By Joe Lauria
December 6, 2023 Special to Consortium News
In the midst of an Old Testament-style genocide against the Palestinian people, there is a paraphrased line from the Book of Daniel that has come into full view for the Biden administration: “The writing is on the wall.”
Everywhere in the U.S. that prominent administration officials go, they are hearing it from a public increasingly alarmed about their complicity in genocide. It is not criticism they can easily ignore.
For one thing, if they have a shred of conscience left they cannot avoid seeing that Israel’s military campaign is “deliberately inflicting on the group [Gazans] conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the supreme crime.
But even if their hearts are stones, political warnings are scratched on the wall in a fast-approaching presidential election in which increasing numbers of Democrats are affixing “genocide” to Biden’s first name.
Thus Biden, though not Biden himself, was spurred in the past few days to dispatch his top deputies to deliver the sternest message to Israel.
At the climate summit in Dubai on Saturday, Vice President Kamela Harris told a press conference: “The United States is unequivocal: International humanitarian law must be respected. Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”
On the same day Harris spoke, in what appears to have been coordinated by the White House, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, CA, that, “I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and strategic imperative.”
“In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population,” Austin said. “And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.” Even then, Austin couched his remarks in military and not moral terms. Still the message was clear to Israel: Stop killing so many civilians.
Blinken’s Tough Talk
Harris’s and Austin’s remarks followed by two days comments by Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his third jaunt to Jerusalem since Oct. 7.
After meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken told the press:
“We discussed the details of Israel’s ongoing planning and I underscored the imperative for the United States that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale that we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the South. …
As I told the prime minister, intent matters, but so does the result. … Israel has one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralising the threat posed by Hamas, while minimising harm to innocent men, women and children. …
That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza, where they can be safe and out of the line of fire.”
Israel responded with some maps supposedly outlining safe areas for civilians to go to. But the bombing in the south of Gaza, where 1.8 million Gazans are displaced from the north, has been among the most intense in two months of Israeli attacks.
Hundreds more civilians have been slaughtered since Blinken’s remarks. In other words, Israel ignored him. As long as it’s only talk, Israel can afford to.
An unconfirmed report from Israel’s Channel 12 following Blinken’s meeting with Netanyahu said the secretary of state supposedly “linked American military support to certain conditions, including proof that the I.D.F. plans to take into consideration the civilian population in Gaza, reduce civilian evacuations from their homes to a minimum, and provide more safe areas for non-combatants.”
On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Biden ally, said according to the AP: “’The truth is that if asking nicely worked, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today,’ Sanders said in a floor speech. It was time for the United States to use its ‘substantial leverage’ with its ally, the Vermont senator said. ‘And we all know what that leverage is,’ he said, adding, ‘the blank-check approach must end.’”
Until such leverage is used — and Washington has let two months go by with more than 16,000 dead, 7,000 missing and 40,000 injured — these are mere words.
Such talk from these Biden officials and allies will not fool many people, except for fools, and will not scare Netanyahu.
So far not one bullet, nor one penny has been withheld from Netanyahu’s vicious regime.
This is Biden’s quandry: continue to support Israel’s genocide and see his poll numbers continue to plummet. The dilemma he must answer is: what would damage him more, sticking with Israel through its murderous campaign or risk the Israel Lobby’s consummate skill at destroying American politicians?
On Nov. 5, 2024, American voters will weigh Biden in the balance and, as Daniel told King Belshazzar, he may be found wanting.
-Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette, the London Daily Mail and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe
Photo Credit: Kamela Harris at Dubai climate conference on Saturday (COP28 / Christopher Pike).