'US Has Power to Stop Israel, But...': Historian Ilan Pappé on Siege of Gaza

'The UN is obsolete, & has failed to deliver on its promise to represent the nations,' said the Israeli expatriate.

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"The bottom line is that the US has the power to stop Israel, but it probably won't take any firm action," said Ilan Pappé, an expatriate Israeli historian and political scientist, on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East that has left thousands of Palestinians dead after Israel retaliated for the October 7 attack by Hamas.

Pappe, whose research focuses on the modern Middle East and, in particular, the history of Israel and Palestine, is currently a professor with College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK and director of the university's European Centre for Palestine Studies.

In the wake of Israel continuing to wage war across the besieged territory, The Quint spoke to Pappe on the role the US can play, the rising clamour for a ceasefire in Gaza, and the impact of the current conflict on the Russia-Ukraine war.

Here are the edited excerpts:

The attack by Hamas on Israel [on 7 October] has shattered the myth of the omnipotence of the Israeli defence establishment and its intelligence apparatus. What will be the radical shift brought in place by the Hamas attack in the course of military manoeuvres in West Asia and in rest of the world? 

Unfortunately, as dramatic as the events are, I do not think that much will change in the near future. Very much what we had before 7 October, will remain after. Israel will still control the whole of historical Palestine, and Palestinians wherever they are, will continue to resist. Arab regimes will still prefer normalisation or quasi-normalisation (apart from Syria and Lebanon), while their societies will demand a far tougher attitude towards Israel.

"It is not the military balance which is important; what is important is whether civil societies, in particular in the Global North, can impact their government to represent them loyally in demanding strong pressure on Israel to stop colonisation and oppression."

Given how impregnable the Israeli defence is famed to be, is there any basis to assume that Israel let the 7 October terrorist event happen so as to create a context for pursuing its long-term plans in respect of Gaza? Or, is such an apprehension outrageously fanciful?

There are serious questions, asked even in Israel, about the failure. Why were security forces removed on Friday [6 October] from the Kibbutzim? Why did 500 soldieries wait outside Kibbutz Beeri for five hours before entering? I am not sure if we will ever know if at all and how was there intentional wish to allow the operation, or part of it, for political reasons. So no, it is not fanciful, but at this stage, very hard to prove. 


What, if any, could have been the covert game plan of Hamas in unleashing terror of such an unprecedented magnitude on Israelis? Surely, they knew that Israel will hit back with disproportionate vehemence – which they will not be able to withstand for long? It is hard to think that they assumed that the political goals of the Palestinians could be achieved, or even promoted in a small measure, by this action. What could have been the calculations underlying this step?

We do not know if part of the operation went out of hand, when civilians crossed into the area occupied and committed most of the atrocities. But it is clear that Hamas felt that the continued siege, attacks on al-Aqsa, the blockade was not a reality that could continue. It is also possible that they counted on Hezbollah in the north, and the Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel, to trigger a multi-front confrontation that would lead to international intervention, but that did not unfold. 


To what extent has the fissure between the Hamas and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] catalysed this catastrophe?

It was less the fissure with the PLO and much more the sense that the PA [Palestinian Authority] cannot defend the Palestinians in the West Bank. The planning was two years ago, before the schism in the Israeli society; maybe the timing was affected by it. 


An unprecedented humanitarian crisis has developed in Gaza and West bank with thousands killed and even hospitals and refugee camps attacked. The UN has once again proved itself ineffectual in dealing with issues of such magnitude wherein powerful partisan forces are at play. Isarel is likely to defy the authority of the UN, if it intervenes to the detriment of its stated goals. Is the UN becoming obsolete? Shouldn’t it be revamped? If yes, in what respects?

Yes, the UN has no power over Israel, and it is paralysed by the veto system that allows the US to block the Security Council from taking any meaningful action. So, in many ways, it is obsolete because it has violated the opening clause of its charter promising to represent the nations and people of the world – and not the governments of the world. But dismantling it without a substitute would be a mistake. We need to work for an alternative – and it will take time.


Is the US complicit in the goals of Israel, or are tensions developing between the two? Do you envisage the US withdrawing from this theatre of tension at any point, in view of the cost it might exact on that country in  relation to its geopolitical goals and priorities in this region?

It is complicit in the sense it provides immunity in the international diplomatic arena and provides the military capacity to perpetrate operations such as the one unfolding in Gaza. The US will try and avoid the escalation of the war and its development into a regional war. As a democratic president, he [Joe Biden] does not wish the war in Gaza to escalate into a regional war, so he despatched the American navy to deter Hezbollah and Iran. But, on the other hand, his inaction, pushes regional actors to intervene even if they are reluctant to do so – because this American passivity allows Israel to expand and continue the genocidal policies in Gaza. 

Biden does not dare to rebuke Israel too strongly because of electoral considerations. The bottom line is that the US has the power to stop Israel, but will only talk about doing it, and will probably will not take any firm action on this issue. From history, we learned that in the final analysis, despite differences in style, all the American administrations pursue the same policy of providing Israel an exceptionalism that immunises it from international rebuke.


Given that Arab countries are clamouring for a ceasefire in Gaza, how can Israel and the US parry it on the alibi that it will aid Hamas and, thereby, prolong the conflict, given that the elimination of Hamas is Israel’s avowed goal? 

This is, of course, not a logical position but a cynical one. But it stands to reason that the US within two to three weeks will join the call for a ceasefire – hoping the Israelis will declare that most of their military targets have been achieved.


The stand-off in West Asia is bound to impact the Ukraine-Russia war. With the US resources and attention focused on West Asia, how long can Ukraine hold out against the might of Russia? 

We have to wait and see how significant is the American military aid to Israel right now to accept that it affected the American aid to the Ukraine (the problem there that the Congress felt that the aid to the Ukraine was too costly). And yet, it does not seem the Russian army is able to fulfill its goals, so unless there will be a diplomatic solution, the lethal deadlock will continue to claim a huge number of causalities on both sides. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Middle East   Gaza   Hamas 

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