Irish PM pushes Biden for immediate Gaza ceasefire

Joe Biden and Leo Varadkar
Joe Biden and Leo Varadkar

Ireland's leader Leo Varadkar urged Joe Biden to work towards an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza, during a meeting at the White House on Friday.

An annual St Patrick's Day tradition, the summit usually focuses on defending Northern Ireland's peace process.

Taoiseach Varadkar has faced serious domestic political pressure to raise the ongoing war in Gaza.

Mr Biden, who has publicly clashed with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, appeared to agree.

Mr Varadkar got a further nod of approval from the president when he suggested a "two state solution was the best way to secure lasting peace and security". While Mr Netanyahu has increasingly opposed a future Palestinian state, Mr Biden has emphasised that any peace settlement must be based on it.

For the Taoiseach, who chose his words carefully, President Biden's agreement on his call for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza will feel like mission accomplished. His efforts also come at a significant political moment in Washington.

While the US remains Israel's closest ally and biggest provider of military aid, concerns have been mounting within the Biden administration and among some members of his own party over Israel's handling of the war.

On Thursday, Chuck Schumer - the top Democrat in the Senate - called for fresh elections in Israel, saying that Mr Netanyahu was prioritising his "political survival" above the needs of the country.

Israel's leaders were quick to reproach the senator, with Mr Netanyahu's Likud party saying Israel is not a "banana republic" and that the prime minister's policies are "supported by a large majority".

Asked about the comments in the Oval Office on Friday, Mr Biden admitted that Mr Schumer had informed the White House of his intentions ahead of the speech, and said the Senate leader had "expressed serious concern shared not only by him, but many Americans".

Ahead of the summit Mr Varadkar had faced significant pressure from opposition parties in Ireland to raise the ongoing conflict in Gaza, where over 30,000 people have now been killed, according to the Hamas run health ministry.

Recent polling in the Ireland showed overwhelming discomfort with Israel's approach to the conflict, with 61% of people saying it should face EU sanctions over its actions in Gaza.

There have also been mounting tensions with Israel's ambassador in Dublin, Dana Erlich, after she accused President Michael D Higgins of making "inflammatory" comments about the conflict.

Despite pushing Mr Biden at the White House on Friday, the Taoiseach still faced criticism from some opposition parties for not going further in his comments.

Paul Murphy, a lawmaker with the left-wing People Before Profit party, sarcastically wrote: "Varadkar clearly really put it to him if Biden felt able to agree."

Ireland has long been one of the most pro-Palestinian voices in the West, informed broadly by the country's colonial history where it was controlled by Britain.

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, a lecturer of History at Trinity College Dublin, said the country's experience "shaped how people from Ireland engage with post-colonial conflicts".

She noted that street murals recently painted in Belfast illustrated the feeling of solidarity that people there feel with the ongoing struggle.

While many may "see the conflict through the prism of Northern Ireland", she added, "this does not mean that Catholics are anti-Zionists and Protestants anti-Palestinian".