U.S. Pours Gasoline on Gaza Fires

Once upon a time, Israelis and Palestinians looked to the U.S. to intervene at moments of heightened confrontation to mediate between the two sides and contain the damage. The Bush Administration, however, has proved entirely incapable of playing this role, because its own diplomatic efforts are hidebound by the requirements of its own war on Hamas.

Condi Rice is sticking doggedly to that script, even though all the other players are making clear that the game is up. The New York Times tells us, for example, that U.S. officials are worried that efforts to broker a cease-fire to end the carnage in Gaza might undermine Washington’s priority, which is not to restore peace, but to isolate and eliminate Hamas: “Ms. Rice wants to avoid the word ‘cease-fire’ because administration officials believe that a negotiated cease-fire between Israel and Hamas — which the United States and Israel view as a terrorist organization — would legitimize Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinian people,” the Times reports. “The fear, administration officials said, is that a negotiated cease-fire would likely undermine Mr. Abbas and make it look like Hamas is the entity with which Israel and the West should be negotiating, and not Mr. Abbas.”

Ah. Cease-fire talks would “legitimize” Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinian people. Right. That would be the Palestinian people who, in a democratic election voted Hamas candidates into 56% of the seats in the Palestinian legislature. Their legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian people is well-established. (And just look how much talking to the Americans has done for the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas!) A cease-fire would “make it look” like Hamas is the entity with which Israel and the West should be negotiating? What planet are these U.S. officials on? What’s the point of peace talks if they don’t involve the party that, on the Palestinian side, is doing most of the fighting? Mahmoud Abbas commands no forces currently fighting Israel, so, simple logic would dictate that the Palestinian entity with whom a truce will have to be negotiated will have to be Hamas. You know, like, duh!

The naivete that Rice displays in support of a policy that has plainly failed because of its fundamentally flawed premise, can be breathtaking: “We need to continue to work to make sure that everyone understands that Hamas is doing what we expected,” she told the Times. “Using attacks on Israel to try to arrest a peace process in which they have nothing to gain.” Diplomacy .101 would teach you that a “peace process” in which one of the key protagonists has “nothing to gain” is irretrievably doomed. Peace processes only work when it can be demonstrated to each side that it has more to gain from ending hostilities than it could gain by fighting on. The fact that Rice is saying it is in Hamas’s best interest to keep lobbing rockets at Israel is a tacit admission that the peace process envisaged by the Bush Administration is a delusion.

And the fact that Rice and her Administration have nothing to offer in the Gaza crisis is confirmed by former Clinton Administration ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, who endorses the notion that talking to Hamas undermines Abbas, and therefore cannot be countenanced. (Uh, chaps, you may want to consider the fact that Abbas has been fatally undermined not by any conversations anyone has had with Hamas, but by the fact that he has nothing — zero, nada, zip — to show for his years of diplomatic engagement with Israel under the ministrations of the Bush Administration.) No, Indyk tells the New York Times, “Excluding (Hamas) doesn’t work, and including them doesn’t work, either. So what do you do? This is a situation that does not lend itself to a sensible policy.”

No, sir, that’s not true, and throwing up your hands because you won’t talk to Hamas until they formally recognize Israel (which, BTW, Abbas’s PLO did only five years after the Oslo Accords were negotiated, and even then not to the satisfactio of many Israelis) and “renounce” violence, is reprehensible abrogation of responsibility. There is a sensible policy, but it begins by renouncing the flawed premise of the current one, i.e. that Hamas cannot be engaged and must be isolated and eliminated.

It’s not as if Hamas hasn’t declared itself ready for a truce, and made moves to pursue a cease-fire with Israel. And many Israeli officials are pressing Israel to take up the offer. Far-sighted Israelis, of course, don’t allow themselves the luxury of adopting the Bush Administration’s militant outlook on Hamas: A recent opinion poll actually found that two thirds of Israelis actually support negotiating a truce with Hamas. But for Rice and the Bush Administration, such a pragmatic course of action would require acknowledging that Hamas is an intractable reality despite Washington’s best efforts of the Bush Administration to destroy it. And admitting defeat is not something that comes easily to the current White House.

