Harris stresses US support for Israel, Gaza truce in talks with Gantz

Vice President Kamala Harris meets Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz amid growing pressure over the US’s Gaza war stance.

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a podium
US Vice President Kamala Harris 'expressed her deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza' in talks with Israel's Benny Gantz, the White House says [Amr Alfiky/Reuters]

United States Vice President Kamala Harris has reiterated her country’s support for Israel and pushed for more humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip in talks with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz.

In a readout of Monday’s meeting in Washington, DC, the White House said Harris “expressed her deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza”, a narrow Palestinian enclave that has been the subject of a deadly Israeli military offensive since October 7.

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The statement explained that Harris emphasised the importance of reaching a deal that would see the release of captives taken by the Palestinian group Hamas in exchange for an immediate six-week truce.

“She urged Israel to take additional measures in cooperation with the United States and international partners to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and ensure its safe distribution to those in need,” the statement also said.

Gantz’s visit to Washington, DC comes as US President Joe Biden’s administration faces widespread pressure to curb the US’s “unwavering” support for Israel in light of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s bombardment, which began on October 7 following a Hamas attack on southern Israel, which killed about 1,100 people.

Critics have pointed out that Israel’s war on Gaza has pushed the territory – home to nearly 2.3 million people – to the brink of collapse. The vast majority of the population has been displaced amid the bombing and an Israeli siege has left basic necessities like food, water and medicine in short supply.

Experts have warned of famine, with Palestinian children already dying from malnutrition.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has shifted its tone, pushing for more assistance into Gaza. It recently airdropped a limited number of meals to Palestinians there. But critics say those efforts will have scant effect if Washington does not exert pressure on Israel to stop the war.

Some have called for the US to withhold military and diplomatic assistance to the Israeli government. The US government provides at least $3.8bn in military assistance to Israel annually.

Reporting from Washington, DC, on Monday afternoon, Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi said there have been several “performative gestures” from the White House in recent days amid an uptick in public pressure.

On Sunday, for instance, Harris spoke in Selma, Alabama – an important site in the US civil rights movement – where she reaffirmed US support for a six-week pause in the fighting and spoke in stark terms about the “inhumane” conditions in Gaza.

But ultimately, Washington’s policies remain “fundamentally the same”, Rattansi said.

Gantz, a former top general in the Israeli army, is widely seen as a more centrist politician than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But critics say that, as a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet, he too represents the Israeli government and its policies in Gaza.

Biden, who is seeking re-election in November, has already faced a backlash at the ballot box for his stance towards Israel’s war in Gaza. Last week, more than 101,000 Democratic primary voters in the state of Michigan voted “uncommitted” instead of supporting Biden, largely as the result of an organised protest campaign stemming from the Gaza war.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Tamer Qarmout, an assistant professor in public policy at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, said what matters is whether the Biden administration will take “real action to stop Israel” from continuing its war.

“We don’t see this happening,” Qarmout said. “The US is not really using any of its leverage to change Israel’s behaviour.”

Source: Al Jazeera