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November 29, 2019

Appeasing the Israelis

Opinion

November 29, 2019

Gone are the days when there used to be at least some modicum of humanity and ethical norms in diplomacy and foreign policy. Breaking from the policies of their predecessors, the Trump administration can go to any extent to appease Israelis and also strengthen the position of PM Netanyahu who is on shaky ground in the Knesset.

In the latest episode, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, displaying a stark shift in US policy, has announced that Israeli settlements in the West Bank “are not, per se, inconsistent with international law”. Most previous American administrations, including that of Barack Obama, have consistently considered Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank illegal and an obstacle to durable peace deal in the Middle East.

As expected, Pompeo’s statement provoked fury from the Palestinians, with some officials accusing President Trump of choosing “the law of the jungle” over international law. Even the US’s European allies were taken aback by this unexpected shift in US policy towards the issue of legality of Israeli settlements. Following Mike Pompeo’s statement, European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini responded that the European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged.

Mogherini stated that “all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council resolution 2334”. “The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power”, the EU official further added.

It merits a mention here that the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 was adopted on December 23, 2016. It deals with Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, including East Jerusalem. The resolution was passed in a 14–0 vote by members of the UN Security Council a few weeks before the end of the Obama administration. Astonishingly, the Obama administration chose to abstain from voting rather than vetoing it and rescuing Israel. It was a very significant move as it clearly described areas disputed between Israelis and Palestinians, also including the Tomb of the Patriarchs, one of the holiest sites in Judaism as “occupied Palestinian territory”.

UNSC resolution 2334 also contained a paragraph which reiterated that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

With this latest policy shift, the Trump administration continues to move away from the tradition of his predecessors as two years ago the administration recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It was an unprecedented step and was termed “a major break with his predecessors”. Thus, the current administration has been doing what it can to appease the Israelis. It has adopted policy initiatives that many presidents, both Republican and Democrat, avoided to do despite the fact that the US-Israel relationship has mostly remained ‘exceptional’ and ‘unique in history’.

It was in this background that dozens of Harvard students walked out of a talk by Israeli ambassador, Dani Dayan, on the Legal Strategy of Israeli Settlements about two weeks back. The protesting students of Harvard Law School were holding signs which read “settlements are a war crime” as they silently left the lecture hall where Israeli was invited for the talk. Dayan called the protesters “a bunch of losers” in a tweet after the lecture. Dayan, who is the Consul General of Israel in New York, advocated for the establishment and maintenance of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“Let us be clear, there is a consensus among the international community that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, one of the student leaders stated following the boycott of the lecture.

The fact remains that no Israelis were living in these areas after these were captured by the Jewish State following the Six Day War of June 1967. Today, there are about half a million residents in over 130 settlements only in the West Bank.

It was also the 1967 war and Israel’s overwhelming victory over its Arab opponents that expanded and transformed political, diplomatic and strategic significance of Israel for the US.

In his autobiography ‘The White House Years’, Henry Kissinger states that “the new territory seized was three times the size of Israel itself”. It illustrates the extent of Israel’s success over its Arab opponents, who were no match to well-trained and well-equipped Israelis. Hence, the war truly gave a new dimension and geo-strategic significance to Israel.

Although Israel lost the support of its vital pre-war ally France, its post-war status ignited enormous US interest towards a tiny but very powerful Israel. It was the US that stepped in to fill the vacuum after then French president Charles de Gaulle refused to supply Israel with military support as a sign of protest in its pre-emptive launching of the war.

In his study, ‘Trends in American Attitudes Toward Israel’, Gilboa appropriately asserts that the victory of Israel was “an American gain as well, since both Egypt and Syria were close allies of the Soviet Union and their defeat was interpreted as a major blow to the Kremlin’s prestige in the region”. And since then, from time to time Israel has exploited to use the Sinai, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights as “bargaining chips to exchange for peace, recognition and security from the Arab neighbours” but has never really agreed to the idea of a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for good.

And that is why the international community and the UNSC resolution have unequivocally termed Israeli settlements illegal as these are huge stumbling blocks in the path of conclusive peace deal in the Middle East.

Now that the US has officially given a green signal to Israel to go ahead with more planned settlements in the occupied territories, it will further kill the proposal of the two-state solution: the idea of having two states for the two peoples, an independent Palestinian state alongside the Jewish Israel. While most governments and international organizations including the UN bodies have long held and concur with the notion of two-state solution as official policy, there is rarely any tangible progress on the ground and with every passing day it remains an elusive dream for the helpless Palestinians.

The writer holds a PhD from Massey University, New Zealand. He teaches at the University of Malakand.

Email: [email protected]