Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza, with its unconscionable numbers of civilian casualties, is proof of a bankrupt U.S. policy that’s been a massive failure on two fronts: military aid, and political impunity.
For decades, abettors-in-chief in the White House and Congress have supplied Israel, a nuclear power, with tens of billions of dollars in superior weaponry, including F-35 stealth aircraft, F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, one-ton bombs, and an assortment of grenades, torpedoes, rocket launchers, guided missiles, howitzers, mortars and machine guns.
Much of this now rains down on women and children in Gaza.
Israel’s disproportionate response in 2021, which has killed more than 200 Palestinians, echoes its onslaught on Gaza seven years ago. The firepower Israel’s military launched in the 2014 war exceeded that of Hamas by an estimate of 440-to-1. It’s no wonder Palestinian civilian casualties outnumbered Israel’s by nearly 350-to-1. By one estimate, all of Hamas’s rockets, measured in explosive power, were equal to 12 of the one-ton bombs Israel dropped on Gaza.
“Holy bejeezus,” a retired American general remarked at the time. Still, when Israel’s ammunition supply began to run low, the U.S. resupplied it—hours after condemning the Israeli bombing of a United Nations girls’ elementary school in Gaza. Seven years later, another echo: President Biden approved $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel. These include Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munitions, from the same family as the missile that destroyed the AP and Al-Jazeera offices in Gaza last week.
To be clear: None of this justifies Hamas launching barrages of deadly rockets toward Israel. Those rockets kill, too, even if far less frequently. So far 10 Israelis have died in the latest burst of violence. It’s essential for both sides to stand down and agree on a ceasefire. But the context of power—political and explosive—cannot be ignored.
The U.S. facilitation of Israeli might, and its repeated disproportionate attacks on Gaza, is part of America’s military commitment to “always stand with Israel” (Donald Trump); to “stand steadfast with Israel” (Barack Obama), to proclaim its “unbreakable alliance” (George W. Bush) and its “allegiance to shared values” (Bill Clinton).
“Israel has the right to defend itself,” President Biden remarked last week, uttering a now-hollow cliché bestowing absolution upon Israel for its extreme behavior. No matter how many bombs fall, no matter how many Gazans perish or lose their homes, no matter how many thousands of Israeli settlers seize Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, U.S. politicians are there to forgive, forget, and veto U.N. resolutions condemning the deaths of children in Gaza.
Biden’s support for Israel seems to know no bounds. As vice president in 2010, he came to Israel to declare America’s “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.” Hours later the Netanyahu government announced the construction of 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem. The U.S.’s “unvarnished commitment,” the prime minister knew, meant he need not fear any consequences.
If this were simply a matter of hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy, it would be bad enough. But the failure of a succession of U.S. presidents to hold Israel accountable—from its military excess to its colonization of Palestinian lands—has blown up the centerpiece of U.S. stated policy in the region: the two-state solution.
Since the beginning of the Oslo “peace process” in 1992, not a single U.S. administration has publicly threatened Israel with sanctions or suspension of military aid. The last time such a threat surfaced was in 1992, when Secretary of State James Baker threatened suspension of loan guarantees to Israel unless it stopped building settlements. “The choice is Israel’s,” Baker said. Israel complied.
In the three decades since, Israel has expanded its settler population fourfold, now reaching nearly 700,000. Some 17 settlements ring East Jerusalem, long the dreamed-of capital of a free and independent Palestine. The West Bank is an archipelago of Palestinian towns amidst a sea of settlements, surveillance towers, army outposts, and hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in a matrix of Israeli military control.
And Israel, with nary a whimper from the U.S., has built networks of West Bank settler-only roads, sealing off Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Israel and the diaspora from each other—a successful “splintering strategy,” as the late Israeli writer Meron Benvinisti called it. All this despite peace negotiators’ charge to create a “viable and contiguous” Palestinian state.
The reality on the ground in Israel and Palestine is, and has been for years, a single state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, with Israel in full military control by land, sea and air. In this single state, some people have the rights of citizens; others face discrimination, struggle under military occupation, or try to stay alive in their open air prison by the sea. Support for the two-state solution is now just an empty slogan, much like, the Palestinian analyst Youssef Munayyer points out, the “thoughts and prayers” offered in the wake of a mass U.S. shooting.
Understanding this reality, rather than wishing for the impossible, is the key to moving forward toward a just and durable peace. To do so, the U.S. must confront the tragic mess it helped create, and abandon the foreign policy its own inaction undermined. Instead of reviving the two-state zombie, American leaders must realize: that is no longer possible.
A new vision of equality and freedom must emerge from the ruins of Gaza. In a time of national and worldwide reckoning, equal rights—be it in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Ferguson, or Gaza City—cannot be reserved for the privileged and well-connected few. In Israel and Palestine, and in Washington, citizens and leaders alike have a chance now to reimagine what’s possible. As a strategy, enforcing military might while splintering a native population has failed miserably for decades. Israelis, Palestinians and Americans must find the courage to build something new.
Otherwise, expect more tragedy ahead.