With Friends Like These: Palestine's Other Enemies

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By now, in New Matilda at least, there have been many denunciations of the atrocities Israel is committing in Gaza.

However, one aspect that has largely escaped critical scrutiny in Australia is the international aspect of the attack on Gaza. Specifically, Israel has had many supporters and accomplices, who also deserve critical scrutiny for their role in the slaughter.

First, there is the case of Egypt. As is well known, in 2011, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in the wake of a popular uprising.

After a brief experiment with democracy, there was a military coup in July 2013 against Egypt’s elected government.

Whilst the new government could have effectively ended the Israeli siege on Gaza by opening its northern border at Rafah, it chose a different path.

By September, Egypt’s systematic destruction of tunnels from Gaza had caused an estimated $250 million damage to the economy.

By June 25 this year, the new military dictatorship of Egypt had destroyed 1736 tunnels from Gaza, preventing the export and import of goods – including health and medical supplies – from Gaza and leaving the Palestinians in an increasingly desperate state.

During the Mubarak years, Egypt subsidized Israel with hundreds of millions of dollars every year in gas purchases – Ha’aretz reported that Israel received Egyptian gas at a 70 percent discount.

This was, naturally, deeply unpopular in Egypt, and after the Egyptian uprising, the pipeline was repeatedly bombed until finally the government cancelled its contract with Israel.

Once Egypt’s experiment in democracy ended, it was able to reach a new deal: in June this year, Egypt signed a $30 billion deal to buy gas from Israel.

Unsurprisingly, Israel supported Mubarak in the face of the protests that ousted him.

And when the time came for a military coup, demolishing Egyptian democracy, Israel lobbied Washington to continue its military aid to Egypt, recognising that it had gained a closer friend, even if it was at the cost of Egypt suffering through another military dictatorship.

The Israeli attack on Gaza began on June 8. On June 11, an Israeli journalist in Ha’aretz noted the curious reality that “Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has yet to denounce Israel's assault on Gaza”.

One Egyptian journalist complained that Sisi had not yet condemned the bombing. However, Barel noted that other Egyptian journalists were writing “venomous” attacks on Hamas, blaming it for Israel’s attack on Gaza.

Al Monitor had a ready explanation for Sisi’s silence:

Prior to Israel’s attack on Gaza at dawn on July 8, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr channel reported that Maj. Gen. Mohammed Farid al-Tohamy, the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, had visited Tel Aviv hours before the attack and met with Israeli security officers. It also reported that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had given Israel initial approval to launch a military operation on Gaza to destroy Hamas.

Despite full Egyptian complicity with the attack on Gaza, Hamas declined to criticise Egypt, though a spokesman noted pointedly: “It is surprising that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip coincided with the closure of the Rafah crossing.”

On July 10, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing to Gaza for a few hours to Palestinians and Egyptians who had suffered critical injuries.

Eleven Palestinians were able to pass the crossing before it was closed: charity and medical workers were not able to enter Gaza to deliver aid.

A Hamas spokesman complained that the closing “represents contempt and disregard for the suffering of travellers and the injured”.

An Israeli journalist observed that “Egypt has not allowed for a commercial border crossing with the Gaza Strip, despite repeated pleas by Hamas to allow the free flow of commodities which would render smuggling tunnels superfluous.”

Elhanan Miller wrote that whilst Sisi was “very delicate in his criticism of Hamas”, there was “unprecedented hostility” towards Hamas in the Egyptian media, including “blatant animosity toward all Palestinians…. Keen observers of Egyptian-Palestinian relations have a hard time remembering such high levels of vitriol spewed from both publicly and privately owned TV channels, representing the anti-Brotherhood sentiment currently prevalent in mainstream Egyptian media.”

For example, one writer urged that Palestinians be expelled and their property confiscated.

 

 

THEN there is the case of Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority. Though the Bush administration pushed for elections in the occupied territories, when they were held in January 2006, Hamas won.

An important article by David Rose in Vanity Fair documented the

covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Muhammad Dahlan “Fatah’s resident strongman in Gaza”, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power…

But the secret plan backfired… Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.

The ‘Quartet’ – the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations – also responded to the election of Hamas by cutting off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Though Dahlan’s forces were known for their brutal methods of torture, including allegations of sodomising prisoners, the US considered him “our guy”.

US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton supplied training to Dahlan’s forces, whilst money and arms were funnelled to them through reactionary Arab states Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Israel was allowed to veto these weapons shipments, but approved the small arms that were to be used to overthrow Hamas.

After aspects of these plans were leaked to Jordanian and Israeli newspapers, Hamas finally launched a pre-emptive strike against Fatah in June 2007.

By this time, Fatah’s contras had killed some 250 Hamas members. Once Fatah’s forces were crushed, Israel intensified the siege: Rose estimated that by then, April 2008, “Seventy percent of Gaza’s population was now living on less than $2 a day.”

Once Hamas took control of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, took control of the West Bank.

