Biden and Gaza ceasefire: Where do things stand?


The Biden administration has been sending mixed messages over its support for a ceasefire on Gaza, amid growing calls from progressives and Arab and Muslim communities to end the conflict. 

On Monday, the United States abstained on a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate and lasting ceasefire, allowing the motion to be adopted in a 14-0 vote. 

But the administration was quick to call the measure “non-binding” in a novel interpretation of the UN Security Council’s powers.

In fact, while addressing the council about the vote, US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield squarely blamed Hamas for the war and absolved Israel of all responsibility. 

While rights groups and humanitarian advocates praised the resolution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed fury at Washington for letting it pass.

“Regrettably, the United States did not veto the new resolution, which calls for a ceasefire that is not contingent on the release of hostages,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This constitutes a clear departure from the consistent US position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war.”

Ceasefire or pause?

But Washington has insisted that any ceasefire must be reached through talks leading to the release of Israeli captives held in Gaza, dismissing a possible UN role in imposing an end to the war.

“We have always believed that the path to a ceasefire and the release of hostages is something that will be reached through negotiations between Israel and Hamas, enabled by third-party countries and in which the United States is participating, and not through a UN process. And that remains our belief,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Tuesday.

At the same time, the Biden administration insists that any future settlement must see the dismantlement of Hamas, which the Israelis say would require more fighting. 

Washington’s position is made even murkier by the conflicting statements from US officials about the duration of the ceasefire they are seeking. 

While Palestinian rights advocates have called for a permanent ceasefire, Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris regularly say that they want a ceasefire “for at least six weeks.”

But when Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the Middle East earlier this month, the US administration said in a statement that he discussed efforts to ensure an “enduring end” to the war with Saudi Arabian officials.

The possible deal

Talks involving the United States, Israel, Egypt and Qatar – and Hamas indirectly – have been ongoing for weeks. 

A US-approved framework would see Hamas and other Palestinian groups release all Israelis in their custody in exchange for a six-week pause in the fighting, the freeing of some Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and a surge in humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

But Hamas has insisted that it will not agree to a deal that does not end the war altogether and ensure the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the return of displaced Palestinians to the north of the enclave. 

Moreover, Palestinians have refused to negotiate over the Israeli-manufactured humanitarian crisis. 

Biden himself has said that Israel should not use the aid as a bargaining chip, but the US proposal treats increasing assistance to Gaza as part of a negotiable deal, not as an unconditional moral and legal obligation.

The Israeli blockade has starved thousands in Gaza as the war has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians in what many legal scholars are calling a genocide.

US positions

So the US says it wants a ceasefire but it is not sure for how long. It also wants to eliminate Hamas while encouraging Hamas to participate in talks to release Israeli captives before it is eliminated.

Washington also simultaneously allowed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire to then downplay it as irrelevant to the talks. 

The Biden administration says aid to Gaza should be increased while negotiating over it as part of a captives deal.

These seeming contradictions could be explained by the fact that Biden is facing increasing pressure over his positions. 

The uncommitted vote across the country – and especially in Michigan with the voting power of Arab and Yemeni Americans and allied communities – has sent an unmistakable message to the White House: Continued unwavering support to Israel may cost Biden the election.

Meanwhile, Congress, where pro-Israel groups like AIPAC have enormous influence, remains overwhelmingly supportive of Israel’s war efforts.

After the Security Council resolution, Congress members – including many Democrats – rushed to criticize the administration for refusing to veto the motion. 

“It’s appalling the US allowed passage of a resolution that fails to condemn Hamas,” staunchly pro-Israel Senator John Fetterman wrote in a social media post.

For now, there has been no meaningful change in US policy as American weapons and taxpayer money continue to fuel Israel’s war on Gaza.

In fact, Biden approved a budget bill this month that banned funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and signed off Israel’s yearly $3.8 billion.

At the same time, the administration appears to be aware of the political and geopolitical perils of the war and is trying to bring it to an end – or at least a pause – on terms that do not upset Israel.