Opinion: Why Biden won’t do more to restrain Netanyahu

U.S.  President Joe Biden delivers a prime-time address to the nation about his approaches to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, humanitarian assistance in Gaza and continued support for Ukraine in their war with Russia, from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. October 19, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
Biden on why funding Israel and Ukraine matters to Americans
03:21 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Aaron David Miller is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.” Miller was a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

After six weeks of the deadliest violence in an already blood-soaked history of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, I’ve been asked repeatedly why President Joe Biden remains so staunchly pro-Israel. Why hasn’t the president done more to restrain the Netanyahu government and address the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza?

Aaron David Miller

Israel and the US may share the same goal — the eradication of Hamas’ military organization in the wake of the sadistic, inhuman and indiscriminate terror surge against Israel on October 7. But US and Israeli views are clearly diverging on issues relating to humanitarian assistance, the exponential rise of Palestinian deaths and what comes on the proverbial day after Israel’s Gaza campaign ends. And tensions are surely rising between the US president and an Israeli prime minister with a shaky track record.

Still, anyone expecting a major rupture between the two ought to lie down and wait quietly until the feeling passes. If needed, they should keep Biden’s Washington Post op-ed from the weekend handy: In it, he indicated no change in the staunchly pro-Israel position he took from the start of the war. Indeed, the president’s persona, politics and policy choices have virtually preempted such an outcome.

There is little doubt that Israel and the US are operating according to two very different timetables. And these two clocks appear increasingly out of sync. Israel — committed to the destruction of Hamas’ military capacity and the end of its ability to govern in Gaza — appears to be in no hurry to declare mission accomplished.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not even begun to confront the bulk of Hamas fighters in many places in northern Gaza or significantly dismantle the miles of tunnel structure below ground. Then there’s southern Gaza, where Hamas has undoubtedly repositioned its assets; the terror group appears to be nowhere near its breaking point. Israel’s defense minister has talked about the campaign taking months.

It’s apparent that the US clock is ticking much faster, a direct result of growing pressure from its European allies, key Arab partners and a deeply divided Democratic Party, all of which are starting to coalesce around a call for a ceasefire. Even within the Department of State and among congressional staff, there has been opposition to the administration’s passivity in the face of Palestinian loss of life that’s unprecedented in recent decades. Indeed, Biden himself almost certainly has come to understand that, as greatly as he’s concerned about Israel, the devastation and death in Gaza demands attention for Palestinians, too.

Senior US officials from the president on down have talked about the need to protect civilian lives, including hospitals; pressed Israel to allow more humanitarian assistance; and drawn clear lines about the day after with respect to Gaza — no forced displacement of civilians, no reduction of territory and no Israeli reoccupation. After vetoing other UN Security Council drafts calling for an immediate humanitarian truce, the US finally abstained on a Security Council resolution calling for humanitarian pauses.

Yet despite the pressure, there’s no indication that the president might support a ceasefire and has intimated, let alone pressed, Israel to set a timeline for ending its military operation in Gaza. His words in the Washington Post seemed to rule that out for now.

On the contrary, the administration seems to be willing to continue its support of Israel at almost every turn. The IDF’s operation against Al-Shifa hospital – Gaza’s largest – is a case in point. The administration has backed up Israel’s claim that the complex was being used by Hamas for military purposes without providing much evidence of those claims.