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For Biden, the word ‘ceasefire’ is not in his vocabulary

Nov 29,2023 - Last updated at Nov 29,2023

Writing about the Gaza war, The Irish Times' distinguished columnist Fintan O'Toole cited Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 AD) who quoted the Scottish chieftain Calgacus, leader of the resistance to Roman rule, as saying of the Romans, "They make a desert and call it peace." O'Toole goes on to write that Israel seems to be following the Roman example by killing thousands of Gazan civilians before declaring "peace in a blood-soaked wasteland of rubble and dust". Modern scholars regard Tacitus as one of the greatest Roman historians.

O'Toole has taken a tough line with Israel because he is both highly regarded and Irish. Like Palestinians, the Irish people suffered mightily from settler colonialism. In Ireland, the colonialists were British rather than Israeli. In Ireland, millions fled the country during repeated periods of famine in the 18th and 19th centuries which culminated in the Great Famine from 1845-1852 when 1 million died and another million left the country while the Britons — who looked down on the Irish — refused to block the exports of food from Ireland.

As hunger and persecution have not been forgotten in Ireland, hunger, thirst, Israel's brutal devastation of Gaza will not fade from Palestinian minds for a long time to come. 

For decades Ireland has been closely involved with Palestine and dared to speak out when Europe remained silent about Israel's carpet bombing of Gaza. President Michael D. Higgins began by criticising European Union (EU) Commission President Ursula von de Leyen. He called her "reckless" for her pro-Israel response after it launched its deadly and devastating blitz on Gaza. She not only expressed European solidarity with Israel but flew to Tel Aviv where she met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

As the death toll in Gaza began to rise, Higgins accused Israel of undermining humanitarian law, "To announce in advance that you will break international law and to do so on an innocent population, it reduces all the code that was there from Second World War on protection of civilians and it reduces it to tatters," Higgins stated in mid-October well before other European leaders dared.

Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar said Israel's response to the Hamas October 7 surprise attack which killed 1,200 in southern Israel appears to be "something like revenge" after Israel had killed thousands of Palestinians in Gaza while claiming it is acting in self-defence. Varadkar also said Palestinians have been "horribly treated now for 75 years and denied self-determination and denied their own state".

These brave comments have, until recently, made Ireland an "outlier" in Europe where policy-makers have largely trailed behind Washington's "Israeli right to self-defence" justification for Israeli targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure which, as Higgins made clear, is illegal under international law.

In mid-October EU foreign affairs chief Josip Borrell said, "The right to self-defence, like any other right, has limits. In this case, it's the limits set by international law and, in particular, by international humanitarian law." He said condemning Hamas for attacking Israelis does not prevent Europe from expressing sympathy for dead Palestinians.

On November 11, French President Emmanuel Macron told the BBC that there was "no justification" for the bombing and called for a ceasefire which would benefit Israel. Speaking a day after the Paris humanitarian conference, he said all governments and agencies attending agreed "there is no other solution than first a humanitarian pause, going to a ceasefire, which will allow us to protect.. all civilians" not involved with Hamas.

Better late than never, Spain and Belgium have deplored Israel's onslaught on Gaza. During a visit to the Rafah crossing to Gaza last week, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, "The indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, includidng thousands of boys and girls, is completely unacceptable." He called for "recognition by the international community and Israel of the state of Palestine".

Belgian Prime Minister Alexader De Croo stated, "The destruction of Gaza is unacceptable. We cannot accept that a society is being destroyed the way it is being destroyed.“ He said Israel's response to Hamas attack must "respect international humanitarian law”.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said it is clear that the war in Gaza has seen “a killing of civilians that is unparalleled and unprecedented in any conflict” since he began his role in 2017.

Israel has ignored these words and carried on until a week ago it agreed to a four-day humanitarian pause as the death toll in Gaza reached 15,000 and entire neighbourhoods were reduced to rubble covering thousands of bodies.

Israel can dismiss Europe as long as he has the supine support of US President Joe Biden who said on Sunday that extending the four-days of truce “is my goal, that’s our goal, to keep this pause going beyond [Monday] so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza”. For Biden, the word "ceasefire" is not in his vocabulary. He did not differ with Netanyahu who said Israel will intensify the bombing and siege of Gaza once the pause was over.

Biden has never seen or tried to comprehend the suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and colonial expansion and cannot be expected to shift from his commitment to Israel at this time of terrible trouble. 

Biden's refusal to demand a full ceasefire contrasts sharply with the demand in August 1982 during Israel's war on Lebanon by then president Ronald Reagan for a cessation of the brutal Israeli bombing of Beirut. Within 20 minutes of a call from Reagan to Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin the bombing stopped. US sources said at the time that the bombing would have continued but for Nancy Reagan awho appealed to her husband to halt the carnage. Clearly, Jill Biden is not prepared to insist her husband demand a ceasefire from Netanyahu and risk consequences iif he refuses.This stubborn refusal to follow Reagan's example could cost Biden the presidency and his Democrat party seats in parliament in next year's election as young Democrat voters critical of Israel could stay away from the polls.

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