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US Shift in Rhetoric Isolates Israel, But Can It Prevent the Invasion of Rafah?

Today the US finally decided not to obstruct a UN Security Council resolution demanding immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Ambassador to the United Nations from the United Kingdom Barbara Woodward, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas Greenfield and other members of the UN Security Council observe a moment of silence during a meeting at UN headquarters on March 25, 2024, in New York City.

Part of the Series

Today the United States finally decided not to obstruct a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the month of Ramadan.

The resolution, which was drafted by the 10 elected members of the UN Security Council, demands a lasting and an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. It was passed with 14 votes in favor and the U.S. abstaining. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield explained that the U.S. abstained because “We did not agree with everything with the resolution.”

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the long-awaited resolution “must be implemented,” adding, “failure would be unforgivable.” The French ambassador to the UN Security Council Nicolas de Riviere told the session, “It is high time now for the council to finally contribute to finding a solution.”

In addition to demanding an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire, the resolution also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages taken captive during the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. Moreover it demands that access to humanitarian relief be ensured, and that all parties comply with their obligations under international law in relation to persons they detain.

The vote came after Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution Friday that fell short on its demand for an immediate ceasefire.

It is doubtful that Israel will comply with the UN Security Council ceasefire resolution. In his post-vote statement, Israel’s ambassador to the UN said, “All members of this council should have voted against this shameful resolution…. It is a travesty, and I am disgusted.”

Secretary General Guterres, speaking at a press conference in front of a long line of blocked aid trucks at the Rafah crossing on Saturday, told reporters that, “It is monstrous that after so much suffering over so many months, Palestinians in Gaza are marking Ramadan with Israeli bombs still falling, bullets still flying, artillery still pounding, and humanitarian assistance still facing obstacle upon obstacle.… Fasting with you on Ramadan, I am deeply troubled to know so many people in Gaza will not be able to have a proper Iftar.”

The UN chief said over the weekend that not allowing humanitarian relief to reach starving Palestinians in Gaza is “is more than tragic. It is a moral outrage.” He demanded that Israel give an “ironclad commitment” for unhindered access to humanitarian aid and repeated his plea that, “Now more than ever it is time for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

North Sinai Governor Mohamed Shusha, who accompanied the UN chief, said more than 7,000 trucks are waiting at the Rafah border crossing ready to deliver aid to Gaza when allowed entry.

Responding to Guterres’ speech via a post on X, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the UN has become an “antisemitic and anti-Israeli body” that “shelters and emboldens terror” — rhetoric we have now become accustomed to hearing from Israeli leaders in the present extremist right-wing government.

Growing Diplomatic Backlash

We have seen massive pro-Palestinian protests and marches around the globe calling for an immediate ceasefire, but it’s only recently that we’ve begun to see growing frustration with Israel among Western leaders over its continued atrocities, high civilian casualties and reluctance to allow unfettered access to life-saving humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Several nations have recently taken concrete actions against the Israeli government. The European Union Parliament overwhelmingly passed a bill condemning Israeli attacks on aid convoys and called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. The bill also recognized the indispensable work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the largest agency providing aid to Palestinians that was defunded by the U.S.

Last month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, characterizing President Joe Biden’s description of Israel’s response to the October 7 Hamas-led attacks as “over the top,” told reporters, “Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed.”

Most recently, the Canadian Parliament, whose support for Israel has in the past been unconditional, passed a nonbinding motion to halt new arms exports to Israel, joining Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Japan.

Countless other countries have cut off diplomatic relations with Israel or recalled ambassadors in protest over its genocidal war on Gaza, including Bolivia, Chile, Belize, Columbia, Honduras, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey, Chad and South Africa — which filed the genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, or World Court. The countries of Ireland, Spain, Malta and Slovenia announced that they will take steps to recognize the state of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people.

U.S., Germany Provide Most Israeli Weapons

While suspending arms sales to Israel by the nations mentioned above sends a strong signal to Israeli leaders, it remains a symbolic act, since 69 percent of Israeli arms imports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, come from the U.S., with Germany in second place at 30 percent. The U.S. and Germany are the top enablers of Israel’s illegal occupation and its genocidal practices in its war on Gaza.

The fact that the U.S. is by far Israel’s largest arms supplier means that it has the power — if not yet the willingness — to effect real change and end the genocide taking place in front of our eyes and visible in real time on our TVs, laptops and phones.

Without the U.S.’s military, financial and diplomatic support, Israel would not have been able to sustain its war on Gaza for this long. At least three prior UN Security Council resolutions demanding an immediate ceasefire would have easily passed had it not been for U.S. vetoes.

