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Biden aims to support Israel while not further alienating Palestinians, Arab world

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Biden administration is attempting to walk a very fine diplomatic line in the Middle East. Officials are attempting to show support for Israel while not further alienating Palestinians and the Arab world. Yeah, tough to do. And some observers of the region say that approach is just not working and that the United States' pro-Israel rhetoric is unhelpful. For more, we're joined by Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace whose research focuses on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Zaha, let's just start off first with playing a little bit of the speech President Biden gave last night at the Oval Office following his trip to Israel. Let's hear some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Like so many other, I'm heartbroken by the tragic loss of Palestinian life, including the explosion at the hospital in Gaza, which was not done by the Israelis. We mourn every innocent life lost. We can't ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians.

MARTÍNEZ: So mourning the loss of Palestinian lives, restating that Israel also was not to blame for the explosion. Zaha, what do you think Palestinians heard?

ZAHA HASSAN: You know, I think that was a very important message from the president. Another thing that he did say that I think was very important was that Palestinians are entitled to dignity and self-determination. I think for many people in the past almost couple of weeks now, during this whole tragedy, there's been a real dehumanization of Palestinians, you know, not distinguishing between the actions of Hamas and Palestinians. So that was a very important message. The problem I think, that the president's going to have is that while he, you know, stated this important message, he also had vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have just called for a pause in the hostilities so that humanitarian assistance could get in to the Palestinian population in Gaza, which has been cut off from food, water, medicines, essentials that are needed for the hospitals to continue to operate. And so I think that that message might ring hollow, given what happened at the U.N. Security Council.

MARTÍNEZ: He's also asking for funding for Israel's war on Hamas and also Ukraine's fight with Russia, that they're in the interest of the American people. Does that argument hold water for you?

HASSAN: Look. I think he had to make the linkage between, you know, what's going on in Ukraine and what's going on with Israel. And that message was for members of Congress, in particular the Republican members that are stalling aid to Ukraine. There is bipartisan support for aid to Israel. So by linking the aid to Ukraine with the aid to Israel, the president was hoping to try to mobilize members of Congress. But I think that, you know, we need to really consider not just use of a U.S. power to to support Israel's war effort but also the peace. How do we support peace between Israelis and Palestinians? And I don't think there's enough consideration about sort of the day after this war and what's going to happen in Gaza, what's going to happen to the Palestinians in the West Bank who are now facing an incredible violence and an effort to remove them from the land under the cover of what's taking place in Gaza.

MARTÍNEZ: Really quick, one more question - how should the U.S. engage with Israel's Arab neighbors? Now, considering that Biden was supposed to go to Jordan, that thing was canceled after the hospital explosion.

HASSAN: Yeah, the Arab world definitely has been horrified by what's been going on in Israel-Palestine. We've seen demonstrations across the Middle East and beyond, even in the halls of Congress in the last couple of days. So I think he's really going to have to address directly a resolution, a political resolution...

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

HASSAN: ...Between Israelis and Palestinians.

MARTÍNEZ: Sorry. I got to leave it there. Zaha Hassan is a human rights lawyer and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thank you very much.

HASSAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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