America's stubborn Gaza policy is drawing it into isolation

The Biden administration's unwillingness to call for a ceasefire has become apparent to the world

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Events of the past week have highlighted how America's feckless and indulgent behaviour towards policies pursued by Israel have damaged its standing in the world. Two UN votes calling for a ceasefire in Gaza showed the US has been abandoned by most of its closest allies, many of whom are increasingly questioning its global leadership. Another vote is expected today.

After more than two months, Israel’s relentless pummeling of Palestinians in Gaza has continued. By now the death toll has crossed 18,000, mostly civilians. Israel’s bombing in the north of Gaza reduced more than half of it to rubble, while forcing almost 2 million Palestinians to flee their homes.

After the short humanitarian pause that allowed an exchange of hostages and captives, Israel shifted its bombing campaign to the south where it issues orders daily for Palestinians to move from one area to another, only to bomb the areas to which they’ve ordered relocation. In the makeshift camps that have sprung up in the south, hunger is rampant, as is disease.

In the face of the enormity of this crisis, last week the UAE Mission to the UN introduced a resolution in the Security Council calling for a humanitarian ceasefire. The resolution was endorsed by 103 other countries – a record number.

The final vote reflected the extent of US isolation – 13 for the ceasefire, the US against, the UK abstaining. Further evidence of America’s isolation came a day later when a non-binding ceasefire resolution introduced in the General Assembly received 153 votes, with the US and an embarrassing collection of nine other countries voting against it.

US policymakers deem calls for a ceasefire as disruptive

The US explanation for its veto and “no” vote was that the resolution was rushed through without enough time for consultation. This was patently false as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been more than two months in the making and the UAE resolution had been circulating for days, allowing ample time for discussion. It has become clear to the world that the Biden administration is unwilling to call for a ceasefire.

Two other factors amplify this conclusion. One day after the UN votes, which the US complained it didn’t have enough time to adequately consider, the Biden White House announced that it had made a unilateral decision to ship 14,000 artillery shells to Israel without first notifying Congress. In other words, they didn’t have enough time to consider a ceasefire, but needed no time at all to send more deadly weapons to Israel in violation of the rules requiring congressional oversight established by the Arms Export Control Act.

A week ago, at a White House Hanukkah gathering, President Joe Biden spoke glowingly about his love for Israel and its right to defend itself, and pledged that the US would always stand with Israel. He then pivoted to make what appeared to be a criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war charging it with “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza. Before anyone was able to imagine that this represented a turning point, the next day one administration spokesperson “played down” the President’s remarks, while another suggested that Israel was in fact being more careful and targeted in its renewed bombing campaign in the south.

Instead of addressing with any seriousness the massive loss of Palestinian lives and the desperate conditions under which the survivors have been forced to live, the US continues to prioritise Israel’s fantasy military objective of “eliminating Hamas”. As a result, US policymakers deem calls for a ceasefire as disruptive.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a top Biden administration official a few weeks into this war. At one point he remarked, echoing Israel’s lines, that a “ceasefire would be intolerable since it would only give Hamas time to re-arm.” Later when I recounted the deaths and devastation of Gaza, he said “that too is intolerable”. I replied, “So there are two ‘intolerables’ and you’ve picked the one that continues to cost more Palestinian lives.”

That exchange occurred when the death toll in Gaza was 3,000. Now it’s nearing 20,000, with the world and a significant portion of US opinion wearying not only of Israel’s war but of American support for it. The administration is doing damage to US standing and credibility and US self-proclaimed values and principles.

The bottom line is that while American and worldwide public opinion of Israeli behaviour is shifting, US policy is stuck and increasingly isolated.

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Published: December 18, 2023, 12:30 PM