“An island of rich Israelis set in a sea of Palestinian serfs”

Posted: March 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Fareed Zakaria describes the future image of Israel, while Ambassador Oren rejects the notion of an American peace plan

Israel opposes the idea of an American Peace settlement that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. According to Ambassador Michael Oren, who was interviewed on PBS, trying to force a solution from the outside will be like “forcing somebody to fall in love.”

Haaretz reports:

Asked if Israel wanted the Washington to present its own peace plan, Oren said:

“No. I think peace has to be made between two people sitting opposite a table. America can help facilitate that interaction. But at the end of the day, no one can force parties in any conflict in the world to make peace. It’s like forcing somebody to fall in love. We have to sit down and thresh it out between us.”

Oren added: “If we arrive at points where we can’t agree, we can’t close the gap between us, then we – both the Israelis and the Palestinians as well – are willing to look at various bridging formulas.”

“But America is not in a position where it’s going to come in and impose a plan. I don’t think that’s to anybody’s benefit. And I’m sure parties on all sides of this conflict understand that.”

The problem is that, left on its own, Israel would never leave the west bank. Even in the aftermath of the confrontation with the US administration last week, Netanyahu insisted that Israel will go on building Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. It is clear that all of Israel’s actions – as opposed to some of its declarations – are aimed at strengthening its control over the West Bank. This led even a realist and usually pro-Israeli person like Fareed Zakaria to saying that “this government has probably been the least responsive to concerns from Washington on the issue of the peace process in 20 years.”

In a Newsweek article, Zakaria writes:

“The central problem persists: Israel rules more than 3 million Palestinians who will never become citizens of Israel and yet do not have their own state. As they multiply, Israel’s status as a democracy becomes more and more complex; the country looks more and more like an island of rich Israelis set in a sea of Palestinian serfs.”

On CNN, Zakaria describes the current Israeli attitude as “a big mistake”. I agree with his analysis, but not with the conclusion: it’s not a mistake, it’s policy.

Notice the language Ambassador Oren uses to reject even the idea of an American offer. “It will be like forcing somebody to fall in love,” he says. It’s again this idea that the sole goal of the process is peace and security (the so-called “love”) for Israelis. But as I wrote before, and as Fareed Zakaria notes, the heart of the issue is the occupation, which holds 3 million Palestinians without basic rights for more than four decades. This is something Israelis simply don’t have in mind.

If Michael Oren or the Israeli government had a serious plan as how to solve this issue – not just vague lip service – it should have been heard a long time ago. Since all we get from Jerusalem is the usual rhetoric on why we can’t leave the West Bank, stop settling it or hand the Palestinians any rights, the world is right in offering it’s own solutions, and in applying more and more pressure on Israel.

Prof. David Phillips tries to prove settlements are legal, but ultimately leads to the question of Apartheid

Posted: December 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »
West Bank Archipelago

West Bank Archipelago

The neo-con Jewish magazine Commentary features an article by law professor David Phillips, under the title The Illegal-Settlements Myth. Basically, it argues against the commonly accepted view, that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law, and most notably, the 4th Geneva Convention.

Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention forbids an occupying force from transferring his own population to the occupied territory. Prof. Phillips claim that (a) it is not clear whether the West Bank can be seen as “occupied land”, and (b) “transfer” only refers to the active, even forceful, move of civilians, which is not the case with the settlements.

I’m not a big fan of legalism when it comes to international relations. I think that legal debates, more often than not, tend to miss the point, and I believe the tendency of lawyers to cherry pick the cases that suit their claim can be very harmful when it comes to questions of power and justice, as most issues in international politics are. A good example of legalistic cherry-picking was Lawrence Siskinds attack on the Goldstone report which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Prof. Phillips’ article – which has been since quoted by several bloggers and referred to in the Examiner – is even worse: it presents a new reading of the Forth Geneva Convention, but then it fails to follow through with its own logic. I will try to show here how. I won’t however go into the historical “facts” Prof. Phillips presents – many of them debatable at best – except when it is necessary to make my point. Here is such a case:

Phillips’ theory is based on the unique position of the West Bank as “unallocated territory,” i.e. land that was never recognized as belonging to a sovereign state. While describing the historical development that led to this state of affairs, Prof. Phillips casually notes that:

Over the course of the years to come, there was little dispute about Egypt’s sovereign right to the Sinai, and it was eventually returned after Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat broke the Arab consensus and made peace with Israel. Though the rulers of Syria have, to date, preferred the continuance of belligerency to a similar decision to end the conflict, the question of their right to the return of the Golan in the event of peace seems to hinge more on the nature of the regime in Damascus than any dispute about the provenance of Syria’s title to the land.

Really? “The rulers of Syria have, to date, preferred the continuance of belligerency?” If there is something which is not disputed, it’s the fact that since the mid 90′s, the Syrians have been offering peace in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan – a deal that no Israeli PM was willing to accept. They are offering it right now by the way, but like his predecessors, PM Netanyahu promised, just before the elections, that Israel will not leave the Golan.

But even if you don’t believe all this, how could a legal scholar such as Prof. Phillips miss the simple fact that Israel annexed the occupied Golan in December 1981? So much for the “provenance of Syria’s title to the land.” Was it his rush to blame everything on Arab rejectionism that led him to state that “the question of their right to the return of the Golan in the event of peace seems to hinge more on the nature of the regime in Damascus?”

Than Prof. Phillips gets to his main point, the ownerless statues of the West bank. He notes that since the 80′s, settlements haven’t been built on private Arab land:

After the Elon Moreh case [a famous Supreme Court ruling from 1979], all Israeli settlements legally authorized by the Israeli Military Administration (a category that, by definition, excludes “illegal outposts” constructed without prior authorization or subsequent acceptance) have been constructed either on lands that Israel characterizes as state-owned or “public” or, in a small minority of cases, on land purchased by Jews from Arabs after 1967.

Later he adds that:

Even settlement opponents concede that many settlements closest to Palestinian population areas, on the central mountain range of the West Bank, were built without government permission and often contrary to governmental policy; their continued existence forced the government to recognize the settlement as an existing fact. Given this history, it is questionable to claim that Israel “transferred” those settlers.

This is where I’m starting to get confused. If the settlements are “legally authorized”, and properly built on public land, how come they are, at the same time, “without permission” and “contrary to governmental policy?” could the settlers have colonized the West Bank only on locations authorized by the state to begin with, and at the same time, act against its policy?

The answer is: they couldn’t. Read the rest of this entry »