Last Thursday, Pres. Biden said in an interview with the TV news show “60 minutes” that while he fully supported Israel in its ongoing war with Gaza, he thought that Israel should not return to “occupying” Gaza. The interview did not air till Sunday, when it was seen as showing the one instance in which Biden has dared add a note of caution or demurral to the crass belligerency being continually voiced by Israel’s leaders.
With Biden now poised to leave for a visit to Israel that’s slated for tomorrow, his stance towards the actions Israel takes in Gaza gains even more relevance. Meantime, he has notably not called for Israel to halt any of the gross violations of international law that Israel continues to commit against Gaza’s 2.3 million people; and there have been well-authenticated reports that his State Department officials are not even allowed to utter the words “ceasefire” or “de-escalation” with respect to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
So his call on Israel not to “occupy” Gaza has some importance. What does it mean? Neither he nor anyone in his administration has spelled out whether it means he is urging Israel, which has sent massive ground armies to the edge of the Gaza Strip poised for a ground invasion, not to launch such an operation—or whether he’d be okay with them undertaking a ground invasion of limited extent and duration; or whether he’d be okay with them launching a total invasion of either the whole of the Gaza Strip or “just” its northern half, provided only that they don’t stay there too long.
Which is it?
Continue reading “Biden, ‘occupying’ Gaza, and the ‘Strategic Madman’ theory”
Since I posted this piece yesterday, I’ve had a couple of further thoughts, as follows:
The first is that I think we should all call on Hamas to release all the Israeli noncombatants it is holding, immediately or as soon as as is physically possible. International law, religion, and basic morals would all indicate they should do this.
Continue reading “Two addenda on Gaza-Israel”
Pres. George H.W. Bush opens the 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference
Last Thursday, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovitch told a Council on Foreign Relations audience that he judged the then-current U.S.-Israeli focus on winning a Saudi-Israeli accord was badly conceived, inasmuch as it tried to bypass or paper over the Palestinian question. He likened the attitudes of Israeli and U.S. leaders to those of passengers on the Titanic, as they blithely sailed toward the large iceberg of the Palestinian issue that still lay very close to them…
36 hours later Hamas launched its Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood.”
That far-reaching and technically complex breakout took nearly all Israelis by surprise, and revealed the deep strategic complacency and tactical chaos into which Israel’s long-famed security system had fallen.
In most of Western discourse, the early reactions to what happened October 7 followed these tracks:
- Stunned surprise and horror at images of the suffering of Israeli civilians
- Weirdly racist claims that “Hamas could never have been as smart as to organize something like this… So it must have been organized by Iran“
- Horror at and excoriation of Hamas’s actions, portrayed as so frequently as “targeting” Israeli civilians
- Urgent calls for Israel to respond very forcefully indeed to Hamas, with little or no recognition that any such response would involve inflicting great suffering on Palestinian civilians—and also, potentially, on some of the dozens of Israelis now held captive within Gaza
- Repeated avowals that Hamas “must be punished”, accompanied by some unsubstantiated claims that the violence it showed during the October 7 breakout was “akin to that of the Islamic State.” (It wasn’t.)
- A general reluctance or refusal to link the October 7 breakout to the great suffering that Israelis have inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Lebanon, and elsewhere for many decades now.
Who are Hamas?
In those Western media accounts, Hamas has nearly always been portrayed as intrinsically violent, deeply anti-Semitic, and unalterably opposed to the existence of Israel. But most of these descriptions are written by people who have never met, interviewed, or interacted with Hamas leaders. I have—periodically throughout the years between 1989 and roughly 2012. (You can find accounts of some of these interviews in The Nation, Boston Review, and elsewhere. E.g., here.)
Here is my current assessment of their positions and capabilities.
Continue reading “So, about Hamas”
Painting of the armistice negotiation in Compiègne, France, November 1917
The veteran Washington Post columnist David Ignatius started out life (as I did) as a reporter, and in today’s column he does a good job of portraying a spirited discussion he observed in Kyiv among Ukrainian politicians on whether and when to end the grinding conflict in their country. He describes one parliamentarian at that gathering, Oleksiy Goncharenko (also mis-spelled Gershenko) as “almost shouting” as he says,
“We all want everything. But this is the real world, and we must make decisions from real options. We don’t have unlimited time, and we don’t have unlimited people.”
Ignatius notes that earlier hopes that Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive might succeed “haven’t been realized”, and that “Ukrainians are now willing to talk more openly about ways to end the war than during my visits last year.” And he seems to be channeling the “painful” choice that he now sees confronting the Ukrainian leaders:
Continue reading “Yes, David, there is a way to halt the carnage in Ukraine: An Armistice”
In just conflicts, the best strategy is surely to stay the course, especially when people begin to despair…
But if Ukraine seriously questions whether it can survive a fight that might take many years, then it needs to think about a way to freeze this conflict on its own terms — with a security guarantee from the United States as part of that deal.
The above image shows colonels from the North Korean and U.S. militaries discussing possible lines for an armistice, October 1951
Pres. Joe Biden’s avowals that the United States will back Ukraine’s campaign to push the Russian military out of its eastern provinces for “as long it takes” have become a mounting chorus over recent months. (He has seldom if ever spelled out the precise nature of the “it” in question. That’s problematic, since Washington and Kyiv have deep disagreements over the extent of their war goals. Perhaps U.S. taxpayers and everyone else deserve some clarity on this point?)
Of course, if Biden were to offer a clear and compelling vision of the outcome for whose pursuit he has been pouring money and weapons into Ukraine, he might also have to explain such anomalies as to why this war against Russia’s bad actions should be supported when he and his predecessor have steadfastly supported Israel’s annexations of Golan and East Jerusalem; whenWashington has long thought that blithely splitting Kosovo off from Serbia was quite okay; and why no-one in Washington has ever been held accountable for the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq…
There are doubtless numerous factors that hold Biden back from offering a specific and principled vision of Washington’s goals for the anti-Russia campaign in Ukraine… And in its place we are offered only the content-free pablum of “as long as it takes.”
This is dangerous territory. Especially today, as we survey the failure of the summer’s long-touted “counter-offensive” against Russia’s military units in eastern Ukraine… Biden’s repeated “ALAIT” declarations portend only a lengthy, continuing commitment of U.S. and allied resources—and of Ukrainian lives—into a World War I-style meat grinder with increasingly devastating local and global consequences.
Continue reading “‘As long as it takes’: Washington’s dangerous trap for Ukraine”