April 21, 2024

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The dispute between the United States and Israel is heading towards the moment of truth regarding Rafah

The dispute between the United States and Israel is heading towards the moment of truth regarding Rafah

The United States has taken a public distance from Israel as never before over the Gaza war, but the decisive test will be Rafah and whether Israel heeds American warnings against launching an attack on the crowded city.

The United States on Monday abstained from a vote in the Security Council, allowing for the first time to pass a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, angering the prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu Who delayed a delegation to Washington to discuss American concerns about Rafah.

But in a position certainly indicated by Netanyahu, President Joe Biden has made clear that he will not use his main point of leverage, which is to cut off US military aid to Israel.

Anil Shilin, who recently resigned in protest at the State Department, where she was on a human rights fellowship, said the Biden administration may change but its actions so far — including the decision and plans to set up an emergency dock to bring in aid — amounted to “PR stunts.” “.

“I can only hope that things are starting to change. Unfortunately, I do not yet see the United States actually using its influence in terms of ending or withdrawing support for Israeli military operations, and turning off the arms tap,” she told AFP.

Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute who was a senior White House aide for Middle East affairs under former President George W. Bush, said Biden was responding at the United Nations not only to domestic policy but to calls from U.S. allies for compromise and settlement. Do not continue to use the right to veto decisions.

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Singh said the decision “is a signal, but it does not affect in any tangible way Israel’s ability to continue the conflict,” while arms restrictions “will come at a much higher cost” strategically and politically.

– Limits of damages in Rafah? –

Israel is waging a relentless military campaign in Gaza in response to the surprise attack by Hamas on October 7, which was the deadliest in Israel's history.

The United States has repeatedly warned Israel not to attack Rafah, the southern city where more than 1.4 million Palestinians have taken refuge, but Netanyahu last week pledged to move forward after a direct appeal from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

American officials say they will present the Israeli delegation in Rafah with alternatives that focus on striking Hamas targets while limiting civilian casualties.

Steven Wertheim, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that US officials' offer of alternatives “suggests to me that they believe some type of military operation will occur and that they are trying to limit the damage from that operation.”

Singh said that the pattern of detention in Rafah harms the United States and Israel as international pressure increases.

“I would say that there might be a desire in Washington for them to continue with whatever they're going to do in one way or another — absolutely protect civilians from harm, but that kind of constant hesitation, I think, is in itself harmful.” “Singh said.

“You'll have more money if you give them plans and things don't go well,” said James Ryan, executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project.

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– 'Both benefit' from distance –

American criticism against Netanyahu escalated as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a staunch supporter of Israel and the highest-ranking American Jew elected, delivered a shocking speech in which he criticized the style of war and urged new elections.

A Gallup poll published on Wednesday showed that only 36 percent of Americans approve of Israeli measures, down from 50 percent in November.

Biden is a staunch supporter of Israel and, facing a tough re-election battle in November, senses the anger of his Democratic Party's left over Gaza, where the United Nations predicts famine.

Netanyahu, who is also fighting for his political career at the head of a far-right coalition, is a veteran Washington campaigner who has sided with most members of the Republican Party and clashed with three Democratic presidents.

“Both Biden and Netanyahu benefit from having a certain degree of friction between them,” Wertheim said.

“Maybe the only thing that can save the Netanyahu government once new elections are held is for Netanyahu to be able to say to the public, ‘I am the only figure who was able to stand up to the Americans and also maintain America’s support for us,’” he said.

Biden, in turn, is keen to show that he resists Israeli “brutality” without imposing costs through arms restrictions.

“What we see is a lot of theatrics that serve the political interests of the leaders,” Wertheim said.

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