The White House faces a dilemma. It has the power to stop the death and destruction in Gaza in its tracks, at any time of its choosing. But it chooses not to.
But the optics – and that is all that concerns Washington – are disastrous.
TV images have shown hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their destroyed homes, on a scale unseen since Israel’s earlier mass ethnic cleansing operations of 1948 and 1967.
Even the western media is struggling to obscure the veritable mountain of crushed and bleeding bodies in Gaza. The known death toll has now surpassed 11,000, with thousands more buried under rubble. Those who survive face a genocidal policy, starving them of food, water and power.
By the weekend, Israel’s declared war on Hamas had shifted into an open war on Gaza’s hospitals. Medicins San Frontieres reported that al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City had been bombed repeatedly and its power cut off, with horrific scenes of premature babies dying after their incubators had stopped functioning. Staff who tried to evacuate, as Israel had ordered them to, were shot at. Similar scenes unfolded at al-Rantisi hospital.
Western publics are growing increasingly incensed. Protest marches have attracted numbers not seen since the mass demonstrations against the Iraq war 20 years ago.
Western allies are finding it harder to obscure and justify their complicity in what are indisputable Israeli crimes against humanity. French President Emmanuel Macron broke ranks at the weekend. His message was summed up bluntly by the BBC: “Macron calls on Israel to stop killing Gaza’s women and babies.”
Its immediate response has been desperate, and preposterous, stop-gaps to ease the criticism, including from 500 administration staff who submitted a letter to Biden on Tuesday protesting the White House’s blanket support for Israel.
Those measures have included the president calling for “less intrusive action” from Israel towards the hospitals, shortly before Israeli forces were reported storming al-Shifa, and rumours that Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who joined the US attack on Iraq in 2003 in violation of international law, might serve as the West’s “humanitarian coordinator” in Gaza.
But what the Biden administration really needs is a cover story to justify the fact that it is continuing to supply the weapons and funding needed by Israel to carry out its crimes in broad daylight.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken set out his stall last week at the G7 summit. The goal is to shift the focus away from Israel’s genocidal policies in Gaza, and Washington’s backing for them, to a purely theoretical discussion about what might happen after the fighting ends.
Outlining his post-war “vision” for Gaza, Blinken said: “It’s also clear that Israel cannot occupy Gaza. Now, the reality is that there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict… We don’t see a reoccupation and what I’ve heard from Israeli leaders is that they have no intent to reoccupy Gaza.”
James Cleverley, Britain’s former foreign secretary, echoed his US counterpart, insisting power would in Gaza be handed to “a peace-loving Palestinian leadership”.
Both appear to favour the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas taking over Gaza – or what’s left of it.
This bad-faith manoeuvre is off the charts, even by the pair’s usual mendacious standards. Both the US and Britain want us to believe, at least while Palestinians are being massacred day after day, that they are serious about reviving the long-cold cadaver of the two-state solution.
The layers of deceit are so plentiful they need to be peeled away one by one.
The first glaring deception is Washington’s insistence that Israel avoid “reoccupying” Gaza. Blinken wants us to believe that the strip’s occupation ended long ago, when Israel dismantled its Jewish colonies in 2005 and pulled out the soldiers who protected the settlers.
But if Gaza was not actually occupied before Israel’s current ground invasion, how does Washington explain the Israeli blockade of the tiny enclave for the past 16 years? How did Israel manage to seal off Gaza’s land borders, block access to Gaza’s territorial waters, and patrol Gaza’s skies 24/7?
The reality is that Gaza has not experienced a day free of Israeli occupation since 1967. All that Israel did 18 years ago when it pulled out its Jewish settlers, was to run the occupation more remotely, exploiting new developments in weapons and surveillance technologies.
Israel developed and refined a very sophisticated, arm’s length occupation, using Israeli teenagers with joysticks at distant sites to play God with the lives of 2.3 million imprisoned Palestinians.
Israel is not in danger of “reoccupying” Gaza. It never stopped occupying it.
Another deceit is the impression Blinken is intentionally creating that the US is preparing for a confrontation with Israel over Gaza’s future.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear he is in no mood to sit down with Palestinian leaders, even of the “peace-loving” kind. At the weekend, he once again declared that Israel would take “security control” of the enclave as soon as Hamas was gone.
“There will be no Hamas,” he told Israelis on Saturday evening. “There will be no civilian authority that educates their children to hate Israel, to kill Israelis, to destroy the state of Israel.”
He added that Israeli troops would be able to “go in [to Gaza] whenever we want in order to kill terrorists”.
But the suggestion that Israel and Washington are not on the same page is pure trickery. The “row” is entirely confected, designed to make it look like the Biden administration, in pushing for negotiations, is taking the Palestinians’ side against Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The pretence is a boon to both sides. The US wants to look like one day – after all Gaza’s homes are destroyed and its people ethnically cleansed – it will drag Netanyahu to the negotiating table kicking and screaming.
An embattled Netanyahu, meanwhile, is able to score popularity points with the Israeli right by posturing defiantly against the Biden administration.
It is pure theatre. The confrontation will never materialise. The US “vision” is nothing more than make-believe.
