Podcast / Start Making Sense / Nov 9, 2023

Abortion and the Democrats; Gaza and History

On this episode of Start Making Sense, John Nichols analyzes Tuesday’s elections, and Fintan O’Toole considers Gaza’s past and future.

Voting signage outside a polling location in Toledo, Ohio, on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Ohioans are considering a proposed amendment, called Issue 1, to prevent the state from interfering with reproductive decisions, including contraception, while allowing abortion bans with exceptions after fetal viability.

Voting signage outside a polling location in Toledo, Ohio, on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Ohioans are considering a proposed amendment, called Issue 1, to prevent the state from interfering with reproductive decisions, including contraception, while allowing abortion bans with exceptions after fetal viability.

(Photographer: Emily Elconin / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tuesday’s vote tested the potency of abortion rights as an issue for Democrats, with a referendum in Ohio and the election of a new state legislature in Virginia. John Nichols has our analysis of those elections, and some others.

Also on this episode: What is Israel’s endgame in its war with Hamas? Over the past 50 years, it has tried two radically different strategies in Gaza, and neither succeeded. Fintan O’Toole explains that history. He teaches at Princeton and is an advising editor at The New York Review of Books, where he’s been writing about Israel, Hamas, and Gaza.

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How the Sixties Ended, plus the Endless War in Gaza | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

“1974,” the new memoir by Francine Prose, recalls the year when “the sixties” came to a definitive end, when it became clear that the changes we’d wanted, the changes we’d fought for, were not going to happen. She spent that year in San Francisco, where she got to know Tony Russo of the Pentagon Papers case.

Also: On May 31, Joe Biden declared, “It is time for this war to end.” But the leaders of both Israel and Hamas seem content for the war in Gaza to grind on into the indefinite future. Hussein Ibish explains why.

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Jon Wiener: From The Nation magazine, this is Start Making Sense.  I’m Jon Wiener.  Later in the show: What is Israel’s endgame in its war with Hamas?  Over the past 50 years they’ve tried two radically different strategies in Gaza, and neither succeeded. Fintan O’Toole will explain–he teaches at Princeton, and he’s the advising editor at the New York Review, where he’s been writing about Israel, Hamas and the Palestinians.  But first: some key states had elections this week, with lessons for the 2024 campaigns. John Nichols will report–in a minute.


Tuesday was election day in some key states. It was a good day for Democrats. For our analysis and comment, we turn to John Nichols.  Of course he’s National Affairs correspondent for The Nation. His most recent book is, It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, co-authored by Bernie Sanders. John, welcome back.

John Nichols: It’s an honor to be with you, brother.

JW: The biggest issue on Tuesday was the right to abortion. It’s been a potent issue for Democrats ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, even in deeply Republican states like Kansas in Montana, strategists have been saying it’s one of the keys to a Democratic victory a year from now. Let’s start with Ohio, which has become a Republican state since the rise of Trump. This week, voters in Ohio could vote yes to add a right to reproductive freedom to the state constitution. Republicans did everything they could to confuse voters on this one. What happened in Ohio?

JN: Voters were not confused. They voted very, very strongly for abortion rights, for a really solid defense of abortion rights. It doesn’t do everything that some activists would like, but it essentially moves the issue out of the hands of the legislature, puts it into the state constitution, and for all practical purposes, defends the right to choice going forward. That’s huge. And it was a victory by a very wide margin, very strong, solid victory that stretched across the state. And that’s an important thing. I was a newspaper editor in Ohio some years ago, and I remember that Ohio still had areas where you had a lot of blue collar Democrats who were not necessarily pro-choice. And when I looked at the map today, it was fascinating because many of those counties where you might’ve thought of in that category had shifted over to a pro-choice stance. There are still rural counties that were not, but I mean, you look at that map and it was a very, very encouraging one, I think, for pro-choice forces and also frankly for Democrats, because this is an issue so closely associated with Democrats.

