Presidential Debate, Biden and Trump Discuss War on Gaza

 Differences in Policy and How Each Hopes to See the War on Gaza Resolved 

The presidential debate on Thursday, June 27, offered a look into the differences between the two candidates, former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. As the United States’ response to and financial and military support for the war on Gaza has made an impact on large blocs of voters, especially younger groups, the topic was a contentious but briefly discussed issue. 

Take a look at what each candidate said about the ongoing conflict and how their rhetoric at the debate compares to their previous commentary on the war and humanitarian crisis. 

What did Biden say about Addressing the Conflict in a Possible Second Term?

In previous statements, Biden has desired to remain a mediator between Israel and Hamas leadership, exhibited in his “three-stage” ceasefire proposal from May 31. There are a few pressure points for Biden that push him to see the ceasefire through, including alleviating domestic and international dissent over the U.S. role in the war and preventing violence from spreading regionally, particularly in Lebanon. His rhetoric in Thursday’s debate seemed to reaffirm these central tenets. 

In the debate, he touted the success of his aforementioned ceasefire proposal, a deal that bears significant resemblance to a plan put out by Hamas earlier this year. When it was proposed, both Israeli and American government officials quickly cast doubts about the plan’s chances of being implemented.

His rhetoric on the supposed success of the deal, however, elicits some skepticism. Biden claims that the United Nations Security Council and G7 states agree on the plan, as does Israel, and that there is only one caveat to peace: Hamas’s refusal to agree and its desire to continue the war. However, Israeli and Hamas officials state otherwise. Two contrary pieces of evidence are that 1) Hamas officials have said several times that they are willing to engage in negotiations that seriously consider their demands and 2) Netanyahu has said he will only support a temporary pause and is “committed to continuing the war.” 

Biden continued by asserting that “Hamas must be eliminated.” This will likely manifest in policy in a next term after a ceasefire is potentially established. This is in line with the standing U.S. condemnation of Hamas since 2007, issued a year after the last democratic election in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas won. Today, almost half of the Gazan population* are children (under the age of 18). Thus, many of the Palestinians in Gaza facing destruction currently did not elect Hamas nor have the opportunity to vote. 

How does Former President Donald Trump see the U.S.’s Role in the Conflict? 

There are more similarities than differences between Trump’s and Biden’s positions on Gaza. Both decry Hamas’s continued control over Gaza and both want to resolve the carnage in the enclave to some extent. But while their larger agendas for the war largely overlap, Trump has often criticized Biden’s approach, including dismissing the validity of the May 31 ceasefire plan. 

He said that Hamas, the only party Biden claims that has not agreed to the proposal, is not the issue with achieving peace; instead, Israel is the stumbling block. Trump sees justification in continuing Netanyahu’s war, having previously said that the U.S. should “let him finish his job,” a reference to the Israeli Prime Minister’s oft-repeated goal of eliminating Hamas. 

Trump continued with his criticism by calling Biden a “bad Palestinian, a weak Palestinian.” The comment can be read as him diminishing Biden’s hardline approach to Israel; Biden is a “Palestinian” in the same way that a Palestinian is negatively stereotyped as a subversive radical who undermines Israel’s stability. 

Trump has not been without critique of Israel, most of which have revolved around its strategy. In a previous statement from April 4, Trump urged Israel to “finish up the war” and said that the country is “losing the PR war,” pointing out his concerns for Israel’s protracted and bloody conduct over the conflict. 

Additionally, in response to whether Trump hopes for a Palestinian state, he said he will “have to see.” Biden has supported a two-state solution, as has mostly been U.S. policy since the 1990s. 

*More than 75% of Gaza’s current population are refugees or descendants of refugees who either fled or were forced in 1948 out of present-day Israel; Palestinians call the mass displacement and dispossession the Nakba (“the catastrophe” in Arabic).

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