US President Joe Biden’s approach to halting the Gaza bombing in 2021 took 11 days and 256 Palestinian lives. After a decade of diplomacy and blocking UN Security Council resolutions, Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in less than a week, predicting a significant de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire.
When Netanyahu tried to buy time to continue the bombing, Biden replied that they were out of runway and it was over. Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire, and Biden’s approach initially impacted Palestinians, but it ultimately worked. Two years later, 20 days into Israeli air attacks on Gaza, the toll is numerous.
Over 7,000 Palestinians have died, including 2,000 children, due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Hospitals have been closed due to lack of fuel, leading to a blackout and overrun medical supplies. Food stocks are depleted, and there is a growing concern about hunger. Israel has agreed to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, but it is too little and too late, impeded by Israeli bombings. The 2023 conflict was far more extreme than the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces and rockets fired at Israeli towns by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 2021.
The brutal killings by Hamas of 1,400 Israelis and the kidnapping of 220 Israeli, dual, and foreign nationals evoked Holocaust associations. Dehumanizing statements by Israeli officials and calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza reflect the depth of Israeli anger and reinforce Palestinian suspicions that ridding itself of Palestinians is Israel’s long-standing goal. President Biden’s bear hug approach and refusal to pressure Israel more forcefully involve a complicated cost-benefit analysis and could potentially drag the United States into another Middle East war.
Republican Mike Johnson’s bill supporting Israel demonstrates domestic restraints on Biden in the run-up to the presidential election. The depth of Israeli public backing for a severe punishment of Hamas calls into question the effectiveness of a bear hug approach unless Israel decides to limit or avoid a ground offensive or stop the bloodletting.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has led to a shift in the Israeli-Palestinian paradigm, with Israel claiming Hamas is the equivalent of Islamic State. This move is designed to turn a national conflict into a struggle against religious militancy, a shift that has been echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron. While the Israeli assault on Hamas physically destroyed the group, it will not eliminate militancy or Palestinian national aspirations. Biden’s bear hug approach lends legitimacy to claims of US hypocrisy, which undermines the US’s credibility as a security partner in the Middle East.
French President Macron also called for the military alliance that defeated Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to take on Hamas. Hamas, a militant religious nationalist group, differs significantly from Islamic State, as it is a militant religious nationalist group rather than a transnational jihadist movement seeking a caliphate. Furthermore, Hamas has long served Netanyahu’s efforts to keep the Palestinian polity divided between the Gaza group and the Palestine Authority in the West Bank.
Israel’s response to the Hamas attack is akin to comparing it to the Islamic State, as it undermines Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and rejection of an equitable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Biden has emphasized that Israel cannot return to the status quo, stating that Hamas must cease terrorizing Israel and using Palestinian civilians as human shields. He believes a two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, is necessary for the end of the crisis. To achieve this, Biden must engage in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, becoming the first US president in decades to refrain from such efforts. However, he may not be enough to prevent him from failing to resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.