Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 22 March 2024


Biden’s Dangerous Cease-Fire Game at the United Nations

Updated March 22, 2024 6:20 pm ET

Representatives vote on a draft resolution during a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, March 22. Photo: Eskinder Debebe/Un/Zuma Press

The Biden Administration got what it wanted Friday at the United Nations, and Israel will pay the price. Tired of being criticized for supporting an ally, the U.S. proposed a cease-fire resolution that was anti-Israel enough to draw 11 of the Security Council’s 15 votes while still baiting Russian and Chinese vetoes.

To garner meaningless votes, the Biden Administration revised its initial resolution to introduce more daylight between the U.S. and Israel. The final U.S. draft “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained cease-fire” to protect civilians and facilitate more aid but not necessarily to free Israeli hostages. That direct linkage was dropped from a prior draft.

Instead, the linkage comes only at a remove, in expressing support for diplomacy “to secure such a cease-fire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages.” The U.S. couldn’t “demand” the release of hostages if it wants to be popular at the U.N. In case President Biden forgot, among the 134 hostages left in Gaza are five U.S. citizens who may still be alive.


Despite all the word games, Russia and China vetoed the resolution, as all knew they would. The resolution includes several obvious poison pills for these nations, including condemnation of Hamas. The U.N., for all its posturing, won’t do that.

This allowed the U.S. Ambassador to comment right after the veto that “Russia and China still could not bring itself to condemn Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Oct. 7. Can we just pause on that for a moment?” It’s worth reflection, but at the U.N. condemning Hamas for Oct. 7 is a way of trying to draw a veto, not get a text passed.

After that veto, the Council passed a resolution demanding more delivery of humanitarian aid, with no condemnation of Hamas and no cease-fire. The U.S. and Russia abstained.

In the end, the U.S. gets a minor diplomatic win while locking in the “immediate cease-fire” wording as the starting point for future negotiations. That’s a strategic loss for Israel, which still needs to finish destroying Hamas. The Biden threat to Jerusalem of a cease-fire call without caveats has also been enhanced; the U.S. has already covered half the distance.

The larger story here is that the U.N., with its long, continuing history of hostility to Israel, is the worst venue for solving the Gaza conflict. Mr. Biden’s pressure on Israel could even harden Hamas’s resolve to reject a hostage deal, trusting that the U.S. will eventually stop Israel from finishing its Gaza campaign by clearing out Rafah even if there is no deal. In that scenario, the cease-fire would hold only until Iran decides the time is right to unleash its proxies for another strike at Israel.

Mr. Biden’s public criticism and distancing from Israel signals to other nations that they can go even further and the U.S. likely won’t oppose it. Will he condemn Canada’s grandstanding decision this week to stop selling arms to Israel? Crickets from the White House so far. The President’s fading support for Israel is a message to all American allies that the U.S. can’t be trusted if their cause runs afoul of the Democratic Party’s left wing.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews WSJ editorial-page writer Elliot Kaufman. Images: Reuters/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the March 23, 2024, print edition as 'Biden’s Dangerous Game at the U.N.'.

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