The Israeli assault on Gaza was triggered Nov. 8 when the IDF crossed the border and murdered Ahmed Younis Khader Abu Daqqa, a 13-year-old boy playing football in his front yard: the official explanation for this action was an alleged weapons cache, supposedly stored nearby, but no credible evidence supporting this contention has come to light. In retaliation, Hamas launched a — generally ineffective — counterattack, and the conflict escalated.
However, there had been rumblings for months of the oncoming Israeli assault, and this incident was merely a pretext: the real reason is that the Israelis were deathly afraid, not of Hamas’s pathetic attempts to make a dent in “Iron Dome,” but of the prospects for a general ceasefire, albeit not a settlement of the outstanding issues, which was in the works well before Netanyahu unleashed the latest blitzkrieg.
According to Gershon Baskin, initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Shalit, Ahmed al-Jabari, leader of the military wing of Hamas, was ready for a peace deal — which was in the works in the days before Jabari was assassinated in a targeted Israeli strike:
“My indirect dealings with Mr. Jabari were handled through my Hamas counterpart, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, who had received Mr. Jabari’s authorization to deal directly with me….
“Passing messages between the two sides, I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.”
This nails it: it shows why Israel escalated a series of routine border incidents into a major conflict: Hamas was ready to negotiate. Jabari was going to drop a gigantic “peace bomb” on Tel Aviv, and Netanyahu and his cabinet launched a preemptive strike to make sure it never hit its target. The last thing they wanted was peace breaking out in spite of their systematic provocations.
Hamas is useful to Netanyahu and his coalition partner, wannabe ethnic cleanser Avigdor Lieberman: or, at least, the version of Hamas they have successfully sold to the West. The hasbara brigade in the American media regularly portrays the Palestinian resistance group as inherently and intransigently opposed to Israel’s very existence, pointing to its charter — which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state — and posits from this the utter impossibility of negotiations or even coexistence.
peace feelers belie this simplistic nonsense and show that Hamas,
like every other political entity on earth, is concerned first and
foremost with maintaining its own grip on power. In order to do
that, Hamas has to actually govern: that is, provide the
inhabitants of Gaza with the basic prerequisites of civilized life,
i.e., access to food, shelter, and protection from harm. Under the conditions
of the Israeli blockade, however, fulfilling these basic needs has
been increasingly impossible.
As Melissa Harris Perry pointed out on her show Sunday morning, Hamas faces competing political currents inside Gaza: Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, who are more than ready to take the helm if and when Hamas fails to protect and care for its constituency. Faced with the IDF’s overwhelming military superiority, Jabari and the moderate faction of Hamas entered into back channel negotiations, brokered by the Egyptians, and were about to go public with a peace proposal.
That’s when the Israelis took him out. The timing of this is undeniable, and hardly coincidental. Netanyahu offed Jabari because peace is not in his political interests: he and his party, Likud, thrive on war, and the Israeli Prime Minister’s electoral prospects are almost entirely dependent on the continuation of the state of emergency that exists in Israel during wartime. Jabari was about to pull the rug out from under Netanyahu, and therefore he had to go.
The timing of all this is inextricably mixed up with the looming Israeli elections: in a preemptive strike against his political competition, Netanyahu merged his Likud party with the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu, a nationalist grouping catering to Russian immigrants which advocates the forced deportation of Arabs and a foreign policy aimed at achieving a “Greater Israel.” The two parties share this vision of a greatly expanded Jewish state encompassing the space between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river: indeed, one of the original components of Likud, when it was formed in the early 1970s, was the “Movement for a Greater Israel,” composed of ultra-nationalist political and literary figures. Netanyahu has played to the settler movement — which is wary of the relatively secular Lieberman — and the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu merger means that we now have a united right-wing “Popular Front” electoral combination freshly re-dedicated to the “Greater Israel” vision. It also means Netanyahu’s base has moved significantly to the right, and they must be appeased.
