Sunday, March 3, 2024

Something to Know - 3 March

Robert Reich is one of many leaders who openly plead for president Biden to make a progressive bold move with respect to the carnage and unrest in the Middle East.   Unfortunately, it has to be couched for political reasons and not just a purely humanitarian gesture.   Either way, it is the end game that matters, and Biden is the only one who can pull it off right now.

How Biden can save tens of thousands of lives (and help save his presidency)

What he must tell the Israeli people


On Thursday, more than 100 people were killed and 700 injured in northern Gaza, after thousands of hungry civilians rushed at a convoy of aid trucks, leading to a stampede and prompting Israeli soldiers to fire at the crowd. It is not yet clear how many died from gunfire and how many from being trampled or run over, although most of the injuries in the local hospital were said to be bullet wounds.

The immediate causes of the chaos were extreme hunger and desperation. The United Nations has warned of a looming famine in northern Gaza. This has been exacerbated by Israel's failure to set in motion a plan for how Gaza will be governed.

Joe Biden is the key out of this morass. He may be able to save tens of thousands of lives, and even help save his presidency. How?


My friend Bernard Avishai wrote the following, which I am reproducing with his permission, in slightly edited form.

Israel Defense Forces are poised to attack the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where Israel believes that four of Hamas's last six battalions are hiding in tunnels and holding what is estimated to be around a hundred still surviving hostages. Netanyahu told CBS that, once the assault begins, "the intense phase of the fighting" will be "weeks away from completion."

An attack on Rafah would compound the carnage to which Biden is already considered an accomplice.

Netanyahu's real opposition, now, is Biden. There are secular leaders in Israel positioned to support an alternative vision for Gaza and the region, and, arguably, to bring Netanyahu down. But dread grips the public, and these leaders currently have no real standing in the absence of a U.S. President detailing a plan, proving the support of Arab allies, and warning Israel of the dire consequences of defying him.

Biden might well reunite the Democratic Party, and get himself reĆ«lected, in the process. (In the Michigan Democratic primary on Tuesday, the "uncommitted" vote, protesting Biden's handling of the war in Gaza, was just shy of the spread between Biden and Trump in 2020.)

An estimated thirty thousand people in Gaza have been killed, seventy per cent reportedly women and minors. Tens of thousands more, including many children, have suffered serious injuries and amputations.

Rafah is a nearly twenty-five-square-mile area, in which refugees from Gaza City and Khan Younis are now sheltering. There are currently around 1.5 million civilians there, most of whom are living in tents—an almost sixfold increase in the population since the war began. (In all of Gaza, at least half the buildings have been destroyed or damaged.)

United Nations agencies warn of famine, and note that there is no drinking water or water for showers in many shelters, and that there are many reported cases of hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, smallpox, lice, and influenza. Medical facilities have been raided. The refugees are utterly dependent on the humanitarian aid that is brought in, on average, by about eighty-five trucks.

Last Sunday, Biden's national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told NBC that the invasion of Rafah should not proceed "unless there is a clear and executable plan to protect those civilians."

Biden announced that the U.S. will be initiating airdrops of food and supplies.

The use of air power is how the Israeli Defense Force (I.D.F.) minimizes dangers to its land forces—of which, as of this writing, two hundred and forty-two soldiers have died. The I.D.F. revealed that, in an audacious raid on February 11th, it rescued two hostages from a Rafah neighborhood. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that at least ninety-four people, including young children, were killed in the aerial bombardment that provided the troops cover.

Netanyahu's postwar plan does not convincingly suggest how the crisis might end. Netanyahu and his coalition allies—including the finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, and the internal-security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir — are imagining an expansion of the occupation. Various coalition ministers participated in a mass rally in Jerusalem on January 28th, demanding, amid dancing and singing, continuing the fight.

Netanyahu himself does not say why it is realistic to attack in Rafah and yet expect to bring the hostages home alive, or, for that matter, expect local Palestinian officials to put themselves forward for the administration of Gaza under indefinite Israeli rule.

Biden's team, not quite as clearly, is seeking a different endgame. It vetoed, on February 20th, a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a permanent truce, yet Biden had said on February 12th (with Jordan's King Abdullah II by his side) that a multi-week pause in the fighting might be used "to build something more enduring."

