Speculating on the ceasefire moment in Gaza

I know the end of U.S. dominance (finally) has been proclaimed often, so please feel free to pity me for thinking it’s arrived yet again. .


What are we to make of the frustratingly delayed ceasefire in Gaza?

It had seemed unlikely to happen. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his goal was to eliminate Hamas. That excluded a ceasefire. “Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas … That will not happen.” At most, there’d be “an hour here, an hour there.” Now there will be four days plus likely extensions. But in fact, destroying Hamas was probably not the real goal.

Why? Because in situations like Gaza, a Hamas will always arise: despair leads to nihilism and a primitive theology that reduces your daily hell to good/us vs. evil/them, embracing death and martyrdom as the best of awful outcomes. Even if you kill them all, they’ll regenerate, like the doctor in Doctor Who. The only way to eliminate Hamas is to abolish the conditions that keep birthing it.

If so, what was the real aim? Consider what Israel actually did. It’s reduced most of Gaza to rubble, through bombing, invasion and a “complete siege.” It herded most people southward, using official warnings and threats. When/if the assault resumes, the space will be constricted further. What then? Expulsion to Egypt, perhaps, and what a cabinet minister called a “Gaza Nakba.”

It’s happened before, in ’48 and ’67. Meanwhile in the West Bank, settlers harass Palestinians into abandoning their villages while everyone’s focused on Gaza. Expulsion was always an open preference on Israel’s religious right and has moved now to less extreme camps, like the “centrist” Yesh Atid party. The expulsion option is in the air and there is something harrowing about it.

Exile following expulsion from your land was a leitmotif of Jewish experience for the last 2,000 years, if not entirely in a negative sense. It can’t help resonating deeply and toxically. It is doing to them what they did to us — except the Palestinians played little part; they weren’t involved till recently.

Still, expulsion hasn’t happened, and looks as if it may not. Why? Partly because compliant, supine Arab regimes like Egypt and Jordan explicitly refused to absorb a Palestinian exodus, perhaps due to fury over the Israeli onslaught from their own populations. Saudi Arabia also demurred, “pausing” the normalization of its relations with Israel. U.S. President Joe Biden on his part, assured them that the U.S. wouldn’t allow “the forced relocation of Palestinians.” The fact all this had to be put on the public record suggests it was a real possibility.

Biden himself made the sharpest reversal. He initially rushed to Israel to say he had Bibi’s back in his fight against “sheer,” or “pure,” evil. But Biden then applied intense pressure for a ceasefire. Why? Fear of losing in 2024 because of surprisingly high anger about Gaza in his own party, especially among the young. Palestine was supposed to have gone away by now.

Having speculated about this one event — which is inevitable in international crises, since we never know and will probably never learn, what was said in private versus the bombastic public hooey — let me turn briefly to the larger historical meaning of the event. (This is always a bad idea.)

It feels like part of the decline of unipolar U.S. dominance, what Biden calls the U.S. as “the indispensable nation.” The U.S. is still deferred to in “the West.” But elsewhere, deference is being deferred.

In Latin America, most people would happily dispense with U.S. centrality; Asia and Africa are similar. All those nations have internal inequities and serious shortcomings like autocracy and suppression of basic rights. But among both the rulers and the ruled, they’ve had sufficient experience with the U.S. imperium to recognize and disdain it.

I base this mainly on the widespread, ongoing Gaza protests, apparently impervious to western media claims about the conflict, and also on particular countries’ stands, like South Africa and Indonesia.

I know the end of U.S. dominance (finally) has been proclaimed often, so please feel free to pity me for thinking it’s arrived yet again.

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

is a Canadian novelist, playwright, journalist, and critic and has been writing for more than forty years. Until October 1, 2010, he wrote a regular column in The Globe and Mail; on February 11, 2011, he began a weekly column in the Toronto Star. He currently teaches a half course on Canadian media and culture in University College (CDN221) at the University of Toronto. He is a contributing editor of This Magazine. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and got his Master of Arts degree in religion at Columbia University. He also studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He was once a trade union organizer in Toronto and participated in the Artistic Woodwork strike.[