Saturday, June 1, 2024

What's Going On. II

From the Livre d'Or des Voyages of Louis Mainard, 1890, via

Déjà vu all over again? Biden (the day after the guilty verdict for convicted felon Donald Trump, some people think that's relevant) announces proposals for a ceasefire in Gaza, to be carried out in three phases: six weeks during which all Israeli forces withdraw from the Strip, hostages in Gaza (especially women and elderly, and remains of the dead) will be exchanged for detainees in Israeli prisons, Gazan civilians will return home, supplied with temporary shelters, and delivery of food, water, medicine, and fuel will get back to full strength, and the parties will work out the details of a probably lengthier second phase; a second phase in which the exchange of hostages and prisoners will be completed and the parties will negotiate a final, permanent ceasefire; and a third, which is supposed to last forever, when Gaza is rebuilt and the last remains are transmitted.  

Isn't this approximately where we arrived three weeks ago, when Haaretz reported that Hamas had accepted a deal proposed by Egypt with a very similar shape, and Israel appeared to have turned it down?

Not exactly. The big difference, to my mind, which isn't getting a lot of press attention, is that this one is billed as an Israeli proposal—Biden is very insistent on that:

Now, after intensive diplomacy carried out by my team and my many conversations with leaders of Israel, Qatar, and Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, Israel has now offered — Israel has offered a comprehensive new proposal.

Although, as he acknowledges, there are ministers in the Israeli cabinet who are determined that Israel should reoccupy Gaza

I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely.  Some — some are even in the government coalition.  And they’ve made it clear: They want to occupy Gaza, they want to keep fighting for years, and the hostages are not a priority to them. 

and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told reporters just two days ago that the war would continue for another seven months—and a couple of hours after Biden's statement the Israeli prime minister's office seemed to be categorically rejecting the offer:

Israel released a vague statement following Biden’s address, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized a proposal to maintain its goal of returning hostages as soon as possible, but insisted that “the war will not end until all of [the Israeli government’s] goals are achieved, including the return of all our abductees and the elimination of Hamas' military and governmental capabilities.”

Wait what? Israel refuses to sign on to its own ceasefire plan? What's up with that?

It's possible, of course, that Biden was just lying about it, but what would be the value of that? What would it get him, or us, or anybody?

Meanwhile, of course, international pressure on Israel continues to mount, after the move by Ireland, Spain, and Norway to recognize the existence of a Palestinian state before it really exists. Last week, the International Court of Justice, engaged in the investigation of South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide, ruled that Israel must

Immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

(Israel has a quibble over the comma after "Governorate", claiming it means it doesn't have to halt anything, since it denies that it is doing anything that could have such an effect, which is patently absurd, since its blockage of aid could clearly starve everybody to death, among other things. The comma is simply an error; if you were to take it seriously, you would have to interpret it as changing the restrictive relative clause "which may inflict..." into a non-restrictive relative applying to the main clause with the verb "halt", which would imply that halting the offensive could destroy the civilians, which makes even less sense).

Two days later came the massacre at the Tel al-Sultan refugee camp in western Rafah, a supposed safe zone to which IDF had instructed people to move, where bombs apparently ignited a fire in which 45 or 50 human beings burned to death in their tents in a strike aimed at two Hamas militants who may or may not have been there. Less than two days after that, an attack on another tent city in the area killed at least 21 more.

In Washington, the congressional leaders have finally agreed, after weeks of wrangling, to invite Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, though they're not saying when, and it's become clear why it was taking so long, according to The Hill; it was Schumer:

The invitation left Washington after weeks of delay from Schumer who, during a high-profile floor speech in March, declared Netanyahu had “lost his way” and called for new elections in Israel, drawing the ire of the longtime Israeli leader, Republicans and some Democrats.

Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in U.S. history, and his office on a number of occasions said the Senate leader was supportive of having Netanyahu address Congress, despite his sharp criticism of the Israeli leader, but the New York Democrat did not sign the letter until recently.

I'm really glad to have it clarified that Schumer hasn't dropped his opposition to Netanyahu as PM (he says the invitation isn't to be interpreted as extended to Netanyahu as a person at all, but as a representative of the Israeli state)

In Israel, IDF has been at diametric odds with the prime minister since mid-May over his obstinate refusal to offer any plans for what happens after the war, led by defense minister Yoav Gallant, who has demanded that Gaza should be administered by Palestinians, in opposition to Netanyahu's religious nationalist partners, who want to reoccupy the Strip with Jewish settlers, and Netanyahu fears (no doubt with reason) that if he crosses the partners they will leave the government, collapsing it and leaving Netanyahu without a job and forced to face his corruption trial.

That lends an extreme significance to something that came up this morning from Yair Lapid, who implores Netanyahu to accept the plan Biden announced yesterday, with what sounds like an offer of his own—that his party will allow Netanyahu to stay in office (for now) if the religious nationalists decide to topple the government, if and only if he sign on to the new ceasefire proposal:

“The Israeli government cannot ignore President Biden’s significant speech. There is a deal on the table and it needs to be done,” Yair Lapid wrote in a post on X.

“I remind Netanyahu that he has a safety net from us for the hostage deal if Ben-Gvir and Smotrich leave the government.”

Netanyahu's response so far has been negative, but that could change. The hostage families, of course, have endorsed the new idea.

In the most recent weeks I've frequently been tempted to give up on the theory of Biden as peacemaker, as he seems just not to respond to how horrible this war is, but I generally come back to realizing how impossible it would be for him to do the work by himself—how much help the process requires from a host of international and domestic actors, from the worst (Saudi Arabia) to the most annoyingly virtuous (South Africa). It occurs to me that Biden could be telling the truth about this new ceasefire approach—that it really is an Israeli proposal, with buy-in from all the Israelis the US needs to be talking to, in the military and intelligence, in the political opposition in all its prickly oppositionality, in the broad public, just not exactly Netanyahu himself (who isn't Israel, as Schumer helpfully reminds us, just a hated PM), or not yet. But don't rule it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment