Time Bombs in Gaza and Beyond

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum maintains a ticking clock on its website to count the days, hours, and seconds since the hostages were taken. While the Israeli defense forces bomb and invade Gaza, there are several time bombs ticking away as well. Israel’s disproportionate reaction to the Hamas incursion is starting to project three scenarios. First, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, denying basic needs and forced displacement in Gaza will encourage future acts of terrorism. Over eight thousand killed, many young children, will not be forgotten or forgiven. Second, the Global South has started to react, and not just in the streets. The West’s unconditional support of Israel is being viewed as a remnant of colonization. Finally, the young and the left in the United States will disavow President Biden’s embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, further strengthening a third-party candidate like Cornel West as well as Republicans in the 2024 elections.

What goes out comes back is not just a banal expression. If Israel truly believes it can eliminate Hamas, it should also consider that Palestinians who may not have been Hamas supporters will now turn to violent actions against them. The bombings and lack of humanitarian aid will have repercussions. Terrorist acts may not happen tomorrow. But keeping people in an outdoor prison for decades and then further dehumanizing their situation with violent attacks will not go unpunished. So whatever advantages Israel sees in bombing and/or invading Gaza as retribution for October 7 should be weighed with the enmity arising in the Palestinian and Arab worlds. Israel’s overreaction will have consequences, similar to the negative consequences of the United States’ overreaction to September 11.

And the repercussions may be beyond the Middle East. Acts of terrorism will undoubtedly happen in the West. If Israel believes it is replying only to Hamas and its October 7 attack, those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause will seek their own form of vengeance for the indiscriminate reaction. Clashes have already broken out in major European cities such as London, Berlin, and Paris. Museums like the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles have been evacuated because of bomb threats; security threats have also affected many European airports.

As for terrorist threats in the United States, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned a Senate Committee: “The reality is that the terrorism threat has been elevated throughout 2023, but the ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole other level.”

The upcoming Paris Olympics will be on maximum security alert to avoid a repeat of the Palestinian extremists’ attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, during which eleven Israeli athletes were killed, nine after they were taken hostage. If the October 7 attack took two years to prepare, there is still plenty of time to prepare for attacks in France during the Olympic Games in the summer of 2024.

On a more international, geopolitical level, whatever coalition Biden was able to muster against the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be further limited by the U.S. support of Israel. The 35 countries that abstained from condemning Russia in an early U.N. General Assembly vote now feel more inclined to coalesce around a Global South coalition supporting Palestinians. Support for Ukraine will splinter due to perceived cultural affinities between Israel and the West.

It is in this sense that Amr Moussa summarized an international conference held in Cairo October 21: “It clarified or confirmed the political and cultural fault lines of what looks like a clash between two blocs with conflicting interests, or rather irreconcilable moral assumptions…If the West does not change its approach, I believe that the ‘Global South’, as they call it, will take this into account in formulating its position on this issue [Gaza],” the former Arab League Secretary-General and former Foreign Minister of Egypt wrote in Asharq Al-Awsat.

Finally, many in the United States will reject Biden’s enthusiastic support of Israel. The vocabulary of good guys versus bad guys or democracies vs autocracies doesn’t play in the current Middle East crisis. Presenting Netanyahu and Israel as the good guys won’t fly after repeated bombing of civilian targets and the catastrophic humanitarian blockade. Biden’s embrace of Bibi was an enormous generational and political blunder. Whatever Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken might have said to the Israelis in private will not overshadow the airport bro-hug. If inclusion and decolonization are in on campuses, the knee-jerk Zionist support narrative is very much outdated. Black Lives Matter could be replaced by Palestinian Lives Matter as a social justice issue for Palestinians and progressives.

The Democratic Party will see the most progressive factions fleeing its mythical big tent. “While moderate Democrats and critics on the right have applauded Mr. Biden’s backing of Israel, he faces new resistance from an energized faction of his party that views the Palestinian cause as an extension of the racial and social justice movements that dominated American politics in the summer of 2020,” noted Reid J. Epstein and Anjali Huynh in the New York Times.  

The recent protest in Grand Central Station in New York is a prelude to more political action from the left. Organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, the one thousand protestors, many descendants of Holocaust survivors, deplored the Israeli attack on innocent civilians. Chants of “Let Gaza live,” and “Cease-fire now” filled the busy railroad station. The estimated one thousand protestors also placed banners declaring “Palestinians should be free” and “Israelis demand cease-fire now” on stairwells.

Progressives who usually vote Democrat will have problems backing Biden and Co. And an inevitable backlash against criticizing Biden will endanger several progressives in office. The thirteen House Democrats – including Cori Bush of Missouri, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, and Jamaal Bowman of New York – who introduced a resolution requesting the Biden administration to call for an “immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine” and to send aid to Gaza will have trouble in primaries or getting re-elected.

Don’t remind progressives about Ralph Nader causing Al Gore the 2000 presidential election. They know, they know, they know. But voting for Biden will be seen as an approval of Israeli apartheid. Progressives may either vote for the independent candidate and former Harvard Professor Cornel West or sit out 2024.

In an interview with Politico, West said: “Israel and [the] United States are primarily responsible” for the violence, but “Hamas must take responsibility for killing innocent folk,” he added. West’s charismatic style and nuanced positions will attract those tired of the failed Democratic Party policies.

If the Biden administration spends all its time focusing on the immediate of keeping Israel from destroying Gaza and killing thousands of civilians, it should also consider future scenarios. There are several time bombs ticking away.

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.