President Biden, You Have Leverage That Can Save Lives in Gaza. Please Use It.

President Biden is sounding tougher toward Israel these days and showing more compassion for people starving in Gaza. “There are a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying,” Biden said. “And it’s got to stop.”

But it’s not going to stop on its own — indeed, it may get worse if Israel invades Rafah, or if hunger tips into famine. And Biden’s concern for Palestinians rings hollow to me because he has been unwilling to lean hard on Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make it stop.

So we’re now in a bizarre situation: American bombs and American aid are both falling from Gaza’s skies.

In 1948, the United States and its allies undertook the famous Berlin Airlift to rescue West Berlin from a Soviet blockade. Now we are engaged in another humanitarian airlift — this time because of the actions not of an enemy but of our partner. Israel is insisting on painstaking inspections of every aid truck going into Gaza. A senior administration official told me that Israel was turning back entire truckloads if they contained emergency birthing kits, apparently because these include a small scalpel for cutting umbilical cords. UNICEF tells me that Israel is refusing to allow it to bring in portable toilets. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Jeff Merkley visited the Gaza border and found that Israel has blocked water purifiers. A British member of Parliament said that Israel had blocked 2,560 solar lights.

Because Biden couldn’t persuade Israel to ease up on this nonsense and allow in enough aid to avert starvation, he moved to airdrops and a sea corridor — better than nothing and also woefully inadequate. Cindy McCain, head of the United Nations World Food Program, warns that road access to Gaza is essential, and that “if we do not exponentially increase the size of aid going into the northern areas, famine is imminent.”

Diplomacy is about arm-twisting as much as persuasion, but Biden seems unwilling to act in ways that give force to his words. Simply put, Netanyahu ignores the White House because there is no cost to doing so.

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