Biden, Netanyahu and the day after in Gaza

The United States' abstention from voting on the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a two-week ceasefire in Gaza linked to the release of Israeli hostages should be interpreted as an American signal of displeasure with the way Netanyahu leads the war and his adamant refusal to address ideas for what should come next.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 April 2024 Monday 10:22
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Biden, Netanyahu and the day after in Gaza

The United States' abstention from voting on the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a two-week ceasefire in Gaza linked to the release of Israeli hostages should be interpreted as an American signal of displeasure with the way Netanyahu leads the war and his adamant refusal to address ideas for what should come next.

Netanyahu's excessive attack on the United States' refusal to veto the resolution constitutes a cynical political trick aimed at the base of his political power, to which he needs to demonstrate that he is the unconditional protector of national interests even if that means challenging his only ally. and benefactor of Israel. Pure politics, nothing more. It is also quite possible that Netanyahu knows that even a large-scale attack on Rafah, which the Americans oppose, will not bring him the “total victory” he supposedly seeks and, therefore, that he is preparing the ground to blame the United States. United from breaking the promise made to their right-wing political base.

Netanyahu has outlasted four American presidents in power; With three of them he has had loud disputes in order to demonstrate to his electoral base how far he can go in defending the interests of the nation. The only one he hasn't fought with has been Donald Trump. The result: plotting with him to get the United States to disengage from the nuclear deal with Iran, a measure that has given the Iranians free rein to pursue the bomb. Iran is today a nuclear threshold state. It is difficult to imagine a more self-destructive move for Israel's strategic security.

Joe Biden draws a clear distinction between Israel and Netanyahu, whose irresponsible behavior has become a threat to US strategic interests in the Middle East and an obstacle to any kind of political solution other than the perpetuation of the occupation. In reality, Netanyahu is not considered an ally of the United States in any area, and the American perception of his search for a head-on confrontation with the Biden presidency has already become a working hypothesis. A recent report by the US intelligence services alludes to him as if he were the dubious president of a republic in Central Asia or South America whose leadership “is in danger.”

Since October 7, Biden's love and support for Israel has taken precedence over his deep animosity toward Netanyahu. Biden knows from personal experience as Barak Obama's vice president that Netanyahu has gambled with Republicans and evangelicals in the United States and that he has challenged Democratic presidencies with characteristic arrogance. However, today he is a Democratic president who has saved Israel from a crisis of unprecedented magnitude since the creation of the State. General strategic considerations and a genuine love for Zion, despite paying a high domestic political price (the kind of payment Netanyahu would never have made for any value) have led Biden to come to Israel's aid.

Americans rightly take issue with Israel for its refusal to confront the issue of the day after the war. War is supposed to make sense in the context of a political objective. Therefore, in the absence of a political exit strategy, Hamas's plan to “Vietnamize” the battlefield appears capable of engulfing Israel in the Gaza mud. The echoes of Colonel Harry Summers' famous quote in his book On Strategy about the Vietnam War must also be heard in Gaza. “You know that you have never defeated us on the battlefield,” the officer replied, “but that is also irrelevant.” What matters is the political outcome. Otherwise, the use of force can lead to pure nihilism, a desire to maximize power as the exclusive objective. Yet Netanyahu continues to refuse to address the issue of a post-war political settlement for the devastated Strip, let alone a longer-term vision for a solution to the Palestinian problem.

It seems that, for Netanyahu, the war now has a very limited political objective: to maintain the cohesion of his far-right coalition. A coalition that would dissolve as soon as there was progress towards any post-war agreement that did not involve continued occupation or demographic cleansing and recolonization of the Strip by Israeli settlers.

Joe Biden's peace plan for the Middle East, which involves regaining the path towards a two-state solution and the full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, offers Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to save their respective national projects of the shipwreck of their own self-destructive policies. Biden recognizes that progress toward Israeli-Arab peace has historically occurred after major wars and strategic changes. In this case, however, the prospects for a diplomatic resolution remain bleak given Israel's security concerns and territorial ambitions, and also what Israelis see as inflexible Palestinian demands. Turning the two-state solution from a useful diplomatic cliché into a viable reality is a herculean task.

However, now that this idea has been resurrected as a panacea for the region's ills, as an essential element of a vision of the Middle East where the United States, Israel and the Arab world are united in a regional system of peace and security, at least What Israel owes to itself and also to the United States is to test for the last time the viability of the concept of a completely demilitarized Palestinian State.

Israel will have to choose one of two paths: accept as a basis for negotiations the “Biden plan”, the essence of which is a gradual change in the political dynamics of the Middle East and the security architecture of the region; or stick to the “Netanyahu plan”, which involves staying in power, denying the geopolitical reality by subordinating it to political and personal needs, ignoring the relationship between the criminal terrorist attacks of October 7 and the Palestinian cause, rushing with your eyes open towards the reality of “one state” and international isolation.

There are strong arguments against the US plan: it is too ambitious, it has too many loose ends and independent variables, there is not enough synchronization of interests, some regional interlocutors are not credible... therefore, it is possible that the United States is placing himself on the path to failure. Now, the main flaw of the plan is not its degree of viability, but the fact that Netanyahu refuses to give it a chance. Furthermore, Washington admits that it does not really have allies in the Israeli political system; not even among the opposition parties, who are quick to repeat the rejection expressed by the prime minister. The upcoming US presidential election adds another layer of uncertainty. The top priority now should be to end the carnage and stabilize the region. However, by linking the search for a ceasefire to the fading prospect of a two-state solution, American diplomats risk prolonging the conflict and allowing Netanyahu to unite the country behind his discredited leadership and thereby save his political career. The truth is that no exit formula will work as long as Netanyahu's coalition is in power.

Netanyahu knows perfectly well that the entire project can collapse, as it has always done, because of the behavior of the Palestinians; but his coalition of messianic extremists and Jewish supremacists will not even allow him the tactical exercise of giving a conditional yes to Biden's vision. The differences between Hamas and the PLO regarding the approval of the Oslo Accords, which include the recognition of Israel and the abandonment of the armed struggle (two conditions without which the international community will not accept Hamas as a legitimate political interlocutor), do not They constitute a major obstacle not only to the administration of a post-war Gaza but also to the broader vision of a two-state solution. If there was any doubt about this, it has been dispelled with the recent publication of an 18-page document in which Hamas explains the reasons for the war, but does not offer any reasonable political objectives.

The document basically deals with the need to punish the “Zionist occupier.” It makes no reference to the association with the PLO, to the desired political solution or to the willingness to examine the two-state formula. The cause of Palestine suffers, therefore, from a hitherto irreconcilable division between the two branches of its national movement. Abbas's PLO is committed to a "political solution", while Hamas continues to fanatically aspire to a utopian vindication of the "historical" rights stolen from the Palestinian people. For Hamas, the type of Palestinian state that the PLO can obtain from Israel would enshrine the loss of Palestinians' historic rights to an undivided Palestine from the river to the sea.

Israel must be saved in spite of itself, as the late American diplomat George Ball proposed many years ago. The sanctions that the United States and some European countries have imposed on Jewish settlers for their harassment of local Palestinians constitute a precedent that marks a change in the rules of the game. Israel is no longer immune from international sanctions, and other areas of its activities in the occupied territories may be punished in the future. Israel has proven to be an irresponsible occupier; and never before have there been more favorable conditions for the establishment of an international mandate that transfers responsibility for the territories to an international administration.