Nor is the current standoff in Gaza a crisis that simply crept up on the Bush Administration; it was a situation created by the failed coup attempt authored by the U.S. last June in the hope of reversing the decision of the Palestinian electorate.

Last May, already, alerted by materials that were surfacing in the blogosphere and the Middle Eastern press, I wrote a post (linked here to a copy from another site, because it got stuck in my migration from one server to another — recovery efforts are underway!) about the coup plan that would have U.S.-backed strongman Mohammed Dahlan topple the elected government. I followed up last June, once the coup had failed, with a piece that concluded:

Now, Hamas has made clear that it is an intractable reality, although the fighting has likely greatly increased the balance within the organization in favor of the more confrontational element. And Dahlan turned out to be a Paper Pinochet.

Still, given their spectacular inability to comprehend the reasons for their defeats in the Palestinian territory, I don’t expect the U.S. to begin engaging pragmatically with the reality of Hamas as an indispensable component of the Palestinian leadership. Instead, given the endless capacity for self-delusion of the people running U.S. Middle East policy, I fully expect to see the U.S. rush resources to Egypt where Dahlan can be reunited with his scattered forces in preparation for his next historic role — at the head of a “Bay of Pigs” type invasion of Gaza.

The nuts and bolts of that disastrous coup attempt, authored by Condi Rice and Elliot Abrams, is now the subject of an outstanding investigative piece in Vanity Fair. David Rose’s piece, based on confidential documents and U.S. and Palestinian sources provides a gripping account of the U.S. effort to reverse the result of an election it had demanded. (My favorite part is how Condi issues orders to Abbas, instructing him to dissolve the elected government, and giving him two weeks in which to do it, settling for four when he asks for more time; then sending an emissary to scold him when he hasn’t met her deadline… And they think talking to Hamas is going to erode this man’s legitimacy! The man has lost most of his legitimacy even within the ranks of Fatah precisely because of the nature of his relationship with the Americans, which Rose reveals in great detail.)

Rose’s account of the botched coup attempt demonstrates exactly why the Bush Administration today has had about as much relevance to the search for a credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process as Spongebob Squarepants has to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
As former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who believes Israel should negotiate with Hamas, puts it, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only one in which the U.S. is still maintaining an ideological approach.” And therein lies the tragedy.

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43 Responses to U.S. Pours Gasoline on Gaza Fires

  1. Peter says:

    Thank you for an incisive summing up of the situation

  2. morris says:

    What’s the probability of a repeat of 2006? Israel fights for weeks in Gaza, and then the north explodes.
    In 2006 there was a Haaretz article on how Nasrallah goaded the Israeli leaders.
    Where’s the initiative to sidestep the unfolding historical forces?

  3. morris says:

    And Condi didn’t want a ceasefire in 2006 either.

  4. What puzzles me about the Vanity Fair piece is that Conflicts Forum reported virtually the same story in Jan. 2007–over a yr ago. Admittedly, Conflicts Forum got a lot less play than Vanity Fair & it’s good that such a widely read publication wrote about this. But why no acknowledgement in Rose’s article of the earlier story?

    I understand that David Rose had gov’t documents that Conflicts Forum didn’t have to confirm the coup plan. This indeed is newsworthy. But what annoys me about some journalism is that it claims to have invented the wheel w/o acknowledging previous work of others w/o whom the wheel might never have been invented.

  5. John says:

    Tony’s statement about the recognition of Israel by the PLO is wrong. The PLO first recognized “Israel’s right to exist in peace and security” in 1988. The “letters of mutual recognition” by which the PLO assymmetrically recognized Israel and Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people started off Oslo in 1993. Perhaps the amendment of the PLO charter is what is meant?

    What Hamas is being asked is even more – – to recognize “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” -a demand carefully crafted to be rejected.