And one of the subtleties, which we’ll talk about in a moment, is that abortion rights is becoming more than just a referendum issue. It’s becoming a ballot line issue for candidates who are running. We saw that definitely I think in Kentucky and in Virginia and several other states when you look at what happened yesterday. And so this is a big deal, what’s going on, and I think it is especially important for Sherrod Brown, the sitting senator from Ohio who’s up for reelection next year, one of the most vulnerable Democrats by any measure because he’s running in Ohio state that voted by eight points for Trump in 2016 and 2020. And it’s very notable that this morning Sherrod Brown tweeted out video of all of his potential opponents, noting that all of them support a national ban on abortion. So it’s pretty clear that, A, Sherrod Brown liked the results of the referendum last night, and B, he intends to take that issue forward into 2024.

JW: Another key election that’s centered on abortion rights, as you have mentioned, was in Virginia, this was not a referendum, but their regular election to all 140 seats of the general assembly. Virginia, of course, now is a Democratic leaning state in presidential elections. It has relatively popular Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has some national political ambitions. Republicans were hoping to capture both houses of the state legislature and win total Republican control of the state. And Youngkin is well aware of the damage Republicans have suffered on abortion rights in half a dozen other states up to last night, and he offered what he thought was a strategic compromise that National Republicans could make into a winning message after losing over and over on this issue. And that was a 15-week ban on abortion with exemptions for rape, incest in the life of the mother. This was the Republican program in Virginia. Democrats ran on protecting abortion rights and warned that a 15-week ban was not a compromise. What happened in Virginia?

JN: Well, first off, I’m going to quibble with some of your question. You referred to Glenn Youngkin as relatively popular. I think we might change that now to relatively unpopular because he had a horrible night. He went into an evening where I think a lot of folks thought there was a real chance that he was going to get trifecta control, control of the governorship at both houses of the legislature, which would’ve allowed him to advance the whole of his agenda. And remember, that is a agenda that certainly includes assaults on abortion rights, but also has that whole parents’ rights thing, taking power away from communities and have the state come down all sorts of ways to tell you that you can ban books and things like that. And so Youngkin, I think was feeling very confident. He put himself way out front. The joke is that if he won on this Tuesday night, that was the beginning of the Youngkin for President campaign. Well, he didn’t win. That was the end of the Youngkin for President campaign.

And we now have a situation in Virginia where abortion rights are going to be protected at a level that we have not seen up to this point. I mean, it’s a big deal. And the other big deal about it, John, is the people who were elected in Virginia. I mean, there’s a lot of young progressive breakthrough candidates, a lot of firsts. The first trans member of the State Senate, the first openly gay black male member of the State House, and a lot of other young bright candidates who I think are going to really shake up the Virginia legislature. And if I can add one other thing, Virginia has historically been a bad state for labor, a right to work state. And as these Democrats are on the march, you’re seeing a lot of young pro-labor Democrats get elected, and I think that’s going to begin to shift some of the landscape there as well.

JW: And I also want to talk about Pennsylvania, which had a different kind of election in which abortion rights figured. This was a vote on a state Supreme Court justice. These are usually very low profile things. Nobody really knows who’s who in these races. The Democratic candidate was a superior court judge named Dan McCaffrey. He campaigned as a defender of abortion rights. Republicans spent a huge amount of money to get their anti-abortion candidate elected to this open seat on the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania might also be involved in certifying the state’s vote in the 2024 election. So this is a really important one that’s below the radar of most ordinary Americans. What happened in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election?

JN: Well, once again, and I think we’re starting to sound a little like a broken record here. Abortion rights proved to be a very powerful issue, and the candidate who supported abortion rights won. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was already a democratic court. They had a majority. If the Republican had won this seat though, it would’ve gotten close. You would’ve ended up in, I think a 4, 3-

JW: Four to three.

JN: … yeah. It would’ve ended up in a situation where it was closer, and then if one Democrat went shaky, things could shift, or if somebody was missing on a particular day. This really solidifies the Supreme Court as a Democratic court, as a court that is supportive of abortion rights. And again, that on a host of other issues, labor rights, education issues, other social issues, this is going to be a more liberal court. And so in Pennsylvania, it was a breakthrough issue, and it’s one of the subtleties when we talk about abortion rights as an issue, John, that we should bring into the mix, and that is that abortion rights is winning. It’s a winning issue right now.

