For the most of the 2.3 million Palestinians of Gaza, time has entered a horrifying and quite disorienting warp. How long since they were able to feed their children? How long to remain crammed into an insecure tent as winter’s rains lash? How long till the dysentery takes a loved one? How long since a father, uncle, brother was taken away, stripped nearly naked, and trucked to a distant prison camp? Above all: How much longer now till the crashing of Israeli bombs and bulldozers, the crack of sniper fire, the relentless buzz of drones all finally fall silent?
How long till a ceasefire? How long?
Pres. Joe Biden has, as we know, firmly blocked all the moves the Global Majority has taken to achieve a ceasefire in the Gaza-Israel fighting. Well-connected reporters in Israel have written that the message Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan gave during the meeting he held yesterday with Israel’s war cabinet was that Biden could only “allow” Israel a few more weeks before he starts calling for a ceasefire.
Of course, there’s a difference between “calling for” a ceasefire and using Washington’s considerable leverage over Israel to enforce that call. And as I’ve argued repeatedly, the U.S. president is fully able to halt Israel’s war effort in its tracks– should he choose to do so. But thus far, he has chosen NOT to do it.
Biden has a very lengthy record of working closely with, and receiving support from, the powerful pro-Israel lobbies in this country. And he repeatedly tells all who care to hear it (and those who don’t) things like “I’m a Zionist,” “The existence of Israel is a safeguard for the security of Jews everywhere,” etc.
His actions are clearly those of a true believer. But he is also a political leader, who presumably understands at some level that he needs to stay aware of the impact of his actions both on domestic politics and on the United States’ global standing. Domestically, his pollsters must have been telling him about the steep slippage his embrace of Israel has caused in his standing among key Democratic constituencies: younger voters, voters of color, Arab-Americans in crucial midwestern states like Michigan or Wisconsin, and so on. And globally, both his own diplomats (if he listens to them?) and many strongly pro-American leaders worldwide have been telling him about the even steeper decline his deep support for Israel’s war has been continuing to inflict on America’s global standing. So if he has functioning political brain-cells left in his head he must realize that at some point fairly soon that he needs to put the brakes on Israel.
I realize that for him, this probably won’t be easy. It’s not just his lengthy record of pro-Israel alignment and activism. But he also seems to have swallowed hook, line, and sinker all the most extreme of the Gaza-related hasbara talking points the Israelis have been feeding him. He has never retracted his early support of the “Hamas beheaded 40 Israeli babies” lie. This past week he’s been spouting the whole latest set of hasbara talking-points about “Hamas having committed mass rapes in Israel on October 7.” And along the way he has repeated just about every other vilification the Israelis have produced about Hamas, while associating himself fully with Israel’s stated war aim of “eliminating Hamas.”
There’s probably another reason, too, why Biden is not eager to confront Israel over the need for a ceasefire. He and his people must already know that on the question of what happens in Gaza after a ceasefire, he will immediately face the need for a second big confrontation with Israeli PM Netanyahu.
On the ceasefire issue, Netanyahu and all the members of his war cabinet have been saying they don’t want to see it happening for many months, or even a year, into the future. And on the matter of what comes after the ceasefire, they’ve been adamant that after the fighting stops they intend for Israel to still stay in total charge of the security environment in the Gaza Strip (though they might possibly allow some other body to take responsibility for some of the residents’ civil affairs.)
Biden, for his part, has been equally adamant that once the ceasefire is achieved, then the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) should come back to take charge of the Strip. (Oh, and it should do so, he always adds, as part of a renewed push to implement a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.)
Netanyahu and just about all his government are deeply opposed to both those thrusts of Biden’s plan for the post-ceasefire period. So there’s another set of Washington-Israel confrontations, right there, that will erupt at– or even before– any ceasefire goes into place.
Biden’s post-ceasefire plan, it has to be said, doesn’t have a hope in hell of going anywhere. For starters, the PA’s extremely old and serially unsuccessful “president” Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, has said he doesn’t want the job! Quite realistically, too– since absolutely no-one in Gaza would want his kapo-like, deeply collaborationist apparatus to come in and rule over them.
And nor does Biden have any credibility in his claims that he wants to revive the (equally senescent) Israeli-Palestinian peace “process.” Before October 7, Biden had had nearly three years already to do that, after the PP was earlier knee-capped by Donald Trump; and Biden didn’t do a thing. Indeed, he kept in place the recognition of occupied Greater East Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel– indeed, as Israel’s capital– that Trump had put into place. And he followed the equally Trumpian policy of focusing on the so-called “Abraham Accords” between Israel and distant Arab states, as a way to avoid dealing with the Palestine Question altogether.
And another non-trivial point that’s relevant here: the push that a whole succession of U.S. presidents have pursued since 1993 to have Israeli and Palestinian leaders determine the nature of their final peace agreement bilaterally, without firm reference to international law and regardless of the great power disparity between the sides has, over the past 30 years, led precisely nowhere in terms of securing rights, peace, and security– for either side. Instead, it has given the Israeli state three decades in which it has continued to invest heavily in its vast settler-colonial project in the occupied West Bank… while the Oslo Accords allowed Israel to offload most of the costs of administering the daily lives of the Palestinians there (and in Gaza) onto an array of European, Japanese, and Gulf-Arab donors.
So, as I have also written repeatedly, at this point the United States has zero credibility as the lead sponsor or mediator of any form of Palestinian-Israeli peace “process.” Also, what the Palestinians so sorely need, is not more “processing”, but an actual, rights-based peace. What a revolutionary idea.
