By providing both bombs and food, Biden puts himself in the middle of the Gaza war

WASHINGTON — These days, from the skies above the Gaza Strip fall American bombs and pallets of American food, bringing both death and life and illustrating the president Joe Bidenthe elusive effort to find balance in a lopsided war in the Middle East.

The president’s decision to authorize airdrops and the construction of a temporary port to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gaza has highlighted the tensions in his policies as he continues to unconditionally support the provision of American weapons for the Israeli military operation against Hamas.

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The United States somehow finds itself on both sides of the war, arming the Israelis while trying to treat those left behind. Biden is increasingly frustrated as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel defies the president’s calls to do more to protect civilians in Gaza and went further to express exasperation during and after his State of the Union address this week. But Biden remains opposed to the idea of ​​cutting munitions or using them to influence fighting.

“You can’t have a policy of giving aid and giving Israel the weapons to bomb food trucks at the same time,” Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, said in an interview the day after the speech. “There is an inherent contradiction there. And I think the administration needs to match the genuine empathy and moral concern expressed last night for the lives of Palestinian civilians with real accountability to Netanyahu and the far-right government there.

The United States’ recently launched air and sea humanitarian campaign follows the failure to get enough supplies to Gaza by land and represents a dramatic turnaround by the administration. Until now, U.S. officials had avoided these methods as impractical, concluding that they would not provide supply on the same scale as a functional land route and would be complicated in many ways.

Airdrops are actually dangerous, as was clearly demonstrated on Friday when at least five Palestinians were killed by falling aid packages, and they can create chaotic and dangerous situations without a stable distribution system on the ground. . Construction of a temporary floating pier will take 30 to 60 days or more, officials say, and could carry risks for those involved, although Biden has stipulated that it would be built offshore, without Americans on the ground.

But the administration reversed course after more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured last month when a crowd gathered around a convoy of aid trucks and the Israeli military opened fire. A senior U.S. official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, called the disaster a turning point in the administration’s thinking.

The official said aerial video of the episode clearly showed the desperation of civilians in Gaza. Although Israeli officials had hoped that releasing the video might exonerate their troops by showing an out-of-control crowd, the official said that instead it revealed conditions dire enough to prompt people to rush into a convoy to 4:30 a.m.

Critics have said the supplies now being airdropped hardly meet the needs and only highlight the moral conflict in Biden’s approach to the war, which began when a Hamas terrorist attack killed about 1 200 people in Israel on October 7 and prompted an Israeli response that killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza.

“It makes no sense,” said Yousef Munayyer, head of the Palestine-Israel program at the Arab Center in Washington. “It’s like showing up to a five-alarm fire with a cup of water while giving the arsonist gasoline. The administration is trying to solve a political problem, which is the optics of supporting this horrible war with these cosmetic measures to defuse some of the voter anger.”

Israelis and their supporters reject this logic. “Why are they going against the grain? » said Eyal Hulata, who served as national security advisor to the former prime minister. Naphtali Bennett. “The message is – and I strongly support Biden in this – that he supports eliminating Hamas, which is the source and cause of all these atrocities, while at the same time emphasizing helping the civilian population of Gaza. .

“People who say there is a contradiction actually make no difference between the people of Gaza and Hamas,” he added. “We differentiate between Gazans and Hamas. »

White House officials have refused to engage in a public debate on the thorny questions raised by abandoning aid to the same people trying to escape U.S.-supplied weapons.

“We have been very, very clear about our concerns about the humanitarian situation there and that it is unacceptable that so many people are in such urgent need,” said John Kirby, communications adviser to the president for national security, to journalists from the New York Times. Times last week.

Biden strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself and respond to the terrorist attack. He has been criticized by some in his own party for failing to express commensurate empathy for Palestinian civilians, many of whom are destitute and displaced amid the destruction of their coastal enclave.

However, during his State of the Union address Thursday, he went further than before in lamenting the suffering. The president has not changed his policies, but his tone and emphasis represent an evolution in his public message.

“This war has claimed more innocent civilian lives than all the previous wars in Gaza combined,” Biden told a national audience. “More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of whom are not part of Hamas. Thousands and thousands of innocent people, women and children. Girls and boys are also orphans. Nearly 2 million additional Palestinians subjected to bombing or displaced. Houses destroyed, neighborhoods in rubble, cities in ruins. Families without food, without water, without medicine. It’s heartbreaking.

The president went even further in a post-speech conversation on the House floor with the senator. Michael BennettColorado Democrat, who urged him to “keep pushing Netanyahu,” known as Bibi.

“I told him, Bibi — and don’t say it again — but, ‘You and I are going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting,'” Biden told the senator in a comment captured on a microphone.

After an aide whispered in his ear, Biden acknowledged he had been heard — but seemed perfectly content to have his irritation known. “I’m on a hot mic here,” Biden told Bennet. “Good. That’s good.”

The change in tone has not gone unnoticed. “Progressives recognized that this represents a change in language by the president and that language matters,” said Khanna, who exchanged texts during the speech with Arab Americans in Michigan, where anger at the president was particularly vivid. “He’s becoming more and more public with this.”

Frictions have increased, particularly over humanitarian aid. United Nations officials have warned that more than 570,000 Palestinians in Gaza face “catastrophic levels of deprivation and famine” and that “if nothing changes, famine is imminent in northern Gaza.” Before the war began, Gaza relied on 500 aid trucks a day, but the World Food Program said that figure was now down to 150 and needed to double that to meet some of the basic needs. Of the band.

The senior US official said Israel’s strategy during the conflict has been to allow just enough aid to avert famine and nothing more. But in recent weeks, several factors have threatened to push conditions below that threshold, including Israeli protesters who blocked aid convoys from leaving Israel on the grounds that the aid benefited Hamas and slowed the release of Israeli hostages. detainees. A state of near-anarchy in Gaza has also made effective distribution almost impossible. One consequence is that malnourished babies began to appear in Gaza’s few functioning hospitals.

The official said that while air-dropped meal packages would likely make only a marginal difference, Biden’s plan for a floating pier could have a substantial effect on conditions inside Gaza — eventually.

Thus, in recent days, US officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have been adamant that Israel facilitate more aid to the territory without further delay.

The official added that Israeli leaders may have anticipated that a deal would be reached by Ramadan, which is scheduled to begin Sunday, to release some hostages and suspend their military campaign. That would have allowed a significant influx of aid by truck and spared Netanyahu from making harsh political concessions in a domestic environment where many Israelis oppose sending more supplies to where the Oct. 7 attack occurred.

But David Miliband, chairman of the International Rescue Committee, said on Friday that airdrops and a jetty were “last resorts”, “costly and risky”, without solving the underlying problem.

“All of this should not distract from the physical evidence that only a ceasefire will ensure the protection of civilians, aid flows, infrastructure repairs and public health measures that are so necessary,” did he declare. “The fourth and fifth best solutions should not be normalized as effective alternatives to better solutions. »

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