Azmi Bishara: Despite West's blind support, Israel's success in Gaza is far from guaranteed

Azmi Bishara: Despite West's blind support, Israel's success in Gaza is far from guaranteed
In an interview with Alaraby TV, Azmi Bishara shares thoughts on the latest events and coverage of the escalation in Gaza and the involvement of the Arab nations vis-a-vis Israel.
7 min read
23 October, 2023
Israel is yet to launch the full-scale ground invasion of Gaza it has promised [Araby TV]

Israel’s reluctance to begin a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip is underpinned by several factors relating to the strength of the resistance it will encounter as well as to Israel’s northern front and the possibility of Hezbollah joining the war, according to Arab thinker Dr. Azmi Bishara.

In a wide-ranging interview on Sunday conducted with Alaraby TV,  Dr. Bishara overviewed the scenarios playing out in the coming weeks as Israel bombs Gaza relentlessly. 

Dr. Bishara said Israel has no guarantees that it will successfully achieve its “final goal” of eliminating Hamas and  finding another Palestinian party willing to run Gaza.

While the Egyptian and Arab position rejecting the forced expulsion of Gaza’s population is in itself positive, he added, the problem with their stance is it only states “expulsion is a red line”, whereas that red line should also include massacres and the targeting of civilians. Otherwise, Arab rejection of expulsion alone could be seen as permission “to keep the people of Gaza in that cage and to kill them inside it", he argued.

Dr. Bishara, who is director-general of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, highlighted the immense pressure that the Israeli military is exerting on politicians to proceed with the invasion; absolute US support for Israel that provides the latter with a free hand to achieve the “final goal” – that is, wiping out Hamas; Israeli military consensus which is unprecedented since the eve of the 1967 war and the so-called “period of waiting to go to war”, and even the consensus that is possibly unprecedented since 1948. This, he said, is attributable to the scale of the shock that has resulted in a loss of social, political and intellectual balance in Israel, "which they are trying to deal with through such consensus.”

On the other hand, the Arab thinker believes that Israel’s search for another party to run Gaza “is not guaranteed to succeed, because Israel is not the only player in the field, given the existence of the resistance factions, Arab public opinion, the Arab protest movement and the world in general, particularly in the wake of the Baptist Hospital massacre.”

In that context, Dr. Bishara asked, “What will they do after the invasion? Assuming they come up with a party to run Gaza, what guarantees it would succeed? The West Bank, for example, is not run by Hamas. Still, a state of resistance prevails there.” He also mentioned the fate of the Israeli civilian and military prisoners held in Gaza and points out that their lives “have become secondary to the political-military goal” as far as the Israeli leadership is concerned since it no longer prioritizes them over the final goal of the military plan.

Dr. Bishara encapsulated his description of this situation by referring to “a state of Israeli self-deception about the ‘day after an invasion’ situation”. He noted that “delays to the invasion could reduce the possibility of its occurrence, and the more the escalation rises on the northern front, the more things could spin out of control.” He did not rule out such a scenario, particularly because “strengthening perceptions by the Iranian leadership that Gaza is being lost – Gaza being its only Sunni ally to use prevalent sectarian discourse – could lead to Hezbollah’s full participation in the war.” 

Israel, he said, does not want this to occur, and this could prompt it to reconsider its options, as evidenced by the fact that Israeli forces recently pulled back by several kilometres from their contact lines with Hezbollah to try to avoid a widening of the confrontation. Dr. Bishara said this “raises the cost to Israel and worries it, but it does not alleviate the pressure the Palestinians face.”

Dr. Bishara expressed his certainty that as far as Netanyahu is concerned, “his political life is over, and there will be investigative committees after the war.”

Regarding events in the West Bank and Jerusalem, particularly the killing of civilians and Israel’s fears that the situation there would explode, Bishara said that the number of victims is shockingly high by all accounts, and that there is something akin to a heroic Intifada occurring there which is being obscured by the war in Gaza, since the latter is taking up all the media’s attention. He further pointed out that Israeli targeting of civilians “is a phenomenon that accompanied the establishment of Israel, and it aims to force the Palestinians to leave their lands and immigrate, particularly in the West Bank.”

He concluded that the current bombing and shelling of civilian locations in Gaza is not the result of “collateral damage”, but “methodical targeting to exact a price from society, this amounting to a racist colonialist practise being expressed by an Israeli mentality aimed at teaching the Palestinians a lesson.”

With regard to Arab and regional positions on the war in Gaza, Bishara pointed out that most Arab governments did not demand a ceasefire in the early days of the war, and statements by their officials focused on the need to stop the war from spreading, i.e. preventing Hezbollah from joining it, which is the crux of the US position. He pointed out that action by the Arab governments and their convening of conferences has come in the wake of popular Arab protest activity, particularly following the shelling of the Baptist hospital, and that official Arab action is aimed at “containing public anger, because there is a fear that people will once again take to the streets, and Palestine is a natural rallying point for the Arab peoples.”

Bishara affirmed that the Arab countries can influence the US position, which is biased in favour of Israel to an unprecedented degree, if they adopted practical, genuine and unified positions. “Let us suppose that the main Arab countries that would be impacted by a forced eviction of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank were to take genuine decisions and steps that would begin with closing their embassies in Israel; what would occur, given that the US has no alternatives to the Arabs?” He concluded that the US could be forced to change its position and take such an Arab position into account if such a scenario were to occur.

Bishara said that Joe Biden’s Zionist intellectual mindset harks back to the mentality of US presidents in the 1980s in terms of identifying with Israel and considering it to be a democratic state with a similar political doctrine to the US and an imperialist country where the role of religion is similar to what it is in the US. He says, “Biden’s attitude is shocking and entails a kind of political blindness that is projected onto Israel and its narrative, as can be seen in his adoption of the Israeli contention that Israel did not shell the Baptist hospital.”

Bishara offered a multi-faceted explanation for the European position, which has given unprecedented backing to the Israeli leadership since the 7th of October Hamas military operation, including the fact that the Europeans view their relationship with Arabs and Muslims through the prism of their own refugee problem, which partly explains their pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian position. He also refered to Israeli blackmail that has persisted since Menachem Begin over the specifically European guilt relating to the Holocaust, the rise of the extreme right in Europe and the convergence of attitudes over immigration and the Palestinian cause. He warned that “current events could lead to a rift between Arab public opinion and western governments”, which would be severe because there is no conflict with the West.

Bishara refers to the biased, unprofessional behaviour of the Western media, its promotion of the Israeli narrative, its imposition of strict censorship on journalists and their vocabulary, its exclusion of the Palestinian context from news reports, its attribution of all the Israeli massacres to the operation of 7 October and its handling of Palestinians as numbers rather than humans with individual stories, lives, relatives and biographies. Bishara said that as a result, those who support the Palestinians in the West face “Neo-McCarthyism.”

Referring to the arguments over “condemning or not condemning” that every Palestinian guest or supporter faces when being hosted by the Western media, Bishara said that transgressions occurred in the 7 October operation regarding the kidnapping and killing of civilians “and this is a burden to the armed Palestinian movements”, but he pointed out that “this is not the starting point of the argument, which should be the occupation and its crimes. If we do condemn the latter, we then complete the argument and arrive at an evaluation of a particular behaviour, which we may condemn, because the Palestinians are not God’s chosen people, and like all other peoples, they sometimes do right and sometimes do wrong.”