Podcast / Start Making Sense / Jun 19, 2024

How the 1960s Ended—and the Unending War in Gaza

On this episode of Start Making Sense, Francine Prose talks about her memoir 1974, and Hussein Ibish explains why neither Hamas nor Israel want a cease-fire.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

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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1974, the new memoir by Francine Prose, recalls the year when “the ’60s” 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 this episode of Start Making Sense: 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.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Politics After the Assassination Attempt | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

Will the assassination attempt change Trump’s campaign—make it more a call for unity and less a demand for retribution? Harold Meyerson reports on the evidence from the Republican National Convention.

Also: The Nation’s Joan Walsh has been following Kamala Harris for months, as she campaigns for Biden — but also provides evidence of her own potential as a presidential candidate.

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Jon Wiener: From The Nation magazine, this is Start Making Sense. I’m Jon Wiener.  Later in the show: Hamas and Israel both want the war in Gaza to continue – Hussein Ibish will explain why. But first: how the Sixties ended. Francine Prose remembers – in a minute.
Now it’s time to talk about 1974, when the sixties came to an end, when it became clear that the changes we’d wanted, the changes we fought for, were not going to happen. That year is the focus of the new memoir by Francine Prose. During her nearly 50-year career, she’s published 30 books, including 22 novels, along with reams of essays, reviews, columns, travelogues, writing on all kinds of topics: Anne Frank, Peggy Guggenheim, Caravaggio. And she’s won all kinds of awards. Her last book was “The Vixen,” a comic novel about Ethel Rosenberg; we talked about it here. Her new book is titled simply “1974.” Francine Prose, welcome back.

Francine Prose: Thank you so much, Jon.

JW: When the book opens, you’re 26. You’ve left grad school at Harvard and come to San Francisco, where the friends you are staying with introduce you to their neighbor, Tony Russo. When people remember him today, they say he helped Daniel Ellsberg with the release of the Pentagon Papers. But that’s not quite right. That’s not the way he described his role. What did Tony say?

FP: Well, Tony said, or Tony claimed, that he was the one who talked Ellsberg into doing it, into leaking the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was understandably hesitant about it, and Tony said, “We have to do this,” because they’d both been to Vietnam and they had that in common, and they were both working for the RAND Corporation, unhappily, and they had that in common, and I think they were very happy to have found each other at RAND. And as I said, Ellsberg was hesitant about doing it, and Tony said, “I know exactly how to do this. I have a friend who has a photocopy machine. Let’s just do it.” So in Tony’s accounting, he was the force that made Ellsberg do it.

JW: When you met Tony Russo, you write that you thought of him as “anti-war royalty.” What was he like?

FP: Extremely intense. He was always extremely intense. Slight southern accent, charming, funny looking, but not in an unattractive way, and quite modest at that point. I mean, I knew who he was. I mean, my friends had told me who he was, and of course, I recognized the name. But gradually, as we began to drive around San Francisco in the middle of the night, I found out more and more.

JW: In the book you say he was “the wounded outlaw.”

FP: Yeah. Well, outlaw culture was big then. I don’t think it’s quite the same appeal now, but as I say in the book, our heroes were Bonnie and Clyde and Marlon Brando and James Dean. I mean, people who proudly stood outside the culture and outside the political structure and tried to do something about it, or at least critique it. Now that the goal is to get as many “likes” as possible. It’s a different way of looking at the world, I think.

JW: So you thought of Tony as anti-war royalty. What were you thinking of yourself at that point?

FP: It’s a good question, Jon, because I mean, one of the things that this book has made me realize, and again, it just happened when you said she wrote 30 books, et cetera, et cetera, is some disconnect between what I’ve actually done and what I think I’ve done.
So I was a kid, really. I was 26 and already had a novel published. I was going to have another novel published. And now when I think of it, I think like, “Oh my God, I’ve done all that already.” And at the time, I just thought I was like some young woman, why would anyone be interested? Et cetera, et cetera. So I really just thought of myself as just a somebody in process of development.

JW: You do say, “I had begun to think of myself as a writer, a person on whom as Henry James said, nothing is wasted.”

FP: Yeah. Well, that’s right. I mean, Henry James, as we all know, would go to these dinner parties and someone would say three sentences and he’d go home and write, “Turn to the Screw.” So in a way that’s still there.

JW: Two years before you met Tony Russo, he and Ellsberg had been indicted under the Espionage Act for leaking this secret 7,000-page report on the history of the Vietnam War, which was then published in The New York Times and The Washington Post. I think we need a brief reminder of what was in the Pentagon Papers and why they were so huge when they were published in 1971. What did the Pentagon Papers show us?

FP: Well, they documented the fact that, I don’t know, four or five American presidents had willingly, willfully lied to the American people about why we were in Vietnam, what we were doing there, our chances of victory. I mean, the story was, that was being told to the American people was that we were fighting for democracy, and we were stopping communism. But in fact, none of these presidents wanted to look like the guy who lost in Asia. So we were partly there just to save face for whoever was in the White House. And then of course, the amount of money that was being made by what we used to call “the military-industrial complex” was happening too.
But you know what? I think I write about it in the book, but one of the things that was so startling to me writing it was the idea that Tony and Ellsberg had and many other people had, which was that the American people would be so shocked to find out the government had been lying to them, that immediately things would change, the war would end, they would agitate until the war ended. Now, government lying is like a joke. I mean, it’s not even a serious problem. So that’s how things have changed.

JW: Only one person went to jail in the Pentagon Papers case. And it wasn’t Daniel Ellsberg.

FP: No, it was Tony. Tony refused to testify against Ellsberg and refused to testify at all unless it could be done in open court. He wanted it to be a public hearing, and because he wanted to use it as teaching opportunity about the war, because that really was his mission. I mean, to inform the American people what had happened and why it had happened. But again, this idea that the president had lied, was so sensitive and so controversial that they wouldn’t allow him to do it to open the court. So he was jailed for contempt, really, for 47 days I think.

JW: You write that “Tony had done all we should have done. He’d lived the way we all should have lived. He had courage, and he went to jail for it.” But Ellsberg was always the star of the case. Ellsberg was the hero, not Tony. How come?

FP: Well, Ellsberg was handsome. He was well-dressed. He had a very wealthy wife, he had a great haircut, and he was politically much more moderate. I mean, Tony was way left. Tony talked about imperialism and capitalism and all these words that no one wanted someone to use at a fundraising dinner, whereas Ellsberg was, if you wanted to raise money for liberal causes, Ellsberg was your guy. Tony was totally not your guy. And in some ways, that’s the pivot that the book follows between the sixties and the seventies. I mean, that is in the sixties, it was like, you can look the way you want and not look like a businessman and be as radical as you want, and so on and so on. And by the seventies, it was clear that we’re all commodities. I mean, we’ve all been commodified in some way or we’re commodifiable, and Ellsberg was much more easy to commodify than Tony was. I mean, Tony was this shaggy super radical, hippie, aeronautical engineer.

JW: You said that Tony had thought the publication of the Pentagon Papers would be so shocking, it would end the war. That was 1971. But of course, the next year, Nixon was reelected. The last US troops didn’t leave from the helicopter on the roof – that was 1973, and the war itself didn’t end until 1975. That’s what we call the fall of Saigon. When Tony was driving you around San Francisco in 1974, did he think the publication of the Pentagon Papers had been a failure?

FP: I think so. I think he knew it by then. I think it was clear by then. Despite the reluctance to publish it and the incredible cloak and dagger machinations they went through to get this thing published, the fact that Nixon got elected so soon after, it was clear that it had been like, so people have been lying. Let’s just elect another liar and see how that goes. I mean, it certainly didn’t end the war.

JW: Taking a step back: in your memoir, you reject the concept of “the sixties generation.” Instead, you use the term “we”: “what we did,” “what we thought,” “we had to do what we could; we had to try.” These are sentences from your book. “If things were going to get better, it was up to us.” I really like that use of “we” instead of “the sixties generation.”  Explain what’s wrong with “the sixties generation” as a concept.

FP: Well, I think any generation, there’s so many variations within – I mean, just in terms of politics, let’s say. I mean, in my generation, the so-called, the “we,” people who were born around the time I was born, let’s say. There were right-wing people. There were left-wing people. There were people who got drafted and had to go to Vietnam. There were people who volunteered for Vietnam.

JW: Wasn’t Donald Trump part of “the sixties generation”?

