AIPAC, CUFI, and American democracy

In 2007, Farrar, Straus and Giroux released The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. The book escalated a firestorm of controversy that had been started by their publication of a related article in the London Review of Books the year before.

I have not read Mearsheimer and Walt’s writings. I don’t intend to. I do not know whether their claims are reasonable or not.

Whatever the merits of Mearsheimer and Walt’s claims, two things are clear:

  1. “Pro-Israel” lobbying groups play a huge role in influencing US involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict and any other issue that relates to Israel.
  2. The activity of “pro-Israel” lobbying groups affects American democracy.

In this post, I will investigate just some of the information related to only two lobbying groups: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Christians United for Israel (CUFI). While this may only be the tip of the iceberg, it is more than enough.

AIPAC

The August 2011 junket

On August 10, 2011, Al Kamen of the Washington Post wrote

A record 81 House members, about a fifth of the chamber, are spending a week in Israel this month, courtesy of a foundation set up by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby.

It’s apparently the largest number of lawmakers in the 20 years or so that these trips have been undertaken… A group of 26 Democrats — the senior member is House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) — is already there.

And 55 Republican members … will take week-long jaunts to the Holy Land. About 47 of them are freshmen — that’s half of the new Republicans and, according to the Jerusalem Post, it will be the first trip to the country for many of them. And probably ditto for many of their spouses and staffers.

The first GOP group’s senior member is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.). The second group’s senior traveler is House Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.)…

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-members-travel-to-israel-courtesy-of-aipac-lobby-not-taxpayers/2011/08/09/gIQA8xOU5I_story.html

The timing of this trip, of course, was significant, coming as it did one month before Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO submitted an application for UN membership for Palestine to the United Nations Security Council. The political nature of the August junket cannot be in doubt. To quote Kamen further,

There will be breakfast speakers, dinner speakers, Q&A’s with U.S. Embassy folks and Israeli media. There will be appearances by government leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … and President Shimon Peres, as well as by opposition leaders. The schedule is packed from morning to late at night.

That this junket achieved its goal cannot be doubted. Nor is it unclear what this goal is. Majority Leader Cantor and Minority Whip Hoyer co-wrote the editorial “Stand up against Palestinians’ UN statehood bid: It’s dangerous to Israel”, that appeared in the New York Daily News exactly one day before the PLO submitted the Palestinian statehood recognition bid. To quote from this editorial:

Having just returned from a visit to the Mideast, we are deeply concerned that the Palestinians’ misguided pursuit of unilateral resolutions over negotiated agreements is moving the Arab-Israeli peace process in the wrong direction. A resolution to this conflict will be achieved only through direct negotiations…

http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-09-22/news/30206218_1_statehood-bid-palestinian-state-palestinian-president-mahmoud-abbas

Of course, Cantor and Hoyer did not mention who paid for the “visit to the Mideast” from which they had “just returned”. Nor did they state whose point of view they were expressing when they labeled UN resolutions “unilateral” — an evident fallacy since, by definition, the UN is a multilateral forum. But they did not need to. The answers are publicly available.

In their editorial, Cantor and Hoyer even resorted to threatening Palestinians, e.g., accusing Abbas of having “put at risk not only the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with the U.S., but the aspirations of his own people.”

Cantor and Hoyer (who rarely agree about anything else) also saw to it that more official threats were issued as well. Even before leaving on the August junket, they ushered through the House of Representatives a resolution calling for punitive measures on the Palestinian Authority if the PLO were to go through with its statehood submission bid (see http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/u-s-house-passes-resolution-threatening-to-suspend-aid-to-palestinians-1.372112).

That the measures demanded in House Resolution 268 are foolish is shown by the fact that even members of the Government of Israel objected to them (see, e.g., http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44544035/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/israel-calls-continuing-aid-palestinians/#.TwqhjCM3nGE). Their foolishness is also shown by the fact that Congressional officials actually backed down from these threats, in part because many Israeli officials did not support them (e.g., see http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/u-s-renews-financial-aid-to-palestinians-after-un-statehood-row-1.394237).

That HR 268 passed by a vote of 407-6 in the US Congress reveals exactly how capable the US is of being an “honest broker” in the “negotiations” to which it demands that Palestinians return. It also reveals how much influence AIPAC has in Congressional affairs. But this would be clear even without consideration of the August junket, as the next section shows.

Anti-Palestinian lobbying efforts

The example just mentioned is not the first time that AIPAC has influenced Congress to pass punitive anti-Palestinian measures…even when some Israeli officials questioned the wisdom of them. For example, in 2006, Ori Nir wrote that

Israeli interests in the West Bank and Gaza could be hurt by a bill being pressed by the pro-Israel lobby that would restrict American assistance to the Palestinians, several Israeli officials and representatives of international aid organizations told the Forward.

…[P]ro-Israel activists are backing a bill — the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 — that bans all non-humanitarian American assistance to the Palestinian Authority and prohibits official American contacts with the P.A. unless Hamas recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism. Thousands of lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee flooded Capitol Hill Tuesday, holding almost 500 meetings with legislators and their staff, in which they urged members of Congress to endorse the bill.

But Israeli officials told the Forward that it could be a serious mistake to pass the bill before a Palestinian government has been formed and before the March 28 Israeli elections… In addition, Israeli officials said, the bill may place the onus of providing for the wellbeing of the Palestinian population on Israel, the occupying power in the territories. The bill could also result in the cancellation of several internationally funded aid programs in which Israel has a vital interest, in fields such as public health, water and sewage…

Rather than openly oppose the efforts of their allies in Washington, however, Israeli officials are operating under the assumption that the Bush administration, along with some lawmakers, will work to scale back some of the proposed restrictions…The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives last month and in the Senate on Tuesday, sets tougher benchmarks for engaging with a Hamas-led Palestinian government than the ones set by Israel’s transitional government.

…Another condition for engaging with a Hamas-led government is that the Palestinian government recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, a demand never posed by Israel or the international community to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Egypt or Jordan when they signed peace agreements with Israel.

The bill is not the only area where Aipac seems to be taking a harder line than Israel on future relations with the Palestinians…

http://www.forward.com/articles/6675/#ixzz1ixBJ7j7I

A version of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act passed the House by a vote of 361-37 on May 23, 2006. The Senate passed a slightly different version by “unanimous voice vote” on June 23. The House passed this version on December 7, and it was signed into law on December 21. Draconian measures concerning the PLO and PA, as well as the innovative requirement that the PA recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, remained in the final text (see http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s109-2370).

The non-profit organization Americans for Peace Now maintains an invaluable database tracking Congressional legistation on the Middle East. Searching for “AIPAC” in this database (see https://peacenow.org:61003/MT/mt-search.cgi?search=legislative+roundup+aipac&IncludeBlogs=5&limit=20) reveals the influence that AIPAC has had on Congressional legislation concerning the Middle East over the years. To list just two fairly recent examples:

  • In July 2009, AIPAC’s top Take Action item was the Bayh-Risch letter, which “conspicuously ignores Israel’s continued refusal to stop settlement activity and its recent decision to ‘up the ante’ by approving a highly controversial settlement project in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem – a project that has been on hold for more than 20 years”, even though President Obama was that moment seeking to influence Israel not to move the “highly controversial settlement project” forward (http://peacenow.org/entries/wp266).
  •  In May 2009, large numbers of both Houses of Congress were coaxed by AIPAC into signing a “Peace Principles” document with wording similar to that used in AIPAC’s own documents (http://peacenow.org/entries/archive6236#more). According to APN, this document specifically stated that “while the United States should be sensitive to the needs of both parties to negotiations, it should not adopt a posture of ‘evenhandedness’ between its ally, Israel, and other parties.” (http://peacenow.org/entries/archive6186, my emphasis)

Christians United for Israel

On Tuesday night, July 19, in Washington D.C., the State of Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, gave the keynote at the annual CUFI summit. He was sandwiched between performances by CUFI’s “Founder and National Chairman” John Hagee and “Radio and Television Personality” Glenn Beck. (http://www.cufi.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2011Summit_Schedule) Earlier in the day, before Hagee had threatend that “God will turn his back to the United States of America” because of President Obama’s policies towards Israel and Beck had “worked the audience into a frenzy”, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Christian Zionist conference via satellite”. (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/christian-zionists-unite-in-d-c-to-express-support-for-israel-1.374161)

The Government of Israel’s support of CUFI’s spokespersons is not just limited to speaking at their conferences. The Knesset actually hosted Beck in July (http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=228827). The next month, Beck and Hagee were welcomed back to Israel by Netanyahu, Likud Minister Danny Danon, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and other political leaders, to stage the Rally to Restore Courage (see, e.g., http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/glenn-beck-don-t-come-back-1.380534 and http://972mag.com/glenn-beck%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Crestoring-courage%E2%80%9D-ends-with-a-whimper/21431/.) The meager attendance at this Rally demonstrated conclusively that Beck and Hagee have far fewer fans in Israel than they do in the U.S.

This, by itself, says good things about the Israeli public, as Hagee and Beck are far-right extremists whose contributions to American political discourse over the years have been so notoriously bigoted as to require no documentation. However, that members of the current Government of Israel see fit to ally themselves with such figures is still scary. It shows how far out of the mainstream some members of Israel’s current government would be if they tried to pursue their nationalist agenda in any healthy democracy.

Unfortunately, the Government of Israel’s willingness to provide legitimacy for extremist spokespersons like Beck and Hagee reveals something else: the extent to which it is willing to erode American political discourse in order to get what it wants from US voters and lawmakers. It is difficult to see how Americans who do not themselves belong to the Christian right or the “Israel lobby” (i.e., the vast majority) can be anything but offended by the willingness of members and representatives of Israel’s Government to provide a forum in which demagogues like Beck and Hagee can make themselves heard.

