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U.S. Said It Was Calling for a Gaza Ceasefire, But Its U.N. Resolution Didn’t Say That: Phyllis Bennis

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At the U.N. Security Council, China and Russia have vetoed a U.S. draft resolution on the war in Gaza. The U.S. resolution appeared to call for a ceasefire, but it was written in a way to make the resolution unenforceable. Our guest Phyllis Bennis says this was mere “wordplay” and a “convoluted” attempt by the Biden administration to play both sides, as it comes under increasing internal and external criticism over its close relationship with Israel. Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and an international adviser to Jewish Voice for Peace. She has written several books on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. When it comes to dissent over U.S. support of Israel, “the pressure is mounting in ways that I’ve certainly never seen,” she says, adding that it’s imperative for the public to continue pushing for more action, as “it’s crucial that the weapons sales be cut” and a real ceasefire be reached immediately.

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

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in Israel, where he just met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This comes as the United States has introduced a U.N. Security Council resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Despite mounting international pressure, Israel is continuing its war on the besieged territory. The Israeli military raid on Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, has entered a fifth day. Hundreds of Palestinians have been reported killed or detained by Israeli forces. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to go ahead with an invasion of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s entire population has sought refuge.

Blinken spoke Thursday from Cairo, Egypt.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: The need for an immediate, sustained ceasefire with release of hostages, that would create space to surge more humanitarian assistance, to relieve the suffering of many people and to build something more enduring.

AMY GOODMAN: A vote at the U.N. Security Council on the U.S. proposal could come as early as today, but the language of the resolution has been criticized for not going far enough. A group of nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council has drafted a separate resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Up until now, the U.S. has repeatedly blocked calls for a Gaza ceasefire.

On Thursday, Blinken also spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: Children should not be dying of malnutrition in Gaza, or anywhere else, for that matter. A hundred percent — 100% of the population of Gaza is experiencing severe levels of acute food insecurity. We cannot, we must not allow that to continue.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now from Washington, D.C., is Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She also serves as an international adviser to Jewish Voice for Peace. Her new article in The Hill is titled “Gaza shows food airdrops often take lives instead of saving them.” She also recently wrote a piece for Al Jazeera headlined “What lies behind the Biden administration’s changing 'ceasefire' language.”

Well, let’s start there. Phyllis, if you can talk about what the U.S. has introduced into the U.N. Security Council? It could be voted on today. And also what could be voted on are the — is the resolution that has been adopted by or sponsored by eight of the elected members of the Security Council.


You know, what we’re looking at here is a lot of playing with words. What is different is the language of the Biden administration — we heard it yesterday from Secretary of State Blinken, we’re hearing it from President Biden, we’re hearing it from others — using the word “ceasefire,” saying “immediate ceasefire” in some cases. We’re seeing The New York Times is saying that the U.S. is introducing a resolution at the Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire.

That’s not the case. What the U.S. resolution calls for — and we should be clear: There has not been a formal distribution of what the U.S. is actually going to put on the table for the vote this morning. There’s at least three different versions circulating around. But they’re all about the same on the critical description. It’s in the first paragraph. The first operative paragraph of the resolution uses the language of an immediate ceasefire, but it doesn’t actually call for a ceasefire. What it does is recognize the importance of a ceasefire, and then says, “And therefore, we should support the negotiations that are underway in Doha, in Qatar.” These are the negotiations that have been underway for weeks. They are mainly focused on the release of hostages, as well as the parameters of a short-term ceasefire, probably six weeks. But the key thing is that the U.S. draft does not call for an actual Security Council call for a ceasefire.

The language of the eight of the 10 elected members of the Security Council is much simpler and much more direct. It says explicitly that the Security Council demands an immediate ceasefire, respected by all parties, leading to a sustainable ceasefire, period, full stop. The U.S. language is very convoluted. It’s various versions of “The Security Council determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides,” and then says something about “And therefore, we unequivocally support the negotiations that are underway.”

So it takes all of the authority out of the Security Council, makes the council into essentially a group of cheerleaders for the existing negotiations that are underway and takes away any additional pressure that an actual Security Council demand for an immediate ceasefire would have, because Security Council resolutions, as you know, Amy, and I think most of our listeners know, is part of international law. It’s enforceable. It doesn’t mean that it would be enforced, but it’s a very powerful signal, something that an acknowledgment of the importance of a ceasefire is simply not that. It’s not that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the United States introduced this ceasefire resolution because the group of eight of the unelected [sic] members of the Security Council are introducing their resolution? And if that went forward, could the U.S. afford to veto it?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think that the U.S. resolution has been in preparation for quite some time. The resolution by the eight of the 10 elected members is a new development. This emerged only in the last several days. So I don’t think it’s directly in response to that.

It is clearly in response to the massive escalation of political pressure, both from governments and from civil society, certainly here in the United States, but also around the world, where there is demand, there is outrage at the United States’ position at the United Nations, which has been a consistent pattern, that’s gone on for months now, of vetoing in the Security Council any calls for a ceasefire and voting against it in the General Assembly, where it has no veto, and using pressure — economic pressure, political pressure — on other countries to encourage or, in some cases, really pressure them to vote against these resolutions. There is outrage growing. And the U.S. government and the Biden administration, in particular, is very, very isolated as a result.

