
To date, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah reports that over 11,000 Palestinians have lost their lives in the Gaza conflict since October 7, based on information from the Hamas-controlled territory.
Netanyahu stands firm: no ceasefire without hostage release
The intensity of the military operation shows no signs of abating.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Thursday that there would be “no ceasefire” without the release of hostages held by Hamas. A survey released on Friday indicates a growing number of Israelis support immediate negotiations with Hamas for hostage release while continuing military operations.
According to the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute, nearly four out of 10 Israelis (38%) believe Israel should engage in negotiations with Hamas while simultaneously pursuing military actions. This marks an increase from 32% in a survey conducted approximately two weeks earlier.
“The fighting continues, and there will be no ceasefire without the release of our hostages,” asserted Netanyahu in a statement. However, a comprehensive deal to free hostages remains elusive, fueling frustration among the public.
Sources reported on Friday that ongoing negotiations aim to secure a deal involving a sustained, dayslong pause in fighting in exchange for the release of a significant number of hostages. A senior U.S. official familiar with the talks emphasized that if a deal materializes, the hostages would exit Gaza in stages over multiple days, prioritizing vulnerable groups such as children and women.
Despite these developments, officials cautioned that the talks remain fragile, with the possibility of stalling or deteriorating at any point. “It’s been close before. There’s no certainty at all,” they emphasized.
Protesters accuse Biden of complicity in Gaza, diplomatic fallout escalates
Major cities including Rome London, Istanbul, New York, and Baghdad have witnessed pro-Palestinian demonstrations calling for a ceasefire. This weekend is expected to see further protests, with crowds advocating for an end to the conflict. Video footage from a demonstration in Washington, DC, last weekend revealed a sizable crowd adorned with kaffiyeh scarves, a symbol of Palestinian identity, and brandishing signs reading “Stop the massacre” and “Let Gaza live.”
Amidst widespread protests, demonstrators directed their ire at President Biden, leading chants accusing him of complicity in the Gaza conflict. Chants of “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” and “no ceasefire, no votes” echoed through major cities.
Last week, a protester confronted Biden at a private fundraiser, demanding a ceasefire. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby acknowledged the heightened emotions, expressing, “the president understands that there’s strong emotions and feelings here, all around, all across the board.”
Kirby emphasized ongoing engagement with various stakeholders to understand concerns and develop policies. Concerns about the conflict’s widening impact and potential diplomatic fallout overseas are paramount.
Progress made in Israel talks on Gaza conflict
Warnings from American diplomats in the Arab world highlight that strong U.S. support for Israel’s military campaign is risking alienating Arab public opinion for a generation. A diplomatic cable reveals that such support is viewed as “material and moral culpability in what they consider to be possible war crimes.”
In the Middle East, Iranian proxy groups have intensified attacks on U.S. forces and assets following Hamas’ attack on Israel, with bases in Iraq and Syria targeted over 40 times since October 17.
Despite mounting pressure, Secretary of State Blinken reiterated the focus on getting hostages home and preventing the conflict’s expansion. Blinken acknowledged “some progress” since his meeting with Israeli officials but stressed that the situation is a process.
Acknowledging the complexities, Blinken said at a news conference, “Those calling for an immediate ceasefire have an obligation to explain how to address the unacceptable result that would likely follow.” The U.S. administration grapples with the delicate balance between diplomacy, domestic pressure, and international repercussions as the conflict unfolds.