By Arab News
By Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
US President Joe Biden has been slipping in the polls. While he was previously ahead of Donald Trump, the polls today favor the former president. Obviously, Israel’s war on Gaza has had an important impact on Biden’s approval rating. He seriously needs to change course if he wants to get reelected.
Biden is a self-proclaimed Zionist who has, throughout his career, been an ardent supporter of Israel. He stated this month that the state of Israel is necessary for the national security interests of the US. And he has said that “if there were not an Israel, we’d have to invent one.” As a member of Congress, he topped the list of donations from pro-Israel political action committees. Nevertheless, his base is mainly the Democratic base of minorities, Blacks, progressives, Muslim Americans and Arab Americans. His policies regarding the aggression on Gaza have been unpopular with his base and the American public at large. He opposed a ceasefire, while 68 percent of the US public wanted one.
Also, as the war progressed and Israel showed nothing but brutality by bombing hospitals, churches and schools, while presenting no political vision, public opinion shifted more and more against Israel, while pro-Palestine protests spread across the country.
This month, 55 percent of Americans said they disapproved of Biden’s handling of the conflict, which was three points worse than in October. Trump hyped up Biden’s lack of leadership on this issue. In an interview with Univision this month, he said: “It’s going to get worse because there is nobody from the United States who is leading.” Still, one is not really sure how he would have behaved in Biden’s shoes; but he definitely used Gaza to undermine his successor.
As Israel has been miserably failing to achieve its declared objectives and flagrantly abusing human rights, skepticism about its approach has been voiced in the US Congress. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Brian Schatz voiced his concern over Israel’s declared goal of eliminating every Hamas member and wondered whether it could enforce a military solution. He said: “Belligerence is not a strategy, fury is not a strategy, righteous outrage — righteous though it may be — is not a strategy.”
It is very obvious that Israel cannot defeat Hamas militarily. It has so far failed to dismantle the group’s leadership. It did not discover a control and command center that it alleged was under Al-Shifa Hospital. Sen. Chris Murphy, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Middle East panel, released a statement urging Israel to reconsider its approach, as the civilian death toll in Gaza was “unacceptable and unsustainable.”
Sens. Chris Van Hollen, Murphy, Schatz and Jack Reed led the majority of the Senate Democratic Caucus in a letter to Biden that asked the president to push Israel to adopt an effective strategy that would defeat Hamas while protecting civilians. However, Biden does not seem to be putting the necessary pressure on Israel to ensure that it has a reasonable strategy. Vice President Kamala Harris said that US aid to Israel would not be subject to any conditions.
Biden is supporting a losing cause just as he is electioneering. He also wants to ask Congress for $14 billion to help Israel. Cardi B, the pop star who supported Biden during his 2020 election campaign, last week dropped her endorsement. Her argument was that the Biden administration’s spending on wars in Ukraine and Israel meant that the budget for her home city, New York, had been cut. An image as a warmongering leader will not help him in the next election, certainly not with the Democratic base.
In the American electoral system, it is the swing states that determine the winner, as most states are either strictly Republican or Democratic. According to sources, Arab Americans could make Biden fail in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. A poll conducted by Sienna showed that Biden is trailing Trump by four to 10 points in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Hence, he badly needs the votes of progressives, Arab Americans and Muslim Americans.
The Arab American community knows that Trump will be worse for them. When he was president, he imposed the so-called Muslim ban and he last month announced that people who expressed support for Hamas would be deported. Hence, the best scenario for the Arab and Muslim communities would be to negotiate with Biden on a change of policy toward Israel.
Biden reportedly met with representatives of the Arab and Muslim communities, including important donors, and they told him that, unless he changes course, they will not vote for him again. Somehow, a change of policy has started to materialize, although only a mild one: The US did not veto this month’s UN Security Council resolution asking for a humanitarian pause.
But what will happen next? Israel does not seem to have a strategy. Despite the calls for a sustainable solution to the conflict and a two-state solution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is doubling down on its annexationist policy. Settlers are increasingly aggressing Palestinians in the West Bank. Politicians are calling for the expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Israel’s policy is indefensible and the Biden administration’s support for Tel Aviv will not only lose him votes in the 2024 election — it will also damage US credibility.
The only way Biden can win the election is if he coerces Israel into a peace process. The humanitarian pause should be prolonged and the US should show leadership by garnering international support for a renewed peace process. Biden has already threatened to sanction settlers who attack Palestinians in the West Bank, but this is not enough. Sanctions should also target the American organizations that fund the illegal settlements.
The Biden administration should show resolve and push for a two-state solution, not keep it as an empty slogan as is it today. The American electorate would be enticed to vote for a president who was overseeing a peace process. In fact, the continuity of the peace process would be an important incentive for Americans to vote for Biden. This is the time for Biden to choose between his ardent Zionism and the interests of his country, including his own self-interest.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.