After U.S. lets UN ceasefire resolution pass, Israel cancels high-level delegation visit

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to reporters in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

(JNS) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 25 canceled a high-level delegation to Washington after the Biden administration failed to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the war against Hamas, the Prime Minister’s Office announced.

After four failed attempts, the Security Council passed its first resolution calling for an immediate halt to the military operation in the Gaza Strip until the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan on April 9.

The resolution, which also called for the release of Israeli hostages, was supported by 14 nations, including veto holders China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield abstained, allowing the measure to pass 14-0.

Following the vote, Jerusalem announced that “in light of the change in the American position, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided that the delegation will not depart.”

Netanyahu said that the changed U.S. position “hurts the war effort and the effort to release the hostages” by giving the Hamas terrorist organization hope that international pressure will bring about a ceasefire without freeing the captives

The Israeli delegation was slated to travel to Washington this week for talks on the looming Israel Defense Forces operation in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah. It would have included Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.

Washington had said the discussion would focus on alternatives to a military operation in the city amid reports that President Joe Biden is considering conditioning aid to Israel if Jerusalem moves ahead with it.

In a March 9 interview with MSNBC, Biden declared that invading Rafah is a “red line,” before quickly clarifying that “I’m never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical, so there’s no red line [where] I’m going to cut off all weapons.”

The final four Hamas battalions with some 3,000 gunmen are concentrated in Rafah. Netanyahu has repeatedly said that all of the Hamas battalions must be defeated to prevent the terrorist organization from regrouping and reestablishing itself to threaten Israel again.

Netanyahu told visiting Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 22 that the Jewish state cannot declare victory without destroying the battalions in Rafah. “I told him that I hope we would do this with U.S. support but if necessary, we will do it alone,” the prime minister said.

Around three-quarters of Jewish Israelis and a majority of Israelis overall support expanding the military operations against Hamas to Rafah, according to polling conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Last month, Israel put forward an evacuation plan for civilians in Rafah. The proposal envisions 15 campsites of around 25,000 tents each (375,000 tents, in total) where displaced Gazans will be relocated.

Washington disappointed

John Kirby, the White House national security communications advisor, told reporters on March 25 that the Biden administration is “disappointed” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called off the high-level delegation to Washington.

“We’re very disappointed that they won’t be coming to Washington, D.C., to allow us to have a fulsome conversation with them about viable alternatives to going in on the ground in Rafah,” Kirby told reporters.

Kirby denied a shift in U.S. policy in abstaining from the nonbinding ceasefire resolution. There is no reason for there to be an escalation of tensions between America and Israel, he said.

“Nothing has changed about our policy — nothing,” Kirby said. “We still want to see a ceasefire, and we still want to get hostages out — all of them. And we would still want to see more humanitarian assistance get in to the people of Gaza. The reason we abstained is because this resolution text did not condemn Hamas.”

Kirby also denied that there has been a change in the way the Biden administration talks about the potential Israeli military operation in Rafah, from asking to see a “credible plan” to rejecting the operation outright.

“We said weeks ago that we believe a major ground operation in Rafah would be a disaster, absent any proper accounting for the safety and security of the refugees that are still there,” Kirby said. “We still believe the same thing.”

“I don’t see any change in the rhetoric,” he said. “We don’t support a ground operation into Rafah.”