But when it wins, it opens the door for a whole host of other progressive issues as well. And we’ve seen that in, I think you saw that in Pennsylvania, saw that in Virginia. I think you saw it in Kentucky. So this is a changing political landscape driven by one issue, but also what’s relevant there is that there’s a coalition of people that are backing abortion rights. And when abortion rights win, a lot of the members of that coalition, supporters of immigrant rights, supporters of labor rights, supporters of public education, they win as well.

JW: And abortion was also a key issue in Kentucky, a deeply red state. Trump won Kentucky by 26 points in 2020, but Kentucky does have a popular Democratic governor who was up for reelection, Andy Beshear, Republican candidate for governor was a protege of Mitch McConnell who defended Kentucky’s total ban on abortion. What happened in Kentucky?

JN: Again, the broken record, John. Kentucky voted for the pro-choice candidate. And here’s what’s interesting about Kentucky. It’s a border state and it is a state that has trended Republican. It is also the kind of state where historically Democratic consultants and people like Bill Clinton would’ve told you, “Run to the center, be a little more like a Republican light. Don’t mention some of these hot button social issues, avoid controversy, and maybe you can slide through.” Andy Beshear didn’t do that. He ran as a pro-choice candidate. He had ads about abortion on air as part of his campaign. He also ran as a candidate who had vetoed an Anti-Trans Bill and talked about that, and talked about it from a moral standpoint. He felt that it was important to protect kids who are in challenging situations. And then he also went out, and when the UAW went on strike, he joined the UAW picket line and brought them donuts.

And although I think there’s going to be a lot of effort to portray Beshear as a moderate, and he is in many ways a more moderate Democrat, but he won pretty much on Joe Biden’s agenda. He won pretty much on a national Democratic agenda in a border state. And I think that’s a real lesson for Democrats. If they compromise, if they go cautious, it’s unlikely they’re going to mobilize their base as effectively as they need to win in some of these tougher contests. But frankly, if they go in there as an appealing candidate and say, pretty strong, pretty bold, pretty important things, there’s a real chance to win, and Beshear won very solidly.

JW: One more that I want to talk about. Maine had a referendum on public power. We’ve talked about it here. We did a segment with Bill McKibben. This was a ballot measure to end private ownership of the state’s utility monopolies and combine them in a publicly owned firm called Pine Tree Power. Bill McKibben here argued that would create excellent opportunities for the transition to wind and solar. The power companies are deeply unpopular. They turn off the power for 10% of the population every year, but they spent something like 20 times more than the public power advocates did. What happened to the Pine Tree Power Initiative in Maine on Tuesday?

JN: Now, we’ve got to put a different record on now, John, and that is the one that says that money can win elections. And I don’t think that’s going to be a surprise to listeners to this program because money is very powerful in politics. It’s not the only definitional reality. What we see are there are other factors, but in Maine, the power companies came in with a sufficient amount of money and a sufficient scare tactic to upend what was actually a very, very good idea and a very, very good initiative. And look, this is something that we’ve got to recognize around the country. We have developed a network of donors that can come through on particular issues, and for particular candidates in election cycles, there needs to be, especially on environmental issues, there’s got to be more of a focus and more of a commitment to come in if we’re going to be stuck in this horrible money and politics system to help on issues like this, and it is something to be conscious of going forward. But I give the Mainers credit for raising this issue.

This is one of the oldest most fundamental issues in American politics, which is who controls power, who controls water, who controls transportation systems? A hundred years ago, Robert M. La Follette from my state, ran for President of the United States on essentially a public power platform. It’s still a good idea, and if you have setbacks in particular places, that doesn’t mean that you should give up on it. It means that you should find new and better ways to win.