  6. Tony says:

    John – the point I was making is that Hamas is being required to amend its charter, which the PLO only did in 98. You could argue that Hamas, by offering a Hudna, is beginning a process of mutual recognition. But the point of my argument is to make clear, as does Uri Avnery in the guest post I published earlier, that the idea that Israel can’t deal with Hamas until it formally “recognizes” it is an evasion.

    I’m not sure of the latter point — has the Quartet actually spelled out “as a Jewish state” in its demands? Not even the PLO and Fatah have done that, nor are they likely to, even if they sign on to a peace deal that meets all the “demographic” demands of the Israeli side…

  7. Matthew says:

    The Jerusalem Post has an article about how Dahlan is aggitating to overthrow Abbas. Can you imagine a more illegitimate leader of the Palestinians?

    On the positive side, at least any “peace deal” signed by Israel and Dahlan would be a success: Dahlan would never attack Israel. It’s much easier to torture his own people.

  8. Tony says:

    I’ve certainly noticed that Dahlan is doing a lot of media availability right now, which always makes me suspicious!

  9. Matthew says:

    Tony: I cannot tell from either your post or from the Vanity Fair article how many Palestinians Condi Rice and Eliot Abrams believe must be killed before the Palestinians accept that their only “legitimate” leaders are those willing to accept whatever crumbs Israel throws their way.

    One would have thought that if Israel were interested in peace (a willing suspension of disbelief on my part), a sharp contrast between the West Bank and Gaza would have been drawn. Palestinians would have realized the “error” of their ways and Abbas would be sharing the fruits of Annapolis with the lucky West Bankers. Unlike Gaza, Ramallah would be flourishing; movement increased; and the economy back on track.

    Alas, it is not be. Abbas has nothing to show for his groveling but calloused knees, a diminished reputation, and more Israeli settlements.

    P.S. Did I forget to mention the autographed photo of George and Laura?

  10. Y. Ben_David says:

    You “progressives” who are “concerned about the oppressed Palestinians” make me laugh. For years before 1993, you keep screaming at us Israeli to bring in Arafat because he was the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”. You knew darned well how corrupt he and his FATAH gang were when they set up “states within states” in both Jordan and Lebanon , bringing about bloody civil wars in both countries. So our foolish leaders Rabin and Peres brought him here and forced him and his gang on the Palestinians (they got the Nobel “Peace” Prize for this blunder). So then, surprise, surprise, he builds a third corrupt regime, now in the Palsetinian territories, and sure enough, it is as corrupt, as violent and as degenerate as his two previous ones. Yet, you all are whining about it and blaming it all on Israel. Now your heroes are the “clean, idealistic, democratically elected HAMAS”. Yeah, sure.

  11. Jim Byers says:

    I do not understand this quibbling over the “right to exist”. You exist or you don’t. Menachem Begin didn’t recognize that there is a Palestinian people until Camp David. NEGOTIATE!

  12. William Burns says:


    Who has referred to Hamas as clean and idealistic, or is this more word from the voices in your head? And what Palestinians do you think Israel should negotiate with, if any?

  13. Matthew says:

    YBD: The Zionists have massacred more than 120 Palestinians during the last few days, many of whom were women and children. A Zionist does what a Zionist does: murders, steals, and then claims it is self-defense.

    As one who have never been infected by the racism of Zionism, I actually feel sorry for you who are. You delude yourselves into thinking that God is as racist and nasty the army of the People Who Chose Themselves. He is not.

    What is Zionism? Look to Gaza. It is a movement that relies on killing children and starving civilians.

    Thus, endeth the lesson.

  14. bernard g says:

    Y Hen David
    the purpose of quote marks is to indicate things that people have actually said, not, as you seem to believe, to indicate things you wish they had said.

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  16. Jim Haygood says:

    Speaking of throwing gasoline on Gaza’s fires: while the Gazans are still burying their dead, the U.S. House of Representatives helpfully passed H. Res. 951 (by a margin of 404-1) condemning Hamas and praising Israel.


