The White House said on Tuesday that Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks but applied pressure on Israel over the treatment of Palestinians, saying Jerusalem “must be a place of co-existence.”
Violence erupted last Friday at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque amid growing anger over the potential eviction of Palestinians from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers. The clashes escalated on Monday.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki opened her daily news briefing with a statement about the situation, saying that President Joe Biden had just received an update from his national security team and that his primary focus was on de-escalation.
She said the United States condemned rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups, including attacks on Jerusalem, and that Biden’s support for “Israel’s security, for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, is fundamental and will never waver.”
“Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith around the world, must be a place of co-existence,” Psaki said.
U.S. officials in recent weeks have spoken candidly with Israeli officials about how evictions of Palestinian families and demolition of their homes “work against our common interests in achieving a solution to the conflict,” Psaki said.
Biden has sought to rebalance U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians after his predecessor, Donald Trump, sided with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on all fronts.
A senior administration official said Biden and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently completed an exchange of letters that began when Abbas sent Biden a letter congratulating him on winning the 2020 election. Biden sent a response recently.
“We won’t share details of the letter. This is part of this administration’s ongoing outreach with the Palestinian leadership on a range of issues of mutual interest, including ongoing efforts to de-escalate violence and restore calm,” the official said.
Psaki said the United States wants a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a goal that Trump did not aggressively pursue, saying it was the only way to ensure a “just and lasting peace” between them.
“We believe Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity,” she said.
Trump said in a statement that Biden’s “lack of support for Israel is leading to new attacks on our allies.
“America must always stand with Israel and make clear that the Palestinians must end the violence, terror, and rocket attacks, and make clear that the U.S. will always strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself,” the statement added.