JW: Of course, after Tuesday, everyone is looking to 2024. You already talked about Sherrod Brown’s campaign for reelection to the Senate in Ohio, crucially important to us. I want to say a word here about Arizona, where a coalition of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the ACLU and other groups are gathering signatures right now for an initiative that would put abortion rights into the state constitution in Arizona, and this would be on the November 2024 ballot. It seems very likely they will succeed at doing this. The people who are doing it really know what they’re doing.  And that, of course, is not only a presidential election in Arizona, a key swing state, but it will be the time when voters decide whether to replace Kyrsten Sinema with progressive Democrat Ruben Gallego or the Trump nutcase, let’s call her, Kari Lake. Any thoughts about Arizona going forward?

JN: Well, first and foremost, I think we should be kinder to nuts. But look, at the end of the day, this is going to be something we’re going to see in places all over the country. And the fact of the matter is that pro-abortion rights referendums are now seven per seven winning in red states, swing states. Pretty much wherever you put it on, you’re likely to win. Arizona is precisely the kind of state where it would win. Once you get it on the ballot, it’s going to win. It’ll probably win big. That will mobilize people. It’s going to be a real factor. I think it does have a very big significance for the presidential race because remember, Arizona was one of the states that really decided the 2020 race by a very small margin, and I think it’s going to have a great significance in a couple of other areas too.

You mentioned the Senate race. Senate race is complex because you’re going to have Sinema and Gallego both running as pro-choice candidates if they both run. If Sinema drops out and becomes ambassador to the wine country of California, then that will be different, but it should have some impact on the Senate race. It’s also going to have an impact on congressional races, and I think frankly, it’s likely to have an impact on state legislative races, and that’s a big deal because they’ve had a real battle in that state for a controlled legislature. They have a Democratic governor now. So look, this is the fact. There were foolish pundits who thought that abortion rights was going to be a one trick pony. In 2022, it might be a factor, but it would disappear very quickly. Then in the spring of 2023, when it had a huge role in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, they said, “Well, yeah,” but that’s probably the end of it.

Then throughout 2023, as it has influenced special elections for state legislative seats, people have said, “Well, yeah, yeah,” but that’s just one-off. That’s just that. Now, we’ve had another cycle, a major cycle where it’s proven to be of anything more influential as an issue, and anybody that thinks it’s not going to be a big issue through 2024 is a fool. This is abortion rights, the defense of abortion rights is an issue that mobilizes voters that gets into the polls, and especially that has resonances with young voters who are critical for Democrats. So what they’re doing in Arizona is common sense politically, and it won’t be the only state.

JW: John Nichols– read him at TheNation.com. Thank you, John. This was great.

JN: Thanks, brother. It’s a pleasure to be with you.


Jon Wiener, host: We need to talk more about Israel in Gaza: in particular, what is Israel’s plan for after the war? Before this war, Israel tried two radically different strategies in Gaza, and neither succeeded. For that history, we turn to Fintan O’Toole. He teaches at Princeton. He’s a columnist for The Irish Times, and he’s the advising editor at the New York Review, where he’s been writing about Israel, Hamas, and Gaza. His most recent book, We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland was published in the US last year. We talked about it here. We reached him today in Princeton. Fintan O’Toole, welcome back.

Fintan O’Toole, guest: Thank you very much, Jon. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

JW: We’re speaking on Monday, November 6th. In Israel, the toll from the Hamas attacks on October 7th, which is now one month ago, is 1,300 dead, mostly civilians, at least 3,300 wounded. And 242 hostages are being held right now by Hamas in Gaza, according to the IDF.

In Gaza, the IDF has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, including 4,100 children. Is that enough for Israel? In your piece for the New York Review, you recall that the word “enough” was stressed by Israel’s prime minister in 1993, Yitzhak Rabin, at the signing of the Oslo Accords with the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Remind us what Rabin said.

FO: Rabin, it’s also worth remembering, was a soldier. He was a military man. He indeed was one of Israel’s most distinguished and effective soldiers. He was crucial to, ironically, to the taking of Gaza in the Six-Day War and of the West Bank, indeed. And I think he’d had a gun in his hand from the time he was 16. 