It’s not as complicated as many elected officials would have you believe. Israel’s dependence on the U.S. has deepened since October 7. Israel relies on U.S. weapons and U.S. taxpayers’ dollars to fund its occupation and genocide of the Palestinians. Cutting off funding and weapons supplies to Israel is the immediate action that would be most effective in alleviating further human suffering and avoiding a catastrophe and death toll greater than what we’ve seen so far.

The use of U.S. weapons against civilians is a violation of the U.S.’s Leahy Law. We were also reminded by former state department official Josh Paul in his interview on Democracy Now! in which he said, “It is illegal to provide military assistance to a country that is restricting U.S.-funded humanitarian assistance.”

Can Biden Administration Reverse Course?

Worried about his standing in the presidential polls, his low approval rating, and the increasing pressure from world leaders and civil society, Monday’s U.S. Security Council abstention shows the Biden administration’s shifting attitude toward Israel’s war on Gaza, the need for a ceasefire and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to invade Rafah.

It’s beyond infuriating though that it took more than 32,000 deaths and more than six months of cruel, murderous, and inhumane genocidal slaughter and starvation in Gaza before the Biden administration began to take some action to put pressure on the Netanyahu government.

Why did it take so long? What triggered this change in language? Can it lead to concrete action or is it too little too late? Will it end Palestinian suffering or is it designed to buy Israel more time to complete its destruction of Gaza and empty the strip of its Palestinian inhabitants?

Some think that the flour massacre — the incident in which Israeli forces killed more than 100 Palestinians as they surrounded an aid truck convoy in northern Gaza — was the incident that triggered Biden’s impatience with the Netanyahu government and ushered a change in the administration’s policy toward Israel’s genocide in Gaza. While this may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, there are several other important factors that may have contributed to the administration’s change in rhetoric. Those factors have nothing to do with Biden’s empathy toward Palestinians or his change of heart regarding his unconditional support for Israel.

Rather, the change has likely come about as a result of domestic political considerations in an election year. The massive civil society mobilization against Israel’s genocide and, most importantly, the Democratic Party’s sudden realization that President Biden’s stance on Israel has alienated his base and hurt his reelection prospects — especially in key states such as Michigan, home to one of the U.S.’s largest Muslim and Arab American communities who feel betrayed over Biden’s complicity in Israel’s war — is what is really behind the administration’s reluctant and sudden change in U.S. policy.

Real Change, or Political Theater?

The Biden administration’s recent shifts opposing settlement building, moves to airdrop food aid and to build a temporary aid pier, as well as its abstention on the UN Security Council ceasefire resolution amount to nothing more than hollow gestures and futile attempts to gain back voters while continuing to support Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Last month, the U.S. announced a return to a longstanding policy that had been reversed by the Trump administration: that Israel’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank was inconsistent with international law. Did this announcement actually make any difference? Was the U.S. able to influence or halt settlement building and expropriation of Palestinian lands?

The answer is a resounding no: During Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel last week, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich declared 800 hectares (1,977 acres) in the occupied West Bank as state land in a move that will facilitate its use for settlement building. This follows a similar designation of 300 hectares (740 acres) in the Maale Adumim area of the West Bank.

Also last week, President Biden called Prime Minister Netanyahu and warned him against the invasion of Rafah during Ramadan, where 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are crowded. Did Netanyahu heed Biden’s call? In a post on X reported on by Yediot News, Netanyahu said, “I made it clear to President Biden in our conversation, in the clearest way, that we are determined to complete the elimination of Hamas in Rafah as well.”

Similarly, Blinken told Netanyahu during their meeting that a ground operation in Rafah “risks killing more civilians. It risks wreaking greater havoc with the humanitarian assistance. It risks further isolating Israel around the world and jeopardizing its long-term security and standing.” Was Blinken able to get through to Netanyahu? Netanyahu’s statement after their meeting provides another clear answer: “I told him that I hope we will do it with the support of the U.S., but if we have to — we will do it alone.”

After the massive number of U.S. bombs dropped on Gaza by Israel, the U.S.’s dropping of some ready-to-eat meals from the sky is a pitiful act on the part of the Biden administration. The airdrops were called “absurd” by Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food. “From a humanitarian perspective, from an international perspective, from a human rights perspective, it is absurd in a dark, cynical way,” he said.

While the airdrops provide a minuscule amount of food aid, some airdropped pallets had defective parachutes that failed to open and landed on civilians, killing five Palestinians and injuring many when a pallet came crashing down on a group of people. It was also reported that pallets have destroyed telephone and electricity poles and internet towers.

