The Biden administration elevated its criticism of the Hamas over the weekend, as a cease-fire between Israeli forces and the militant Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip appeared to be holding for a third consecutive day.
President Biden has faced pressure from progressives in his own party for his repeated defenses of Israel’s campaign to halt a Hamas missile barrage from the Gaza Strip, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled Sunday there was no softening of the U.S. opposition to Hamas in the wake of the fighting.
“The fact of the matter is Hamas has brought nothing but ruin to the Palestinian people,” Mr. Blinken said of the group that has won elections in Gaza, but has been listed by the State Department as a “foreign terrorist organization” since 1997 and is backed by the government of Iran, according to U.S. intelligence.
Mr. Blinken said Sunday that if the current cease-fire continues to hold, the Biden administration’s plan is to try and bolster “moderate Palestinian” elements in a renewed push for Israeli-Palestinian talks toward a long-elusive “two-state” solution.
During an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” the secretary of state lamented Hamas’ “indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians,” saying the attacks “elicited the response that they did because Israel has a right to defend itself.”
The course of the fighting that began May 10 only deepened the cracks within the once-solidly pro-Israel Democratic Party, with Mr. Biden and the administration facing charges they were too tolerant of Israel’s recent bombing campaign in Gaza that killed more than 200 Palestinians, including dozens of children. The campaign came as Hamas and other Palestinian militants fired thousands of rockets into Israeli, killing at least a dozen Israelis.
The two sides reached a cease-fire late Thursday, ending 11 days of fighting. The agreement was brokered by Egypt, although the Biden administration insists it played a key role in pushing the two sides to the final accord. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu six times during the fighting.
In hailing the cease-fire last week, Mr. Biden said Mr. Netanyahu had credited Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system with limiting the death toll inside Israel from Palestinian rockets. The president also said he had assured Mr. Netanyahu that Washington would help Israel swiftly restock the system.
Liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, say the Biden administration should not be “rubber-stamping” weapons sales to Israel in light of the number of Palestinian civilians killed in the recent bombing of Gaza. Many say the Netanyahu government’s settlement policies and hard-line of Palestinian rights and development contributed to the more recent outbreak of fighting, the worst between the two sides in seven years.
But Mr. Blinken defended the president’s position on Sunday, saying the ever-present threat of Hamas rocket fire into Israel warrants continued strong U.S. support for Israeli forces, although he left open the notion that Congress could influence the pace of new weapons sales to Israel should enough lawmakers demand it.
“We are committed to giving Israel the means to defend itself, especially when it comes to these indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians,” the secretary of state said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Any country would respond to that, and we’re committed to Israel’s defense,” he said. “At the same time, any arms sale is going to be done in full consultation with Congress. We’re committed to that.”
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