Addict (drugaddict) wrote,


he following is a sobering appraisal on the horrendous dilemma the present Gazan crisis presents the United States
        and the upcoming Obama administration.  I have very deep respect for the author and his experience and wisdom.
        Regards,  John 

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Gaza - Obama's Two
Urgent Political Choices

Terrell E. Arnold
In a merciless, deliberate, and continuous squeeze, the Israel Defense Force is trying to destroy the will of the people of Gaza. Americans are being told the official Israeli narrative: We are attacking Gaza to stop terrorist rocket fire into our Sederot border region. Sederot is a town a bit more than a decade old that is located near the eastern boundary of Gaza about 43 miles south of Tel Aviv. Its principal claim to fame is the habit of Palestinian militants of launching crude rockets from Gaza across the wall into Israel along that piece of frontier. From these rockets, casualties are few and physical damage is limited, but they are the cause célèbre of a brutal and now murderous Israeli campaign against Gaza and its Hamas political leadership.

Mainly through air strikes, Israeli forces have killed nearly 400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, wounded over 500, and inflicted widespread property damage. Over the past several weeks the Palestinian rockets have resulted in one reported Israeli casualty. But Israeli authorities now say that they have just begun. And despite the grossly unequal character of this fight between the world's fourth or fifth best equipped army on one side, and crude Palestinian racketeers and stone throwers on the other, Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicates the fight may go on indefinitely. The Israeli aircraft and pilots are encountering no resistance because the Palestinians simply have no capacity to fight back.

According to Sara Roy, a Harvard University Middle East expert (see the January 2009 London Review of Books), the Israelis actually began the campaign to destroy Hamas on November 5 (only hours after US election results indicated a change of administration was coming in the US). To begin its attacks, the Israelis broke the truce that Hamas had observed for the past several months. Following that attack Israel has squeezed Gaza in virtually every possible way, blocking food supplies for United Nations Relief and Works and the World Food Program, refusing to permit entry of diesel fuel needed to run Gaza's power station, interfering with the operations of Palestinian banks, blocking the movements of Palestinians, and preventing the entry of journalists or other observers into Gaza. There is no other example of a modern military power attacking an unarmed population this brutally and indiscriminately.

As Sara Roy and other observers describe it, the Israeli plan is to turn Gaza into a massive humanitarian problem that is devoid of any political dimension. That means the Israelis want the outside world to forget that the Palestinian people, especially those in Gaza, are the other side of the long-stalled Israel/Palestine peace process. Rather, with the Sederot rocket attacks as the excuse, the Israelis want the outside world to believe that the entire problem is the fault of the Palestinians. However, the Israelis attacks look like an obvious effort to kill, wound, dismember and render homeless as many Palestinians as possible before world reaction sets in.

In a world of constant change and calamity, it is easy to forget how the problems of the Palestinians began. In 1948, under the guns of Israeli terrorist groups and militia, about 800,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes, farms, towns and villages into exile in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring countries. That was only the beginning. You can read this story in Israeli Historian Ilan Pappe's book, the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Former President Jimmy Carter's work, Peace not Apartheid, will give you more of the story, while making it painfully clear that the process of expelling the Palestinian people from their homeland is far from over. The current Israeli campaign is somehow to dispose of the 1.5 million Palestinians now in Gaza's open air prison. If they succeed in that operation, they will then go to work on the 3.0 million plus Palestinians now bottled up in the West Bank. That may prove a bit harder, because the Palestinians in the West Bank are cooperating, at least to the extent of not lobbing rockets across the fence.

The current Israeli game also plays to political differences among the Palestinians which the Israelis and the Western powers would like to have resolved in favor of the "moderates". That means the Palestinians who will cooperate with the Israelis and not complain even as the Israeli settlements slowly eat up the remaining lands open to the Palestinians. As Israeli settlers move in-granted, illegally-the already sparse physical space for a Palestinian state slowly disappears. As of now, if a Palestinian state were formed on the land now occupied by Palestinians, they would occupy less than 10% of their homeland.

Hamas objects to this process, but so far as the US and its Western supporters are concerned, it is guilty of two other "crimes": First, though it may be called a terrorist group, it won a fair and free election and therefore has a democratic right, in parliamentary terms, to run both Gaza and the West Bank, at least until another election is held. Second, Hamas defines, accurately for most Palestinians, their interest in a future home and their rights respecting their expulsion from their homeland.

While with US, Israeli and other Western support, Mahmoud Abbas of the PLO-based Palestine authority runs the West Bank, he is not thought by most Palestinians to accurately reflect their interests. Abbas has objected publicly to the current Israeli campaign against Hamas, but he would not object if Hamas were dethroned and its immediate followers were eliminated, perhaps even regardless of harm to the other Palestinians now in Gaza.