Abbas’s services to the Israeli occupation are long-standing, well-documented, and by now, presented by Abbas without shame.

In May, Abbas explained that “security coordination is sacred”.

As Ali Abunimah explained, “US-financed PA intelligence and security forces work closely with Israeli occupation forces and Shin Bet secret police to suppress any Palestinian resistance to occupation.”

After the three Israelis were killed, human rights organisations condemned Israel’s raids in the West Bank and “collective punishment”.

However, Abbas worked with Israel to apprehend the murderers. Palestinians were understandably unimpressed: whilst Abbas works with Israel to protect Israelis and to punish those who harm Israelis, there is no reciprocity: when the Israeli army and settlers injure and kill Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority does not demand justice for Palestinian victims, but meekly continues its “sacred” cooperation with Israeli occupation forces.

And as the Israeli army rampaged through the West Bank, Abbas didn’t seek to hold them accountable for their violations of the rights of Palestinians, but instead supported them.

Abbas even stressed his categorical opposition to resisting Israel: “We will never have another Intifada — that would destroy us”.

As the attack on Gaza began, Abbas attended a “peace conference” organised by an Israeli newspaper.

He didn’t think to mention anything as trivial as Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

PA media was also accused of ignoring the bloodshed in Gaza.

On July 10, Abbas criticised the firing of rockets at Israel, explaining that, “We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.”

As I noted in a previous article, the ceasefire terms offered by Egypt in mid-July rejected Hamas’s demands, would have meant the continuation of the siege, and were considered a defeat verging on humiliation for Hamas in the Israeli press.

It is worth noting how this ceasefire offer came about.

The Quartet’s special envoy, Tony Blair met with Netanyahu to discuss a ceasefire.

He then met with President Sisi: Egypt acknowledged it was working with Blair to mediate a ceasefire.

As prominent Jewish journalist JJ Goldberg noted in the Forward, “The Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, lined up formally behind Egypt — and by implication, Israel. The Jewish state had never had more sympathy in the Arab world for its defense needs.”

Goldberg noted that Qatar also launched a “cease-fire initiative, which included the preconditions Hamas had demanded — freeing prisoners, opening borders, putting the Gaza-Egypt border under international supervision — but nobody endorsed it.”

Meanwhile, the Arab League said they "demand all parties concerned accept the Egyptian initiative".

Abbas also praised the Egyptian ceasefire offer.

On July 17, Abbas and Sisi issued a joint statement urging an immediate ceasefire: that is, that Hamas accept the terms that had probably been worked out between Blair and Netanyahu, and conveyed to Sisi by Blair, before Sisi presented them as his own.

The European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton issued a statement supporting the Egyptian ceasefire offer and, “in particular”, welcomed the support of Egypt in working towards a ceasefire.

Our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, complained that Hamas rejected the Egyptian ceasefire terms, and praised Abbas for supporting them.

And of course, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Hamas to accept the Egyptian ceasefire offer.

 

 

WHICH brings us to the US.

For decades, the US has been a key supporter of Israel, financially, militarily, and diplomatically, as documented at length by scholars like Naseer Aruri and Noam Chomsky.

On July 8, as the bombing began, President Obama’s spokesman condemned the rocket fire from Gaza, and supported “Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”

The US House of Representatives unanimously endorsed Israel’s attack on Gaza, as did the Senate.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 17 July, defending Israel’s “right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel”.

Kerry wanted this to be a “precise operation”. He was later caught on camera – seemingly accidentally – saying sarcastically that Israel’s attack was a “hell of a pinpoint operation”.

Once Kerry was aware he was on camera, he strongly defended Israel’s attack, condemned rockets fired into Gaza, and said Hamas were “offered a ceasefire, and they’ve refused to take the ceasefire. Even though Egypt and others have called for that ceasefire, they’ve just stubbornly invited further efforts to try to defuse the ability to be able to rocket Israel.”

However, the State Department was willing to observe that Israel could do “more” to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza.

As the attack progressed, the death and destruction in Gaza mounted, and so Arab public outrage increased.

As Goldberg wrote, the Arab League then “declared the Sheja’iya assault a ‘war crime.’… Abbas followed by calling it a ‘massacre’ and declaring three days of mourning for the Palestinian dead. That evening he demanded an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.”

Presumably, the new rhetoric was meant to disguise the fact that they had, in the words of Goldberg, “lined up” behind Israel.

Comically, the Egyptian foreign minister had the chutzpah to complain that Hamas did not share Egypt’s “desire… to protect the Palestinian people in Gaza”.

As Hamas rejected the Israeli-Egyptian-Arab League-Tony Blair ceasefire, efforts have been made to reach a new agreement.

We are not privy to what goes on in secret, but we can get some idea of what kind of negotiations are proceeding, and where they may lead.

The American ambassador to Israel said the US would work to “help the moderates” to “become stronger in Gaza”, expressing hope that they – the PA – could run Gaza instead of Hamas.

