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Politics Chat: Breaking Down Biden's Response To Israel-Palestine Conflict

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Joe Biden last week announcing the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. We have the latest news from the region elsewhere in the program. Right now, how this conflict challenges the Biden administration and what we can learn about how the president addressed it.

Joining me now, as she does most Sundays, is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was there anything typical in how President Biden responded to this latest dispute in the Middle East?

LIASSON: Well, yes. Biden reiterated the longstanding policy of the United States, which is that Israel has a right to defend itself. So on one level, you could say U.S. policy toward Israel hasn't changed. Even Biden said he hasn't changed at all as a supporter of Israel. Here's what he said.

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BIDEN: There is no shift in my commitment, the commitment to the security of Israel, period. No shift, not at all.

LIASSON: But that statement was in response to a question on Friday about whether the approach to Israel among his party has changed. And there it definitely has. You know, on the one hand, with this latest conflict, Biden did something other presidents have done. He waited to call for the cease-fire, at least in public, until Israel was ready to have one. But by that time, half of the Democrats in the Senate had already called for a cease-fire. And, you know, there are political reasons for waiting. If you call for a cease-fire and Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't agree, it looks like the U.S. has no juice. But by the time the president called for it, yes, Israel had accomplished most of its military aims, mostly to destroy Hamas's tunnels and missiles.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How does Biden's approach stack up against the shifting pressures in his party and to some degree in the country?

LIASSON: There's no doubt that public opinion about Israel is shifting. American Jewish voters are no longer monolithic supporters of the Democratic Party. About 25% of them vote for Republicans. Some of that is because of Israel. Inside the Democratic Party, the progressive base sees the conflict through a racial justice lens. They champion the Palestinian cause. And you have four years of Bibi Netanyahu and President Trump joined at the hip. That has caused a reaction among Democrats against the current Israeli government. And you saw that last week where Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a very strong supporter of Israel, spoke out against Israel's actions in Gaza. Then you had Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, another strong supporter of Israel, coming out to call for a cease-fire before Biden. All that tells us something is changing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does it tell us, though, about that long talked about, never achieved two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians?

LIASSON: Well, President Biden still thinks that's the bottom line. Here's what he said about it on Friday.

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BIDEN: My party still supports Israel. Let's get something straight here. Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.

LIASSON: So the two-state solution needs to have support from the Palestinians and Israelis. It can't just be the U.S. position alone. But I think the bigger picture here is that Middle East peace is not on the top of Joe Biden's foreign policy priorities. He's more concerned with increasing competition with China. One of the things he wanted to accomplish last week was making sure the Middle East didn't overwhelm his administrations. Other presidents have put solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or achieving Middle East peace as their top foreign policy priority, not Joe Biden.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, speaking of things he does have on his top priorities, what's happening with the infrastructure talks?

LIASSON: That's a good question. There have been these talks between Republicans and the White House. Republicans offered a plan that was a tiny fraction of Biden's $2.3 trillion dollar proposal. Then the White House counteroffered by cutting $500 billion out of their proposal. But Republicans dismissed that out of hand. Right now it looks like the gulf between the parties is about three things - what is infrastructure, how much to spend on infrastructure, how to pay for that. And it seems like the gulf is just too big to bridge right now, but we are not at the end of this yet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, that's a lot of things.

LIASSON: (Laughter) A lot of things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.