Can the US play peacekeeper in the Israel-Hamas war?

Biden pausing and looking pensive in front of both a US and Israel flag at a meeting.
U.S. President Joe Biden pauses during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel. Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP

This report is part of ongoing coverage of the Israel-Hamas war. Visit our dedicated page for more on this topic.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. will be sending $100 million in humanitarian support to help “1 million displaced and conflict-affected Palestinians.”

At the same time, Israel has asked the U.S. for $10 billion in emergency military support, which Biden is reportedly asking Congress for as part of a “major foreign policy aid package” that would also include the support for Gaza and the West Bank.

Many observers and social media users on both sides of the conflict were quick to suggest that the separate aid packages may only serve cross-purposes, as Israel’s bombing campaign has resulted in civilian deaths. Additionally, others note that there are no guarantees that the humanitarian aid won’t end up in the hands of Hamas, the militant group that carried out an attack on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 that sparked the war.

With aid potentially heading to both Israelis and Palestinians, can the U.S. play peacekeeper, or will its actions only further fan the flames? It is a complicated dynamic to unpack — one that’s enveloped in a fog of war that’s replete with disinformation, experts note.

Headshot of Zinaida Miller (left) and Ozlem Ergun (right).
Zinaida Miller, Northeastern University professor of law and international affairs, and Ozlem Ergun, College of Engineering Distinguished Professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. Courtesy Photo and Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

To begin with, there are “a whole set of questions” surrounding Israel’s primary war aim, which includes “eradicating Hamas’ military capacity and toppling its government,” says Zinaida Miller, Northeastern University professor of law and international affairs. 

In other words, what does Israel’s war against Hamas actually mean?

Miller continues: “The aid piece to this signals that the U.S. government believes it can mitigate the damage from a war that they believe is necessary. But even for those who might agree with the aims, the damage is so enormous at this point that it far outstrips the objectives.”

“As the aid discussion reflects, you’re talking not only about massive deaths of civilians that have already occurred, but also the enormous long-term consequences,” she adds.

U.S. humanitarian support would be permitted to enter into Gaza through Egypt in the coming days, should it be approved. Questions remain about exactly how and when such aid will be allowed to flow through to the Gaza Strip, which is under Israel’s blockade.  

“We don’t know what that support means yet,” says Ozlem Ergun, College of Engineering Distinguished Professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern, who’s worked in humanitarian logistics. “It could mean they’re going to give that money to the [Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance], who then works with partner agencies on the ground. Or it might mean, as is being reported, giving some aid to Egypt to open the corridor then bring in the goods.”

Still, the $100 million, while significant, would not address the long-term needs of the Palestinians impacted by the war, Miller argues.   

“From a humanitarian perspective, we’re not just talking about the deaths of thousands of people, which is already horrific, but the destruction of whole neighborhoods and communities,” she says. “The $100 million is really important, but it’s not much in the grand scheme of what Gazans are going to need over the next decades in the way of food, fuel, shelter and health care.” 

America’s role as a potential mediator was questioned this week when it vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have called for a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict. Additionally, the deadly explosion at a hospital in Gaza prompted Jordan to call off a summit between Arab leaders and U.S. officials. 

U.S. officials said they were working hard to come up with a diplomatic solution.

“We are on the ground doing the hard work of diplomacy,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said to the council after the vote. “We believe we need to let that diplomacy play out.”

Miller says the longer the conflict goes on, the greater the risk of escalation.

“There’s real tension among the publics in a number of different Middle Eastern countries, as well as here and elsewhere,” she says. “It’s not only that U.S. support is itself an issue, but that more support contributes to this war going on and on — and the longer it goes on, the more Gazans suffer and the more destruction Israeli forces cause — which then means more aid is needed, more rebuilding is required, and there are rising possibilities of broader consequences.”

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @tstening90.