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Biden, Netanyahu in a bind over ceasefire plan

Even after eight months of war, Netanyahu hasn't secured the hostages' release, while Biden may be weighing how his staunch support for Israel will affect  his re-election chances

Biden, Netanyahu in a bind over ceasefire plan
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

US President Joe Biden, on 31 May, spoke to media about a proposal to usher in a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, to be followed by arrangements including reconstruction for the post-ceasefire phase.

Earlier, on 26 May, the Israeli military had killed about 45 civilians at Kuwaiti Al-Salam camp in Rafah in an airstrike. The New York Times reported that the reputedly ‘precise’ GBU-39 bombs supplied by the Pentagon were used in the strike. The use of such weapons against civilians raises questions that both Tel Aviv and Washington should answer.

What prompted Biden to come out with the ceasefire proposal, which normally should have been put forward by mediators like Qatar and Egypt, or by Israel itself?

Biden claimed he was quoting from a four-and-a-half-page Israeli paper and that Tel Aviv had been informed in advance. As a candidate seeking re-election, Biden seemed intent on avoiding the appearance of being unable to impose a ceasefire on Netanyahu.

There are three parts, or rather stages, to the proposal.

According to the White House, the first phase would last for six weeks and include a full and complete ceasefire; the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza; and the release of a number of hostages—including women, the elderly, and the wounded — in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Some American hostages, if not all, would be released at this stage.

The remains of some of the hostages who have been killed would be returned to their families, bringing some degree of closure. Palestinian civilians would return to their homes and neighborhoods in all areas of Gaza, including the north. Humanitarian assistance would surge, with 600 trucks carrying aid into Gaza every day. Israel and Hamas would negotiate the necessary arrangements to get to phase two, which is a permanent end to hostilities. If the first stage takes longer than six weeks, the ceasefire will continue until the negotiations conclude

In stage two, all remaining hostages, including male soldiers, would be exchanged. Israeli forces would exit Gaza, and if Hamas adheres to its commitments, the ceasefire would become permanent.

Finally, in phase three, a major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence, and any final remains of hostages who have been killed would be returned.

Hamas has responded positively to the proposal, while Israel’s reaction has been negative. Immediately after Biden spoke, Ophir Falk, the chief foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that what Biden outlined was a deal Israel had agreed to. “It’s not a good deal but we dearly want the hostages released, all of them.”

However, the reaction from two right-wing politicians–national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich–has been vehemently negative. They have publicly threatened to leave the cabinet and bring down the government, necessitating a general election.

Netanyahu has stated that there is no change in his stance that the military operation should continue until Hamas is completely eliminated. He seems to believe that what has not been achieved after eight months of war can be achieved with more violence.

It follows that Biden came out with the proposal to put pressure on Netanyahu to agree to it. Biden, the candidate, has concluded that an early ceasefire would be in his interest.

With the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Israel on 24 May to cease military operations in Gaza, Biden is coming under increased pressure to use his powers as the main supporter and protector of Israel to put an end to the genocidal war that Netanyahu has been conducting in violation of international law and the norms of behavior expected of a United Nations member state.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, established in 1949, periodically reports on Gaza. In its latest report, it points out that two-thirds of Gaza’s population of over 2 million people have been concentrated in an area less than 69 sq. km (about the area of Cleveland, Ohio), or about 29,000 people per square kilometer. To put this in perspective, Delhi has a population density of 29,500 per sq. km.

The Gazans are enduring a dire situation, with just one toilet for 4,130 people, inadequate shelter, limited access to safe water, food, and medicines, and the Israeli military targeting hospitals, resulting in the deaths of doctors and medical staff. They live in constant fear of being killed by bombs being indiscriminately dropped by Israel.

As of 5 June, the Gaza ministry of health said 36,479 Palestinians have been killed, and 82,777 injured. The actual figure might be higher due to poor telecommunication facilities and the number of individuals remaining buried under debris.

Israel’s international standing has suffered considerably. Spain, Ireland, and Norway have recognized the State of Palestine, prompting Israel to recall its ambassadors. Additionally, the Parliament of Slovenia has passed a resolution to recognize the State of Palestine.

French President Macron has spoken to Netanyahu, urging him to move forward with the proposal as outlined by Biden. If Netanyahu does so, he risks his government falling and facing a general election.

Meanwhile, the families of the hostages have been demonstrating, calling for his resignation.

The crux of the matter is that after eight months of war, with all the arms supplied by Washington, Netanyahu has not secured the release of the hostages. Additionally, he has not “eliminated” the military capability of Hamas, as evidenced by rocket attacks on Tel Aviv a few days ago.

Netanyahu finds himself facing a dilemma, and we do not know which way the cat will jump.

Biden must be contemplating how his unwavering support for Israel is affecting his chances of re-election. Trump’s recent conviction by a New York court in a felony case hasn’t disqualified him from running for the Presidency, and paradoxically, some of his supporters view the verdict as bolstering his support base. This poses a major challenge to Biden, whose base is slipping away because of his unconditional support to Netanyahu.

A few questions arise: Will Biden halt arms shipments to Israel and make an announcement? If he does, how will Republicans, especially Trump, react? Would America pay for the reconstruction of Gaza since it supplied the weapons?

In essence, Biden’s diplomacy seems to have painted him into a corner with its perceived ineptness.


KP Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. More

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