What Israel Wants? Why Genocide?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Nov 2023
16 Nov 2023 – Stasa Sallacanin, an independent journalist, posed a series of questions on 29 Oct. I have modified my responses to take account of recent developments and to offer a more readable text. As the genocidal assault on Gaza continues in the face of rising calls for a ceasefire and a negotiated peace, Israel remains defiant and the US stands firm in support of Israel’s supposed goal of destroying Hamas as a presence in Gaza, but also seems intent on mounting an ethnic cleansing crusade, with a West Bank focus, but a Gaza subtext. Some of these elements are addressed below.
Q 1: While Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and has the capacity to severely damage its operational abilities, the question remains what is the future of Palestinian armed resistance?
In my judgment, Israel is inflicting important, but temporary, damage on the operational ability of Hamas to carry out military attacks against Israel, but in the disproportionate and indiscriminate manner of doing so it will exact heavy costs. Not only will Hamas’ support surge among the Palestinian people and globally, but the severe humanitarian catastrophe that has befalled the civilian population has already greatly strengthened the will of the Palestinians to mount armed resistance in the future. In addition, global mobilization in civil society will increase, as will UN efforts and even Global West governments to find a solution to the conflict that is more sympathetic with Palestinian grievances and aspirations than before October 7.
As the earlier anti-colonial wars revealed, the colonial side can dominate the combat zones, winning every battle, killing large numbers of the native population, and destroying their sources of livelihood, and yet go on to experience political defeat in. the end. This was the experience of France and the United States in Vietnam and Algeria. Despite. innovations in weaponry and tactics political defeat and frustration was subsequentially experienced by colonial actors and imperial interventions in a series of countries that lacked military capabilities to defend their territory against such external intrusions: Afghanistan, Iraq after 2003, Libya and Syria after 2011, the so-called ‘forever wars’ in which the state-building and neoliberal objectives sought through military intervention and major state-building undertakings were not realized, despite huge expenditures of funds. Despite this dismal record of relying on military means to achieve political objectives, the Global West, especially the United States, along with Europe and Israel, mindlessly continues to ‘securitize’ disputes and conflicts rather than shifting tactics or adopting a more detached view of the outcome of internal power struggles in foreign countries. Part of this failure to adapt to the diminishing agency of military superiority in North/South settings reflects the interests and influence of arms dealers in the private sector, as augmented by a compliant Congress and a militarized bureaucracy in the American case.
Israel resembles the US in these respects, although with more overt racist overtones, as articulated by Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in the current crisis. It seeks to justify its violence by insisting that Arabs, as epitomized by Hamas, only understand ‘pressure,’ which in actuality has. been expressed by recourse to genocidal devastation. Israel and the US both subscribed to the reductive assessments of Raphael Patel’s The Arab Mind (1973). Somewhat ironically, Hamas leaders explained and justified the October 7 attack, somewhat more plausibly, by relying on the same reasoning. They claimed that armed attack was the only way to remind Israel that the Palestinians were still present and would not allow themselves to be erased by diplomatic fiat.
Q 2: Israel launched a ground invasion on Gaza to dismantle Hamas. Will new Palestinian armed groups continue to emerge and fight Israel and how successful they will be, considering the fact, that Israel will learn from its past mistakes and recent intelligence failure?
It is almost a sure thing that Hamas, whether under another name or not, will survive this Israeli onslaught, emerging stronger, smarter, and more resilient than previously in the period after the present encounter ends. Despite the high international reputational costs as related to the legitimacy of its claims, Israel’s genocidal assault has put its apparent victory strategy further from attainment than before.
Israel is likely to face that moment of truth that confronts all settler colonial projects—either the native population is exterminated or driven to outer margins of societal life, or it will eventually prevail. This has been the pattern since 1945 when it became apparent that indigenous nationalism could outlast the military might of the colonizers if they stood their ground and were prepared to accept shocking levels of casualties and devastation. Palestinian steadfastness has long been evident even as constantly challenged by Israeli apartheid and harsh policies and practices.
Israel will, of course, endeavor to fix the hard-to-believe failures of surveillance and border security that made the Hamas attack possible, if indeed the official narrative holds up, and current suspicions of a false flag operation put to rest. We would expect Israel to make other tactical shifts in its structures of apartheid control over a hostile Palestinian population that is more likely, as suggested above, to be mobilized, resentful, and resistant than ever.
In the background are questions about whether the Israeli security lapse was a side-effect of the Netanyahu extremist coalition’s calculated efforts to make the West Bank unlivable for Palestinians, and become a settler controlled mini-state under the sovereign control of a Greater Israel that may have further territorial goals on its policy agenda. Or this West Bank priority was coupled with an assurance of the economic benefits of an estimated $500 billion value to be realized by developing the oil and gas fields off the Gaza coast.
The only potentially winning strategy for Israel is extensive ethnic cleansing by way of forced displacement beyond the borders—the Sinai solution, and for the Palestinians a second nakba. So far Egypt has resisted pressures to enter such a Faustian Bargain, but the end-game scenario is yet to be played out. There are rumors of Israeli offers to draw down Egypt’s international indebtedness in exchange for allowing the entire Gaza Palestinian population to live in Sinai, which would facilitate Israel’s thinly disguised ambition to incorporate the West Bank into its territory as well as reap the anticipated economic benefits of reoccupying and possibly resettling Gaza in the absence of a Palestinian presence..
Q 3: Moreover, do you think that Hamas attack/resistance could inspire armed resistance, even among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and Gaza in the future or conversely, if Hamas fails, do you expect the weakening of armed resistance?