The no-state solution
The truth is that Washington formally abandoned the so-called two-state solution years ago, aware that Israel would never allow even the most circumscribed of Palestinian states.
Over the past three decades, Israel has gone from the pretence – maintained during the Oslo process – that it might one day concede a sham, demilitarised Palestinian state, cut off from the rest of the Middle East, to outright rejection of Palestinian statehood on any terms at all.
Back in July, before Hamas’ 7 October attack, Netanyahu was widely reported to have told a closed Israeli parliamentary meeting that Palestinian hopes of a sovereign state “must be eliminated”.
Will the same Israel that refused to countenance a state under Abbas, the Palestinian leader who called security coordination with Israel “sacred”, really be ready to hand over the keys to the kingdom after its latest rampage?
Remember, it was Netanyahu who explained to his ruling Likud party in 2019 that “bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas” were the best way for Israel to “thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state”.
This was not some rogue position. It was shared across the military and security establishments.
The strategy was achieved through Israeli policies designed to permanently split, physically and politically, the two main territorial components of any future Palestinian state: the West Bank and Gaza.
Movement between the two was made all but impossible, and Israel cultivated different, antagonistic local leaderships for each territory so neither could claim to represent the Palestinian people.
At the July parliamentary meeting, Netanyahu also insisted it was a vital Israeli interest that the PA be propped up in the West Bank.
At the same time, the necessary capital of a Palestinian state, Jerusalem, has been physically sealed off from both territories, and stripped of any Palestinian political representation.
As the Biden administration knows only too well, Israel would never allow a “moderate” Palestinian leadership to become established in Gaza, uniting it with the West Bank and strengthening the case for a sovereign Palestinian state.
The goal is transparent: to expel Gaza’s population into the neighbouring Egyptian territory of Sinai
But talk of a revived two-state solution does serve as a useful distraction from the actual solution Israel is implementing in plain view.
Israeli actions tell that story. The bombing into rubble not only of Gaza’s homes but of the civilian infrastructure – hospitals, schools, United Nations compounds, bakeries, mosques and churches – needed to support one of the most overcrowded places on earth.
The population in Gaza’s north has been forcibly dislocated to create an even smaller, even more overcrowded holding pen in southern Gaza, ensuring the enclave is “a place where no human being can exist”, as Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, phrased it.
The goal is transparent: to expel Gaza’s population into the neighbouring Egyptian territory of Sinai. And given Israel’s previous form, the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that Gaza’s refugee families – some of them about to be exiled by Israel for a second or third time – will never be allowed to return to the ruins.
The Biden administration can pretend to be resurrecting a non-existent two-state solution. But the reality is that Israel has had just such an expulsion plan – called the Greater Gaza Plan – on the drawing board for decades.
According to reports, Washington has been signed up to the creation of a Palestinian enclave in Sinai since at least 2007.
Assuming anything of Gaza survives the current onslaught, Blinken’s next deceit is the suggestion that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are able or willing to take Hamas’ place.
There is, of course, the small matter of how Abbas could rule a population with which he has so discredited himself in the past by endlessly accommodating Israel’s crimes. After all, his Fatah party was ousted from Gaza in 2006 after it was defeated in Palestinian legislative elections.
But Abbas is losing even more credibility with Palestinians as he sits passively through the horrors unfolding in Gaza. As former British ambassador Craig Murray has noted, with Palestine a member of the UN, Abbas could invoke the Genocide Convention against Israel.
That, in turn, would require a ruling from the International Court of Justice. It would put Israel, the US and the UK firmly on the back foot. But Abbas has once again sacrificed his people to avoid angering the US.
Even more preposterous is the idea that Israel would ever let the Palestinian Authority rule Gaza when that same PA is not allowed to be in charge of the West Bank.
Abbas has no control of any kind over the 62 per cent of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords placed – temporarily – under full Israeli rule, enforced by the Israeli army
Abbas has no control of any kind over the 62 per cent of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords placed – temporarily – under full Israeli rule, enforced by the Israeli army and Jewish settler militias. What was intended by Oslo to be temporary was long ago made permanent by Israel.
In another quarter of the West Bank, the PA is nothing more than a glorified local authority, running the schools and emptying the bins.
And in the remaining fifth of the territory, chiefly the built-up areas, Abbas has extremely circumscribed powers. The PA does not have control over borders, internal movement, airspace, electronic frequencies, currency, or the population register.
Abbas has no more than a police force in these cities, one that acts as a local security contractor for the Israeli military. When the Israeli army decides to do the job itself, and bursts into a West Bank city unannounced, Abbas’ forces shrink into the shadows.
The idea that Abbas can take charge of Gaza when he is powerless in his “stronghold” of the West Bank is a fairytale.
No eradicating Hamas
But perhaps the most fraudulent of the White House deceptions is the assumption that Hamas – and by extension, all Palestinian resistance – can be eradicated from Gaza.
Palestinian fighters are not some alien force that invaded the enclave. They are not occupiers, even though that is the way they are portrayed by every western government and media outlet.
They emerged organically out of a population that has endured decades of military abuse and oppression from Israel. Hamas is the legacy of that suffering.
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