New Political Pressures Push U.S. and Europe to Stop Israel-Gaza Conflict

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BRUSSELS — A diplomatic flurry from the White House and Europe added pressure on Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday to halt their 10-day-old conflict before it turned into a war entangling more of the Middle East.

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — their second phone call in three days — telling the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” administration officials said. Although they portrayed the call as consistent with what Mr. Biden had been saying, his decision to set a deadline was an escalation.

And in Europe, France and Germany, both strong allies of Israel that had initially held back from pressuring Mr. Netanyahu in the early days of the conflict, intensified their push for a cease-fire.

A senior Israeli official familiar with the negotiations said that Israel and Hamas will most likely reach a cease-fire agreement within the next two days. Two others corroborated that account.

Prospects that a cease-fire agreement would materialize were not clear. In past conflicts, cease-fire agreements have broken down and violence has resumed. It was also not clear whether any deal reached this week would lead to a long-term suspension of hostilities or just a brief hiatus to allow humanitarian relief supplies to reach the battered Gaza Strip.

French diplomats, in the meantime, sought to advance their proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would call on the antagonists to stop fighting and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Gaza. It remained unclear on Wednesday if the United States, which has blocked all Security Council attempts to even issue a statement condemning the violence, would go along with the French resolution.

The German foreign minister, Heiko Mass, said he hoped to fly to Israel on Thursday for talks with Israelis and Palestinians.

Taken together, the developments represented a more determined Western effort to halt the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the impoverished coastal territory of two million Palestinians ruled by Hamas since 2007. It has been a chronic flash point in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Netanyahu did not comment on the conversation with Mr. Biden or specify if Israel was de-escalating. But in a Twitter post afterward, he said, “I especially appreciate the support of our friend @POTUS Joe Biden, for the State of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Some saw the second phone call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu as messaging to placate domestic constituents.

Democrats have been pushing Mr. Biden “to take a tougher line and this was his opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing so,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. He also said Mr. Netanyahu “does not want to give the impression that he’s been told to end this conflict before it’s the right time to do so.”

For European nations, the intensified push for a cease-fire also is based partly on political calculations.

They are anxious that an unforeseen accident or decision in the Gaza conflict could bring about a ground war, as in 2014, or the intervention of Hezbollah from Lebanon, as in 2006.

But they are also conscious of domestic tensions in their own countries that have complicated the European Union’s historical support for Israel. The migration crisis of 2015 brought more than a million Muslim refugees and migrants to Europe, some with strong anti-Israel views.

In both France and Germany, the two most influential nations in the European Union, pro-Palestinian demonstrations have sometimes turned into anti-Israeli protests and anti-Semitic attacks, including assaults on synagogues. Governments fear such protests and internal violence will worsen the longer the conflict lasts.

France is on alert for acts of Islamist terrorism, often from French-born Muslims outraged by events in the Middle East. Germany, which welcomed a million mostly Muslim migrants in 2015, is struggling to contain their anger about Israel.

At the same time, the election of Mr. Trump in 2016 also encouraged a right-wing European populism that is anti-immigration and often anti-Islamic, with a clear political identification with “Judeo-Christian values” and strong support for Israel. That is clear in France, with the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, as well as in Germany, with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

But this new outbreak, Ms. Kausch said, had shown “that the Palestinian cause is alive and kicking.” And no longer ignorable, at least for a while.

The three “called on the parties to immediately agree on a cease-fire” and to work with other nations “to reach such a cease-fire, including through the U.N. Security Council,” followed by “effective negotiations” to achieve lasting peace.

After speaking with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel “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.

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.”

Mr. Maas, the German foreign minister, said on Tuesday that “ending the violence in the Middle East is the first priority,” followed by political negotiations. But he also blamed Hamas for the escalation.

He appeared to be responding to domestic criticism that the government has been too lenient in the face of pro-Palestinian and sometimes anti-Semitic protests.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented that Germany should “concentrate on internal affairs and reflect that the ‘welcome culture’ extended to refugees was astoundingly naïve when it came to anti-Semitism.”

The question for Germany now, the paper said, “is how do we teach those for whom a hatred of Israel is in their DNA that Israel’s security is part of their adopted homeland’s raison d’être?”

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Jim Tankersley and Katie Rogers from Washington. Michael Crowley and Ronen Bergman contributed reporting.





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