There is, meanwhile, another clock that is ticking away in the background of international affairs: the clock of the decline of the “West” and the rise of the “Rest”, as I was tracking here at Globalities from January through September this year. And as January 1, 2024 approaches, this clock will be ticking with increasing urgency, given that on that date Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt will all, along with Ethiopia, be joining the five-member BRICS grouping as full members. This expansion of BRICS comes on the heels of two geopolitical developments that have great impact in West Asia: The rapprochement that China was able to effect, back in March, between longtime Persian Gulf rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the near-collapse of the NATO-armed war in Ukraine against Russia.
To be honest, I’ve been mulling over the different ways that the collapse of the NATO-urged war effort in Ukraine might affect Biden’s decisionmaking regarding West Asia. There is a worrying possibility that, faced with the imminent collapse of the anti-Russian effort in Ukraine, a U.S. leader might try to “cover/cover up” that humiliating defeat by launching a dangerous military adventure elsewhere. (Vietnam/Cambodia, and Lebanon/Grenada come to mind as precedents for that.) Might Biden, in the face of the collapse in Ukraine, be tempted to greatly escalate the contest in West Asia either by launching a terrible U.S. strike against Iran, or by authorizing Israel to do so, or by giving Israel the go-ahead to implement the plans they have long prepared for launching an offensive against Hizbullah in Lebanon that is considerably larger than the “probing”-level attacks they’ve been undertaking there since early October?
All of those are possibilities; and I’ve written about the connections between those scenarios and Israel’s horrendous assault against Gaza quite a bit, here and elsewhere.
However, any expansion/escalation on such a scale of the conflict that’s already being waged in Gaza carries huge and broad new risks. BRICS is not, and has no plans to become, a military alliance. But if Washington and Israel decide, for example, to launch a big strike against Iran, they will find that the existence of the larger BRICS grouping significantly changes the geopolitics in which they make such a decision. (One example: in an earlier era, they might have been able to expect that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Arab Gulf countries would either aid their war effort or anyway give them quiet support from the sidelines. Now, that is not nearly as likely.)
The energetic “Cradle” columnist Pepe Escobar wrote an interesting column recently about the effects that the consolidation and expansion of BRICS might have on the Israel-“Resistance” balance in West Asia. Noting the recent proliferation of contacts between Pres. Putin (and his officials) and their counterparts in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, he writes:
Arguably, the most incandescent focus of detailed discussions in Moscow these past few days is that we may be approaching the point where “a signal” [presumably from Russia?] will unleash a concerted Axis of Resistance response.
My judgment is much more guarded than his. I don’t see Russia and the leaders of Axis of resistance countries– that is, Iran and its allies– preparing to launch a military escalation of their own in the region. Much more likely, I would say, would be a concerted plan of action by the Axis of Resistance countries and the whole of the expanded BRICS to take firm economic and diplomatic measures to rein in the depravities of the U.S.-Israel axis. This would be something of a reprise of what happened in 1956, when Pres. Eisenhower used economic and diplomatic measures to end and (and spool back) the aggressive militarism the Israelis, Brits, and French had launched against Pres. Nasser’s Egypt, but updated for a 2023-24 environment.
What would such a BRICS/Resistance campaign look like? I would very much hope that it would look very similar to the path that I proposed last month– here, and here, and here. Crucial to the plan that I laid out there is that international/U.N. response to Gaza’s current extreme humanitarian crisis should be seen as the entry-point into the U.N. Security Council taking over control of these two tasks:
- Delivery of the relief and reconstruction aid that is so very urgently needed now in Gaza– which it should do via the sea and via Egypt, without submitting to any Israeli “security” roadblocks and indeed while pushing Israel’s military completely out of the Gaza Strip (which it would do through diplomatic pressure on, and from, the United States.)
- Control of the course of international peacemaking efforts not just for the 75-year-long conflict between Israel and Palestine but also the equally lengthy and still unresolved conflicts between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon. Bring them to a resolution on the basis of well-known principles of the U.N. Charter and successive resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.
There is another clock that is also ticking in the background of the present Israel-Gaza crisis. That is the clock of the domination of world affairs that the “West” has steadfastly clung onto for many centuries now.
It was in 1498 that the Portuguese navigator Vasco Da Gama first rounded the southern tip of Africa and brought the brutality of West-European colonialism into the Indian Ocean. Within just a few years, his successors were capturing and subduing cities along all the coats of the Arabian Peninsula (including the Red Sea, where Yemen’s Houthis are now imposing significant costs on shipping lines wanting to carry goods between Israeli ports and Asia.)
Some 40 years before 1498, the Mamluk governor of Gaza, Sayf al-Din Birdibak al-Ashrafi had built a notable congregational mosque and madrasa near the main western entrance of Gaza City’s historic Shujaiiyya district. The Israelis destroyed the whole complex during the 51-day assault they undertook in 2014.
Back in the early 16th century CE, the extreme violence that the Portugal’s heavily armed merchant adventurers visited on the many rich, ancient trading cities all around the Indian Ocean deeply shocked the people who lived in those communities and traded along those ancient trading routes; and it inaugurated– along with the extreme violence the Spaniards and others visited on the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, a lengthy era of Western colonial expansion throughout all the regions of the world. Today, as 2023 CE comes to an end, the violence that Israel visits on the people of Gaza and the West Bank feels equally shocking to the vast majority of the people around today’s hyper-connected world. Let it end. And let it help mark the emergence of a new, more deeply multi-polar and egalitarian system of world governance.