Last Thursday, Pres. Biden said in an interview with the TV news show “60 minutes” that while he fully supported Israel in its ongoing war with Gaza, he thought that Israel should not return to “occupying” Gaza. The interview did not air till Sunday, when it was seen as showing the one instance in which Biden has dared add a note of caution or demurral to the crass belligerency being continually voiced by Israel’s leaders.
With Biden now poised to leave for a visit to Israel that’s slated for tomorrow, his stance towards the actions Israel takes in Gaza gains even more relevance. Meantime, he has notably not called for Israel to halt any of the gross violations of international law that Israel continues to commit against Gaza’s 2.3 million people; and there have been well-authenticated reports that his State Department officials are not even allowed to utter the words “ceasefire” or “de-escalation” with respect to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
So his call on Israel not to “occupy” Gaza has some importance. What does it mean? Neither he nor anyone in his administration has spelled out whether it means he is urging Israel, which has sent massive ground armies to the edge of the Gaza Strip poised for a ground invasion, not to launch such an operation—or whether he’d be okay with them undertaking a ground invasion of limited extent and duration; or whether he’d be okay with them launching a total invasion of either the whole of the Gaza Strip or “just” its northern half, provided only that they don’t stay there too long.
Which is it?
The first thing to note in this regard is that according to the U.N. and most of the world’s governments, Gaza is anyway Israeli-occupied territory under international law, and therefore that Israel’s actions there should be regulated by the relevant provisions of international law such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is true that in 2005 Israel withdrew all its civilian settlers from Gaza and withdrew all its military from the interior of the Gaza Strip at that point. But it retained control of all the entry and exit points to the Strip for both people and goods. It maintained strict control of Gaza’s access to the sea, and control over the crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, at Rafah (through a Byzantine bureaucratic process known as “tanseeq“—coordination.) It even maintained control over the population registry of Gaza’s people. It was all those aspects of control that led the U.N. and other bodies to deem that Israel remained the occupying power in Gaza after 2005, just as it has been continuously since 1967.
However, back to our question as to what forms of Israeli action in Gaza Biden might be opposed to.
It is honestly hard to figure out what those might be. He has not openly called for an end to the very tight siege measures that Israel has imposed on Gaza, including its cutting off of power, fuel, water, food, and any deliveries of humanitarian or other goods. (Few of the corporate-media news accounts I’ve read have spelled out that it has been Israel’s bombing of the Rafah crossing that has made it impassable for humanitarian good going in and for Palestinian-Americans or other dual citizens to go out. But that is indeed the case.)
Of course the siege constitutes a massive act of collective punishment such as is absolutely forbidden under international law.
Biden has also not called for an end to the huge number of large-scale air-strikes and bombings of Gaza from land and sea that Israel has undertaken nearly continuously since October 7—bombardments that have led to those horrifying crumblings of high-rise buildings that have killed thousands of Palestinians (hundreds of whole families) trapped inside.
Biden has seemed quite okay with all of that, so far…
To be honest, both Biden and Israeli PM Netanyhau seem to be acting in a deeply deranged manner regarding the current Gaza crisis. Neither has any discernible end-game that is at all feasible.
I am currently wondering whether they actually both did become unhinged by the events of October 7, which within just a few hours punctured both Israel’s long-vaunted sense of strategic impunity and its ability to project a broad and effective aura of strategic “deterrence” that could intimidate potential rivals both near and far?
Or, is one or both of them acting out the “Strategic Madman” theory propounded by Pres. Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger back in 1969, in an attempt so escalate so broadly and in such an apparently haphazard way that it would convince the Soviet leaders that Nixon might seem “crazy” enough to “go much further”—and thus persuade them to back down during crises in both Vietnam and the Middle East?
My money (were I a bettor) would be on the “actually unhinged” explanation. Neither Biden nor anyone in his entourage has anything like the strategic smarts or wiliness of a Nixon or a Kissinger.
Not that it makes much difference. Whether Biden and Netanyahu are actually unhinged or just “playing” the “Strategic Madman” game, the strategic knife-edge to which their actions have brought Gaza, Israel, the whole of West Asia, and indeed the global balance is already quite dangerous enough. Plus, it has already killed nearly 3,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them innocent civilians.
End all these forms of madness! Ceasefire now!