While the Israelis appear to be counting on those differences to keep the West Bank out of the current Gaza mess, riots in West Bank cities indicate that Hamas and the people in Gaza have more support than Abbas may be able to control. For that reason, Israeli police forces are said to be positioning themselves to deal with what they euphemistically have labeled "spontaneous terrorism", meaning public outbursts of support for Gaza, which could possibly turn violent.

The disingenuous term, "spontaneous terrorism", is part of the core Israeli and US model for dealing with the Palestinians. As President Bush in commenting on the Gaza situation has made clear, the Israelis have an absolute right to defend themselves against Palestinian terrorism. However, the Palestinians have no right to defend themselves against Israeli attacks, constant Israeli harassment as now applied in and around Gaza, and the steady theft of their homes, including in Jerusalem, and farms throughout the West Bank.

Herein lies the gross blind spot in American Middle East Policy: The Israelis can do no wrong; and the Palestinians have no rights. Through grants and loans that are routinely forgiven, the US taxpayer invests at least ten to fifteen billion dollars a year in building and maintaining the Israeli military capability, and Americans are simply not made aware that the principal use of that Israeli capability for decades has been the steady expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland, under the watchful eyes of surrounding Arabs who would not dare interfere.

Because of this critical disconnect in American policy, coupled to Israel's determined effort to take all of Palestine from its owners, there has never been a real Middle East peace process. As former State Department Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller indicated in a Washington Post article more than three years ago, there could not be a real process, because all US positions had to be cleared in advance with Israel. The first Camp David negotiations, under President Jimmy Carter, failed because the Israelis insisted on calling the shots, the US had no policy of its own, and Arafat, the Palestinian negotiator, wanted no part of the offer made by the Israelis. Arafat took the blame for failure, but according to recent revelations (see the New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 1, January 2009, "How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East"), the Israelis did not meet even Arafat's minimum requirements for an agreement with the Palestinians.

Such are the difficult choices facing President-elect Barack Obama when he takes the oath of office on January 20. In the past few days, he has been credited with two positions on the war crime now in progress in Gaza. Neither Obama position indicates any change in US policy.

First, he was credited with saying he had no comment. That posture is barely sustainable by the fact that he is not yet President, and he should avoid interfering in current policy. Under Bush that policy is still 100 percent pro-Israeli. However, explicitly on December 30, Obama bought the existing policy by saying: "If my daughter were living in a house that was being threatened by rocket attacks, I would do whatever it takes to end that situation." That mimics the Israeli policy which says the only problem is the lobbing of crude rockets by disgruntled Palestinians. However, the real Israeli goal is to eliminate Palestinians. Their indiscriminate aerial attacks show that they simply do not care whether the targets are members of Hamas or Palestinian women and children. As of now they have retaliated at least a thousand fold for any rocket casualties or property damages around Sederot.  Those gross human rights crimes of the past few days stack up against one Israeli casualty and limited physical damage from Palestinian rocket fire in the past several weeks.

Obama has the immediate tasks of stopping the wanton killing of Palestinians in Gaza, while establishing an American policy on the Middle East that actually serves American interests. Obama representatives should be talking right now with the Bush team and urging them to back away from support of the Israeli attacks on Gaza. He and his transition team should be making it clear, now, that his administration will not allow the Israelis to pre-approve or design American policy on the Middle East. However, Obama's statements to AIPAC during the campaign, and the cadre of people he has chosen in building his cabinet and staff, suggest that he has his work cut out to reach any position of honest brokerage on this matter.

The situation in Gaza makes it imperative that he move on these matters now. If he does not, if in a situation as extreme as the present one in Gaza he is unable to be decisive, he will have put a crippling stamp on his presidency before he ever takes office.

What is needed urgently right now is a President who will be fair to all of the people concerned. Our country needs a President who will recognize that throwing crude rockets over the fence is far less than the average American would do if he were being treated as Israel is treating the people of Gaza. If indeed he proves unable to cope with this situation in some materially more fair and balanced manner than his predecessors, he will be presetting Americans for future acts of terror. Most of the perpetrators are unlikely to be Palestinians, but many of the world's terrorists consider Palestine an important cause.

It would well serve American national interests if Obama were to act decisively on this situation even before he bites the bullet on economic recovery measures. It is clear, however, that the only truly useful option open to the new President is to become a genuinely honest broker. Heaven help us if he proves unable to see that far. Gaza and Palestine already weigh heavily on the consciences of thoughtful Americans. A total failure to lighten that load will plague our people with guilt and probably terrorism for generations to come.


The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at
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