Firing up the Palestinian pressure cooker

Apr 2, 2024
Israel-Palestine Conflict in West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It’s patent weakness suggests the US will show no great spine in leveraging a two state solution.

An article by David Kilcullen in The Australian (21/3) argues that Israel had no option but to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure and cause huge casualties if Hamas was to be rooted out and eliminated. Surgical strikes would not do it. While The Australian clearly presented this as a justification, to its critics the article would rather reveal how thorough and premeditated the slaughter of civilians and levelling of Gaza’s habitat has been.

Based on the problems of urban warfare, as experienced in Mosul, Kilcullen says the Israelis’ albeit destructive success is based on their development of a newly evolved hugely destructive form of urban warfare. A key element of this type of warfare is the use of gargantuan armour plated bulldozers to carve out secure zones and new secure transport avenues brutally cutting through former residential areas.

Given the speed with which this new improved form of urban warfare was applied to Gaza it’s clear that the IDF were enacting an already well developed contingency plan to be used if the Gaza pressure cooker exploded. It would also be less than believable if civilian deaths were not calculated and proportionality considered, and the cost of such an extraordinarily destructive bombing strategy not added up. The number of women and children likely to be killed and restrictions on the number of supply trucks needed to push the population of Gaza to the point of starvation might also have been calculated.

Such a use of a quasi if not actual genocidal form of warfare would, normally, have produced a concerted effort to align policies and actions to avoid such an eventuality. Why that was not so for Israel needs exposing as does the role of Netanyahu and successive US Presidents in stoking the fires underneath the Palestinian/Gaza pressure cooker.

If we go back to the Oslo accords and efforts to implant a two state solution- painstakingly put together by Clinton- it was Netanyahu as leader of the right wing Likud party who, prior to and once coming to power in 1998, whipped up a furious campaign in opposition to Oslo. As journalist Vali Shalim wrote in The Guardian in 2013 Netanyahu

“… made no effort to conceal his deep antagonism to Oslo, denouncing it as incompatible with Israel’s right to security and with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel. And he spent his first three years as PM in a largely successful attempt to arrest, undermine, and subvert the accords concluded by his Labour predecessors, on the basis that no such concession should be made to Arafat and no land be ceded to the Palestinians.”

Many indeed saw Netanyahu’s anti Oslo campaign as inciting the assassination of Rabin in 1995 and constituting the wellsprings of the second Intifada in 2000. At the time the Palestinians had much to digest – in effect a two state solution if it had emerged would have given them some 22% of the overall territory against 78% which they claimed as rightly theirs.

Netanyahu’s opposition to a two state solution has continued in and out of power. On the election trail in 2015 he was stating that under his government “There will not be a Palestinian state”. To ensure so he has patronised the notoriously corrupt Mahmood Abbas – under whose rule Israel was able to continue the ongoing expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank. By ensuring Hamas remained in power means no single entity represents the Palestinians in their bid for statehood . Moreover, Hamas, being branded as a terrorist organisation conveniently means Israel has refused to accept it as a player in any move to create a two state solution.

Incredibly, in 2018 Netanyahu’s desire to keep Hamas in situ led to no objection being made to Qatar directly funding Hamas. That started with an initial $15 million which, it has been estimated, has since totalled some $1.8 billion. A significant proportion of this funding, it is assumed, went to building up the military arm of Hamas and in particular the massive tunnel network said to be over 500 km long. Such funding therefore made any further marginalisation of the Palestinians far more dangerous.

President Obama’s efforts to reverse the trend of Palestinian isolation if anything only increased it. While demanding Netanyahu cease the illegal building of settlements in the West Bank he was unprepared to back this up with a threat of sanctions. Netanyahu has used this failure to continue apace the building of illegal settlements and to ‘mow the lawn’ when conflicts arise.

The fire under the Gaza pressure cooker was only to be increased by President Trump’s ridiculously unacceptable ‘deal of the century’ by which Israel would keep nearly all of its West Bank settlements and retain an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians would receive demilitarized self-governance within a reduced West Bank territory and the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu added more fuel to the fire by then announcing he would annex part of the West Bank as part of a deal to solidify Likud’s coalition with ultra-right parties. The backdown by Netanyahu was achieved by the US successfully securing recognition of Israel by four Arab states (the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain). Arguably, more than any other event, this normalisation threatened comprehensive marginalisation of the Palestinian cause and of Hamas itself.

Disturbingly, the US and Netanyahu’s stoking of the fire under the Gaza pressure cooker did not come with an escape valve – other than use of violence on a large scale. That danger was clearly recognised by the IDF’s well developed plans for all-out war on Gaza which, if Kilcullen is right, is accepted as the only militarily viable option. But it was a plan made possible by reliance on massive continuing US military and financial aid (Webb: P and I 21 Feb).

Such a plan must also have assumed that the unwillingness of successive past US Presidencies to exercise effective restraining leverage on Netanyahu would continue – an assumption now being put to a crucial test. Allowing the passage of a Security Council ceasefire resolution is a modest beginning. Netanyahu’s of course has an enduring capacity to ignore such ultimatums and even global revulsion over mounting starvation in Gaza, The US has an equally enduring capacity to cave into Netanyahu notwithstanding the magnitude of the slaughter and starvation brought about by the IDF. Reported by the Washington Post are recent new massive new arms shipments by the US to Israel – said to have included 1,800 900kg bombs – following a visit to Washington by Israel’s defence minister at the end of March. In doing so the US has surely dealt itself out of any direct role in rapidly bring the war to a truce. And such patent weakness suggests the US will show no greater spine in leveraging a two state solution.

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