He had no compunction about using violence, but he made two remarkable speeches. One was at the time of the announcement of the Oslo Accords in ’93. And the other was when he was accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in ’94. 

In his ’93 speech, as you said, Jon, he made a rhetorical point of repeating and emphasizing this word “enough.” We’ve done these things to each other. We’ve done them over and over again. Enough. You have to be able to say “enough” at some point.

And in his Nobel Prize speech, which I think probably contributed to his murder shortly afterwards, he talked about making decisions when you’re going to send people out to kill and die, which he had done many, many, many times.

And he said, “You do these things and then there’s a moment of silence after you’d made the decision, in which you start thinking about the mothers who were going to wake up the following day without their kids. You start thinking about the consequences of all of this.”

And he said, “In that moment of silence, while the clock is ticking towards the inferno, you have to think about, ‘Was there an alternative? Was there something else I could have done?'”

And it is a really important moral distinction, just that process of agonizing about how you use violence, and to what end. And this seems to me to be the critical question at the moment. Thinking about what Israel’s end game is in Gaza isn’t just an abstract thing for the day after, as it’s being called.

You cannot calibrate your means if you don’t know what the end is, right? So even if you say, “Well, the end justifies the means,” which is debatable, you have to know what the end is. You have to have a sense of that, before you can have any kind of moral calibration of how much is too much, when is enough, enough. 

And it’s so obvious from the outside that Israel has no sense of what the end is here. And it has no sense of it because, as you said, it’s already tried two big strategies, both of which have collapsed.

JW: Let’s talk about the first of those two big strategies, which was military rule of Gaza by Israel, which began with the Six-Day War of 1967, blasted for 40 years. This is after Gaza had been a distinct place for millennia. Gaza was a city, and then a refugee camp. And then in 1967 with the Six-Day War, Israel established direct military rule. How did that work? And why did the Israelis decide to give it up in 2005?

FO: Yes, indeed. I mean, this was the classic historical orthodoxy of what you do when you take territory, right? You conquer it and you colonize it. And Israel did indeed try to do that. It conquered it fairly easily. Colonization didn’t work out so well. 

And of course, it never was going to, in this tiny strip of land where you had a smaller population back then. But you still had well over a million people. And you could not flood that strip of land with Jewish settlers with any kind of rationality. 

So this was tried, but it ended up with 3,000 Israeli soldiers guarding about eight-and-a-half, 9,000 Israeli settlers. So one soldier for every three colonists. That’s not sustainable. Even with all the support that Israel gets from America and everywhere else, you just couldn’t do it. 

And so of course, Israel had to come to the conclusion that this was not viable, and then unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. Terrible political mistake. If at that time it had actually negotiated and talked to the people of Gaza about, ‘Okay, what is the future? We are making a big decision here.’ That could have been sold as a huge concession, as a real opening up to some kind of joint future. But politically, it seemed easier to say, ‘This is our unilateral decision.’ And of course, then it was followed not long afterwards by Gaza winning the elections on the blockade.

JW: There’s one other factor in Israel’s pullout from Gaza in 2005.  The Israeli settler movement has always distinguished between Gaza and the West Bank. Right-wing Zionists have always said the West Bank should be part of Israel. The Likud Party charter 1977 says, “Between the sea and the Jordan, there will be only Israeli sovereignty.”

But they never claimed that Gaza should be part of that. And that’s because the right-wing Zionists read the Bible to say that God wanted the Jews to live in what they call Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. But apparently God never told the Jews they should live in Gaza.

FO: God gives very confused messages, doesn’t he? Particularly in that part of the world. But of course, many of the Israeli settlers, I mean, some of them pulled out voluntarily. But if you remember, we had those extraordinary scenes whereby the Israeli Army had to go in and forcibly remove some of the settlers. I think you’re absolutely right in what you say. But even so, there was still this kind of apocalyptic thing that ‘What we have, we hold. We’ve conquered this territory, and now we ought to be able to occupy it.’