    The resolution cheekily upbraids Hamas for using civilians as human shields, although Israeli soldiers are reported to have used blindfolded Gazan men for exactly this purpose.

  17. morris says:

    What is going on in Gaza, is being done for the Jews. The people pulling the triggers, the people giving the orders, and the ones financing the whole apparatchik.
    It is all being done so that each and every Jew can say, ?I am a Jew?.
    Work that out!
    If they’d give the Gazans Ariel and East Jerusalem, there would be more people sayin, ‘I am a Jew’.
    A grassroots (dare I say) movement, not a coerced enforcement.

  18. kassandra says:

    Lawrence of Cyberia covered the human shields issue in great detail. There are a number of photos of Palestinians forced to shield the IOF, there is the photo of the Palestinian boy tied to an Israeli armored jeep.


  19. swio says:

    “Ms. Rice wants to avoid the word ‘cease-fire’ because administration officials believe that a negotiated cease-fire between Israel and Hamas — which the United States and Israel view as a terrorist organization — would legitimize Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinian people,”

    If you change that quote so that “Palestinian people” becomes “American people” like I did below Rice’s reasoning stops sounding insane. Israel/America is trying to make western audiences believe they are on speaking terms with the legitimate Palestinian president with the aim of hiding the fact they’re basically carrying out genocide. If they recognize Hamas they can’t legitimately go on assinating Hamas leaders. If the “president” of the Palestinians is still being civil to Israeli’s then it can’t be all that bad. These people aren’t stupid. Its all a just cynical cover. Its about preventing western audiences realising Israel is in the same moral category (or worse) as South Africa used to be.

    “Ms. Rice wants to avoid the word ‘cease-fire’ because administration officials believe that a negotiated cease-fire between Israel and Hamas — which the United States and Israel view as a terrorist organization — would legitimize Hamas in the eyes of the American people,”

  20. Spyguy says:

    This is going to end very badly …

    There are ONLY FIVE possible scenarios that can play out over the next few years:

    (1) Israel “removes” all the non-Jews from “Greater Israel” (Israel, the WB and Gaza), using want ever means necessary.

    (2) The Arabs “remove” all the Jews from Palestine (the former Israel, the WB and Gaza), using want ever means necessary.

    (3) Gaza is dumped on Egypt and whatever is left of the WB after Israel gets what they want, gets dumped on Jordan.

    (4) a new secular state replaces Israel and Palestine with every person having full citizenship.

    (5) Each group (Jews and non-Jews) gets half the land and half the water.

    Until one of the five scenarios plays out, there will be low grade war with up to 1000 people killed each month. High enough to cause “concern” but not enough to make a difference.

    In my opinion …

    – If Israel tries scenario (1) it will lead to scenario (2).

    – If Israel tries scenario (3) it will lead to scenario (2) because it will destabilize both Egypt and Jordan.

    – Given the bad blood from over 100 years of anger, scenario (4) seems impossible to me. Yes this all started long before Israel existed.

    – Since Israel now has over 500,000 settlers in the WB, that have vowed to fight to the death to stay there, I have come to the conclusion that scenario (5) is also totally impossible. I see no political will or capability in Israel to force the 500,000 settlers to leave the WB. Those that think this will happen when a “magic” peace treaty is signed are just delusional. The settlers are there to stay.

    So, given these conditions, it means that over time, scenario (2) is the most likely. May the Jewish god have mercy on the Jewish souls.

    For those that don’t like what I have written, propose some “realistic” scenarios, based on real human nature. I would rather scenario (5) to happen, but see no way for it to happen unless the rest of the world is willing to forcibly remove the settlers, which for all practical purposes, would mean at least 50,000 people would have to be killed and I can not see the rest of Israel letting that happen.

