Biden’s Gaza plan: A repackaged, flawed initiative

Khalil Harb, The Cradle, June 4, 2024 — 

The White House’s ‘Gaza ceasefire’ proposal is essentially a rehash of April’s Hamas offer. It reveals Biden’s shrinking options in exiting his self-created Gaza quagmire as US presidential elections draw closer.

Everyone who watched US President Joe Biden announce his Gaza ceasefire plan on 31 May must have wondered where the “surrender or die” threat that US officials – notably, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby – have been wagging at Palestinian resistance fighters for months has gone. 

No, the American president, who essentially banned the word “ceasefire” from the lips of western and UN officials for the first part of Israel’s brutal military assault on the Gaza Strip, has not suddenly become a pacifist.

Rather, as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy recently summed up in Hebrew daily Haaretz on Israel’s unwinnable war:

The war has become an endless cycle of death and destruction. After Rafah we go back to the beginning, to the northern Gaza Strip, like in a game of Monopoly, but with cruelty, and from there southwards to Rafah, through the ruins of Jabalya, and so on, in blood-soaked mud.

Biden wants out of this quagmire for several reasons: the resistance’s steadfastness in Gaza, the regional military support and international solidarity it has garnered, and the Israeli army’s fluctuating fortunes on the battlefield all have played significant roles. Domestically, the looming prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the White House in the November elections has added to the president’s mix of considerations. 

Miscalculations and limited options 

Biden thinks it isn’t too late to fix matters. The shaken president is licking his wounds, the price of his losing bet on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failed war strategies. But it isn’t early either: the “peace plan” Biden presented last Friday indicates Washington’s lack of viable options, and many hurdles lie ahead, not least from his Israeli “ally.”

From the outset, Hamas and other Palestinian resistance factions have maintained a clear stance in negotiations with various parties, including Egypt, Qatar, and France. They have insisted on a ceasefire agreement that ensures an end to the war and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

On the other hand, Netanyahu is betting on manipulating the language and objectives of the deal’s clauses to assure his ‘extremist’ coalition partners that he has shed the most Palestinian blood possible and plans only to grant a temporary truce for him to return to his genocidal ways whenever desired. 

A Resistance Axis source in Beirut tells The Cradle that preventing this Israeli trickery is the essence of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) stance in negotiations. But, interestingly, Biden’s plan is based on principles that Hamas already agreed to last month – an agreement that embarrassed Israel at the time and which it sought to avoid.

‘Cosmetic’ update to the old agreement

Biden’s announcement is essentially a repackaging of last month’s Hamas-approved agreement, which he is now repositioning as an Israeli-sanctioned deal. He even brazenly states that Tel Aviv had submitted “new proposals” structured in three stages, which serve as a roadmap for a ceasefire: 

The first stage involves halting the fire, releasing prisoners, and allowing Palestinians to return to their homes. The second phase includes the exchange of living prisoners, including Israeli soldiers. The third phase focuses on reconstruction, which the White House is selling as necessary to prevent Hamas from repeating the events of 7 October.

The Israeli Broadcasting Corporation also quoted Israeli and American officials saying that the Israeli proposal document is remarkably similar to the document Hamas accepted a month prior, which Tel Aviv had refused. 

Dimitri Diliani, a member of the Revolutionary Council in the Fatah movement, reveals to The Cradle that the occupation state initially approved the Biden initiative at the end of April. Hamas approved the initiative several days later. But Netanyahu walked back his support for political reasons – mainly because he had anticipated Hamas would reject that deal. 

When Hamas unexpectedly approved the initiative, Netanyahu balked. As Diliani recounts:

This initiative was proposed more than once, but the name differs. The first time, it was Egyptian, and today it is called the Biden Initiative, but what is different is that it is clear that there is an American political will to stop the war in Gaza, not in the service of humanity, peace, human rights, or mercy for women and children. But to make it a card for Biden and the Democratic Party after it became clear that he would lose the White House in the upcoming elections, for reasons that include mainly Biden’s support for the war in Gaza and the high number of supporters of stopping the war within the Democratic Party.

In any case, the “Biden plan,” says the Beirut-based Resistance Axis source, is an attempt to alter the status quo – akin to tampering with a crime scene – noting that the US president omitted a clause that demands the establishment of a “Palestinian state.” The White House also opportunistically hopes to use its proposed ceasefire deal to jumpstart the stagnating Saudi–Israeli normalization process – just in time for the November elections. 

The plan’s lack of mention of a Palestinian state or a two-state solution has raised concerns. It appears to prioritize Israel’s security and regional integration goals, including normalization with key Arab states, over Palestinian sovereignty.

The source close to the Palestinian resistance movements says the most dangerous part of Biden’s new rhetoric is that he openly acknowledges Israel’s right to renew its war if Hamas “violates” the terms of the deal. 

This loophole would allow Israel to exploit any Gaza-related incident, however innocuous, to restart its genocidal campaign on Gaza after the Palestinian resistance releases Israeli captives. 

The same source points out that Biden’s initiative raises questions due to his administration’s role as a guarantor for Israel, while Egypt and Qatar are expected to provide assurances to Hamas. This is concerning for several reasons. First, the US has been deeply involved in the conflict from its onset, acting as the key player and weapons supplier in its escalation. Second, there is no certainty that Biden will remain in power after the upcoming November elections, which casts doubt on the long-term reliability of the US as a guarantor.

Internal Israeli politics

Diliani sums up the inherent weaknesses of Biden’s ceasefire plan well, warning that it will set Washington and Tel Aviv on a path of conflict: 

There is an American will, for domestic political reasons, to stop the war, but it clashes with a domestic Israeli political will in Netanyahu’s coalition not to stop the war for political reasons. This is what may cause conflict to escalate between the two allies.

Part of the White House’s dilemma lies in the fact that its every initiative tiptoes around the far-right group within the Israeli government (led by National Security and Finance Ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich) that does not want the war on Gaza to stop. 

At the same time, there is another Israeli grouping within the government’s “War Cabinet” represented by War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz – and a third external group led by opposition leader Yair Lapid, who supports halting the war and ousting Netanyahu from power. 

But this complex circle of entanglements inside Israel is no longer in the interest of Biden and his Democrats. It is not unlikely that Biden is trying to lure Netanyahu into accepting the deal and going through with it, which could lead to his overthrow by Ben Gvir and Smotrich, who actually threatened to do so as soon as Biden announced his initiative. This is a scenario that could lead to the rise of a movement more willing to reach an understanding with the Americans, represented by Benny Gantz and Lapid.

Was it not remarkable that Biden directed many of his speeches and promises to the “Israeli people” on Friday, reminding them – most importantly – or actually acknowledging that the Gaza battle, despite its ferocity, has not closed and that salvation from Hamas is not within reach, completely as a concept? “The absolute victory” that Netanyahu and his minister Yoav Gallant promised them on 7 October 2023 did not come.

The “end” now is a pain for Israel that will not be cured soon, just as it would if it went ahead with an endless war. Both options are fatal.

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