Ben Clerkin

Wavering Biden sends Israel a warning shot

Is the new American UN resolution the start of a dramatic about-turn on Israel?


US President Joe Biden (L) listens to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he joins a meeting of the Israeli war cabinet in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. US President Joe Biden landed in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023 as Middle East anger flared after hundreds were killed when a rocket struck a hospital in war-torn Gaza, with Israel and the Palestinians quick to trade blame. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

February 23, 2024 16:10

By tabling a UN resolution calling for a Gaza ceasefire, Joe Biden has fired a shot across Israel’s bows — a very public warning that the US Security Council veto can’t be relied on.

The US vetoed a straightforward ceasefire resolution tabled by Algeria on Tuesday, saying that any deal that didn’t include releasing the hostages would only prolong the conflict.

But it circulated its own draft resolution using the “C” word for the first time.

While, in and of itself, the draft resolution is fairly uncontroversial, it is the first tangible sign of how Biden’s once muscular support for Israel is waning as he is pressured by his own party.

The draft US resolution comes with conditions, including the release of all hostages and the lifting of all barriers to the distribution of humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

It calls for a “viable plan” to protect civilians in Rafah and prevent their displacement. It states that a large ground offensive shouldn’t proceed under current circumstances, which could force civilians into Egypt with “serious implications for regional peace and security”. It’s a dramatic change of position from December when the US vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire because, in part, the text didn’t include any condemnation of Hamas.

Everything for Biden is now is about the US presidential election. Conventional wisdom is that foreign policy does not dictate the winner of American elections. But in a tight contest, which is exactly what 2024 is shaping up to be, it might make the difference in the margins.

Biden embraced the role of world statesman and embodiment of old-fashioned American values when he flew to Israel shortly after October 7 to offer his unswerving support.

He took to the global stage as the clear-eyed leader of the free world to contrast himself with the narcissistic, unstable and inward-looking Donald Trump. He signalled that he wasn’t being controlled by the radical left and perhaps in his wildest dreams even made overtures to Trump’s conservative evangelical base.

Polls suggest his instincts were right. Twice as many US adults said foreign policy is a priority compared with a year ago. About four in 10 said it was an important issue the government should work on in the next year, the Associated Press found in a December poll.

But Biden’s foreign policy decisions have not to date endeared him to the electorate.

Whatever the moral rights and wrongs of sending billions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine, it is an inescapable fact that it is not a wholly popular policy in the country among people struggling to pay their household bills who couldn’t point to the country on a map.

His disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan will be a stain on America’s reputation for decades to come and a hindrance for him at the ballot box.

And his policy towards Iran, or lack thereof, risks gifting the ayatollahs a nuclear bomb in the very near future and changing the world forever.

None of which engenders confidence in his latest change of tack towards Israel. As Barack Obama famously warned a fellow Democrat about Biden being the party’s nominee in 2020, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f**k things up.”

By signalling that he is about to reverse his staunch support for Israel, Biden risks burning the bridges he has built since the start of the war.

Many of those who saw him as an ally will instead see him as the craven party animal they always suspected him to be, while those in his own party he is trying to woo won’t trust him either.

For them it’s too little, too late, Obama’s words, once again, ringing true.

Biden is attempting to thread the needle with his support apparently collapsing in must-win, heavily Arab-American Michigan. But he risks alienating the rest of the country if he lets the state and its radical leaders (Rashida Tlaib was recently the only House member not to vote for a resolution condemning sexual violence committed by Hamas) dictate national policy.

The state’s views fly in the face of what most Americans believe. Overall, 67 per cent say a ceasefire should only happen if the hostages are released and Hamas is removed from power in Gaza, a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll published last month found.

As the election campaign gathers pace, Biden’s draft resolution could be just the first retreat on Israel — the start of a reversal and abandonment of an ally that will make the exit from Afghanistan look dignified.

February 23, 2024 16:10

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