The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’.

Helena Cobban
8 min readNov 8, 2023

The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’. It is that simple.

For 50 years now, Washington has dominated all the efforts that the world’s nations have undertaken in their search for a just and lasting resolution to the many strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict. That U.S. move to dominate the peace diplomacy was launched in late 1973 by Henry Kissinger, who uniquely combined the roles of Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. In the aftermath of the October 1973 war, Kissinger brusquely elbowed aside the Soviet Union, which had hoped to “co-lead” the post-war diplomacy.

From December 1973 until today, the United States has dominated all Arab-Israeli diplomacy, with the level of that U.S. domination rising to a situation of unabashed hegemony after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. And as I’ve written elsewhere, in 2005 Pres. George W. Bush even managed to subordinate the United Nations (and the EU, and a then-very-weak Russia) to Washington’s “leadership” of the diplomacy through an extraordinary arrangement called the “Middle East Quad.”

The results, for citizens of all the Arab states with the possible, partial exception of Egypt, have been disastrous. But the impact on the Palestinians has been particularly dire. They have seen Israeli settlers grabbing huge new areas of Palestinian land in the West Bank. They have seen the lives of all the Palestinians still resident in their historic homeland tightly constrained by Israel. They’ve seen Israeli forces and their allies commit unspeakable atrocities in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They’ve seen their freedom to worship in their holy places in Jerusalem, Hebron, and elsewhere attacked.

And what has Washington done? Washington has continued to shovel massive sums of money and soaring mountains of arms into Israel. It has protected Israel from any international accountability by using its veto at the U.N. Security Council. It has given formal recognition to Israel’s (quite illegal) annexation of Greater East Jerusalem and of Syria’s Golan. It has demonized all who tried to resist Israel’s continued violence and encroachments by calling them terrorists and wielding tough sanctions against them.

And now, in Gaza City and the surrounding Gaza Strip — and also in the West Bank — we see the culmination of all that fervent, intensely one-sided support that successive U.S. presidents and their officials, and the U.S. Congress, have lavished on Israel over the past 50 years.

Israel’s government and its armed forces are committing large-scale war crimes in Gaza, while many government ministers are engaged in openly genocidal incitement against the Gaza Palestinians. What do Pres. Biden and his officials do? They firmly resist the loud and mounting international chorus (which includes UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, no less) that is calling for a ceasefire. Instead, Biden and his officials plead very tentatively with Israeli PM Netanyahu to allow even some short “humanitarian pauses” in the IDF’s pursuit of its massive assault against Gaza. And when the IDF just blithely goes ahead and attacks trucks sent to Gaza hospitals by the International Committee for the Red Cross, there is still no sign of any halt to Washington’s support for Israel.

Did I mention that Washington has been continuing to supply Israel with large numbers of bombs and other munitions to use as they choose against targets in Gaza, with no meaningful strings attached at all? Or that U.S. military advisers have now been deployed to work with the IDF in order to help them “fine-tune” their operations in Gaza. Or that the U.S. military has tasked many of its ELINT platforms with scooping up large amounts of tactically useful intel from Gaza, and has been sharing that very generously with the IDF? Or that two U.S. Navy carrier battle groups and a nuclear-capable submarine have been sent to the East Mediterranean in a big sign of support for Israel? Or that the U.S. has used its veto numerous times over the past month to block the U.N. Security Council from issuing any high-level call for a ceasefire?

And yet, when most people in the Western commentatoriat talk and write about “what will Gaza look like on ‘the Day After’ the current conflict ends”, they seem to assume that Israel will somehow once again be able to decide “who should govern Gaza”, while it receives continued, unstinting support from Washington for whatever it might choose to do there.

Thus, there are discussions in those Western think-tanks about whether or how Israel might be able to “stand up” some form of PA governance in Gaza; or whether they might get some help from Arab or EU peacekeepers as they do so… Of course, there are also many people in powerful positions in Israel, including government ministers, who argue that after this (unbelievably one-sided) “conflict” ends, Israel should just stay on in Gaza and should build expanded versions of the network of Jews-only settlements that it had there 1967–2005, and should intensify their efforts to kick all the Strip’s Palestinians out completely, whether to Egypt or much further afield.

But all these types of discussion within the Western-Israeli discussion-sphere still lazily assume that it is only Israel and the United States that will get to determine what happens there. They assume, that is, that the decisionmaking on this matter that is of vital concern to global society and the global economy will continue to be monopolized by Washington, as it has been for the past 50 years. (And also, of course, that Washington will always still continue to have Israel’s back, whatever kind of an ideological extremist, fruitcake, or hate-crazed sadist might happen to be in power in Israel.)

