Analysis. Is US support for Israel wavering?

Six weeks after Israel unleashed its military comeback, however, with air strikes and a comprehensive ground assault against Hamas in the north of Gaza, the US support for the war appears less than wholehearted. As the civilian death toll mounted in Gaza and aid agencies warned of shortages of water, food and fuel, US pressure mounted on the Israeli government to agree to a truce, both to allow more aid lorries to enter Gaza and allow for a negotiated release of hostages in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel.

Israel was initially reluctant to pause its assault, knowing that Hamas would use the time to rearm and reorganize its defenses. But it went ahead, both because of domestic pressure from families of hostages and from Washington. Around ten American citizens are among the hostages held in Gaza. Hamas has sought to prolong the suspension of the Israeli action against them by releasing only one or two of the Americans it holds, calculating that the longer they hold them, the longer the US will continue to pressure Israel to extend the truce.

While the Israeli government is clear in its determination to continue the offensive to eliminate Hamas once the truce is over, the White House is warning against its repeating in the south of Gaza the intense bombardment it launched in the north. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that “far too many” Palestinians had been killed in the war already, ahead of his latest visit to Israel. He declared that his priority was both securing the release of all the hostages and improving protection for civilians in Gaza.

The clear US switch in priority from defeating Hamas to hostage releases and protecting Gazan civilians is driven in part by pressure from Arab and Western allies. But domestic political pressure is also playing a role. And as the US prepares for a presidential election next year, this key foreign policy issue is becoming a major issue among voters.

An NBC opinion poll, released on November 14, over one month into the war, shows that President Biden’s approval rating had sunk to an all-time low of 40 percent. And his stance on the Israel-Hamas war appears to be a major factor in this drop in support, with 56 percent of registered voters and 41 percent of Democrats disapproving of his handling of the conflict. Half of Democrat supporters said they thought the Israeli military action in Gaza was unjustified and that the US should stop providing it with military aid. Opposition to US support for the Israeli campaign was even more pronounced among young Democrat supporters, 70 percent of whom were against Biden’s backing of Israel and his refusal to back a permanent ceasefire.

These young Democrats are unlikely to switch their vote to Trump. But if enough stay at home on election day, it could prove fatal to Biden’s chances of a second term in the White House. The poll shows Biden trailing his predecessor, Donald Trump, who remains by far his most likely opponent in next year’s election. And Trump lost no time in seeking to exploit the mood by criticizing the Biden administration for failing to ensure that Americans were among the first batch of hostages freed by Hamas. Trump used his social media platform to declare that the reason for this was a lack of respect for Biden’s leadership. Trump has also claimed that if he had been president, the Hamas attack would never have happened because of his tough approach to Iran.

The growing Democrat opposition to Biden’s support for Israel in the war is finding expression in Congress, where 24 Democrat members of the House of Representatives earlier this month urged the president to push for an immediate, complete ceasefire. So far, the White House has resisted calls for a permanent ceasefire since it would enable Hamas to declare victory, regroup, and prepare for another deadly attack on Israeli civilians.

Supporters of the Palestinian people hold a rally and march called a Day of Action for Palestine as the conflict between Israeli and Hamas continues, near the White House in Washington, US, October 14, 2023. (Reuters)

Supporters of the Palestinian people hold a rally and march called a Day of Action for Palestine as the conflict between Israeli and Hamas continues, near the White House in Washington, US, October 14, 2023. (Reuters)

And as Congress prepares to debate the Biden administration’s plan to provide $14.3 billion in emergency military aid for Israel, some Democrats are making an unprecedented attempt to attach conditions to the bill – insisting that Israel do more to avoid civilian casualties and agree to allow the delivery of more humanitarian aid. At the start of November, a majority of Democrats in the Senate challenged Biden’s request for emergency military assistance to Israel, calling for guarantees that Israel would take steps to minimize civilian casualties. The pressure on the president from fellow Democrats appeared to bear fruit when Biden told reporters that the idea of conditioning aid to Israel was “a worthwhile thought.”

President Biden has committed himself to Israel’s war aim of eradicating Hamas. But his previous backing for “swift, decisive and overwhelming” Israeli military action has been tempered with doubts over the way the campaign is being waged. And as the fighting shifts to the south of Gaza, with more civilian suffering inevitable, international and domestic pressure will build on Biden to find a way to end it or risk the issue seriously endangering his chances of re-election.

ميادين | مرآة المجتمع، ملفات، تحليلات، آراء وافكار و رسائل لصناع القرار.. صوت من لا صوت له | الإعلام البديل

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