Right Now, The Ceasefire Is More Important Than Whether You’re Going to Vote for Biden
Gaza is not primarily about the 2024 US election.
Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages. Palestinians inspect the ruins of Aklouk Tower destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 8, 2023. CC
On Thursday, November 23, a ceasefire went into effect in Gaza. As of this writing, it has held for four days, the original terms of the agreement. A longer ceasefire is possible if Hamas continues to release Israeli’s kidnapped during the October 7 attacks.
The ceasefire is an enormous good for basically everyone involved in the conflict. Palestinians in Gaza are no longer under the merciless Israeli bombardment which killed some 14,800 people at last count, thousands of them children. Families of Hamas hostages have been able to welcome back their loved ones, including children. Palestinian families have also been reunited with children and loved ones released from Israeli prisons as part of the ceasefire terms. Humanitarian agencies have been able to deliver desperately needed aid to people in Gaza with little access to water, food, or shelter.
If you look at US-based social media, though, the loudest and most acerbic conversations about the war often barely acknowledge that the ceasefire is ongoing. Instead, people are focused on how the war will affect the US election, as people denounce Biden or denounce those denouncing him.
Gaza may or may not play a role in the next presidential election. But I think, if we want to prevent mass slaughter, focusing on domestic political concerns is probably not the best strategy—especially not at the expense of recognizing the major change in the status quo, and adjusting advocacy and pressure accordingly.
Focusing on 2024 distracts from what we can do now
Many people in the US are (understandably) focused on an American context. They are disillusioned with Biden’s failure to prevent, or (at first) to meaningfully push back against Israel’s horrific bombing campaign. The obvious form of protest is to withdraw rhetorical support for Biden and threaten him with an election loss. Then people (also understandably) horrified by a potential Trump presidency push back by arguing (correctly in my view) that Trump is worse and you shouldn’t vote for him. And suddenly a conversation about Gaza has become a bitter fight over the political horse race in the US.
I’m fascinated by the horse race too, and very worried about a Trump presidency. But the fact is that the election is still eleven months away. The general election campaigns haven’t really started. Polls aren’t especially predictive right now. The only real evidence we have about how Gaza will affect 2024 is the 2023 elections, which occurred in the middle of the bombing, and which the Democrats won handily.
While we don’t know who’s going to win in 2024, though, we have a certain amount of information about the effectiveness of advocacy. For weeks, protestors have been demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, while defenders of Israel’s actions have argued that even mentioning a ceasefire is anathema, antisemitic, naïve, or all of those. Biden absolutely refused to call for a ceasefire; even socialist Senator Bernie Sanders was reluctant to say the word.
This hardline stance was presented as non-negotiable and absolute. But behind that façade of certainty, Democratic electeds were stunned by the volume of calls they received supporting a ceasefire. Biden has faced pro-Palestinian protests—many led by Jewish activists—wherever he’s gone. His advisors were no doubt also aware that his approval among Arab-Americans was cratering.
The unrelenting pressure had an effect. Dick Durbin—whose career was launched by donations from the pro-Israel AIPAC—was the first Senator to call for a ceasefire; Jon Ossoff, a pro-Israel, Jewish Senator from Georgia, sharply criticized Israel’s handling of the war and its callous indifference to civilian casualties. Finally, Joe Biden—who had, again, rejected all calls for a ceasefire—helped negotiate the current ceasefire.
We have influence now
Biden’s push for the ceasefire came too late for many, many Gazans. That makes it difficult for many people to give him credit. Rather than praising him for the accomplishment, many still continue to reiterate that they won’t support him in 2024.
The vote is a long way away though. The ceasefire is right now. And it isn’t really Biden’s triumph; it’s a triumph of all the people who demanded that the Democrats speak out against the assault on Gaza, and demanded an end to the killing. If we can’t take credit for that because we’re too busy litigating 2024, we won’t be able to build on it. It’s difficult to extend an accomplishment you won’t talk about or claim.
It's important to claim and extend the ceasefire right now, not least because it’s fragile. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu insists that the truce will not be permanent, because (he says) he wants to destroy Hamas and (he won’t admit) resume the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Both Hamas and Israel have already been accused of violating the terms of the ceasefire and the hostage deals. Hamas’ continued control of Gaza is unacceptable in Israel after the terrible October 6 attacks. Israel’s continued occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is increasingly untenable after the latest brutal example of Israeli indifference to Palestinian life.
The path to peace and security for all people in the region looks extremely difficult, to say the least. But we know that progress is possible because we have just seen Israel and Hamas take a step towards less violence and less death. A key factor in that progress was the engagement of an American president pushed by an upswell of domestic protest and advocacy.
We can’t let that protest and advocacy dissipate in a fight over an election eleven months off when people’s lives are at stake now. Whether or not you intend to vote for Biden, we can hopefully all agree that the ceasefire is important, and that it should be extended. So, in between analysis of who will or won’t win in 2024, maybe let other people know that the ceasefire must be extended. Write and call your representatives. We’ve had concrete evidence that our voices can matter. We should make sure they do so now, while there’s still time. Otherwise, November will be too late for a lot more people in Gaza.
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