Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The conflict that broke out on October 7, 2023, between Palestinian militants and Israel underlined once again that the status quo, with Israel occupying 5 million stateless Palestinians, is unsustainable.
In the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney was recorded giving a fundraising speech in which he admitted that it was impractical to give the Palestinians a state and that the only thing you could do with the Israel-Palestine issue was to “kick the can down the road.” Periodic kinetic conflicts are the price of the American elite’s studied inaction and, worse, coddling of the ugliest political forces on the Israeli side, as well as failure to offer ordinary Palestinians a dignified life that could allow them to develop alternatives to the ambitious and bloodthirsty fundamentalists who run Gaza.
More recently, the standard line from both Israeli politicians such as Binyamin Netanyahu and from American politicians such as Jared Kushner (Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East) and Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken, has been that Palestinian citizenship in a state is not essential to a peace settlement.
Rather, Israel can do diplomatic deals with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan, and now perhaps Saudi Arabia. The wealthier Middle East states could exchange technology with Israel, do joint start-ups, and engage in trade, giving a fillip to the Israeli economy that would trickle down to the Palestinians. With rising incomes and economic well-being, the Palestinians would be content to forego rights to nationhood and would acquiesce in Israeli military rule (in the Palestinian West Bank) or Israeli siege (in the Gaza Strip).
As with all trickle-down theories, this one is a chimera, an illusion, in brief, a scam.
The reality is seedier and considerably less promising. Some 75% of the families in Gaza are descended from refugees driven out of what is now southern Israel, out of what is now Beersheva and Sderot and other places that either no longer exist or have been renamed by the settler-colonial victors. They have not forgotten where they came from. Many could walk home in less than a day if they were allowed to recover their patrimony.
The economic efflorescence dreamed of by Kushner and Netanyahu once Tel Aviv was married up to Dubai has not taken place, either for most ordinary Israelis, and least of all the under-educated and under-employed Ultra-Orthodox, or for the Palestinians, who have a Depression-era unemployment rate of 25%. In the Gaza Strip joblessness stands at 46.4%, as a direct result of the Israeli siege imposed since 2007. So far from economic efflorescence is Gaza that only 4% of its freshwater is fit for human consumption, and it has electricity only for a few hours a day. Israel does not allow Gaza to have a harbor or an airport, rather denting the likelihood of anything trickling down. While the so-called “Abraham Accords” (a piece of blasphemy toward the patriarch) may have allowed Arab oil billionaires and Israel tech billionaires to do some deals, those people were never at war in the first place, and their finances remained in the stratosphere out of sight of ordinary mortals.
We have seen the rise of a set of fascist parties among the Ultra-Orthodox Jews and especially those who had been encouraged or allowed by the Israeli government to squat on land owned by Palestinian families in the West Bank. Never very helpful to the cause of social harmony even when considered pariahs by the Israeli Establishment, they have been given the keys to reshape both Israeli and Palestinian society by the desperate and wily Binyamin Netanyahu, who brought them into his government as full partners to regain the position of prime minister and avoid going to jail for corruption. His attempt to neuter the Israeli High Court on their behalf has deeply divided Israeli society and caused many Israelis to think twice about their duties as military reservists.
The fascists immediately backed Israeli squatter pogroms against Palestinian hamlets such as Huwara, fomenting a slow-motion civil war. Rising Israeli squatter violence and rising Palestinian resentment had led to the killing of over 200 Palestinians this year by Israeli security forces or vigilante squatters, before the outbreak of direct hostilities on Saturday.
The Israeli extremists have openly been talking about illegally annexing the occupied Palestinian territories that Israel seized in 1967 and imposing full Israeli sovereignty, with the implication that the stateless Palestinians would somehow be expelled. Indeed, forms of ethnic cleansing or population transfer have already been taking place this year.
One of the underlying assumptions of the Israeli right is that the Palestinians are anyway helpless, and so can be preyed upon with impunity. Any humane person will regret the gratuitous violence and the terror deployed against innocent noncombatants by the Gaza militants, but their sophisticated and well-executed attack cannot be seen as a sign of helplessness.
The rhetoric about making the Palestinians forget all about being Palestinians by luring them with a good economy always consisted of empty rhetoric. It was nothing more than a smokescreen for predatory projects of colonizing and appropriating Palestinian land or making Gaza into an open air penitentiary. It was a way, like the similarly empty and frankly cynical American talk of a “two-state solution,” of kicking the can down the road. As I said in 2012 when Romney let the cat out of the bag, “It turns out that what Romney is kicking down the road is not a can. It is a live grenade.”