Whitewashing Biden’s Policy on Gaza

On May 13, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan addressed the media in the White House press room on current developments in the Middle East, focusing on the war raging in the Gaza Strip and US policy vis-à-vis that war. Sullivan emphasized the administration’s diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement for a ceasefire and a hostage deal to exchange Israeli hostages with Palestinian prisoners within the context of a lasting and secure peace throughout the region.

In a clear attempt to counter the widespread and intensifying criticism of President Joe Biden’s policy in the Middle East, at home and abroad, Sullivan attempted to reframe the US stance on the Gaza war in eleven succinct but interrelated clarifications. Foremost among them are the following basic points:

  1. The Gaza war, as far as the Biden administration is concerned, is “a war between the state of Israel and the terrorist group Hamas.” The President, Sullivan said, has made clear “the United States wants to see Hamas defeated” and justice delivered to its leaders.
  2. Sullivan acknowledged that Palestinian civilians are living “in hell” by virtue of bearing the brunt of this war. He emphasized that “the death and trauma they’ve endured are unimaginable” and their suffering is “immense.” No civilian should have to go through that, he claimed, knowing full well that this hell he referred to has lasted for almost eight months due to the US view of the war, its opposition to a permanent ceasefire, and its unrelenting support for Israel’s right to “defend itself” and to achieve its “objectives.”
  3. Based on American concern for Palestinian suffering, according to Sullivan, the United States remains committed “to lead international efforts to surge humanitarian assistance throughout the Gaza Strip because innocent civilians should never go without food, water, medicine, shelter, sanitation, or other basic necessities.”
  4. Sullivan did not totally absolve the Netanyahu government from its legal responsibilities in this regard. He demanded that Israel “can and must do more to ensure the protection and well-being of innocent civilians.” Despite Israel’s continuous impediments and deliberate measures, however, to manipulate the flow of humanitarian aid—even allowing starvation as a form of collective punishment— the National Security Advisor insisted that the administration does “not believe what is happening in Gaza is a genocide.”
  5. Brushing aside serious and public disagreements between the US administration and the Netanyahu government, and the latter’s persistent unwillingness to cooperate with Washington, Sullivan nonetheless affirmed that “no president has stood stronger with Israel than Joe Biden.” He assured his audience that Biden’s commitment to Israel is “ironclad.”

Sullivan’s White House briefing represented the clearest summation by far of the Biden administration’s policy toward Gaza since October 7, 2023. However, putting aside the unusual drama and occasional candor of his remarks, the contradictions that have dogged US policy and Biden’s advisors ever since have not dissipated despite the herculean efforts by Sullivan and his colleagues at the White House and the Department of State.

These fundamental contradictions remain stubbornly embedded in all eleven points delineated by Sullivan, beginning with his overly simplistic depiction of the conflict as one between Israel and Hamas rather than a wider war targeting the civilian Palestinian population to avenge Hamas’s surprising raid on October 7 and to prevent a political solution to the 76-year-old conflict.

With more than 35,600 dead and over 79,000 injured Palestinians, an overwhelming percentage of whom are civilians, the Israeli war machine is no longer targeting Hamas and its leaders. The Israeli onslaught on Gaza today is clearly different from what started on October 7, or on October 28, when Israel launched its invasion of Gaza. Since then, the Israeli military campaign has visibly morphed into a wider war against all Palestinians in Gaza and even parts of the West Bank. This situation is causing universal concern, including within the Biden administration.

Furthermore, despite the excessive and unbridled brutality used by Israel against innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure rendering large segments—estimated at 70-80 percent of the Strip’s total housing area— uninhabitable for decades to come, the administration remains adamant that what is happening in Gaza does not constitute a form of genocide.

Frankly, the US administration is hiding behind definitional technicalities and semantic acrobatics after nearly eight months of a vengeful war whose objective of “total victory,” as declared repeatedly by the Netanyahu government, has been deemed unlikely and impossible to achieve by most experts, including senior US and Israeli officials.

Sullivan might prefer at this stage of the conflict in Gaza to claim that there can be no equivocation on President Biden’s adherence to unrealistic and obsolete Israeli objectives articulated in the heat of battle several months ago. But this ill-conceived, one-sided, and outdated position is undermining American credibility worldwide. It is also depriving the United States of the option of playing the role it aspires to play as a superpower in effecting a peaceful, lasting, and secure regional solution to this conflict, as he emphasized in his own remarks.

The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC, its staff, or its Board of Directors.

Featured image: Flickr/The White House