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29 March 2024updated 02 Apr 2024 11:35am

Joe Biden’s support for Israel hasn’t wavered

Despite the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire, the White House's position remains the same.

By Jasmine El-Gamal

On the 25 March, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted on Resolution 2728, demanding a ceasefire in Gaza for the remainder of the month of Ramadan – which ends on 9 April. The resolution also called for the immediate, unconditional release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas, as well as “emphasising the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance” to the Gaza Strip.

For the first time since 7 October, the US did not use its veto to protect its ally Israel on the international stage, but rather abstained from the vote in a move that has infuriated the embattled Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following the vote, Netanyahu accused the US of undermining hostage negotiations with its actions. The White House quickly rejected Netanyahu’s criticism, saying they would not “engage in rhetorical distractions on this issue”. Netanyahu also cancelled a planned delegation of his top aides to Washington, only to ask to reschedule it on 27 March.

The public tension over the vote between the two allies left many wondering whether real damage was being done to the US-Israel relationship. For critics of Israel’s actions in Gaza and President Joe Biden’s seemingly unconditional support for those actions, it may be tempting to believe that the US vote constituted a shift in policy. Yet the US-Israel relationship remains intact, too institutionalised to suffer the effects of personal grievances between individual leaders.

For months, the US administration has been leaking reports to the press describing Biden’s mounting frustration with Netanyahu. Biden was reportedly so upset with the Israeli prime minister’s intransigence and refusal to heed US advice regarding the war in Gaza that he was caught on a hot mic after his State of the Union address telling a Democratic senator that he and Netanyahu were approaching a “come-to-Jesus” meeting. Public statements from even the most senior Biden administration officials have become increasingly harsh, lambasting Netanyahu for the lack of postwar planning and high civilian death toll.

Yet US policy towards Israel has not shifted in the last five months, as evidenced by three recent moves in particular. On 22 March, the US Senate passed a spending bill for 2024 that included $3.8bn in assistance for Israel. This is on a par with traditional US policy. Under its Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme, US military aid to Israel has consistently amounted to somewhere between $3bn-$4bn per year since the 1970s, save for massive spikes in 1974, 1976 and 1979. The inclusion of the funds transpired despite increasing concern voiced by US lawmakers – such as Senator Chris Van Hollen – and human rights groups regarding Israel’s conduct in Gaza; despite Israeli operations in Gaza being found by the International Court of Justice to amount to “plausible genocide”; and despite the Biden administration’s own criticisms of Israel’s actions, including its unwillingness to allow lifesaving humanitarian assistance into Gaza unfettered.

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The passage of the bill also comes after the Biden administration twice bypassed Congress to send assistance to Israel and after the Washington Post revealed the Biden administration had initiated or accelerated 100 arms transfers to Israel since 7 October without informing the American public, using a loophole that stipulates arms transfers under a certain dollar amount did not meet the threshold for public announcements.

Then on 25 March, the State Department accepted a written assurance from the Israeli government that the latter is using American weaponry in a manner that is consistent with international law. Israel’s assurances were required under a National Security Memorandum Biden signed on 8 February, stating that recipients of US assistance could have that assistance cut if they were found to be using it in violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws. Seventeen senators have called on the administration to not accept Israel’s assurances, including Van Hollen, Tim Kaine, Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders stated that the State Department’s “position makes a mockery of US law and assurances provided to Congress”.

Finally, the Biden administration went out of its way immediately after the US abstained on Resolution 2728 to underscore that the vote did not constitute a change in US policy, with the national security spokesperson John Kirby, the US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield and the State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller incorrectly and inexplicably describing the vote as “non-binding” and stating that the US was merely continuing its advocacy for an eventual lasting ceasefire and hostage release through negotiations.

These words spoken from the podiums at the White House, the UN and the State Department risk severely degrading the legitimacy of the UN in future conflicts. More immediately, they provide unquestionable proof that despite the theatrics of the UNSC abstention and the pantomime of the manufactured row with Netanyahu, the Biden administration’s commitment to the state of Israel and its support, both tacit and overt, for Israel’s actions in Gaza remains unshakeable.

[See also: The religious right doesn’t understand Jesus]

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