FP: Yeah, he’s exactly my age. Yeah, that’s right. I don’t think of him as one of “us.”

JW: That’s why we prefer “we.””

FP: We,” yeah.

JW: You wrote a novel. You have said, well, you were still a grad student at Harvard, and you got it published by a real publisher an amazing thing for a young first novelist. So you went to New York where your editor introduced you to the publisher, the guy who ran the whole company. Tell us about him.

FP: Pat Knopf, yeah, he was – so Harry Ford, who was a great editor, who was an editor for a lot of poets and took me to meet, Pat Knopf, who was the head of the company, and Pat Knopf said to me, “You didn’t write this whole book all by yourself, did you?” I mean, that was part one. And then part two was I was so shocked that I just giggled complacently instead of saying, are you kidding me? Because I wanted my book to come out. I was willing to just play along with whatever that was, and I knew what it was. He just had to make clear what the power relations were in case I didn’t know, I already knew.

JW: So when your novel came out, it got a rave review in The New York Times. This is your first novel as a Harvard grad student. How did you find out?

FP: I was in the Miami Airport on a phone booth. I called my parents to say I was on my way home. I’d been in Mexico with this boyfriend, and we’d just been eating psilocybin mushrooms growing in cow pies that you could have. So I was a little out of it, and they were both just overjoyed and beside themselves, and they read me in the phone booth while the line of people, of course grew, the entire review, which was a rave by a man named Thomas Lasko I’ve never forgotten, and who I’m endlessly grateful to.

JW: What was your reaction in the phone booth?

FP: I was crying. I mean, everybody was crying. My parents were crying. I was crying. And also, I just couldn’t believe it. I was really – couldn’t believe it because I knew the book was – I mean, regardless of what its merits were, I knew that it was a book and my editors seemed to know that it was a book, but somehow it appearing in The New York Times as a book made me realize that it was a book. So it was shocking too.

JW: Before that, in Cambridge, you joined a consciousness raising group, but you didn’t fit in all that well, and you think you know why – and it wasn’t because you were not a feminist.

FP: No, I was very much a feminist. I still am a feminist. It was partly because I’ve come to realize in a way that I’m not really a joiner. I think one of the reasons you might become a writer or be able to sustain that life is because you like working on your own. There’s certainly more collaborative things you could do with your life. So there was that. But also, the women were extremely, and it seemed to me, oddly sympathetic to my husband. They were all complaining about their boyfriends and husbands and all stuff. They didn’t do the dishes. They didn’t have their pot contending. And every time I would say something, they would say like, “But he’s so nice.” So he’s really nice guy, I don’t know why-

JW: You later said that after you left Cambridge, your husband slept with all the women in your consciousness raising group. That’s pretty shocking. Do you think it’s true?

FP: No, it is not true. It is absolutely not true. I liked the way that story played out, and it was fun to tell. I mean, but the fact was, who knows? They might have. They were so, as I said, sympathetic to him, and so understanding of his problems having to live with me, for example, that I don’t know, but one who was a friend of mine, they actually did have some kind of affair.

JW: So this book is about the end of the sixties. You write, “It had been cool to want to change the world, but by 1974, it had begun to seem embarrassing. By 1974, we were supposed to rethink and even apologize for the impossible things we wanted. Everything had changed, and not in a good way.”
You list the killing spree by the Manson family; the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion that killed three members of the Weather Underground; the murder at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont; and Patty Hearst, who had just been kidnapped when you arrived in San Francisco. Patty Hearst, “the innocent billionaire,” you call her, kidnapped and brainwashed by the Symbionese Liberation Army, who taught her to say, “Greetings to the people. This is Tanya.”  And “Death to the fascist insect.” How did conservatives regard these huge media events?

FP: They were godsends. They were really godsends because they proved what they’d been saying all along. These people, these hippies, these radicals are violent thugs. At their so-called Love Inn, they bring in the Hell’s Angels to murder some perfectly innocent black guy. So all these things lined up to really underline and express and give more evidence to what conservatives have been saying about what we now call progressive or radical movements all along. These people, all they want is violence and mayhem, and they have no constructive ideas.

JW: What they had been saying about us.

FP: Us, yeah, me and my friends.

JW: One of my favorite parts of the book is that you write today when you remember San Francisco in 1974, the first images that come to mind are from the movie Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film, of course, has a lot of driving around in San Francisco. Remind us about the plot of Vertigo, Scotty, Madeleine, and Judy.

FP: Scotty played by James Stewart is a detective who’s hired by a rich guy named Elster to follow his wife, Madeleine, who has these strange obsessions. She goes to the museum and sits in front of this portrait of a woman who’s been dead for a hundred years. She goes to this woman’s grave and so forth, and Scotty agrees to follow Madeleine around, and he rescues her from when she appears to be drowning herself, rescues her, falls madly in love with her, and then through complicated circumstances, she dies. And he sees a woman who looks almost exactly like Madeleine, except where Madeleine was very sleek and upper class and blonde. This woman is working class and redheaded speaks differently. And I love the movie. I’ve probably seen the movie like 15 times. Each time I see it, I see something else in the movie that I hadn’t seen before.

JW: We’ll get there, but first, there’s a scene no one can forget, where Scotty takes the working-class girl Judy to a dress shop for a makeover. Tell us about that.

FP: Yeah. Again, these places don’t exist anymore. It was this upscale, to say the least, dress shop, and usually it was the man and his, whatever, wife, mistress, girlfriend, something, who would go, and they would make the decision together, and they would choose, these suits, in this case dresses that the models were wearing, and order them. And then there would be tailor-made. So when Kim Novak comes out wearing this gray, incredibly sleek suit with a pencil skirt, she’s just this vision of ice princess, upper-class woman, everything you could want; untouchable, somebody else’s rich wife-to-be. And Scotty falls madly in love. And then when he tries to remake Judy into the dead Madeleine, he thinks that this can be accomplished by dressing her in Madeleine’s clothes and having her dye her hair to mimic Madeleine’s hair.  But for reasons that are revealed in the film, and which we know, it’s not going to work out.

JW: You say every time you see the film, it seems to be about something else. It’s changed a lot for you over your lifetime. When you were young and angry at men, what did it seem to be about?

FP: Well, Scotty falls in love with Madeleine when she’s basically unconscious from having nearly drowned. It’s a weird scene. He brings her back to his bed, where she wakes up naked. At that point, I thought, “Yeah, this is what men want. Just the sleeping beauty. They prefer unconscious to conscious. They prefer mindless to having any intelligence whatsoever.” And that was then.
But after many changes in years and long happy marriage, et cetera, I no longer think that’s what the movie’s about. For example, there’s a moment in the film when Scotty first sees Judy on the street and thinks he’s always reminded of Madeleine. And by now, so many people I’ve been close to have died. And I’ve so often had the experience of seeing that person walking down the street, so that I understand that moment in a way that I couldn’t possibly have understood it when I was in my 20s, because most of the people I knew were still alive.

JW: And I’d also like to talk about your becoming a writer instead of a grad student. One of the things that made you want to be a writer, that got you started with the idea that you could be a writer, you say, was the first sentence of 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Many years later, as he faced the Firing Squad. . . .”

FP: “… Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”  It’s an incredible sentence. That book was so much fun. It was so much fun to read. It was so imaginative. The joy of storytelling that was all the way through it. And I was having so little fun in graduate school, and the way that literature was being taught and presented to me was no fun at all. So I thought I’d rather try and do what Garcia Marquez is doing than do what my fellow graduate students are doing, and because I can’t even figure out what they are doing.

JW: You’ve written 22 novels. This is your first memoir. I wonder how and when you decided to do a memoir about your young life in San Francisco, about 1974, with Tony driving you around San Francisco at night, telling you about his life, singing along with the Delphonics on the radio, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.” In those days, did you think you might write about him?

FP: No. It’s funny. I did a Zoom with a young woman, I guess last week or the week before, and she said, “There’s one thing in your memoir I don’t believe.” And I said, “Really? What?” And she said, “that you didn’t think at the time that you were going to write about this.” 
But I really didn’t. And in fact, one of the things I’ve been admitting to is that, at the very end of the book, I take my granddaughters to see Vertigo, and I’m weeping, and my younger granddaughter comforts me. And in the book, I say, “That’s when I decided that I wanted to write about all that.”
Well, it makes a nice ending from the book, but isn’t strictly speaking true. I mean, maybe a year after that or two, or maybe I think it was during COVID, because we would take walks with friends outside. I was walking with a friend of mine up here in the country, and I can’t remember how it came up, but I told her the whole story about Tony and the riding around, and then his breakdown and the press conference and so forth. And she said, “Why don’t you write it?” And it really hadn’t occurred to me. I don’t know why. It just hadn’t. Well, mostly because I don’t write about myself. I would prefer to make people up. So I thought about it, and then I started writing.