The above information is enough to establish the Government of Israel’s ties to the fanatical spokespersons of CUFI. The Government’s ties to AIPAC are well known enough to require no further comment. What is less well known is the third side of the Triangle: AIPAC’s ties to CUFI and its spokespersons. However, these should be well known, as they are a matter of public record. For example, “Pastor Hagee was a keynote speaker at the March 2007 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC.” (http://peacenow.org/entries/archive3651) As another source says about this event,

Pastor John Hagee, currently the most visible Christian Zionist leader in the US, garnered many rounds of applause for the keynote speech he gave attendees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference last week.

http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07a/hagee_aipac.html

Sarah Posner’s summary of this event is particularly apt: “The Israel lobby gives America’s leading Christian right warmonger a warm welcome.” Posner also reports vigorous AIPAC support for CUFI continuing into 2008:

At this week’s AIPAC conference, one of the best-attended breakout sessions was on Christian Zionists. On the three-person panel was David Brog, executive director of Rev. John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. When Brog started his talk by mentioning Hagee’s name, the overflow audience stopped him with a standing ovation.

http://prospect.org/article/big-support-hagee-aipac

Since 2008, AIPAC  has been less public about its relationship with and similarities to CUFI, perhaps because Hagee’s advocacy for Israel was shown to be inseparable from certain scandalous beliefs that he holds:

John Hagee… argued in a late 1990s sermon that the Nazis had operated on God’s behalf to chase the Jews from Europe and shepherd them to Palestine. According to the Reverend, Adolph Hitler was a “hunter,” sent by God, who was tasked with expediting God’s will of having the Jews re-establish a state of Israel…

“Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says — Jeremiah writing — ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don’t let your heart be offended. I didn’t write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

…[I]n his 2006 book “Jerusalem Countdown”, Hagee proposed the theory that “anti-Semitism, and thus the Holocaust, was the fault of Jews themselves — the result of an age old divine curse incurred by the ancient Hebrews through worshiping idols and passed, down the ages, to all Jews now alive.” He also wrote that “Most readers will be shocked by the clear record of history linking Adolf Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church in a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews.”

Hagee is considered, in many political circles, to be one of the most passionate and strident supporters of Israel. He has spoken at AIPAC conferences… But his views of the country, while possibly shared by others in the evangelical community, can be, at times, startling. Holding to the belief that Armageddon will come to earth following the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Israel, Hagee has advocated an aggressive war against Iran and has opposed any Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/05/21/mccain-backer-hagee-said_n_102892.html; the rest of the article is worth reading. Hagee’s ignorant, bigoted caricatures of both recent Jewish history and the Catholic Church are stunning.

In spite of AIPAC’s unwillingness to host Hagee at its conferences since more of his beliefs have come to light, it maintains an active relationship with CUFI. For example, in 2011 it sent Jeff Mendelsohn, its National Outreach Director, and Jonathan Kessler, its Leadership Development Director, to hold breakout sessions at CUFI’s annual summit (http://www.cufi.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2011Summit_Schedule).

The existence of the AIPAC-CUFI-Israeli right Triangle, and its attempts to dominate American policy in the Middle East, have been clear to Israel’s leaders since the founding of CUFI itself. As has Hagee’s ignorant fear-mongering. As the Jerusalem Post reported at CUFI’s inception,

“Think of CUFI as a Christian version of AIPAC…,” Hagee told The Jerusalem Post. “We need to be able to respond instantly to Washington with our concerns about Israel. We must join forces to speak as one group and move as one body to [respond to] the crisis Israel will be facing in the near future.” Hagee declined to specify which crisis, noting that Israel faces one “every day the sun comes up.” But at the top of the CUFI agenda is what the pastor calls “the Bible issue,” namely what he considers to be the mistaken policy of trading parts of the biblical Land of Israel for peace… CUFI intends to “interact with the government in Washington” and persuade it “to stop pressuring Israel to give up land for peace. Besides the fact that this does not work, Israel has a Bible mandate for the land. Now that Gaza has been given to Hamas, it has a military foothold a thousand yards from Jerusalem.”

-http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=12115

Conclusions

The above constitutes a tiny fraction of the publicly available evidence. But it is enough to conclude that the Triangle composed of the Israeli right, AIPAC, and CUFI is unhealthy and corrosive. Both for any real efforts of reaching a just resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and for American democracy.

By considering how much AIPAC dominates legislation concerning the Middle East in the US Congress, and how much CUFI (with the Government of Israel’s overt assistance) influences members of the American Christian right that are fixated on radical interpretations of Biblical prophecy, we can begin to understand how the events listed at http://peacenow.org/entriehttp://peacenow.org/entries/apns_top_10_wackiest_congressional_actions_on_the_middle_east_of_2011 could ever happen. These events make a mockery of any US claim to be able to maintain objectivity where the well-being of Palestinians is concerned. These events will likely continue to repeat themselves as long as the unhealthy relationships and the corrosive influence of the Triangle on American politics continue to develop unchecked.

Myths about Gaza VI

Myth #6: To the extent that Hamas holds power in Gaza, it has used this power responsibly.

This myth has no evidence to support it. Like Myth #2 and Myth #3, this myth is so obviously false that it it not particularly difficult to refute.

One aspect of Hamas’ irresponsibility has been discussed in Myth #3. To the extent that Hamas was engaged in rocket fire into Israel, it was engaged not only in terrorist activity, but in recklessly endangering the lives of innocent Gazans.

Hamas fires far fewer rockets into Israel (at the time of writing) than it did before Cast Lead. Nevertheless, its gross irresponsibility continues. To get an idea of the how Hamas exercises what authority it has, it is useful to quote Palestinians themselves.

There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope. The final drop that made our hearts tremble with frustration and hopelessness happened 30rd November, when Hamas officers came to Sharek Youth Forum, a leading youth organization (www.sharek.ps) with their guns, lies and aggressiveness, throwing everybody outside, incarcerating some and prohibiting Sharek from working. A few days later, demonstrators in front of Sharek were beaten and some incarcerated. We are really living a nightmare inside a nightmare. It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under…

http://gazaybo.wordpress.com/manifesto-0-1/ (It is important to note that GYBO holds the State of Israel to as much responsibility for “the status quo” as it does Hamas.)

And again:

Yes we voted for Hamas government. We all did. We were tired of Fatah governments corruption, wanted a change and hoped Hamas would be that change. That PRECISELY gives us the right to shout our anger at them…

Whether you want to admit it or not, believe it or not, corruption exists, and its our right as Palestinians to denounce it, because we are tired of it. Internal change has not only internal parameters. Change will come only if people outside realize that they need to take into consideration the fact that corruption does exist, and that it needs to be stopped if we want unity back. So if it takes us to shout it to the world for our political leaders to hear us and care to unite for us, well do it a hundred times.

http://gazaybo.wordpress.com/about/

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, even at a time in which Hamas was discussing its entry into the PLO, it continued to wage a “campaign of summons and arrests” and “detentions under degrading conditions” against members of PLO factions. The “degrading conditions” included reported torture of political prisoners. (http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7988)

In a final example, Mahmoud Abu Rahma (a Gazan “human and civil rights activist”), speaking primarily about the way that Hamas exercises authority and carries out “resistance” in Gaza, has this to say:

It is clear the government is not willing to take the smallest act. It does not open investigations or even hold talks with the resistance groups to ensure that steps are taken to protect the vulnerable people. It is equally clear that the resistance continues to show the same carelessness towards violations committed by the government against the people.

Welcome to the naked truth: the relationship between the government, the resistance, and the people is moving in one way: the people support, nourish and protect their resistance and government. But the resistance and the government are not in the least bit interested to do the same for the people. This is an untenable situation and a dangerous reality.

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=449852

As stated in Myth #5, Hamas does not control the Gaza Strip. The State of Israel does. But Hamas’ track record so far indicates that, if it ever were to have the authority to govern anything, it would do an abysmal job. It has a lot of maturing to do before its politicians are capable of effective governance, and it needs a radical modification in ideology as well.

Myths about Gaza V

Myth #5: Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and is responsible for the welfare of its civilians.

The State of Israel controls the Gaza Strip and is therefore legally responsible for its civilian population. And it will continue to be responsible for the civilian population as long as it insists on maintaining control of the Strip.

According to B’Tselem, “Israel continues to maintain complete control of its border crossings with the Gaza Strip, and the air and sea space of the Gaza Strip”, “continues to control the movement of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip”, and “continues to control the tax system of the Gaza Strip”. Revealingly, the State of Israel even “continues to control the joint Gaza Strip-West Bank population registry…Israel continue[s] to hold certain veto powers, among them the right to determine whether Palestinian couples from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and their children over age 16 may receive Palestinian residency status.” (http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/gaza_status) Given the extent to which Israel (and only Israel)  “continues to hold decisive control over important elements of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip”,

Contrary to Israel’s contention that, following the disengagement, it is no longer obligated to care for the safety and welfare of Gaza residents, international law imposes certain obligations. Under human rights law, Israel is required to respect the rights of Gaza residents in matters in which control remains in its hands. These obligations result from the scope of actual control over major facets of the residents’ lives that Israel continued to hold after the disengagement, and from the almost total dependence of the Strip’s economy on the Israeli economy, a result of the prolonged occupation.

http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip

This is not the opinion of B’Tselem alone. According to Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza, a report by Gisha released in January 2007,

…[I]n contrast to the rhetoric used to describe the disengagement plan, Israel has not relinquished control over Gaza but rather removed some elements of control while tightening other significant controls. Far from improving the economy and welfare of Gaza residents, Israeli actions since September 2005 including severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza and an economic stronghold on the funding of civil services have contributed to an economic and humanitarian crisis in Gaza not seen in the 38 years of Israeli control that preceded the withdrawal of permanent ground troops.

…[C]ompletion of the disengagement plan has not absolved Israel of its obligations to permit and to facilitate the proper functioning of civilian life in the Gaza Strip. Israel continues to owe legal obligations to residents of Gaza in the significant areas in which their lives are sub ject to and affected by Israeli control. That responsibility exists under the international law of belligerent occupation, but it is also imposed by international human rights law and Israeli constitutional and administrative law. Israel is bound to respect the rights of Gaza residents in its control of Gazas borders, population registry, tax system, and other areas, and it also owes positive duties to permit and to facilitate the proper functioning of civilian institutions in Gaza, pursuant to international humanitarian law.

