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There is a measure of desperation in Biden’s ceasefire plan

In Opinions, World
June 04, 2024

On Friday, US President Joe Biden outlined a ceasefire proposal for the war in Gaza. The plan is comprised of three stages in which Israel and Hamas would negotiate an exchange of captives, an eventual permanent cessation of hostilities and rebuilding of homes and public facilities.

He called on Israel and Hamas to immediately accept the deal, and quickly move towards a full resolution of the conflict. He now seeks an immediate long-term ceasefire, and links his name and reputation to achieving it.

What are we to make of this? For starters, Biden described the proposal as an Israeli offer to Hamas, but it may well be an American initiative crediting Israel, or even a refurbished Hamas proposal from months ago dressed in American clothing to make it palatable to warmongers.

The plan is intriguing because it includes all the key drivers of the conflict, and also of its resolution: end of fighting, release of all detainees, eviction of Israel from Gaza, removal of the underlying motivation for Hamas to attack Israel, and reconstruction of the strip.

Hamas almost immediately responded that it viewed the proposal positively. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government responded with its usual combination of bravado and ambiguity – saying it would stop its attacks and leave Gaza only after a total victory over Hamas, even if the captives are freed. Yet Biden said that Hamas’s military power has been diminished to the point where it could not repeat its October 7 assault, suggesting that Israel has achieved its goal and can now leave Gaza.

Why have both Biden and Netanyahu, the brothers-in-genocide, who until recently scoffed at longer-term ceasefire proposals, suddenly changed their minds? I have no doubt it is their common desperation. Their reputations have been dragged through the mud, and their political incumbency is threatened. Desperation is a mighty driver of political innovation.

Biden fears losing the November election, while Netanyahu fears being thrown into jail for corruption by an Israeli court or for overseeing a genocide by the International Criminal Court.

Biden will try to claim credit for spurring peace-making. But it is impossible to reconcile any peace-making efforts with his eight months of nonstop funding, arming, and diplomatically shielding the Israeli genocide in Gaza – openly, gleefully, proudly, and at every opportunity. He revealed his true nature, and it earned him the nickname, “Genocide Joe”.

Netanyahu is caught in the grip of irreconcilable pressures of his own making, intended to keep him in power and out of the reach of the courts. Biden’s proposal is totally incompatible with the war-making frenzy of the extreme right-wing Israelis in his government. Like all politicians, but especially genocidal apartheid practitioners, he has made contradictory pledges to different audiences whom he needs to remain in power. Biden’s proposal has given him a soft exit from his dilemma.

Whatever dance Biden and Netanyahu may be performing for the cameras, the pull of moving forward with a plan to “end this war and for the day after to begin” – as the US president put it – will quickly run into serious obstacles on the path to a permanent peace. Ending the Israel-Palestine conflict involves many players who must negotiate along multiple axes, involving forces in several countries – all driven by unpredictable motives and contradictory needs.

The tensions between the following main players have to be resolved: the US and Israeli governments; Biden and Netanyahu; Netanyahu and several far-right Jewish ultranationalists in his government; the Israeli government and Israeli citizens who reject its ideology from well before October 7; the Israeli government and many Israeli citizens who support the demands of captives’ families to end the war and free them; Biden and a large swath of his Democratic Party base who demand that he reverse his support for the Israeli genocide in Gaza, or they will not vote for him in November; Biden and the many Democrats and Republicans who want to continue the Israeli genocide; the US leadership, and most of the world’s people and governments who support equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis and oppose the US-backed genocide; the Israeli government and Hamas whose respective core goals are nearly, but not fully, met in the Biden proposal; and the US government and Hamas who now negotiate indirectly, but remain antagonistic on most issues related to Palestine-Israel and US hegemony in the region.

If the first of the plan’s three stages happens, hard negotiations will then have to tackle the toughest issues, like what form of Palestinian governance ultimately takes charge in Gaza, what security guarantees regional and global powers give Israelis and Palestinians, and how they permanently resolve the most contentious underlying issues – like ending Palestinian refugeehood, containing Zionist settler-colonialism, and peacefully coexisting as separate sovereignties in one land or adjacent states.

On the issue of Palestinian governance, Biden made an intriguing point in his Friday speech when he said that “at this point, Hamas is no longer capable of carrying out another October 7th”, meaning Israel has achieved a key goal of seriously degrading Hamas and it could now stop the war and leave Gaza.

Israel may or may not agree, but the US president may be laying the groundwork for engaging a different Hamas in a post-war era, as he did with the Taliban and his predecessors did with the Viet Cong after decades of fighting them as “terrorists”. When wars end, amazing things happen.

Hamas, or an entity that mirrors its nationalistic and militant determination to exercise self-determination in Palestine, will have to be part of the new governance system in Palestine, alongside the other Palestinian factions that agree to live peacefully alongside Israel. But that will happen only if – and this is the biggest if in this entire equation – Israel and its American backers explicitly, openly, and sincerely agree to full freedom and self-determination for Palestinians, and peaceful coexistence of equally sovereign Israelis and Palestinians in historical Palestine.

Now that would be a really bold move for lasting peace – if an American president one day decides to walk down that path, powered by sincerity, which is hard to discern in the current offering.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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