Biden's Israel support follows U.S. precedent — but his own party isn't satisfied

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JERUSALEM — Samira Dejani, a Palestinian teacher, held back tears as she stood in the courtyard of her home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, recalling years spent living here with her parents, children and grandchildren.

Her family is among several that face eviction from the neighborhood after a decadeslong legal battle with Jewish settler organizations that say they have valid title to the land dating to before Israel was a state. The conflict has helped spark one of the most consequential escalations in fighting between Israelis and Palestinians since 2014.

With nowhere else to turn, Dejani, 60, is appealing directly to America's president for help.

"Oh, Joe Biden, think, think, think about humanity, please!" she said this week. "Please put yourself in our shoes — if you are a human being, think that we are also human beings."

Her appeals are being taken up by parts of the international community and even left-wing members of Biden's party, who are demanding that he speak up in behalf of Palestinians. But the rising violence challenges Biden, who has spent the past three months burnishing his progressive bona fides, to pick a side in a conflict that has brought his predecessors little but disappointment.

Like his predecessors, Biden is having to adapt his policies in real time as events on the ground quickly outpace the best-laid plans. Late Wednesday, Arab and Jewish mobs beat people and torched cars in a wave of communal unrest. As the conflict intensified and the death toll grew to at least 90, political leaders in Israel urged an end to the "anarchy" on the streets of mixed-ethnicity towns across the country.

At least 115 Palestinians, including 27 children, and eight Israelis have been killed, officials on both sides said, as the Israeli military bombards the impoverished Gaza Strip and the militant group Hamas continues its rocket attacks on Israel. On Friday, Israeli ground forces joined in shelling Gaza, representing a major escalation of the conflict.

'No mention of Sheikh Jarrah'

Now, substantial pressure on Biden to act is coming not only from human rights organizations and pro-Israel Republicans, but also from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

In a call Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden "condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv," the White House said in a readout of the conversation.

Biden also "conveyed his unwavering support for Israel's security and Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians," it said.

The administration's response did not sit well with a handful of progressive Democrats who have tried to elevate support for the Palestinian cause from the fringes to the mainstream.

Even if he wanted to, Biden would not be able to reverse the Abraham Accords, which were brokered by Trump and sealed diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, eventually leading to deals between Israel and Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain.

Most of those states, along with Israel's other Arab diplomatic partners, have released statements appealing to Israel to end provocations against Palestinians.

But their outrage has been largely restrained — many Arab Gulf leaders are far more worried about the long, destabilizing reach of homegrown Islamist militants and Iranian nuclear and regional ambitions than they are about Israel.

Indeed, the strongest pressure on Biden still comes from within his own party.

"I think what happens in the last 72 hours might cause some rethink in Washington," said Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at London's Chatham House think tank.

Conditions are ripe for a so-called third intifada, or Palestinian uprising, he said, and U.S. officials may decide that "this place is too crazy to leave it on its own — we need to do something.'"

Ziad Jaber and Matt Bradley reported from London, and Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem.