I was planning to write a quick essay here about how the Houthis’ robust pro-Gaza-ceasefire actions in the Red Sea have further strengthened the already clear (can we say “ironclad”?) tie-up between Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza and the massive shifts now underway in the balance of global power.
I will get to that a little more, below. But meantime the confrontations in the Red Sea and the adjacent Gulf of Aden seem to be escalating—along with the tensions between the U.S. ground/expeditionary forces at the crucial confluence of the Syria-Iraq-Jordan borders, where on Sunday, local anti-U.S. militias killed three U.S. service-members and injured dozens more in a drone attack.
In the global diplomacy over Gaza, much attention has been paid to the (not notably successful) missions that Sec. of State Blinken and CIA Director Bill Burns have been undertaking to try to win that ever-elusive Gaza-Israel ceasefire. Much less attention has been paid to the trip that Biden’s National security Advisor Jake Sullivan made to Bangkok last Friday, where he met with top PRC diplomat Wang Yi to try to persuade Wang to pressure Iran to rein in the Houthis’ actions in the Red Sea.
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.
As diplomats from the Global Majority start to gather in Beijing (shown above) and prepare to hold a virtual BRICS summit on the Gaza crisis starting tomorrow (November 21), here is a recapitulation of some of my thinking on how this urgently needed crisis-ending diplomacy should proceed…
Many voices worldwide have been talking about what comes after a ceasefire. A loud chorus inside Israel is urging their military to stay in as much of Gaza as possible, and to rebuild there an even stronger presence of the (always quite illegal) colonial settlements that existed prior to 2005… Pres. Joe Biden, who has given Israel unstinting support for its assault on Gaza, has murmured that after the fighting ends it should withdraw back to its side of the 1949 Armistice Line. In the intellectually thin and bombastic WaPo column that he penned yesterday, Biden wrote that after Israel withdraws, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) should take over in Gaza…. Other Washington voices have suggested that an international force of unspecified origin and authorization be sent in to do that…
But the head of the PA has made quite clear that he and his colleagues reject being parachuted in to Gaza in that role and the heads of the Arab states most often mentioned as part of that elusive “international force” have all likewise refused to be drafted into it.
The quandary of “how to rule over post-ceasefire Gaza” shows that American power in the region is now coming up against unprecedented limits.
Internationally, the call for Israel to withdraw all the ground forces it has had rampaging around inside Gaza will grow louder and louder over the weeks ahead.
But the United States has shown that it cannot on its own cobble together any plausible “coalition of the willing” able to go into Gaza to oversee the massive tasks of relief, reconstruction, and emergency “governance” that the whole Strip requires. In today’s world, it is only the United Nations that can achieve this.
The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’. It is that simple.
For 50 years now, Washington has dominated all the efforts that the world’s nations have undertaken in their search for a just and lasting resolution to the many strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict. That U.S. move to dominate the peace diplomacy was launched in late 1973 by Henry Kissinger, who uniquely combined the roles of Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. In the aftermath of the October 1973 war, Kissinger brusquely elbowed aside the Soviet Union, which had hoped to “co-lead” the post-war diplomacy.
From December 1973 until today, the United States has dominated all Arab-Israeli diplomacy, with the level of that U.S. domination rising to a situation of unabashed hegemony after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. And as I’ve written elsewhere, in 2005 Pres. George W. Bush even managed to subordinate the United Nations (and the EU, and a then-very-weak Russia) to Washington’s “leadership” of the diplomacy through an extraordinary arrangement called the “Middle East Quad.”
The results, for citizens of all the Arab states with the possible, partial exception of Egypt, have been disastrous. But the impact on the Palestinians has been particularly dire. They have seen Israeli settlers grabbing huge new areas of Palestinian land in the West Bank. They have seen the lives of all the Palestinians still resident in their historic homeland tightly constrained by Israel. They’ve seen Israeli forces and their allies commit unspeakable atrocities in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They’ve seen their freedom to worship in their holy places in Jerusalem, Hebron, and elsewhere attacked.
And what has Washington done? Washington has continued to shovel massive sums of money and soaring mountains of arms into Israel. It has protected Israel from any international accountability by using its veto at the U.N. Security Council. It has given formal recognition to Israel’s (quite illegal) annexation of Greater East Jerusalem and of Syria’s Golan. It has demonized all who tried to resist Israel’s continued violence and encroachments by calling them terrorists and wielding tough sanctions against them.
And now, in Gaza City and the surrounding Gaza Strip—and also in the West Bank—we see the culmination of all that fervent, intensely one-sided support that successive U.S. presidents and their officials, and the U.S. Congress, have lavished on Israel over the past 50 years.
Last Friday, I set out (with a slight excess of ambition) to compile ten theses that might help guide analysts and policymakers through the uncharted waters of the coming weeks of the Gaza-Israel crisis. As it happened, I was able only to complete the first six of these, which can be read here. I attempted a first draft of Thesis 7, but had to stop midway through. I have now rethought and redrafted Thesis 7 and added in Theses 8-10, as shown below. (You can also read the whole unified list of ten theses, here.)
7. Israel’s decisionmaking is mired in chaos
I wrote some about the crisis of Israel’s leadership decisionmaking early last week (1, 2.) Since then, a lot more evidence has emerged about the depth and many different dimensions of this crisis, including in the NYT, in Haaretz, and elsewhere. What all these accounts point to is the following:
(This post was updated at 7:30 am ET on 10/18/2023.)
I was tempted to title this post “Abu Mazen is toast”, but then I thought that wouldn’t be very helpful. The real political challenge for Palestinians right now is not the old age and extreme political infirmity of one ageing leader but rather the need to reimagine and reinvigorate the leadership of their entire national-liberation and national-independence movement.