JW: Francine Prose, thank you for writing 1974. This book meant a lot to me.  And thanks for talking with us today.

FP: Thank you, Jon. It’s a pleasure, as always.

Jon Wiener: On May 31st, Joe Biden, talking about Gaza, 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. That’s what Hussein Ibish says. He’s senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He writes for The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, The New York Times. He’s appeared widely on network TV news shows. Hussein Ibish, welcome back.

Hussein Ibish: Thank you, Jon. Wonderful to be with you again.

JW: It’s not hard to see why Netanyahu rejected Biden’s proposal for a ceasefire. Biden himself explained it. He said, “There’s every reason to believe Netanyahu is prolonging the war in Gaza for his own political self-preservation.” As soon as the war ends, there’ll be an investigation of the security failures that led to October 7th. He will get most of the blame. There’ll be a call for new elections. He will lose. He will go on trial. He will be found guilty of corruption, may end up in jail. But what about Hamas? They didn’t exactly reject Biden’s proposal, but they proposed impossible conditions. Why do you think they want the war to continue? Since the destruction in Gaza has been so devastating? As of this week, something like 38,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than 85,000 wounded. Surely Hamas would want that to end.

HI: Well, right? That is the question. And by the way, the death toll is an under count because there are unknown numbers of people buried under the rubble. So there’s an unknown number in the thousands of extra people who are simply gone. Anyway, you are asking a great question. Netanyahu, by the way, is on trial for corruption. Now it’s just going very, very slowly. And as long as he’s prime minister, nothing decisive will happen in that trial. So that’s exactly right. He has a personal reason, political reasons. It’s very clear as he’s been able to prolong the war in Gaza, his numbers have gone up.

JW: Okay, but why does Hamas want the war to go on?

HI: Well, really because it’s going according to plan. In the case of Netanyahu, the drive to keep the war going is personal and political. It’s very focused on one man’s agenda. In the case of Hamas, I think it’s much more like they have a strategy for their own goals regarding October 7th and the post-October 7th scenarios that either have emerged or that they were anticipating because there was a range of them, and they feel that things are going well for that plan. My view is that they wanted Israel to come back militarily into the urban centers of Gaza. They wanted them to stay around because they were looking for a long-term insurgency. Hamas leaders in the aftermath of October 7th kept saying that if October 7th hadn’t provoked the Israeli reaction that it did, they would’ve kept doing it again and again until they did get that reaction. The kind of overreaction, that spectacular overkill by guerilla groups and insurgent groups or terrorist groups, however you want to put it, is intended to provoke.
Remember 9/11 in the United States. Certainly Al-Qaeda was hoping to produce an American overreaction and they got one in Iraq. I don’t think they could have predicted exactly what it was going to look like, but they didn’t care. They were counting on us to inflict a blow on American interests that they were not capable of inflicting. And that’s what these groups always try to do. And I think the goal here for Hamas is an insurgency which they can launch against Israeli troops for an indefinite period of time. That’s the permanent state of war that their leaders were talking about. It has to be in Gaza.

JW: And what is their long-term goal? How could they win this kind of conflict?

