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No easy way out: Biden faces anger from all sides as he navigates Israel-Hamas war

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden is taking heat from all sides as he faces what could be the most fraught moment in the Israel-Hamas war since fighting broke out seven months ago.

A dizzying number of recent developments, both at home and abroad, have underscored the politically perilous path Biden finds himself on as he navigates criticism from Republicans and Democrats unhappy with his approach to the conflict.

All this mixed up with his reelection campaign in which polls show voters say they trust Donald Trump to do a better job in the same tough situation.

“I think he’s in a very precarious position,” Guy Ziv, the associate director of American University’s Center for Israel Studies, told ABC News.

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department diplomat now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described Biden as being stuck in a “strategic cul-de-sac with no easy way out.”

College protests have brought the overseas turmoil closer to home than ever before as students across the U.S. express frustrations with Biden’s response to Israel’s war in Gaza and show support for Palestinians. Along with chants of “Genocide Joe,” the campus unrest has produced images of mass arrests, some violent clashes and accusations of antisemitism.

Congressional Republicans have seized on the fallout as a unifying election-year issue for their party, denouncing the scenes as “chaos” borne from Biden’s policies and claiming he hasn’t done enough to protect Jewish students.

Biden has pushed back on GOP efforts to brand him with the narrative, this week forcefully condemning what he called a “ferocious surge” in antisemitism in a major address on Holocaust remembrance, saying hate speech of any kind has no place on any campus.

“The campus protests, if I could sum it up in a few words: It’s terrible for Biden, it’s very good for Trump and it won’t change U.S.- Middle East policy one iota,” said Miller.

Republicans — and even some Democrats — are now pouncing on Biden’s new warning to Israel that the U.S. will withhold weapons Israel could use in a major invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering. A shipment of some 3,500 bombs was paused last week.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, angry that top Republicans weren’t informed beforehand, slammed Biden’s decision as a “senior moment.” Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, called it “disgraceful” as he spoke to reporters before entering the Manhattan courtroom on Thursday where he’s on trial for allegedly falsifying business records about hush money payments prosecutors say were made to boost his 2016 election prospects.

Meanwhile, many progressives and a number of mainstream Democrats continue to pressure Biden to take a tougher stance on Israel as Palestinians face a growing humanitarian crisis. Parts of Gaza are currently experiencing a “full-blown famine,” a top United Nations official recently warned, though no formal declaration has been issued by the organization.

Democratic criticism could ramp up further when the Biden administration submits a highly-anticipated report to Congress in the coming days on whether Israel has violated international law in Gaza, or if Israel does mount a major ground offensive in Rafah, putting Palestinian civilians even more at risk.

Biden has largely sought to balance unwavering support for Israel’s security and harsh condemnation of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack with alleviating hardship for civilians suffering in Gaza by pushing for more humanitarian aid and urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to better protect them or face consequences.

Ziv, who previously worked at the State Department and on Capitol Hill, applauded Biden’s “cool-headed” response and ability to handle “a very difficult situation and not to succumb to any of the louder, more extreme voices on either side.”

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“He’s navigating a very fine line,” Miller said of Biden. “And I think he wants to continue navigating it.”

A no-win situation? Maybe not

Unfolding in the background are touch-and-go negotiations for a cease-fire deal. Talks reached a “critical stage,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said earlier this week, after Hamas unexpectedly announced it accepted a proposal — one that Israel said did not meet their requirements. CIA Director William Burns was in Cairo this week to try to bridge the gap between the two sides, but talks ended Thursday with no resolution.

An agreement to stop hostilities in Gaza, even temporarily, and return Israeli and American hostages held by Hamas may be the only way for Biden to silence most of his critics, experts said.

“In the immediate sense, a cease-fire and bringing calm to the region this summer would be a huge, huge achievement,” Ziv said.

“Without this Israel-Hamas deal, there’s no way to change the picture,” said Miller. “No way to de-escalate Israeli military activity, no way to surge humanitarian assistance into Gaza on a regular basis, no way to free the hostages, including six Americans, and no way to even begin introducing the administration’s regional peace initiative.”

Looming large over Biden is what impact the Israel-Hamas war will have on his chances in the U.S. presidential election.

“Obviously success is the best outcome. How long he has is not completely clear,” said Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The best thing is when November rolls around, he can point to the episode as one where he both advanced the interests of Israelis and Palestinians and American interests,” Alterman said. “And there’s six months between now and November.”

An ABC News/Ipsos poll released last week found Americans divided on U.S. policy toward the conflict, but that salience on the issue was low. The war ranked last in a list of topics Americans said will be an important issue for them in November.

But the question remains as to whether even a small number of defections from Biden would be enough to sink him in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin, which saw protest votes against his handling of Israel’s war in Gaza in those states’ Democratic primaries.

“The issue for Biden is not those voters turning to Trump, it’s the fact that they may not turn out at all,” said Miller. “We don’t know how the Israel-Gaza issue, even if it continues in the state that it’s in now, is going to affect voting in November.”

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