The Israeli decision to launch attacks on Gaza was a political, not security, decision. Just a day or two before the air strikes, it was Israel that rejected Hamas’s diplomatic initiative aimed at extending the six-month long ceasefire that had frayed but largely stayed together since June, and that expired 26 December.
Hamas officials, working through Egyptian mediators, had urged Israel to lift the siege of Gaza as the basis for continuing an extended ceasefire. Israel, including Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni, of the ‘centrist’ (in the Israeli context) Kadima Party, rejected the proposal. Livni, who went to Egypt but refused to seriously consider the Hamas offer, is running in a tight race for prime minister; her top opponent is the further-right Benyamin Netanyahu, of the officially hawkish Likud party, who has campaigned against Livni and the Kadima government for their alleged ‘soft’ approach to the Palestinians. With elections looming in February, no candidate can afford to appear anything but super-militaristic.
Further, it is certain that the Israeli government was eager to move militarily while Bush was still in office. The Washington Post quoted a Bush administration official saying that Israel struck in Gaza, ‘because they want it to be over before the next administration comes in. They can’t predict how the next administration will handle it. And this is not the way they want to start with the new administration.’ The Israeli officials may or may not be right about President Obama’s likelihood of responding differently from Bush on this issue – but it does point to a clear obligation on those of us in this country who voted for Obama with hope, to do all that’s necessary to press him to make good on the ‘change’ he promised that gave rise to that hope.
Obama and future options
The escalation in Gaza will make it virtually impossible for any serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at ending the occupation. It remains uncertain whether sponsorship of an immediate new round of bilateral negotiations was on Barack Obama’s initial post-inauguration agenda anyway. But the current crisis means that any negotiations, whether ostensibly Israeli-Palestinian alone or officially involving the US-controlled so-called ‘Quartet’, will be able to go beyond a return to the pre-airstrike crisis period.
That earlier political crisis, still far from solved, was characterized by expanding settlements, the apartheid Wall and checkpoints crippling movement, commerce and ordinary life across the West Bank, and a virtually impenetrable siege of Gaza that even before the current military assault, had created a humanitarian catastrophe.
So what do we do?
The immediate answer is everything: write letters to Congress members and the State Department, demonstrate at the White House and the Israeli Embassy, write letters to the editor and op-eds for every news outlet we can find, call radio talk shows, protest the US representatives at the UN and their protection of Israeli crimes.
We need to engage with the Obama transition process and plan now for how we will keep the pressure on to really change US policy in the Middle East. We should all join the global movement of outrage and solidarity with Gaza. There are a host of online petitions already – we should sign them all. The US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation is compiling action calls on our website – www.endtheoccupation.org. We have to do all of that.
But then. We can’t stop with emergency mobilisations. We still have to build our movement for BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions, to build a global campaign of non-violent economic pressure to force Israel to comply with international law. We have to challenge US military aid that scaffolds Israel’s military aggression, and US political and diplomatic support that prevents the UN and the international community from holding Israel accountable for its violations. We have to do serious education and advocacy work, learning from other movements that have come before about being brave enough to call something what it is: Israeli policies are apartheid policies and must be challenged on that basis.
We have a lot of work to do.
Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, which many will find useful for education work in this urgent period. www.interlinkbooks.com