Azmi Bishara comments on Rafah, ceasefire, US campus protest

Azmi Bishara comments on Rafah, ceasefire, US campus protest
In new interview, Dr. Azmi Bishara strikes a pessimistic note about Gaza ceasefire talks but praises US campus protests for Palestine as a historic achievement
9 min read
11 May, 2024

Negotiations between Hamas and Israel are unlikely to lead to an agreement for a ceasefire in Gaza as Israel presses its offensive in Rafah, Dr. Azmi Bishara has said in a new apppearance on Araby TV aired Friday night, describing the possibility of this happening as resembling “squaring the circle”.

In the new interview discussing the situation in Gaza, Dr. Bishara reiterated his opinion that there will never be “a day after” in Gaza imposed against the will of the Palestinians without facing resistance, saying that only a unified Palestinian leadership can achieve a just solution to the Palestinian issue. However, he struck a pessimistic note regarding whether this would occur in the foreseeable future.

The interview is available in Arabic here, auto subtitles in English available via YouTube.

Key points below

On US allegation of withholding arms shipments to Israel for Rafah

Bishara said that Washington’s claimed suspension of its delivery of bombs to Israel would not stop the war, suggesting that the US administration had been aware of Israel’s plan to enter Rafah before it started last week

Bishara pointed out that the discussion between Washington and Tel Aviv is not about whether or not to enter Rafah, but centres on the way in which Israel conducts its operations there. To date, the Biden administration continues to support the war’s main aim, which is to destroy Hamas in the sense of preventing it from administering Gaza in the future.

In that context, Bishara predicted that once Rafah is fully occupied and the Israeli hostages are not freed, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could face a massive scandal. At that point, negotiations will begin with the parties that will administer Gaza. But Bishara emphasised that “it seems there will not be a day after in Gaza without resistance.”

Regarding the proposal presented by the mediators for a truce and exchange of prisoners and hostages between Israel and Hamas, Dr. Bishara said it would be difficult to reach an understanding between the two parties regarding a ceasefire and a substantial withdrawal away from the paths that the displaced would use to return to their areas of residence. He added that achieving such an agreement would be like squaring the circle, because the Palestinian side says that after all that has happened, it will accept nothing less than a ceasefire, whereas Israel continues to insist that it must “complete the mission.”

Regarding how the Cairo negotiations had fared in recent days, the Director-General of the Arab Center explained that the Americans had argued that it would be difficult to restart the war after long truces once those were agreed, but “this was not enough for Hamas, which tried to insert formulations into the text suggesting that a truce would mean a permanent ceasefire. Israel rejected this, and refused the inclusion of this in written formulations,” Bishara said.

In response to a question about the point of negotiations in light of this impasse, Bishara attributed the continuation of negotiations to the unwillingness of any party to appear as though it refuses to negotiate, and to the resistance movement’s desire to win over public opinion and to prove its flexibility and desire to reach a settlement, compared to Israel’s desire for a temporary truce to recover its prisoners and then resume the war. He added that negotiations had been held throughout this period on all other matters and then they returned to the real crisis, which is the ceasefire. “On Tuesday they even reached an understanding on most of the issues except for the ceasefire and withdrawal,” he said.

In response to a question often asked about whether there is genuine disagreement between Biden and Netanyahu, Azmi Bishara said there is indeed a real disagreement, but it concerns tactics not strategy. He pointed out that there is resentment on the part of Israel’s allies over the length of the war, Tel Aviv’s inability to eliminate the resistance movement and the high number of (Palestinian) civilian casualties, even though the Americans agree with Israel on the need to eliminate Hamas and enter Rafah. But they nevertheless want to achieve that goal without suffering further embarrassment, because the matter has become an internal US issue in an election year.

Bishara concluded that there is no real change in US support for Israel where money, weapons, and politics are concerned. Bishara described Washington’s suspension of the delivery of specific bombs and missiles to Tel Aviv, as “a minimum that will not prevent Israel from continuing the war” because all other weapons (deliveries) continue to feed the Israeli killing machine.”

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The day after: Back to square zero

Bishara pointed out that Israel has taken advantage of its aggression to expand settlements in the West Bank, get rid of pockets of resistance there, and change the relationship with the Palestinian citizens of Israel, “but they remained without any post-war strategy related to Gaza.” He added on this issue that they (the Israelis) are putting forward ideas such as a Palestinian tribal force together with an international or Arab force taking over the administration of the Gaza Strip. But he downplayed the importance of such talk because such tribal forces “do not exist in isolation from the (political) parties and factions in Palestinian society.” Bishara expressed the opinion that if Israel were to withdraw from Gaza today, Hamas would return to power because it is the major organized force in the Gaza Strip.

