A story I missed back in April just came to my attention today. It seems Fatah (the secular nationalist guerrilla organization that formed the single largest component of the PLO) and Hamas announced their reconciliation and plans to form a unity government – “a development that could see the Palestinian territories under a unified leadership for the first time in years” (“Hamas, Fatah announce talks to form Palestinian unity government,” CNN, April 23).
I couldn’t help thinking of another historic reconciliation – this one fifty years earlier. Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh of North Vietnam engaged in talks to form a single interim national unity government for the whole country, followed by nationwide elections as originally provided under the terms of the Geneva Accord in 1954. Given the peasantry’s antipathy toward the ruling class of rack-renting Catholic landlords and the popularity of the NLF in much of the South, it’s likely the outcome of any such election would have displeased the US government.
This historic reconciliation was followed by the military overthrow of Diem in 1963, instigated by the CIA, and his replacement by a general more compliant with US direction. Much like the later Soviet-backed coup which installed Karmal in Afghanistan, the installation of a cooperative head of state opened the way for the large-scale introduction of US military forces into South Vietnam.
Like the United States fifty years ago, Israel has every reason to fear peace breaking out between two former adversaries. And from that standpoint, Israel’s all-out assault on Gaza in recent days couldn’t have come at a better time.
Are the two connected? I can’t say. But waves of Hamas rocket attacks in the past have generally been in response to a unilateral Israeli provocation, like violating a pre-existing truce or assassinating a Hamas leader, followed by the IDF’s use of the attacks as a pretext for all-out military assault. It’s almost as if the IDF compiles a sweet target list and every few years looks for some manufactured excuse to put it into effect.
In this case, Israel accused Hamas of kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teenagers, with no evidence to back it up. Hamas, which generally takes credit for such atrocities, denied it this time. Nevertheless Israel, in Operation Brother’s Keeper, arrested hundreds of Palestinians without criminal charge and raided or demolished hundreds of homes — collective reprisal against a civilian population, in other words. Hamas responded to this provocation with rocket attacks. And Israel took this as a pretext for another one of its monstrous and inhuman wars against the open-air prison camp in Gaza.
And guess what — now the Israeli leadership admits it wasn’t Hamas after all that killed those boys.
I’ve seen a lot of Zionists and Israel apologists on social media wringing their hands about Israel’s desire for peace, and the warlike nature of Islam. All I can say is, if they don’t think Israel has been itching a long time for a war and an excuse to put its latest target list into play, they’re prime suckers. I can’t prove Israel deliberately instigated this war precisely because it feared a unified Palestinian party across the bargaining table. But it sure looks to me like the dots line up that way.
Creating pretexts for war, ostensibly to counter some imminent “foreign threat,” is what states do. Many Germans in 1939 sincerely believed that Hitler went to war against Poland in self-defense, in response to terroristic provocations against ethnic Germans in Danzig. And if a German CNN had been around back then, its talking heads and Very Serious People would doubtless have solemnly mulled over the proper response to the “Polish threat.”
In the great majority of cases, the real purposes of a war and the ostensible reasons a state gives as its pretext are entirely different things. Utah Phillips (“I learned in Korea that I would never again, in my life, abdicate to somebody else my right and my ability to decide who the enemy is)” had the right idea.
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.