Israel continues to control Gaza through an invisible hand: control over borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, the tax system, supply of goods, and others. Gaza residents know that their ability to use electric lights, to buy milk, or to have the garbage collected depends on decisions made by Israel. At times, soldiers operate in the streets of Gaza, but even after they leave, Israeli control over the lives of Gaza residents remains constant…

http://www.gisha.org/UserFiles/File/Report%20for%20the%20website.pdf.

Indeed, there are no human rights organization, states, or international institutions that accept the State of Israel’s claim that it is no longer legally responsible for the welfare of Gazans.

It is important to mention that the propaganda of the State of Israel (and of defenders of its policies) is not the only reason for the perpetuation of this myth. Hamas also bears responsibility for promoting the fantasy that it governs the Gaza Strip. This is due to an obvious desire to exaggerate its influence and its accomplishments. If Hamas were actually capable of exercising what authority it has responsibly, and if it actually cared for Gazans, then it would insist that the world recognize the full extent of Israeli responsibility for their welfare. (See Myth #6)

The primary responsibility for the State of Israel’s refusal to meet its obligations with respect to civilians in the Gaza Strip, however, rests with the State of Israel itself.

Myths about Gaza IV

Myth #4: The State of Israel’s policy of “retaliation” for rocket attacks is defensive.

There is little evidence to support this myth. The evidence suggests, rather, that the State of Israel’s policy towards Gaza is aggressive, provocative, and consistently seeks escalation.

The most blatant recent example of the State of Israel’s combined policy of aggression towards Gaza and of propaganda to mask its provocations is the assault on Gazan targets that began on Thursday, August 18, 2011. The IDF and Israeli leaders claimed that this assault was in response to a terrorist attack on Eilat that happened on the same day. However, from the outset, it was clear that the IDF had no evidence that this was the case, and that the assault on Gazan targets was, in fact, unprovoked aggression:

http://972mag.com/idf-spokesperson-israel-did-not-claim-that-prc-was-responsible-for-the-eilat-attack/21232/

The holes in the official Israeli version of this story quickly grew larger. To quote Amira Hass at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/doubts-emerge-over-identity-of-terrorists-who-carried-out-attack-in-israel-s-south-1.380525:

It has been one week since the terror attacks near Eilat, and there is no sign of the traditional mourners’ tents for the relatives of militants killed by the Israel Defense Forces, or indeed any reports of Gazan families who are grieving as a result of IDF actions near the Egyptian border last Thursday. Nor were there reports of families demanding the return of their loved ones’ bodies for burial. A longtime social activist told Haaretz that even in the event that families were instructed to conceal their grief, news like that is difficult to hide in the Strip.

The absence of mourners’ tents reinforces the general sense in the Strip that the perpetrators of the attack were not from Gaza, contrary to Israeli defense establishment claims…

The article goes on to state that, as of August 25, “…since Thursday the IDF killed 14 Palestinians, four of them civilians (including a physician and his 2-year-old nephew) and the remainder members of militant organizations.” To the extent that this article is correct, it is difficult not to see these four civilians as victims of murder by the IDF.

Officials in the “Israeli defense establishment” moved quickly to counter the evidence that the IDF had lied about having evidence that the Eilat attackers came from Gaza. The “information” disseminated by the establishment was transmitted by many sources, including Yossi Alpher, who (apparently unwittingly) at least sometimes serves as a tool for official Israeli propaganda. Alpher had the following to say on August 29, four days after Hass’ article appeared:

First of all, and very importantly, the identities of the terrorist attackers have been clarified to a greater extent. Not all are from the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees and not all of the 12 (not 20) attackers came from Gaza: two or three were apparently Egyptian Islamists who escaped from Cairo prisons during the revolution. Moreover, the identities of the Palestinian attackers have not been publicly verified, leading the Hamas leadership in Gaza to claim that none of the attackers came from there and that Israel’s punishing attacks on targets there were not warranted…

The identities of the dead Palestinian terrorists are known to Israel, and apparently definitely traceable to Gaza. Yet Israel has not published the details, and the Hamas regime there has forbidden the families of the dead to mourn publicly…

http://peacenow.org/entries/alpher_august_29_2011

Alpher’s claims proved to be nonsense. Hass proved to be correct. Even Hamas’ claims proved to be more credible than those made by the IDF. This speaks volumes about the credibility of the “Israeli defense establishment”, and even of supposed “peaceniks” on the Israeli “left” (like Alpher) who choose to rely on it for “information”. It is now clear that none of the attackers came from Gaza, and that the IDF never had evidence to support the claim that they did. For example, see http://972mag.com/idf-now-mum-on-eilat-attacks-that-served-as-premise-for-gaza-bombing/26191/. If you prefer a more right-wing source, see http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=252456.

It is worth remembering exactly how much devastation the IDF inflicted on the people of Gaza…for an act of terrorism with which none of them were involved. In addition to the numerous fatalities and dozens of innocent people injured,

Thus far, damage has been reported to numerous residential structures, at least four governmental buildings, seven local NGOs or associations, 11 stores and supermarkets, three factories, two mosques, a private company, a school, and a fuel station. Among infrastructure damaged is a newly-built sewage pumping station near Nusairat Refugee Camp in the Middle Area, which was supposed to start functioning in the coming months, serving over 130,000 people. The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility main office in Gaza also sustained damages during the Israeli air strikes.

http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_protection_of_civilians_weekly_report_2011_08_26_english.pdf

Unfortunately, this came close to being just the the tip of the iceberg. Alpher, in spite of his being a tool of Israel’s security establishment, did have this to confirm on August 29:

This brings us to the most significant development that has become known in the past week. The IDF was on the verge of a major offensive into Gaza following the attack. Only at the last minute did PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak opt for an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire instead. This was a clear case of deference to the Egyptians taking precedence over the need to deter terrorism from Gaza and satisfy the Israeli public’s desire for revenge…It emerges that when Kadima opposition leaders Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz called for such an offensive, they were echoing a widespread view within the security community.

This makes for chilling reading for anyone who is interested in a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It indicates that “the security community” within the State of Israel is capable of stoking the “the Israeli public’s desire for revenge” to justify the launching of another Cast Lead-style bloodbath in Gaza in order “to deter terrorism”…whether or not any Gazans have anything to do with that terrorism.

Unfortunately, evidence that Israel’s “security community” regularly seeks to escalate conflict with Palestinian factions in Gaza does not end there. What follows are just a few recent examples of aggressive IDF escalation.

The Jerusalem Post reported that, on October 29,

Israel killed five senior Islamic Jihad operatives on Saturday in retaliation for a rocket attack two days earlier that it blamed on the group. That rocket caused no casualties, but landed deep enough into Israel to set off sirens on Tel Aviv’s outskirts.

Abu Ahmed denied responsibility for the missile, saying this was how Israel had managed to find five top fighters together in the open — because they had not expected to be targeted.

But the Al-Quds Brigades soon hit back, firing numerous rockets into southern Israel, piercing the country’s defensive missile shield. One Israeli man died, at least four others were injured, while cars and a building were also set ablaze.

The group posted a video online showing a missile-launcher on the back of a truck firing a salvo of rockets. It was the first time the group has claimed to have such firepower, although there was no independent confirmation of its use.

-http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=244294

Given that Islamic Jihad is not shy about taking credit for its terrorist attacks (witness the last paragraph of the above quote), and given the IDF’s dubious credibility (e.g., in explaining the August assault on Gaza described above), it is difficult not to credit Islamic Jihad’s denial of responsibility for the rocket attack of October 27, or its claim that “this was how Israel had managed to find five top fighters together in the open — because they had not expected to be targeted.” Had Islamic Jihad launched a rocket towards Tel Aviv two days before, they would have expected to have been targeted.

It is therefore also difficult not to see the assassination of these “five senior Islamic Jihad operatives” as a deliberate provocation that escalated into a round of violence, involving numerous fatalities… including one Israeli.

On November 14, the IAF destroyed a naval police facility in Beit Lahiyya (see http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=436500). Police officer Muhammad Kilani was killed and four of his colleagues injured. In addition, the French consul, Majdi Jameel Yaseen Shaqqoura, and his daughter were injured by shrapnel, and Shaqqoura’s wife (150 meters from the bombing) suffered a miscarriage.

The IDF claimed to have “hit a terror activity center”, but had no evidence to back up its claim that the police station had anything to do with terrorism. It is difficult not to view this attack as a murderous provocation.

On December 8, Issam Subhi al-Batsh and Subhi Alaa al-Batsh were killed by an airstrike in a parked car in downtown Gaza City (see http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=443242). Two innocent bystanders were injured and three schoolbuses were damaged by the explosion.

Issam Subhi al-Batsh was a Hamas operative, Subhi Alaa al-Batsh a Fatah operative. The IDF claimed that they “intended to execute a terrorist attack against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers via the western border,” but it strains credibility to suggest that a Fatah operative and a Hamas operative were planning a terrorist attack together at a time when Hamas and Fatah were negotiating the terms of a temporary unity government, let alone that the IDF could discern what two family members in a parked car on a city street “intended” to do.

At the time of the attack, both Hamas and Fatah were observing a cease-fire with Israel. The goal of this attack appears to have been to provoke Hamas and/or Fatah to break the cease-fire they were observing. In order to have an excuse to assassinate more “terrorists” in “retaliation”…

It is not clear that this provocation worked with Hamas. It did work, more or less, with a Fatah faction, which claimed responsibility for firing one missile into the desert in response. Perhaps because the IDF could not provoke Hamas to break its cease-fire with just one assassination, it tried again on December 9, attacking a Hamas training site in Gaza City. The airstrike devastated the home of Bahjat al-Zaalan, killing him and injuring 13 members of his family, including several children, one of whom later died. The IDF explanation’s will appear unconvincing to all but the gullible (see http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=443431).

On December 27, the IDF once again assassinated an operative of a group that was, at the time, observing a cease-fire with Israel. This time, it was Abdallah Telbani, who had links to the Fatah-affiliated Ayman Judah. He was killed when a missile ripped through his rickshaw in the middle of Gaza City, injuring two other people as well (see http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=448304).

