Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 25 March 2024


Biden Abstains on Israel and Hamas


The U.S. withheld its veto and abstained as the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that demanded a cease-fire in Gaza but didn’t make the cease-fire contingent on Hamas releasing its 134 hostages. That condition, on which the U.S. had previously insisted, has been dropped.

Instead, the resolution’s two demands—“an immediate cease-fire for the month of Ramadan . . . leading to a lasting sustainable cease-fire” and “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”—each stand on their own. To Hamas, the diplomatic pressure will be meaningless. To Israel, it can be perilous, as Mr. Biden well knows. His fence-sitting opens up Israel to more pressure to end the war while Hamas still reigns in part of Gaza.

White House spokesman John Kirby says, “Nothing has changed about our policy—nothing.” He explains that the U.S. abstained because the Security Council resisted a last-minute amendment condemning Hamas. Yet the U.S. had previously vetoed resolutions that wouldn’t condemn Hamas for Oct. 7. The moral arbiters at the U.N. still won’t do that.


The reactions to the resolution tell the real story: Hamas welcomed it and Russia, China and Algeria voted for it, while Israel called it “a clear departure from the consistent U.S. position,” adding that it “gives Hamas hope that international pressure will force Israel to accept a cease-fire without the release of our hostages.” Israel also canceled some high-level meetings.

Biden officials push the line that the resolution is nonbinding and Israel is overreacting. Yet this is how Mr. Biden has turned against Israel: one half-step at a time.

The President’s initial support for a “pause” to free hostages morphed over time into Friday’s U.S. resolution for an “immediate, sustained cease-fire.” The new resolution uses Ramadan as a fig leaf to sneak in a “lasting” cease-fire that would let Hamas survive.

Mr. Biden’s initial support for destroying Hamas has faded, such that Vice President Kamala Harris now refuses to rule out “consequences” should Israel invade Hamas’s last stronghold of Rafah. Administration leaks about international isolation and weapons embargoes drive home the point.

If Mr. Biden thinks his escalating fight with Israel is risk-free, think again. The March Harvard CAPS Harris poll finds that 63% of voters support a cease-fire only after Hamas releases the hostages and is removed from power. Two-thirds say Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza.

Americans don’t want to see Hamas survive to repeat Oct. 7. The President can’t become Obstacle No. 1 to an Israeli victory without endangering his own in November.

Wonder Land: Whether it’s members of Congress, protesters in the street, even golf tournaments—it’s hard not to notice the rising tide of jerk-like behavior. Images: Storyblocks/TikTok/BidenHQ Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the March 26, 2024, print edition as 'Biden Abstains on Israel and Hamas'.

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