Real(ist) Washington Politics

David Green writes to recommend “How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe” by Avi Shlaim in The Guardian, Wednesday 7 January 2009. (“Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state’s legitimacy. But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions.”) He describes Shlaim’s piece as “An historical, detailed passionate summary,” and he’s quite right.

I do think however that Shlaim gets one point wrong, a point that has some significance for understanding the factions in the US government. Writing about the national unity government formed in the spring of 2007 by Hamas and Fatah (after Hamas had won a democratic election in 2006) “that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel” — Shlaim says

Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. Aggressive American neoconservatives [sic] participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.

But David Rose’s article (“The Gaza Bombshell,” Vanity Fair, April 2008) describes how

the White House [sic] tried to organize the armed overthrow of the Hamas-led government after Hamas swept Palestinian elections [in  2006] … the administration boosted military support for rival Palestinian faction Fatah in the aim of provoking a Palestinian civil war they thought Hamas would lose.

The point is that this plot was carried out not by neocons but by the “realists” in the administration — and the neocons were outraged, because the plot involved arming the Fatah faction, while the neocons insisted that all Palestinians of whatever faction should simply be suppressed.  Their detestation of the realists’ policy led two leading neocons, David Wurmser and John Bolton, to become the primary sources for Rose’s expose — revealing how marginalized the neocons had become in Bush’s second administration. (Wurmser resigned as Cheney’s Mideast adviser in July 2007.)

The point is important because the same people who were running US Mideast policy in 2007-08 will be running it in 2009-10 — and not just SecDef Gates. The “loss” of Gaza to Hamas was not due to the neocons but to the realists of the “permanent government.”  –CGE

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“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” –Noam Chomsky