Biden may be the only person in the world with the power to impose a ceasefire in Gaza

Instead, Antony Blinken’s hand-wringing and crocodile tears merely strengthen the impression of US hypocrisy

Joe Biden’s bid for re-election risks becoming collateral damage in Israel’s war on Gaza. Ever since the US president hugged prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the tarmac at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport last October 18th, he has found it impossible to strike a balance between unconditional support for Israel and concern for the welfare of Palestinians. He has come across as weak and indecisive, traits that are unforgivable to voters.

The atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th do not justify the unspeakable suffering inflicted by Israel’s assault on Gaza. Opinion polls show that Biden’s handling of the conflict is leading progressive voters to abandon him in droves. He has been heckled as “Genocide Joe” at virtually every campaign rally, most recently in Virginia this week.

The US president has asked Israel to reduce the number of civilian casualties in Gaza and criticised the “indiscriminate bombing” of the enclave. But he refuses to call for a ceasefire. His UN ambassador has repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council resolutions demanding a truce. Netanyahu promised Israel would move to a more targeted campaign, then continued as before. Between 100 and 150 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children, are still being killed in Gaza each day.

The Biden administration exerts mild pressure on Israel to allow more humanitarian aid in. The message conveyed is that it is acceptable for Israel to bomb Palestinians to death, but not to let them starve. US pleas are in any case ineffectual, since the World Food Programme’s chief economist estimates that 80 per cent of people threatened by famine in the world today can be found in Gaza. The World Health Organisation says 93 per cent of Gaza’s population “have reached critical levels of hunger”.


Biden has dispatched secretary of state Antony Blinken four times to the region, where violence has spread to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Red Sea. Blinken’s interlocutors know that Washington supplies the weapons that Israel is using to slaughter Palestinians. They view the US as pyromaniac firemen.

On October 20th, Biden asked Congress for US$14 billion (€12.9 million) in additional military aid for Israel. The Wall Street Journal reported on December 1st that the US had already shipped more than 15,000 bombs to Israel for use in Gaza, including BLU-109 2,000-pound “bunker busters”, plus 57,000 155mm artillery shells.

“The suffering [of Palestinians] breaks my heart,” Blinken told the World Economic Forum at Davos on January 17th, describing the conflict as “gut wrenching”. The question, Blinken added, is “what is to be done?” His hand-wringing and crocodile tears merely strengthened the impression of US hypocrisy and weakness.

After a January 19th telephone call with Netanyahu, the White House said Biden told the Israeli prime minister there must be a two-state solution, that is to say an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories, and that Netanyahu had not opposed the idea. Netanyahu issued a denial. Biden then tempered his support for Palestinian statehood, saying it could have limited sovereignty.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, regarded as a leading expert on the Middle East, summarises Netanyahu’s argument to Israelis as, “The Americans and the Arabs want to force a Palestinian state down Israel’s throat, and I am the only Israeli leader strong enough to resist them.”

Friedman speculates that Netanyahu wants to continue the Gaza war for as long as possible, in the hope of postponing his trial on corruption charges and avoiding an inquiry into the lack of preparation that left Israel vulnerable to Hamas’s attack on October 7th. If he can only hang on until next November, Netanyahu hopes that Donald Trump may become the next president of the US, and that Trump will give Israel carte blanche to do whatever it wants to.

If there is a glimmer of hope in the horror of the war on Gaza, it is that recognition of the necessity of a Palestinian state is now almost universal. Secretary-general António Guterres told a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council on January 23rd that “the right of the Palestinian people to build their own fully independent state must be recognised by all, and a refusal to accept the two-state solution by any party must be firmly rejected.” Such a statement would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

US leadership is the missing ingredient. The US president is perhaps the only person in the world who might have the power to impose a solution. Biden could redeem himself if he made a serious effort. Israel has received more than $124 billion in military aid from the US since the second World War, and still receives $3.8 billion a year. It is time for Biden to talk tough to Netanyahu, to tell him to stop bombing Gaza now or lose all assistance.

Two years before he was appointed director of the CIA by Biden, William Burns published a memoir entitled The Back Channel. At his oral exams for entry into the US foreign service, Burns recounted, he was asked what was the biggest challenge facing US foreign policy. “I think it’s us,” Burns replied. It still is.