White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday was put on the defensive over President Biden’s delay in calling Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as part of a US push for a ceasefire in the Hamas-Israel conflict.
Psaki insisted at her daily press briefing that a presidential call wasn’t required to partner with Egypt, which borders Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Journalist Kristen Welker of NBC News pressed Psaki, “Could the president have tried to move forward with this ceasefire earlier if he’d started reaching out to el-Sisi and his other partners in the region several days ago?”
Biden placed four calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Hamas began firing rockets last week toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He placed his first call with Sisi on Thursday.
“We have been very closely aligned, in touch and working in lockstep with our partners in the region… the way diplomacy works, that does not always require a call from a global leader,” Psaki said.
“We have been working in lockstep with them it’s still a very high level to bring an end to the violence, to bring it into the conflict on the ground. And they share a desire to do exactly that.”
Psaki said that the White House welcomes reports that Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire through Egyptian mediation, but would not confirm the reports. She said it was possible the conflict could rage longer.
“We want to bring this to an end as quickly as possible. That is clearly our objective. But we are only on about day 10 or 11 here. When we look back at 2014, that was about 51 days, and we’re going to continue to press behind the scenes, press through intensive quiet diplomacy to bring an end to the conflict,” Psaki said.
On Wednesday, Biden told Netanyahu that he wanted Israel to pursue “significant de-escalation” — which Netanyahu publicly rebuffed.
Critics have denounced Biden’s pressure on Israel for a ceasefire as a break with Israel, arguing that Hamas is a US-designated terrorist organization that deserves blame for the conflict.
Some prominent Republicans, including former President George W. Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have accused Iran of a role in Hamas’ rocket barrage.
Hamas launched missiles into Israel after clashes in Jerusalem over an Israeli court decision that ordered the eviction of Palestinian tenants who stopped paying rent in East Jerusalem. Israel responded with airstrikes on Gaza.
Both sides have reported civilian casualties, with Hamas claiming a disproportionate number of people killed in the poor and crowded Gaza Strip.