What is Gaza's 'day after', and other questions that the US needs to ask Israel

The root problems with the Israeli occupation are rarely discussed

People gather for a rally calling on Israel to stop its Rafah invasion in Gaza, at Union Square, on February 12, in New York City. Getty Images via AFP
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Four months into Israel’s military operation in Gaza, one might have thought that American policymakers and mainstream political commentators in the country would have learnt some lessons. Instead, their discussions about the conflict appear to remain trapped in the same tiresome and, at times, delusional framing that existed before the current fighting began.

As a result, they tie themselves in knots struggling to explain what is happening and what is to be done in the future. A number of them refuse to step outside the constraints imposed by conventional wisdom and dare not venture beyond the accepted terms of what is defined as correct political discourse. Conditioned, in this manner, there are things that should be said that they will not say.

For example, despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice that Israel’s behaviours establish a “plausible” case for genocide, that word is missing from the discourse. When presented with the numbers of those killed, those facing starvation, and clear evidence of mass destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, many policymakers and commentators often shift the discussion to the horrific crimes committed by Hamas on October 7 or blame the civilian deaths on Hamas’s use of “human shields”.

Equally frustrating is the US insistence that it stands behind efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the desperate Palestinian population in Gaza

They also seek to absolve the US from any responsibility for the deaths, insisting that President Joe Biden and his administration continue to urge Israel to take measures to avoid civilian casualties. They then ignore the fact that Israel pays little attention to the US’s “urging” while the latter continues to resupply deadly munitions and block international efforts at a ceasefire.

Equally frustrating is the US insistence that it stands behind efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the desperate Palestinian population in Gaza, while at the same time refusing to hold Israel responsible for the fact that its cumbersome inspection regime and continued bombing in the south of Gaza impede delivery of supplies to those in need.

Additionally, the recent US decision to withhold funds for UNRWA – the only agency with the capacity to deliver aid – makes a mockery of America’s commitment to providing humanitarian assistance. As obvious as these linkages may be, they may not be said.

In acceptable US discourse, Israel is hardly ever blamed. It is almost always Hamas’s fault, and the US is doing everything it can to alleviate suffering. As for the decision to cut off aid to UNRWA – thereby punishing the entire Palestinian population for the alleged crimes of about 12 of the agency’s thousands of staff – it is not allowed to refer to this as collective punishment.

After ignoring the reality that Israeli raids into Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank have resulted in the killings of hundreds of Palestinians since the October 7 attacks, and that 500 settler attacks on Palestinians in their homes, cars or fields have resulted in the deaths of eight and the destruction of thousands of olive trees, the US decided to take action by sanctioning four settlers. This was heralded by some pundits as “unprecedented” and “dramatic”, despite it being little more than a hollow gesture. But that cannot be said.

What is not discussed are the root problems with the Israeli occupation (a term that the Democratic Party has never allowed on its platform), the ever-expanding settlement enterprise, and the apartheid-like system that creates impunity for both settlers and the Israeli military.

Equally troubling are discussions about the “day after” that are gaining momentum in the US media and policy circles.

This topic is, at the very least, insensitive. What is the “day after” for 2.2 million people in Gaza? Are they supposed to forget the tens of thousands who have died, with their homes and entire neighbourhoods reduced to rubble? Where will they live? What of the trauma to the hundreds of thousands of children who have been physically and psychologically maimed by this war? And what of the tens of thousands who could lose their lives in the coming months from disease or starvation?

These questions are rarely ever a part of the accepted discourse.

While Washington has not yet presented its own plan, officials have provided hints of their thinking in speeches and in discussions with journalists. From these we can discern an outline of ideas that amount to “much ado about nothing”.

It appears that the cornerstone of “the day after” construct is little more than “a pathway to an eventual Palestinian state” – reminiscent of the famous debate between the ancient Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides about the endless “half-the-way to half-the-way to half-the-way” to the never reachable goal.

In this fantasy “pathway”, the burden is placed on the Palestinians to create a credible, viable, democratic, functioning state that will pose no threat to Israel. The problem, of course, is that Palestinians must do this while the occupation continues with few restraints on the occupiers’ control over land, resources, borders and economy.

This is no different from the plan proposed by then-US president George W Bush in 2002. The lesson that should have been learnt then, but was not, is that as long as the Palestinians are not free to grow their economy and protect their land and people from Israel’s acquisitiveness and repression, no such credible state can come into being. The proposal, if it can be called that, is a mirage designed by the US to place the burden on the weakest party.

When blame is directed at Israel, it is focused solely on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist partners, whom the pundits say are the major obstacle to moving forward. This fails to pass muster because any close examination of the Israeli electorate and their views would note that while Mr Netanyahu and company are extreme, there is no conceivable coalition that can replace them that would be willing to end the occupation and withdraw from territories and settlements to allow for a viable, independent Palestinian state to come into being.

A recent Israeli poll showed that a majority of Israelis would reject the creation of a Palestinian state even if that were accompanied by recognition by Saudi Arabia and security guarantees.

When confronted with the fact that any future Israeli government would either be unwilling or afraid to withdraw from the occupied lands because of negative public reaction, the pundits fall silent out of their concern for Israeli public opinion. This underlies the racial bias that causes the entire fantasy to evaporate. I say racial bias because in the American mind, Israeli public opinion is often placed above that of Palestinians. But, of course, this cannot be said.

And so, Israel’s assault continues as does the detached-from-reality US political discussion. Change will not occur until Americans can free themselves from the shackles of acceptable discourse that has led them into this dead end.

Published: February 14, 2024, 7:00 AM