Home North America Joe Biden’s Israel Dilemma: Too Far, Or Not Far Enough?

Joe Biden’s Israel Dilemma: Too Far, Or Not Far Enough?

The president has come under enormous pressure from his party's left wing to do more to address the humanitarian catastrophe for Palestinian civilians from Israeli attacks. Others disagree.
Joe Biden with Benjamin Netanyahu
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv. (Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS)

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s demand that Israel improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza and support an immediate ceasefire drew sharp attacks from frustrated political allies who said the U.S. president didn’t go far enough, and opponents who said he went too far.

On Thursday in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden threatened to condition U.S. support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza on its taking concrete steps to protect aid workers and civilians.

It was the first time that Biden, a Democrat and a staunch supporter of Israel, has sought to leverage U.S. aid as a way to influence Israeli military behaviour.

The president has come under enormous pressure from his party’s left wing to do more to address the humanitarian catastrophe for Palestinian civilians from Israeli attacks.

“There should not be a total blank check. We should not have a pattern where the Netanyahu government ignores the president of the United States and we just send more 2,000-pound bombs,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, told Reuters. Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Biden also should be more “publicly vocal” about U.S. expectations for the campaign in Gaza and take a new approach at the U.N. Security Council rather than blocking resolutions critical of Israel.

Other left-leaning politicians had similar complaints.

“One day the president is ‘angry’ at Netanyahu, the next day he is ‘very angry,’ the next day he is ‘very very angry.’ So what? At the same time there is support for more military aid (to Israel) in a supplemental bill,” Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said on the popular Pod Save America podcast on Thursday.

“You cannot continue to talk about your worries about [a] humanitarian situation in Gaza and then give Netanyahu another $10 billion, or more bombs. You cannot do that. That is hypocritical,” he said.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said there should be an immediate ceasefire. “I do not believe that opening up a new crossing into Gaza is enough,” he said on MSNBC on Friday.
Israel has said it approved the reopening of the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and the temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel, following the U.S. demands to increase humanitarian aid supplies into Gaza.

Murphy also questioned Biden’s strategy. “I think it is a moment where we have to recognize that this quiet but firm pressure the administration has been applying is not doing enough to advance our security interests.”

While many Democrats criticized Biden for not going far enough on demanding concessions by Israel, some Republicans, who have generally been more supportive of military aid for Israel, lashed out at Biden for his change in tactic.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton accused Biden of making the shift to aid his reelection chances in the November presidential election. “To help his polls in Michigan, Joe Biden just strengthened Hamas’s negotiating position. He effectively encouraged Hamas to hold out and not release the hostages. Shameful,” Cotton said on X on Friday.

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Republican Representative Brian Mast, a member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement accused Biden of “trying to appease far-left lunatics by demanding Israel accept a ceasefire with terrorists,” and said that was “putting lives at risk in a desperate attempt to boost his poll numbers.

Families of hostages taken by Hamas on October 7 said a push for a ceasefire without their release could be dangerous.

“For all those asking for an immediate ceasefire without the release of the hostages, ‘Where is your moral compass?'” Orna Neutra, mother of Omer Neutra, said Friday at a news conference with other hostage families in New York City. “A ceasefire with no deal, or even a partial deal, could be a death sentence for our son and other hostages.”

The White House declined to spell out how U.S. policy would change if Israel does not meet Biden’s demands.

Israel has received more U.S. foreign aid than any other country since World War Two, although annual assistance has been dwarfed by funding and military equipment sent to Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

The United States has traditionally shielded Israel in the U.N. Security Council, and vetoed three draft resolutions on the war in Gaza. It has also abstained three times to allow the 15-member council to take action – most recently last month when it demanded an immediate ceasefire.

Israel took action right after Biden put his foot down, others noted, suggesting it should have happened sooner. “Within hours of Biden threatening to suspend U.S. military aid to Israel, Netanyahu agrees to open a major crossing for humanitarian aid into northern Gaza, where starvation is widespread. Biden always had that leverage but wouldn’t use it,” said Kenneth Roth, former executive director at Human Rights Watch and now a professor at Princeton University’s School for Public and International Affairs.

Asked by Reuters on Thursday why Biden had shifted his position, White House spokesperson John Kirby said the president had been shaken by the Israeli attack that killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers.

“I guess that some deaths count a whole lot more than others,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the progressive-leaning Center for American Progress think tank, comparing Biden’s reaction to the deaths of the seven aid workers to the thousands already killed in the Gaza war.
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