The same can be said for the U.S.’s recent project of building a “temporary pier” on Gaza’s Mediterranean Coast that allows aid delivery by sea. It not only seeks to absolve Israel of its responsibility of protecting — not starving — the people it is occupying, but the project is likely to take months to complete as Israel continues murdering civilians. In short, it’s just another publicity stunt in order to portray the U.S.’s humanitarian side and contain domestic voter outrage against U.S. complicity in the genocide and the starvation of Palestinians in Gaza.

It’s not complicated. The Biden administration can and should demand the immediate opening of the Rafah crossing — only a couple of miles away from where displaced Palestinians are encamped — where hundreds of aid trucks are awaiting entry. The U.S. can and should force Israel to abide by the ruling of the World Court and its order to allow unhindered humanitarian aid trucks to enter Gaza.

If U.S. leaders think that the pier will facilitate the delivery of food aid by ship, they should think again: Netanyahu and others in his extremist government have ulterior motives for supporting its construction: It gives Israel two more months to continue its assault and its deliberate policy of starving the people of Gaza; it replaces UNRWA as the aid agency providing food and medical relief; and it speeds up Israeli plans of the forcible transfer of Palestinians by shipping them out of Gaza by sea.

Palestinians, on the other hand, would rather die from hunger than see a pier built with the rubble and remains of their homes and missing loved ones.

Under the guise of humanitarian diplomatic endeavor, the U.S. presented the UN Security Council with a “so-called” ceasefire resolution last week — “so-called” because it does not demand an immediate ceasefire, but instead “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire.” Appropriately vetoed by Russia and China — with a no vote from Algeria and an abstention from Guyana — it was nothing but a weak face-saving attempt from a country that has blocked three previous UN Security Council resolutions that demanded an immediate ceasefire.

Again this demonstrates how Biden administration is doing a deceptive balancing act of a performative tougher-on-Israel stance while trying to get more aid to Palestinians, and, all the while, delivering more than 100 separate foreign military sales to Israel of the weapons that to date have killed, injured, and maimed more than 100,000 civilians and orphaned thousands of children.

Appropriations Bill Reveals U.S. Complicity

In a speech last week, Senate Majority Leader Schumer angered Prime Minister Netanyahu by calling him unfit to govern. He referred to the Israeli government’s prevention of aid from entering Gaza and branded the prime minister an “obstacle to peace” in the region. He urged Israeli leaders to call for new elections in Israel.

While some may consider Schumer’s speech a breakthrough and a positive change in U.S. policy, it likewise should not be viewed as pro-Palestinian or as a humanitarian gesture. Knowing Senator Schumer’s past record on Israel/Palestine, it is a calculated move on the part of the Senate leader — a Jewish American lawmaker and a staunch supporter of Israel — to save Israel from self-destruction and help it get back to the status quo of quiet occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. At the same time, the speech serves as an attempt to diffuse the mounting pressure within the Democratic Party for the U.S. to stop military aid to Israel that is having a negative impact on Biden’s reelection chances.

One only needs to read through the 1,012-page annual appropriation bill signed into law by President Biden to see where the U.S.’s priorities lie and the extent of U.S. support to the Israeli state.

Despite the World Court’s ruling that Israel is plausibly committing genocide, the bill includes the annual $3.8 billion aid to Israel — $3.3 billion for foreign military financing and an additional half a billion for Israel’s missile defense system. It also contains a provision prohibiting the U.S. government from making financial contributions to UNRWA. At a time when Palestinian refugee assistance and support are needed more than ever before, the U.S. has decided to suspend funding to UNRWA in response to false Israeli allegations that 12 employees were involved with Hamas’s October 7 attack in southern Israel.

It is astounding how many pages of this U.S. bill are devoted to Israel and how its provisions shield the apartheid state from accountability for its violations of international law: The bill prohibits any funding of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry’s investigation into Israel’s international law violations and human rights abuses in the occupied territories and prohibits any funding of the UN Human Rights Council unless it drops any inquiry into human rights violations by Israel. It requires any organization receiving U.S. funding to show that it is actively taking steps “to combat anti-Israel bias.” It prohibits any funding to support Palestinian statehood unless it is shown that certain specified conditions are met, including satisfactory “cooperation with Israeli security organizations.” It prohibits any funding to the Palestinian Authority if Palestine is granted statehood by the UN or any UN agency without Israel’s agreement. It prohibits any funding to the Palestinian Authority if any investigation is initiated, or even supported, in the International Criminal Court of Israeli nationals for “alleged crimes against Palestinians.”

Looking at the appropriation bill’s provisions that have now been written into law, does anyone still have any doubts about the U.S.’s active participation in Israel’s occupation, ethnic cleansing and denial of Palestinian rights?

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