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Biden’s new tough line on Israel does nothing for ceasefire in Gaza

Despite Biden’s decision to stop a shipment of arms, Netanyahu continues his egregiously heinous assault on Gaza

Biden’s new tough line on Israel does nothing for ceasefire in Gaza
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing the genocidal war on Gaza even as mediatorsQatar, Egypt, and the US, not always united in their search for a solution to this seemingly irresolvable conundrumhave been burning the midnight oil in Cairo and elsewhere for days.  

On 9 May, weary negotiators left Cairo without any agreement, primarily because of Netanyahu’s obduracy.

Despite Biden’s decision to stop a shipment of arms, Netanyahu has started his egregiously heinous assault on Rafah, which currently hosts about 1.5 million civilians. Thousands will be killed by the Israeli military unless this macabre dance of death is halted.

Why did the negotiators fail?

The primary reason for the failure is that Netanyahu was never serious or sincere, as he and his far-right supporters, on whom he depends for political survival, did not want an agreement.  Netanyahu has repeated ad nauseum that he wants to ‘eliminate’ Hamas so that post-ceasefire it would not be able to restore its military capabilities or to project itself as the best agency to administer Gaza, even under the most draconian Israeli control.

Netanyahu faces opposition from his far-right partners in the ruling coalition, which holds a razor-thin majority of 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu’s far-right allies, who have 14 seats in the Knesset, have threatened to withdraw support, potentially leading to an election. Netanyahu’s declining popularity makes it difficult for him to win any fresh election. 

Recent polls indicate that Benny Grantz, a former army chief who is currently serving as a minister without portfolio in Netanyahu’s war cabinet, is far ahead of rivals as the acceptable leader Israel needs as it faces an exceptionally difficult situation.

There is a general impression in Israel that Netanyahu wants to prolong and, if need be, expand the war by involving Iran and its allies in the region, mainly to prevent the election he is likely to lose. Once he ceases to be prime minister, the corruption case against him will be revived and he might even go to jail.

In short, Netanyahu finds himself between the devil and the deep sea.

Similar is the case with US President Joe Biden. His ‘iron-clad’ support for Israel’s war on Gaza has compelled him to punch below his weight vis-à-vis Netanyahu, who has repeatedly rejected Biden’s plea to reduce civilian killings and permit more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.

On 6 May, Biden announced that he had stopped a shipment of arms to Israel owing to Netanyahu’s insistence on going ahead with the planned assault on Rafah. Apparently, the decision to halt the shipment was taken a few days before and the actual announcement was delayed based on the calculation that Netanyahu would budge.

Obviously, the White House had miscalculated. Netanyahu defiantly said that Israel would go ahead with its planned assault as it needed no external support. 

He might be right in terms of the military assets needed for this specific operation. On 7 May, the Israeli military took control of the Rafah border crossing and stopped the entry of all humanitarian aid to Gaza.

The stopped shipment of arms contained 1,800 two-thousand-pound bombs and 1,700 five- hundred-pound bombs.  It should be emphasized that the first variety had not been supplied to Ukraine to counter the formidable Russian military. The Israeli military used the 2,000-pound bombs in the north of Gaza on civilian sites. 

Biden’s new tough line

Why did Biden think that Israel needed it against Hamas? Did Biden not know that Netanyahu would use it against civilian sites?

We may conclude that Biden does not care for Palestinian lives and his stopping of shipment is essentially because of his anxiety to ensure his re-election in the face of student protests spreading like wildfire. Whether this half-hearted forced gesture will get him re-elected is a question we shall not examine here.

Let us examine the three-stage deal that Netanyahu rejected. It reportedly includes a first phase lasting up to 40 days, in which at least 33 of the 128 hostages held in Gaza would be released, along with an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrawal from parts of the strip. The first phase would allow for the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza and the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for hostages. 

The potential second phase would last for 42 days and see the release of all other living hostages and the sides completing arrangements for sustainable calm in Gaza.

The third and final phase, which would see an exchange of bodies, would also last 42 days. The details of the deals are based on various reports as no official text has been made public.

Palestinians have stated that Israel had rejected a proposal for a permanent ceasefire. Hamas is blaming Israel for the breakdown of talks. Israel, on the other hand, has stated that it wanted to choose the hostages to be released and that dead bodies should not be counted among the 33.

Reacting to Biden administration’s decision to stop the arms shipment, Israel’s far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir posted on X: “HamasBiden”. 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog reportedly scolded the minister and the leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, called on Netanyahu to sack him. However, there has been no sacking.

Of course, the Israeli military does not need the stopped shipment for the planned assault on Rafah as Biden has already oversupplied arms to Israel. Further, even while announcing the stopping, he reiterated his support for Israel’s defense. 

So, if Netanyahu provokes Iran into retaliating by 4 or 5 repeated attacks, Biden will rush to Israel’s defense. In short, the stopping of a shipment is too late and too little. It is an empty gesture and Biden wanted to ensure that it is empty. Biden’s policy is a study in self-contradiction. 

Aristotle said that when a person contradicts himself, his opponent does not have to counter-argue.


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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