On December 30, the IDF bombed an area southeast of Gaza City, killing Momen Abu Daf, a member of militant Salafi group. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz dutifully reported, “According to the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman’s Office, the militants were spotted and hit as they were about to launch a projectile into Israel, adding that it was the same squad responsible for rocket fire in recent days.” (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/one-killed-as-idf-hits-gaza-militant-squad-about-to-launch-rocket-into-israel-1.404565) Ha’aretz did not report that no one was injured by the “rocket fire in recent days”, or that responsibility for the rocket fire in question was actually claimed by the PRCs. (http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=448904)

On January 18, Israeli planes and tanks fired multiple times towards Beit Hanoun. This city lies about two kilometers from the border with Israel, and therefore is almost within the immense buffer zone that Israel unilaterally enforces with live fire. One adult was killed during the strike, and three others were seriously injured. One of them (a teenager) died shortly after arriving at the hospital. The IDF claimed that “a terrorist squad … was planting an explosive device … with the intention of harming IDF soldiers.”(http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=453386) A terrorist targeting soldiers is a contradiction in terms, of course, and this self-contradicting explanation indicates exactly how credible the IDF is when it calls someone a “terrorist”. Moreover, medics in Gaza said that the victims of the IDF were actually “laying down bird traps in the area.” (http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=453429)

The IDF used its attack on Beit Hanoun as an occasion to boast, “We are preparing and in fact are ready for another campaign” which would involve “far greater firepower” than did Operation Cast Lead. (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/hamas-palestinian-killed-another-critically-hurt-in-idf-strike-on-gaza-1.407972) Given what happened in December 2008—January 2009, and what almost happened in August 2011, this is a horrific threat that must be taken seriously.

From the evidence, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the IDF regularly seeks to provoke rocket attacks from Palestinian factions by attacks on groups who are (at the time of the attacks) observing a cease-fire with Israel, or on people and sites that are simply not involved with launching rockets into Israel.

The above is just a partial sample of the available evidence. Others have looked at the evidence in detail, and have noticed similar trends. For example, Yousef Munayyer at http://blog.thejerusalemfund.org/2012/02/half-story-what-idfspokesperson-leaves.html compared data compiled by the IDF on launches of rockets by Palestinian factions with data on complied by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) on Palestinian casualties due to IDF strikes in Gaza. When Palestinian casualties are plotted versus rocket launches over the time,

…increases in the red line, which signifies Palestinian casualties, typically precede increases in the blue line, which signifies launches of projectiles from Gaza. This is particularly evident before the most significant spikes in the blue line. This suggests that Palestinian launches may be explained, in part, as a response to Israeli projectiles which kill or injure Palestinians.

This and other statistical evidence, according to Munayyer, “…suggests that it is the Israelis and not the Palestinians who, through their capacity to actually inflict high casualties with their projectiles, control escalation in cross border dynamics.

This policy of provocative “retaliation” is consistent with the rest of the State of Israel’s continued collective punishment of the Gaza Strip. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Gaza_FactSheet_October_2011_english.pdf), “The Gaza blockade (through the land, air and sea) is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law and amounts to collective punishment.” The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7174) has reported on the “devastating impact of the current absolute closure of Gaza on the socio-economic level and the denial of the fundamental human rights of the entire population of Gaza.” B’Tselem (http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip) provides a wealth of documentation on the “collective punitive measures” that Israel has taken since disengagement and how this set of policies “infringes the right of Palestinians in the Strip to work and earn a living with dignity and their right to an adequate standard of living.” It also records that “Israel killed 522 Palestinians who were not taking part in the hostilities. This number included 195 minors, 49 women, and 25 men over age 50,” speaking only of IDF actions that occurred after disengagement and before Cast Lead.

This is a tiny fraction of the mountain of documentation available (from Israeli, Palestinian, and international sources) on the State of Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Two objectives of such provocative brutality are clear from the propaganda value that they have for Israeli leaders. These objectives are directly related to Myth #1:

  1. Israeli leaders use rocket attacks to scare the Israeli public (and “supporters” of Israel around the world) into believing that allowing Palestinians sovereignty in the West Bank is too “dangerous”.
  2. Israeli leaders use the pretext that allowing Palestinians sovereignty in the West Bank is too “dangerous” in order to continue the colonization and bantustanization of the West Bank.

Of course, I am far from the first person to have noticed the political advantages to certain Israeli leaders of the misery that IDF policies inflict on Gaza (even at the cost of a few Israeli dead and thousands of Israelis traumatized):

Political logic points to going back to the start, making it possible for the PA to establish a unified government recognized by Israel, and to recognize a Palestinian state responsible for any demands and claims. But political logic contradicts Israel’s political logic, which aspires to a never-ending political process even at the price of intermittent shooting and a few deaths every year. In the face of this political logic, the policy has no remedy.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-s-ideal-partners-are-in-gaza-1.393252

The real question seems to be the following: How long will it take for the Israeli public to realize that the myth that the IDF focuses on “defending” Israel from Gaza is, indeed, a myth?

Myths about Gaza III

Myth #3: The firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel is an effective response to the State of Israel’s policies in Gaza.

Note the difference between “effective” here and “appropriate” in Myth #2.

Again, nothing could be further from the truth. From a publicity standpoint, it is harder to imagine a method of defending the rights of Palestinians that would be less effective. This is clearly a case of some extremist Palestinians gravely undermining the cause for which they claim to be fighting.

To quote B’Tselem again:

In a significant number of cases, Palestinians have fired the rockets and mortar shells from civilian residential areas… Palestinian organizations that choose to carry out attacks against communities in Israel from within or near populated areas breach this rule, and in doing so, demonstrate not only their intention to harm Israeli civilians, but also indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians…

B’Tselems research indicates that, from June 2004 to 30 Sept. 2011… Palestinian rocket fire also killed seven Palestinians (four of them minors).

http://www.btselem.org/israeli_civilians/qassam_missiles

Such action shows despite for the lives of innocent Palestinians. It only serves to provide ammunition for those who slander Palestinians by claiming that they do not value human life.

Such action constitutes stupidity for another reason, too. As discussed in Myth #4, firing rockets into Israel (even in response to a direct provocation) plays directly into the IDF’s strategy of seeking escalation by giving it a pretext for yet more provocation. It also gives Israeli leaders fodder for the propaganda they use to distract the State of Israel’s “supporters” from the ongoing colonization of the West Bank.

After almost seven years of rocket fire into Israel, and nothing to show for it but justified international condemnation, one must question whether those who practice rocket fire have any creativity or capacity for thought. In every possible way (morality, legality, effectiveness, creativity), firing rockets into urban centers in Israel is a pathetic, despicable response to the State of Israel’s policies.

So why do militants fire rockets? Some of the reasons may be ones that the Palestinian civilian population cannot do much about: radical groups holding onto extreme ideology, isolated cases of extreme bitterness in reaction to Israel’s policies, random rare cases of psychotic violence (of the kind that occur in all cultures), etc. However, at least one cause seems to be something that Palestinian civilians can do something to confront: power politics.

Specifically, groups such as Islamic Jihad, some of the Popular Resistance Committees, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and others (including Hamas in previous years), make a point of boasting about all the rockets they fire into Israel. They also make a point of boasting about all the Israeli civilians they kill (Hamas still does this with respect to its attacks in previous years). The obvious motivation for their doing so is that they believe that this will increase their popularity among the Palestinian population, or (at least) the more radical elements among the Palestinian population.

It is time for the Palestinian people to tell them, en masse, that they are wrong. The policies of the State of Israel towards the civilian population of Gaza can be abhorrent, and it is important to say so (see Myth #1 and Myth #4). At the same time, targeting civilians and boasting about it in order to scare more civilians is immoral, despicable, stupid, and ineffective. The Palestinian people, as many as possible, should make it clear to all factions that claim to represent them that terrorism is not a tolerable or rational means of resisting oppression, and that groups who engage in terrorism, for whatever reason, will immediately lose legitimacy with those they claim to represent.

Those Palestinians who are already doing what they can to undermine the legitimacy of groups who engage in terrorism deserve respect. Perhaps especially those who do so in spite of threats from radical, extremist factions. Hopefully more and more people will continue to join them.

Myths about Gaza II

Myth #2: The firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel is an appropriate response to the State of Israel’s policies in Gaza.

Nothing could be further from the truth. One cannot condemn the firing of rockets at civilian targets using language that is any more appropriate that that used by B’Tselem; these words speak for themselves.

Palestinian organizations that fire rockets and mortar shells into Israel openly declare that they intend to strike Israeli civilians, among other targets. Aiming attacks at civilians is both im-moral and illegal, and the intentional killing of civilians is defined a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime that cannot be justified, under any circumstance. Furthermore, the rockets and mortar shells are illegal weapons, even when aimed at military objects, as they are greatly imprecise and endanger civilians present both in the area from which they are fired and where they land, thus violating two fundamental principles of the laws of war: distinction and proportionality.

http://www.btselem.org/israeli_civilians/qassam_missiles

Myths about Gaza I

Myth #1: Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was a generous offer to let Gazans rule themselves.

This myth has had amazing durability, given the fact that it had zero truth value even before the disengagement actually took place in 2005. Very clearly, no transfer of actual sovereignty was ever intended, in Gaza or anywhere else. The fact that some people continue today to insist that the State of Israel’s attempt to renounce any responsibility for more than 35 years of colonial devastation was somehow “generous” does not mean that there was, in fact, anything “generous” about this attempt. Rather, it only shows how effective Israel’s propaganda can be.

The real reasons for Ariel Sharon’s disengagement strategy are well known, and were clearly stated by Sharon and others. The real reasons for the disengagement were the following:

  1. To put “formaldehyde” on the “peace process” and to postpone indefinitely the creation of a Palestinian state, in any form.
  2. To permit the State of Israel to turn the Occupied Territories (including not only Gaza but also the West Bank) into a discrete set of isolated Bantustans that could never aspire to anything resembling real sovereignty.

The intentions of Sharon (a well-known, unrepentant terrorist) involved not a transfer of sovereignty, but rather a strategy to continue the brutal colonization of the West Bank. There can be no doubt that Sharon’s strategy (involving as it did measures of extensive collective punishment) killed far more innocent people than all of the rockets ever fired from Gaza. Those who condemn only rocket attacks and misrepresent Sharon’s strategy are themselves apologists for violence against innocent civilians, and their propaganda efforts (intentionally or otherwise) constitute a significant obstacle to a just resolution of this conflict.

