The US Government reacted very quickly after Hamas’s brutal 10/07/23 assault on southern Israel. From the highest Washington levels, America’s complete support for Israel and its right to defend itself, were repeatedly underscored. And then on 10/17/23, President Biden traveled to Jerusalem/ Tel Aviv to personally reassure the Israeli people, that America had their back.
Two US carrier battle groups were deployed to the Eastern Med, to deter others, particularly Iran and Hezbollah, from broadening the conflict. The United States had the initiative and dominated the story line, until 10-27-23 when Israeli ground forces entered Gaza and its air force continued its indiscriminate bombing.
The devastation of Gaza, the attacks on hospitals, the mounting death toll of Palestinian civilians, now over 11,000, including some 4,000 children, has placed the US Government on the defensive. Under US pressure, the Israeli Government reluctantly agreed to daily pauses to allow tens of thousands of Palestinians to move South safely and to receive the humanitarian assistance they need. However, Jerusalem continues to refuse all ceasefire suggestions, with somewhat wavering US support.
Sharp increases in anti-Semitic violence are widespread and international public opinion has divided: (1) Pro Palestinian, anti Israel, anti-US and (2) pro-Israel, but also blaming the US for not forcing Netanyahu to avoid the current high level of death and destruction. Large demonstrations of supporters of both views are taking place around the world. But, somewhat surprising, have been the student conflicts on US campuses, including against Jews.
Perhaps inevitably, the two positions have become politicized in the US. Republicans are exclusively pro Israel and identify pro-Palestinians as Hamas. The only House member who is Palestinian in origin, has been censored by her colleagues, for pro-Palestinian remarks. The Republicans also have shifted their support from Ukraine to Israel, but deleted aid to both from their Continuing Resolution.
Common sense and civility are MIA in Congress.
How can America Regain Control and Positive Momentum? Simply put, by dramatically changing the subject from the on-going Palestinian human catastrophe, to its (and Israel’s) long-term solution. The US government like most others can be captured by today’s crises because they are in-your-face, demanding immediate attention. In November 2023, examples re Israel, Gaza and the Palestinians are: longer combat pauses, humanitarian aid delivery and hostage exchanges.
But, what if President Biden, announced that the US will host a Conference at, for instance, Camp David in early 2024, to discuss the establishment of the independent state of Palestine. It would be leaked as international consultations get underway and would quickly monopolize the thrust of rampant speculation about how, who and where. Israel would not be pleased because the pressure on Netanyahu to negotiate a ceasefire, would increase ten fold and more quietly, would include the US.
It’s useful to recall that between June 30 and November 10, 1944, as WWII raged in Europe and the Pacific, the US organized two conferences (Bretton Woods, NH and Dumbarton Oaks, WDC), where the post war economic order, international reconstruction and the UN organization, were planned. Probably easier then, absent social media and TikTok.
Unhelpful Internal Political Dynamics: There is a surprising similarity between some aspects of today’s American and Israeli political situations. Netanyahu and his quite authoritarian government have been working to eliminate the only existing check on its power – the Supreme Court. During the summer and into the fall, massive public demonstrations took place, strongly opposed to this anti democratic action. Reserve Air Force officers, even announced they would no longer participate in regular training exercises, sending a very strong signal regarding the depth of the opposition.
Moreover, some important cabinet members are prominent fundamentalist Orthodox Jews with an agenda. Most Israelis and American Jews are reform oriented and more secular. That being said, there has never been civil marriage in Israel, and the agenda being pursued, includes possibly limiting automatic access to Israeli citizenship, to Orthodox Jews.
And finally, Netanyahu has been able to avoid prosecution for corruption and bribery as long as he is prime minister. However, once the war and elimination of Hamas no longer dominate Israel, e.g. proposed US conference on Palestine statehood, it’s likely the Netanyahu government would fall because of the “surprise” October 7 massacre and also their attempts to weaken Israel’s democracy. The efforts to introduce stricter Orthodox restrictions also wouldn’t help.
Tom Timberman is an Army vet, lawyer, former senior Foreign Service officer, adjunct professor at GWU, and economic development team leader or foreign government advisor in war zones. He is the author of four books, lectures locally and at US and European universities. He and his wife are 24 year residents of Kent County.