Here in the United States, we’re seeing a huge escalation in the opposition to the Biden administration insistence on continuing to support Israel, sending military aid, despite the change in language, the recognition of famine that we just heard again from Secretary of State Blinken, the recognition of the humanitarian crisis that is killing people in the level of hundreds every day, and when we’re hearing from the humanitarian experts that the level of famine is at 55% of the entire population of northern Gaza right now, is at the highest possible level of absolute famine, which means, Amy, that even if food began to be delivered on a large scale today, probably hundreds, maybe even thousands, of the most vulnerable people, primarily babies and children and the elderly, would be at risk of dying because their bodies have been so undermined, so destroyed by the lack of food and water for so long. So we’re dealing with an absolute crisis, an absolute human catastrophic crisis. And what we’re hearing is wordplay at the United Nations: How can we use the language of “ceasefire” so that everybody says, “Oh, they’re calling for a ceasefire,” without calling for the ceasefire?

AMY GOODMAN: This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the Israeli parliament Tuesday about plans to invade Rafah, again, where more than half of Gaza’s entire population has sought refuge.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] We, of course, share this desire to allow an orderly exit of the population from Rafah and the provision of humanitarian aid to the civilian population. We have been doing this since the beginning of the war. But I made it clear to the president, Joe Biden, in our conversation that we are determined to complete the elimination of Hamas battalions in Rafah, and there is no other way to do it except by going in on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there, he’s speaking to the Israeli parliament. He also addressed Republicans in a closed-door session. And there’s a question whether the House speaker will be inviting him to address a joint session of Congress. Phyllis Bennis, if you can talk about what Netanyahu is doing, the significance of the calls for there to be new elections by none other than the majority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, a real change from the way he has embraced the Israeli leadership?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, Amy, this is something that has a long history in the United States. Over the last 15 years or so, there has been a significant shift in how support for — the long-standing U.S. support for Israeli military, its military support, its economic support, its political and diplomatic support — how all of that shakes out in Washington. It’s become a much more partisan issue, something that groups like AIPAC and other parts of the pro-Israel lobby have always wanted to avoid. They always wanted it to be a bipartisan consensus to support Israel. And it no longer is. The polls have been showing that for years now, that there’s a massive shift underway. It’s particularly generational, but it’s also between parties, where on the Democratic party side, support for Israel has diminished profoundly, and on the Republican side, it’s been a complete embrace of all things Israel.

What we’re seeing now is a continuation of that, certainly, with the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, following what happened in 2015, when the Republican leadership in the House at that time invited Netanyahu, who was the prime minister then, as well, to address a joint session of Congress in order to pressure President Obama and oppose the Iran nuclear deal that was then being discussed. And it was one of these things that was diplomatically outrageous. It had never happened before. There was no consultation with the White House. Usually, when a head of state comes, they’re invited by the president. Not this time. Netanyahu ignored the White House, came at the invitation of the Republican leadership of the House and gave what amounted to a campaign speech in the U.S. Capitol, as if it was his own capitol, calling on the members of Congress to vote against their own president in the interest of his country. And in response, over 60 members, mainly of the progressive and especially the Black Caucus of the Congress, protesting the racism of Netanyahu towards President Obama, boycotted the speech — something that had never happened before.

We’re seeing, essentially, a repeat of that now, where he is emerging as a partner of the Republican opposition that is demanding more support for Israel, more money for Israel, more arms for Israel, at a time when the Biden administration itself, despite its change of language, is continuing to send more weapons and more money, trying to get Congress to approve $14 billion more in military aid to Israel without any conditions — in violation of U.S. law.

And what we’re seeing is a real shift on the political parameters. You mentioned earlier the diplomats and former military leaders in the United States who are calling for reevaluation of the U.S. aid to Israel, saying that it must be conditional, it must not continue at this level. And we’re seeing that coming from all kinds of new places, from funders of the Biden campaign. The pressure is mounting in ways that I’ve certainly never seen in decades of doing work on this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to quote from the over a hundred Democratic donors and activists who’ve written to President Biden’s campaign, warning the president’s support for Israel’s assault could cost him the election, saying, quote, “Because of the disillusionment of a critical portion of the Democratic coalition, the Gaza war is increasing the chances of a Trump victory.” You have former diplomats, people from the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, like Clinton’s national security adviser Anthony Lake — you know, deep establishment people — saying that this has to change. Yet President Biden seems to be, to say the least, dragging his feet on this. The whole issue —


AMY GOODMAN: — of weapons, sending weapons to Israel, we just learned in that Washington Post exposé over a hundred shipments of weapons through this time just under the threshold where it would have to be approved by Congress. We’re wrapping up, Phyllis, and then we’re going to talk to a doctor who particularly deals with child nutrition and hunger in Gaza. She just got out of Gaza. But we want to have your final comment on what this would mean. Yet at the same time you have senators like Van Hollen, Merkley — both went to Rafah — and others who are saying, “Cut the weapons sales.”

PHYLLIS BENNIS: It’s crucial that the weapons sales be cut.

One of the things I just want to point out in the last moments, this issue of Chuck Schumer coming out against Netanyahu, there’s a move to isolate Prime Minister Netanyahu right now. And it’s certainly appropriate. Part of the reason he’s still in power is to stay out of jail. It’s a very personal crusade on his part. But we have to be very clear that the people who are likely to replace him, if he were to either resign or be recalled in an election, they all support this war. So we should not have the illusion, that I’m afraid people like Chuck Schumer and others might have, that anybody who’s not Netanyahu should be and would be welcomed with open arms in Washington with more weapons, more hundreds of smaller weapons shipments that wouldn’t necessarily have to be approved by Congress. This is a very dangerous reality. We have to be very clear that this is a systemic decision by the Israeli leadership. This is not a one-man show in this horrific genocidal war that is being waged in Gaza. And we have to be careful not to fall into that trap of putting it all on one person and thinking that if one person is replaced, somehow that’s an answer.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, serves as international adviser for Jewish Voice for Peace. We’ll link to your articles in The Hill and Al Jazeera.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we speak to a doctor just out of Gaza. Stay with us.

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