It was in 1968-69 that, in the aftermath of the Arab states’ defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967, the collection of mostly small, mostly secular Palestinian guerrilla groups that grown up within the Palestinians’ far-flung diasporic communities came together to take over the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a body that had been created by the Arab League in 1964. (Read all about it in my 1984 book on the PLO.) The largest of those guerrilla groups was Fateh. Fateh’s collective leadership body decided that Yasser Arafat should be the person to head the PLO. The Arab states agreed with that. (In 1970-71, Jordan’s King Hussein launched a harsh crackdown on Palestinian guerrilla activity and organizing that was occurring among the Palestinian refugee populations that then, as now, formed a majority of Jordan’s population. But his crackdown did little to dent the general Arab-state consensus that the PLO was the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinians.)
The image above shows a Liebherr mining excavator and associated truck. Such an excavator can weigh > 800 tons and produce 4,000 horsepower
The crisis that our climate is in is now evident to all. It reminds us of the extreme risks humankind ran by failing to rein in our emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Many of us have long understood that fossil fuels that exist in limited quantities—and that as humankind draws those fuels down toward “empty” we will need to have in place robust energy systems based on renewables. But there are three other broad types of planetary resources whose depletion by humans is now also close to crisis point. These three categories are: metals, non-metallic minerals, and biomass.
This graph from the University of Vienna’s excellent Materialflows.net website tracks the annual global extraction of all of these four resource categories over the half-century 1970-2019, measured in billions of tonnes. In those years, the annual extraction of fossil fuels (grey) increased by around 150%. But the annual extraction of of metals (blue) and non-metallic minerals (orange) both increased by around 350%.
The world population of humans increased by 110% in that period—which was roughly proportional to the increase in the extraction of biomass, shown there in green.
By the way, sustainability scientists calculated a while back that 50 billion tonnes of total annual resource extraction is roughly what’s sustainable over the long haul. We breached that limit in the mid-1990s and are now close to extracting twice that amount.
Above: Pres. Putin poses with some of the African leaders who attended the Russia-African summit he hosted this past week
Biden administration officials and their supporters have long claimed that the conflict in Ukraine is a clear-cut contest between “democracy” and “authoritarianism” that affects the whole world… and that on that basis the countries of the Global South should line up to support NATO’s campaign against Russia. One big recent version of this argument has been the claim that Russia’s refusal to renew the agreement allowing Ukraine to export grain via the Black Sea is raising grain prices and preventing much-needed foodstuffs from reaching hunger-struck countries in Africa…
But the campaign to win global support for NATO’s anti-Russia crusade has never been very successful. Recall that in the three votes Washington initiated at the UN last year to denounce Russia’s actions inside Ukraine (e.g., 1, 2), three dozen countries including global behemoths China, India, and three dozen other countries failed to support the “Yes” vote.
And just this past week, the proceedings of key gatherings held in South Africa and Moscow have underscored the extent to which the “West” has lost the support of that large majority of humanity that lives in the formerly colonized countries of the Global South. (If indeed, it ever had it… Perhaps a better description of what’s been happening in recent months is that the West is now revealing itself as incapable of imposing its will on the countries of the Global South. More on this, later…)
The above image shows four major heat-domes over the northern hemisphere this week. Credit @WeatherProf via Umair Haque
The climate crisis we’re living through this year is real. It’s global. And it’s just a foretaste of what humankind will see over the years ahead if the leaders of our most powerful governments don’t find a way, SOON, to work together to address it.
The impact of this crisis (actual, and forecast) puts the conflict in Ukraine that has dominated the attention of Western media for so long now into a much more realistic and sobering perspective. From a global point of view, the conflict in Ukraine is yet another localized tiff between different factions in that tiny (< 12%) portion of humanity that is of European heritage. And by contrast with the two larger intra-European conflicts of the 20th century, this time around most of the rest of global humanity is actually very little involved. During the two intra-European wars of the 20th century, the global reach of that era’s European empires brought hundreds of millions of non-Europe directly into the hostilities—as combatants, as conscripted labor, or as direct or indirect victims of the conflict.
This time, not nearly as much. This time, quite appropriately, the reaction of the vast majority of non-“Western” governments and peoples to the intra-European conflict in Ukraine is mainly: meh.
It’s not that the Ukraine conflict hasn’t harmed the peoples of the Global South. It has. The main ways it has done so have been:
Have you, like me, been wondering what U.S. “climate czar” John Kerry has been talking about with his hosts in a Beijing that, like much of China and the United States, is drenched in extreme weather events?
John F. Kerry praised China’s “incredible job” expanding renewable energy sources Monday, while urging the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter to stop building coal-fired power plants.
Let’s hope that Kerry’s approach toward his hosts was indeed respectful and collaborative. The fate of humankind and our whole, deeply troubled planet hangs on these two mega-powers finding ways to work together to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while also reining in the currently raging over-depletion of all of our planet’s material resources.
If these two governments cannot overcome, or set aside, their political differences and find a way to work together to reduce CO2 emissions and resource depletion, then we will surely, within the next 20 years, see extreme weather events “baked” into all of the world’s climate system. We will also see entire economies, small and large, forced screeching to a halt—and also, all the social and political turmoil that will predictably result from that.
First, two key pieces of data regarding these two countries’ recent and projected CO2 emissions:
Click on either graph to expand it. The y-axes (verticals) show the same thing: billions of metric tons of CO2 emissions—but to different scales, as shown. The x-axes show past reported CO2 emissions levels through 2021 or 2022, and then projections from then through 2050.