In 2019, I returned to Israel … the only country where being Jewish does not make me a minority … In Hebron I saw the mistreatment and oppression of its Palestinian population. Walking streets Palestinian residents are forcibly denied access to, I understood its label as an “apartheid state” … how the Jewish homeland has come at the expense of others …
Millions around the world watch the conflict … as a binary contest in which you can root for only one team …You see it in those who tear down posters on London bus shelters depicting the faces of more than 200 Israelis held hostage by Hamas – including toddlers and babies. You see it too in those who close their eyes to … the impact of denied water, food, medicine and fuel on ordinary Gazans – including toddlers and babies …
Haunting an inferno lit by Hamas terror and fuelled by IDF genocide is the zero-sum collision of two meta narratives. One is informed by Nakba, as both historic event and ongoing process; the other by Shoah and Never Again.
Each is seared on the collective psyche of its adherents..
They do not exactly mirror one another, these grand narratives. There are asymmetries. One is that Palestinians had no hand in the Holocaust, nor with the preceding millennium of European pogrom. Zionism 1 by contrast had everything to do with the displacement of a nation in 1948. 2
Another asymmetry is even more glaring. Israel has the unconditional if at times embarrassed support, for reasons set out here, of the West at large; its most powerful nation in particular. When Uncle Sam has your back, right or wrong, why negotiate with your adversaries? 3
Which makes Washington uniquely culpable. For two decades it was the unchallenged military and economic hegemon of a unipolar world. It could in theory have used its supremacy to exert ‘tough love’ pressure 4 on Israel to negotiate in good faith (one quick win being the twin burial of Hamas and Likud) but that didn’t happen. Tel Aviv’s shunning of diplomacy is enabled by US military aid and Security Council veto; Washington’s by “indispensable nation” delusionality.
Only two decades? I do not say Washington’s power to resolve the Palestine Question began with the collapse of the USSR. It goes back further, to the ’70s OPEC crises, when America took over from Britain and France as top guardian and beneficiary of Western interests in a region not only abundant in oil, 5 but of immense geostrategic significance as gateway both to the far east and a Eurasia viewed for half a millennium as a threat to Western supremacy. But Soviet meltdown did open up a window in which Washington might single handedly have pulled off a just and hence durable solution. For reasons implied in this paragraph, and explicated here, it had no real interest in doing so. 6
Bear with me a moment. I’ve made clear, here for instance, my view that Eurasia rising offers a sliver of hope – as a father I wish I could put it more strongly – for humanity. It’s not a popular view in the Western mainstream when (a) the Western mainstream is at best only dimly aware of the life negating nature of capitalism in the impoverishing, ecocidal, warlike and profoundly undemocratic forms necessitated by neoliberalism, and (b) the most sophisticated propaganda matrix in history sees to it that perceptions of China and Russia remain, even within educated circles, at the level of cartoon caricature to which the verdict, weak opinions strongly held, has never been more applicable.
It’s not a popular view on the Left either. Revolutionaries agree with part (a) of the previous but insist that Russia and China are no better, and the only hope for humanity lies in the removal by armed force of all capitalist regimes. I spend little time talking to these fantasists, due to their silence on how states armed to the teeth, and with surveillance capabilities beyond the wildest dreams of 20th century totalitarianisms, can be so removed. (Least of all in the West. Its export to the global south of manufacturing has eroded the conditions which led Marx and Engels to view the proletariat as history’s vanguard.) Due too to the fact most ‘revolutionaries’ will in any case return, by middle age if not earlier, to a mainstream whose more progressive elements I’ve yet – for all my piss poor salesmanship – to give up on.
Back to Palestine. Since October 7 I’ve written more on it than in the previous decade, but not a word of condemnation of the Hamas attacks will you find here. Why? Because I applaud them? Because I see Hamas Islamism as the authentic voice of the Palestinian people? Because I don’t regard Israelis as truly human? Because unlike anyone with a working brain I somehow failed to see that Gazans would pay a terrible price?
Nope. I didn’t condemn that atrocity – opting instead to contextualise it – because I didn’t set up steel city scribblings to offer redundantly asinine endorsement of the hypocrisies our corrupt media and politicians spew out without let or hindrance – and assuredly without need of any assistance from yours truly.
