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Is Netanyahu’s Long War Strategy Based on Hopes for Trump’s Return to the White House?

posted on: Feb 28, 2024

President Donald J. Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Wikimedia

By: Ghassan Rubeiz / Arab America Contributing Writer

News of a possible ceasefire agreement for Gaza, which leaked out over the weekend, is now being promoted by the White House as a breakthrough. I do not see any game changing developments as long as Israel’s leadership keeps insisting on killing heads of Hamas or sending them to exile. On the other side, Hamas demands immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza (

The basic framework of this talked about agreement seems to include a cessation of fighting for six weeks; the freeing of some 40 Israeli hostages; an increase in urgently needed humanitarian aid to Gazans; and the release of about 300 Palestinian prisoners. In this round of negotiations Israel seems to be willing to release prisoners of high political stature (CNN).

The pressure on the Israeli cabinet from the families of hostages is growing by the day. But this has yet to result in a permanent ceasefire: Prime Minister Netanyahu is still in charge. He is trying to restore his credibility through a full military victory, at any cost. 

But now Netanyahu has a big challenge. President Biden is hesitant to continue to fully cooperate with his extended and expanding war policy. Is Netanyahu now wishing for the return of Donald Trump to the White House to save him from being forced out of office?

Ceasefire not permanent

Netanyahu plans to return to war after the temporary ceasefire ends. Moreover, during the course of a six-week pause, any number of political developments could affect the situation in Gaza and beyond. The conflict with Lebanon’s Hezbollah is getting worse, and the Houthis are still effective in limiting the passage of ships into the Red Sea.  How long will the Israeli cabinet last under the pressure of street demonstrations, rising cost of war, and drain of talent and money from Israel?

Impact of ceasefire

The anticipated agreement would be little more than a temporary remedy for a long lasting war. Israel’s leadership has not changed and Hamas remains in power. The way Israel has responded to the October 7 attack has only exacerbated the problems.

Senseless acts of vengeance

Over the past two weeks, Israel has taken a series of unilateral, aggressive steps, which will complicate and delay the resolution of the conflict. Prime Minister Netanyahu has declared his intention to control Gaza militarily and administratively until Hamas is defeated. Reoccupying Gaza would discourage international efforts to rebuild it. 

Israel plans to demilitarize the strip and create a buffer zone on Gaza’s border.  The Prime Minister wants to control the Rafah border, which has been under Egyptian control for years. Cairo has threatened to withdraw from its peace treaty with Tel Aviv if Netanyahu tries to marginalize Egypt’s role in Gaza. 

The Israel Defense Forces threaten to carry out a land incursion into Rafah before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A million displaced people are sheltering in Rafah. There is nowhere for them to go. Netanyahu threatens to invade Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw from the borders. Despite US objections, Netanyahu has announced that he plans to build three thousand new housing units in the West Bank. But Secretary of State Blinken has clearly stated that expansion of settlements violates international law and US policy.  Netanyahu has pushed his cabinet to declare its opposition to a Palestinian state. Here again, President Biden has repeatedly stated that the two-state solution is US policy.  He has also launched a diplomatic campaign to eliminate the United Nations Relief and Work Agency- for Palestinians, also known as UNRWA.

UNRWA essential to Palestinians

This last diplomatic effort is perhaps the most disturbing example of Netanyahu’s recklessness. No fewer than five million registered Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria rely on the agency for basic needs such as healthcare, vocational training and education.  I worked with UNRWA for over a decade starting in 1979 and I have seen firsthand how important the agency’s work is. I believe that dismantling it would lead to unimaginable loss, anger and suffering (Al Jazeera).

The unilateral steps mentioned here demonstrate that Israel has learned almost nothing from political failure; they also illustrate the powerlessness of the Biden administration in the face of Israel’s Washington lobby.  It’s fair to speculate that Netanyahu’s rising belligerence is simply an attempt to buy time until the November elections, in hopes that a new Trump term will reinvigorate the Prime Minister’s hold on power.

Many reasons for Washington’s tied hands

Despite the gradual erosion of support for Israel’s policies among youth and African Americans, American society remains broadly supportive of Israel. The current administration is not ready to invest political capital in defending Palestinian rights to self-determination. Biden is saddled with domestic pressures and troubled by his image among voters. The White House is facing growing concerns about Putin’s expanding war on Ukraine. It is hard for a weak president to put pressure on an Israeli cabinet, which is itself struggling to survive. It is hard for Biden to reach out to an Israeli public that is in denial of the apartheid it is imposing on Palestinians.

Naturally Arab Americans are upset with a US president who claims to be empathetic with Palestinian suffering while sending Israel all the money and weapons it wants and defending it before the UN’s Security Council. 

Arab and Muslim American Pressure on Biden

Arab Americans naturally reflect the voice of 400 million Arabs. Likewise, Muslim Americans often respond to the sentiments of over the billion and a half Muslims of the world. As a result of complicity of the current US administration in the suffering of Gaza, Arab and Muslim Americans have threatened to withdraw their support for the Democrats in the November elections (PBS).

Arab America’s departure from the Biden camp is not that easy. In punishing Biden, the Middle Eastern votes may increase Donald Trump’s chances to return to the White House. There is no need to explain how Trump’s return to power in Washington would destabilize the region and worsen US relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

Americans of Middle Eastern background are in a tough dilemma as they approach the primaries and the general elections.

Many Arab Americans are willing to punish Biden at any cost. They are either not voting or voting for “uncommitted.” Biden promised them a reversal of Trump’s Mideast policies, but did not deliver.  They are delivering a message: they are no longer to be taken for granted by those in power. In this electoral round many Arab and Muslim Americans will forget about being mainstream Americans; many will become 2024 single-issue voters.

As an Arab American, I understand the desire to punish President Biden for declaring that he is “a Zionist, not only an American.”  That still leaves me with a sense of emptiness, a feeling that we are not being mindful of all the significant variables at play in a democracy.

I tell myself: The threat to American democracy with Trump’s return to power is not to be taken lightly. I am first an American, not only an Arab American. As such, I plan to wait until November to make my presidential choice.

In a sense Biden is only a symptom; he is an opportunist, not the main driver of US injustice in the Middle East.I have no prescription to offer my fellow Arab Americans when it comes to the presidential race. Vote your conscience; the dilemma is tough. As for the temporary ceasefire, it is not game changing; it has to be permanent.

Ghassan Rubeiz is the former Middle East Secretary of the World Council of Churches. Earlier he taught psychology and social work in his country of birth, Lebanon, and later in the United States, where he currently lives. For the past twenty years, he has contributed to political commentary and delivered occasional public talks on subjects related to peace, justice, and interfaith. You can reach him at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America. The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.

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