  21. morris says:

    Scenario 6, Israelis, dissassociate themselves from the settlers, refuse to defend them.
    Israelis take a less fundamentalist view to religion, less messianic and quasi secular. Or see religion as seperate to national policy.
    Perhaps only a bruising war would create this.
    There is already a sizable percentage of Israelis who would be happy with a smaller territory. Meretz and refuseniks are two examples. And some retired Generals also.
    A faulty war would precipitate a polarisation.
    The settlers will be left to accomodate, compromise or fight.

  22. Spyguy says:

    Morris, I see absolutely no evidence of any political will in Israel to shove the settlers under the bus. Your scenario (6) is even less liely than my scenario (5).

    On the very unlikely chance that the government ordered the IDF out of the WB, the IDF would either refuse to obey the order or many soldiers would just desert the IDF and help the settlers fight the Palestinians. This is because a significant part of the IDF comes from the settler movement, And given the ability of the settlers to get heavy weapons (tanks, etc.) any war with the Palestinians would be long and bloody. How long could Israelis tolerate daily pictures of dying settler children (even when those “children” die with a freshly fired Uzi in their hands), before Israel felt it had to act?

    This is why scenario (5) is impossible, no one has the guts or the ability to drag the settlers kicking and screaming back behind the green line.

    I have no doubt there is a reasonable MINORITY of Israelis that realize that Israel is in death spiral, but they have no ability to change the direction that Israel is going. From a practical point of view, all those that think Israel will just be a war zone until it gets destroyed, should just leave Israel because they can not effect the eventual outcome.

  23. morris says:


    There is a chilling immediacy in your perception of facts on the ground. However it ignores the prospect of Israelis within the green line suffering an external war. You are assessing only within the framework of an intifada.

    To use the words ‘be a war zone until it gets destroyed’ is imagining something like a war of attrition. I can imagine a sixth fleet vessel leaking radiation to turn the Eastern med into something toxic. Or some such calamatous event. Somehow it seems that enough enemies have been created, and that the hubris created by the occupation has stopped anyone ‘respecting their enemies’.

    And the words, ‘should just leave Israel because they can not effect the eventual outcome’ reminds me of seeing on an on Israeli web sites. ‘If you want a divorce, leave Israel’. Although you are right, dissenters are excused, from the army, from Israel, from everything and from policy. Love it or leave it, is the same as, you are either for us or against us. A non negotiable fundamentalism.

    ‘On the very unlikely chance that the government ordered the IDF out of the WB, ……… How long could Israelis tolerate daily pictures of dying settler children ………. before Israel felt it had to act?’

    I am sure the Israelis would always offer the settlers a safe haven and insure a safe passage. With six additional US warships making a formation off the Leb coast. Surely a confab is increasingly likely. Avneri made a convincing point that intelligence on Arab matters has so often been wrong. What good is an ill informed formation?

    While we can speculate on which straw will break the camel’s back, no one is allowed to discuss the fundamental faulty logic.

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  25. Lauren Cleaver says:

    …And if the US stopped funding Israel, would Israel have the money to be so unreasonable? Would they perhaps be forced into either scenario 4 or 5?

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  31. Love it or leave it, is the same as, you are either for us or against us. A non negotiable fundamentalism..

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  40. Hayani says:

    Duncan, Targeting civilians is not aablptccee, Israeli or Palestinian. However, context shows us that the Palestinians in Gaza lead a miserable existence. For example they have water shortages imposed on them directly by Israel; Gazans are going thirsty whilst the Israeli citizens fill their swimming pools and water their lawns. This is the type of injustice that drives them to extremism. To launch crappy homemade rockets at anything Israeli. Now, more context. From a Palestinians perspective, these Israeli citizens are the ones who took their home from them. These Israeli citizens are the same ones that live in illegal settlements in West Bank. It’s a tit-for-tat situation. Who do you expect to act rationally? The hungry, thirsty man living in rubble whose life has been crushed? Or the man fat man sipping a cool beer poolside? You want me to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, albeit with impotent firepower? Ok. Fine no problem. As long as you acknowledge that Israel is a terrorist State with brutal firepower that it uses to ensure no peace ever arrives; at least not until it has conquered all.

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