When the United States and Egyptian mediators went to Israel to begin de-escalation talks, the antagonists weighed delicate internal considerations before agreeing on discussions to end the violence.
But even before the mediators went to work Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have calculated that brute force was required first.
Israeli ground forces attacked early Friday Gaza – a potentially significant escalation move against the Hamas militants who fired hundreds of rockets at Israel. The move could prolong the conflict and significantly increase the number of dead and wounded on both sides.
For the Palestinians, the indefinite postponement of the elections by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last month created a vacuum that Hamas is more than ready to fill. Hamas argues that it is the only Palestinian faction that is defending the holy sites of Jerusalem with its large supply of improved missiles and making Abbas a spectator.
President Biden has spoken to Mr. Netanyahu and repeated the usual formula about Israel’s right to self-defense, and he has dispatched a seasoned diplomat, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr, to demand de-escalation on both sides.
The Biden administration has also defied the UN Security Council’s demands for an immediate discussion of the crisis, arguing that it would take Mr Amr and other diplomats at least a few days to work towards a possible solution.
A proposal by the 15-member council to convene an urgent meeting on Friday has been effectively blocked by the United States, diplomats said. Criticism of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is widespread among members of the United Nations, and the United States has often stood alone in defending its most important ally in the Middle East.
In Washington, when asked about American objections to a Security Council meeting, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told reporters on Thursday that “we are open to discussion, an open discussion at the United Nations, and we support it,” but we wanted to wait until the beginning of next week.
“I hope this will give diplomacy some time to take effect and see if we actually achieve a real de-escalation,” Blinken said.