What lies behind the Biden administration’s changing ‘ceasefire’ language | Israel War on Gaza

A week ago, US President Joe Biden claimed that a “ceasefire” deal in Gaza was imminent and could take effect as soon as March 4. “My national security adviser tells me we are close,” he told reporters while eating ice cream in New York City.

But ice cream or not, Biden’s actual position was not nearly that sweet. A subsequent statement by a senior Biden administration official claimed Israel had “basically accepted” a proposal for a temporary pause in fighting. But as of March 4, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Mossad director were still refusing to send a delegation to Cairo, where talks with Hamas were under way.

The Biden administration’s eagerness to claim victory in its search for some kind of temporary truce indicates how much it is feeling the heat of the rising global and domestic pressure demanding an immediate ceasefire, an end to the Israeli genocide, an end to the threat of a new escalation against refugee-packed Rafah, and an end to the siege of Gaza and immediate unhindered provision of massive levels of humanitarian aid.

Despite Washington’s vain hopes for March 4 and the unofficial goal of a ceasefire by the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on March 10, the deal remains elusive. Media reports indicate Biden is telling the Qatari and Egyptian leaders that he is putting pressure on Israel to agree to a truce and a captives swap.

But his claim of pressuring Israel is undermined by the continuing US vetoes of ceasefire resolutions at the United Nations Security Council, most recently on February 20, as well as the continuing flow of United States weapons and money to Israel to enable its assault.

The vetoed resolution, introduced by Algeria on behalf of the Arab Group, demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and deplored all attacks against civilians. It specifically rejected the “forced displacement of the Palestinian civilian population, including women and children” and called unconditionally for unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza and the “urgent, continuous and sufficient provision of humanitarian assistance at scale”.

Significantly, the text referenced the January order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that found Israel to be plausibly committing or preparing to commit genocide in Gaza, and imposed a set of provisional measures requiring Israel to stop its practices.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s ambassador to the UN, cast the sole veto against the Algerian resolution, and instead put forward an alternative US text, claiming it also supported a ceasefire.

But the proposed US language does not call for an immediate or permanent ceasefire or an end to Israeli genocide; it does not prevent an attack on Rafah or end the Israeli siege. The proposed US resolution is not designed to end the murderous Israeli war against Gaza – nor is the deal that is currently being negotiated in Cairo.

To the contrary, the provisions of the US draft resolution reflect the true intentions of the Biden administration vis-a-vis its continuing support of Israel, and reveal the limitations of the truce it is trying to orchestrate.

While the US draft resolution does use the dreaded word “ceasefire” – which had been prohibited in the White House for months – it does not call for an immediate halt in the bombing, only “as soon as practicable”, with no indication of when that might be. It does not call for a permanent ceasefire either, leaving Israel free to resume its genocidal bombing – presumably with continuing US support.

Virtually everything the US draft calls for is undercut by what is left out. The demand for “lifting all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale” in Gaza certainly sounds appropriately robust. But that’s only until you realise that the text’s failure to challenge or even name the principal barrier to aid getting in – Israel’s bombardment – means that this is not a serious plan to end Israel’s deadly siege.

It should not surprise anyone that “the Biden administration is not planning to punish Israel if it launches a military campaign in Rafah without ensuring civilian safety” – as Politico reported – despite claiming it wants a credible plan to ensure Palestinian safety. No one in the Biden administration has even hinted at imposing consequences for Israel’s constant rejection of the insipid appeals for restraint – such as conditioning aid on human rights standards (as required by US law) or cutting US military aid altogether. That’s what real pressure would look like.

A more accurate picture of Washington’s approach to Israel’s war against Gaza is the continuing US pipeline of weapons to make Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza more effective, more efficient, and more deadly.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the “Biden administration is preparing to send bombs and other weapons to Israel that would add to its military arsenal even as the US pushes for a ceasefire in Gaza.” The arms the US intends to hand over to the Israeli army include MK-82 bombs, KMU-572 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and FMU-139 bomb fuses, worth tens of millions of dollars.  It is more than likely that the administration will do another end run around US Congress to send the weapons without relying on congressional approval, as it did on at least two occasions last December.

Whatever the language of Washington’s proposed UN Security Council resolution and likely the possible temporary truce deal as well, the words of National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby continue to resonate as a better reflection of the Biden administration’s policy: “We’re going to continue to support Israel… and we’re going to continue to make sure they have the tools and the capabilities to do that.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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