He pointed out that the US agenda is also devoid of any clear vision for the post-war phase, as evidenced by the fact that American officials asked six Arab countries (including Palestine) to present scenarios for a new formula of the two-state solution. The foreign ministers of the six countries met and drafted papers, and when Blinken saw them, he rejected them all, Bishara revealed, asserting that the Americans “do not have any interest regarding the two-state solution because they are in an election year.”

In Bishara’s opinion, there may be Arab countries willing to get involved in the management of Gaza, but they will not take such a step in light of Hamas’ presence in a relatively cohesive state, and because the Israeli military stipulates that it should remain present in Gaza and ready to intervene and mount operations at any time it wants, which means an open-ended insurgency.

Bishara expressed his regret that the vacuum is mirrored by the absence of a unified Palestinian leadership that would tell the world that “such a decision belongs to the Palestinians and would force it to accept a just solution.” He said that he was not optimistic that this would happen, at least in the short term.

He elaborated on this point by pointing out that the resistance movement realizes that it is incapable of dealing with the (post-war) devastation and “may accept a take-over by a Palestinian government or some administration upon which there is agreement, and which will be nationally authorised to manage the situation in the Gaza Strip.”

He expressed surprise that the US administration refuses to acknowledge this as the only logical and honourable solution at the current time, as though it were not thinking politically during this period, but simply marking time until the presidential elections in November. According to Bishara’s assessment, there is no solution except through negotiation, as even the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin concluded after the first intifada, because there is no national liberation movement in history that has won militarily. Rather, they have won when settler colonialism reached the conclusion that the cost (to it) had become unbearable, as was the case in South Africa and Algeria.

On US campus uprisings and weaponisation of anti-Semitism

Bishara expressed great interest in the student protests in support of Palestinian rights at Western universities, describing them as “very important and pivotal, and possibly the second (most important) achievement of Palestinian steadfastness following the failure of efforts to marginalise the Palestinian issue.” He added, “Since the Nakba, we have not witnessed such a reaction to the Palestinian issue among the elites that will have great influence in the future, professionally, socially, class-wise, and politically.” According to him, the current student movement may be morally more significant than the movement against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, because in the case of Vietnam, the protesters were fighting not only against the killing of Vietnamese, but also so that they themselves would not be dragged into the army and into war.

Bishara noted at that Hamas is a movement whose discourse is religious, while the US protesters’ motivation in supporting the Palestinian cause is moral, stemming from the values of justice and national liberation. “Therefore, the language of the Palestinian resistance must be capable of addressing such public opinion with its concepts and literature.” He noted that the current student movement is more peaceful than the “Black Lives Matter” campaign and the movement of the 1960s in America against the Vietnam War, so the protesters are being provoked by Israel’s supporters to lure them into violence. He reiterated his opinion that the protesting students “are able to make a direct impact, and we will see that in the American elections” next November.

Bishara added that Netanyahu’s words about student protests in America “are consistent with his arrogance and his patronising didactic dealings with the Americans, and that this must be giving rise to alienation and hatred in America, especially among American Jews.”

On the weaponisation of anti-Semitism in this context, Bishara, said that the accusation of anti-Semitism has become a way of "changing the subject" and of practicing intellectual terrorism because the victim is currently the Palestinian people. "As soon as you use the word ‘genocide’, that means stripping Israel of the status of victim." Before tackling the socio-historic context of hatred of Jews and then anti-Semitism, Bishara said that “linking Jews to Israel is real anti-Semitism.”

Explaining the historical framework of anti-Semitism, which he described as “an ugly racism...that resulted in the Nazi Holocaust,” Bishara said that anti-Semitism is a modern term that was born in the middle of the nineteenth century, when there was social hostility towards Jews in Europe under a religious guise. Such hatred was subsequently reinforced by pseudo-scientific racial theories that places races in a hierarchy, in which the Jews and others were seen as inferior to the white race. Following the end of World War II, Bishara added, there was international revulsion against anti-Semitism, and it became the only racism that was legally held accountable in the West. Therefore, the racism most rejected and unanimously agreed upon in the West is racism against the Jews and denial of the Holocaust.

Bishara said a pivotal point in making opposition to Israel equivalent to anti-Semitism occurred at the 2016 Bucharest conference of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. He advised that there should be a counterattack against such an accusation of anti-Semitism, which should not be mounted from a defensive position.

Bishara concluded the interview by responding to a question about whether there is a serious possibility that the International Criminal Court could indict Israeli officials for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bishara stressed the need to distinguish between investigators in the Israeli war crimes case and the Prosecutor of the Court (Karim Khan), because the most senior officials of the court have their own calculations and are subject to great political pressure.

According to Bishara’s analysis, the mere fact that Israel is confused and that it has found it necessary to resort to intimidation, pressure and threats indicates the extent of the crisis that it faces and its weakness, given that in the past Israel did not have to resort to threats or efforts to suppress freedom of expression to impose its Zionist discourse and narrative.