Tue 9-July-2024

With America isolated, some Western capitals are shifting positions on Gaza

Thursday 13-June-2024

Spain joined South Africa’s case at the UN’s top Court on 6 June, accusing Israel of genocide. This move followed a decision by Madrid and two other western European capitals — Dublin and Oslo — to recognize the state of Palestine, thus breaking ranks with a long-established US-led Western policy.

As per American thinking, the recognition and the actual establishment of a Palestinian State should follow a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine, under the auspices of Washington itself. However, no such negotiations have taken place for years, and the US, in fact, shifted its policies on the issue almost entirely under the previous administration of Donald Trump. The latter recognized the alleged legitimacy of illegal Jewish colonies in Palestine, and Israel’s sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem, among other concessions to the occupation state.

Several years into the Biden administration, little has been done to reverse or fundamentally alter this amended status quo. More recently, Washington has done everything in its power to support Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Aside from supplying Israel with the weapons needed to carry out its crimes in the Palestinian territory, the US has gone as far as to threaten international legal and political bodies that have tried to hold Israel accountable and thus end the “extermination” of Palestinians in Gaza. That’s the term used on 20 May by the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan.

Washington continues to behave in such a way despite the fact that Israel refuses to agree to a single US demand or expectation regarding peace and negotiations. Indeed, Israel’s political discourse is deeply invested in the language of genocide, while the Israeli military is actively carrying it out.

The Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the bulk of the Palestinian state would supposedly take shape, is experiencing its own upheaval.

Violence in the West Bank is unprecedented compared with recent decades.

Across the territory, tens of thousands of illegal settlers are torching homes and cars, and attacking Palestinians with total impunity, often alongside and protected by the Israeli army.

Yet, despite the occasional gentle reprimand and ineffectual sanctions on a few settlers, Washington continues to stand firmly by its declared policy regarding the “two-state solution” and all that entails. Not a single mainstream Israeli politician, and certainly not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right government of extremists, is willing to entertain even the thought of this “solution”.

This is not surprising, as America’s foreign policy often goes against common sense. Washington, for example, fights wars it cannot win simply because no US administration or president wants to be the one associated with failure, retreat or — worse — defeat. America’s longest-ever war in Afghanistan is a case in point.

Due to the massive influence wielded by Israel and its allies on Capitol Hill and in the media, along with the power of lobbies and wealthy donors, Tel Aviv is clearly far more important to US domestic policies than Kabul. Hence, the continued US military and political support of a country that is accused of genocide and the deliberate extermination of the Palestinians.

This reality, however, has created a political dilemma for Europe, which has often blindly followed US steps — or missteps — in the Middle East. Historically, there have been a few exceptions to the post-World War II rule. French President Jacques Chirac, for example, defied the US-imposed consensus when he strongly rejected Washington’s policies on Iraq in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion and war.

Such important, but relatively isolated fissures were eventually repaired, and the US returned to its role as the uncontested leader of the West.

Gaza, however, is becoming a major breaking point.

The initial Western unity in support of Israel in the immediate aftermath of the events on 7 October, has splintered, leaving only the US and, to some extent, Germany, committed to Israel’s war.

The strong, more recent stances by several western European countries accusing Israel of genocide and joining forces with countries in the Global South with the aim of holding Israel accountable, is a major shift, the like of which has been unseen in many years. It could be argued that the extent of Israeli crimes in Gaza has exceeded the moral threshold that some European countries could tolerate, but there is more to this.

The actual answer lies in the issue of legitimacy. Western leaders are not shying away from phrasing their language as such. In a recent piece, speaking on behalf of The Elders group, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson warned against the “collapse of international order”.

The Elders, said Robinson, “oppose any attempts to de-legitimize” the work of the ICC and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), through “threats of punitive measures and sanctions.”

The Elders’ opposition, however, made no difference to Washington’s position. On 5 June, the US House of Representatives passed resolution H.R.8282 aimed at authorizing sanctions on the ICC.

References to the collapse of the legitimacy of the West-established international order have also been made by many others in recent months, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In his statement about requesting arrest warrants for Israeli leaders accused of war crimes, Karim Khan himself made that reference.

For some in the West, the issue is not just about the Gaza genocide. It is also about the future of the West itself.

For a long time, Washington has succeeded, at least in the eyes of its allies, in keeping the balance between the collective interests of the West and a nominal respect for international institutions. It is now clear, though, that the US is no longer capable of maintaining that balance, forcing some western countries to adopt independent political positions, the future outcomes of which shall prove consequential.

-Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC).

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