HI: It’s a very, very good question. You have to understand the context in which they’re operating in order to comprehend that. I think that a lot of people assume that it’s Hamas on one side representing Palestinians and the Israeli government and military on the other side representing Jewish and other Israelis. And that’s the conflict, but that’s wrong. Hamas operates first and foremost as a Palestinian faction within Palestinian domestic politics. So the prime directive of Hamas when it was founded in 1987 during the first Intifada, which was a grassroots uprising against Israeli rule in the occupied Palestinian Territories, the first time Palestinians in the occupied territories that were conquered by Israeli in 1967 rose up spontaneously in a grassroots way against the Israeli military, mainly with protests, with stone throwing, with lots of different tactics that were largely not fatally dangerous. There was a lot of symbolic violence.
There was a vacuum of leadership because the PLO leaders, the secular national leaders who had founded the modern iteration of the Palestinian national movement after the disastrous war of 1967, led by Yassar Arafat had been driven out of the immediate vicinity of Israel and Palestine through the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In 1982, the PLO agreed to leave Lebanon. The leaders and the fighters went to Tunisia. And so when the intifada broke out in 1987, there was a vacuum of leadership, right? There was no one on the ground. The PLO was far away in North Africa. There was nobody. And the Muslim Brothers created Hamas to try to fill that leadership gap, try to turn the Palestinian calls from a secular nationalist one. Were generally kind of leftist in the case of Arafat with a slight Islamic tinge to it, but nothing religious. You had the secular nationalist version of Palestinian nationalism that had dominated the movement since 1967.
It created and it controlled all of the national institutions, the Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian National Congress, the Palestine Liberation Organization and everything else. And Hamas was created to challenge that from the religious right to try to get the Palestinian cause to be an Islamist one led by Hamas rather than a secular nationalist one with a leftist tinge led by Fatah. And Hamas has never succeeded in that goal.
That prime directive from ’87 is unfulfilled because while Hamas was ruling in Gaza with the approval and support of Netanyahu and the Israeli right, which wanted to split the Palestinians, and this is according to their own words, I’m not interpreting Netanyahu’s strategy. He explained it to Knesset members in September of 2019. We want to split the Palestinians, have Hamas in Gaza contained and cut down the size with these wars, but let’s feed them money. I mean, not our money. Qatari money, Turkish money, Iranian money, whatever money, keep them afloat in Gaza and have Fatah in the West Bank split the Palestinians and block the prospects for a Palestinian state. And it worked, right? But it did set up October 7th. So I think Hamas is trying to pursue an insurgency against Israel as the next phase in their battle to unseat Fatah and gain control of the crown jewel, which is the PLO.

JW: Hasn’t there been a lot more support among Palestinians over the last 30, 40 years for a secular nationalist movement than for an Islamist movement? Or am I wrong about that?

HI: Oh no. I think it’s clear from polling and election results that like in most of the Arab countries, while most Palestinians, though there’s a sizable Christian minority, most of them are Muslim, Sunni Muslims, almost all of them. And most of them are devout, but they are not Islamists. And as the same thing was proven in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Libya and everywhere where it’s been tried. Devout Arab Muslims are not Muslim Brothers just dying to get to the polls to vote for the Brotherhood. Brotherhood did well in early elections, and Hamas has done well in elections by tying their cause to other things and by being after the Arab Spring uprisings, the only groups with an organized ground game and a profile not tainted by association with the former regime. So they had this competitive advantage. But everywhere they’ve fallen, I think I can confidently say, because there’s so much polling data and election results among Palestinians, that Islamists are about 20 to 22 or 23% of the Palestinian population including in Gaza. And the rest are something else.

JW: Something else?

HI: That something else is not fundamentalist, it’s not Islamist. And I think Hamas knows this. And so they have always sought to link their right-wing reactionary social agenda because what do the Islamists have in the end? They have this reactionary social ideology. Cover your hair, don’t drink alcohol, stop smoking. Are you related to that woman? Is that really your sister? That kind of stuff. Women shouldn’t ride motorcycles or smoke a hookah because it’s obscene. That’s their agenda. They don’t have any ideas about tax policy. They don’t have any idea. They got nothing. All they have is a bunch of retrograde social attitudes about personal behavior. That’s what they got in the end. And everybody has to be religious. That’s their agenda.

JW: So how could this war end now? Our college campuses have been full of encampments arguing that Joe Biden could end the war by cutting off military support for Israel. And in fact, he did announce a very timid and brief pause in supplying 2,000 pound bombs a few weeks ago. But now they’re talking about billions more dollars that Congress seems eager to appropriate. Is Biden capable of stopping the war of pressuring Israel, of pressuring Netanyahu into abandoning this war to focus on the larger security problems that Israel faces?