As earlier responses suggest, the Israeli response to the Hamas attack has already inspired resistance politics among the Palestinians, including among exile and foreign refugee communities, and further discredited the quasi-collaborative political groups aligned with Fatah as exemplified by the West Bank framework of governance and international representational status, the Palestinian Authority the sole surviving now seriously disabled child of the defunct Oslo Diplomacy that has paralyzed the Palestinians for more than 20 years while giving the settlers time to consolidate, expand, and augment their movement. The pre-October 7 Netanyahu coalition government greenlighted settler violence, and associated lang grabbing and thinly disguised efforts to escalate a strategy seemingly intent on maximum Palestinian dispossession.
Q 4: However, would you agree that any military solution cannot bear any sustainable long-term results and that the lack of a political solution will only generate the emergence of new armed groups?
Yes, that is an accurate probable future unless Israel takes drastic steps to realize its victory scenario. I believe the current leadership of Israel will, if it can, before the Gaza crisis is resolved move rapidly to implement an ethnic cleansing version of a ‘final solution’ of its Palestinian problem. How the world, especially the Global West responds, will determine whether such an outcome will actually succeed, or whether the future will exhibit what now seems impossible, the realization of Palestinian rights of at least partial self-determination, most likely in an unstable two-state outcome as proposed back in 2002 by the Arab countries meeting in Mecca and generally endorsed by governments throughout the world, although it seems unimaginably difficult to implement given the certain extreme opposition of more than half a million settlers in the West Bank.
Another likely result of the Israeli onslaught in Gaza is the emergence of secular militancy to avoid perceived regional threats of political Islam and religious warfare that will be rationalized as counterterrorism along the propagandistic lines of ‘Hamas is our ISIS..’ The French president, Emmanuel Macron, carried the idea a step further by proposing ‘a new axis of evil’ composed of hostile Islamic governments and non-state actors in the Middle East. I suspect that policy wonks have already started rereading and updating Samuel Huntington’s 1993 vision of ‘a clash of civilizations.’ It follow from this perspective that such an approach will take center stage in forthcoming phases of regional politics more than 30 years after these ideas were first circulated in Huntington’s famous and influential Foreign Affairs article.
Q 5: In the occupied West Bank, a plethora of new Palestinian armed groups have emerged in response to repressive Israeli policies. Do you think that their factions and influence will spread to Gaza once the military action against Hamas is over and in case Hamas is defeated?
It is quite possible, but I think their main focus will be resistance to Israel’s attempt to gain sovereign control over the West Bank to the extent possible. Gaza in my view despite the genocidal ordeal inflicted on the Gazans remains almost a sideshow for militant Zionists who joined with Netanyahu in implementing patterns of extremist governance of the West Bank that were operationalized as soon as their authority was formalized at the start of 2023.
In effect, Gaza is distracted attention from the remaining critical goals of the maximal Zionist Project and Israeli extremes of violence are intended to deliver a warning to Palestinians on the West Bank to get out or face an eventual firestorm. Whether such thinking is part of why Israeli government allowed the security lapse to occur or it was the Hamas attack an opportunity seized upon by the Netanyahu leadership in the course of carrying out its violent and vengeful retaliatory attack. Another possibility is that the settlers, and allies in government somewhat autonomously saw the Israeli response in Gaza as creating an opening for their cleansing campaign in the West Bank.
Q 6: The poll, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, also showed that 52% of the Palestinians believe that the armed struggle against Israel is the most effective means to end the Israeli occupation and build a Palestinian state. Twenty-one percent said they supported achieving these goals through negotiations, while 22% preferred the “popular resistance.” In addition, when asked what has been the most positive or the best thing that has happened to the Palestinian people since the Nakba in 1948 the largest percentage (24%) said it was the establishment of Islamic movements. So, will this percentage even grow after the war, and will new resistance groups be influenced by Islamic movements or they will focus and try to refocus on other matters and perhaps try to overcome political divisions within a deeply fragmented Palestinian bloc?
As of now, the Islamic groups, especially Hamas, have dominated Palestinian resistance to the extent that recourse to armed struggle has characterized resistance, and this will likely become even more the case after the Israeli guns finally fall silent in Gaza. Yet I would suppose that in the next phase of struggle, assuming Israeli ethnic cleansing schemes do not succeed in erasing or marginalizing Palestinian resistance, there will emerge new political formations that are neither Islamic nor the opposite. In other words, Palestinian resistance is overdue for an integrative politics of unity without sectarian or ideological dogma being allowed to get in the way of the overriding goal of gaining leverage needed to achieve a sustainable and just peace. Israel has resorted to a variety of means, including its early funding of Hamas when it was most overtly antisemitic as well as targeted assassinations and imprisonment of potentially unifying Palestinian political leaders, including the harassment and possible murder of Arafat, and timely assassinations of those seeking a just and sustainable peace that stood in the way of Israel following through to the full realization of the Zionist vision. Prominent among such casualties were the Swedish mediator Count Folke Bernadotte murdered by the Zionist terrorist group Lehi in 1948 and even an Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the first period of the Oslo Accords that for years looked as though it might yield an accommodation based on a political compromise between Israel and Palestine.
Only If and when Israel becomes a pariah state, its national leaders might at last consider the option of emulating the South African surprising turn as adapted to Israel’s circumstances. The leaders in Pretoria surprised the world by releasing Nelson Mandela from prison and agreeing to a transition to a multi-racial constitutional democracy with equal rights for all. It seems like a dream at present to suppose that something similar will happen in Israel, but in history dreams happen but only if made by the dedicated struggles and sacrifices of martyrs.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.
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Tags: Crimes against Humanity, Ethnic Cleansing, Gaza, Genocide, Hamas, Israel, Massacre, Palestine, War crimes, West Bank
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