What Biden seemed to be alluding to was a plan, sketched in some detail by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Times's Tom Friedman, at Davos, in January, that would essentially entail the I.D.F. gradually turning over administration of Gazan cities to a "reformed" Palestinian Authority (P.A.) reinforced, in effect, by Egyptian troops and by Saudi and Emirati money. The Sunni states would get a defense pact with the U.S. against Iran and a commitment from Israel to accept a "pathway" toward an eventual, demilitarized Palestinian state.

Biden is discretely promoting his larger plan, in the obvious hope that a deal for the hostages can be folded into it. To reform the P.A., Washington has been pressuring President Mahmoud Abbas, now eighty-eight, to take on a purely ceremonial role and transfer genuine power to a new government of technocrats; on Monday, Abbas accepted his cabinet's resignation and hinted that he would appoint as Prime Minister the head of the Palestine Investment Fund, Mohammad Mustafa, a former World Bank official.

Mustafa told me, back in 2014, of his desire to see Hamas leaders subordinated to P.A. officials and to "extend the umbrella of nonviolence to Gaza." At Davos this year, he acknowledged that Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia might well be critical to the rebuilding of Gaza. The Israeli news station Channel 12 has reported that Egyptian officials explicitly agreed to provide "policing forces" should a "reformed" P.A. request it. Nasser al-Qudwa, Yasir Arafat's nephew, who is a close associate of the imprisoned Fatah icon Marwan Barghouti—and is often mentioned as a possible replacement for Abbas—told me that he believes strongly in "a temporary, multinational Arab security presence" in Gaza, as it rebuilds, where "Egyptians will be the backbone."

Netanyahu, meanwhile, says that the Palestinian situation must be solved in direct negotiations "without preconditions." Of course, he has preconditions, which are that the whole Land of Israel—read, the entire West Bank—is Israel's, and that a Palestinian state, which, notionally had always also included Gaza, is impossible.

Polls show that, if an election were held now, Netanyahu's theocratic coalition would lose badly—by as many as thirty seats in the hundred-and-twenty-seat Knesset—to a coalition of secular centrists led by the former chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, who joined the war cabinet in October. They also show that more than seventy per cent of Israelis want early elections, which would otherwise be held in a couple of years.

Secular leaders such as Eisenkot are, however, confined by the grim public mood, and they still trust, reflexively, in Israeli powers of military intimidation.

The most profound dread is a wholesale confrontation with Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, without American backing.

The economy has shrunk, while the I.D.F. has proposed increasing the mandatory reservist service to forty-two days a year, and raised the age of exemption to forty-five.

In this context, Biden must lead: he cannot just telephone his friend Bibi, give counsel, and then, as has been reported, call him "an asshole" behind his back.

Biden must present the Israeli public with a stark choice: a detailed regional plan with credible American guarantees or Netanyahu's defiant isolation; Gantz and Eisenkot would thus gain cover for diplomatic realism beyond simple military deterrence.

The State Department has already signaled a new toughness, putting four violent West Bank settlers under a sanctions regime. More can be added to that list. Gantz is reportedly traveling to Washington tomorrow, to hold talks with Administration officials, without having coƶrdinated the trip with Netanyahu—and infuriating him.

Biden might, as Richard Haass, the former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested, give a speech in Israel, "over the prime minister's head," that would "clearly show what the U.S. believes," much the way Netanyahu, in 2015, aimed to bypass President Barack Obama and sway American opinion against the Iran deal by addressing the Republican-led Congress. The former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told me, "If Biden openly pressures Israel to accept his deal, he will gain some of the support that he might be losing in his own country."

"The Biden Administration believes," Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national-security adviser and the author of "Israeli National Security," told me, "that Bibi has no coherent way of coping with the long term, or fully achieving his government's military goals. "If Netanyahu pits himself against the U.S., rejects normalization with the Saudis, risks escalation in the north, sacrifices the hostages—after the war's outbreak, the state of the economy, the judicial overhaul, the endless empty posturing—the streets will explode."

Juan Matute
     (click on it)
― The Lincoln Project

No comments:

Post a Comment