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Biden Feeling Heat from Both Sides

Biden spent his week unsuccessfully trying to extricate himself from the deepening political morass that the Gaza conflict has become for him.
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May 15, 2024
Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Donald Trump endured an unpleasant ordeal last week, forced to listen to an adult film actress share embarrassing details about their assignation with the courtroom, the electorate and the world. But Joe Biden鈥檚 week may have been even worse.

While Trump鈥檚 experience was certainly humiliating, it鈥檚 still unclear what the legal and political ramifications of Stormy Daniels鈥 testimony will be. Biden, on the other hand, spent his week unsuccessfully trying to extricate himself from the deepening political morass that the Gaza conflict has become for him. His unsuccessful efforts to placate either side of this debate may have had a more substantive impact not only to the prospects for a lasting peace in the Middle East, but his own hopes for reelection.

Biden鈥檚 week began on a solid note, when he used his speech at a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ceremony to reinforce his solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people. In his remarks, Biden pledged that his commitment to the 鈥渟ecurity of Israel and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is ironclad, even when we disagree.鈥

Just one day later, Biden told a television interviewer that he had decided to attach conditions to U.S. arms transfers to Israel for the first time. In order to prevent an Israeli military operation into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Biden announced that he was pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel and threatened to halt additional weapons if the operation went forward in ways that he considered unacceptable. Neither he nor his advisors have publicly articulated the 鈥渞ed line鈥 that Israel would have to cross before additional arms shipments were derailed, creating an extraordinarily ambiguous situation where it is unclear what efforts the Jewish state can take to capture Hamas leaders in their last major urban sanctuary.

(Nor did Biden mention the more than 130 hostages still being held in Gaza during the interview. An administration official said that鈥檚 because the reporter did not specifically ask Biden about the hostages.)

Two days after the president laid out this new policy, his administration delivered a report to Congress finding that it was 鈥渞easonable to assess鈥 that Israel violated international law using U.S. weapons in Gaza. But paradoxically, the report also stated that the investigation did not find specific instances that would justify the withholding of military aid to Israel.

Progressives in his own party attacked him for not cutting off aid in response to the findings and Israel supporters castigated him for undermining support for the Jewish state at such a dangerous time.

The report alleged that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians during its attacks on Gaza or to provide them with sufficient humanitarian aid. But saying that such a conclusion was 鈥渞easonable鈥 without providing evidence to support such an assertion left Biden open to harsh criticism from across the political spectrum. Progressives in his own party attacked him for not cutting off aid in response to the findings and Israel supporters castigated him for undermining support for the Jewish state at such a dangerous time. If Biden鈥檚 goal was to satisfy everyone, he ultimately accomplished just the opposite by angering both sides.

The president now stands less from six months from election day, and his party鈥檚 progressive base has seized on the Gaza conflict as a symbol for their grievances with him on several issues where they feel he has been insufficiently progressive. But the majority of the American people still support Israel, including most of the swing voters Biden needs to win reelection. The only way to square this political circle is through a peace agreement 鈥 not just a temporary ceasefire but a more durable deal between Israel, Saudi Arabia, a number of other Arab nations and the United States.

Biden鈥檚 domestic balancing act is incredibly precarious, but he walks a similarly fine line in the Middle East 鈥 with far higher stakes. Both the Israelis and Saudis were unhappy with the president鈥檚 machinations, while both countries鈥 leaders are irritated without being angry enough to stop talking altogether. That may be Biden鈥檚 best hope toward getting them together at some point down the line. Such an ambitious agreement is still his long-term goal, and last week鈥檚 geopolitical gymnastics may have kept that hope alive.


Dan Schnur is the U.S. Politics Editor for the Jewish Journal. He teaches courses in politics, communications, and leadership at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the monthly webinar 鈥淭he Dan Schnur Political Report” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall. Follow Dan’s work at .

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