HI: Yes and no. I mean, I think Biden sort of talked himself into a corner here, policy himself into a corner in the sense that the original American policy, the Biden policy on Gaza, as I understand it, and I’m really confident about this, it was conflict containment, well happens in Gaza, stays in Gaza, kind of the Las Vegas idea. In other words, what I mean is the calculation was that US policy could survive and cope with pretty much anything that happened in Gaza, short of an all-out, get 20,000 people and shoot them all at the same, that kind of massacre. Anything short of that could probably be coped with because of the relative remoteness of Gaza and the fact that you’re dealing with two actors, the Netanyahu government in Israel and Hamas, that are generally not popular in the Middle East and especially among governments.
And so I think the idea was that if the war spread, especially into Lebanon, dragging in possibly Iran and even the United States potentially, and there were some people in the administration very high up, not the president, but others who were convinced or very fearful, that’s a better way of putting it. They weren’t sure, but they were very fearful that Netanyahu was plotting to drag the United States into a bigger war and get the US to finally attack Iranian nuclear facilities at the end of the day, or certainly get the US into a shooting war with Hezbollah and Iran by attacking Lebanon and all of that. Now they have managed to restrain the Israelis in Lebanon thus far. We’ll see what happens. We’re at a very crucial stage there. But one of the tactics of to do all of this was a bear hug for the Israelis on the Gaza War, a carte blanche, which lasted for months and very slowly, you saw restrictions coming up and limits put, it took months for the US to abstain at a general assembly resolution calling for ceasefire.
It took more months for the US to call for a ceasefire. First it was Kamala Harris, then it was Joe Biden. He did warn Israel in his State of the Union address against using food as a weapon of war, which they have been doing. Using starvation as a tactic against civilians, which they definitely are doing, and for which they may face indictment by the international criminal court in the coming days. They’re talking about indicting Netanyahu and defense minister Yoav Gallant on grounds of using starvation as a weapon of war. And three Hamas leaders, Yahya Sinwar, the overall head in Gaza, Mohammed Deif, the head of the paramilitary organization in Gaza, and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the politbureau in Qatar—these Hamas leaders for murder, kidnapping and sexual violence linked to October 7th and the holding of hostages. The administration is very keen on getting the Rafah campaign done.
You’ll notice that Israel is doing its attacks on Rafah where three or four Hamas battalions are supposedly hold up. And the Israelis claiming this is the last major operation in the Gaza War, but they’ve been doing it a very different way because of American pressure. It’s not this all-out attack like on Khan Unis, where in three, four days the place was reduced to a moonscape. All right. The problem for the Israelis is the insurgency, the Hamas plan has begun. Hamas is starting to attack Israeli troops in Gaza City, in Jabalia, in trying to get across the border near Kerem Shalom. All these things that were supposedly taken care of are now starting to happen on a low level. And so exactly what I think Hamas wanted has already started.

JW: And can Biden pressure Israel effectively into ending the war, accepting the ceasefire?

HI: No, I don’t think so. I think he’s painted himself into a corner where he’s supported so much of the Israeli war so far that he’s left himself with very little leverage in the sense that Israel needs munitions, not for more war in Gaza, because that’s turning into a counterinsurgency campaign, which does not require these 2,000-pound bombs. What they need it for is a potential war in Lebanon, and that’s what the administration doesn’t want. So Biden is in this situation where these Israelis can just blow him off on Gaza. And what they need is to convince him that a potential war in Lebanon is not that bad an idea.
They’re not going to be able to convince him of that. He’s not going to give them a green light in Lebanon, but they could go ahead and attack Lebanon anyway, and then work Congress, work the ground game, talk to their friends on the radical fundamentalist evangelical right. Talk to their friends in the liberal camp, the old school Biden liberals and others who don’t like saying “no” to Israel and try to get their way anyway. And they may do that if they come to feel a war in Lebanon is necessary. I don’t think Biden has the heft even to say no in an effective way. I don’t think they need a green light from the United States to attack Lebanon.

JW: So the only people left in the world who seem to want the war in Gaza to continue into the indefinite future are also the only ones who could stop it: Hamas and Netanyahu.

HI: That’s exactly the situation we’re in, right? Everybody else wants this war in Gaza to end.

JW: Hussein Ibish – his article, “For Hamas, Everything is Going According to Plan” was published at TheAtlantic.com. Hussein, thanks for talking with us today.

HI: It’s so great to join you and I really appreciate it. I look forward to coming back sometime.

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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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