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By Jessica Corbett

The Elders chair Mary Robinson has highlighted the unique leverage that the United States has with Israel and called on the Biden administration to stop giving it military assistance for its assault on the Gaza Strip.

Robinson, the former president of Ireland, conducted an on-camera interview with Irish public broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann just before her country’s Prime Minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, was due to meet US President Joe Biden on Friday at the White House.

“Yes the humanitarian situation is utterly catastrophic and dire, reducing a people to famine, undermining all our values, but the message I want to deliver on behalf of the Elders is a direct message to our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar,” Robinson said.

“We need a ceasefire and we need the opening up of Gaza with every avenue . . .  for aid to get in.”

In his meeting with Biden, Varadkar “should not spend too much time on the dire humanitarian situation, and the ships, and the rest of it,” she said.

“He has the opportunity to deliver a political message in a very direct way. The United States can influence Israel by not continuing to provide arms. It has provided a lot of the arms . . . that have been used on the Palestinian people.”

More than 31,490 killed
Since Israel declared war in response to the Hamas-led attack on October 7, Israeli forces have killed at least 31,490 people in Gaza — including people seeking food aid — and wounded another 73,439. The assault has also devastated civilian infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques, and displaced the vast majority of the enclave’s 2.3 million residents.

Israel is also restricting desperately needed humanitarian aid into the Hamas-governed territory, and Palestinians have begun starving to death — which people around the world point to as further proof that the Israeli government is defying an International Court of Justice (ICJ) order to prevent genocidal acts as the South Africa-led case moves forward at The Hague.

The United States gives Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid, and since October 7, Biden — who faces a genocide complicity case in federal court — has fought for another $14.3 billion while his administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress to arm Israeli forces.

Critics, including some lawmakers, argue that continuing to send weapons to Israel violates US law.

The far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is on the wrong side of history, completely — is making the United States complicit in reducing a people to famine, making the world complicit,” Robinson told RTÉ. “We’re all watching. It is absolutely horrific what is happening.”

“So Leo Varadkar has access today to President Biden,” she said. “He must use this completely politically at all levels with the speaker of the House, with everyone, to make it clear that Israel depends on the United States for military aid and for money. That’s what will change everything.”

“We need a ceasefire and we need the opening up of Gaza with every avenue . . .  for aid to get in, because the situation’s so bad, and we need the political way forward, which is the two-state solution,” she added.

‘Only US can put pressure’
“So we need an Israeli government agreeing to that, and only the United States can put the pressure [on Israel].”

Robinson, who spent five years as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights after her presidency ended in 1997, has been part of the Elders since Nelson Mandela, the late anti-apartheid South African president, announced the group in 2007.

She has made multiple statements during the five-month Israeli assault on Gaza, including calling on Israel to comply with the ICJ’s January ruling and warning Biden the previous month that his “support for Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza is losing him respect all over the world.”

“The US is increasingly isolated, with allies like Australia, Canada, India, Japan, and Poland switching their votes in the UN General Assembly to support an immediate humanitarian cease-fire,” she said in December.

“The destruction of Gaza is making Israel less safe. President Biden’s continuing support for Israel’s actions is also making the world less safe, the Security Council less effective, and US leadership less respected. It is time to stop the killing.”

Speaking to press at the Oval Office alongside Biden on Friday, Varadkar said that he was “keen to talk about the situation in Gaza,” and noted his view “that we need to have a ceasefire as soon as possible to get food and medicine in” to the besieged territory.

“On Sunday, the taoiseach will also gift Mr Biden a bowl of shamrock as part of an annual tradition to mark St Patrick’s Day,” RTÉ reported. “Mr Varadkar started the trip on Monday, and since then has spoken several times . . .  about how he will use the special platform of the St Patrick’s Day visit to press Mr Biden to back a ceasefire in the Gaza, while also thanking the US for leadership in support for Ukraine.”

Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and writer for Common Dreams, an independent progressive nonprofit news service. Republished under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence.

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