đź”’ Diplomatic drift: US-Israel alliance at crossroads as Biden questions actions in Gaza – Andreas Kluth

Andreas Kluth highlights a potential rift between the US and Israel, stemming from their differing views on Israel’s actions in Gaza. President Biden criticised Israel’s bombing as “indiscriminate,” signalling a shift in international support. The US risks credibility by backing Israel amidst civilian casualties. While a complete rupture is not inevitable, strained relations could lead to consequences such as delaying arms shipments. Kluth suggests Israel reconsider its approach to align with allies for a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians, emphasising the potential impact of a fracture on global dynamics.

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Biden and Bibi Will Break First Gradually, Then Suddenly: Andreas Kluth

By Andreas Kluth

If there is ever to be a rift between the US and Israel, the closest of friends since the Jewish state was founded in 1948, it began this week. Two months ago, just after the sadistic attacks by Hamas against Israel, US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraced in shared sorrow and resolve. Now, many thousands of civilian Palestinian deaths later, the two have said as clearly as diplomacy allows that they want to go in different directions. 

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Speaking to donors at a fundraiser in Washington, Biden characterized Israel’s bombing of Gazans, militants and civilians alike, as “indiscriminate.” That’s hard to prove legally, as my colleague Marc Champion explains. But Biden was driving at something else. Israel, which had much of the world’s sympathy after Oct. 7, is losing international support, even from its friends. 

And as long as the US keeps backing Israel at the United Nations and supplying many of the bombs it’s dropping on the Gaza Strip, Washington risks losing international credibility in tandem. That loss will compromise America’s ability to manage other crises, from the Russian war against Ukraine to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea or Venezuelan threats against Guyana. 

Devastating memes are circulating on social media, purporting to show the hypocrisy of Western leaders like Biden and his European counterparts as they decry civilian suffering in Ukraine but dismiss it as “the price of war” in Gaza. Such images feed perceptions in Asia, Africa and South America that the US applies a double standard, one for foes and another for friends, even as it professes to care about a “rules-based order.”

With all that on his mind, Biden this week conceded that right-wing members of Netanyahu’s cabinet seem bent on “retribution” against Palestinians generally, not just on eliminating Hamas terrorists. He’s no longer trying to hide his frustration that Bibi, as Netanyahu is known, rejects America’s proposed long-term goal of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. “You cannot say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future,” Biden told his donors in exasperation. 

And yet that’s what Bibi is saying. He’s also rebuffed Biden’s view that a reformed version of the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, needs to take over governance in the Gaza Strip. “Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan,” Netanyahu said dismissively, referring to the corrupt Fatah party that controls the Authority. That can only mean Israel will re-occupy the Strip, which Biden in turn has rejected.

Is a rupture therefore inevitable? No, because Netanyahu — who was never Biden’s, or indeed many Israelis’, favorite even before Oct. 7 — may not lead Israel much longer, and a new government could reaffirm the alliance. Biden is also a life-long Zionist and genuine friend of Israel. And he’s running for reelection against a Republican party that has in effect pledged fealty to Israel no matter what it does, and would skewer him on Fox News. To Biden the idea of splitting with Israel is anathema.

But a break is, for the first time, conceivable. To date, Israel is the largest recipient of US aid since World War II. Washington has also had Israel’s back at the United Nations. Most recently, it vetoed a resolution in the Security Council that would have demanded a ceasefire in Gaza, then voted against a similar (but nonbinding) resolution in the General Assembly — as one of only ten countries against 153 that were in favor. As Aaron David Miller at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says, “there’s never been an effort to impose serious costs and consequences” on Israel for its policies. 

The US now has to show that it is willing to do just that. In a first step, the Biden administration is delaying a shipment of 20,000 assault rifles to Israel. Those were meant for Israel’s national police force, so that more first responders are armed against a Hamas-like attack. But the person doling them out would be Israel’s national-security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the far-right and anti-Palestinian settler extremists Biden suspects of craving retribution. Washington’s fear is that American guns would kill or maim more Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where violence committed by Israeli settlers has surged since Oct. 7. The US has banned travel visas for some of the perpetrators.

If Bibi and his war cabinet remain intransigent, future steps could include abstaining from ceasefire resolutions in the General Assembly, or even voting for them. Eventually, the US could also take a different stance in the Security Council, which has more teeth. Further down the line, even US financial and military aid could come up for discussion.

It’s hard to overstate the quake such a fracture would cause. It would mean not only that Israel is forfeiting the support of its allies, including its most valuable one, but also that it is continuing to wage war against Hamas without formulating a strategy for the peace that must one day follow. 

There is a better way. Bibi could put his country’s future ahead of his own and align with his American friends rather than his extremist coalition partners. Since that seems unlikely, Israelis could also find a way to get rid of Netanyahu and put a wiser leader in power. That would be good for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and therefore also for the US.

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