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Things that should but cannot be said

Feb 19,2024 - Last updated at Feb 19,2024

Four months into Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, it appears that discussions remain trapped in the same tiresome, delusional framing that existed before the current fighting began. Policymakers and commentators tie themselves in knots struggling to explain what is happening and what is to be done, refusing to step outside the constraints imposed by conventional wisdom of the political discourse. Things that should be said are not.

For example, despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice that Israel’s behaviours establish a plausible case for genocide, that word is verboten. When presented with the numbers of those killed, those facing starvation, and clear evidence of mass destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, policymakers and commentators shift the discussion to the crimes committed by Hamas on October 7 or blame the civilian deaths on Hamas’ use of “human shields”.

They seek to absolve the US from any responsibility for the deaths insisting that the president and his administration continue to urge the Israelis to take measures to avoid civilian casualties. They ignore that Israel pays no attention to our “urging”, while resupplying Israel’s deadly munitions and blocking international ceasefire efforts.

Equally frustrating is the US insistence that it wants more humanitarian assistance to the desperate Palestinian population in Gaza, while refusing to hold Israel responsible for its duplicative inspection regime and continued bombing that impedes delivery of supplies to those in need. The recent US decision to withhold funds for UNWRA, the only agency with the capacity to deliver aid, for the alleged crimes of a dozen of its thousands of staff, makes a mockery of our commitment to providing humanitarian assistance. As obvious as these linkages may be, they may not be said.

After ignoring the reality that daily Israeli raids into West Bank Palestinian cities and towns have resulted in the murders of over 400 Palestinians and that 500 settler attacks on Palestinians in their homes, cars or fields have resulted in eight deaths and the destruction of thousands of olive trees, the US decided sanction four settlers. Heralded by the pundits as “unprecedented” and “dramatic,” the hollow gesture was scoffed at by the settlers.

Never discussed are the root problems with the Israeli occupation (a term never allowed in the Democrats’ platform), the ever-expanding settlement enterprise, the apartheid system that creates impunity for both settlers and the Israeli military. This self-censorship of terms that can be used is infuriating.

Equally troubling are the “day after” discussions gaining momentum in US media and policy circles. What is the “day after” for 2.2 million in Gaza? Should they forget the tens of thousands who’ve died and entire neighbourhoods reduced to rubble? What about the trauma to hundreds of thousands of children physically and psychologically maimed? And tens of thousands expected to die in coming months from disease or starvation?

These questions beyond the accepted discourse are not asked by pundits or policymakers. 

Official Washington has not yet presented its plan but has provided hints of their thinking in speeches and discussions with journalists. Their ideas amount to “much ado about nothing”.

The cornerstone of “the day after” construct is nothing more than “a pathway to an eventual Palestinian state”. The burden is on the Palestinians to create a credible, viable, democratic, functioning state that will pose no threat to Israel. Palestinians must do this while the occupation continues with no restraints on the occupiers’ control over land, resources, borders and economy. It is the same bizarre plan proposed by then president Bush in 2002. The unlearned lesson is that as long as Palestinians cannot grow their economy and protect their land and people from the acquisitiveness and repression of the Israelis, no credible state can emerge. It is a mirage designed by the US to place the burden on the weakest party, while absolving the Israelis and ourselves from responsibility.

Any blame on Israel is focused solely on Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist partners, but any close examination of the Israeli electorate’s views finds no conceivable coalition to replace Netanyahu’s that would end the occupation and withdraw from territories and settlements to allow a viable independent Palestinian state. A recent Israeli poll shows a majority would reject the creation of a Palestinian state even if accompanied by recognition by Saudi Arabia and security guarantees. Yet, pundits are silent out of their concern for Israeli public opinion.

Israel’s genocidal assault continues as does the detached-from-reality US political discussion. Change will not occur until we free ourselves from the shackles of acceptable discourse that has led us into this dead end.


The writer is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute

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