Diverging paths: The US-Israel divide over post-war Gaza

Hasan Illaik, The Cradle, December 15, 2023 —

The Israeli occupation state may have received Washington’s infinite blessings and arms for its genocidal war, but deep disagreements over the after-plan for Gaza and the political fate of the Palestinians have risen to the surface.

Amid the backdrop of the occupation state receiving blessings and arms from Washington for its genocidal war, both domestic political hurdles in the US and on-the-ground military dynamics have created a rift, influencing both strategic considerations and the course of the war in Gaza.

Israel’s ongoing war on the Gaza Strip is best understood to be a US-backed one, given that the occupation state has the political, economic, and military support of Washington as it commits genocidal acts of state terrorism on the Palestinians.

On multiple occasions, these actions have received approval from the Biden administration. However, recent statements indicate a growing unease within the US, suggesting that Israel’s actions may be crossing a line that is becoming increasingly challenging to justify and defend.

However, it is noteworthy that President Joe Biden warned Israel relatively early on, back in October, not to make the same “mistakes” as the US did following the events of 11 September 2001, which led to the occupation of Afghanistan and the longest war in US history.

Divergent approaches to shared goals

Biden has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to alter the composition of his extremist government to facilitate acceptance of the US proposal for the post-war phase in Gaza. This proposal involves handing over the administration of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and initiating a political process culminating in a theoretical “two-state solution.”

The specific ministers Biden seeks to see removed – Treasury Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, along with their associates – are rightly considered by the US as extremists and as obstacles to a revival of the notion of a two-state solution, widely considered to be dead.

Despite Biden’s latest statements urging Israel to “be more careful” in protecting civilians in Gaza while supposedly targeting the resistance, there is no indication of a major dispute between the US and Israel over the ongoing war.

Washington remains actively involved in the conflict, having deployed military assets in the West Asia region to protect Israel during its war crimes in Gaza.

The US continues to supply the Israeli occupation forces with the necessary weapons and ammunition, showcasing a shared goal with Israel but an ever so slight divergence in the approach to achieving that goal.

Yesterday, The Intercept revealed that the Biden administration had deployed a so-called Tiger Team of experts to speed up the supply of weapons to Israel.

Biden’s diplomacy and arms sales

The underlying issues between the US and Israel primarily revolve around four factors. First, with the US presidential primaries approaching, a significant portion of the Democratic Party’s base opposes the administration’s support for the Israeli war on Gaza.

Consequently, the Biden administration is undertaking a “public diplomacy” campaign to distance itself from the perceived destructive effects of the war while maintaining support for arms sales to Israel.

In short, Biden wants to say that he does not approve of the killing of so many civilians in the war on Gaza, while he approves of the sale of 14,000 tank shells to the Israeli army.

Second, the United States wants to ensure that Israel achieves its military goals in Gaza, but the two disagree over the political future of the Strip. The US seeks to ensure that Israel’s post-war objectives align with its interests. While Netanyahu aims to occupy the entire Gaza Strip and establish an alternative civilian authority with regional funding, the US advocates for a two-state solution and opposes the exclusion of the PA from administering the territory.

Third, what is happening in the region, spanning from Yemen to Lebanon and Iraq, has contributed to US fears of a larger war, or at least, “comprehensive regional chaos.” The increasing tensions in West Asia threaten to escalate at any moment. US threats have not prevented Israel’s enemies from increasing the level of attacks used in their military operations.
Washington believes that decreasing the intensity of the air and ground campaigns on Gaza will prevent Israel’s regional enemies from escalating their attacks.

Thus, changing the form of the war and reducing its intensity would allow Israel to complete its mission amid regional calm, supported by the ‘normalizer’ Arab countries and the majority of world governments.

Fourth, the United States does not trust Israel’s ability to achieve complete victory through a military operation, which is why it is seeking a political path in order to accomplish goals that cannot be fulfilled on the battlefield.