Documentation of points 1 and 2 can be found at the following links, among many others. It is worth noting that the first three articles were written before the disengagement took place. Those who defend Sharon’s disengagement strategy have never had justification for doing so. Intentionally or otherwise, they have been apologists for a policy modeled on apartheid. It is time for those who claim to love Israel to stop tolerating apologies for such abhorrent policies.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/top-pm-aide-gaza-plan-aims-to-freeze-the-peace-process-1.136686:

Weisglass does not deny that the main achievement of the Gaza plan is the freezing of the peace process in a “legitimate manner”… “what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.”

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/people-and-politics-sharon-s-bantustans-are-far-from-copenhagen-s-hope-1.10275:

…According to D’Alema, Sharon explained at length that the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict.

The defender of Israel quickly protested. “Surely that was your personal interpretation of what Sharon said.”

D’Alema didn’t give in. “No, sir, that is not interpretation. That is a precise quotation of your prime minister.”

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/founding-a-binational-state-1.120345:

The bantustan model for Gaza, as depicted in the disengagement plan, is a model that Sharon plans to copy on the West Bank. His announcement that he will not start to disengage before construction of the fence is completed along a route that will include all settlement blocs (in keeping with Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand), underscores the continuity of the bantustan concept. The fence creates three bantustans on the West Bank – Jenin-Nablus, Bethlehem-Hebron and Ramallah. This is the real link between the Gaza and West Bank plans.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/sharon-s-dream-1.223442:

Alongside the severance of Gaza from the West Bank, a policy now called “isolation,” the Sharon-Peres government and the Olmert-Peres government that succeeded it carried out the bantustan program in the West Bank. The Jordan Valley was separated from the rest of the West Bank; the south was severed from the north; and all three areas were severed from East Jerusalem… This plan was implemented on the ground via the intrusive route  of the separation fence, a network of roadblocks deep inside the West Bank, settlement expansion and arbitrary orders by military commanders. The cantonized map that these dictated left no chance for the road map or the “gestures” that Israel promised to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Americans.

A proposal for the transition to a single, multi-District State of Israel-Palestine

Background

Most Israelis very much want to preserve Israel as a Jewish state, according to some definition of “Jewish state”. Most Palestinians appear to be ambivalent about one or two states, and seem to focus instead on acquiring equal rights with Israeli Jews. Moreover, the international consensus, as expressed in international law, clearly calls for a two-state solution with borders based on the 1949-1967 armistice lines. (It also calls for full access to Jerusalem for both Jews and Palestinians, and for a just resolution for the Palestinian refugee crisis. For more discussion of the international consensus, see here.) Given the international consensus, and given that it would seem that a two-state solution would be essential to most Israelis and acceptable to most Palestinians, it may not be obvious why a single-state solution is worth discussing.

The reason is because a two-state solution may well soon become impossible (if it has not become impossible already). To explain this, at the risk of oversimplifying, I will first mention that there are three things that the State of Israel might wish for itself:

  1. To be a democracy under the rule of law;
  2. To maintain its occupation of all or much of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem;
  3. To be a Jewish state.

Israel clearly can have only two of the items 1, 2, and 3. Most Israelis would likely say that they want 1 and 3 much more than 2.

There are two problems, though: awareness and territorial maximalism. With respect to awareness, the State of Israel actually has items 2 and 3 at present, but not 1, because of the systematic discrimination that results from the occupation. Even if one questions this opinion, the trend is in that direction.

However, many Israelis do not appear to be aware of how deeply the settlement network has penetrated the West Bank, or what this has implied for Palestinians who live there. Moreover, many Israelis are not aware of how deeply committed Palestinians and the rest of the world are to the principle that “the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute one entire territorial entity” (quoted from the Oslo Declaration of Principles ).

Many Israelis who would choose items 1 and 3 over item 2 either do not know, or do not want to know, what those who would choose 2 and 3 over 1 are doing, and what the implication of this will be for the State of Israel. Which brings us to second problem: territorial maximalism, and the inability of mainstream Israeli society to confront it effectively.

Those Israeli settlers and their supporters who would choose items 2 and 3 over item 1 essentially hope to turn Israel into a state in which Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to institutionalized discrimination (unless they hope to expel the West Bank’s Palestinians to Jordan, which is even worse). They are motivated and determined both to hold onto the West Bank, or significant parts of it, and to avoid granting the Palestinians in the West Bank full Israeli citizenship. In addition, these maximalists have little respect for international law and the international consensus, which have clearly expressed that “the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute one entire territorial entity.”

The depth of motivation of Israeli “moderates” to stop maximalists from continuing to colonize the West Bank is paltry compared to the depth of motivation that these maximalists have to continue this colonization. It may be the case that, when Israeli “moderates” finally realize what is going on, letting go of item 2 will be more difficult than letting go of item 3. That is, given the enormous international pressure that Israel will be under to regain 1, and the violent refusal of maximalists to let go of 2, the State of Israel may come to the conclusion that item 3 is the least costly of the three items of which to let go.

In other words, by the time that the majority of Israelis realize that their country has de facto annexed the West Bank, and given pressure from the international community, the majority may choose democracy and the rule of law (including citizenship for Palestinians), instead of ethnic Jewishness without real democracy. And, at that time, this may be a choice that involves less conflict than transferring sovereignty of the West Bank to a separate State of Palestine (though, unfortunately, it will probably not be bloodless).

This proposal for the implementation of a 1-state solution assumes such a scenario: a scenario in which, at some point in the future, it becomes clear to the world that the State of Israel will never relinquish enough of the West Bank to facilitate the rule of the West Bank by a sovereign State of Palestine. A scenario in which colonization of the West Bank makes the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and 1397 impossible.

Recall that most Palestinians are much less concerned with the question of one or two states, and would accept a 1-state solution without much hesitation, provided that it grants them equal rights with Israeli Jews. This assumption also forms part of the scenario assumed in this proposal.

Principles

These principles are not organized in order of importance.

The assumed scenario

As stated above, the scenario in which a 1-state solution will become necessary is one in which a two-state solution is not feasible, because the territorial distribution of Palestinians and Jews in the West Bank will not permit reasonable geographical partition. Thus, this scenario assumes a large Jewish minority that remains in the West Bank, dispersed among the Palestinian population. The rights of individuals of both groups must be protected.

Universal human rights for all

There seems to be a growing consensus among the Palestinian population that efforts towards a final resolution of the conflict should focus on obtaining equal rights with Israeli Jews. This is especially true in many parts of the West Bank and in Israel proper. (It may be less true among the Palestinian diaspora.) Any SSS obviously needs to provide for full respect for the human rights of all Jews and Palestinians in Israel-Palestine, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Obviously, there are also many Palestinians, perhaps especially among the refugees and/or in the Gaza Strip, that do not support this thinking at this time. What they want is greater rights for Palestinians than for Israeli Jews. This is not acceptable; Israel-Palestine must grant equal rights for all Palestinians and Jews. The progressive granting of equal rights to Palestinians (along with other trends among the population) could well marginalize these individuals and groups.

Existing democratic institutions

Both Israel and the PA have democratic institutions that have at least some legitimacy, and a 1-state solution should leverage this legitimacy as much as possible.

For example, the Knesset and other institutions of the state of Israel function well in numerous respects. Among their positive features is the fact that they protect many rights of Israeli Jews. They have overseen the development of a modern economy. Unfortunately, it can be argued that these institutions engage in discrimination against Palestinians (especially but not exclusively in the occupied territories); however, this problem should be addressed by reform (even drastic reform) rather than by dismantling these institutions and reconstructing something novel in their place.

Something similar is true of civil society in the West Bank, though perhaps to a lesser extent in terms of legitimacy. Some institutions of the PA, and many municipalities, now function well, and some institutions need to be reformed in order to avoid discrimination in the future. Any 1-state solution should build on the legitimacy of these political and civil institutions.

Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to be as optimistic about the existence of legitimate political and civil institutions in the Gaza Strip.

Districts of Israel-Palestine

There is an effective geographic division of Israel-Palestine, imposed by the State of Israel, at present. While this division is not valid under international law, it does exist administratively, and it can be built upon if the illegalities are corrected. This division is not along ethnic lines (at least, not in any contiguous sense).

This division is as follows: 1) Northern District; 2) Haifa District; 3) Center District; 4) Tel Aviv District; 5) Southern District; 6) Jerusalem District; 7) “Judea and Samaria Area”; 8) Gaza Strip. The “Judea and Samaria Area” excludes all territory in the Jerusalem District, but includes the rest of the West Bank.

This administrative division will be retained, with minor modifications. The modifications to be made to the Jerusalem District are defined as follows: The Jerusalem District will be enlarged to become the convex hull (i.e., the smallest convex set on a map) of the union of the current Jerusalem District and the “Jerusalem Area” as defined in UN General Assembly Resolutions 181, 194, and 273. (UNGA 273 is the resolution admitting Israel to the UN; 181 and 194 are both explicitly mentioned in 273.)

Essentially, this enlargement of the Jerusalem District would add to it Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, and the Eztion Bloc. It would also add to the Jerusalem District every Palestinian town and village that is between any of these settlements and any part of the former Jerusalem District (e.g., Abu Dis, Anata, Al-Azariya, Bethlehem, and the Biddu enclave).

This modification will reduce the territory of the “Judea and Samaria Area”, which will become the West Bank District, having exactly the same status that the current six Districts of Israel do. Furthermore, the Gaza Strip will be incorporated into Israel-Palestine as the Gaza District, which will also have exactly the same status that the current six Districts of Israel do.

The federal government will gradually devolve as much administrative authority as possible to these eight Districts, leveraging as much as possible civil institutions that already exist. For example, in the WB, the PA will incorporate the councils for those settlements that lie outside of the enlarged Jerusalem District into their governmental structures. Essentially, the transfer of power envisioned in this proposal would resemble the “division of powers” that exists in the US.

Upper legislative house

Israeli Jews are worried about their individual rights and safety in a state in which they might become the minority. This is understandable, and the universal human rights of Israeli Jews must be protected.

