Vice President Kamala Harris embarked on a significant diplomatic mission to the Middle East over the weekend, signaling a robust stance on Israel’s actions in its ongoing conflict with Hamas. The trip, during the U.N. climate summit in Dubai, served as both a diplomatic engagement and a platform for the Biden administration to convey a tougher approach to Israel regarding the civilian casualties resulting from the conflict.
Harris engaged in four high-stakes meetings or calls with regional leaders within a three-hour window at the climate summit. The key message conveyed by the vice president, both publicly and in private discussions, stood out as one of the most explicit pronouncements from any American official, including President Joe Biden, outlining guidelines for Israel’s conduct during the war and its responsibilities post-conflict.
While White House officials stressed there is no daylight between Harris and Biden on supporting Israel and the need to protect civilians in Gaza, the vice president emerged as a prominent messenger delivering a public admonition during this critical phase of the eight-week-long conflict.
Harris’s remarks echoed recent statements by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken during his visit to Israel, emphasizing the importance of a clear plan prioritizing the protection of civilians. Additionally, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III warned that driving civilians into the hands of terrorists could turn a tactical victory into a strategic defeat for Israel.
The timing of Harris’s diplomatic foray allowed her to seize the international spotlight and reinforce her own diplomatic relationships in the region. Despite President Biden’s extensive global engagements over decades, Harris has been establishing her own rapport with leaders in the Middle East.
During the weekend discussions, Harris intentionally adopted forceful language, addressing concerns within the Arab world and presenting a set of principles to guide the conduct of the war and its aftermath. The message aimed at preventing the forced displacement of Palestinians primarily targeted President el-Sisi, who had expressed reluctance to accept a potential influx of refugees from Gaza.
Harris also addressed concerns from Arab leaders about Israeli proposals to create a secure buffer zone inside Gaza post-war, affirming that such redrawing of Gaza’s borders would not be tolerated. The message was not only directed at regional leaders but also intended for Israeli counterparts.
While Harris did not physically visit Jerusalem, she engaged in a phone call with Prime Minister Isaac Herzog from Air Force Two. In her remarks after meeting with Arab leaders in Dubai, Harris emphasized the need for Israel to do more in protecting innocent civilians as it pursues military objectives in Gaza.
The vice president’s diplomatic efforts are not limited to the international stage; they are also mindful of the domestic audience. Some Democrats have criticized President Biden for not taking a stronger stance on Israel’s actions, and Harris’s robust remarks aim to reassure Americans who share similar concerns.
Harris’s recent travels to college campuses across the United States, coupled with her explicit language on issues like the Israel-Hamas conflict, reflect an awareness of the sentiments of younger voters and people of color, key demographics that contributed significantly to Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
The conflict in Gaza has claimed thousands of lives, with Harris using her platform to address the devastating impact on civilians and convey the administration’s expectations regarding Israel’s conduct. As the conflict enters a critical phase, the vice president’s role as a messenger underscores the administration’s commitment to a nuanced and assertive approach in the Middle East.