Biden: I Don't Believe Israel Has Significantly Overreacted to Gaza Rocket Fire

White House Press Secretary Psaki says U.S. working with 'key partners in the region — the Qataris, the Egyptians, the Tunisians' in attempts to calm tension

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Republican Senators in the Oval Office of the White House.
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Republican Senators in the Oval Office of the White House.Credit: Evan Vucci,AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said that he has not seen a "significant overreaction" from Israel in response to rocket fire from Gaza amid the latest regional flare-up.

“The question is how we get to a point where they get to a point where there is a significant reduction in the attacks, particularly the rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centers,” Biden told reporters.

Also Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was deeply concerned about recent Jewish-Arab violence throughout Israeli cities.

"As Muslims celebrate Eid and Jews prepare to mark Shavuot, Israelis and Palestinians deserve to take part in the celebrations, without fear of violence," Blinken said.

The secretary noted that he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, calling it part of a "comprehensive ongoing outreach and dialogue at all levels of the U.S. government to our respective counterparts."

Blinken said the U.S. objective remains achieving an end to the violence, which he said has claimed innocent lives of men, women and children.

"We've been very clear that rocket attacks must cease. We've been very clear about Israel's right to defend itself. We're also engaging our regional partners with urgency to see to it that calm prevails," he added.

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said regarding the Gaza conflict that the U.S. objection is to work with Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as key regional partners, toward de-escalation.

"The role we are playing at this point in time is to communicate not only with the Israelis and the Palestinians, with the goal and the objective of reducing violence and achieving stability, but also with key partners in the region — the Qataris, the Egyptians, the Tunisians and those who can play an important role and have conversations with Hamas from that end," she said.

Psaki went on to say that there have been dozens of calls at senior levels with Israeli and Palestinian leadership alike. Psaki further noted these partner countries have historically played this role, and Egypt in particular holds "significant influence" over Hamas.

"Obviously, every conflict is different, but certainly many of these countries and their leaders have played this role in the past and we certainly look to them and continue to look to them to play a role moving forward," Psaki added.

Psaki reiterated the U.S. position that Hamas rocket attacks into civilian neighborhoods does not qualify as self-defense, though also calling for steps toward de-escalation. "[Biden's] view and the view of our entire administration is that the loss of any civilian life, any life, is a tragedy."

When asked if Palestinians share Israel's right to self-defense, Psaki responding by asking "are the attacks not coming from Hamas? Do you consider Hamas the Palestinian leadership?" She added that the administration has spoken on the pending evictions of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, calling it an "important issue to address" in order to move forward toward de-escalation.

Psaki said she expects more in the coming weeks on nominating an ambassador to Israel, but qualified that the American foreign service officers and diplomats currently on the ground are fully engaged.

"It's important for people to understand it's not as if work halts just because you haven't had a nominated and confirmed ambassador. That's important, but the system of governing and career staff are in place so that there can be continuity through administrations," she said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, encouraged Biden to choose an ambassador with knowledge of the conflict "who can represent our country in an even-handed way, and who can engage not only with Israel but with the Palestinians as well."

"The role of the United States should be to bring the peoples of the region together, not simply to support a right-wing Israeli government," he added.

Sanders' tweet comes amid growing pressure on the Biden administration to appoint an ambassador with knowledge of the conflict. While Morgan Stanley Vice President and former Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides has been considered the frontrunner for the posting, a groundswell of support has emerged for former congressman Robert Wexler among lawmakers and other significant figures over the past several weeks.

“Robert is truly an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he left Congress so that he would have the opportunity to work solely on this issue. You can’t really say that about many people,” a former Obama administration official told Haaretz.

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