Biden’s Balancing Act: Is Support for Israel Wavering?

The Israel-Palestine conflict began as a response to the October 7th Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel. The response, however, can hardly be deemed proportionate. Since then, Israel has waged an endless campaign of violence, with 31 302 Palestinians dead to date. President Biden is currently facing a delicate equilibrium, between balancing his support for Israel and keeping growing domestic discontent at bay.

In a recent press conference, US President Joe Biden confused Gaza with Ukraine in a military aid drop announcement. He must however tread lightly as he considers the consequences this may have regarding the 300 000 people marching in the largest pro-Palestine protest in Washington DC. Many will find this “minor mistake” insensitive and dismissive towards the suffering of Palestinians as it blends their struggles with those of a completely different region and conflict.

Mr Biden’s support for Israel carries a considerable cost for him at home. With the elections looming, there is growing dissatisfaction, particularly among young and Arab-American voters, over Biden’s Middle East policy- this could become a determining factor in the election, as he sees an increase in “uncommitted” ballots in the Democratic primaries.

President Biden’s re-election does not seem so certain as we witness a repeat from the Biden-Trump showdown in 2020. With Biden’s disapproval ratings as high as 47% the death of 3 US troops in a drone attack launched by an Iran- affiliated militant group on the Jordanian-Syrian border was yet another opportunity for Donald Trump to present himself as the stronger opponent.

Posting on social media, Trump stated “This brazen attack on the United States is yet another horrific and tragic consequence of Joe Biden’s weakness and surrender,” adding that such a strike on U.S. forces in the region “would NEVER have happened” on his watch.

He failed to mention however that attacks on US positions in Iraq and Syria did take place under his presidency…

Make no mistake – Trump’s policy in the Middle East would not appeal to pro-Palestine protestors. During his time in the Oval Office, Trump’s policy in the Middle East consisted of a close friendship with Israeli’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, the endorsement of his far-right agendas, formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shutting a US embassy intended for Palestinians. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state under Trump, even remarked that the West Bank territories “are rightly part of the Jewish homeland”.

America is repeatedly vetoing UN Security Council resolutions however this is damaging its image as a nation which preaches human rights abroad, often claiming “moral superiority”, when it is providing the weapons killing innocent civilians.

Biden is aware of his diminishing support, which he is trying to salvage, but it could be too late. The President has placed sanctions on 4 Jewish settlers accused of violence against the Palestinians, however this is hardly enough to sway public opinion. His recent plans to airdrop aid to Gaza are also facing scrutiny. Some say it is a sign of strong leadership, but many argue it is a sign that American pressure has failed to persuade Israel to let more aid into Gaza- weakness is not the impression of American power which will win Biden his election, especially when competing against “Make America Great Again”.

However, there are signs that Mr Biden’s patience towards Israel is waning.  On March 4th and 5th his administration welcomed Benny Gantz, a centrist member of Israel’s war cabinet, as if he were an alternative prime minister, granting him meetings with the vice-president, Kamala Harris, and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, among others. Mr Netanyahu, who has yet to set foot in the Biden White House, was furious.

For all his annoyance with Israel’s Netanyahu, it does not seem as if the President is using the full extent of America’s power to leverage more directly. Past presidents such as Ronald Reagan previously blocked the delivery of weapons to Israel in the 1980s. If this is a move that could win Biden the election, why won’t he do it? It is possible that there is a fear of being accused of hypocrisy. Denouncing Israel’s reaction to the October 7th attacks would diminish America’s justification of the Wars on Terror as a response to the events of 9/11.

However, if the International Criminal Court, where Israel is currently being tried for genocide, were to find Israel guilty, would Biden be forced to change his approach?

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