Azmi Bishara: Israel’s plan for 'the day after' is to continue the war by other means

Azmi Bishara: Israel’s plan for 'the day after' is to continue the war by other means
Dr. Azmi Bishara said that the huge sacrifices of Palestinians in Gaza must not be in vain and Israel's "day after" plan is to continue the war by other means.
7 min read
16 January, 2024
Dr Azmi Bishara said Israel's plans for Gaza are a continuation of the war by other means [Getty]

To prevent the huge sacrifices having been in vain, Bishara said that the solution must start with rebuilding the PLO, to include everyone, in a way which would challenge Israel's plan for the day after. The solution must not be to repeat the failure of Oslo after thirty years through the creation of a civilian authority in Gaza, and local administrations and village leagues which would, in practical terms, maintain the occupation and protect its interests.

South Africa's case against Israel at the ICJ

On South Africa's case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, or of having the intention to commit genocide, Bishara believes this is a highly important event. He says it deserves to be followed up, because Israel has always presented itself historically as coming into being as the result of genocide (the Holocaust), and Israelis have always considered themselves within the ranks of the "enlightened democratic states" who would never commit genocide.

Further, he said their appearance at the court was itself notable after they had boycotted the ICJ trial regarding the apartheid wall in 2004. Additionally, he mentioned the symbolic resonance of South Africa having brought the case, because of its history as a country which suffered decades under apartheid. He described the three dimensions of the South African submission as constituting a very important historical document which summarized the violations to which the Palestinian people had been subjected.

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He pointed out that part of its importance sprang from the fact that the three dimensions of South Africa's case made it clear that what was happening in Gaza was part of a historical process which did not start on 7 October.

Commenting on Israel's claim that the quotes [taken from Israeli politicians appearing to call] for genocide were merely rhetoric, and not reflective of a calculated plan, Bishara clarified that genocide didn't require a plan to have been ordered - it sufficed for there to be intent to exterminate a cultural, ethnic, or religious group, or a part of one.

Regarding the expected decisions of the 15 judges, Bishara said that fears that the decisions made by some of them would be politically motivated were merited, and added that Europe was overrepresented in terms of the number of European judges in the court in a way which was not in line with its weight, geography and population, in comparison with the other continents and countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Bishara deemed it unlikely the case would be totally rejected because what was being demanded by Pretoria wasn't that genocide was proven to be happening, but that merits for the serious plausibility of genocide being committed in Gaza be proven, and this would likely be adopted within the judges' initial decision.

In his view, even if the judges didn't order an immediate stop to the war, it was very possible they would adopt some of the nine measures South Africa was requesting, such as returning the inhabitants of Gaza to their homes, reopening the hospitals, and halting the killing of civilians.

Bishara paused on the major symbolism of South Africa bringing the case: it is one of the last countries to suffer under the legacy of colonialism, which endowed it with a high status within the global Palestine solidarity movement because Palestine is the last remaining colonial issue today. Moreover, Israel's standing in opposition to South Africa "places it [Israel] in opposition to a global democratic movement".

Regarding the reasons South Africa took the step of initiating legal proceedings against Israel, Bishara pointed to a set of moral and political factors, including that South Africa wants to be a leading power in Africa, and "its opponent in this regard is Israel, which has been repeatedly demonstrated in the African Union".

Bishara highlighted the paradox that most of the Israeli legal team came from the left, and that they had always been against the policies of the occupation, with some of them even supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, they rallied in unity when the issue was linked to Israel's [perceived] interests. He attributed the selection of these lawyers in particular to the Israeli government's desire that its narrative be accepted on the international stage.

In his assessment of the arguments put forward by the prosecution and defence, Bishara disagreed with those who described Israel's defence as weak in the court, saying that they have always known, historically, how to promote their narrative. However, he considered the arguments put forward by South Africa to be stronger.

Regarding the debate over how important it is for Arab countries to participate in South Africa's lawsuit, Bishara said there was no surprise in the Arab absence from supporting the lawsuit.

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However, he added: "Perhaps it's better no Arab states participated in the case initially, because all of their actions would be governed by US pressure, and also because globally, debates would have been stirred up on how the governments of these countries themselves have carried out mass killings. Therefore, from the moral standpoint, it was better the Arab states were absent".

Israel accuses Egypt of starving Gazans

Bishara mentioned that the Israeli legal team's defence had included a claim which was extremely embarrassing for Egypt, when it accused it of besieging the Gazans and starving them, claiming it was Egypt that wasn't allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Strip via the Rafah crossing, which was under its sovereignty. Bishara asserted that the Egyptian response "should have been immediate and practical in the opening of the crossing to aid trucks".

According to him, "the fear in Egypt is unjustified, because there are no circumstances in which Israel will start bombing trucks bearing the Egyptian flag on them" if they enter Gaza. Likewise, Bishara regretted that even in these circumstances, Egypt was still dealing with Gaza with a logic marred by inconsistency, with practices "unworthy of an Arab country with Egypt's size [and status]," namely, making Palestinians pay bribes to leave or enter the Gaza Strip. He concluded that "it is shameful, after this Israeli statement, that trucks continue to be sent from the Egyptian crossing to the Israeli crossing" for inspection.

Change in US stance?

Regarding the American position, Bishara anticipated that Washington would continue to support the war's objectives, even though the patience of some US officials with the continuous Israeli blackmail had started to wear thin.

There were also minor changes in the US position regarding the phases of the war, the entry of aid and the [growing] resolve to get rid of ministers like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir. However, Bishara emphasized that destroying Hamas' military capabilities remained a shared goal between the US and Israel.

Regarding expected military developments in the Gaza Strip, Bishara reiterated that "the current pattern of war will change when [the Israelis] finish with Khan Younis, which may happen at the end of January or mid-February."

Regarding claims in Israeli media, which perhaps reflect the wishes of the Israeli government, that Qatar is proposing a project that includes the ratification of successive truces that end with a final ceasefire, in exchange for Hamas leaders exiting Gaza, Bishara denied this last term was proposed by Qatar at all. In fact, the US had proposed it around two weeks ago, and "the [Israelis] invented this lie to preoccupy people with illusionary ideas".

The Red Sea

Regarding developments in the Red Sea, Bishara sarcastically noted the US-British position that the Houthis have nothing to do with Palestine, as though they had anything to do [with Palestine]. In this context, he said the Iranian role, regional conflict and the Houthi connection to Iran's interests were all clear aspects to developments in the Red Sea. However, ultimately, the Houthis' demand was realistic according to Bishara: "Break the siege on Gaza and the blockade in the Red Sea will end".

Bishara asserted that the US doesn't want a war with Iran in a year of US elections and nor does Iran want one. While the latter is expanding its influence through militias in all Arab countries, the American-British strikes will likely remain reactive to what the Houthis are doing without events turning into a regional war. His summary of the situation was that "the rules of engagement will escalate [between the US and Iran] without breaking out into war".