War on Gaza: Why the US refuses to learn the lessons from history

US failure over 50 years to secure lasting peace in the region is largely down to its refusal to prioritise a Palestinian state over Israeli security. Until this changes, the conflict will endure

Sooner or later, all conflicts come to an end. But all too often, their root causes remain unresolved.

This appears to be very true for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the following weeks or months, the country that appointed itself as the only one capable of achieving a credible, fair and durable peace between Israel and Palestine – the United States – will once again attempt to accomplish it.

The first priority will be Gaza. But the real challenge will be to address the causes that produced the latest carnage in the Gaza Strip and in neighbouring Israeli kibbutzim. In other words, the plight of the Palestinians needs a real political perspective.

It is not worth going through, once again, the numerous compelling reasons that make the US unfit for such a job.

It is worth remembering that American power is degrading, and the Pax-Americana in the Middle East is crumbling, regardless of how many aircraft carriers and naval battle groups Washington deploys in the seas surrounding the region.

It is hardly necessary to mention that talks for US withdrawal from Iraq have just been announced.

It is also worth remembering that the last time a US administration was effective in convincing Israel to do something related to peace was in 1991, when the first Bush administration compelled Israel to attend the Madrid peace conference.

Since then, all US administrations have had their chances to match their claims with concrete results and almost all of them have failed.

President Bill Clinton helped secure the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, but failed at Camp David in 2000. President George W Bush failed in Annapolis in 2008 and President Barack Obama failed in 2013-14. President Donald Trump even managed to worsen the prospects for peace with the Abraham Accords in 2020.

No lessons learned

The Biden administration will now face its turn to be judged by history. From recent leaks to the press, the prospects do not appear cheering.

Brett McGurk, the current White House’s point man for the region, is the main advocate of pushing for an Israeli-Saudi deal even before any attempt to solve the Palestinian issue.

He allegedly believes that “stability can be achieved in the devastated Palestinian region if American, Israeli, Palestinian and Saudi officials launch an urgent diplomatic effort that prioritises the establishment of Israel-Saudi ties”.

This would occur in a 90-day timeline once active fighting in Gaza ends.

If this is the strategy, it is evident that McGurk, and the Biden administration, have learned no lessons from 7 October.

There is now a plausible belief that one of the reasons the Hamas attack occurred is down to the approach adopted by the Trump administration and the Abraham Accords.

Palestinians were thrown under the bus, ignored and marginalised, in order to prioritise Israeli normalisation with other Arab countries.

Meanwhile, Israel, far before 7 October, had adopted draconian policies in the West Bank, practically inciting and shielding extremist settlers in their daily harassment of Palestinians, and all largely unreported by the mainstream western media.

In a nutshell, Washington’s plan to solve the current crisis would almost be a replica – nearly half a century later – of 1978’s Camp David peace accords: “Let’s make peace between Israel and Egypt and we will deal with the Palestinian question later.”

Except that this time, it would be Saudi Arabia and not Egypt in the scheme.

‘Security-first doctrine’

This approach was wrong at the time and it would be wrong today, because it is primarily motivated by maintaining Israel’s specific interests in the control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

It is known as the “security-first doctrine”, because it is based on Israel’s and only Israel’s definition of its own security needs that would allow, in due course, its transition to and acceptance of the two-state solution. This has always been a fairytale, and the last three decades of Israeli behaviour confirm it.

The US and Europe have shared the conviction that Israel, of its own necessity, was committed to conserving a Jewish majority inside Israel and that with time, considering the growing Palestinian population, it would have been compelled to accept a Palestinian state to maintain such a majority.

Instead, over the years, Israel’s leaders have convinced themselves that time was on their side and that the Palestinian question could be managed through an incrementalist approach and the constant moving of the goalposts. In the early 1990s, Israel asked to be officially recognised by the Palestinians (and it was, in 1993). In the late 2000s, it asked that such recognition should be as a Jewish state. Now the threat of Hamas has to be addressed before any two-state solution.

Leaders in the US and the EU, when not deliberately complicit in such a deceitful and misleading game, were outmanoeuvred and bamboozled by the far cleverer Israeli game. And no Israeli leader has excelled in such games more than Benjamin Netanyahu, who has effectively been in power in the country for the last 15 years.

