With prolonged Gaza war, Israel’s Netanyahu may outlast Biden: Analysts

A top Israeli official says the war will continue until the year’s end, pushing it past the US presidential elections in November.

US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden has been an uncompromising supporter of Israel [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

Washington, DC – The Israeli army will be fighting in Gaza for the next seven months at least, Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said earlier this week.

The prediction drew concern over the fate of the Palestinian territory, which is already facing famine, mass displacement and daily Israeli violence that has killed more than 36,000 people since October 7.

A prolonged war also would harm Joe Biden’s re-election campaign in November, experts say, as the United States president already faces plummeting public support for his unequivocal backing of Israel.

Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center Washington DC think tank, said an Israeli offensive in Gaza that stretches beyond the US election on November 5 could mean Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlasts Biden.

“I would love to say that scenario is unrealistic, but I can’t. That scenario is real. And it could happen on November 5,” Jahshan told Al Jazeera.

For months, advocates have warned that Netanyahu has a personal political interest in prolonging the war to boost his political standing at home.

The reverse is true for Biden. Several public opinion polls in the US currently favour former Republican President Donald Trump to beat Biden in November — albeit by relatively a small margin.

Recent surveys in Israel also show Netanyahu recovering popularity and edging out his main rival, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz.

Gaza war hurting Biden

Josh Ruebner, a lecturer at Georgetown University’s Justice and Peace programme, said there is no doubt that the war on Gaza will diminish Biden’s re-election chances.

“The signs are clear. The writing is on the wall,” Ruebner told Al Jazeera.

“And should Biden decide to continue this lockstep support for Israel for another seven months, it’s not only going to kill tens of thousands more Palestinians, but it’s also going to lose him the election.”

On Wednesday, a poll by the Arab American Institute (AAI) showed that Arab American support for Biden in key swing states is at 18 percent, down from 60 percent in 2020, largely because of his Gaza policies.

James Zogby, AAI’s president, said it would be politically “dangerous” for Biden and the Democratic Party if the war continued through the US election in November.

“It means that, if there is not something very dramatic the president does, then this is not going to be an easy election for him,” he told reporters during a virtual news briefing.

Zogby added that Biden does not only risk losing the support of Arab voters.

“Young people, Black people, Asian people are following this on a daily basis, seeing a genocide unfolding. They’re not insensitive to what they’re seeing,” he said.

“They’re horrified. And then the president says, ‘No red line was crossed. Let’s just continue doing what we’re doing.’ It is infuriating and hurtful.”

Still, Biden is not showing any signs of changing course in his pro-Israel policies, even as Netanyahu openly defies the White House’s calls to avoid civilian casualties and not invade Rafah, a city in southern Gaza.

The US president, for instance, signed off on an additional $14bn in aid to Israel last month. And this May, after threatening to withhold weapons shipments if Israel launched a major offensive in Rafah, media reports emerged that the Biden administration planned to nevertheless go through with a $1bn arms sale.

Ruebner said the Biden campaign is in denial about the impact of the president’s foreign policy on the elections.

“There’s a lot of fantasy and make-believe going on in Biden’s world that this is not impacting his chances to be re-elected,” he said. “But it clearly is. And if he allows Israel to continue this course of action through the end of the year, I think it’s going to play a huge role in him being defeated.”

A survey by the think tank Data for Progress, in collaboration with news website Zeteo, showed earlier this month that 56 percent of Democratic respondents believed that Israel was committing “genocide” in Gaza.

But several US media reports have suggested that Biden and many of his Democratic allies have doubts about the polls showing him trailing Trump.

Would Israel prefer Trump?

Biden has been an uncompromising supporter of Israel since before his time in the White House. But despite that stance, the Arab Center’s Jahshan said Netanyahu and his right-wing allies would rather deal with Trump.

“They would love to see Trump come back. They feel that they will get their way with him,” he said.

Jahshan added that, while Biden’s backing of Israel is ironclad, the US president’s calls for more aid and protecting civilians in Gaza are seen as a “nuisance” by Netanyahu’s camp.

Although Biden often publicly expresses his “love” for Netanyahu, experts say the two leaders appear to have a tense relationship, particularly in recent months.

The US president repeatedly warned Netanyahu against invading Rafah, but Israel ignored that red line and launched a deadly assault on the southern Gaza city last month.

In televised remarks, Netanyahu also appeared to dismiss Biden’s threats to halt weapons shipments, saying: “If we have to stand alone, we will stand alone. If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails.”

Israel also continues to impose a suffocating siege on Gaza, despite US demands that more humanitarian assistance be allowed into the territory.

Washington also favours a two-state solution to the broader conflict, while Netanyahu vehemently opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Biden’s support for Israel has remained unshaken despite having his pleas about Gaza ignored. Still, with Trump, Israel is unlikely to even get these verbal warnings, Jahshan said.

The former president, bogged down with legal issues, has not commented regularly on the war in Gaza.

Trump recently promised donors during a closed-doors meeting that he would crack down harshly on pro-Palestine student protesters if elected, according to a Washington Post report.

As president, Trump shifted US policy further in alignment with Israel’s right-wing leadership. He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, ended assistance to Palestinians and imposed sanctions on International Criminal Court officials for investigating possible Israeli abuses.

“Trump is unpredictable. He could go in all kinds of different directions, mostly contradictory directions. My guess is that he will go in a worse direction than Biden [in support of Israel],” Jahshan said.

Source: Al Jazeera