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“The U.S. and Israel Stand Alone”: World Demands Ceasefire as Gaza Death Toll Tops 20,000

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President Joe Biden has called the over 20,000 Palestinian deaths from 75 days of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip “tragic,” while Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Israel’s military will be expected to shift to a “lower-intensity phase” of its assault on the territory. Phyllis Bennis, author and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, says Biden must move from protecting and funding Israel’s war crimes to holding Israel accountable. “There’s no way that Israel feels compelled to respond to that until the requests become requirements, and the requirements come with conditions that make a difference,” says Bennis. At the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. continues to delay and threaten to veto measures calling for a ceasefire after days of negotiations. “Not only is the U.S. isolated at the United Nations, but the Biden administration, on this issue, is massively isolated within the United States itself,” says Bennis.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The United Nations Security Council has for the third time this week postponed a vote on a resolution calling for a halt to the fighting in Gaza and for Israel to allow shipments of food, water, fuel and medicine into the besieged territory. Several Security Council members have expressed frustration with the United States for repeatedly delaying votes and for threatening to once again veto any resolution.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, serves as an international adviser for Jewish Voice for Peace. Phyllis has written a number of books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, her recent piece for In These Times headlined “The Christmas Truce of 1914 and the Demand for a Cease-Fire in Gaza.”

As we went to air today, Phyllis, there is no resolution at this point at the U.N. One is expected today, but we said that Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. If you can talk about what’s going on there? And then we can talk about that Christmas truce, as we move into the weekend.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: This is, in some ways, a very old story. The United States refuses to accept a globally demanded ceasefire in the context of Israeli assaults, particularly on Gaza. And we’ve seen it before; we’re seeing it again now. The U.S. is refusing to allow the term “cessation of hostilities.” They certainly will not allow the term “ceasefire” to be used. They want to talk about a suspension of hostilities, meaning just a temporary pause, like we saw two weeks ago, to allow in a certain amount of aid, reduce the pressure on Israel, get some of the hostages released, and then go back to the Israeli assault and kill more thousands of Palestinians presumably.

So what we’re looking at is the question of whether the other members of the Security Council will be able to persuade the U.S. — and I think this is very doubtful — to change their position and allow decent language about a real cessation of hostilities or a ceasefire. And if they don’t, will the council go ahead and force the United States to use its veto, something the U.S. does not like to do, or will it essentially collapse under its own pressure and simply withdraw the resolution and say, “Well, we couldn’t get the U.S. on board, so we’re not going to go forward”? The issue then becomes whether you’re letting the U.S. off the hook by saying, “We will simply” — excuse me — “We will simply withdraw the resolution,” or do you force the U.S. to use its veto, which then has consequences, including sending the resolution off to the General Assembly, where it passes under very particular conditions that can make it much more influential and, by some arguments by legal scholars, perhaps enforceable, like a Security Council resolution would be? So that’s where the council is right now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Phyllis, so, if you could explain that? Because normally a General Assembly vote is not legally binding in the way that a Security Council vote is —

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Right.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: — which is why there’s so much emphasis on what the Security Council does.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: The particularity here, Nermeen, is that when the U.S. or any other of the five permanent members of the council actually uses a veto, a new regulation at the U.N., that was passed a couple of years ago, requires that the General Assembly then meet within 10 days to take up that same issue. You know, ordinarily, this is very closely held. The Security Council deals with threats to peace and security around the world. The General Assembly can deal with everything else. But when one of the five permanent members — in this case, of course, the United States — uses its veto on an issue of peace and security, under those conditions, the General Assembly is required to hold an emergency session. And it’s held under what’s known in the U.N. as “Uniting for Peace” precedent. This was something the U.N. was forced to accept back in 1951 at the instigation, ironically, of the United States. It’s how the U.S. got the United Nations to endorse its war in Korea. And under those conditions, the decisions made by the General Assembly, which officially are considered nonbinding, not enforceable, take on additional power, because it’s derivative of United Nations Security Council power. So, the decisions are uncertain, whether it’s really enforceable, but it’s a much stronger resolution in the General Assembly if it follows a veto in the Security Council. That’s one of the big reasons why the United States does not like to use its veto, if it can avoid it.

The other reason, of course, is that it shows the world just how isolated the United States now is. The U.S. and Israel stand alone. The vote in the General Assembly on a very similar resolution was 153 countries, out of 193, who voted “yes,” and only 10 countries, including the U.S. and Israel, voted “no.” And under those circumstances, it really demonstrates the isolation of the U.S. And that’s not something that the Biden administration is eager to be showing up again.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, if you could say, Phyllis — I mean, talk about the significance of U.S. support. Explain why it’s so strident, despite what’s happening in Gaza, and also the fact that when Biden did lightly criticize Israel for its indiscriminate bombardment, saying that it was losing international support, the Israeli foreign minister very quickly said that Israel would continue, quote, “with or without international support.” Your response to that?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, is that accurate, you think?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Right. Well, I think what is true is that the United States has made a number of polite requests of the Israeli government. They have said, “Please stop killing so many people. What you’re doing is OK. Using massive bombardment is OK. But try and pull back a little bit. Maybe change the tactics of the ground invasion so that you’re not killing quite so many civilians. It doesn’t look good.” But there are no consequences when the Israeli response, as you just said, from Prime Minister Netanyahu or others is simply, “No, we’re going to continue what we’re doing.”