And even though there was, so far as I’ve read, overwhelming support in Israel for the pullouts, people realize this was – why were there kids at risk, and sometimes being shot, as Israeli soldiers, to protect this relatively tiny settlement? 

Very quickly after the evacuation of Gaza by the Israelis, of course, you then get the classic right-wing story of betrayal of the idea that these were people who had gone soft and had allowed this place to become a menace to Israel. And that’s been there as a sort of toxic myth for quite a long time.

JW: The immediate follow-up to the Israeli pullout was internationally monitored elections where Palestinians – it’s the only vote the Palestinians have ever had, where they had to choose between Fatah, a secular socialist organization that had led the Palestinian movement for decades. This was under Yasser Arafat.

And Hamas, which was of course an Islamic fundamentalist movement that refused to recognize the Oslo Accords, had carried out terror attacks against Israel. And in that election, supposedly a fair election, according to the international monitors, Hamas got a few more votes than Fatah. 

And as you said, Hamas took over control of Gaza, kicked out the PLO and Arafat, which then established their headquarters with the help of the Israelis in Ramallah. And you say this second period of Hamas rule of Gaza was what you call the real alternative to military occupation and colonization for Israel. Please explain why you say that.

FO: It’s pretty clear if you read the history, and also you look at the evidence of Israel’s repeated wars on Gaza since then, that it was this extraordinary strategy. I mean, it is quite difficult to get your head around, but actually very explicit. 

I mean, there’s no great mystery about it. So while Gaza was under Israeli military occupation, the military government had started to actually put money into the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is the parent organization of Hamas. It was banned, of course, by the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were ruling Gaza. It was brought back to life, as it were, by Israel, and funded and encouraged. 

Even though, I mean, its charter is hair-raisingly antisemitic, the worst kind of fundamentalist jihadism that you can imagine. But the strategy was, ‘Well, actually, this splits the Palestinians.’ And the mainstream of Palestinian politics was understood to be the PLO. So you get this alternative to the PLO.

Particularly after Hamas took control of Gaza, this is seen as a good thing because it completely undermines it as a political movement. And so you’re able to say, ‘Well, we’d love to have negotiations. We’d love to be involved in peace process. But look at these people; we can’t do it.’

Netanyahu in particular, this strategy’s on him. I mean, he’s not the only one, but he has been the person in power while this strategy has been implemented. And in military terms, it’s an extraordinary strategy. Because what this meant, remember, was going to war repeatedly with Hamas, but with the aim of leaving Hamas in power. 

So the military strategy was this horrific phrase, which people I’m sure have heard, which is “mowing the lawn.” So you let Hamas get on with doing what it does and controlling Gaza. You know that as part of that, it’s going to build up its arsenal of rockets, it’s going to fire the rockets at you. You then go in and attack Gaza, but you make sure to leave Hamas in place. So the lawn needs to be mowed. The lawn is not to be dug up. 

And of course, repeatedly in this, the main casualties, as we’re seeing now, where civilians, ordinary Gazan children and women, pay the price for this strategy. But that’s regarded as an acceptable price to pay. And it’s sort of built in that you’re going to do this every so often, right? Because you want to control Hamas, but you want to leave it in power. 

That crazy, crazy strategy, of course, collapsed in the most horrific way, with the most appalling consequences for Israeli civilians on October 7th.

JW: And now as we speak, the IDF is about to start fighting in Gaza City; urban warfare. The US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, reminded the Israelis of what will happen, what’s likely to happen next, what happened to American forces in the Iraq War that fought ISIS in Mosul. This was starting in 2016, Mosul, not terribly different from Gaza City and its population and its defense. The United States, of course, eventually won, in quotes. But it took 100,000 soldiers, mostly Iraqi soldiers. And Amnesty International reported that 10,000 civilians were killed in the Battle of Mosul. Coalition forces, United States and Iraq mostly, reported 8,200 of their own soldiers were killed. The siege of Mosul lasted eight months: started in October 2016, right about this time of the year, and it lasted until July 2017. 

