Ten days into the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, diplomatic efforts to end the devastating violence gained urgency on Wednesday as France led efforts to demand a cease-fire at the United Nations Security Council and a growing chorus of international parties called on the Israeli military and Hamas militants to lay down their weapons.
Both Israel and Hamas have signaled a willingness to reach a cease-fire, according to diplomats privy to the discussions, but that has done nothing to reduce the intensity of the deadliest fighting in Gaza since 2014.
The Israeli Army’s airstrikes have killed at least 213 Palestinians, including dozens of children, and destroyed homes, roads and medical facilities across Gaza. Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israeli towns on Wednesday morning, sending residents scurrying for shelter. At least 12 Israeli residents have been killed in the barrage from Hamas.
As Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations mediated talks between Israel and Hamas, the two adversaries indicated publicly that the fighting could go on for days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel tweeted on Tuesday that the attacks against Hamas “would continue as long as necessary to restore calm to the citizens of Israel.”
A senior Hamas official denied reports that the group had agreed to a cease-fire, but said that talks were ongoing.
Still, with Israeli warplanes firing into the crowded Gaza Strip, in a campaign that Israeli officials said was aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure, the humanitarian crisis was deepening for the two million people inside Gaza.
The United Nations warned that more than 58,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been displaced from their homes, many huddling in U.N.-run schools that have in effect become bomb shelters. Israeli strikes have seriously damaged schools, power lines and water, sanitation and sewage systems for hundreds of thousands of people in a territory that has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade. Covid-19 vaccinations have stopped, and on Tuesday, an Israeli strike knocked out the only lab in the territory that processes coronavirus tests.
“There is no safe place in Gaza, where two million people have been forcibly isolated from the rest of the world for over 13 years,” the U.N. emergency relief coordinator in the territory, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.
The Biden administration has said that it is working urgently toward a de-escalation of the violence, but those efforts faced a test at the U.N. Security Council, where France announced on Tuesday that it had drafted a cease-fire resolution after consultations with leaders in Egypt and Jordan. The text has not been disclosed, but knowledgeable U.N. diplomats said the language had been designed to be acceptable to all those on the 15-member council.
The United States, Israel’s strongest ally in the United Nations and a veto-wielding permanent member of the council, has been the lone holdout for any action — even a statement condemning the violence, which many other U.N. members blame on Israel.
It was unclear when the French resolution would be put to a vote or whether the United States would even be amenable. The U.S. position, which the American ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, reiterated on Tuesday in the fourth meeting the council held on the crisis, has irritated even some of America’s closest allies.
“Conflict is raging, resulting in utterly devastating humanitarian impact,” the ambassador of Ireland, Geraldine Byrne Nason, told the council. “The Security Council has yet to utter a single word publicly.”
President Biden on Monday delivered a firmer message in private to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel than he has done in public, warning that he could put off growing pressure from the international community and from Congress to call on Israel to change its approach to Hamas for only so long, according to two people familiar with the call.
The private message hinted at a time limit on Mr. Biden’s ability to provide diplomatic cover for the actions of the Israeli government, as well as a new dynamic in American politics: the president presenting himself as a closer friend to Israel than it might find in Congress.
“We have a new dynamic with Congress playing the bad cop with Israel and asking the president to put a hold on an arms sales while the president plays the good cop,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official and the director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security. “It may give President Biden more flexibility and leverage down the line with the Israelis.”
The tactic — private pressure, combined with the president’s public support for Israel’s right to defend itself — has come under fire from Democratic members of Congress and progressive Jewish groups.
“This combination of inadequate ‘quiet’ appeals for de-escalation, and otherwise nearly unquestioning public support for and tolerance of the Netanyahu government’s actions, is unhelpful,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J-Street, a liberal pro-Israel advocacy group that has worked for years to shift the debate as a counterweight to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
But administration officials defended it on Tuesday as a product of Mr. Biden’s decades of foreign policy experience.
“He’s been doing this long enough to know that the best way to end an international conflict is typically not to debate it in public,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.
She added: “Sometimes diplomacy needs to happen behind the scenes, it needs to be quiet and we don’t read out every component.”
Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu on Monday discussed Israel’s right to defend itself against “indiscriminate rocket attacks,” according to the White House’s public readout of the call. In the brief summary, the White House said that Mr. Biden “expressed his support for a cease-fire,” while stopping short of calling for one.
Monday’s phone call reflects Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu’s complicated 40-year relationship.
It began when Mr. Netanyahu was the deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and Mr. Biden was a young senator passionate about foreign affairs. Since then, they have rarely seen eye to eye, but have forged an occasionally close working relationship through seven American presidencies.
Today, that relationship is as complicated as ever. Mr. Biden’s juggling act on Israel, always a challenge for an American president, is especially difficult given that Democrats are no longer solidly in Israel’s corner.
Middle East experts and former U.S. officials say that many of Mr. Biden’s calculations are rooted in a different era of American-Israeli relations — when Israel’s security concerns commanded far more attention than Palestinian grievances — and that his approach has less to do with the military situation than with domestic politics and his broader foreign policy agenda.
For his part, Mr. Netanyahu is fighting for his political life at home while trying to sustain support in Washington. With Mr. Biden now in the Oval Office, the men are again trying to sustain mutual trust amid larger forces driving them apart.
BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers overwhelmingly called for an immediate cease-fire to stop fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
All member states except Hungary backed a statement that also condemns Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel, supports Israel’s right to self-defense but cautions that it “has to be done in a proportional manner and respecting international humanitarian law,” said the E.U.’s top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell Fontelles.
He said that the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, “including a high number of women and children,” was “unacceptable.” And he said that the European Union, as part of the quartet with the United States, Russia and the United Nations that seeks peace in the Middle East, would push to relaunch a serious diplomatic process.
“The priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a cease-fire,” Mr. Borrell said.
Foreign policy in the European Union works by unanimity, so Mr. Borrell’s comments were an effort, he said, “to reflect the overall agreement.”
In terms of impact, a few individual European nations tend to carry more weight with Israel. In general, European governments have been supportive of Israel and its right to self-defense against barrages of rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.
Still, as the fighting has gone on, key European countries are pressing for a quick cease-fire, including Germany, which is traditionally a strong backer of Israel.
On Monday, after speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany “again sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity,” said her spokesman, Steffen Seibert. “She reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against the attacks,” he said.
But given the many civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Mr. Seibert said, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”
France, the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from the E.U., has also pressed for a quick cease-fire. On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron of France said that after consultations with his counterparts in Egypt and Jordan, France had drafted a cease-fire resolution to be voted on by the 15-member Security Council. But the timing of a vote, and whether the resolution would have U.S. support, remained uncertain.
A statement from the presidential Elysee Palace said that France, Egypt and Jordan “agreed on three simple elements: The shooting must stop, the time has come for a cease-fire and the U.N. Security Council must take up the issue.”
Since May 10, fighting has left more than 200 people dead in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The vast majority are Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, a densely packed coastal enclave of about two million people, while deadly unrest has also flared in the West Bank and Israel. Explore the toll of the violence in this multimedia report.