1948, 2008

By all accounts of Middle Eastern history, the events of 1948– okay, primarily, the establishing of the State of Israel and the violence and dispossession associated with that act– were transformative for the whole region. They set into train a series of events, in Jordan, in Egypt, and in many other countries of the region, that over the years that followed finally destroyed the hopes of those two late-imperial powers, Britain and France, that they could keep the political evolution of the region under their control forever.
With Condi Rice now on her way to the region, it’s worth pointing out that 2008 definitely looks set to be another such year. (Different quasi-imperial power.)
Some westerners may look merely at a few facts such as that the Security Council today passed another resolution stiffening the sanctions against Iran, or that the Israelis succeeded in inflicting a kill ratio of some 33-to-1 onto the Gaza Palestinians in the past five days of fighting, and imagine that therefore the forces of the Bush-led west are in good shape in the Middle East.
Ain’t so. The Israelis, feeling quite unconstrained by any external power given the US system’s early plunge into the quadrennial panderocracy of presidential-election years, have been radically overplaying their hand in Gaza. They have thereby forced Abu Mazen to withdraw from the post-Annapolis “peace talks”, which has wrecked the Bush-Condi plan of maintaining the simulacrum of an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” throughout the remainder of 2008.
But beyond that, the Israeli over-reaching in Gaza has also, when allied to noticeable US mismanagement of affairs in Iraq, made it virtually impossible for any of the Arab governments to enroll wholeheartedly in the “rollback of Iranian power” plan that the US have been persistently proposing to them for several years now. Not even the sight of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being feted with brass bands in Baghdad has been startling enough to bring Sunni-power stalwarts like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Jordan into the “rollback Iran” coalition. Things are that “bad” (from the Bushites’ point of view.)
What’s more, the Israelis’ mega-lethal over-reaching in Gaza certainly hasn’t ended yet. It may go on for a very long while; and it may go very much further than killing “just” 100-plus Palestinians in Gaza over the course of six days, with more than half of that number being noncombatants. For example, Haaretz is reporting that the thuggish Defense Minister (and former failed diplomatist) Ehud Barak is “mulling” the legality of lobbing artillery shells into Palestinian population centers.
I cannot conceive of any combination of the Israeli military tactics that are currently being discussed that can “succeed” in realizing the goals that Olmert has established, which are to achieve the “significantly decreasing the launch of indirect fire, and the weakening of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, in a way that will check its ability to control life in the Gaza Strip.”
The many different kinds of hostile action that Israel has directed against Gaza– over many decades, but most intensely since the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary elections– have inflicted huge suffering on the Strip’s mainly-refugee population. They have also hardened the Gaza Palestinians; and they have made them into an important icon of steadfastness for the Palestinians and their supporters everywhere. The more Israel batters Gaza, the weaker Abu Mazen looks politically. When I was in Gaza in March 2006, my friend Ziad Abu Amr said there was a prospect that Ismail Haniyeh, instead of being the Prime Minister of the whole Palestinian people, could end up acting just as the mayor of Gaza. But today, if anyone is reduced to acting merely as the mayor of a small enclave, it’s Abu Mazen, in Ramallah. The idea the Israelis once had, that after battering Hamas they could bring Abu Mazen back into Gaza with new powers looks quite cockeyed.
But the weakening of Washington’s allies and therefore of the US’s own net power that is inflicted every time the Israelis escalate against Gaza is not limited to Palestine. It is region-wide. And history moves along at a much faster clip these days than it did back in 1948. So the collapse of imperial power that took a total of ten years after 1948 might all happen within two or three years this time around.
Obviously, the situation for the peoples of the war-torn or war-threatened countries of the Middle East would be a lot better if this transition out of a regional system dominated by one external power to a more politically and ethically sustainable system could be negotiated— among them, with the United States, and with the other relevant world powers– rather than fought over. In order to shepherd this process, the UN Security Council should now seek to regain the larger role in safeguarding the peace and security of all the peoples of the region that it has abrogated far too much in recent years.
It should start, surely, by calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, the restoration of the democratically elected leadership of the Palestinians, an urgent focus on rebuilding a Palestinian economy that has been systematically smashed by Israel in recent years, and the convening of serious, authoritative, final-status talks based on all relevant UN resolutions.
If the UN can’t do that but sits on the political margins while the destruction of Gaza continues, then the UN, too, will be seriously damaged by the events of 2008.

