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Israel-Palestine war: Washington has lost the plot

Ongoing US complicity in Israel's atrocities in Gaza can be explained only as a reflection of die-hard imperialism
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival in Tel Aviv on 18 October 2023 (AFP)

After returning from his trip to Israel last week, US President Joe Biden gave a prime-time address to his fellow Americans, warning once again of "an inflection point in history - one of those moments where the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for decades to come".

The 7 October assault by Hamas on Israel, he said, "echoes nearly 20 months of war, tragedy and brutality inflicted on the people of Ukraine - people that were very badly hurt since Putin launched his all-out invasion".

As is common for many western politicians and journalists, Biden's comments ignored relevant context and history, groundlessly linking the attack on Israel to the Russia-Ukraine war.

His message was twofold: Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin are the same, and the unconditional American support for Israel must also continue for Ukraine. In his view, these two conflicts are two faces of the same coin. 

He has framed both in his usual apocalyptic and existential terms, wherein democracies confront autocracies, and either the first prevails or the "world order" enjoyed in recent decades will be irredeemably lost, ushering in a new Dark Age. Ruling people through fear has always worked, after all.

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Biden is asking Congress for $100bn to support Israel and Ukraine, with some of the funds directed towards containing China too. Leaving aside the current dysfunction of the US Congress, he is outlining a recipe for a potential global conflict that embraces Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

In his speech, Biden asserted: "Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and innocent Palestinian families are suffering greatly because of them."

Gasoline on the flames

The bare facts are that the last time Palestinians expressed their will through internationally supervised, free elections was in 2006, and Hamas won. Seventeen years later, a new election is long overdue - but there was no reference to this in Biden's speech. Is he afraid of the potential results?

In contrast, Israelis have voted five times since 2019. The results have been depressing, empowering the most far-right Israeli government ever. For months, this situation has thrown gasoline on the fires of Palestinian frustration and humiliation through innumerable provocations by settlers and activists emboldened in large part by two extremist ministers, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

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As to Hamas causing Palestinian suffering, it is easy to see who is levelling Gaza and cutting water, electricity and food to the enclave. Considering that Gaza has one of the highest population densities on earth, Biden's mere mention of human shields borders on pure nonsense. 

Biden noted in his speech that "Putin denies Ukraine has or ever had real statehood". He would have been more honest if he had also referenced Israel's long-standing denial of Palestinian statehood.

Biden completely misled his audience by equating Hamas attacking Israel to Putin attacking Ukraine

Biden completely misled his audience by equating Hamas attacking Israel to Putin attacking Ukraine. He forgot to mention that in the Israel-Palestine conflict, since 1967, there has been an occupier (Israel) and an occupied (the Palestinian people).

Thus, Israel's legitimate and unquestionable right to self-defence must be contextualised, bearing in mind that Israel has for decades maintained an offensive posture through its harsh occupation of lands inhabited by Palestinians (the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza). 

As Ukraine, occupied by Russia, retaliates inside Russian territories, even reaching Moscow, this has not raised a single eyebrow among western democracies. But Palestinians doing the same is considered "terrorism", while Israel's disproportionate retaliation is seen as normal by western governments. 

The human toll in Gaza has surpassed 5,700, including more than 2,300 children, while in Israel the death count stands at 1,400. Nothing justifies the vicious attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October, nor is there any justification for putting an entire people under a humiliating occupation for decades.

Paying a price

After having misled the same American people he will soon ask to vote for him again, Biden explained "why making sure Israel and Ukraine succeed is vital for America's national security".

"You know, history has taught us that when terrorists don't pay a price for their terror, when dictators don't pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction." 

He did not mention names, but he was seemingly alluding to Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler, and perhaps also Saddam Hussein.

Regarding the first, it is enough to remember the close relationship US intelligence entertained with the Saudi tycoon-turned-anti-western terrorist in Afghanistan during the 1980s. 

Palestinians look for survivors amid the rubble of a building hit in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip on 24 October 2023 (AFP)
Palestinians look for survivors amid the rubble of a building hit in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip on 24 October 2023 (AFP)

As for the second, everyone is free to think the worst about Putin, but any modest high-school history teacher would object to framing him as Hitler. Russians suffered greatly during World War II, while today, some units of the Ukrainian army are using Nazi symbols, to the deafening and hypocritical silence of western democracies.

Concerning Hussein, it is worth remembering that the rationale for the 2003 Iraq War was built on a lie.

In his speech, Biden celebrated Nato for having "kept peace in Europe" and being "the cornerstone of American security". But in the last quarter-century, Nato's unnecessary - and US-imposed - eastward expansion explains the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has become a liability for European security. 

As for Israel, its enduring occupation of Palestinian lands, and its refusal to grant an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, is the historical context that must always be kept in mind. This is the main root of Israel's current, shocking insecurity. 

The two-state delusion

Biden asserted in his speech that "American leadership is what holds the world together". If he does not yet understand that the biased way in which Washington has exercised its leadership in recent decades is actually tearing the world apart, then he is probably hopeless.

Biden boasted: "The security package I'm sending to Congress and asking Congress to do is an unprecedented commitment to Israel's security that will sharpen Israel's qualitative military edge." American people (and taxpayers) should be aware that the US already disburses around $3bn in annual military aid to Israel.

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The "qualitative military edge" that such unparalleled aid was supposed to support failed miserably on 7 October, leading to the biggest number of Israeli civilian casualties since the state's 1948 founding.

Biden was right in emphasising that "as hard as it is, we cannot give up on peace. We cannot give up on a two-state solution". Unfortunately, this was the only real political perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict that he included in his speech - and it was too little. 

If Biden really cares about Israel, he should be ready to present a clear plan for turning the "two-state solution" into reality. This is the only reasonable way to achieve real, enduring security for Israel. This would take genuine American leadership. Unfortunately, Biden cannot do it because for years Israel has rejected the two-state prospect, amid US silence and complicity.

Since the latest war broke out, the US has blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinians, objecting to the fact that it did not include a mention of Israel's right to self-defence.

In Tel Aviv, Biden wisely advised Israel not to be overwhelmed by rage, but US policy continues to shield Israel - something that in the long term will be detrimental to the state's security.

With the numbers of Palestinian casualties skyrocketing, such US behaviour can be explained only as moral bankruptcy, typical of a die-hard imperial attitude. Europe, unfortunately, is parroting this policy.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Marco Carnelos is a former Italian diplomat. He has been assigned to Somalia, Australia and the United Nations. He served in the foreign policy staff of three Italian prime ministers between 1995 and 2011. More recently he has been Middle East peace process coordinator special envoy for Syria for the Italian government and, until November 2017, Italy's ambassador to Iraq.
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