Day 7: Palestinian death toll, 111 killed, 840 injured. The Palestine Committee for Human Rights has determined 60 of those killed were women or children or men over 50 (hence not participating in armed struggle). Well over half of the dead whose identity is known were civilians.
The Irish Times reports that they’re bringing out the big guns to try to secure a Gaza ceasefire. Hillary Clinton is jetting to the Holy land to hold Bibi Netanyahu’s hand and guide it towards signing a ceasefire with Hamas (well, not with Hamas because such things would be verboten in civilized western society, but you know what I mean). The fact that Hillary’s getting involved means either that they’re on the verge of sealing the deal and she’s the icing on the cake; or that Bibi’s holding back, perhaps even seriously contemplating an invasion, everyone wants the deal but him and she’s applying pressure.
All this means that there’s a distinct possibility of a ceasefire. But the question remains: what sort of ceasefire? My guess is it will be of the same variety that “ended” Operation Cast Lead. In other words, an agreement merely to postpone the opening stage of the next round of hostilities. Neither Netanyahu or Obama have any interest in negotiating the root causes of this mess and resolving them. As IDF Gen. Giora Eiland said in Haaretz yesterday, Israel needs to recognize Hamas as the ruler in Gaza, it needs to end the siege, and it needs to demand accountability from Hamas for fulling ending hostilities against Israel. Those are the three key features of a true agreement that would get each side key elements of what it needs to declare victory.
But Netanyahu is some strange way needs Hamas and Gaza as his nationalist punching bag. When there’s a terror attack, he needs to be able to attack Gaza whether anyone there was involved or not (see, Eilat terror attack). When there’s an election, he needs to kill a few Hamas leaders and show the electorate their scalps to ensure his electoral mandate. Bibi doesn’t want peace in the south because it would mean the world, and even Israelis, might turn their attention to the real issues–Palestinian statehood or even domestic social justice issues. The former’s the issue that threatens Israeli retention of the West Bank and the settler project, which is key to the Likud political agenda and its permanent political majority.
Obama, burned by his first and only major attempt to intercede in the conflict, wants little to do with Bibi or the Palestinians. But there is a way he can tie Gaza to larger U.S. regional objectives. There has been some speculation about the connection between Israel’s assault on Gaza and a possible future conflict with Iran. It’s well-known that the real war Bibi Netanyahu wants is less in Gaza than in Iran. Some commentators have suggested that Gaza may be a Israeli warm-up for attacking Iran.
Today Dick Blakney, with whom, in the past few months, I’ve been campaigning in speeches throughout Seattle against the threat of war with Iran, emailed me with a very interesting take on Obama’s moral timidity. Dick notes that Obama held a press conference a few days ago in which he alluded to a new approach to Iran he was contemplating, one that might break with “protocol.” Here’s what he said:
President: With respect to Iran, I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem. I was very clear before the campaign, I was clear during the campaign, and I’m now clear after the campaign — we’re not going to let Iran get a nuclear weapon. But I think there is still a window of time for us to resolve this diplomatically…
There should be a way in which they can enjoy peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon.
And so, yes, I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran…to see if we can get this things resolved. I can’t promise that Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through, but that would be very much the preferable option.
Q And under what circumstances would one-on-one conversations take place?
President: I won’t talk about the details in negotiations. But I think it’s fair to say we want to get this resolved, and we’re not going to be constrained by diplomatic niceties or protocols. If Iran is serious about wanting to resolve this, they’ll be in a position to resolve it.
As Dick noted, the reference to diplomatic niceties and protocols, may refer to various Congressional legislation which prohibited negotiations between U.S. government officials and Iran. It may refer to the prevailing consensus within Congress and the Israeli government that talks with Iran, let alone an agreement, are useless and a trap. At any rate, it indicates a president who may be prepared to go against prevailing wisdom in pursuing a deal with Iran.
If Barack Obama were the Democrats’ answer to Henry Kissinger, he might play the current crisis this way: I’ll stand tall with Israel. Walk them out of this crisis. Appear to side with them in most ways possible. Doing so will put lots of credits in the bank. The president will invest those credits (though not in Iranian rials) and draw them down when he begins expected one-on-one negotiations with the Iranians.