The concept of a “Greater Israel” is not some aberration: it lies at the center of the original Zionist push for a Jewish state, giving geopolitical expression to the religious basis of Israel’s national myth. Recall the theme song of the Israeli propaganda movie “Exodus”:
“This land is mine, God gave this land to me!”
If God gave it to them, then that’s it: there’s no more argument. The only argument is how to implement God’s will — which is what Netanyahu and his fellow war criminals think they are doing, in Gaza, in the West Bank, and throughout the region. As John Mearsheimer put it:
“At the most basic level, Israel’s actions in Gaza are inextricably bound up with its efforts to create a Greater Israel that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the endless palaver about a two-state solution, the Palestinians are not going to get their own state, not least because the Netanyahu government is firmly opposed to it. The prime minister and his political allies are deeply committed to making the Occupied Territories a permanent part of Israel. To pull this off, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will be forced to live in impoverished enclaves similar to the Bantustans in white-ruled South Africa. Israeli Jews understand this quite well: a recent survey found that 58 per cent of them believe Israel already practices apartheid against the Palestinians.”
Well, yes, but Prof. Mearsheimer glosses over another fascinating aspect of that survey, which noted the majority of Israelis oppose annexing the West Bank. As Ha’aretz reported: “Over a third (38 percent ) of the Jewish public wants Israel to annex the territories with settlements on them, while 48 percent object.” The survey asked 503 Israelis: “If Israel annexes territories in Judea and Samaria, should 2.5 million Palestinians be given the right to vote for the Knesset?” The results:
“A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.”
This is the main obstacle to the construction of an official apartheid state, as envisioned by the Likud extremists, and the achievement of their “Greater Israel” project: the Israeli people don’t want the West Bank — and for a very good reason. Because the day after the Anschluss, the Jewish people would become a minority within their own state.
If demography is destiny, then “Greater Israel” can only be achieved if Likud adopts the outright racist and authoritarian program of Yisrael Beiteinu and the ethnic cleansing of “Judea and Samaria” commences — a possibility that once would have seemed highly unlikely, at best, and today looms ominously on the not too distant horizon. With the merger of Netanyahu’s party with Lieberman’s gang, a future in which the man who once called for the bombing of the Aswan dam becomes Israel’s Prime Minister is all too imaginable.
Under the pressure of constant warfare, the Israeli public has become embittered, hardened, and tragically susceptible to an extremist demagogue of Lieberman’s ilk. The growth of what can only be described as a neo-fascist tendency in Israeli politics is entirely dependent, however, on a constant ratcheting up of inter-communal conflict: without this factor, Lieberman goes back to being a bouncer in a bar and “Greater Israel” becomes the preoccupation of marginal nut-jobs.
What enables this perpetual warfare is unconditional US support for Israel, both materially and diplomatically. The Jewish state could not exist beyond the next decade without the billions of US taxpayer dollars we ship to Tel Aviv every year. Israel is the single largest recipient of US “foreign aid”: we pay $3.5 billion in tribute to the warlords of Tel Aviv on an annual basis — not counting all the interest-free and forgiven “loans.” In return, they brazenly interfere in our politics — and that may be the least offensive form of Israeli intervention on American soil.
Yet appeasement of Israel has been a bipartisan policy pursued by every American administration since Bush the elder, and Obama is no exception. Landing in Thailand to lend his presence to the so-called Asian Pivot we’re supposed to be witnessing, the President found himself yanked Eastward as he was besieged with questions about Gaza. He answered with talking points supplied by AIPAC (and David Axelrod):
“There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.”
The permanent campaign being run by the White House — remember, there’s congressional elections in two years — has made our cowardly response to this horrific spectacle all but inevitable. The Israel lobby has it talons hooked firmly into the top leadership of the Democratic party, and the base — well, don’t worry about them. They can always be tamped down with one of those Villaraigosa moments.
A fight on the Israel issue would not only provide an opening for the Republicans, who are all too ready to pounce, it would also split the Democratic party, pitting the leadership against some elements of the base. In that conflict, the winner is nearly preordained — and it’s a fight that will never be fought in any event, at least not anytime soon.
