After ‘one phone call’ with Biden, Israel opens Erez crossing to increase Gaza aid

President Joe Biden knows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from back when he was vice president under president Barack Obama (AFP)

The news late Thursday that Israeli officials had approved the reopening of the Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza to allow more humanitarian aid to reach starving Palestinians was greeted with cautious optimism by rights groups, as critics of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Israel policy noted that the approval was granted shortly after Biden issued a warning to the Israeli government.

Biden reportedly threatened to condition future military support for Israel in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, marking the first time the president has used his leverage as the top international funder of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to influence Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“Very good news coming just hours after Biden finally signaled a willingness to withhold aid,” said Matt Duss, executive vice president at the Center for International Policy. “Imagine how many lives could have been saved if this leverage had been used earlier, as so many urged.”

The Erez crossing was expected to receive humanitarian aid shipments starting Sunday, Israeli officials told CNN, with more aid entering Gaza through the Ashdod port the same day.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the news offers a “glimmer of hope” but said Israel must demonstrate that the change in policy will have a meaningful impact on the lives of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, including 300,000 Palestinians who are believed to be trapped in Gaza and subsisting on just 245 calories per day due to Israel’s monthslong blockade on nearly all humanitarian aid.

“Israel and its allies must ensure that aid can now flow freely to avert a famine, and that there will be a protection system for humanitarian workers that guarantees our security,” said Egeland. “Most of all we need protection for Palestinian civilians, who have been indiscriminately killed during these last six months.”

Biden’s call to Netanyahu came days after Israel killed seven aid workers, including one American citizen, who were delivering relief with World Central Kitchen (WCK). The strike on the clearly-marked WCK convoy prompted ships carrying 240 tons of aid to turn back from Gaza.

The attack has prompted some of Biden’s closest allies, including Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to add their voices to calls that have consistently been made by international human rights experts, the United Nations, and progressive lawmakers for the U.S. to apply conditions to military aid for Israel in accordance with U.S. law.

Despite Biden’s warning, he has also been pushing Congress this week to approve an $18 billion military aid shipment to Israel.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said the news of the Erez crossing reopening was “positive news but, of course, we will have to see how this is implemented.”

“We need a humanitarian cease-fire and a massive influx of aid,” said Dujarric.

Shortly after Israel made its announcement, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling on countries to stop sending weapons to Israel.

Twenty-eight of 47 member countries supported the resolution, which demanded Israel be held accountable for possible war crimes, while six opposed it. Thirteen countries abstained.

The U.S. was among the countries that opposed the resolution, despite Biden’s threat to condition aid to Israel.

Francesca Albanese, the U.N. special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, commended the countries that “voted to pass a resolution calling to halt arms transfers to Israel at this critical moment.”

“Next step for all states is to enforce this as well as recent U.N. resolutions to stop the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” said Albanese. “This is in line with states’ obligations under international law including ICJ [International Court of Justice] provisional measures.”

The ICJ last week ordered Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, where more than 25 children are among dozens who have died of starvation so far.

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David McBrayer