Biden’s Chance to Do the Right Thing in Gaza

In a speech in Warsaw two years ago, President Biden declared that “the great battle for freedom” is one “between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.”

Now we’ll see whether he meant it.

By a lopsided vote of 13 to 2, the International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive” in Rafah and open border crossings for “unhindered provision” of humanitarian aid. But the court’s order, while binding, has no enforcement mechanism — which in practice means it is up to the United Nations Security Council and in particular Biden to enforce.

This should be an easy call, and it offers Biden a chance to rescue his failed Gaza policy, for, in this case, Biden and the World Court are fundamentally aligned: They both oppose an all-out invasion of Rafah, and they both want Israel to allow in more humanitarian aid. But for seven months, Biden has allowed himself to be ignored and steamrolled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the question now is whether the court ruling will help Biden find the gumption to pressure Israel to obey the decision.

Biden’s leverage is obvious: He can suspend the provision of all offensive weapons to Israel as long as it defies international law, building on his pause in the transfer of large bombs. This would still allow the transfer of defensive weapons so that Israel would not be in significant danger from missiles or other threats, and it is a step that 40 House Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, called for last month.

When President Ronald Reagan faced a similar situation during Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (which led to the rise of Hezbollah), he suspended some weapons transfers and warned that the American-Israeli relationship was in jeopardy; it worked. Biden’s DNA may not allow him to apply similar pressure.

While Biden is deeply knowledgeable about international relations and has generally overseen a smart foreign policy, particularly in Asia, he has bungled the Middle East and damaged America’s moral authority. When he champions the “rules-based international order” in Ukraine against an enemy that breaches international law, undermines the norms of war and attacks infrastructure so as to make civilians suffer, yet then provides weapons and diplomatic protection for Netanyahu’s war in Gaza, much of the world sees only hypocrisy.

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