The US must resolve its incoherence over Gaza

US Vice President Kamala Harris's call for a ceasefire is welcome but jars with the Biden administration's blanket support for Israel

Gazans who have felt the effects of US-supplied Israeli weaponry watch as America's military carries out its first aid drop over the Palestinian enclave on Saturday. Reuters
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Every day that passes in Gaza without a ceasefire seems to produce only more horror. With the death toll mounting by the day, and exceeded 30,000 confirmed fatalities, according to local authorities, it is more important than ever for influential countries to demand a halt to the killing.

US Vice President Kamala Harris’s recent comments calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, however, pose more than a few questions. This is not just because of the incoherence characterising Washington’s role in this brutal war so far – something exemplified last week by American involvement in aid drops for Gazan civilians who are being pummelled by US-supplied Israeli weaponry. The Vice President’s statement begs the question: if the US truly wants a rapid end to the violence in Gaza, then why didn’t US President Joe Biden deliver the statement himself?

The unofficial aspects of a vice president’s role sometimes include floating policy changes for supporters, voters and the media. In this case, although the sentiment is welcome – Ms Harris said “the right of the Palestinian people to dignity, freedom and self-determination” should be respected – if it is to really mean effective change, then it must be accompanied by US action and leadership. This is something that has been sorely lacking, not just after the October 7 attacks but in the preceding years marked by Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian land as well as its long-running blockade of Gaza.

It is difficult to reconcile the words expressed by Ms Harris on Sunday with the direction the White House has taken on Israel’s war in Gaza. The US leadership’s vetoing of several UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions while pushing for more military aid to Israel jars with this latest call for peace. Instead, US actions have done little except to highlight the peculiar relationship between America and its ally.

Since Israel’s leadership began its calamitous response to the disastrous Hamas attack, the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has effectively ignored US calls to exercise restraint or minimise civilian casualties. Instead, we have seen a catastrophe unfold in real time. Scenes of dead children, soldiers killing Palestinian targets in hospitals and civilians being shot while desperately trying to reach aid are being beamed into American homes nightly.

Mr Biden’s Democrats have already seen how this is playing out among some sections of the US electorate, having been dealt a stinging rebuke by more than 100,000 voters in the recent Michigan primary. There are also signs that American unhappiness at the country’s political and strategic humiliation by Israel’s government is spreading: a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Friday found that Americans are split on whether the US should continue providing military aid to Israel.

Disquiet over the crushing Israeli war on Gaza can even be detected in some parts of Israeli society. Israeli MP Ofer Cassif has been an outspoken critic of the government. Even though several of his friends were killed and others taken hostage on October 7, he has still received death threats for acknowledging that “the vast majority of the victims [in Gaza] are innocent civilians”. Yair Lapid, a former Israeli prime minister who is now the opposition leader, last month criticised police for assaulting protesters in Tel Aviv who were demanding faster government action to secure the release of Israeli hostages. The abrupt resignation this week of several senior military spokesmen during wartime and a recent public call by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for an end to controversial military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews adds to the overall impression of ferment within Israel.

Back in Washington, Ms Harris and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are due to meet former Israeli military chief and current war cabinet member Benny Gantz for talks today. If Ms Harris’s statement from Selma, Alabama – itself the site of a bloody struggle for human and civil rights – is to hold any weight, then the world needs to see a different approach that demands accountability from a country that is the recipient of vast sums of US money and aid.

Published: March 05, 2024, 3:00 AM