The United Nations has now called for a ceasefire in the Israeli war on Gaza, which is probably a sign that it will wind down not so long from now. Despite assurances given by outgoing US Secretary of State Condi Rice to her colleagues that the US would sign off on the resolution, in the end the US simply abstained. She appears to have been ordered into this humiliating about-face by W. when she made the mistake of phoning him before the vote. The lack of unanimity may weaken the force of the measure, but it nevertheless is a signal that Israel’s freedom of movement is now going to be increasingly constrained.
Since the Bush administration is diplomatically challenged, the primary work on the resolution was done by Egypt and Britain, among others.
It was little noticed that China dared break with Washington on the need for a ceasefire even before Thursday’s vote. Chinese special envoy for the Middle East Sun Bi Gan said, according to Xinhuanet,
‘ “The Gaza conflict proves again that military means are not the way out for resolving Palestinian-Israeli disputes. Military force could only bring more hostility and enmity, without giving either side absolute safety,” he said. Sun said international society and relevant parties, when endeavoring to ease the tense situation, should also consider carrying out feasible actions to accelerate the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, to establish an independent Palestinian state at an early date, and to realize peaceful coexistence. ‘
So China’s explicit position is the early announcement of a Palestinian state, and immediate talks to that end. At the moment, China is the Dennis Kucinich of Middle Eastern diplomacy. But as it rises as a great power, and given that it is the second largest petroleum importer in the world after the US–and so increasingly close to Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran, it may be come a player over time. China is usually so taciturn in these matters that I was surprised to see Sun Bi Gan speak out forcefully and before he had the cover of a UN Security Council resolution.
Less surprising is that France and Russia had begun calling for a ceasefire. Both have long been assertive in foreign policy, unlike the Chinese.
The Israeli leadership thinks of itself as in a race against time to destroy as much of Hamas and its infrastructure as possible before they are forced to implement a ceasefire. The US was earlier helping prolong the campaign, but even the tepid abstention at the UN, which allowed the ceasefire call to go through, shows an increasing impatience of Washington with Israel’s tactics.
I don’t know of any analyst of counter-insurgency techniques who thinks Israel’s blunt instruments are suited to effectively removing Hamas in anything but the short term. Aside from the argument from inefficacy, there are troubling ethical issues in the way Israel has proceeded.
The best explanation for why Israel is on weak ground in its current operation appeared as a letter to the editor at the New York Times. Columnist Nicholas Kristoff had written that “Israel’s right to do something doesn’t mean it has the right to do anything.”
A Marine who had recently gotten out the the service and had served in Iraq vehemently agreed with this sentiment:
‘ I am dismayed by the rhetoric from US politicians and pundits to the effect that “if the US were under rocket attack from Mexico or Canada, we would respond like the Israelis”. This a gross insult to US servicemen; I can assure you that we would NOT respond like the Israelis… Israel has indeed taken a small number of casualties from Hamas rocket fire (about 20 killed since 2001), but we have taken thousands of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many civilian personnel. Hundreds of American casualties have occurred due to indirect fire, often from mortars. This is particularly true in or near the Green Zone in Baghdad. This fire often originates from densely populated urban areas.
Americans do not, I repeat DO NOT, respond to that fire indiscriminately. When I say “indiscriminately”, I mean that even if we can precisely identify the source of the fire (which can be very difficult), we do not respond if we know we will cause civilian casualties. We always evaluate the threat to civilians before responding, and in an urban area the threat to civilians is extremely high. If US servicemen violate those rules of engagement and harm civilians, I assure you we do our best to investigate — and mete out punishment if warranted. There are differing opinions on the conflict in Iraq, but I am proud of the conduct of our servicemen there.
With that in mind, I find the conduct of the Israeli army in Gaza to be brutal and dishonorable, and it is insulting that they and others claim that the US military would behave in the same way. I know the Israelis are operating under difficult circumstances, but their claim that they follow similar rules of engagement rings hollow; I see little evidence for this claim given the huge number of civilian casualties they have caused from indirect fire. ‘
I think the writer has a point, though he is probably exaggerating the difference between the US military in Iraq and the Israeli military in Gaza. But it is true that in November 2004 before the Marines went into Fallujah after fundamentalist guerrillas, they allowed and even encouraged civilians to leave the city; of 200,000 or so, fewer than 10 percent chose to stay. In contrast, Israel has the Gazans bottled up and would never consider allowing the civilians to come in Israel to stay in tent cities while Gaza was being bombarded. Israel thus insisted that the civilian population remain in the line of fire, in a way that the Marines did not do with regard to Fallujah. Indeed, letting so many people depart was contradictory to the war aim of killing or capturing as many guerrillas as possible, since the smart ones put on civvies and slipped out with the women and children. That was a price the Marine commanders were willing to pay to reduce civilian casualties.
Likewise,in August of 2004 when the US military waa battling the Mahdi Army in Najaf, it stopped firing when Grand Ayatollah Sistani sent tens of thousands of civilians walking into the city center. If a Palestinian cleric convinced tens of thousands of civilians to stream into Gaza City and they were in the way of the Israeli war aims, they would likely just be mown down.
Note that I am not alleging, and neither is the letter writer, that Israeli troops are deliberately killing civilians. I am alleging that Israeli troops don’t care very much if they happen to kill civilians while getting at what they think of as Hamas targets. They are not doing due diligence to avoid civilian deaths and casualties.
The difference between Israeli military action in Gaza and most US operations in Iraq is not a matter of national character or some other essentialist attribute. It is the difference between imperial occupation for specific purposes and settler colonialism. The Israelis are both an army and a settler movement. The US never considered flooding Iraq with colonists from Alabama and Mississippi.
When threatened by an indigenous population trying to expel it, settler colonialism is vicious. It is after all facing an existential threat. The US can withdraw from Iraq with no dire consequences to the US. In 1954-1962, the French killed at least half a million, and maybe as much as 800,000 Algerians, out of a population of 11 million. That is between nearly 5 percent and nearly 10 percent! The French military had been enlisted to fight for the interests of the colonists, who were in danger of losing everything. (In the end they did lose almost everything, being forced to return to Europe, or choosing to do so rather than face the prospect of living under independent Algerian rule).
The brutality with which the British put down the Mau-Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950s is another example of massive human rights violations on behalf of a settler population.
This latest sanguinary episode is a further manifestation of Israel’s insecure brand of settler colonialism, in which the lives of the indigenous population are viewed as worthless before the interests of the colonists. The Israelis have not killed on the French scale, but I would argue that they kill, and disregard civilian life, for much the same reasons as the French did in Algeria.
Settler colonialism is unstable in the contemporary world because of the facilities subject populations have for mobilization and resistance. Conflict between colonizer and colonized has only ended in one of three ways: 1) The expulsion of the colonists, as in Algeria; 2) the integration of the colonists into a nation that includes the indigenous population, as happened in South Africa; or 3) the expulsion of the indigenous population, as with the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth-century United States.
Bob Simon told Charlie Rose that the ‘two-state solution’ in Israel-Palestine is dead, which is likely correct. He suggested that the most likely outcome is Apartheid. However, I would argue that Apartheid is a phase and its itself an unstable situation, and that only one of the above three outcomes is actually permanent. Given that the Arabs are becoming more technologically sophisticated and wealthier over time, and given their demographic advantage, I do not expect a trasnferist or trail of tears policy to be implemented or succeed. In the long term, over several decades, I think either there will be a gradual outflow of Israeli emigrants that leaves Jews a plurality in Israel. Or there will eventually be a single state. The other possibilities, of either a century-long Apartheid or another expulsion of Palestinians a la 1948 seem to me less likely. The Gaza operation is intended to extend the life of an incipient Apartheid. But that is sort of like giving a heart transplant to a man diagnosed with terminal cancer.