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Washington’s key role in Israel’s military offensive

There can be no hope of a peaceful solution unless the US is unmasked as Israel’s chief and unbending supporter, writes Jonathan Cook.
At least 50 Palestinians were killed on Sunday by Israeli shelling in the Gaza neighbourhood. Photo: Heidi Levine for The National
At least 50 Palestinians were killed on Sunday by Israeli shelling in the Gaza neighbourhood. Photo: Heidi Levine for The National

Two reporters for major US TV channels were summarily “removed” last week from covering Israel’s attack on Gaza, moments before Israel launched a ground invasion.

NBC pulled out Ayman Mohyeldin, who has been widely praised for the even-handedness of his reporting from Gaza, just as he landed a harrowing scoop. He had kicked a football with four boys who were killed moments later by an Israeli missile.

Mr Mohyeldin managed a few tweets before being removed, allegedly on “security” grounds. But why then did NBC immediately send in a replacement? After a public outcry, Mr Mohyeldin was reinstated, but no proper explanation has been provided about the original decision.

Shortly afterwards, CNN “reassigned” Diana Magnay, its reporter in Israel, after she labelled an Israeli mob as “scum” in a tweet having filmed them celebrating missile explosions in Gaza. They had threatened her with violence.

The impression left by these incidents and the generally deferential tone towards Israel in US coverage is that, faced with huge pressure from the Israel lobby, media executives are frantically policing their correspondents’ output. It looks suspiciously as though these two correspondents paid a price for drawing attention to issues from which American audiences are usually shielded.

The obvious shortcomings in US coverage of a story in which Washington itself is a key player deprive us of a vital piece of the puzzle about what is going on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, arrived in the region on Monday to intensify ceasefire efforts, the day after a studio microphone captured his sarcastic comment that it was “a hell of a pinpoint operation” by Israel. He had just been informed of a horrifying assault on the Shujaieh neighbourhood, which left dozens of dead.

Washington’s good faith as honest broker goes largely unquestioned in the US, even though the country provides Israel with billions of dollars in aid and military support of the kind that enables these repeated attacks on Gaza. The claim is only tenable because Washington’s actual behaviour is rarely scrutinised in detail.

Two recent investigations by the Israeli media illustrate the profoundly unhelpful role played by the US.

They suggest that the US is assisting Israel not only in what Barack Obama called its right to “self-defence” but in actively damaging Palestinian interests. And it seems not to matter whether the Palestinians in question are Hamas or the preferred negotiating partner, Mahmoud Abbas.

The first disclosure concerns the offer of an Egyptian ceasefire last week. This was presented as a chance to end the bloodshed, one generously seized by Israel and shunned by Hamas. Only footnoted in some reports were Hamas “claims” that it had not been consulted. Israel’s liberal daily Haaretz soon confirmed Hamas’s account with Israeli officials and western diplomats.

According to Haaretz, Mr Kerry dispatched peace envoy Tony Blair to Cairo. In turn, he lobbied Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the Egyptian president, to coordinate the ceasefire’s terms exclusively with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr El Sisi is severely at odds with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s ideological ally. He has also tightened restrictions on the shared border with Gaza. Like Israel, Mr El Sisi’s Egypt is a major beneficiary of US aid.

It was almost a foregone conclusion that Hamas would reject the Egyptian offer. It failed to address key concerns, not least that the suffocating siege be ended and that Israel honour earlier agreements, particularly on prisoners.

But the ceasefire proposal served the purpose of eliciting Hamas’s rejection and providing Israel with the necessary pretext to launch its ground invasion.

Mr Netanyahu is using the current attack to terrorise Gaza’s civilian population, deplete Hamas’s rocket stockpile, and then force it to accept terms of surrender.

The second investigation comes from journalist Raviv Drucker, this time concerning the peace talks that collapsed in April. Washington officials have told him that US negotiators spent the talks’ key phase coordinating positions exclusively with Mr Netanyahu. Mr Abbas was then presented with a fait accompli.

Despite its public pronouncements, according to Drucker, Washington was also working with Israel on a huge expansion of settlement projects.

These were announced – to loud but apparently feigned condemnation by Mr Kerry – each time a batch of Palestinian prisoners was released, a condition Mr Abbas had set for his participation.

It is no surprise that Mr Netanyahu has been acting in bad faith, and that his military campaigns in the West Bank and Gaza are designed to disrupt the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Mr Abbas’ Fatah.

As the Israeli analyst Noam Sheizaf points out, Mr Netanyahu is opposed to a peace deal of any kind. For him, “Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas are pretty much the same. Any gain by either one of them is a loss to Israel”.

But of far greater concern should be the Obama administration’s decision to back Israel to the hilt and the US media’s silence on the matter.

There can be no hope of a peaceful solution ever gaining traction – or these bouts of bloodletting in Gaza coming to end – unless Washington is unmasked as Israel’s chief and unbending supporter.

Jonathan Cook is an independent journalist based in Nazareth

Updated: July 22, 2014 04:00 AM