The US administration is struggling to exert influence on its ally in Tel Aviv as the deadly Israeli war kills at least 10,569 Palestinians in one month.
A top US official on the Middle East acknowledged Israel’s brutal month-long war on Gaza has stoked up public anger towards Washington and is “straining” the country’s relations with countries in the Middle East region.
Barbara Leaf, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said: “I will say very candidly, this conflict has roiled up a huge amount of public anger towards Israel, towards us.”
“This is something we’re going to have to work through,” Leaf, who chairs the committee in charge of foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
However, the former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates said despite strained relationships with countries, several overseas officials still remain committed to Israel.
“The good news is those countries that have established relations with Israel have a continuing commitment to those relationships. Obviously, they’re strained at this point, the channels of communication are strained,” Leaf said upon her return from the Middle East.
Israel’s month-long indiscriminate bombing in Gaza has targeted hundreds of residential towers, hospitals, schools and refugee camps. So far, at least 10,569 Palestinians, including 4,324 children have been killed in the war.
“Our partners are scrutinising our response, as are our strategic competitors. [Arab partners] “fear the irreparable displacement of the Palestinian people in this process,” the official added.
“They want to know how much political capital the US is willing to invest towards a two-state solution,” she added.
US struggles in Gaza narrative
While the Biden administration is struggling to contain a growing crisis in the Middle East, calls for ceasefire have grown louder by Americans at home. On Wednesday, more than 100 congressional staffers staged a walkout at the US Capitol in support of a ceasefire in Gaza.
“Most of our bosses on Capitol Hill are not listening to the people they represent,” the staffers told The Wall Street Journal.
Laying flowers in front of the Capitol steps in honor of those killed in the war, the staffers demanded for their leaders to “speak up.”
“We demand our leaders speak up: call for a ceasefire, a release of all hostages, and an immediate deescalation now.”
The month-long unprecedented Israeli war has stunned several US officials who have admitted that they have been troubled by the endless images of Palestinian civilians, mostly children, being killed and torn apart by Israeli airstrikes.
A senior administration official told CNN, “It has created great moral anxiety. But no one can say it because we all work at the pleasure of the president, and he’s all in.”
Hundreds of US Agency for International Development employees signed an open letter this week urging President Biden to call for a ceasefire.
“For USAID efforts to be effective and for lives to be saved, we need an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities,” the letter states.
“We believe that further catastrophic loss of human life can only be avoided if the United States government calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages, and the restoration of water, food, fuel, and electricity to the people of Gaza by the State of Israel,” the letter added.
On Tuesday, National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby confessed that Biden is aware of the mix of emotions in the war from citizens in the country.
“The president understands that there’s strong emotions and feelings here, all around, all across the board – and here inside the administration and the federal government, that’s certainly the case as well,” Kirby said.
“We have been engaging with – with partners and organisations and experts and analysts and people with different perspectives, to listen to their concerns, make sure that we understand them as we develop policy,” the spokesman added.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed Washington’s calls for a “humanitarian pause” to release captives and instead vowed to continue its war on Gaza with “all its power”.
However, Reuters and Axios this week reported Qatari, US and Egyptian mediators are working to release 10-to-15 captives in exchange for a one-to-three day ceasefire.
“The exact number is still unclear at this stage,” the source, who requested to remain anonymous, told the news agency.
An Egyptian security source separately told Reuters that a 24-48 hour ceasefire or a limitation of military operations are expected next week in exchange for the release of the captives.
The US is reportedly doubling down on efforts to pressure its ally to agree to a pause.