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Why does the Biden administration not want a ceasefire in Gaza?

April 6, 2024 at 12:31 pm

People stage a demonstration in support of Palestinians at Lafayette Square Park in Washington DC, United States on February 10, 2024. [Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images]

One of the most important questions raised by the recent events since the beginning of the Gaza war is the following: Why doesn’t US President Joe Biden’s administration want a ceasefire in Gaza?

The answer is that the US agrees with Israel in its declared goal of eliminating Hamas. There are many reasons for this, the most important of which is that Hamas is an obstacle to the Biden administration’s overall vision for the future of the Middle East, which does not include Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Hezbollah. This vision has become well-known; it involves Israel accepting the two-state solution, which means agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Where? The boundaries would be decided later between Palestinian and Israeli parties over years of negotiations with a new Palestinian leadership that is more flexible, effective and willing and able to offer compromises in exchange for Israeli concessions.

So, what are the Israeli concessions, then? They are simply accepting a demilitarised Palestinian state with limited sovereignty over part of the Palestinian territories. Also, Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian state would prompt Saudi Arabia to normalise relations with Israel. As a result of this normalisation, the US would reward Saudi Arabia by meeting several longstanding demands from Saudi. The most important of these is to sign a strategic partnership agreement approved by the US Congress, which would provide Saudi Arabia with full security guarantees. In addition, there would be many other privileges or meeting important demands for Saudi national security.

Therefore, Israeli recognition of Palestine and Saudi recognition of Israel would pave the way for other Islamic countries to recognise Israel, such as Indonesia and Pakistan. Thus, it would facilitate the formation of a new ally comprising Israel, Arab countries and Islamic countries that have normalised relations with Israel, led by the US. This ally would then confront Iran and reduce the influence of Russia and China in the Middle East. Importantly, this vision cannot be implemented in the presence of a group like Hamas, which must be removed from the equation, laying the foundation later for striking Hezbollah and thus weakening what is known as the resistance axis, which means weakening Iran and consequently also the growing influence of Russia and China in the region.

Gaza ceasefire resolution binding but bare minimum: UN Rapporteur Albanese

There are other reasons for the Biden administration’s desire to eliminate Hamas, such as Biden’s eagerness to appease the Zionist lobby in the US, especially before its elections. Additionally, there are US-Israeli dual nationals being held by Hamas, which further complicates the situation. Above all, there is a strong US attachment to Israel, especially under a president who prides himself on being a Zionist. Furthermore, there is a genuine sense of anger at what Hamas did on 7 October.

All of these are standing reasons, but are considered secondary, but why? For example, the commitment of the US president to free American captives is a reasonable and acceptable factor. However, it requires the US to ensure the safety of its citizens in Gaza from indiscriminate Israeli bombardment. That is, the US should be enthusiastic about a genuine ceasefire and initiate negotiations to retrieve the captives rather than encouraging a war that might endanger their lives. Being attentive to Jewish voices does not require support extending to involvement with Israel in genocide, especially with Jewish voices within American society and beyond rejecting what is happening inside Gaza. Even if Biden gains the Jewish vote, he will lose many other votes from Americans angry about his role in the Gaza massacre.

So, Biden’s desire to shape the Middle East starting with Gaza, in addition to any other secondary reasons, is the most likely reason for his refusal to stop the ceasefire and support Israel in its war on Gaza by all means possible. One of these means is using the veto in the United Nations Security Council against any resolution calling for a ceasefire for about six months before Israel can achieve the goal of eliminating Hamas.

The 51st state? The US continues to shield Israel at the UN – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Therefore, does the recent Security Council resolution on 25 March represent a change in the American position? The answer is no. There is no change in the US position; rather, it is a shy expression of its administration’s disagreement with Netanyahu on the details. It is an exaggeration to consider it a fundamental change in the US position. The Biden administration has been, and still is, committed to its primary goal of eliminating Hamas. It agrees with Netanyahu on this goal but differs with him on the details. For example, the US administration wants to strike Hamas in Rafah and everywhere else, but it wants to do so in a way that does not lead to a mass slaughter of Palestinians, which might embarrass and expose it and prompt the world to revolt against it, thus failing to achieve the American plan of eliminating Hamas. For example, the US does not want to open a northern front with Hezbollah as the Netanyahu government desires so as not to widen the war and prevent the desired goal from being achieved in Gaza. Similarly, the US does not want to leave the extremist settlers hanging in the West Bank at this time, as this would also ignite the West Bank without justification and thus hinder the smooth execution of the mission in Gaza. Moreover, the establishment of more settlements would make the two-state solution proposal – a key part of the US’ plan – meaningless and worthless, and so on. Therefore, there is a disagreement over the details.

Read: The Elders call for suspension of arms transfers to Israel to end Gaza atrocities

Before 25 March, the US insisted that no Security Council resolution be issued calling for a ceasefire, even a temporary one, unless Hamas released all captives with condemnation of Hamas. The Security Council reached a state of paralysis because its members could not accept the US conditions and could not pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire against its wishes because it has the right to veto.

The logic of the US has been made clear by more than one American official in different formulations, namely, that a ceasefire in Gaza would leave Hamas intact, allowing it to govern Gaza and sow the seeds of the next war. Hamas does not have a desire to see permanent peace or a two-state solution. For this reason, while the US strongly supports permanent peace in which Palestinians and Israelis can live in safety, we do not support an immediate ceasefire. Therefore, the US believes that Hamas’s presence in the Gaza Strip means a new war with Israel, and it means thwarting the idea of a two-state solution as the US envisages it, as it is one of the basic pillars of its vision for shaping the new Middle East.

Thus, the American rejection of a ceasefire is the same as the Israeli position, which does not want to commit itself to anything that would lead to not resuming the war after releasing the captives. The US and Israel have failed to convince most of the world of this logic because it means that the war and killing will continue indefinitely. After all, a ceasefire cannot be stopped until the captives are released, and Hamas cannot release them just for a temporary ceasefire. In other words, once Israel retrieves its captives, it will return to strike the Gaza Strip and strike Hamas, in addition to the world’s conviction that the continuation of the war means the extermination of Palestinian civilians and not Hamas.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.