The Betrayal of Gaza

The US is vocal about its commitment to peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories — but its actions suggest otherwise.

That the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on without resolution might
appear to be rather strange. For many of the world's conflicts, it is
difficult even to conjure up a feasible settlement. In this case, not
only is it possible, but there is near-universal agreement on its basic
contours: a two-state settlement along the internationally recognised
(pre-June 1967) borders - with "minor and mutual modifications", to
adopt official US terminology before Washington departed from the
international community in the mid-1970s.

The basic principles
have been accepted by virtually the entire world, including the Arab
states (which call for the full normalisation of relations), the
Organisation of the Islamic Conference (including Iran) and relevant
non-state actors (including Hamas). A settlement along these lines was
first proposed at the UN Security Council in January 1976 and backed by
the major Arab states. Israel refused to attend. The United States
vetoed the resolution, and did so again in 1980. The record at the
General Assembly since is similar.

But there was one important and
revealing break in US-Israeli rejectionism. After the failed Camp David
agreements in 2000, President Clinton recognised that the terms he and
Israel had proposed were unacceptable to any Palestinians. That
December, he proposed his "parameters": imprecise but more forthcoming.
He then stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, while
expressing reservations.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met
in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 to resolve the differences and were
making progress. At their final press conference, they reported that,
with more time, they could probably have reached full agreement. Israel
called off the negotiations prematurely, however, and official progress
was then terminated, though informal discussions at a high level
continued, leading to the Geneva Accord, rejected by Israel and ignored
by the US. Much has happened since but a settlement along those lines is
still not out of reach, if Washington is once again willing to accept
it. Unfortunately, there is little sign of that.

The US and Israel
have been acting in tandem to extend and deepen the occupation. Take
the situation in Gaza. After its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip
in 2005, Israel never relinquished its total control over the territory,
often described as "the world's largest prison".

In January 2006,
Palestine had an election that was recognised as free and fair by
international observers. Palestinians, however, voted "the wrong way",
electing Hamas. Instantly, the US and Israel intensified their assault
against Gazans as punishment for this misdeed. The facts and the
reasoning were not concealed; rather, they were published alongside
reverential commentary on Washington's dedication to democracy. The
US-backed Israeli assault against the Gazans has only intensified since,
in the form of savage violence and economic strangulation. After
Israel's 2008-2009 assault, Gaza has become a virtually unliveable

It cannot be stressed too often that Israel had no credible
pretext for its attack on Gaza, with full US support and illegally
using US weapons. Popular opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that
Israel was acting in self-defence. That is utterly unsustainable, in
light of Israel's flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily
available, as Israel and its US partner in crime knew very well.

Truth by omission

his Cairo address to the Muslim world on 4 June 2009, Barack Obama
echoed George W Bush's "vision" of two states, without saying what he
meant by the phrase "Palestinian state". His intentions were clarified
not only by his crucial omissions, but also by his one explicit
criticism of Israel: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy
of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous
agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these
settlements to stop."

That is, Israel should live up to Phase I
of the 2003 "road map", rejected by Israel with tacit US support. The
operative words are "legitimacy" and "continued". By omission, Obama
indicates that he accepts Bush's vision: the vast existing settlement
and infrastructure projects are "legitimate". Always even-handed, Obama
also had an admonition for the Arab states: they "must recognise that
the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning but not the end of
their responsibilities". Plainly, however, it cannot be a meaningful
"beginning" if Obama continues to reject its core principle: the
implementation of the international consensus. To do so, however, is
evidently not Washington's "responsibility" in his vision.

democracy, Obama said that "we would not presume to pick the outcome of a
peaceful election" - as in January 2006, when Washington picked the
outcome with a vengeance, turning at once to the severe punishment of
the Palestinians because it did not like the results of a peaceful
election. This happened with Obama's apparent approval, judging by his
words before and actions since taking office. There should be little
difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not closed tight
shut by rigid doctrine dismiss Obama's yearning for democracy as a joke
in bad taste.

Extracted from "Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians" by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe

© 2023 The New Statesman