But what would a continuation/resumption of US-Israeli domination of the peace diplomacy promise to the world? Let alone to the Palestinians or the Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, or others in the region who have been so badly harmed by this domination for 50 years already? I truly do not see it offering any credible promise of stability. At all.

As it happens, I can see a much more hopeful path for the world’s peoples and governments to pursue, and it is a path whose global-political feasibility is increasing with every day that passes.

This is the path that I outlined in the 5-point Action Plan that I outlined last week. As I wrote there, “The sheer horror and devastation that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are currently suffering could well provide the entry-point for a Global Majority intervention that starts with decisive U.N. [Security Council] action on the following agenda:

  1. Force a complete cessation of hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Palestinians, and a pullback of Israeli forces to the 1949 Armistice Line, with that ceasefire (a new Armistice!) to be monitored by U.N. observers.
  2. Organize a massive transportation to Gaza, by land and sea routes that do not run through Israel, of the many humanitarian necessities that Gaza’s Palestinians now so desperately need.
  3. Simultaneously start laying the basis for Gaza’s direct connection to the outside world both via Egypt and by speedily rehabbing Gaza’s long-bustling sea-port, with control over Gaza’s new crossing-points to be organized by a U.N. body.
  4. Simultaneously have the U.N. Security Council organize a new and authoritative international peace conference with the declared aim of finally — 56 years after 1967 — achieving the full implementation of SC resolutions 242 and 338 on the Israel-Palestine and Israel-Syria fronts, on the basis of establishing a two-state outcome in historic Palestine.
  5. Simultaneously dedicate the Security Council to closely monitoring the situation on the ground in all of the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and occupied Golan with a view to protecting the rights of those areas’ legitimate residents and preparing plans for the full withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers from those areas…”

How feasible does it seem to be, that the non-U.S. powers on the Security Council might be able to force Washington to accept this agenda? Personally, after my own 50 years of fairly closely studying the Palestine-Israel conflict, I feel we are very close to a tipping point. I am looking at two possibly relevant precedents. One was late 1973, when the Arab oil producing states applied an embargo on oil shipments to the United States and other countries that had supported Israel in the October War. (That one had very mixed results. In March 1974, Egypt’s President Sadat, who was desperate to build his own good relationship with Washington, assured the Saudis that Washington was now being “more evenhanded” in its conduct of his peace diplomacy with Israel. So the Saudis and their confreres lifted the embargo. They had made a ton of money by jacking up oil prices, and Sadat managed to persuade Nixon and Ford to back his demand for Israel’s total withdrawal from the Egyptian land in Sinai that they had occupied in 1967. But he was quite happy to leave the Palestinians and all the other Arab front-line parties high and dry, leaving Israel’s occupations of their lands firmly in place…)

But the other precedent I’m looking at is what happened in 1956. That was the year when Israel, in close alliance with the fading imperial powers of Britain and France, had launched an earlier invasion of Sinai. On that occasion, Pres. Eisenhower speedily came out against that infamous “Tripartite Aggression.” He saw the Western powers as being in a tough contest against the Soviet Union for global influence. (That was also the year that the Soviet Union invaded Hungary.) …And he certainly thought that the Tripartite Aggression against Egypt harmed U.S. interests in that contest.

So what did he do? He simply pulled the plug on the pound sterling, to bring the British into line. (I believe he did it on around my fourth birthday, in October 1956.) And he also spearheaded the convening of a special session of the U.N. General Assembly which called for a ceasefire and the speedy withdrawal of all the aggressing armies. By doing that, he skirted the problem of the french and British both having vetoes in the Security Council.

Next week, China’s Pres. Xi Jinping is expected to be in San Francisco to attend the summit meeting there of APEC, the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which Pres. Biden is also expected to attend.

Intriguing, the very first meeting of the United Nations had also been held in San Francisco, back in 1945. Will next week’s U.S.-China meeting there see a reinvigoration of the organization, and crucially of the role that it can — and should — be playing in bringing to an end this long-festering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has now, so tragically, come to an intense and tragic turning-point?

Let us work to make this happen.

Originally published at https://globalities.org on November 8, 2023.

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Helena Cobban

Veteran analyst of global affairs, w/ some focus on West Asia. Pres., Just World Educational. Writes at Globalities.org.