There’s no way that Israel feels compelled to respond to that until the request become requirements, and the requirements come with conditions that make a difference, so that when the United States says, “You’ve got to stop bombing Gaza. You’re killing civilians, and it’s illegal under international law. You’ve got to stop,” and Israel says, “Nope, we’re going to continue,” then the next sentence out of the mouth of President Biden or Secretary of State Blinken, or whoever is relaying that message, is, “OK. Then, you know those billions of dollars we send to your military every year? You can kiss that goodbye. And you know how we’ve been protecting you at the International Criminal Court so you’re never held accountable for war crimes? We’re not doing that anymore.” So, those are the kinds of things that will begin to have a real impact on Israel. As long as the Israelis are clear that the Biden position of what we might call bear hug diplomacy, where the symbolism of his embrace, physically and politically, of Netanyahu and the Israeli state is “We have your back. We will protect you no matter what, but please make a few amendments,” they have no reason to take that seriously —

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn —

PHYLLIS BENNIS: — because the U.S. doesn’t express it seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, speaking Wednesday in D.C. at a State Department briefing.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: I hear virtually no one saying — demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender. This is over tomorrow if Hamas does that. This would have been over a month ago, six weeks ago, if Hamas had done that. And how could it be — how can it be that there are no demands made of the aggressor and only demands made of the victim?

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, your response?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, it’s ironic that the secretary of state of Israel’s biggest supporter, the provider of 20% of its entire military budget, among other things, will move forward to say that it’s — that there’s the need for the people of Gaza — because this war is against the people of Gaza. It is not just against Hamas. That’s simply not the case. The notion that the U.S. is saying that the demand should be made on Hamas, when it’s been the United States’ backing of Israel that has allowed Israel to impose a siege on Gaza for 17 years? We should be clear: This siege did not begin on October 7th. It was escalated after the atrocities that were committed on October 7th, for sure. But this had been going on for 17 years, harshly enough that 20% of all children in Gaza were stunted by the age of 2 because they could not get sufficient food necessary for children to thrive. That was way before October 7th. So, we have to look at this in the context of the ongoing war that Israel has been waging in Gaza, against Gaza, against the people of Palestine. And it’s a war that has become genocidal in its impact. So, this notion that Secretary of State Blinken, who is desperately trying to divert the focus of U.S. outrage, global outrage at Israel and at the United States for enabling the Israeli war crimes to continue, he’s using every possibility that he can.

The negotiations are underway between Israel and Hamas in Cairo, with Egypt and Qatar as interlocutors. There’s other negotiations underway, of course, at the United Nations, as we’ve been discussing. But the bottom line is that Israel has killed 20,000 people, 70% of them children and women. And that doesn’t even count the thousands of people that have been killed under the rubble when Israeli bombs have destroyed buildings and homes over people’s bodies. So we’re looking at something that has never happened at this scale in this century. And that has to be our focus. That’s why we need a ceasefire. You’re not going to be able to protect the hostages and bring them home without a ceasefire. You’re not going to be able to bring in sufficient aid to make it possible to stop what is now real starvation in Gaza. We have not seen that before, even under the siege. We have not seen actual starvation. And now the United States — sorry, the United Nations World Food Programme is saying that more than half of the families in Gaza are starving and that 90% are food insecure. That doesn’t exist anywhere in the world right now, where 50% of a population is starving. And that’s what has to stop. And that’s why we need a ceasefire, to end those realities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, Phyllis, we just have a minute. If you could respond to The New York Times/Siena poll that was released earlier this week, where it’s clear that the majority of Americans are opposed to the Biden administration’s policy, but, in a perplexing finding, a number of them say that they would, in the 2024 election, vote for Trump instead as a result?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I can’t explain it. I don’t know exactly what the question was that they asked, and that’s always a key part of how they get answers like this. But I think what’s key is the first thing you said, Nermeen. There is massive opposition in this country to what the Biden administration is doing. Eighty percent of Democrats, President Biden’s own party, want a ceasefire now. We’re seeing massive opposition within the State Department, within the White House. The White House interns, these young ambitious students, high school and college students, the youngest of the federal workforce, came out publicly and said, “We are not the leaders of today, but we aspire to lead in the future, and we cannot stand by and watch this genocide being perpetuated by Israel with our support.” That’s extraordinary. That’s never been seen before in this country. And that’s why we say that not only is the U.S. isolated at the United Nations, but the Biden administration, on this issue, is massively isolated within the United States itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, we want to thank you for being with us, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, international adviser for Jewish Voice for Peace. We’ll link to your new piece in In These Times, “The Christmas Truce of 1914 and the Demand for a Cease-Fire in Gaza.”

Coming up, we look at the Colorado Supreme Court’s historic decision to bar Donald Trump from the Colorado primary ballot over his role in the January 6th insurrection, and then his increasingly extreme rhetoric talking about immigrants “poisoning the blood” of the nation. Back in 20 seconds.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul. Trugoy the Dove, also known as Dave Jolicoeur, passed away at the age of 54 earlier this year.

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