Netanyahu does not hide his intentions for a complete occupation of the Gaza Strip. His aim is to starve its people to pressure the resistance into surrendering, then to establish a “civil authority” to manage the Strip in coordination with the occupying army.

Allies of Israel, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are expected to finance this authority and contribute to reconstruction. Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized his refusal to let the Palestinian Authority manage the Gaza Strip.

As for the United States, it wants the end of the war on Gaza to pave the way for a political negotiation process in accordance with the ‘two-state solution.’

The two-state smokescreen 

The ideal scenario for Washington involves the war transitioning to a new phase by the time primary elections roll around, with major military operations winding down. This would pave the way for a regional and international consensus on the two-state solution, leading to the handover of Gaza to the West Bank-based PA with security guarantees for Israel.

In this context, pressure on Hamas and other resistance factions to comply with ceasefire conditions would intensify with an emphasis on their perceived obstruction to the peace process.

Adjustments to the current Israeli government are therefore necessary to advance towards this goal. This involves the removal of the religious, right-wing extremists who vocally and openly oppose Palestinian statehood, and the inclusion of individuals endorsed by Washington for their outward commitment to this path.

Differentiation between the appearance of a “path to the two-state solution” and the “two-state solution” itself is crucial. The US aims for a return to negotiations rather than the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state.

The challenge lies in Netanyahu’s historic opposition to a two-state solution, making it unlikely for him to fully comply with US demands.

Netanyahu’s political career is marked by the rejection of the Oslo Accords and his incitement to kill Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the accords in 1993.

Moreover, Netanyahu affirmed a few months ago in a closed parliamentary session that he would do everything necessary to uproot the idea of a Palestinian state from reality.

It is therefore unlikely that the Israeli Prime Minister would agree to all these US demands. His political actions since the signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement in 2005 until today, show us that he is capable of continuing to rule, despite deep disagreements with the US administration.

At a pivotal moment in his career, it is not unlikely that Netanyahu will find an opportunity in this divergence of goals with the US to strengthen the Israeli right-wing on the basis of confronting the pressures aimed at establishing a Palestinian state “on the land of Israel.”

Naturally, populist, far-right Israeli political figures reject any talk of a two-state solution, or even a handover of the Gaza Strip to the PA.

The US, however, remains determined in its vision for the post-war phase, providing support to Israel militarily and diplomatically, as evidenced by the recent tank shell supplies and a UN Security Council veto against an immediate ceasefire.

Despite the apparent support from the Israeli public for the continuation of the war, the duration and outcome remain uncertain, with mounting costs on the economy and soldiers’ lives.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant anticipates that the war against Hamas “will take more than a few months” due to the challenges posed by the resistance’s infrastructure in Gaza – despite differing perspectives between the US and Israel on the duration and nature of the war.

Contrary to what the Americans declare, all indicators suggest that the war is prolonged, regardless of its form. It is not unlikely that Washington will be able to impose a change in the form of the war in the coming weeks.

Once again, what will change the reality and push Israel and the United States towards ending the war and attempting to defeat Hamas through blockade, starvation, and prevention of reconstruction are:

First, the resilience of the resistance and the losses that can be inflicted on the occupying army in the form of dozens of soldiers killed and thousands of wounded soldiers who are taken out of service. In this case, the occupying army may press its political leadership to retract from its high goals for the war. Even if the number of soldiers killed is relatively low, the number of soldiers leaving service due to injuries has an insurmountable limit.

And second, the continuation of operations by the Axis of Resistance forces in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq will also force the United States to reduce its war goals, push for a ceasefire, and lift the siege on Gaza. The last point, lifting the blockade, has been placed by Ansarallah in Yemen as a top demand to stop the operations against Israeli ships heading to Israeli ports from East Asia or vice versa.

In conclusion, the US wants the war to continue, but in its own way. As for what comes after – well, all that will be subject to Israeli-US political tensions, closely linked to the battle in Gaza and other regional fronts.

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