What is really happening with Israel-Palestine?

The current Israel-Palestine situation is unprecedented, but in ways that go far beyond what has been explicitly recognised.

The attack by Hamas was unprecedented in its scale and scope: everyone seems to agree on that. Some have gone further and asked how it was possible for Israeli intelligence agencies – amongst the most sophisticated in the world – to have missed the incoming threat. Subsequent reports add to that scepticism, revealing that Egypt and the United States warned Israel of a major threat shortly before the attack took place. Yet for some reason it appears the warning was ignored.

I would argue that the even more unprecedented occurrences relate to commentary and media coverage. I noticed a number of individuals on social media with large followings suddenly start expressing solidarity with Palestinians immediately in the aftermath of the Hamas attack. It seems very strange to wait for hundreds of civilians in Israel to be massacred before making political statements in favour of Palestinians. Why would such voices suddenly become loud when they were absent or quiet when Amnesty International found Israel to be practising apartheid? Or when Palestinians were being killed or brutalised without retaliation?

Related to this has been the reaction of mainstream media outlets which in the past, for decades, systematically downplayed human rights violations by the Israeli state. Immediately after the attack many of these outlets invited critical commentators who showed up the one-sidedness of the coverage of those same outlets. And this happened across numerous, notionally independent broadcasters. Unprecedented.

Moreover, these shifts occurred in a context where the political ground was already shifting against Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s warmongering prime minister. A broad range of groups inside and outside Israel had opposed Netanyahu’s attempt to centralise power and reduce the power of Israel’s judiciary. In recent months even a former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, Mossad, asserted that Israel had been practising apartheid. And shortly after the Hamas attack articles, and even viral manipulated videos, were published suggesting that Netanyahu should step down.

The more crucial geopolitical context is this: the United States has been securing strategic agreements with Arab states in the Middle East. It has cemented ties with the dictatorships in Saudia Arabia and Egypt, despite systematic human rights violations in both countries. In parallel it has established a strong alliance with India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, secured a tenuous alliance with Pakistan after the removal of Imraan Khan, and cemented ties with another de facto dictator, Recep Erdogan, in Turkey. The result is that the United States no longer needs Israel as an isolated imperial outpost or bulwark in the Middle East. In fact, the ongoing Israeli repression of Palestinians impedes the ability of the USA to cement ties with its new allies for as long as it is backing Israel militarily. This, I suggest, is the primary geopolitical undercurrent that will determine the direction of current events and is already influencing media coverage and the flip-flopping of the European Union and pro-Israel politicians like the UK’s Keir Starmer.

In some respects these events mirror what happened with apartheid in South Africa when the Soviet Union collapsed. The United States no longer needed apartheid South Africa as a bulwark against what it claimed to be a communist threat in Africa. Shortly thereafter the hardline apartheid prime minister PW Botha fell from favour and was replaced by FW De Klerk, who despite having been active in supporting and enforcing apartheid positioned himself as a reformer. The United States and its key allies, like the UK, backed De Klerk’s move to end apartheid and the rest, as they say, is history.

Such brazen manipulation of this kind is of course reprehensible: supporting apartheid, a crime against humanity, for decades and then discarding it only after its usefulness has waned. Nevertheless, in the current Israel-Palestine situation it may mean that an actual peace deal is now possible.

As in the South African case the terms of any such agreement matter a great deal. And the deeply entrenched support for apartheid in Israel-Palestine should not be underestimated; right-wing and conservative groupings may yet try to use the situation to extend the borders of Israel and further worsen the living conditions of Palestinians. But if my hypothesis that the United States is covertly backing a move towards peace is correct, simply to support its own geopolitical strategy, then it is difficult to see how hardliners in Israel will hold out when their main financier, weapons supplier and supporter pushes in a different direction.

It is no cause for celebration that the United States is allying with powerful dictatorships as it moves to seek war with China, and perhaps a more intense proxy war with Iran alongside the proxy war with Russia in Ukraine, but for the Palestinian people this may yet bring them the peace and security that is owed to them.

Author: peripheral economist

Academic, extra-mural public servant

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