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U.N. Adopts Biden-Backed Ceasefire Resolution for Israel

There were two big pieces of news out of Israel this weekend. The second (chronologically), which we wrote about yesterday, was the resignation of Benny Gantz from the Israeli war cabinet. The first, which actually caused Gantz to delay his resignation by a day, was the Israeli rescue operation that extracted four hostages from the clutches of Hamas.

As we have written previously, most events that take place during a war exist in shades of gray. That is to say, everyone's hands end up a little (or a lot) dirty. So it is with the hostage rescue. On one hand, four innocents were saved from a terrible situation that might well have ended with their execution. On the other hand, the Gaza Health Ministry reported that, in order to save those four innocents, 274 Gazans were killed. Authorities in Gaza have been known to inflate casualty figures, and they also do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. However, video footage from the moments after the Israeli operations showed at least one dead infant and several dead children. So, even if you hold all adults in Gaza responsible for Hamas, it is certainly the case that to save four innocents, the Israeli Defense Forces killed more (and probably considerably more) than four innocents. On top of that, the future is murky. Hamas could execute some of the remaining hostages, or could raise the bar in terms of what is necessary to secure the remaining hostages' freedom.

So was it worth it? Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu certainly thinks so. If you heard a sonic boom in Tel Aviv on Saturday, it wasn't a military plane, it was the PM hightailing it to the hospital for photo-ops with the four hostages. There is little question that the right-wing and far-right-wing elements that are keeping him in power were delighted, as well. To be blunt, many of them see hundreds of dead Gazans as a bonus, not as collateral damage. And just about everyone loves tales of military exploits like this. How many movies have been made about [military force X] launching a successful, if deadly, assault against [imposing target Y]. In this weekend's Q&A and mailbag, we even had an extended discussion of one of the more recent examples, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

The morally ambiguous nature of the operation is indicated by, among other evidence, the response of the Biden administration. The U.S. did provide some intelligence as to the location of the four hostages. But beyond that, there was no participation by Americans and no use of American resources. And while Biden congratulated the Israeli government on the rescue, he's otherwise spent the 3 days since the operation working independently of Netanyahu.

We actually mean two things by that. The first, and probably less significant, is that the White House is now talking about working directly with Hamas to free hostages, cutting the Israeli government right out of the loop. This is the Biden administration saying "We don't approve of your approach" without directly saying "We don't approve of your approach."

Second, the President is pushing his ceasefire proposal hard, and as of yesterday, he has the backing of the U.N. Security Council. In a vote, 14 of the 15 members voted to approve the measure, with Russia abstaining. According to the text of the resolution, Israel has already agreed to the terms of the measure, and so all that is needed is buy-in from Hamas. As is usually the case, though, the devil is in the details here. It is likely that Hamas will demand further guarantees than the current proposal offers; if and when such demands are made, Israel is likely to balk. Netanyahu has been around this particular block more than a few times, so it's not crazy to suspect he tentatively agreed to the Biden proposal to be able to say "we're willing to be reasonable" and "we're trying to work with you, Mr. Biden," knowing that there would eventually be a backdoor through which Israel could exit. At very least, the Israeli government announced that it would keep up operations in Gaza, despite the U.N. vote, and despite having ostensibly accepted the Biden proposal.

In short, the last several days' big news have basically left us with the status quo intact. To wit: (1) The fighting is still raging in Gaza, (2) the international community is largely unhappy, (3) Biden is trying to do something to bring about peace, and (4) peace does not appear to be imminent. We would be thrilled to be proven wrong on that last point but, unfortunately, we think we're on pretty strong ground.

And now, a (temporary) non sequitur. As you may have heard, the U.S. economy was expected to add about 180,000 jobs in the month of May. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the actual total was 272,000. While this is a tentative number, and the BLS will eventually issue updates, 272,000 is nonetheless way more than 180,000, and so the report was greeted with much surprise.

One might think that adding roughly 50% more jobs than expected would be a feather in the cap of the Biden administration. And yet, according to a solid majority of the headlines after the BLS' report was released, one would be wrong. Here are just a few examples:

We do not dispute that a good jobs report may not be the be-all and end-all. We also recognize that adding lots of jobs when unemployment is low could have some deleterious effects. And we know that jobs numbers are fungible, and that "full-time $100,000/year with benefits" and "part-time $10,000/year with no benefits" are both "one job." That said, we could not help but notice how negative the coverage was, on the whole. If the U.S. had added, say, only 90,000 jobs, would there have been a bunch of pieces laudatory of the administration? "Biden doing a great job of making sure employers don't add too many jobs!" We tend to doubt it.

And now, back to Israel. With the jobs stories fresh in our mind, we could not help but notice how negative most of the Biden-Israel coverage was this weekend. Here's a longer list of examples, drawn from across the spectrum:

Let us make clear that we know that when you are the president, the buck stops with you. So some, and maybe all, of this coverage may be warranted. That said, in a world where many outlets are committed to "telling both sides," to the point of making it a fetish, we very rarely see stories or op-eds that comment on what Biden has done right. He can't be batting .000, can he? We also rarely see stories or op-eds that speak to what is really the most important truth at all: Biden might be president, but in the end, there are significant limits to his power.

In any event, that leads us to a question (or, really, series of questions) we were pondering: Imagine that Donald Trump had won the election of 2020. How would things be different vis-à-vis the situation in the Middle East? What would be different in terms of the actual war? In terms of the media coverage? In terms of the protests on campus and elsewhere? We thought about these questions, and... decided we would like to open them up to the readers. So, if you have comments on the broad question, or on one of these sub questions, please send them to, ideally with subject line "Alternative History." Depending on how much news there is, we'll run some responses within the next week. (Z)

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