If funding and arming the gangs of Dahlan wouldn’t do it, perhaps this can be a new opportunity to achieve similar goals.

On July 17, it was reported that former defence minister Shaul Mofaz called for demilitarising Gaza.

He submitted this proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office, and then discussed his proposal with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser.

“Shortly thereafter”, the Times of Israel reported, “for the first time during this ongoing conflict, Netanyahu spoke explicitly about the goal of partial demilitarization”.

Mofaz “acknowledged that months of diplomatic legwork were required to rally the likes of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States to the framework of the deal.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, he wrote, would likely “want to lend a hand to this sort of move and he should be involved in the process”.

On July 28, Obama spoke to Netanyahu, and demanded an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, leading to an end to hostilities based on the 2012 agreement.

A spokesperson for the President commented on Obama’s “view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza”.

Barak Ravid reported for Ha’aretz the consensus that Israel reached with the US on reaching a ceasefire:

Netanyahu wants to establish an international framework for demilitarizing the Gaza Strip, supervising entry of people and goods into the enclave and preventing smuggling, a senior Israeli official said Monday. This mechanism will oversee the use of funds, building materials and arms in Gaza, in order to ensure that they are not used for terror.

This would mean an end to the blockade, and the international community could help rebuild Gaza, but international cooperation would ensure a plan to prevent weapons going to Palestinians in Gaza.

John Kerry supported Israel’s goal of disarming the Palestinians, explaining “We also believe that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups. And we will work closely with Israel and regional partners and the international community in support of this goal”.

An Al Akhbar journalist has argued that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have joined the plan to disarm Hamas, and hope to get Abbas’s forces patrolling the Rafah crossing to this end.

Before the US and Israel reached agreement on this goal, there had been some friction over a draft ceasefire proposed by Kerry.

However, as explained at 972, the Kerry proposal was pretty similar to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

Tsurkov notes that the Kerry proposal doesn’t address Israel’s concerns about tunnels from Gaza, or demilitarisation of Gaza.

She observes the Egyptian proposal didn’t either, and concludes that Israel was simply concerned about who sponsored the proposal, or perhaps didn’t want to defy public opinion.

However, I suspect that this is simply a case of Israel’s goals changing: when Egypt suggested a ceasefire, it had not yet invaded Gaza and lost dozens of soldiers to the Gazan resistance.

It had not yet considered Mofaz’s plan to demilitarise Gaza.

If Israel is not able to crush Hamas on the battlefield – and after losing dozens of soldiers already, that outcome is not on the cards – it may yet be able to disarm Hamas diplomatically, and wipe out the last vestiges of military resistance to the Israeli occupation.

It should be remembered what happened on a previous occasion when the Palestinians agreed to disarm in the face of American pressure.

After Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the US negotiated the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which had resisted the invasion and protected Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps.

The US promised to protect the now vulnerable and defenceless Palestinians, but within nine days of the PLO departure, the US marines left too.

After the Christian president, a puppet imposed by the Israeli invasion, was assassinated, Israel invaded West Beirut, supposedly to protect the Palestinians from Christian revenge attacks.

Strangely forgetting their pretext, Israel then sent a Christian militia into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. They spent the next few days massacring defenceless Palestinian refugees, with a final death toll that may have reached as high as 3,000.

In short, American promises to Palestinians do not amount to much.

The Palestinians in Gaza are facing a desperate situation, besieged, bombed, and surrounded by enemies far more powerful and wealthy than they are.

When the fighting ends – even if the blockade ends – their subjugation will continue.

Whilst the bombing of Gaza is news today, the occupation of Gaza – when the fighting ends – will not be.

Without resistance to the occupation, Israel will hope that it can continue indefinitely.

It is therefore important that we understand that the enemies of the Palestinians are not just those who bomb them, but those who strive to defend the Israeli occupation, and undermine and disarm all resistance to it.

The US, whenever it comments on the fighting in Gaza, says that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Yet the Palestinians are human beings too. Whilst international law does not grant them the right to fire indiscriminate weapons at Israel, the overwhelming majority of those Hamas has killed in the last three weeks have been Israeli soldiers.

It is surely a reflection of the perverse nature of international affairs that as Israel kills around 1,200 Palestinians, at least three quarters of them civilians, it looks like negotiations are headed towards disarming the Palestinians, and not Israel.

It seems the international community supports Israel’s right to defend its occupation, but not the Palestinian right to defend their homes, their land and their lives, or even their basic rights.

Whilst 55 Australian politicians, mostly from the Greens and the ALP, have signed a letter condemning the attack on Gaza, the leadership of the major parties, have not*.

As the barbaric onslaught gives way to an unjust peace cementing Israel’s hold on the occupied territories, it is important to remember that many will be complicit in the subjugation of Palestine.

And we should know who they are too.

* Note to readers: This article has been corrected. The third last paragraph incorrectedly stated that Greens leader Christine Milne had not signed a joint parliamentary letter. 

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