Biden’s call for Netanyahu to de-escalate Israel’s Gaza campaign raises questions

Omar Nahla, Thursday 20 May 2021

However, Biden reiterated his staunch support for Israel’s right to defend itself against 'indiscriminate rocket attacks'

Joe Biden and Benajmin Netanyahu
A combined image for both US President Joe Biden and Israel Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu.

US President Joe Biden spoke to Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu twice this week -- on Monday and Wednesday -- about Israel’s ongoing aerial and artillery campaign on the Gaza Strip, raising questions on the continued assault after 10 days of Israel’s bombardment of the coastal enclave.

Biden called for an immediate “significant de-escalation” on Wednesday after he had expressed support to a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions, which mainly include Hamas -- the Islamist armed group that rules Gaza -- and the Islamic Jihad.

However, Biden reiterated his staunch support for Israel’s right to defend itself against “indiscriminate rocket attacks” in a call that came a few hours before the start of the ninth day of Israeli aggression on Gaza. Additionally, Biden and Netanyahu “discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” according to a White House statement.

This also leads to questions on the extent to which the US is ready to push for ending Israel’s brutal use of force on Gaza.

It is worth noting that the arrival of Biden to the White House was arguably a positive sign for the Palestinians who wanted him to follow the course of Barack Obama. Obama, with whom Biden worked as his vice president, has engaged in a political battle with Netanyahu to stop building further Israeli settlements, which is illegal under international law. But it didn’t work out as the Palestinians had hoped.

“The Biden administration has tools at its disposal to encourage an immediate ceasefire, but instead they have chosen to publicly support Israel's actions and approve $735 million of additional arms sales to Israel, actions that will only contribute to further violence and insecurity,” Sean Lee, assistant professor of political science at the American University in Cairo (AUC), told Ahram Online.

The US’ reluctance to definitively crack down on the Israeli government’s bloodlust even extends to the UN. This week, Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that urges a ceasefire and expressed concerned about the expected eviction of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

France submitted a new draft resolution on Wednesday. But the US will likely act in the same way again, favouring diplomacy.

In a call between Biden and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, Biden “stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel,” turning a blind eye to the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, the protests and riots that followed, the attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque by right-wing Israeli settlers, and over 200 Palestinian deaths and more than 1,000 injured — including women and children.

“The Biden administration is continuing a long history of unconditional support for Israeli attacks on Gaza and the continued repression of Palestinians in the occupied territories and increasingly within the green line as well. Democratic administrations often frame this support as a way of gaining leverage over Israeli behaviour on other issues, a strategy which time and time again has been shown to be totally ineffective,” Lee added.

Biden’s calls for a ceasefire came as Gaza is suffering from millions of dollars-worth damage in properties and infrastructure, an imminent electrical blackout, fuel shortages, as well as Israeli targeting of refugee camps, hospitals, schools, and offices of media outlets.

The current Israeli bombardment of Gaza is a familiar chapter in the history of Israeli offensive campaigns in the Hamas-controlled enclave which took place in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Furthermore, Israel -- which has been imposing a blockade on Gaza since Hamas took power -- regularly launches aerial attacks on Gaza in different times of the year, especially in parallel with growing tensions with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Egypt and Western governments normally take diplomatic steps to end any wave of Israeli violence on Gaza once it erupts.

The Israeli wars on Gaza have claimed the lives of almost 10,000 Palestinians since the year 2000, leading to the injury of thousands. In 2014 alone, UN figures suggest, 60,000 Gazan homes were partially or totally destroyed. Damage to public services, including water, electricity, and sanitation, can be added to the list.

Unlike Donald Trump, Biden has mentioned his support for a two-state solution numerous times in recent days. But current events posit the question of whether this is his roundabout way of making Palestinians desperate enough to push for a solution where they remain disenfranchised.

The Trump administration chose a hardline approach to the Israel-Palestine question, opting to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, labelling it the "undivided capital" of Israel and cutting humanitarian aid to the UN Palestinian refugees’ agency (UNRWA). 

Throughout Trump’s term, Palestinians -- who have always wanted a two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders that makes East Jerusalem the capital of their future state -- decided to boycott him. This also ended hopes for reviving the peace process, which has been stalled since 2014. 

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