WASHINGTON – Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama went to the ultra high-powered American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in Washington last week and said, unambiguously, that Jerusalem should be the “undivided” capital of Israel. The packed auditorium may have exploded with joy. Public opinion in the Arab world – where there’s enormous goodwill towards Obama – was dismayed, if not appalled.
But then it was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who may have thrown the real bomb at AIPAC. Sounding every bit like Republican presidential candidate John McCain, she predictably blasted Iran, Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. Then, in the middle of her speech, she said, “The expansion of violence in the Middle East makes the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state more urgent, not less.
“The present opportunity is not perfect by any means, but it is better than any other in recent years and we need to seize it. Israelis have waited too long for the security they desire and deserve, and Palestinians have waited too long amidst daily humiliations for the dignity of a Palestinian state.”
It takes a lot of political capital to say something like this in front of diehard AIPAC supporters, even if you’re a US secretary of state. Predictably, after these words, the high-powered room fell dead silent.
Enter the gulag
What about the dispossessed people suffering these daily humiliations Rice referred to, half the world away, what would they think?
Gaza – essentially a huge gulag – is now an even more desperate place than usual. Israel has all but embargoed the delivery of fuel. Once again this is collective punishment in action – not only against Hamas, which has been in control of Gaza for one year now, but against the desperate civilian population of 1.5 million.
During this time Gaza has been bombed and starved to death. What’s left of productive land has been bulldozed by the Israeli army. All this grief essentially because the people of Gaza chose to be led by Hamas in a democratic election in January 2005 . That’s something Washington and Jerusalem simply cannot accept.
Israel has just been on the brink of invading Gaza – again. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – fighting a corruption scandal – would have loved this diversionist tactic. Returning to Israel from Washington – where he attended the AIPAC meeting and had a face-to-face meeting with President George W Bush, trying to sell Israeli intelligence on Iran as more up to date than the US’s National Intelligence Estimate data – Olmert said, “The way it looks now, we are closer to a military operation in Gaza than we are to any other type of [diplomatic] arrangement.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, the current Israeli defense minister, agreed. And Barak is not nearly as hawkish as Olmert. Barak is the key figure in the Knesset (parliament) in favor of a truce with Hamas that is being negotiated by Egypt. These are the terms: if Israel stops its military raids into Gaza and ends the current siege, Hamas stops firing its crude rockets over Israeli territory. These rocket attacks against Israel remain the fundamental casus belli for an Israeli invasion of Gaza.
Israel is holding back from invading Gaza – at least for now – not because it harbors some fuzzy humanitarian concern. It’s not invading because it fears Israeli casualties – and most of all because it does not have an exit strategy. The invasion could last as much as six months – according to Israeli military experts. And then what?
As for the truce, it is bound to collapse. According to polls, that’s how most Israelis see it. And then the invasion will be inevitable – again. And it will be Israel against Hamas equipped with better weapons.
Yuval Diskin, the head of Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, is convinced that Hamas will become a strategic threat to Israel. Major General Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israeli military intelligence, is against any kind of ceasefire. He believes that would empower Hamas, not only militarily but most of all politically.
The logic here is the same old, imperial divide and rule. Israel and the US allow themselves to talk to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas – universally considered by the Israeli elite as a “reliable partner”. But at the same time Israel and the US don’t want Abbas to talk to Hamas – even though they are all Palestinians.
Enter the savior
While Rice desperately clings to the dream of a peace plan – perhaps the last hope of salvaging the abysmal historical record of the Bush administration – the Israeli elite still seems to be locked on war mode. Take Ephraim Sneh, a man many Israelis – and Jewish-Americans – believe should be the next Israeli prime minister. Sneh is no dove, but he’s not a fanatic either. He’s a former deputy defense minister (1999-2001), a retired general and a highly influential Labor member of the Knesset. Sneh actively sold himself at the AIPAC meeting as having the ultimate Gaza solution.
According to Sneh, “The problem of Gaza is that there are 1 million people there living in poverty and now without jobs and without hope. And if you want to uproot Hamas – something that Israel must do one day – the way to do it is not just by military option, which would break the military force of Hamas, but to enable the legitimate government of [Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad to restore its authority, and immediately after that to embark in an economic development plan to build, through private enterprise, 100,000 jobs in Gaza.”
Sneh has a neat formula to sell his package: “Gaza now is like Mogadishu [capital of Sudan]. It can be Dubai [in the United Arab Emirates]. What you need is to uproot the terrorists and to enable democratic forces to act.”
Sneh’s problem, for all his moderate proposals, is the Israeli elite’s problem: Hamas is regarded as nothing but a bunch of “terrorists” – while its popular appeal is totally negated.
Sneh may even sound like some other (Arab) demonizers of Hamas such as al-Arabiya TV, a de facto media arm of the House of Saud, whose cultivation of the bizarre includes a report titled “Israel preserves the option of peaceful stabilization in Gaza”.
According to Sneh, the popular appeal of Hamas in Gaza is “another unbased cliche. Hamas is not popular in Gaza. Hamas controls Gaza by brutal force – indeed it’s how they took power in Gaza.” Not true: Hamas won a free and fair election in January 2005 monitored by international observers. And Hamas is popular because of its extensive social welfare work and its absence of corruption, unlike Abbas’ Fatah.
Sneh, by the way, knows Abbas well. They meet “relatively frequently”. Abbas is considered “a man of peace” who “represents the majority of the Palestinian people, who want normalcy and know that terror is counterproductive”. Former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon use to say the same things about Abbas.
Sneh totally dismisses the result of the Gaza election: “They didn’t have the majority, but they used the district system in order to capture more seats in parliament. Even when they were at the peak of their influence they were only 43% of the entire Palestinian population. Now they are less popular than they used to be in the past.”
Politicians in Western democracies can only dream of a 43% slice of the vote. US presidents are elected by less than a quarter of the overall population. In January 2005, Hamas won 75 out of 118 seats.
Sneh insists Hamas “proved they cannot solve the general problem in Gaza. They can’t build stability, they can’t build prosperity, they can’t feed the kids of Gaza with bullets”. He might add that nobody can build anything in a gulag under a total embargo.
So Gaza can become a new Dubai – but first Hamas has to be smashed. Anyone familiar with Gaza knows this schizophrenic proposition will never fly – unless 1.5 million people are exterminated. Seems “Mogadishu” is here to stay.
But the whole drama in Gaza goes way beyond Hamas. It is directly connected to the larger Israel and US-Iran confrontation – and the relentless demonization campaign against Iran in both Israel and the US.
The Islamic Republic actively supports Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Although it is never stated publicly, smashing Hamas and crippling Iran would be essential for the Zionist and militaristic wing of the Israeli elites in advancing the larger project of Eretz Israel. This greater Israel would include most, if not all of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and south Lebanon up to the Litani River, an extremely precious source of water and a key reason for the Israeli attack on south Lebanon in the 2006 war, thwarted by Hezbollah.
So is it about Dubai and Mogadishu? Way beyond it, it’s all about Iran and water.