The Biden Administration’s Going All-In on Its Push for a Gaza Ceasefire

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

The clock is ticking.

The Biden administration has gone all-in on its efforts to bring the fighting in Gaza to a halt. The increasingly emphatic U.S. calls for a ceasefire, most notably in recent days from Vice President Kamala Harris, and America’s active diplomatic efforts in pursuit of that goal, are what’s needed to avoid further horrors in Gaza that may make the devastation to date look pale by comparison.

You could hear the urgency in the vice president’s remarks when she passionately addressed the plight of the people of Palestine both on Sunday when she spoke in Selma, Alabama, and on Monday after she met with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz—who also happens to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s primary domestic political rival, and who made the visit to D.C. despite protests from Netanyahu.

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Half a million residents of Gaza are currently at risk of famine. The conditions are worsening rapidly. As the vice president described in heartbreaking terms, mothers are reportedly feeding their children weeds and animal food. People are reportedly drinking sea water.

The situation is so dire that the U.S. took the extraordinary step of initiating efforts to conduct air drops of food aid into Gaza, effectively circumventing efforts by America’s own ally, Israel, to impede aid flows into the Palestinian enclave. President Biden has announced those measures will continue and the U.S. will seek new options to deliver aid to Gazans. Coordinating with U.S. efforts, Jordan has also begun to airlift supplies to the Palestinians in need.

But without a prolonged ceasefire, such efforts will be inadequate to stop the looming humanitarian calamity. The goal and the hope of diplomats from the U.S. and other nations involved in ceasefire negotiations—including Qatar and Egypt—was that such a break in the fighting could be arranged, along with some kind of hostage exchanges, prior to the beginning of Ramadan. The Muslim holy month commences this Saturday, March 10.

A photo of protesters holding placards outside of a US embassy in Tel Aviv

Israeli protesters hold placards calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Jack Guez/Getty Images

Israel agreed to the rough terms of a six-week ceasefire agreement that included the return of perhaps 40-50 Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of a substantially larger number of Palestinians currently in Israeli custody. But Hamas has yet to do so. Some observers, like former Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass speaking on Morning Joe on Tuesday, speculate that Hamas actually sees continuing scenes of suffering in Gaza as working to its advantage.

Regardless of the origin of the hold-up to implementing such an agreement, if it does not come soon, not only will the suffering of the most vulnerable of the residents of Gaza increase markedly due to famine, but U.S. efforts to forestall an Israeli incursion into Rafah—where over a million displaced Gazans are currently sheltering—might also falter. Mass casualties of innocents are also inevitable should such an escalation take place.

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The death of 30,000 Gazans in the war to date has already shocked, disgusted, and broken the hearts of millions around the world. It has likely led to the radicalization of countless thousands in Gaza and beyond, fanned the flames of anti-Israeli feeling and, contrary to Israel’s stated objective, put the country at even greater risk. It has also done serious damage to the reputation of the United States given its wholesale public support for the Netanyahu government—even if behind the scenes tensions began growing between the U.S. and Israel within days of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks.

But it is also clear that if those tens of thousands of deaths are compounded by tens of thousands more victims of starvation and disease, and the war drags on for months, more damage will be incurred to all engaged in the conflict—that will take decades to repair.

Achieving peace will be much more difficult. Rebuilding the lives of those Gazans who survive the war will be made immensely more difficult and, indeed, unlikely. Israel will have undone 75 years of progress in establishing itself as a responsible player in the region and internationally. And America will be seen as complicit in one of the great atrocities of modern times.

A photo of Palestinians walking amid rubble in Gaza

Palestinians walk amid the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza City on March 3, 2024.

AFP via Getty Images

Even if a ceasefire is achieved, should the war resume in six or so weeks with an onslaught in Rafah—or continued Israeli resistance to providing the people of Gaza with the assistance they need—the stoppage in fighting may be seen as a failed gambit.

If Netanyahu hangs on to power, as seems likely—or even if someone like Gantz replaces him—the Israeli government is unlikely to constructively embrace the idea of a two-state solution, or culpability for its apparent war crimes in Gaza.

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In short, unless a ceasefire and hostage exchange are established soon, and the U.S. and others can use the pause in fighting to engineer both sufficient aid for the people of Gaza and a lasting peace that forestalls the Rafah operation, the conflict in Gaza is likely to go from bad to worse.

For the U.S., at the moment, there does not appear to be a Plan B. That’s because—should the above described degradation of an already awful situation take place—the other available options are likely to lead to an even bigger rift in the U.S.-Israel relationship, and an acknowledgement that the wholehearted embrace of Netanyahu’s government in the wake of Oct. 7 was so grave an error we could not manage our way out of it.

So, all eyes are on the clock. We will learn soon whether America’s diplomatic gambit has paid off or a complete rethink of our relationship with Israel and the region will be required.

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