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It Can Be Done: Negotiate an End to the Siege in Gaza

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The gutless American political class has abdicated its responsibility for the actions of the Israel Defense Forces. Few people living in the Middle East or anywhere else make the distinction between the United States and Israel, nor should they with all those weapons stamped "made in the USA." It's supremely foolish to conclude that Israel can never negotiate with Hamas on lifting the siege of Gaza.

The American rhetoric of spreading "freedom" has been a legitimizing argument dating back to the 1898 Spanish-American War when we were "liberating" the Cubans and Filipinos from the yoke of Spanish colonialism. Today in Gaza what the IDF is doing with "Operation Protective Edge" has no such legitimizing symbolic component. Unlike prototypical American interventions this one really has no redeeming or legitimizing rhetorical flourishes about "helping" the people they're bombing.

When the U.S. Senate votes 100 to zero to support whatever the IDF does in Gaza our political "leaders" might not realize it, but they're undermining the ideological architecture that has allowed them to drive this country into every other war.

United States military interventions have always been accompanied by justifications that emphasize the goal of social uplift for the country under attack. The U.S. might bomb women and children but we're there to "help" our allies build schools and clinics or bring "freedom" and "women's rights" to the dispossessed. The violence is targeted (we are told) at those opponents who would sabotage the good progress the U.S. is trying to make in Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq.

The discourse around the Israel-Palestine struggle has an antiquated settler state accent to it more akin to the America of the 19th Century when white people were "defending" themselves against the onslaught of Native Americans (whose lands were being annexed). In the 20th Century, especially since the Second World War, the portrayal of U.S. military action is always sold as being altruistic in nature. The U.S. engages in wars only reluctantly and for the highest ideals. There's a big disconnect here between the U.S. and Israeli systems of legitimation.

The historical context for the Israel-Palestine fight today has changed markedly from what it has been over the past half century. This is not 1967, or 1973, or 1982 (when the IDF invaded Lebanon), or the mid-'90s (with the Oslo agreement), or the time of the two Intifadas, or even 2002 when the IDF corralled Yasser Arafat and put him under house arrest in Ramallah. Today in Iraq Sunni fanatics dominate large swathes of the country and have already ethnically cleansed the Christians from Mosul after a pretty good run of 1,900 years.

With the break up of Iraq and Syria, the rise of ISIS and other newly-minted anti-Western groups and the realization that the United States is not going reinvade Iraq nor bomb Iran, the neo-conservative juggernaut, as far as U.S. policy goes (for now) is effectively finished (with or without another 9-11).

Bibi Netanyahu's stubborn conviction that Israel can never talk to Hamas fails to take into account the shifting regional and global dynamics. His viewpoint is just a fearful, right-wing reaction that fails to recognize the shifting contours of history.

Pro-war voices always say that negotiations are impossible. The white minority rulers of South Africa said it -- but Apartheid collapsed. The East German regime said it -- but the Berlin Wall came down. The Protestants in Northern Ireland said it too.

Times change. And the United States is no longer the superpower it once was. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have depleted our resources and have created a broad based domestic anti-war backlash. In addition, the nation suffers from historic levels of income and wealth inequality, chronic trade imbalances, mass incarceration, a huge national debt and a Congress with precious little connection to the will of the people. In short, the U.S. is in no position to allow its surrogates to dictate terms.

During the Vietnam War, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy tried to explain to his pro-war detractors why he was calling for talks when they claimed the U.S. was "winning." "I thought we were at a critical time," he said. "And before we take the final plunge to even greater escalation, I think we should try negotiation. If we can't find the answer to it we can always go back to the war."

In November 1967, Kennedy questioned the moral appeals that had been made from the earliest days of the U.S. intervention. He told a panel of Washington journalists on Face the Nation that the US's "moral position" in the conflict had "changed tremendously." "[W]e're killing South Vietnamese; we're killing children; we're killing women; we're killing innocent people." Kennedy had not yet announced his presidential run but his speeches and other public remarks on Vietnam challenged the narrative that had enabled the war in the first place. Wittingly or not, RFK had shredded the pro-war moral appeals.

Kennedy was also a strong supporter of Israel. Days before he was murdered at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, he had appeared at an event in that city wearing a yarmulke and calling for advanced fighter jets to be sent to Israel. A 24-year-old Palestinian who apparently had been enraged by RFK's views fired his $30 Iver-Johnson pistol at the Senator shortly after Kennedy won the California Democratic primary. The Canadian historian, Gil Troy, (an uncritical booster of Israel) has referred to RFK's assassination as the first act of "Arab terrorism" on U.S. soil. So, RFK, who might have become President of the United States, was murdered at the age of 42 ostensibly as an indirect byproduct of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Enough is enough.

History cannot be frozen in place. Things have a way of moving along. Just consider how social media has countered the dominant narrative of the current IDF attack on Gaza and one can see that we now reside in a new world.

There are so many stakeholders, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and beyond, that would like to see an end to this madness in Gaza. The vital thing confronting us today is for the United States to put pressure on Israel to lift the siege of Gaza and seek a viable and realistic political solution.

And if negotiations fail, as RFK said about Vietnam in 1967, "we can always go back to the war." The vital thing is to try.