As long as the green light from the White House doesn’t change to yellow, Israel has all the international legitimacy it needs to continue fighting
As the IDF tightens its grip on the Gaza Strip, the question of how long the Biden administration will continue to give the Israelis a blank check becomes ever more pertinent.
Six weeks into the fighting, the US would normally be signaling that it’s time for a cease-fire. But the war of Simchas Torah 5784 is unlike any previous operation in Gaza. After the most horrific massacre the Jewish People experienced since the Holocaust, the rules are different.
French president Emmanuel Macron has already called for a cease-fire, drawing a fierce Israeli rebuke. But in reality, Macron’s comment — which he quickly backtracked — was no more than a glancing blow, to quote former chief of staff and air force commander Dan Halutz.
As long as the green light from the White House doesn’t change to yellow, Israel has all the international legitimacy it needs to continue fighting.
When will America’s blank check finally bounce? Asked about this at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu emphasized that his government sees eye-to-eye with Washington on all the essential questions relating to the conduct of the war. Bibi pointed out that Biden persists in refusing to call for a cease-fire, while continuing to offer massive support in the form of both military aid and the US Navy’s presence in the Mediterranean. The IDF says the amount of aid this time around is unprecedented and calls to mind America’s aid to Israel during the Yom Kippur War, 50 years ago.
Israeli politicians are not blind to Biden’s personal quandary ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Israel is watching the attacks from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and it carefully read the open letter signed by 400 Democratic officials rebuking Biden for his unqualified support for Israel.
With Trump pulling ahead of Biden in opinion polls last week, an interesting discussion arose between cabinet ministers.
“Where are those voters going, to Trump?” one minister asked.
“Our leftists didn’t switch to Bibi, they just stayed home out of despair,” answered another, with allusion to Israel’s last vote. “If Biden is perceived as too biased in Israel’s favor, progressive voters will simply stay home.”
Netanyahu insists he sees eye-to-eye with Biden on the conduct of the war. But in a recent press conference, he didn’t deny that he’s working to assuage American concerns about the humanitarian question.
Netanyahu found himself in the role of White House spokesperson, explaining in Hebrew to the Israeli public the US demand to allow fuel into the Strip — despite his own personal promise to condition this on the release of the hostages. Netanyahu attributed this to America’s concerns about potential outbreaks of disease among the refugees in the southern Gaza Strip.
The truth of the matter is that Israel, dependent on American support, has no choice but to fall in line with the administration’s humanitarian demands.
Netanyahu is also aware that Biden has to somehow distinguish himself from the Israeli war cabinet. While Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken provided much-needed cover by sitting down with the Israeli war cabinet at the onset of the war, this created problems for them on the domestic American political front.
In all of Israel’s previous wars, the White House kept some distance from the Israeli government. The administration, facing its own complex balance of strategic and geopolitical considerations, maintained PR breathing room. The president could explain that although he supported the Israeli government, its actions on the ground were its own responsibility.
In the first two weeks of this war, Biden looked like the commander in chief of the Israeli armed forces. Thus the entire American administration is currently perceived as signing on to every move the Israeli government carries out.
“I don’t know how long America’s support will last,” one cabinet member told me, “despite the fact that it’s in the administration’s interest to eradicate Hamas and score a win over the Iran-Russia axis. But I can say that for now, the administration is providing vital moral, diplomatic, and military aid. As for how long, no one really knows.”
On at least one key issue, significant differences have emerged between Biden and Netanyahu. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post last weekend, Biden called for the Gaza Strip to be handed over to a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority the day after, and to start working toward a two-state solution.
Netanyahu has seen fit to publicly reject the idea, explaining that “the PA in its current form doesn’t have the ability” to control Gaza. In a press conference held last week alongside Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, he asked rhetorically how it was conceivable to hand control of the Strip to Abu Mazen. He pointed out that the president of the PA had yet to condemn the massacre of Simchas Torah, six weeks later, and that several PA officials had seemed giddy at the scenes of the slaughter.
Bibi, in his way, almost made this another Israeli goal of the war: not to allow the PA to take control of the Strip. For a decade and a half, Netanyahu did everything possible to diminish the PA. The future commission of inquiry will have to examine the concept of preferring to allow Qatari money into the Strip to prevent the PA from entrenching itself in Judea and Samaria.
Abu Mazen has always been a red flag for Netanyahu, but it’s not clear that cabinet ministers agree with him on this. Benny Gantz, who’s taken a dramatic lead in opinion polls, personally invited Abu Mazen to his home during his stint as defense minister in the previous government.
Anyone hoping for Israel’s victory must continue to hope that the differences between the administration and the Israeli government remain limited to the question of the day after. Far more important is the question of today, and Israel’s hope is that the administration stands firm and allows the IDF to destroy Hamas’s military and governing infrastructure.
The president was quoted in the media as saying that the person who ultimately makes the decisions about the day after won’t necessarily be the current Israeli prime minister. The administration hurriedly denied that Biden had made the comment, but in light of opinion polls on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems increasingly possible that both leaders, Biden and Netanyahu, will have to leave the question of the day after to their respective successors, in Washington and Jerusalem.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 987)
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