And the Israelis know about this. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said last week this new phase of its war against Hamas may last for, “months”. And he conceded that it will be, “insufficient on its own to fully uproot Hamas.” 

So this takes us back to our opening subject. What is enough? Are they going to kill another 10,000? Will that be enough? And of course, when the Israeli leaders are asked about this, they don’t have an answer. 

The United States, last week. seems to have an answer. At the beginning of the week, Haaretz ran a photo of Secretary of State Antony Blinken shaking hands with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. And the headline in Haaretz was, “Abbas to Blinken: Palestinian Authority Willing to Control Gaza as Part of a Diplomatic Solution”. 

But then on Monday, a new report said “Abbas made it clear to Blinken that the PA’s entry into Gaza would be a difficult step that may present him as Israel’s ally”. You consider this possibility in your piece for the New York Review.

FO: I’m just trying to analyze it as objectively as I can from the outside. But it just seems to me to be completely insane. Israel has spent 20 years undermining the Palestinian Authority, making it weak, making it seem contemptible in the eyes of most Palestinians, taunting it, showing it to be unable to protect ordinary Palestinians on the West Bank, even as we speak. 

We’ve had these terrible, terrible attacks, terror attacks basically, on ordinary civilians in the West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority can do nothing about it. 

How do you think that you can render an organization contemptible in the eyes of its own people, and then say, ‘Oh, we need you now. Come in and rescue us from this hellhole. Take over a place that’s going to be just unimaginable blood-soaked rubble’? With, as you were saying, Jon, I mean, God, how many people dead? How many? Is it 10,000? Is it 20,000? I mean, we don’t know.

With a completely traumatized population, with no healthcare system; we presume that’s going to have been destroyed. No physical infrastructure working, no education system working, no political institutions working. 

You’re going to take this very institution, the Palestinian Authority, that you’ve rendered so weak. And then you’re going to say, ‘Oh, ride in on the back of an Israeli tank and you can govern this now on our behalf.’ I mean, it just makes no sense whatsoever. And you would think the Palestinian Authority knows this. 

The only way which it makes sense, the only tiny way you could see that there might be a way this would make sense, is if it were a part of a very radical political process, which also involved that this was a very clear step towards the establishments of a Palestinian state. Then you could see some credibility for the Palestinian Authority to say, ‘Yes, we are doing this. But it’s a prelude to the creation of Palestinian state that’s going to include Gaza and the West Bank.’

But Israel has no intention of doing that. Or certainly, the current Netanyahu government has absolutely no intention of doing that. 

There are two other solutions, so-called solutions that seem to be floating around from the papers you read. One is that there would be ethnic cleansing, basically. I mean, there are clearly people in the Israeli government. I mean, these are the people who in Rabin’s time were the crazies screaming in the keyhole. They were the mad, mad people. They’re in government now, and there’s a very substantial constituency there who want to basically drive the Gazans out into the Sinai Desert. Let Egypt take care of them, and we will control Gaza then, because there’ll be nobody there except us. And we will do the same thing in the West Bank. Leave aside the moral horror of that, which would be considerable, it’s completely unfeasible. Because bad as the so-called international community is in all of this, it simply can’t allow that to happen, because it would lead to a complete implosion of the Middle East. It would lead to war between states on an enormous level, and that just can’t be done. So that strategy makes no sense whatsoever. 

And then the other one that’s been mooted is that some sort of international coalition is going to step in: a coalition of Arab countries, or I mean, some of the papers that we’ve seen leaked from Israeli governments talking about America, Britain and France are going to go in and send their troops into Gaza. I mean, this is just not going to happen. 

And all of this is about: we create this horror, and then leave it to somebody else to try and sort it out.  There does not seem to me to be any kind of rational thinking attached to that.

JW: Fintan O’Toole: he wrote about “No End Game in Gazafor the New York Review. Fintan, thanks for talking with us today.

FO: Thank you, Jon.

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Jon Wiener

Jon Wiener is a contributing editor of The Nation and co-author (with Mike Davis) of Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties.

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