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The Endless War

Why It's So Hard For The West To Call For A Simple Ceasefire In Gaza

Even as casualties are mounting and bombs keep falling on civilians in Gaza, Western countries fail to reach a consensus and unambiguously call for a ceasefire. It's a mix of history, alliances and being too careful.

Photo of a man wearing a Palestinian headgarb, raising his hands as part of an Oct. 25 protest calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, in New York

Oct. 25 protest in New York calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — As French President Emmanuel Macron was getting ready to leave for Israel earlier this week, aides were convinced that he would use the visit to make a public call for a "humanitarian pause" in the fighting in Gaza. This "pause," it was hoped, could lead to the release of Hamas-held hostages and pave the way for a bonafide ceasefire.

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But throughout multiple public addresses during his tour of the Middle East, the French president made no such calls a ceasefire, although he did ask for international humanitarian law to be duly respected, and pleaded for the protection of civilians. It was all the more surprising as, in the meantime, France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was expressly calling for a ceasefire on the floor of the National Assembly in Paris — as if she had not been informed of the change in the agenda.

So what became of said "humanitarian pause"? In fact, it has now become an international point of contention, a wedge driven between the 27 members of the European Union, gathered in Brussels since Thursday to discuss the Middle East conflict. This has sparked anger internationally, as many fail to understand such hesitations while civilians in Gaza are facing veritable carpet bombing.

Treading with caution

At the center of the debate is Israel's right to defend itself after the terrorist attack on October 7 that resulted in 1,400 deaths. Israel wants to keep conducting its war against Hamas as it sees fit, even at the risk of inflicting collective punishment on Gaza's two million inhabitants.

The United States is the only country holding real sway over Israel

Even those who believe that Israel has gone too far in the sustained bombing — in depriving people of water and electricity, and impeding humanitarian aid for the victims — hesitate to speak out publicly due to the trauma left but the October 7 attacks.

Within the European Union, Germany — for historical reasons — will do nothing to displease Israel, making it difficult for the bloc members to reach a compromise. But Germany is not the only one.

In truth, the United States is the only country holding real sway over Israel, which could effectively call for a ceasefire. The United States supplies arms, and they have deployed a substantial fleet in the region to deter Iran and its allies from engaging in regional escalation.

Joe Biden is treading with caution. He calls for the respect for the laws of war, expresses annoyance at the settlers in the West Bank, and seems to be privately working to slow down the ground offensive in Gaza — but he has not called for a ceasefire.

President of the United States of America, JOE BIDEN, visits Israel and is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

U.S. President Joe Biden greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he landed in Tel Aviv earlier this month.

Israel's Government Press Office

Double standards

The West's reluctance to engage in stopping the fighting is perceived in some parts of the world as an alignment with the Israeli state, fueling growing accusation of "double standards."

This inexplicable lack of urgency will leave a lasting impact.

One such accusation came from Queen Rania of Jordan, whose heartfelt plea on CNN, blaming Western countries for not placing Israeli and Palestinian deaths on the same level, resonated far and wide.

This inexplicable lack of urgency in calling for an end to the fighting, even just to provide humanitarian aid to civilians, will leave a lasting impact. It deepens the divide between the West and many parts of the Global South, in a world that grows more fragmented every day.

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AI And War: Inside The Pentagon's $1.8 Billion Bet On Artificial Intelligence

Putting the latest AI breakthroughs at the service of national security raises major practical and ethical questions for the Pentagon.

Photo of a drone on the tarmac during a military exercise near Vícenice, in the Czech Republic

Drone on the tarmac during a military exercise near Vícenice, in the Czech Republic

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