/ 3 April 2024

Biden’s indecisiveness is aggravating the situation in Gaza

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US President Joe Biden. (Photo by MIRIAM ALSTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In the high-stakes politics over the Gaza war, the delicate dance between the Democratic Party in the US and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration is reaching a critical juncture. 

President Joe Biden and his party’s leadership must manage this complex relationship with utmost care, as missteps could have far-reaching implications for both American domestic politics and the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. 

At the heart of this struggle lies the fate of two leaders and their respective political futures. For Biden, the challenge is clear — he must assert his authority and stand firm against Netanyahu’s defiance or risk appearing weak and ineffectual in the eyes of both domestic and international audiences. With the spectre of a formidable opponent such as former president Donald Trump looming on the horizon, any sign of wavering resolve could spell disaster for Biden’s re-election prospects. 

Simultaneously, Netanyahu and his right-wing government are facing their own existential battle. As they brazenly flout international norms and continue to defy American calls for restraint, they risk alienating key allies and jeopardising Israel’s standing on the global stage. 

The outcome of this struggle will not only shape the political fortunes of these two leaders but also have profound implications for the future direction of US-Israeli relations and the broader dynamics of the Middle East region.

The stakes could not be higher. It is a test of wills, with the fate of nations hanging in the balance. 

Given the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Netanyahu is facing a pivotal moment in his political career. For him, the military operation in Gaza is not just about military strategy, it’s a matter of political survival. He  sees his handling of the situation as crucial to his political future, especially amid looming legal challenges. 

Trump could see the Biden-Netanyahu clash as an opportunity to exploit perceived weaknesses in the incumbent president’s leadership. His interest in this conflict could stem from his own political ambitions and desire to undermine his successor’s administration. 

As diplomatic efforts continue to seek a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the fallout from the conflict poses significant challenges for Biden. The complex dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict make sustainable peace agreements difficult to achieve, placing further strain on his leadership and diplomatic efforts.

In an unexpected turn of events, US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer delivered a scathing rebuke of Netanyahu, branding him a significant impediment to peace. Schumer’s critique, a departure from typical US-Israel relations, underscored the urgency of addressing the longstanding conflict in the region. 

Schumer’s call for more effective action if Netanyahu’s government persists post-war resonated deeply within Israeli political circles. His demand for new elections in Israel highlighted the seriousness of the situation, reflecting growing concerns about the direction of Israeli leadership. 

Furthermore, his remarks went beyond the immediate need for a ceasefire and humanitarian relief, delving into the core political issues at stake. By condemning Israel’s rejection of the two-state solution, Schumer signalled a shift towards a more assertive stance on achieving lasting peace in the region. 

The significance of Schumer’s speech cannot be overstated. It marks a pivotal moment in US-Israel relations and signals changes in the texture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the international community grapples with the complexities of the Middle East, his bold stance offers a glimmer of hope for progress towards a just and lasting resolution.

However, the ongoing political manoeuvring is poised to exacerbate existing fault lines within American society. It is Biden who will bear the brunt of the fallout, as the spotlight remains squarely fixed on him amid the tumultuous geopolitical landscape. 

The Biden administration is finding it very difficult to execute a delicate balancing act as it grapples with Israel’s attempts to undermine its authority, despite its continued approval of arms shipments to the nation. Critics argue that the administration’s reliance on soft diplomacy, centred on persuasion and conciliation, risks projecting an image of indecisiveness and weakness.

Yet, to its credit, the Biden team has thus far succeeded in tempering tension between Israel and Iran, thereby averting a potentially catastrophic escalation in the conflict engulfing Gaza. Moreover, its efforts to facilitate structural reforms within the Palestinian Authority, culminating in the appointment of Mohammad Mustafa as prime minister, has won some support at home. 

In manoeuvring these complex dynamics, the Biden administration is desperately trying to find a viable prescription between asserting American and Israeli interests and promoting peace and stability in the Middle East — a task fraught with challenges but essential for fostering a more harmonious and prosperous future for all stakeholders.

The ongoing — purportedly — clandestine talks between the US and Iran are but a partial solution as they fail to comprehensively address Tehran’s support for proxies in the Middle East. From Houthi assaults in the Red Sea to Hezbollah’s skirmishes with Israel, Lebanon’s stability remains precarious. 

Biden must adopt a resolute stance. Inaction is not a strategy; delay and ambiguity only exacerbate tension. To truly address regional security challenges, decisive action is imperative. 

The forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Palestinians underscores the impact of Israel’s actions, despite the international opposition. The lack of decisive action from the world’s superpower could perpetuate the plight of Palestinians and influence Biden’s re-election prospects in November. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s repeated journeys to the Middle East, resulting only in mounting frustration, serve to reinforce the perception that Biden and his administration lack a comprehensive understanding of the complexities in the region. 

The recent contentious US-backed UN resolution for a Gaza ceasefire serves to underline this. Their inability to provide tangible, realistic solutions has further solidified it.

Dr Imran Khalid is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. He is a physician and has a master’s degree in international relations.