In order to ensure these rights as much as possible, and in order to facilitate the “division of powers”, we propose the creation of a new, upper house that will function alongside the Knesset (to be called the Majlis). Two members of the Majlis will be elected from each District, for a total of 16 members.

The Knesset will continue to function in much the same as it currently does, i.e., forming governments based on coalitions defined by proportional elections in which all citizens can vote. The Majlis will have a power of veto over all laws passed by the Knesset, a majority of votes being sufficient to veto any Knesset legislation that it deems undesirable. In the case of a tie, the President of Israel-Palestine will cast the tie-breaking vote. Importantly, the Majlis will have the power to approve/veto all budgets and enforce financial transparency (which the Knesset sorely lacks at present). It will have the power to audit all expenditures of the Knesset. The Majlis will thus also facilitate the development of “separation of powers” similar to that which exists in the US.

Linguistic communities

In addition to the District structure mentioned above, there will be two Linguistic Community Councils: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. These Councils will not be a formal part of either the Knesset or the Majlis, but they will play an advisory and administrative roles and will interface with the Government in matters related to religion, cultural heritage, tourism, education, etc.

Each citizen of Israel-Palestine will choose the linguistic community to which he or she belongs; each person may choose only one.

The Hebrew linguistic community will prepare educational material related to the Shoah. This material will be mandatory for all students in all communities. Similarly, the Arabic linguistic community will prepare education material related to the Nakba. This material will also be mandatory for all students in all communities. It will be understood that the goal of learning about these events is not to compare or equate them, but to promote understanding of the different perspectives of all citizens of Israel-Palestine.

The role of linguistic communities, and their interface with the government, will be loosely based on the Belgian model, in which the role of linguistic communities in administration, education, cultural activities, etc., does not coincide with geographical governmental divisions. The functionality of these communities will also leverage existing institutions in Israel-Palestine (such as the Rabbinate, the Islamic Waqf, and the different Churches) as much as possible.

Elimination of ethnicity and religion as a basis for legal identity

There will be NO official division of government or representation in government based solely on either ethnicity or religion. All representation (advisory and/or administrative, etc.) will be on the basis of geography, linguistic community, or both.

The use of ethnicity and/or religion to define legal identity seems to have led only to disaster in regions of conflict between ethnic groups and/or religions around the world. This is seen in examples from Europe (Ireland and Northern Ireland, former Yugoslavia) as well as Asia (Lebanon, Iraq) and Africa (any number of countries). This is also seen in the past history of Israel-Palestine.

Ethnicity and religion are crucially important in defining how people view themselves. But they should not serve as a basis for defining people under the law, or defining the rights to which people are entitled under the law. The only hope of reconciliation and practical justice among people of different ethnicities and religions is to ensure that rights and status before the law are universal, and that legal categories depend on ethnicity and religion as little as possible.

Refugees, aliyah, and return

As the demographic balance in the new SSS shifts towards a Palestinian majority, the government will be forced to deal with settling those refugees who can return, and whom the government has the means to resettle.

There are many issues related to the specifics of refugee rights that this government will have to consider. However, a crucial one is what UNGA 194 summarizes by referring to “the earliest practicable date”, and which I will call “practicality”. In essence, the principle of practicality suggests that allowing a flood of refugees to return to Israel-Palestine without having prepared living and employment arrangements will help neither returning refugees nor the population already living within the borders of Israel-Palestine.

The entities best prepared to deal with the practicality of resettling returning refugees will be the new SSS itself, and the eight Districts of Israel-Palestine. Ironically, one advantage that a 1-state solution will have over two-state plans is that it will allow Israel-Palestine to leverage the experiences of the State of Israel in resettling olim in order to handle the practical aspects of honoring refugee rights.

Implementation

If a 1-state solution becomes necessary, the implementation and transition phase will be important. This section focuses specifically on the some aspects of this transition to a binational state.

Granting of citizenship

The granting of citizenship and equal rights to Palestinians will be progressive, and conditioned upon (and only upon) 1) residency; and 2) the willingness to accept the principle of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. Only citizens of Israel-Palestine will be eligible to serve in either the national or district governments, or to vote for any offices in these governments.

All Israeli citizens will be entitled to citizens of Israel-Palestine. All Palestinians residing in the enlarged Jerusalem District, the present “Judea and Samaria Area”, and the Gaza Strip will be entitled immediately to become citizens of Israel-Palestine, with full political, civil, and voting rights. The sole condition necessary for citizenship will be the willingness to sign a formal declaration affirming the principle of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians within all of Israel-Palestine.

All six Districts of Israel will immediately become Districts of Israel-Palestine, with representation in the Majlis. The incorporation of the “Judea and Samaria Area” and the Gaza Strip as Districts of Israel-Palestine will be staggered, as described below.

As soon as all residents of Israel-Palestine are given a chance to recognize formally the principle of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians, elections for the Knesset and the Majlis (incorporating the six former Districts of Israel, including the enlarged Jerusalem District) will be held. All Jewish and Palestinian citizens will be eligible to vote for the Knesset. Citizens residing in each Districts will be eligible to vote in elections for the Majlis in that District.

West Bank District

The “Judea and Samaria Area” will formally become the West Bank District of Israel-Palestine, with the same status as the six current Districts of Israel, as soon as the PA (or some other WB District representative governing body) formally affirms the principle of equal rights within the WB District for Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel-Palestine.

Once this affirmation is made, the Government of Israel-Palestine will undertake negotiations with the West Bank District to determine how State law will interface with District law (which laws will apply in which case, etc.) As soon as these negotiations are complete and a formal agreement has been signed, the West Bank District will hold elections for representatives to the
Majlis.

Gaza District

Likewise, the Gaza Strip will formally become the Gaza District of Israel-Palestine, with the same status as the six current Districts of Israel, as soon as the PA (or some other Gaza District representative governing body) formally affirms the principle of equal rights within the Gaza District for Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel-Palestine. As soon as this affirmation is made, all residents of the Gaza District will be given full citizenship in Israel-Palestine.

Once this affirmation is made, the Government of Israel-Palestine will undertake negotiations with the Gaza District to determine how State law will interface with District law (which laws will apply in which case, etc.) As soon as these negotiations are complete and a formal agreement has been signed, the Gaza District will hold elections for representatives to the Majlis.

It seems likely that the WB will become a District of Israel-Palestine before the Gaza Strip, only because it will likely take longer for any representative body in Gaza to recognize formally the principle of equal rights for Jewish and Palestinian citizens within the Gaza District.

Districts and transition

A couple of aspects of the implementation proposed here that may be important: First, Jews would retain a super-majority in the Majlis until some regional government of Gaza formally recognizes that they are entitled to equal rights with Palestinians. This could make the transition to a 1-state solution with equal rights and full citizenship for all easier for Jewish citizens of Israel-Palestine.

The enlargement of the Jerusalem District will be helpful in pioneering the facilitation of inter-ethnic cooperation within this District. It could draw on (albeit imperfect) examples from the other current Districts of Israel and serve in turn as an example for the transition to a 1-state solution in the WB District. This, then, could provide insight for how to transition to a 1-state solution in the new Gaza District.

Once all eight Districts are formally recognized within Israel-Palestine, Palestinians will constitute virtually all of the citizens in Gaza, a super-majority in the WB, and a slight ma jority in the Northern District. Jews will constitute a super-majority in four of the other five districts, all except for Jerusalem, where they will compose a slight ma jority. Given this, the representation of the Knesset will likely be mostly Palestinian, whereas the representation of the Ma jlis will likely be 10 Jews and 6 Palestinians. In time, Palestinians will come to constitute a ma jority in the Jerusalem District, thus likely giving them parity in the Ma jlis as well as a majority in the Knesset. If a Palestinian is elected President of the State of Israel-Palestine, this will give Palestinians effective control of both legislative houses.

The period in which there will be a likely Jewish majority in the Majlis, with veto power over Knesset legislation, will provide insurance for the rights of the large Jewish minority of Israel-Palestine during the initial period of transition to a 1-state solution. It will also provide experience in power sharing, coalition building, security cooperation, etc., between the two groups. Strengthening the administrative autonomy of the Districts of Israel-Palestine could also enable the four Districts with a Jewish super-majority to further safeguard the rights of Jews that live in these districts.

Security

As soon as all residents of Israel-Palestine are given a chance to recognize formally the principle of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians, and before elections for the Knesset and the Ma jlis are held throughout Israel-Palestine, the IDF will be renamed Israeli/Palestinian Defense Force (IPDF). It will completely evacuate the“Judea and Samaria Area” of the West Bank and cease any activity in the Gaza Strip (including aerial activity over it and imposition of a “buffer zone”).

To ensure a transition that is as bloodless as possible, a UN force will monitor all borders of the “Judea and Samaria Area” until it becomes a District of Israel-Palestine. It will interface with the Israeli Border Police (which will contribute to ensuring the security of Jewish citizens of the future West Bank District) and with the PA police (which will contribute to ensuring the security of Palestinian citizens of the future West Bank District).

Similarly, a UN force will monitor all borders of the Gaza Strip until it becomes a District of Israel-Palestine. It will interface with the Israeli Border Police and with the police force of the Gaza Strip.

Under no circumstances will IPDF units be allowed into the future West Bank District until it becomes a full District of Israel-Palestine, holds elections for the Majlis, and sends two representatives there. Likewise, under no circumstances will IPDF units be allowed into the future Gaza District until it becomes a full District of Israel-Palestine, holds elections for the Majlis, and sends two representatives there.

Even after the WB and Gaza become full Districts of Israel-Palestine with representation in the Majlis, UN forces will remain in these Districts in order to monitor the peace, prevent terrorism, and prevent IPDF incursion. The UN force in the WB District will remain until it receives a formal request to depart, signed by the WB District authority, the President of Israel-Palestine, and a two-thirds majority of both the Knesset and the Majlis. Likewise, the UN force in the Gaza District will remain until it receives a formal request to depart, signed by the Gaza District authority, the President of Israel-Palestine, and a two-thirds majority of both the Knesset and the Majlis.

