Why Some Western Capitals Are Shifting Their Position On Gaza – OpEd


Spain last week joined South Africa’s case at the UN’s top court, accusing Israel of genocide. This move followed the decision by Madrid and two other Western European capitals — Dublin and Oslo — to recognize the state of Palestine, thus breaking ranks from a long-established US-led Western policy.

As per American thinking, the recognition and establishment of a Palestinian state should follow a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine, under the auspices of Washington itself. However, no such negotiations have taken place in years and the US shifted its policies on the issue almost entirely under the administration of Donald Trump. The US recognized the illegal Jewish-only colonies in Palestine as “legal” and that Israel had sovereignty over East Jerusalem, among other concessions.

Several years into the Biden administration, little has been done to reverse or fundamentally alter the new status quo.

More recently, Washington has done everything in its power to support Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza. Aside from supplyingIsrael with the weapons needed to carry out its crimes in the Strip, the US has gone as far as threatening the international legal and political bodies that are trying to hold Tel Aviv accountable, thus ending the “extermination” of Palestinians in Gaza — a term used on May 20 by International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan.

Washington continues to behave in such a way despite the fact that Israel refuses to give in to a single US demand or expectation regarding peace and negotiations. Indeed, Israel’s political discourse is deeply invested in the language of genocide, while the Israeli military is actively carrying it out.

The West Bank, where the bulk of the Palestinian state will supposedly take shape, is experiencing its own upheaval. Violence there is unprecedented compared to recent decades. Across the West Bank, tens of thousands of illegal settlers are torching homes and cars and attacking Palestinians with impunity; in fact, often alongside the Israeli army.

Yet, despite the occasional gentle reprimand and ineffectual sanctions on a few settlers, Washington continues to stand firmly by its declared policy regarding the two states and all the rest. Not a single mainstream Israeli politician, and certainly not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government of extremists, is willing to entertain the thought.

This is not surprising, as America’s foreign policy often goes against common sense. Washington, for example, fights losing wars simply because no US administration or president wants to be the one associated with failure, retreat or, worse, defeat. America’s longest ever war — in Afghanistan — is a case in point.

Due to the massive influence wielded by Israel, its allies on Capitol Hill and in the media, along with the power of lobbies and wealthy donors, Tel Aviv is clearly far more consequential to US domestic policies than Kabul. Thus the continued US military and political support of a country that is being accused of genocide and extermination.

However, this reality has created a political dilemma for Europe, which has often blindly followed US steps — or missteps — in the Middle East.

Historically, there have been few exceptions to the post-Second World War rule. French President Jacques Chirac defied the US-imposed consensus when he strongly rejected Washington’s policies in Iraq in the lead-up to the 2003 war. Such important but relatively isolated fissures were eventually repaired, with the US returned to its role as the uncontested leader of the West.

But Gaza is becoming a major breaking point. The Western unity in support of Israel immediately after the events of Oct. 7 has splintered, eventually leaving the US and, to some extent, Germany committed to the Israeli war.

The strong recent stances by several Western European countries accusing Israel of genocide, while also joining forces with countries in the Global South with the aim of holding Israel accountable, represent a major shift.

It could be argued that the extent of the Israeli crimes in Gaza has exceeded the moral threshold that some European countries could tolerate. But there is more to this.

The actual answer lies in the issue of legitimacy. Western leaders are not shying away in phrasing their language as such. In a recent article, written on behalf of the Group of Elders, former Irish President Mary Robinson warned against the “collapse of the international order.” “We oppose any attempts to delegitimize” the work of the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice through “threats of punitive measures and sanctions.”

However, the Elders’ opposition made no difference. The US House of Representatives last week passed resolution H.R. 8282, which is aimed at authorizing sanctions on ICC officials.

References to the collapse of the legitimacy of the West-established international order have been made by many others in recent months, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. And in his statement requesting arrest warrants for accused Israeli war criminals, Khan himself made that reference.

For some in the West, the issue is not just about the Gaza genocide. It is also about the future of the West itself.

For a long time, Washington has succeeded, at least in the eyes of its allies, in keeping the balance between the collective interests of the West and a nominal respect for international institutions.

It is now clear that the US is no longer capable of maintaining that balancing act, forcing some Western countries into adopting independent political positions, the future outcomes of which shall prove to be consequential.

Ramzy Baroud

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com

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