Ben Clerkin

Biden and Harris throw Israel under the Gaza bus

Republican candidate seeks to exploit the Democrats’ weakening of support for war


US President Joe Biden, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, addresses the attacks in Israel from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 7, 2023. Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise large-scale attack against Israel Saturday, firing thousands of rockets from Gaza and sending fighters to kill or abduct people as Israel retaliated with devastating air strikes. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

March 25, 2024 15:10

The US claims that the draft ceasefire resolution it allowed to pass at the UN isn’t a change in its position on Israel or the hostages held by Hamas.

John Kirby, White House national security spokesman, said: “Our vote does not — and I repeat that, does not — represent a shift in our policy.”

Which is a curious statement considering that for the first time the US has separated the issue of a ceasefire and the release of the 134 hostages, including five Americans.

A month ago, the Biden administration floated a draft resolution that made the two issues contingent on one another. No hostage release, no ceasefire, and vice versa. A clear and explicit policy.

However, the resolution passed by the Security Council on Monday, after the US abstained, cleaved the two apart: a ceasefire not conditional on the release of hostages. Clear daylight injected between the two positions.

The text demands “an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan… leading to a lasting ceasefire” and separately “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”.

Allowing a ceasefire resolution to pass, in itself, is also a major shift in US policy. Biden’s UN team has spent the last five months shooting down all resolutions containing the C-word.

Kirby’s words ring hollow.

But the words of the UN resolution will warm the heart of every single Hamas fighter and commander. A ceasefire until the end of Ramadan would allow them to re-group and re-arm. More importantly it would give them real hope of victory. Would the world really allow the war to restart?

With Israel’s boot removed from the neck of the terror group, the only thing pressuring Hamas to release the hostages, surely all hope for their safe return would be lost.

Already Hamas, emboldened by the ceasefire resolution, may have pivoted even further away from a hostage deal, anticipating that the US will eventually force Israel to stop its military campaign anyway.

But while Hamas was pleased with the new US position, welcoming the resolution in a statement on Telegram, it was aimed squarely at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a bullhorn message that he cannot take US support for granted. The only question now: how much further is Biden prepared to go?

Biden fears America is being dragged into an interminable war that Netanyahu is prolonging in order to avoid elections and an Israeli population that blames him for failing to defend the country on October 7.

He also has an unhappy Democratic party to placate as well as rather a lot of voters in must-win Michigan, 101,000 of whom voted “uncommitted” in the Democratic primary.

The needle on the pressure gauge of relations between the two men is already in the red. An explosion and fracture is inevitable if the promised Rafah campaign goes ahead.

Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defence Minister, gave no sign Israel would implement the UN ceasefire.

“We will operate against Hamas everywhere, including in places where we have not yet been,” he said. “We have no moral right to stop the war while there are still hostages held in Gaza.”

Vice President Kamala Harris suggested last weekend that Israel might face “consequences” if it launches a major military operation in Rafah.

“We have been clear in multiple conversations and in every way that any major military operation in Rafah would be a huge mistake,” Harris said.

Will Biden really censure Israel if it goes into Rafah? Canada has already banned arms exports to Israel. However, if Biden follows that lead the latest Pew Research Center poll suggests he would be out of step with the mainstream view of Americans. It found that 58 per cent think Israel's reasons for fighting Hamas are valid.

The Security Council has no means of enforcing the ceasefire resolution, which is considered international law, but it could impose punitive measures, such as sanctions, on Israel.

Biden is isolating Israel. He believes he is doing so for the good of America and the good of the Democratic party. But the real truth of his new position is that he refuses to acknowledge that it is a new position. In it he knows there is something shameful: the letting down of an ally at war and the slow abandonment of 134 innocent hostages that include Americans.

By contrast, Donald Trump has no such qualms about voicing his support for Israel. And he sparked a trademark storm of controversy when he took aim at Jews who vote for Democrats.

"I actually think they [Jews who vote for Democrats] hate Israel. And the Democrat Party hates Israel,” he said in rather blunt messaging.

"Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion. They hate everything about Israel and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed."

Trump also criticised Senator Chuck Schumer after he called for Netanyahu to move aside and for new elections to be held in Israel.

March 25, 2024 15:10

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