Palestinian solidarity and international law: Part III

Solidarity and Advocacy

Universal human rights

From what has gone before, it should be clear that the strongest basis on which we can advocate for the rights of Palestinians (and of Jews) is that of universal human rights, as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and other documents promulgated by competent UN bodies. Moreover, the strongest basis on which we can argue for human rights is that of international law. Being rigorous in our understanding and application of human rights and international law ensures that we will not leave ourselves open to the charge of being biased against any particular ethnic group. More importantly, it ensures that we will actually avoid any bias or favoritism in our advocacy.

It is important to recognize that respect for human rights and international law places obvious constraints on how we advocate. This is actually fortunate, for many reasons. The most obvious constraint is that our advocacy can have no tolerance for or association with violence against civilians. We must and should condemn terrorism, by any group, in the strongest possible terms.

However, more should be said. The most effective way to advocate for universal human rights is clearly to adhere rigorously to nonviolent resistance. Not just to avoid violence against civilians, but to avoid violence, period. This is not necessarily a legal requirement; e.g., Palestinians certainly have the legal right to take up arms against the State of Israel’s soldiers in order to resist colonization of their lands in the West Bank. However, waiving this right and committing to nonviolence is important, for at least two sets reasons, which I will now discuss.

Nonviolent resistance

The first set of reasons are tactical. Simply put, violent resistance to colonization in this context is not going to work. Because the IDF is so powerful, because the State of Israel and the defenders of its policies have developed such a ruthless, effective propaganda machine, and for many other reasons, violent resistance (even if justified) will not be effective in bringing an end to the colonial settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

Related to this reason is the fact that violent resistance makes it much more difficult for those Israeli Jews who wish to do so to participate with us and support us. Nonviolent resistance makes it easier for those Israeli Jews who wish both to participate in our advocacy, and to start the conversations about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians that desperately need to take place within Israeli society.

Other reasons are even more important and more fundamental. The first has to do with the integrity of how we advocate for the rights of Palestinians. As already stated in this analysis, it is important to make sure that we do not advocate against the rights of Israelis or Jews while we advocate for the rights of Palestinians. Our advocacy should be as positive as possible. The best way to ensure this is to ensure that our activism does not intend physical harm to anyone, even those who enforce colonization by military means.

There is yet another long-tem, strategic reason that involves the answer to the following questions: What kind of society do Palestinians want to build? What kind of society do those expressing solidarity with them wish to build with them? How can we ensure that this society will ensure equal rights for everyone (including Israeli Jews)? Clearly, the kind of society that will result from the consistent, creative, disciplined application of nonviolent resistance will provide for much greater respect of human rights than a society shaped by a violent resistance movement, even if the latter had any chance of working in this context.

International pressure

Unfortunately, there seems to be no reason to hope that Israeli society will, on its own, produce the consensus necessary to force the government of Israel to 1) Definitively end its colonization and occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), as the State of Israel is required to do under UNSC resolutions 242, 446, 465, 478, and 1397, and the Fourth Geneva Convention; 2) Implement UNGA 194 and provide for a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee crisis, as required under UNSC 242, UNGA Resolutions 181 (which deals with minority rights of those Arabs living, as of 1947, within what were to become the borders of the “Jewish state”) and 273, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 17, and others), and the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49); or 3) Ensure equal political, civil, and economic rights of Palestinian and Jewish citizens of the State of Israel. Given this, Palestinian civil society has launched a campaign to organize boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the State of Israel in order to pressure the government of Israel to reform its treatment of Palestinians.

Unfortunately, it seems that targeted boycotts, divestment, and even sanctions (i.e., BDS) will be a necessary part of nonviolent resistance to the State of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. However, it is important to select targets with wisdom and based on principle. I have a couple of points that I would like to make about this aspect of BDS.

First, BDS activities must be nonviolent in spirit as well as practice. There is no place for vengeance or retribution in the implementation of BDS. Our goal is not “to punish Zionist society”, for example. That would be ridiculous. Our goal is to pressure the State of Israel to change its policies towards Palestinians. This should affect the kinds of activities that we engage in. For example, it is natural that we specifically target companies that profit from the colonization of the West Bank, or target institutions that operate from settler colonies in the West Bank.

Second, those engaging in BDS must be scrupulous in avoiding those activities that they criticize. For this reason, in my opinion, it is important not to seek to impose certain cultural boycotts of all of Israeli society. The following fictitious example should clarify one type of boycott that it is important to avoid.

Imagine that two professors, one Jewish and one Palestinian, both citizens of the State of Israel, work at the Big University of Tel Aviv (BUTC). I do not see how we can exclude the Palestinian professor from participating in academic conferences on the basis that we are advocating for the rights of Palestinians. Moreover, and very importantly, if we invite the Palestinian professor from BUTC to participate in a conference, we certainly cannot refuse to invite the Jewish professor from BUTC to participate in the same conference just because he is Jewish rather than Palestinian. To do so is to engage in discrimination. The goal of BDS activities is to end discrimination based on ethnicity, and therefore the means used to achieve this goal cannot, must not themselves involve discrimination based on ethnicity. This is a crucial point.

In my opinion, while Jewish Voice of Peace (http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/content/jvp-issues#1) and Peace Now (http://peacenow.org/entries/apn_joins_peace_nows_call_for_boycotting_settlements) come from very different perspectives, the specific BDS campaigns promoted by both of these organizations are models of BDS campaigns that target necessary organizations and institutions: organizations and institutions that benefit and profit from abuses of human rights caused by occupation and colonization.

BDS activities (along with other forms of nonviolent resistance) should be aggressively employed in order to inform public opinion, both within Israel and around the world, about the State of Israel’s discrimination against Palestinians, and to pressure the State of Israel to end this discrimination. These activities must be selected and planned to ensure that the target is the discrimination practiced, and not Israelis themselves. This is important. What we oppose is discrimination and oppression. What we support are the universal human rights of all persons… no matter how much we disagree with their actions.

Conclusion

We can do this. We really can. There is enough respect for universal human rights in the world to mobilize international opinion to bring about a just resolution to this conflict. If we are principled in our activism and advocate for the rights of all, without bias and without seeking anything resembling retribution, we can see progress towards practical justice, true peace, and reconciliation in the near future.

Palestinian solidarity and international law: Part I

Palestinian solidarity and international law: Part II

Palestinian solidarity and international law: Part II

Two states or one state?

Many activists expressing solidarity with Palestinians, and many Palestinians themselves, insist that Israel is an illegal state that must be replaced by one single, democratic state in the whole of former mandatory Palestine. In other words, they advocate for, and only for, a single-state solution. Many who do so claim to base their advocacy on principles of international law and human rights.

In my opinion, this approach is gravely mistaken. This approach is mistaken even in the large number of cases in which activists sincerely express the desire for Jews to have equal rights with Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Part of the reason that this is a mistake should be evident from what has already been written. There are, however, additional considerations.

The moral question: What is honest?

UNGA Resolutions 181, 194, and 273 make it clear that Israel has a legal right to exist. Any advocacy approach that denies this cannot claim to be founded in international law. If it attempts to do so, it will be acting dishonestly, and it will come across as acting dishonestly.

Advocates for a single-state solution who claim that Israel is “illegal” may claim that they basing their advocacy on human rights, and/or that they are ignoring international law as expressed in the above documents because they believe that the contents of these documents are unjust. This, however, comes dangerously close to confusing “human rights” with “what I want to happen”, and to placing one’s subjective preferences above the limits imposed by international law. In other words, to adopting the same defiant attitude towards international law that the State of Israel has.

It is much safer, and much more internally consistent, to advocate for justice and universal human rights within the context of the legal documents promulgated by those organizations charged with defending justice and universal human rights. These organizations are the United Nations and its institutions.

Those of us advocating for the rights of Palestinians must acknowledge that 1) Israel has a legal right to exist. We must also insist on the fact that 2) Palestinian refugees from Israel have as much legal right to return to their homes in Israel as does the State of Israel to exist. Both of these facts are unmistakably spelled out in international law. Any honest approach to expressing solidarity with Palestinians that is founded on human rights as defined by international law must necessarily acknowledge both of the above statements.

The tactical question: What will work?

In addition to the legal, moral dilemna mentioned above, advocates of a single-state solution who wish for Israel to be replaced by a single democratic state of Palestine expose themselves to the charge that they seek the “annihilation” of Israel.

The connotation of such criticism (coming at least sometimes from those who defend the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians) is dishonest. Promoting a one-state solution does not resemble the promotion of ethnic cleansing. Still less does it resemble the promotion of genocide. Those who make such claims about advocates for a single-state solution are at least as dishonest as single-state advocates themselves. They are also guilty of slandering single-state advocates, many of whom do not wish for the annihilation of anything.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the “pro-Israel”/Zionist lobby is powerful, effective, and unscrupulous, especially in the US. Advocating for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with full access to Jerusalem and justice for refugees, is a much better tactical option to pursue in confronting this lobby. One reason is that it helps to center the debate on the remarkably straightforward legal documents themselves. These documents provide powerful arguments for the rights of both Palestinians and Jews; indeed, they were often explicitly intended to do so. Moreover, even a cursory examination of the relevant documents will reveal the extent to which the State of Israel’s policies violate them, and will provide a strong basis for bringing pressure to bear on the State of Israel to reform its treatment of Palestinians.

The statement “Palestinian refugees from Israel have as much legal right to return to their homes in Israel as does the State of Israel to exist” is not only pithy, but more than defensible. This formula reflects precisely both the letter and the spirit of UNGA 273, which admitted the State of Israel to the UN. The only counter-arguments that those who argue against refugee rights can offer are evidently spurious, so much so that they may seem to require no response. Nevertheless, will provide responses here in case they are helpful.

Counter-argument 1: “annihilation”

This argument goes something like this: “Implementing 194 would cause Israel to cease to be a majority Jewish state. Moreover, once enough refugees return to establish a Palestinian majority in Israel, the Palestinians would perpetrate a second Holocaust on Israeli Jews. Therefore, those who argue for the implementation of 194 are actually advocating for the annihilation of Israeli Jews.”

In the first place, this counter-argument obviously demonizes and slanders Palestinians. It amounts to fear-mongering demagoguery that can only influence people who have already allowed themselves to be influenced by racism and/or bigotry of some sort, be it anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, or specifically anti-Palestinian.

