Rothkopf and the US Fail on Israel

I usually enjoy reading David Rothkopf.  However, his recent piece on the events between Israel and the flotilla is shameful. Our blog has followed the reports, developments, and reactions of the event; which Rothkopf seems to have missed.


His article starts out with:

“Not only is Israel well within its rights to seal off Gaza, it has done so in a way that has, over the years, despite global opprobrium to the contrary, shown considerable restraint. The Hamas regime in Gaza has systematically threatened and attacked Israel and has abominably failed its own people.”

I am quite unaware, as is most of the world, of the legal precedent that Rothkopf implies exists.  What “right” does Israel have to blockade another country?  In fact, Israel is in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; which the Security Council has  unanimously held for thirty years that it applies to Israel.  Israel has been condemned by the UN; the Secretary General and the Human Rights Chief, the ICRC, and a variety of other governments and NGOs.

In fact, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in 2008 that the Gaza blockade “is in direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law. It must end now.” Rothkopf’s assertion that the Israeli’s have shown “restraint” is quite surprising.  I mean, sure, the Israeli’s are not carpet bombing Gaza.  Sure, Israel is not leveling hospitals and dropping iron-fragmentation bombs on the refugee camp that is Gaza.  So, yes, in a way Israel has shown restraint.  However, it is almost unanimously held that the blockade of Gaza has led to terrible conditions, lack of water and medicine, high unemployment and a humanitarian crisis.

As Navi Pillay noted in her report, “By function of this blockade, 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children have been forcibly deprived of their most basic human rights for months.” Amnesty International has a great report on the devastating effects of the Gaza blockade; it can be found here. Rothkopf’s assertion lacks nuance and a factual basis.

Next, Rothkopf asserts that

It’s Hamas, not Israel, not the Palestinian government on the West Bank, who pose the biggest obstacle to progress on the peace talks — and that’s saying something.

It is quite common for commentators to attack Hamas instead of focusing on the crimes of Israel- or just the basic facts on the ground.  However, coming from a respected scholar like Rothkopf, this is astonishing.  Furthermore, his claim is pure fabrication. As my colleague noted just a few days ago,

Hamas chief Khalid Meshaal reportedly said on the Charlie Rose Show that Hamas would stop all resistance to Israel if the latter were to simply return to the pre-1967 borders and end the occupation..Meshaal’s proclamations demonstrate two important factors about Hamas.  First, they are a nationalist party.  Though they are considered a terrorist group by most of the world, their aims remain exclusively focused on the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.  Secondly, the statement stands as a de facto acceptance of the existence of Israel.

Finally, Rothkopf goes on to say that,

It is also that the Israelis will be forced in all peace discussions in the months ahead to focus on a Gaza deal, one that almost certainly will strengthen the most dangerous enemies of real peace (the Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranian, militant faction) while providing, I suspect, only marginal benefits to the Palestinians living in Gaza.

His blatant ignorance on this point is appalling.  Connecting Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, and every militant faction together into a monolithic group is reductionist and as an academic he should be ashamed.  I am not denying that some connection does exist between these groups, but to lump them together and claim they are all blocking peace is false and hurts a serious discussion on the peace process. Each has its own desires, goals, and objectives; that they work together, financially mainly, is not necessarily an implication of their shared ideology and goals. As stated above, the leader of Hamas has claimed he would be in favor of ceasing hostilities against Israel if the 1967 boarders are upheld.  This one example proves Rothkopf’s wild assertion to be incorrect.

Furthermore, to say that Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran are the ones blocking peace is quite interesting.  He does not provide any evidence for his claim; of course, when repeating party dogma evidence is not needed. It is easy to say “Hamas is blocking peace” without providing evidence. Further, it would seem that  Rothkopf assumes Israel and the US have been advocating peace.  This, again, requires no evidence; and none is provided.  Coming from an academic, one would expect more.

What is disappointing is that pieces like this are everywhere; including the US government. For example, the New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner said

“I think that members of the United States Congress understand why the blockade was in place against Hamas and support it, once you start at that place, a boat that bows into the teeth of that blockade isn’t going to be viewed sympathetically,”

Gary Ackerman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, notes that

“Failure to recognize the moral responsibility of Hamas for these events is possible only by confusing cause with effect, or by holding Israel to an unacceptable double standard..[he] strongly support(s) Israel’s right to defend itself, and the right of Israel’s naval commandos, who were executing a legal mission”

The obfuscation of the truth and Hamas bashing has lead, once again, the US to be seen as hypocritical in its stance towards Israel.  What this will lead to, for the US, will be strained relationship between Turkey and other Muslim nations, an ever-more complex and contentious peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, and possibly an upsurge in violence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, this incident, terrible as it is, has overshadowed a very important event last week; Israel’s refusal to sign the NPT and be a partner in creating a nuclear free Near East.

As Avi Shlaim has noted,

[I]t (is) difficult to resist the conclusion that [Israel] has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism – the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria


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