The compelling historical evidence shows that the persistent, brutal denial of Palestinian rights through the occupation has been the primary source of Israel’s insecurity, and the tragedy of 7 October is just its latest, bloody, confirmation.

Since being sworn into office in January 2021, President Joe Biden has disowned many of the controversial foreign policy decisions adopted by his predecessor. But he has resolutely maintained the Abraham Accords, with the aim to secure the deal’s “cherry on the cake” – the normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

McGurk has incessantly pursued this goal in the last three years. Any effort to protect the Palestinians from the increasingly harsh measures adopted by the Israeli government was put aside.

That the situation was reaching a boiling point was known to all the upper echelons of Israel’s military and security establishment, but the politicians in Tel Aviv and Washington remained, unforgivably, deaf and blind.

7 October 2023, then, was largely a tragedy in waiting.

‘Incrementalist’ approach

No compelling rationale has been provided by the Biden administration to explain why normalisation between Israel and other Arab states should precede the recognition of Palestinian rights, except for the die-hard and debunked “security-first doctrine”.

According to White House officials: “McGurk’s plan would use the incentive of aid for reconstruction from Saudi Arabia and possibly other wealthy Gulf countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to pressure both the Palestinians and the Israelis… In this vision, Palestinian leaders would agree to a new government for both Gaza and the occupied West Bank and to ratchet down their criticisms of Israel, while Israel would accept limited influence in Gaza.”

US National Security Council Coordinator Brett McGurk speaks during the IISS Manama security conference, in Manama, Bahrain, 18 November 2023 (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)
US National Security Council Coordinator Brett McGurk speaks during the IISS Manama security conference, Bahrain, 18 November 2023 (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

In such a plan, no political horizon is provided. It is the usual, temporary, half-hearted and half-solution typical of the “incrementalist” approach that the US and the EU have advocated for more than three decades, and which have produced nothing but anger and increasing violence.

It is time that the major players understood that Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot be achieved through a step-by-step approach because this method will always provide opportunities for the saboteurs to derail the process.

Peace requires a Big Bang. It needs a Palestinian state according to the established international parameters. Only then, after building a positive atmosphere by finally providing justice to the Palestinians, would it be possible to deal with the other crises.

This is the only sequence that might work. It is not Israel’s security first, but the Palestinians’ state first.

US and Israeli logic now prioritises the uniting of American partners in the region who share a deep scepticism of Iran.

Not only will this be used by Israel to further delay a solution to the Palestine problem, but it also misses a crucial point: Iran’s animosity towards the US and Israel is largely due to both states’ coordinated policy targeting its economy, and deliberately denying the rights of the Palestinian people.

Failed logic

The Abraham Accords’ core concept regarding the Palestinians has always been that their acquiescence could be secured by offering them a better economic life, but always within the cages where they were confined, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

It did not work, and it could not work. McGurk, instead, allegedly believes that a major effort to rebuild Gaza would make the Saudi court more inclined to sign the deal with Israel and would also make the Palestinians less inclined to protest and oppose such a move.

US perseverance in deploying such failed logic borders on the Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity, ie doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Meanwhile, a recent opinion poll of Saudis undertaken by the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that 96 percent believed that Arab states should cut any ties with Israel over its conduct in Gaza and that the kingdom should remain attached to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which placed the birth of a Palestinian state as a pre-condition for normalisation, and not the other way around.

As to the other American objective – to “create” a new Palestinian Authority that should also extend to Gaza – the US is once again deluding itself. It’s highly unlikely that Palestinians, in both Gaza and the West Bank, would accept a top-down solution regarding their leadership, especially if it came from those carrying out the carnage in the Strip or those shielding them in the Security Council with their veto.

The International Court of Justice has just issued its provisional orders recognising the merit of the case of genocide submitted by South Africa. As a consequence, it has asked Israel to adopt a set of measures that, taken altogether, equate to a request for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The wall of impunity that the US has built around Israel is showing its first cracks.

Will Tel Aviv and Washington finally learn the lessons from history and change policy?


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