Sunday, January 8, 2017

‘Outrage’ at the United Nations

In Alice in Wonderland, we hear this wondrously subversive quote from the White Queen:
“Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
            That pretty much describes the state of Israel’s outrage regarding the recent U.N. Security Council vote condemning its illegal settlements, and especially the United States’ refusal to block this vote. Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, called President Obama’s abstention (the U.S. didn’t vote for the measure; it abstained, thus withholding its customary veto which has allowed Israel to avoid the full censure of the U.N. in all past votes condemning it) a “shameful ambush.” This language, and Israeli outrage, thus qualifies as Alice-in-Wonderland thinking, or perhaps better, newspeak. Its sense is patent nonsense, not least because it turns the real situation on its head. Israel is the aggressor here, Israel is the violator of dozens of United Nations’ resolutions condemning its illegal settlements, as the last one did, as “a flagrant violation under international law.” That is, nearly 600,000 Israelis live in settlements, mostly in the West Bank (the presumptive home of a Palestinian state) and East Jerusalem (long allocated as the Palestinian portion of that putatively international city), and every one of them is illegal—an attempt, according to most observers, to literally steal Palestinian land and eventually make a Palestinian state an impossibility. Though the United States has not condemned the building of new settlements as international crimes, it has regularly objected to them as a hindrance to the peace process. Secretary of State John Kerry, in defending the U.S. refusal to veto the recent UN resolution, has said this specifically. The United States, he said recently, was actually standing up for a two-state solution when it abstained, because the settlements make a two-state solution impossible.
            To Israel, however, and to Netanyahu in particular (supported from the sidelines by President-Elect Trump in an unprecedented interference in foreign policy before he takes office on January 20), the U.S. action was a betrayal, an “ambush.” Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, called it a “misguided hit job.” And the United States Congress, continuing its shameful pandering to a foreign government, on January 5 voted 342 to 80 to ‘support Israel unwaveringly’ and to insist that the United States reject future actions at the United Nations that are similarly “one-sided and anti-Israel.” Several Congress members are going further, pushing the United States to cut the funding that the U.S. provides to the UN (about 22% of the UN budget), just as Israel has done recently. To see how absurd these statements are, consider these points about settlements.
1)    the settlements are in breach of Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupier from transferring its own civilians into the territory it occupies. That is because occupations resulting from war must be temporary, not permanent—and Israel’s occupation of Palestine’s West Bank has lasted for fifty years.
2)    the settlements are also in breach of Article 55 of the Hague Regulations, according to which an occupier must safeguard occupied properties and maintain the status quo. Instead, the Israeli settlements actually undermine public order, and inflict major and usually negative changes upon the territory they occupy.

That these are violations of international law is thus clear and evident to any impartial observer. Even Israeli groups like B’Tselem have agreed with such analyses and have called on the government of Israel to suspend all new settlement programs and, at the very least, stop giving financial incentives to Israeli citizens to populate new settlements. B’Tselem has also called for the gradual dismantling of all existing settlements and the resettling of the settler population, including the nearly 200,000 living in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, to legal communities within the borders of the Israeli state. In other words, far from encouraging new settlements, as the current government (supported by the rabid Israel supporters in the U.S. Congress) is doing, this Israeli organization calls for just the opposite: the government should dismantle settlements and adhere to Israel’s obligations under international law.
            But of course, any criticism both inside and outside of Israel, is treated as betrayal, terrorism, anti-semitism, and the ambush of the “only democracy in the Middle East.” As Alon Ben Meir notes in his piece “The Settlements: Self-Entrapment of Existential Proportions,” (Huffington Post Sept. 8, 2016), though Netanyahu claims that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace and a two-state solution,
…In the same breath, he publicly and repeatedly states that the Jews have an inalienable historic right to the entire “land of Israel,” especially the West Bank. As such, Israel is not an occupying power and has the inherent right to establish settlements on any part of its historic land.

Read that again. Despite the fact that the Israelis have occupied Palestinian lands illegally since the 1967 war, and despite the fact that every rational observer regards those usurped Palestinian lands as the basis for peace via a two-state solution (where Israel would keep its lands behind the green line and the Palestinians would get the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem for their state), Netanyahu dismisses all of this by recourse to the old “land of Israel” argument. ‘It’s in the Bible.’ ‘It’s in our book.’ ‘God gave us this land (hence the historic written-by-God right to the entire “land of Israel” or Eretz Israel) and we therefore own it— regardless of the Palestinians who have lived and worked this land for generations.’ Therefore, war or no war, UN or no UN, “Israel is NOT an occupying power” and can therefore establish settlements anywhere it chooses on its God-given land. And it can push and separate and create Bantustans for Palestinians who are nothing but interlopers squatting on God’s land anyway. And finally, as has long been the position of the extreme right in Israel—like Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party, AND David Friedman, Trump’s choice to be America’s Ambassador to Israel—settlement expansion is really the tip of the spear of annexation of the entire West Bank into the longed-for Greater Israel that will do away with Palestinian statehood and Palestinians entirely.
            So when the United Nations Security Council passes a resolution that disputes Israel’s right to do whatever it wishes with its land and the ‘squatters’ who live there, it goes berserk (along with the white supremacist toadies in the U.S. Congress), and shouts “ambush” and “hit job” and “monumental betrayal.” And it gets the President-Elect to vow that once he gets into office, the United States of America will go the distance to support Israel’s God-given right to steal all the Palestinian lands it wants or needs to cement its European-based claim to dominance in the Middle East. End of story.
            Meantime, we who can read and who know the history of this most outrageous, most openly-fascist heist of a country in modern times, can only shake our heads and wonder how long this—the real outrage: the theft of Palestine from its indigenous people—can go on. And how a world that calls itself “civilized” can allow it, can encourage it to go on.

Lawrence DiStasi

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