Biden’s Warning to Netanyahu: Political Maneuver, Not Policy Shift


Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

6 Apr 2024 – Responses to questions by Brazilian journalist Rodrigo Craveiro  of Correio Braziliense on 4 Apr, critical of Pres. Joe Biden’s ‘muscular approach’ to the conduct of foreign policy, specifically in relation to China, Russia and Israel, as played out at the expense of the peoples of the world, including the real interests of the North American people. Biden is guilty of war-mongering, reluctance to engage in peace diplomacy, and complicity crimes of support given to Israel while carrying out a prolonged genocide against the long abused civilian population of Gaza along with demonizing and dehumanizing the resistance leadership exhibited by Hamas. In reactions to past genocides, the US has done less to oppose their perpetrators than it should  have, but never before has it been an active accomplice, and in the process, undermining the authority of the most widely endorsed norms of international law and demeaned the institutions and procedures internationally available for purposes of interpretation and enforcement.


1– Biden urged Netanyahu to reach “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and called on Israel to act in the “next hours and days” in the face of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. How do you see that?

Biden’s call for concrete steps to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches Palestinians in Gaza comes very late, given a genocidal assault on the civilian population that is in its sixth month. Also, the effort to persuade Netanyahu to reach a ceasefire was not elaborated with the same urgency or seriousness as the humanitarian insistence on allowing aid to reach starving Palestinians. A cessation of Gaza violence has long been vital if further devastation of Palestinians is to be minimized, if not avoided, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its January 26 Interim Order decreed in support of South Africa’s plea for Provisional Measures as a response to its preliminary conclusion that it was ‘plausible’ to regard Israel’s violence in Gaza as genocide, the highest international crime that cannot be excused because of claims of self-defense or national security. It is notable that legal absolutism when it comes to genocide is supported by near unanimity among the 17 judges composing the adjudicating panel of jurists, and including judges from the United States, Germany, France, and Australia whose governments had supported Israel’s response to October 7. The ICJ was widely applauded for following the law rather than flags of national allegiance, analyzing facts and relevant norms of international law despite the face that the Security Council failed to implement its Interim Order and Israel defied its Interim Order. What the ICJ ordered influenced the symbolic domain of international by legitimating concerns about genocide in Gaza and legitimating the resolve of civil society groups.

Biden’s highly publicized move seems primarily motivated by two developments other than a late surge of empathy for Palestinian suffering: first, shifts in US public opinion away from unconditional support for Israel, which are endangering his prospects for victory in the November presidential election and the fact that Monday’s clearly deliberate attack on the aid convoy of the World Central Kitchen resulted in the death of seven Europeans, sparking media outrage and anger among those governments that had been among Israel’s supporters. No such anger in Washington or hostile media attention were given to prior and worse atrocities responsible for mass casualties among children and women so long as the victims were Palestinians. The surfacing of these concerns, especially in the US, help explain why the public disclosure of the Biden/Netanyahu phone call occurred with official blessings. Such sensitive tensions between previous allies are not normally addressed with such transparency. Such diplomatic moves are considered more effective if carried on secretly, or at least discreetly. Biden evidently was more concerned about winning back Democratic Party voters and reassuring European allies that Western lives should be treated as off-limits for Israel in the future.

Even more disturbing was the explicit support given by Biden to Israel’s recent provocative actions directed at Iran during the 30 minute phone call. The leaders spoke in the aftermath of a targeted attack on 1 Apr that killed seven Iranian military advisors (including three commanders) while they were present in Iran’s consular building in Damascus, a location entitled by international law to immunity from attack.

Such provocations risk a devastating wider war. Iran has declared its intention to retaliate rather than be passive in the face of Israeli military strikes and assassination of prominent Iranian military commanders, and other violations of Iranian sovereignty by Israel. Given this background, Biden publicized reassurance of support for Israel’s provocations acts as a signal to Netanyahu, facing frustrations in Gaza, rejection by Israelis, and possible imprisonment in Israel on past charges of corruption, to embark upon a wider war with Iran in ways that will exert great pressure on the US to become actively involved in the military operations likely to result and divert attention from policy failures of Israel during these past months.

2—How do you analyze this intensifying of pressure by United States against Israel now?

It seems belated, and partial at best, and easily managed by Tel Aviv without any changes in its approach to Hamas or Palestinian statehood. As suggested, it could tempt Netanyahu to embroil Israel, but also Iran, in a regional war with global dimensions. As suggested, Netanyahu is extremely unpopular among Israelis, with growing protests against his leadership. These factors undoubtedly creates temptations on Netanyahu’s part to divert attention from the failure of Hamas war policy, both as a military operation and in making Israel a pariah or rogue state in the eyes of the peoples of the world, and an increasing number of governments in the Global South.

Given reports of Netanyahu’s defiant response to these ‘pressures’ from the US are coming  come too late and even now have an ambiguous impact, taking too abstract a form, not including an arms embargo or international peace force, and not raising even a possibility of support for UN-backed sanctions. I would conclude that Biden’s much publicized warning to Netanyahu presaging a US shift will not have significant humanitarian or peacemaking influence on Israel’s resolve ‘to finish the job’ by an attack on Rafah that produces devastation and many casualties in that beleaguered city giving hazardous shelter to more than ten times its normal population of somewhat more than 100,000. And could, paradoxically make things worse if Netanyahu seizes upon Biden’s apparently unconscious message to Tel Aviv that the time may have come to shift the eyes and ears of the world to a confrontation with Iran.

3- I am preparing a special article on 6 months of war. How do you evaluate the impact of the last 6 months in the efforts of a peace process in the future and in the relations between Israel and Palestinian people?

At this point, there seems no credible positive scenario for future Israel/Palestine relations. An Israeli consensus, not just the government, is deeply opposed to the establishment of a viable Palestinian sovereign state while the world consensus insists on establishing a Palestinian state with international borders and the enjoyment of equal rights in all respects, including security as Israel. The Palestinian people have not been consulted by either side of this nationalist cleavage and seems more and more inclined to opt for a single secular state with equal rights of both peoples as long favored by independent Palestinian intellectuals such as Edward Said.

The UN attempted to impose a two-state solution in 1947 without taking account of the Arab majority indigenous population, and it led to failure, periodic wars, and much suffering. In my view, a sustainable future for both Palestinians and Jews depends on a peace process, with neutral international mediation, and respect for the right of self-determination in the framework of negotiations between legitimate, self-selected representatives of both peoples acting in a unified whole of their own devising.

At present, neither Palestine nor Israel, for differing reasons, is in any position to represent their respective constituencies in a manner that is either legitimate or effective. More specifically, Palestine remains divided between the PLO/Palestine Authority leadership in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza, with additional elements seeking participation in representing the Palestinian people, including the 7 million refugees and exiles. Israel, in contrast, has had a coherent political elite during most of its existence, but now must act to soften tensions between religious and secular constituencies that have been intensifying in recent years to be a credible partner in the search for a political compromise that clears the path to sustainable peace for both peoples based on coexistence, equality, and effective internal and regional security arrangements jointly administered. Stating these conditions highlights how difficult it will be to make the transition from apartheid/genocide realities to the sort of solution roughly depicted.

The South African case, although vastly different, is instructive. It points to two factors that make what seems impossible happen in circumstances that seem hopeless: the release from prison of a unifying leader; a majority recognition that a win/win outcome for both peoples rests on genuine compromise and non-interference by third party governments and international institutions.


Prof. Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.

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