Biden, Netanyahu and the next day in Gaza

The United States' abstention in the vote 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 a sign of the America is dismayed by the way Netanyahu is running the war and the resounding refusal to entertain ideas for what comes next.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 April 2024 Monday 11:22
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Biden, Netanyahu and the next day in Gaza

The United States' abstention in the vote 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 a sign of the America is dismayed by the way Netanyahu is running the war and the resounding refusal to entertain ideas for what comes next. Netanyahu's outsized attack on the United States' refusal to veto the resolution is a cynical political ploy aimed at the base of his political power, to whom he needs to prove that he is the unconditional protector of national interests, even if it means defying the 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 wants, and therefore that he is preparing the ground to blame the United States for breaking the promise it made to its right-wing political base. Netanyahu has outlived four American presidents in power; with three he has had great disputes 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: conspiring with him to get the United States to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran, a measure that has given the Iranians a chance to encourage themselves to get the bomb. Iran is today a quasi-nuclear state. It is hard to imagine a more self-destructive maneuver for Israel's strategic security.

Joe Biden draws a clear distinction between Israel and Netanyahu, whose irresponsible behavior has become a threat to America's strategic interests in the Middle East and an obstacle to any kind of political solution other than perpetuation of employment Netanyahu is not really considered an ally of the United States in any field, and the perception of the United States about seeking a head-on confrontation with the Biden presidency has already become a working hypothesis. A recent US intelligence report alludes to him as if he were the dubious president of a Central Asian or South American republic with leadership "in peril." Since October 7, Biden's love and support for Israel has prevailed over his deep animosity toward Netanyahu. Biden knows from personal experience as Barack Obama's vice president that Netanyahu has sided with Republicans and evangelicals in America and has challenged Democratic presidencies with his characteristic arrogance. Nevertheless, today it is a democratic president who has saved Israel from a difficulty of unprecedented magnitude since the creation of the State. Overarching strategic considerations and a genuine love for Zion, despite the high domestic political price he has paid for it (the kind of payment Netanyahu would never have made for anything) have led Biden to help Israel.

Americans rightly disagree with Israel for its refusal to face the issue of the aftermath of the war. War is supposed to make sense in the context of a political goal. Therefore, in the absence of a political exit strategy, Hamas's plan to Vietnamize the battlefield has the appearance of being able to swallow Israel in the Gazan mire. Echoes of Colonel Harry Summers' famous quote in his book On strategy about the Vietnam war must also be heard in Gaza. "You know you have never defeated us on the battlefield," replied the officer, "but that is also irrelevant." What matters is the political outcome. Otherwise, the use of force can lead to pure nihilism, in a desire to maximize power as an exclusive goal. Yet Netanyahu continues to refuse to address the question of a post-war political settlement for the shattered strip, let alone a longer-term vision for the 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 it moved towards any post-war agreement that did not involve continued occupation or a demographic cleansing and recolonization of the strip by Israeli settlers.

Joe Biden's Middle East peace plan, which involves retracing the path to a two-state solution and the full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, offers Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to save the respective national projects from the wreckage of their self-destructive policies. Biden acknowledges that progress toward Israeli-Arab peace has historically emerged after major wars and strategic shifts. However, in this case, the prospects for a diplomatic resolution remain dim, given Israel's security concerns and territorial ambitions, as well as what Israelis see as inflexible Palestinian demands. Getting the two-state solution to go from a useful diplomatic cliché to 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, the least Israel owes itself and also the United States is to rehearse for the last time the viability of the concept of a fully demilitarized Palestinian state.

Israel will have to choose one of these two paths: accept as a basis for the negotiations the Biden plan, which has as its essence 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, deny geopolitical reality by subordinating it to political and personal needs, ignore the relationship between the criminal terrorist attacks of October 7 and the Palestinian cause, to rush with open eyes towards the reality of "a single State" and international isolation. There are weighty arguments against the US plan: it is too ambitious, it has too many heads to tie and independent variables, there is not enough synchronization of interests, some regional interlocutors are not credible... So it is possible that the States Together they are setting themselves up for failure. Now, the main flaw in the plan is not the degree of feasibility, but the fact that Netanyahu refuses to give it a chance. Moreover, Washington admits that it actually has no 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 highest priority should now be to end the slaughter and stabilize the region. Yet by tying the pursuit of a ceasefire to the dim prospect of a two-state solution, US diplomats risk prolonging the conflict and allowing Netanyahu to unite the country after his discredited leadership and thereby save his political career. The truth is that no exit formula will work as long as Netanyahu's coalition remains in power.

Netanyahu knows perfectly well that the whole project can collapse, as it always has, because of the behavior of the Palestinians; but his coalition of messianic extremists and Jewish supremacists will not allow him at least the tactical exercise of giving a conditional yes to Biden's vision. The differences between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) over 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), 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 on the matter, it has been dispelled by the recent publication of an 18-page document in which Hamas explains the reasons for the war, but offers no reasonable political objective. The document basically deals with the need to punish the "Zionist occupier". It makes no reference to the association with the OAP, to the desired political solution or to the willingness to examine the two-state formula. The cause of Palestine therefore suffers 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 "historic" rights stolen from the Palestinian people. For Hamas, the kind of Palestinian state that the PLO can obtain from Israel would enshrine the loss of the Palestinians' historic rights to an undivided Palestine from the river to the sea.

Israel must be saved in spite of everything, as the late American diplomat George Ball suggested 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 to international sanctions, and it is possible that other spheres of its activities in the occupied territories will be punished in the future.

Israel has shown itself to be an irresponsible occupier, and there have never been more favorable conditions for the establishment of an international mandate that transfers responsibility over the territories to an international administration.