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In Search of- Rational Diplomacy Past “Don’t”

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by Mustang

There was a time when, amid a global crisis, the world looked toward the United States for leadership.  Those days are long gone, and they aren’t likely to return soon.  American leaders have left the building.

Although Hamas is a Sunni organization, U.S. intelligence claims that Iran provides Hamas with material support — as it is also financially supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Of course, despite what U.S. intelligence told everyone, President Joe Biden claimed there was no evidence that Iran was providing material support to Hamas.  Of course, he was simultaneously releasing Iranian funds, so one might understand his dilemma.

As one might expect after Hamas attacked Israel, Israel responded by declaring war on Hamas and followed that up by launching aerial bombardment and ground operations in Gaza.  Noting that casualty figures are never accurate, more than 31,000 Arabs in Gaza have been killed — which is a likely consequence of sending 12,000 missiles into Israel.  

The situation in Gaza, with an estimated 1.7 million displaced Arabs (out of a population of approximately 2.1 million people), constitutes a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions.  Additionally, more than 60% of the housing units in Gaza have reportedly been destroyed or damaged. 

Some food and other essential supplies have entered Gaza via Egypt and Israel during the conflict, but delays and other obstacles to transporting aid through crossings and Israeli checkpoints and then safely delivering it — particularly in northern Gaza — contributed to a late February U.N. assessment that a quarter of Gaza’s residents were close to famine.

The international community began screaming bloody murder — directing their attentions almost exclusively at Israel, whose reaction was defensive (if not heavy-handed).  In early March, the United States and other countries began taking steps to provide additional humanitarian aid to Gaza via airdrops and a planned maritime corridor, while Israel opened a new land crossing directly into northern Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has gained control over key areas of northern Gaza, withdrawn some of its forces, and shifted somewhat toward lower-intensity warfare, but also continuing operations farther south to target Hamas and its top leaders.

Negotiations involving the United States, Egypt, and Qatar have sought to resolve sticking points between Israel and Hamas on a potential multi-week ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange. 

The Biden Administration acknowledged that Israel has the right to defend itself and has resisted calls from other international actors for an indefinite cease-fire.  However, U.S. leaders have urged Israel to minimize casualties and increase their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza. 

The Administration has also expressed its concerns about Israel’s plans to eventually move its forces into Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah and urging Israel not to advance on the city without a credible plan to protect the over 1 million civilians living there (most of whom earlier fled other conflict areas).

Differences between officials from the United States, Israel, and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) on post-conflict security and governance for Gaza may intensify the challenges involved.  U.S. officials have expressed support for resuming the Palestine Authority (PA) administration in Gaza — after the PA undertakes “certain reforms” as part of efforts to move toward a two-state solution.[1]

PA and other Arab leaders insist on progress toward a Palestinian state so that they can cooperate with this transition.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made statements opposing a PA return to power in Gaza — with good reason and has insisted that Israel should have complete security control of “all territory west of the Jordan River.”

In an October 2023 supplemental budget request, President Biden asked Congress to appropriate more than $14 billion in Israel-related funding and more than $9 billion in global humanitarian assistance that could partly be allocated to Gaza, Israel, and the surrounding region. 

Members of Congress have expressed differing views on the request and its various elements, with some debate focused on what level of oversight or conditionality to place on security assistance to Israel and humanitarian assistance to Gaza.  The debate continues in the House and Senate.

In response to the Arab’s assault on Israel, Biden seemed to double down on its diplomatic engagement in the Middle East.  The process of ramping up its focus and attention to the region was a significant challenge because Biden had spent much of his first two and a half years in office walking on eggshells — seemingly not knowing which country to prioritize: China, Russia, Ukraine, or which topic to embrace: climate change, gender assignment, or draining the United States of its strategic oil reserve.

However, the primary operators in the Middle East — the people who have so quickly gained everyone else’s attention — are the Israelis and the Hamas terrorist organization.  And a few more: Iran, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and various local militias.

As someone recently pointed out, the Biden administration seemed to stumble over the realization that diplomacy first didn’t necessarily mean diplomacy only.  Then, the next shoe to drop was Biden running around making threats his military could not possibly carry out.  It was enough to prompt those considering Biden as Brandon to high-five one another.  The experts claim that America’s presence in the Middle East, inserting itself between the Israelis and their enemy du jour, would only undermine Israeli security.  It would make matters worse.  

Team Brandon also intensified its direct diplomatic engagement on several fronts, but this effort has centered chiefly on crisis response and management.  The administration appointed a special envoy on humanitarian issues and sent several top national security officials on successive trips to engage Hamas and the Israelis directly in cease-fire talks and hostage negotiations.  It’s been going on for several months now.  For all of Anthony Blinken’s efforts, there’s been no joy.

Here’s our problem: First, in America’s current debate about how to end the war in Gaza, too much of the conversation evolves around ways to use leverage to shape Israel’s military options.  Second, too much of the conversation is in the public arena.  Back in World War II, there was a saying: loose lips sink ships.  For example, the center of gravity in this “public” debate has shifted in recent weeks toward the idea of cutting military aid to Israel.  How does this open-mic debate help anyone except possibly the enemy?

Among those who can think — and do, the main problem with this focus is that it fails to explain how the U.S. can cut Israeli aid while achieving its original (publicly stated) goals of eliminating the Hamas threat and repatriating American hostages.  Two-state solution?  Forget it. 

How is Brandon’s policy being implemented?  That’s easy enough to explain: it’s stuck in the weeds.  To build a bridge between another possible temporary cease-fire and wider regional diplomacy, the Biden administration needs to engage in strategic, proactive diplomacy that has been absent from the day of Hamas’s missile barrage.  We have seen no evidence that Biden or his team can achieve this — and the situation is getting worse by the day.  If humanitarian assistance is as important as the administration claims, beyond its public relations value, then why isn’t the administration acting like it?  Why is there no special envoy to coordinate this unmitigated disaster?

Would a special envoy only involve the U.S. further?  Yes, that is true — but now one should ask, would Hamas have even assaulted Israel were it not for Brandon’s jaw-dropping incompetence?  As I say, elections have consequences.  Voting for Biden may well have resulted in the untimely death of 31,000 Arabs in the Gaza Strip. 

[1] If Hamas (or anyone living in Gaza) thinks that a two-state solution in Palestine is worthwhile, the Arabs did themselves no favor by launching missiles into Israel.  Such a prospect is much further away now than it ever was.  In any case, the imbalance of power between the Arabs and Israelis makes such a prospect nearly impossible.  On the other hand, there is no viable alternative to a two-state solution in Palestine. 


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