The tragedy of Gaza starkly underscores the validity of what I call “libertarian realism”: the idea that the foreign policy of a given country is determined almost exclusively by the struggle for power within that state. Leaving aside ideological window-dressing for a moment, each and every ascendant political class has one and only one goal in mind: to maintain and extend its power — and war is a useful ruse in that regard.
Don’t fall victim to the error of attributing an inherent expansionism or warlike tendencies exclusively to authoritarian regimes, which was the neocon party line during the cold war era. As the US toppled regimes from Iran to Guatemala, installed “anti-communist” sock puppets, and invaded South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and much of the rest of the world — including stationing troops in Europe and missiles in Turkey — neocon ideologues were telling us “democratic” countries are inherently peaceful, while those awful Russkies were bent on world domination.
The post-cold war world — and specifically the examples of Israel, a democracy, and the US — teaches us a far different lesson. Indeed, that lesson may be that democratic societies are more prone to belligerence than authoritarian states: my own tentative view is that, infused with a sense of their own indisputable virtue and energized by a religiously derived crusading spirit, Western democracies pose more of a threat to world peace than, say, authoritarian, inward-looking China, which — so far, at least — wants only to become the global factory, and wisely leaves the role of world policeman to those crazy bankrupt Americans. (This theory, of course, can be taken too far: a dictator can “wag the dog” as readily as his democratic counterparts, as history shows. The determining factor, in all cases, is embedded in the political landscape of whatever country we’re discussing.)
I apologize for this rather long digression into High Theory, but in analyzing the significance and trajectory of current events, it’s important to understand the general dynamics at work as well as the specifics. It helps us, in this case, to understand how an ostensibly “liberal” or “progressive” American president can sanction one of the most uneven military conflicts in recent history — and do it with that particular coldness which sends a chill down the spine of anyone with the least bit of empathy.
What is happening in Gaza today is a prison riot — and the prisoners aren’t going to stop rioting until they have broken out of their long lockdown. America holds the key to their freedom, and the only way we’re going to wrest it out of Washington’s hands is to hold our leaders accountable for the war crimes of our allies — in this case, an ally that has enormous political clout in Washington. That means a long fight: it means a campaign to effect fundamental change in American foreign policy — which is precisely the battle we have taken up here at Antiwar.com.
Which brings me to another (yet intimately related) subject: the so far disappointing results of our winter fundraising campaign. I can’t remember a fundraiser that’s been as lethargic and downright scary as this one. I was lulled into complacency by an initial burst of donations, but ever since that first day it’s been downhill all the way.
Look, I’m not going to harangue you about the absolute necessity of supporting Antiwar.com at this crucial juncture. I’m not going to rant about the imminence of war with Iran, or the injustice of what we’re seeing unfold in Gaza. I’m not even going to whine about the FBI surveillance we’ve had to endure, and wonder about, even as we go about our jobs from day to day. I’m just going to give you the facts: the War Party has billions — they have, in effect, unlimited resources. After all, they have access to the US Treasury. We, on the other hand, only have one resource, and that’s you — our readers. That’s it! We don’t get money from the big “liberal” foundations: somehow, they seem to have overlooked us. We have a few very generous contributors, but I have news for you: those guys are getting maxed out.
Like Blanche Dubois, we have always depended on the kindness of strangers — except you aren’t exactly strangers, now are you? A great many of you have been reading this site for years — and more: you’ve depended on it to give you the inside dope on what the War Party’s up to. Many of my most faithful readers have been among our most consistent financial supporters for years, and now I’m asking you to come through once again — because Antiwar.com is needed now more than ever.
Our readership is growing and it spans the globe: we’ve never been better at reaching a mass audience with the non-interventionist message. But we just can’t go on doing it unless you dig down in your pockets and come up with the money to continue.
It’s as simple as that.
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
My campaign to go over 1,000 followers on Twitter has succeeded! Now, onward to 2,000! If you haven’t signed up, you’re missing a lot, because I’m increasingly using Twitter not only as a sounding board, but as a kind of bulletin board to lay out the bare bones of future columns. You can follow me on Twitter here.