8 thoughts on “1948, 2008”

  1. You wouldn’t be interested in arguing, would you, that Israel’s actions over the last week or so are evidence that she has gone more and more “wobbly” on the US, and can therefore no longer be considered a fully fledged US client state? That Israel is now deliberately prepared to move against American interests and positions in the region? The one clear loser in all of this is poor Condi Rice, so why not put intent to Israel’s actions, and argue that Israel is sick of being jerked around by the Americans, wants to talk to Hamas, wants to get on with her life, wants secure borders etc etc, all of which we (the US) are denying her. There is considerable evidence in the Israeli press to support the idea that talking to Hamas is what the Israeli establishment in fact wants, and is seeking an end to this Fatah/Hamas nonsense.
    It may not be, therefore, that Israel is “over-reaching” or overplaying her hand, as you write. It may be that she simply wants a way to force the US to abandon the anti Hamas line the latter has taken, and that the actions of the last week are about the only means she has of doing this, however ugly it may be. Far-fetched as this might appear, it is surely preferable to the arrogant, power-hungry Israeli stereotype that you invoke. Granting the Israelis method behind their seeming madness is a better alternative. Whatever the opposite in Latin is of cui bono, shouldn’t we be applying the notion here, and watch with interest over the next few days as Condi tries to escape the predicament they have set her? Israel has just made life very very difficult for her and Elliot Abrams indeed, and with any luck, it may be that the latter will be forced to abandon their current positions, and move towards a new Plan B, Plan Beta, or even a Plan Beth (pace to the responders of one of your recent posts).
    If there is any truth in this, then wouldn’t a more accurate date to compare this year to be 1956, the year that marked the end of UK and French hegemony in the region?

  2. Sean @ 10:06 a.m.:
    As Helena noted, “So the collapse of imperial power that took a total of ten years after 1948 might all happen within two or three years this time around.” 2008 be analogous to both 1948 and 1956. You’re just saying that the Bush-Cheney-Condi axis can accomplish it in one!

  3. That’s an engaging thesis. However, if Israel wants to negotiate a ceasefire or anything else with Hamas, directly or indirectly, all they have to do is pick up the phone. They have numerous ways to do this and if their government was firmly decided to do so they wouldn’t pause for more than a microsecond to consider any objections Washington might have to the move. Q.v. the Israeli government’s secret negotiations with the PLO throughout the first eight months of 1993 at a time when the US was still adamantly treating the PLO as a “terrorist” organization.
    On that occasion, once the Israelis publicized their negotiations, the whole of political Washington turned on a dime (which I wrote about here.) It was highly amusing to see the grandees of Congress and the US Jewish community lining up for their grip-‘n-grins with Arafat on Sept. 13, 1993. This time, they might not be quite so enthusiastic? But certainly neither this Congress nor this administration would prevent the Israeli government from doing what it wanted. (In peace or in war, we might say.)

  4. “You can’t negotiate with somebody who does not recognize the right of a country to exist so I understand why Israel doesn’t meet with Hamas,” Obama told reporters during a campaign stop in San Antonio, Texas.
    “All this matter of “recognition” is nonsense, a pretext for avoiding a dialogue. We do not need “recognition” from anybody. When the United States started a dialogue with Vietnam, it did not demand to be recognized as an Anglo-Saxon, Christian and capitalist state.”–Uri Avnery (an Israeli)

  5. Where is your sense of outrage on the ISraeli side where bombs have been falling since Israel pulled out in the summer of 2005? If you want to remian credible you will have to admit that there are people suffering on both sides. 8000 rockets aimed at civilian targets in Israel and nary a word of mega-lethal over-reaching in Sderot.

  6. Amos, tell me these figures: Numbers of Israelis killed by rockets from Gaza since 2005. Poundage of ordnance delivered by Israel to Gaza since 2005. Poundage of ordnance delivered to Gaza by Israel since 2005. Months since September 2005 that Hamas stuck by the unilateral ceasefire. Months since September 2005 that Israel stuck by any kind of a ceasefire toward Gaza. Numbers of Israelis killed, and unemployment levels imposed, as a result of restriction Palestinians have placed on their freedom of movement. Numbers of Palestinians killed, and unemployment levels imposed, as a result of restriction Israelis have placed on their freedom of movement….
    Once you can place these kinds of figures in two parallel columns you can see: (1) Which side has actually suffered the greater mortality rates as a result of the conflict; (2) Which side exercises the greater power over the other; and (3) Which side has the greatest ability to escalate or de-escalate the conflict.
    Once you’ve done that– and accounting each human life as equal, as we must– you would surely not want to engage in the faux kind of moral equivalence that says simply that “both sides are equally to blame”? Yes, I agree both sides are to blame– but only in a highly asymmetrical way.
    If Israel wanted to de-escalate the conflict with Gaza, it could do so tomorrow. Or today!
    As for Hamas, they stuck by a unilateral ceasefire for many months without reciprocation. They have watched their people besieged and driven toward pauperization and starvation, and forced to bear casualties of a completely different order than those borne by Israelis. Yet they have continued to hold out an offer of a long-term reciprocal ceasefire.
    Of course I would be delighted if they could all– on both sides– be transformed into pure-hearted Gandhians. But I don’t think that’s a realistic hope right now. Engaging in good faith in a ceasefire negotiated through one of the many available mediators is a realistic way forward.

  7. Relying in the UN to do anything positive is wishful thinking.
    The UN’s main purpose seems to be to provide propaganda cover for US/Israel aggression, killing, and threats. This is the same UN that backed the invasion of Iraq.
    No only does the UN do nothing to stop aggression (the policy responsible for the collapse of the League of Nations in the 1930s), but actually connives at genocidal wars and sanctions against nations incurring the displeasure of the US and international Zionism.

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