Israel-Gaza war: America’s failures have added up

James Zogby

The National  /  October 9, 2023

‘I mainly fault successive US administrations for failing to play its self-proclaimed role of promoter of human rights and peace’

It has been horrifying to watch this most recent iteration of wanton violence in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. But it should not have been unexpected. What can also now be expected is that the horrific murders carried out by Hamas on day one will be more than matched by Israel as it proceeds to use its massive military power to massacre thousands of captive Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip.

What is also par for the course is that the US, instead of playing the role of the adult in the room, has once again reduced itself to being an advocate and coat-holder for one side, enabling and supporting Israel’s escalation of violence. In this regard, it was shocking to note that the State Department deleted two of its initial statements on social media calling for restraint and protection of civilians, changing them to statements offering Israel full support.

It’s distressing to see this nightmare unfolding precisely because we’ve been down this road so many times before and by now should know exactly where it leads. It takes us back to where we began. After the dust has settled and the tears have dried, other than having possibly thousands of dead to mourn and bury, we’ll be right back to where we were when it started.

The one change will be that hardliners on all sides will have gained support – with no lessons learnt – thus sowing the seeds for another round of violence, at some indeterminate point in the future. But there are many lessons that should have been learnt.

To begin with: just as violence will not end the occupation, violence will neither end the resistance to the occupation. Suicide bombers or Hamas rockets didn’t bring peace, they only hardened Israeli attitudes against Palestinians and peace. And Israel’s occupation and its repression of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and siege of Gaza hasn’t squashed the Palestinian will to be free. It has only fuelled more resistance.

Occupation and oppression are cruel and inhumane – and the consequences of occupation cannot be ignored. As a corollary of this, efforts by the US and Israeli leaders, going back to Shimon Peres, former prime minister and later president of Israel, to build a New Middle East while failing to resolve the injustices of the Old Middle East, appear doomed. Herein lies a critical failure of this and past US administrations.

Instead of seeing the possibility that the Abrahamic Accords could provide the US leverage to alter Israel’s behaviour, the administration ignored the extremist policies and practices of the Netanyahu government by offering it more unearned benefits, further imperiling the prospects for Palestinian rights and regional peace.

While the Israelis doubled down on expanded settlements, increasing the de facto annexation of the West Bank, conducted undercover raids into Palestinian cities, allowed settlers to conduct violent raids into Palestinian areas, and made provocative assaults into Jerusalem’s holiest sites – the US either acquiesced or made do with expressions of “concern”. At the same time, America rewarded Israel with admission into the US Visa Waiver Program – despite Israel’s inability to meet the program’s statutory requirements – and issued frequent pronouncements of “unwavering, unbreakable, unshakable” support.

The results of this US failure are clear. Hardliners in Israel have been emboldened to behave like a spoilt child knowing that there are no restraints on their behaviours. They therefore act with impunity. Meanwhile, Palestinians believing that there is no recognition of their humanity or their rights to freedom and security have come to feel like the abused child. They, therefore, feel no hesitation to strike out wildly to make their point.

The bottom line is that it was, to be sure, unpredictable that Hamas would engineer a surprise invasion of Israel, accompanied by the killing of hundreds of innocents and taking dozens more hostage. But Israel should have known, and was warned, that the Palestinian pressure cooker was bound to explode.

At the same time, Hamas should have known that Israel would respond with massive force that would result in the devastation of Gaza and the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinians. And they should have known that the US would do nothing to restrain Israel’s massive and deadly assaults.

While all parties share some degree of blame, I mainly fault successive US administrations for failing to play America’s self-proclaimed role of the promoter of human rights and peace. It has abdicated its responsibility, diminishing itself to become Israel’s partner in the oppression of Palestinians. For shame.

James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute and a columnist for The National