While the horror of this war is great, Obama is looking at far more horror deriving from a war with Iran. If he can negotiate a deal with the Ayatollahs that averts both an Iranian bomb and an Israeli attack on Iran, he will’ve averted a much more serious, dangerous and bloody crisis. But in doing so, Obama knows he will have to cut Bibi loose. The U.S. leader understands there’s no possible way Iran would accede to Israeli demands. So if Obama meets as many of the Israeli demands as possible in achieving such an agreement, but abandons Israel’s most extreme demands, then he’d be golden. He will have achieved a major breakthrough in U.S.-Iranian relations and averted a major regional crisis.
But he won’t have satisfied Israel’s ultra-nationalist government. He will have left Iran with a nuclear program enriching uranium possibly up to 20% purity. He will have agreed to lift sanctions in order to get this deal. All of this will leave Bibi steaming mad. But the latter won’t gain much traction anywhere except possibly among his own electorate, because of the Gaza deposit Obama made during this crisis.
The president will respond to Bibi’s truculence by pointing out that he stood with Israel when the Grads and Fajrs were falling on Ashdod and Tel Aviv. He sent his secretary of state to secure the ceasefire that allowed Israel’s south to return to normalcy. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do to ensure Israel’s security. But when it comes to Iran, there is a bigger picture. This involves U.S. security as well, since Iran is a potential threat to both Israel and the U.S. if war breaks out.
He can say that he did everything in his power to ensure Israel’s interests were addressed, while also achieving key U.S. objectives. When the howls and screams from Jerusalem persist he will make Bibi out to the be the sour-faced, sore-loser. Given that this is his final term, Obama doesn’t have to worry about threats from the Israel lobby or Bibi Netanyahu to his political survival. This is a deal he could do and survive.
Unlike solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, a deal he’s determined, rightly or wrongly, he couldn’t do and survive thanks to the strangle-hold exerted by Netanyahu on political discourse both here and in Israel.
To be clear, if this is Obama’s strategy I’m not endorsing it. As Dick wrote to me, holding back from Gaza is itself immoral whether the president has a larger objective in mind or not. But there is a Kissingerian resonance to the strategy outlined above, that might appeal to this president who’s determined that Macchiavelli, rather than Saul Alinsky, is his guiding political star. That’s why I’m going to take to calling Obama the Democrats’ Kissinger.
I can’t conclude this post without noting the delicious eccentricity of Rupert Murdoch’s latest fusillade concerning Gaza. In a tweet (shouldn’t there be a law prohibiting 80 year olds in their dotage from firing off tweets?) heard round the world, he decried the “Jewish-owned media” for foisting an anti-Israel agenda on their readers. As Howard Kurtz pointed out, the only major news media company owned by Jews is the New York Times’ Sulzberger family. Not to mention that the Times is a direct competitor to his Wall Street Journal.
But in what sort of Murdochian Bizarro-world do liberal Jews become anti-Israel by reporting the news as the Times has done? Calling their coverage “anti-Israel” is laughable considering almost all their major correspondents in Israel are liberal Zionist Jews (Ethan Bronner, Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner). The coverage has hardly been balanced. Palestinian voices, while heard, are generally secondary to the overall narrative. The op-ed section has taken a more independent route including columns from more diverse voices. But the notion that a WASP gets to call a Jewish media family anti-Israel because they don’t share his slavish adherence to Likudist values is worse than preposterous. It’s insulting and outrageous.
Don’t believe any headline you read saying Murdoch “apologized.” He claims he did in a subsequent tweet. But he only apologized to “Jewish reporters” who he noted he hadn’t intended to tar with the anti-Israel brush. Implicit in this is that he DID mean to smear the Jewish bosses who pay those reporters’ paychecks, and their editors.
The assault against liberal Jews is torn directly from the pages of Meir Kahane. So let’s call Rupert Murdoch what he is: a foul-mouthed, bitter, rabid Kahanist. We could quibble and say that he’s really a Likudist and not a Kahanist. But the two ideologies have become pretty much interchangeable as I argued in my Tikkun Magazine piece on Jeffrey Goldberg’s youthful indiscretion with Kahanism.