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Traveling to Europe, Biden will find both solidarity and isolation

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PARIS — When President Joe Biden lands in France today, he will be rallying European leaders to his side and showcasing the resolve he has helped to foster on behalf of Ukraine.

But he will also be defying the very same leaders and standing virtually alone among Western democracies still firmly in support of Israel as it wages war in the Gaza Strip.

When Biden arrives in France for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, it will be his first time in Europe since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack led by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people in Israel and triggered a military retaliation that has killed about 36,000 people in Gaza. Next week he will return to Europe for a summit in Italy with the leaders of the Group of 7 nations, and three weeks after that he will host the 75th anniversary summit of NATO nations in Washington.

The series of meetings will put Biden in a position he has not experienced since becoming president: He will be embraced and isolated at the same time by the same group of allies he has courted for nearly four years. For a president who has emphasized his support for America’s traditional alliances, it represents a challenge that will test his diplomatic skills in unfamiliar ways.

“Gaza undermines the moral clarity of the argument they want to make about Ukraine,” said Peter Beinart, a professor of journalism and politics at the City University of New York and a longtime analyst of Middle East affairs who has been critical of Israel’s government. “The Gaza war makes that story a lot less compelling to a lot of people.”

Ivo Daalder, who was an ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama, acknowledged the tension in Biden’s approach.

“Yes, it seems to be slightly contradictory to be making one argument on Russia and another argument on Israel,” said Daalder, who now serves as president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “But the situations are different. One was attacked, and the other did the attacking. It’s pretty big.”

The European allies, with a couple of notable exceptions, have been strongly aligned with Washington for more than two years in the multinational campaign to defeat Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, broadly matching U.S. investments in the war with their own commitments to Ukraine. But the Europeans have grown increasingly critical of how Israel is conducting its operation in Gaza over the past nine months, even as the Biden administration has rejected efforts by the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to seek arrest warrants for Israeli leaders on war crime charges.

The disparate priorities will play out at an event meant to showcase Western unity and resolve. The D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944, will be celebrated as a high-water mark of the alliance that defeated Nazi Germany. French President Emmanuel Macron will host leaders of the World War II partner countries, including King Charles, Queen Camilla, Prince William and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, representing the two nations that joined the United States in staging the climactic amphibious invasion.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, representing the vanquished enemy, will also attend in a show of Europe’s reconciliation. Not present, however, will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite the Soviet Union’s alliance with the West during the war. Macron’s government initially invited lower-level Russian representatives to participate but rescinded the offer after objections stemming from Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine. By contrast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will attend the ceremony, an opportunity for him to press Western leaders for more aid.

John Kirby, a White House spokesperson, said Biden knew that not every nation agrees with his policies. “Disagreements with allies and partners is not something new to President Biden,” Kirby said, “any more than unity and cooperation and collaboration, which he also fosters across a range of issues.”

The meetings between Biden and the allies come at a critical moment in both Europe and the Middle East. Ukraine is trying to fend off an escalating Russian offensive that threatens to break through its eastern defenses in a decisive way after two years of grinding combat. Hundreds of miles away, Israel and Hamas are both under pressure to agree to a cease-fire deal that could be the final chance for a path toward a more sustainable peace in the region.

Biden on Friday outlined such a cease-fire agreement that would eventually lead to the release of all hostages held by Hamas, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a “permanent” end to the war. By advancing a deal that Europeans can support, the president may have found a way to minimize differences when he arrives in Paris.

The Group of 7 nations, including the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, issued a statement Monday endorsing the deal that Biden outlined and calling on Hamas to accept it.

At the same time, Biden addressed another difficult issue before the trip by authorizing Ukraine for the first time to use U.S.-provided weapons against targets inside Russia for self-defense in limited circumstances, something France, Britain, Germany, Poland and other allies had already embraced.

“The only way out of such a dilemma is to push ahead on both problems — help Ukraine do better or win and get Israel on a path to peace,” said Dan Fried, a retired diplomat now at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

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