The US and President Joe Biden face significant stakes in the Gaza war, particularly in garnering support for their positions on multiple issues, including the Ukraine war. Biden’s approach towards Israel has sparked allegations of hypocrisy and double standards. The US and Europe have not responded to calls for applying the same standards of international humanitarian law and the law of war to the Gaza war.
Western diplomats argue that America is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Global South, and that universal human rights and international law are meaningless. However, The Economist suggests that America still has a lot to offer, especially if it works with its allies to enhance security and keep trade open. The United Nations General Assembly vote in favor of a resolution calling for a humanitarian truce in Gaza reflects the US’s refusal to call for a ceasefire, instead using phrases like “humanitarian pause” or “humanitarian corridors.”
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan emphasized that a humanitarian pause would be beneficial in removing hostages, but Hamas may use this time to their advantage. He argued that Israel’s responsibility to distinguish between terrorists and innocent civilians is not diminished by Hamas’ alleged use of civilians as human shields. Sullivan acknowledged that hospitals should not be targeted under international humanitarian law, as they are not military targets. He acknowledged that thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians have been killed in Israeli air strikes, but did not claim their deaths violated international law.
Palestinian analysts argue that the US may be complicit in Israeli violations of international law by aiding and abetting Israel’s indiscriminate bombing. Over 250 British lawyers have urged the government to urgently enforce the Geneva conventions, preventing the UK from encouraging or aiding in violations of international humanitarian law by other states.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society received warnings from Israeli authorities to evacuate al-Quds hospital in Gaza, which hosts hundreds of injured patients and 12,000 displaced persons. Israel claims that Hamas uses hospitals as command centers and to camouflage its underground tunnel network.
The UN resolution condemning Hamas for its October 7 attack on Israeli civilians has been adopted despite US objections. The US wanted the resolution to label 239 people kidnapped as hostages, rather than captives, and refused it because it did not recognize Israel’s right to self-defense. Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar proposed an “immediate” exchange of hostages for the estimated 6,600 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. The US and Europe have mud on their faces by prioritizing political points over saving innocent lives.
Perceptions of hypocrisy and double standards persist in the global South, with the US being the only power with true leverage in Jerusalem. President Biden has not total freedom, and domestic political constraints bind him. Republican Mike Johnson’s introduction of a bill in Congress supporting Israel demonstrates domestic restraints on him in the run-up to the presidential election. The bill highlights a gap between Congress and public opinion, with thousands on the streets of cities in the US and across the globe marching against the war. Israeli hostage families have demanded that Israel make the release of captives a priority above destroying Hamas.
US President Biden’s efforts to limit the war on Israel are being questioned due to his ability to apply pressure that Israel cannot ignore. This week, his administration threatened to halt arms supplies if they were distributed to Israeli civilians at political events, sparked by photos of ultra-nationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir handing out guns at a political event to civilian community security squads in Bnei Brak and Elad, two towns dominated by Israel’s religious far right. In response, Israel promised that weapons would be distributed only by the police and military to auxiliary forces created since the October 7 Hamas attack and supervised by the police and military.
The threat does not significantly alter the situation in Gaza, but it suggests that the US has the power to influence Israel’s war conduct. A US official said Israel had restored Gaza’s internet under US pressure, while Israel shut off telecommunications and the internet in the Strip as it launched its ground offensive. Analyst Trita Parsi tweeted that Biden’s “pressure” on Israel is aimed at keeping Israel’s bombings and war crimes at a “tolerable” level to keep the backlash against Israel manageable. The question remains whether and at what point the United States’ cost-benefit analysis reaches a tipping point.