In a shift from statements early last week, the summaries of Blinken’s calls no longer mentioned Israel’s right to defend itself – phrasing that sparked criticism from some Jewish and left-wing Democrats normally supportive of President Joe Biden’s agenda – but US briefings didn’t suggest any progress either. At the same time, the US was criticised for shielding Netanyahu from some potential public pressure at the United Nations.
The UN Security Council met virtually on Sunday, with many of its members calling for a cease-fire. It was the third such meeting in a week, though the first that was open to the public. And while US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said it’s time to “end the cycle of violence” in Israel and Gaza, she singled out Hamas directly, saying it and other Palestinian groups should immediately “halt rocket attacks and other provocations”.
Her critique of Israeli actions was less direct and didn’t mention Netanyahu’s government.
“We urge all parties to avoid actions that undermine a peaceful future,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “This includes avoiding incitement, violent attacks and terrorist acts, as well as evictions – including in East Jerusalem – demolitions and settlement construction east of the 1967 lines.”
American efforts to delay the latest Security Council meeting – which had originally been requested for Friday – and its decision to block a joint statement condemning Israel’s behaviour drew more fire during the meeting.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the US “to support the Security Council in easing the situation”.
While Biden faces more pressure within Democratic circles to use American influence to get Netanyahu to dial back tensions, there’s no unified response within the party.
“If the Biden admin can’t stand up to an ally, who can it stand up to?,” tweeted New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Sunday AEST.
So far, that criticism isn’t enough to give Biden a strong incentive to engage in a conflict that offers few opportunities for success. It’s not much different in Europe, where most leaders aren’t yet ready to stick their necks out for Hamas.
That leaves Netanyahu untethered for now, although victory will be elusive. Prior to the fighting that started last week, Israel and Hamas fought three brutal, inconclusive wars.
Hamas, for its part, wants to show it can wreak damage while reclaiming the mantle of the Palestinian movement best able to stand up to Israel.
Gaza militants have fired about 3100 rockets at Israel since the start of hostilities. The Israeli army has struck some 1500 targets in the blockaded enclave, going after Hamas’ missile production and launching sites as well as the underground tunnel network for its fighters.
“There is full support behind the government even though we are all paying a price,” said former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, a Netanyahu ally. “Israel will keeping hitting Hamas hard until it begs for a cease-fire.”
This was echoed by Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, Jonathan Peled, who says his country wanted to negotiate peace with Palestinians but Hamas couldn’t be a part of that equation.
“How can you negotiate with somebody who all they want to do is kill you? I can’t negotiate with you,” Peled told Sky News.
Hamas last week signalled it was ready to end this round of fighting. Analysts say the militant group wants to consolidate political gains it’s made over the Palestinian Authority, with whom Hamas has a rivalry for leadership of the national movement.
By standing up to Israel with incessant rocket barrages against a much stronger enemy, the rulers of Gaza have scored points with the Palestinian public as defenders of their sacred city, said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister who teaches political science at Birzeit University near Ramallah.
“Their image was lifted dramatically,” Khatib said.
Meanwhile, the death toll continued to climb through the weekend. The Gaza Health Ministry put the death toll since the hostilities flared at 197, including 58 children and 34 women. More than 1000 have been injured. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say, and close to 300 hurt.
There were no reports of casualties on either side of the border overnight.