Biden and the Gaza war

Harsha Kakar
Confusion prevails in the US on how exactly to manage the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict. This is compounded by forthcoming elections where Biden faces Donald Trump. Trump has largely maintained his silence on the conflict, though his leanings towards Israel is well established, letting Biden face public anger. It has become fashionable, especially amongst western youth, to support the weak, in this case the Palestinians, ignoring that they fired the first bullet.
Their logic is unprecedented deaths due to Israel’s employment of disproportionate firepower. The difficulty for the Biden administration is that they are desperate to hold onto Muslim-American, African-Americans as also Jewish votes, while engaging with Israel.
In a CNN interview in early May, Biden mentioned that his administration will not supply ammunition to Israel in case it launches a major offensive on Rafah. Subsequently, the US paused delivery of bombs to Israel. He mentioned, ‘we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.’ Biden hoped this would resonate with his Muslim-American as also antisemitism voters. Once Israel attacked Rafah, the US Secretary of State commented, ‘Rafah killings did not cross red line and (US) would not change its policy.’
A day prior to his CNN interview, addressing a holocaust event in Washington, Biden mentioned, ‘They are already forgetting that Hamas unleashed this terror. It was Hamas that brutalized Israelis. It was Hamas who continue to hold hostages.’ A few days later, members of his administration met Jewish community leaders to assuage their anger on blocking supply of weapons.
Jewish community leaders expressed dismay at the Biden administration decision of stopping supplies of armaments to Israel. Jack Sullivan the National Security Advisor conveyed the government view, ‘Ironclad (support) doesn’t mean you never disagree; it means you work through your disagreements – as only a true friend can do’. Sullivan added that the US, ‘(does) not believe that what is happening in Gaza is a genocide.’
A fortnight later, addressing graduates of the historically Black Morehouse College Biden admitted that there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He mentioned, ‘that’s why I have called for an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting.’ Many students turned their back on him when he spoke, indicating that they stand with a weaker Palestine. Biden’s intent to win support of African-Americans, possibly failed.
Sterlin Waters, a member of the US national security council stated in an undercover recorded interview, ‘We can help you (Israel) in the way that we can, but you’re not going to continue to lie, and bomb, and kill all these kids without facing serious consequences. But that’s a second term decision.’ He meant that US hesitates to act against Israel until its elections conclude. He added, ‘There’s a huge, powerful Jewish influence in Republican and Democrat politics.’
The International Criminal Court (ICC) considering arrest warrants for the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, alongside those of Hamas leaders, drew strong reactions from the White House. Conversely, US allies, France and Belgium welcomed the consideration by the ICC.
Addressing a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House, Biden mentioned, ‘we reject the ICC’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders. There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.’ Biden also added, ‘What’s happening is not genocide.’
the contrary, the ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, stated in an interview, ‘I’ve had some elected (western) leaders speak to me and they were very blunt. This court is built for Africa and for thugs like Putin.’ An arrest warrant for Putin has already been issued on charges of ‘illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.’ Karim mocked western views.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), based on a request from South Africa, which has been joined by Egypt, called on Israel to stop its offensive in Gaza and implement a ceasefire, drawing the ire of the US. An order by the ICJ is binding but they have no power to enforce it. Russia ignores ICJ’s directive to stop its invasion of Ukraine. Israel follows, aware it has US support.
Adding to US’s problem of balancing support for Israel while attempting to display concern for Palestinians took a further beating when Norway, Spain, Slovenia and Ireland officially recognized Palestine. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey welcomed the announcement. Malta is possibly the next, while Belgium announced that they are waiting for an opportune moment. Divisions within Europe are emerging.
Earlier the UN General Assembly unanimously accorded recognition to Palestine, which was a slap on Israel and the US. Overall, 145 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Palestine, including ten of the G20 countries.
The Norwegian Government spokesperson mentioned, ‘terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and Israel. Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state.’ Washington countered, ‘a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations, not through unilateral recognition.’
Biden is struggling to project a balance between humanitarian aid and support to Israel, but is losing the script. An article in the Guardian of last week mentions, ‘The indiscriminate bombing and civilian massacres that have accompanied Israel’s assault are a moral catastrophe that has shaken many Americans’ souls.’ It adds, ‘The genocide in Gaza has quickly become a moral rallying cry for many Americans, particularly young people and people of color.’
The Hill, in an op-ed mentioned that the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest religious and civic institutions for Black Americans gave a call for stopping all aid to Israel. Post the call, Biden is likely to lose support of the community. Another publication, ‘In These Times,’ quotes a YouGov poll which states ‘20% of Black supporters are less likely to show up for Biden at the ballot box.’
Surprisingly, on the war in Ukraine, there has been support for the Biden administration enabling it to continue arming Ukraine.
Biden would need to reconsider his approach, which he would in the near future. His options include increased criticism of Israel and its handling of the conflict, bringing about an agreement between Hamas and Tel Aviv or ending the war early. In case the conflict lingers, as Israel claims it would, Biden could face US voters’ wrath.
The author is Major General (Retd)