UPDATE: I just published my first piece at TRT World on the unholy alliance between Israeli and Indian religious extremists and their US lobbies. Please read.
Pres. Biden announced two hours ago that Israel and Hamas had agreed to a “mutual, unconditional ceasefire” whose goal is to end the two weeks of slaughter in Gaza. Through the mediation of Egypt with Hamas, and the pressure of the US on Israel, the dying will stop (for now). Lest anyone breathe a sign of relief or see this as something worth celebrating–it isn’t. Though the Israeli shells will no longer kill babies in their cribs, nothing has changed fundamentally. Nothing has been resolved. The issues that existed before this mess exist after as well.
As I’ve written here, this was a war of vanity for Bibi Netanyahu. A war designed to save his political career. And it has accomplished its purpose, as the potential rival government that would have thrown him out of power failed to materialize as soon as the firing began. With a key figure, Naftali Bennett, announcing during the fighting that he had given up on forming an alternative government with the center-right leader, Yair Lapid, the Israeli leader has staunched the flow of support that was leaching away from him.
There is much to criticize in the US approach to the conflict. Pres. Biden acted true-to pro-Israel-form throughout, except for the past 36 hours or so. He defended Israel to the hilt. He showed no understanding or sympathy for the Palestinians. Even his statement today showed an amazing obtuseness:
“My administration will continue our quiet relentless diplomacy toward that end. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working for it,” he added.
The emphasis here is on “quiet.” Quiet gets nothing done when it comes to Israel. Loud works, Shouting is even better. The only thing quiet has secured in this case is a temporary end to the killing. Quiet will not make progress in any substantial way, since Israel’s rejectionist positions are deeply entrenched and immovable. Nor does Biden really intend to invest the sort of political capital necessary to push that immovable object.
Biden…reaffirmed that the U.S. would work with the United Nations and others to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza and help the territory rebuild.
“We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal,” Biden added.
The people of Gaza need much more than ‘humanitarian assistance’ or aid to rebuild the thousands of homes Israel destroyed. Not to mention that during past wars similar promises were almost never honored. Much of the reason is that Israel refused to permit the aid to enter Gaza. It certainly will do the same this time. And it’s doubtful Biden will have the guts or desire to force the issue. So Gaza goes back to being the same basket case it has been since at least 2006, when the illegal Israeli siege began.
Even if Biden followed through and Israel permitted reconstruction, it would destroy everything we built during the next war. During war, Israel methodically destroys all buildings in Gaza constructed with foreign aid funds from the EU, Qatar, etc. And of course it will do the same again, as it does every time. Unless of course Biden makes clear that whatever we rebuilt is inviolable during warfare. But again, it will require the sort of steadfastness no president maintains in the face of Israeli obduracy.
US Policy Reduces Palestine to an Economic, Instead of a Political Issue
An added problem with Biden’s perspective is that it reduces the issue of Gaza to an economic and humanitarian one: rebuild it and you’ve fixed the problem and done a good deed, permitting yourself to assuage your guilty conscience. When in truth the problem is Gaza is political. The only way to fix what’s wrong in Gaza is by ending the Israeli siege and normalizing life there.
Passages such as this expose the cluelessness of US policy toward Gaza and Hamas:
….The Biden administration is now turning to how it can help rebuild the besieged Gaza Strip — and in turn bring pressure, through promises of financial support, on Hamas not to resume fighting.
No, you cannot buy off Hamas with financial aid. Hamas wants political power. It wants to do what it was elected to do by its people: to rule Gaza. It does not want to become what the PA has become: a sinecure for corrupt octogenarians. Further, the idea that you can stop Hamas from resisting Israeli apartheid with a few billion dollars is not only foolish, it is insulting to Palestinians. You can’t buy your way out of this.
And once again liberal Zionist media like the NY Times publish ill-informed wishful thinking from unnamed “experts” and “officials” about what Gazans believe about Hamas, of course without offering any evidence to support the claim:
Officials and experts said it was also a point of leverage with Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip but has lost popularity among residents who criticize its authoritarian approach and poor administration.
The irony here of course is that Israel’s siege has prevented democratic elections, which might have permitted any opposition, if there was indeed any, to Hamas to coalesce. So it’s a bitter irony for these anonymous figures to claim Hamas is unpopular, and that it will have to moderate itself in order to regain popularity and reap US financial rewards. This is little more than fantasy.
But not surprising given who the reporter quotes in the next paragraph:
“In a sense, you need to put Hamas in a position where they have to choose between their rockets and the well-being of Gaza,” said Dennis B. Ross
Ah yes, that Palestine expert, Dennis Ross, here to teach us all a lesson on how to “handle” Hamas and Palestinians. Because he did it so well under the four presidents he boasts of having served, none of whom ultimately solved the conflict.
More ‘wisdom’ from Ross:
…The offer for broader reconstruction assistance should be made publicly to assure donors of consequences if Hamas resumes its rocket program. He predicted Hamas would, at least in the beginning, agree to some sort of arrangement. “Right now, the needs are so profound that they [Hamas] will go along with something,” Mr. Ross said.
I’ve got news for Ross, if you give Hamas a choice between being fat and happy, and leading the resistance to Israeli aggression, they’ll choose the latter every time. And Hamas will not disarm, not for all the gold in Fort Knox.
One final note about the speciousness of this piece is that not a single Palestinian source is quoted, nor a single progressive source offering a less pro-Israel point of view.
Another clueless aspect of US policy is putting all our eggs in the PA basket. First, the US has had no contact with the PA for four years. During that time, the Palestinians gave up on us. All of a sudden now we’re full partners? Second, the PA doesn’t run Palestine. It barely runs the West Bank and has no authority in Gaza. So how will the US have any impact there, when we refuse to recognize the elected leaders of Gaza? This sort of policy is a dead-end. And we’ve been facing that dead-end for years despite calls for a more realistic, pragmatic approach by academics, journalists and intelligence officials.
I don’t want this post to be an entirely bleak one. There are hopeful signs amidst the tragedy. The only reason Biden changed his tune and forced the issue with Netanyahu is the pressure brought by progressive House and Senate members. Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Debby Dingell, each with major Arab-American constituencies met Biden at the airport in Detroit and had a tough conversation in which they made known their displeasure. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex introduced a resolution opposing an $800-million sale of precision missiles to Israel. Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a Senate version of the same measure.
Thousands of employees of Google and Apple wrote letters to their respective CEOs demanding that they support Palestinians in this struggle. These are not normal subjects for tech employees to weigh in on in such a public fashion. Gaza was becoming a huge domestic issue in a similar way that George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement became inescapable political issues. It threatened to hijack the president’s entire agenda in foreign and domestic policy.
Another change in this conflict compared to past ones, never again will Israel get a rubber stamp giving it carte blanche to act as it sees fit. In future, Americans will be looking over Israel’s shoulder and if they don’t like what they see, they will let their president know. He will ignore them at his peril.
That does not mean the power of the Israel Lobby is broken. But it does mean that it has been diminished. And the trajectory is downhill given Israel’s increasingly extremist direction which is so out of touch with American sentiment.