Voices like mine are free to say it as we see it, and we do. But freedom, as the song goes, is just another word for nothing left to lose. We keyboard warriors and Palestine-flag-waving, river-to-sea-chanting protesters will damn Israel to hell and back but it changes nothing. And nothing, as the song continues, ain’t worth nothing but it’s free …
But what of the emerging global powers? Here, lightly edited, is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Director of Information and Press, Maria Zakharova – truth be told I have a bit of a crush on her – in a statement of October 7, the day of the Hamas attacks:
Russia is gravely concerned over a sharp escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We reaffirm our principled and consistent stance that this conflict, which has continued for 75 years, cannot be resolved by force but by negotiation based on the need for an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with a capital in East Jerusalem that co-exists with Israel in peace and security.
The current escalation is another dangerous manifestation of a vicious circle of violence resulting from chronic failure to comply with the corresponding resolutions of the UN and its Security Council and the blocking by the West of the work of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators made up of Russia, the United States, the EU and the UN.
We call on both sides to implement an immediate ceasefire, renounce violence, exercise restraint and begin, with the assistance of the international community, a negotiation process aimed at establishing a comprehensive, lasting and long-awaited peace in the Middle East.
More recently, on October 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – for whom I have great respect but no romantic designs – said of the current crisis:
We categorically reject and condemn any terrorist acts. We extend our condolences to all who have lost loved ones in Israel and Palestine. And in other countries, too. There were a lot of foreigners in the region, including many Russian citizens, among whom there are victims too …
“But while condemning terrorism, we categorically disagree that terrorism can be responded to by violating international humanitarian law, the indiscriminate use of force, including against targets with civilians, hostage-taking and other actions that, as I have already said, contradict the international humanitarian law.
And of its wider context:
The Soviet Union was one of the main initiators of the creation of a Jewish state at a time when the British, having left the region in chaos, did not care much about this topic. We were in favour of the creation of an Israeli state and we were the first to recognize this state.
But the Palestinian state has not yet been created for various reasons. With each historical period, the idea became more and more fleeting.
What do such statements tell us? Having made clear my assessment – rarely encountered in mainstream media but hardly controversial – that the USA under successive administrations has not only failed to win peace but has been its most formidable obstacle, does a changing world order offer a way forward?
Don’t miss Part 2 …
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- To be clear, Zionism and Jewishness are two distinct sets. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists Jews. The first truth is more widely recognised than the second but Christian Zionists, frequently anti-Semitic, played a key role in the establishment of Israel. See my review of Stephen Gowans’ Israel: a Beachhead in the Middle East.
- On “the displacement of a nation in 1948” – aka Nakba – the definitive text remains The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007) by Jewish Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe.
- “When Uncle Sam has your back, why negotiate with your adversaries?” It’s true that a similar calculation hasn’t worked out so well for Kiev but the differences – a Russia not existentially threatened in the Middle East, and a USA more tightly bound to Israel than to its dispensable Ukraine proxy – outweigh that otherwise striking parallel.
- Yes, Washington’s unconditional support is the root driver of Israel’s arrogance. No, the threat – even if taken seriously in Tel Aviv given the power of AIPAC and its equivalents across the West – of discontinuing those literal and figurative blank cheques, to let sober reason and enlightened self interest do the heavy lifting, would not of itself bring Israel to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians. Due to US, UK and French connivance, Israel joined the nuclear club decades ago and cannot simply be abandoned – isolated and vengeful, and on both counts prey to its worst instincts.
- The USA is self sufficient in energy. Its efforts to control global supply and movement of hydrocarbons are not those of an economy fearing denial of access to a critical resource, but of an empire bent on leveraging the same at the expense of trade rivals. Think Nord Stream!
- The power and reach of America’s Israel lobby are legendary but are not the sole or even most important drivers of US backing of the Jewish State. In any case that lobby sits on a demographic time-bomb. Jewish youth in the West, America included, is markedly less inclined than its elders to give Israel that “Never Again” free pass.