Second, there is no reason to believe that the implementation of 194 will result in a Palestinian majority within Israel’s 1967 borders in the foreseeable future. Israeli Jews currently outnumber Palestinians with Israeli citizenship by 4.3 million, if the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics can be trusted to accurately report such things (see http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/diplomania/israel-s-right-wing-is-trying-to-stifle-the-reality-of-palestinian-demographics-1.405246). It is not imaginable that 4 million Palestinian refugees would choose to return to Israel even if they were all immediately allowed to. And it is clear that they will not all be immediately allowed to return.

It is by now certain that 194 will never be implemented by violent means. If it is implemented, it will be implemented though the application of considerable nonviolent, international pressure on Israel. It cannot be doubted, in such a scenario, that Israel will do everything that it can to prevent and/or delay the return of as many refugees as possible. It will very likely have help in this regard from the U.S. and other countries. Many refugees will doubtless accept repatriation with compensation outside of Israel rather than subject themselves to a protracted legal battle. (Repatriation and/or compensation is absolutely consistent with international law and justice, as long as this reflects the choice of the refugees themselves, and/or a judgment handed down by a competent UN legal body.)

Even the phrase “the earliest practicable date” in 194 itself ensures that the State of Israel will not be asked to do anything that results in substantial chaos for either its own population or the returning refugees, much less anything that could resemble its “annihilation”. For all of these reasons, and many others, any suggestion that the implementation of 194 by Israel would result in the “annihilation” of anything, or that it would result in Israel’s “suicide”, can be dismissed as fearmongering nonsense.

Third, and perhaps most important, Israel is required by international law to implement 194. Palestinian refugees from Israel have as much legal right to return to their homes in Israel as does the State of Israel to exist. Even if it were remotely possible that the implementation of this right by Israel could result in something close to a Jewish minority within the State of Israel, then that does not, by itself, make any difference with respect to the rights of Palestinians or the obligations of the State of Israel under international law.

Counter-argument 2: “the real refugees are dead”

This argument goes something like this: “The original Palestinian refugees may have had a right of return, but it died with them. Their descendants do not have such a right.”

In the first place, legally speaking, this argument is nonsense. UNRWA, the UN agency charged with providing assistance to Palestinian refugees who need it, regularly registers children of refugees as refugees themselves, and it does so with the full approval and authority of the United Nations.

Even more importantly, every year the General Assembly passes a resolution re-affirming 194 in language that makes it unmistakeable that the rights of refugees are conferred to their children. Every year this resolution passes by an overwhelming majority; only Israel, the United States, and a tiny handful of the US’ client states vote against.

For example, UNGA 64-90, passed January 19, 2010, “[r]eaffirms that the Palestine refugees are entitled to their property and to the income derived therefrom, in conformity with the principles of equity and justice” and makes a point of “[e]xpressing its appreciation for the preservation and modernization of the existing records, including the land records, of the Conciliation Commission and the importance of such records for a just resolution of the plight of the Palestine refugees in conformity with resolution 194″. The land records referred to include “a schedule of Arab owners and a file of documents defining the location, area and other particulars of Arab property”. This language is not consistent with the suggestion that the legal rights of the refugees to their property (including the legal right to return to it) cannot be inherited. This resolution passed in the General Assembly by a vote of 168 votes for to 6 against, with 3 abstentions.

Second, the suggestion that a state (Israel or any other) can decide that refugee rights (including property rights) cannot be inherited is unjust. It would be horrible if such a principle were to become commonplace in international law, or the law of any state. The obvious result would be that the state in question would deny fulfilling its obligations to living claimants in the hope of declaring that these obligations no longer existed as soon as these claimants had died. That is why international law has been careful to rid itself of anything resembling such a principle.

A final advantage

A final advantage of insisting that “Palestinian refugees from Israel have as much legal right to return to their homes in Israel as does the State of Israel to exist”: it allows us to interface and interact with those Israeli Jews and their sympathizers who are passionately committed both to the existence of Israel as a majority Jewish state and to advocating for universal human rights for both Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land. While the number of such people is still small, it is growing, and cooperating with such people is important. Both for achieving our goals of equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land, and for what will come after a framework for ensuring these rights has finally been put into place. That is, for ensuring the health and stability of any solution for which we advocate.

Two states if possible, one state if not

Colonization

As stated in Part I, an undeniable potential problem with the implementation of a two-state solution is that Israel’s ongoing expansion of settlements of the West Bank leaves little room for it. The time may soon come (and may already have passed) when the sheer size of the settlement network, its depth of penetration of the West Bank, the tendency to violence of thousands of these settlers, the attachment that many other settlers feel both for their homes and for Israeli sovereignty, etc., may simply make it impossible for Israel to transfer sovereignty of enough settlements to facilitate the creation of anything resembling a sovereign state in which Palestinians can enjoy the same human rights that Israeli Jews enjoy in Israel.

Put another way, there is no evidence that either the State of Israel or those who support its policies have the political will to transfer sovereignty of enough settlements to facilitate a two-state solution. The only other option that is consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, full access to Jerusalem, justice for refugees, etc., is also the one and only scenario that will lead to Israel no longer being a majority Jewish state: the granting of full citizenship within Israel to all inhabitants (not just Israeli Jewish settlers) of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The content of the above paragraph is something that must be said. Over and over. Because this is the primary reason for the duration and the brutality of the occupation: The State of Israel and those who support its policies do not know whether they wish for Israel to be a ma jority Jewish state, or for it to annex the West Bank. There is no consensus about this crucial decision. This is obvious from the fact that Israel has been attempting both to be a Jewish state and to colonize the West Bank for the last 45 years, with the predictable result that occupation looks more like apartheid every year.

The Qalandiya checkpoint, part of the massive Separation Barrier that isolates East Jerusalem from the West Bank, in contravention of international law.

Many so-called “leftist” defenders of Israel’s policies portray Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as passive, an unfortunate but necessary security measure that the State of Israel will gladly end once it is assured that West Bank Palestinians will not launch rockets at Tel Aviv as soon as it does so. This is nonsense, and not only because this portrayal is based on racist stereotypes of Palestinians. It is nonsense primarily because there is nothing passive or involuntary about Israel’s colonization of the West Bank.

Recall from Part I that UNSC Resolutions 446, 465, and 478 speak of “flagrant violations” of the Fourth Geneva Convention committed by the State of Israel in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Recall that the authoritative commentary by the International Committee of the Red Cross on the relevant article (Article 49) of this Convention speaks explicitly of “colonization”. For this and many other reasons, there is ample legal justification for speaking of the State of Israel’s activities in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) as colonization.

Massive concrete walls crisscrossing the countryside with no respect for (indeed, in despite of) internationally recognized boundaries; burgeoning settler colonies (both official and unofficial) continuously growing deep within the West Bank; segregated road networks that (with the Separation Barrier) divide the West Bank into separated cantons; severe restrictions on movement of the indigenous population between these isolated cantons; severe restrictions on movement of the indigenous population into Jerusalem (in defiance of the State of Israel’s obligations under UNGA resolutions 181, 194, and 273 mentioned above); different systems of law and justice for Israeli settler colonists on the one hand and indigenous West Bank Palestinians on the other, even though the two populations share the same land; systematic discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian population on behalf of Israeli colonists in the allocation of land and water resources (the most precious resources that are present in the Holy Land); systematic violations of the Fourth Geneva Conventions in the detention (Articles 5, 71, 76, and others) and interrogation (Articles 3, 32, and 147) of Palestinians who resist colonization… all of these are hallmarks of a colonial regime.

It is worth repeating: there is nothing passive about the ongoing colonization of the West Bank. One does not place more than half a million colonists into an area the size of the West Bank over half a century without forethought, planning, motive, and intent. End the colonization of the West Bank, and the violations of Palestinian rights resulting from this colonization, and we will eliminate the reasons that the majority of Palestinians could imagine for even thinking about violence.

Options and priorities

To return to the question under consideration: When will the State of Israel’s ongoing colonization of the West Bank render a two-state solution impossible? In my opinion, Israel should be forced to answer this question. Specifically, Israel has the following two options:

  • (A) A two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with full access to Jerusalem and justice for refugees;
  • (B) Granting all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza full citizenship within Israel.

These are the only two options that the international community can accept, and that it can ask Palestinians to accept. The first option accords with international law and human rights. The second respects human rights, and it conforms to international law as much as possible under the assumption that systematic violations of international law committed by the State of Israel will have made irrevocably impossible an implementation of the documents mentioned in points 1, 2, and 3 in Part I.

If the State of Israel makes irrevocably impossible the implementation of the documents in points 1, 2, and 3, then it must annex the West Bank and Gaza and must conform to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as many provisions as possible of UNGA resolutions 181, 194, and 273 in its treatment of Palestinians in these territories. In other words, Israel will continue to exist, but it will become the national home of all Palestinians every bit as much as it is the national home of Israeli Jews, and it will provide equal rights for all Palestinians (including refugees) and for Israeli Jews. (For a proposal for the transition from the current status quo to a single state of Israel/Palestine that will be necessary in such a scenario, see here.)

The approach I am outlining may seem similar to that taken by advocating for a single-state solution, but there are important differences. We should clearly affirm that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and that Palestinian refugees from Israel have as much legal right to return to their homes in Israel as does the State of Israel to exist. We then insist on the two options (A) and (B), and we force Israel to choose. If A ever becomes impossible (as well it might) then Israel must choose B.

This is an approach that fully respects both international law and the universal human rights of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews. This approach highlights the important fact that a primary reason for the escalation of this conflict is that the State of Israel is both trying to be a Jewish state and to colonize the West Bank, requiring the institution of something like apartheid in the West Bank. Moreover, this approach allows us to cooperate with all of those Israeli Jews who are committed to human rights for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

It is important to stress that (A) and (B) are the only two options that will allow the State of Israel to bring itself into something resembling conformity with international law and human rights. For example, the State of Israel does not have the right to annex territory on its “side” of the Separation Barrier in an effort to impose borders unilaterally. Such an attempt on Israel’s part would constitute a severe violation of UNSC resolutions 242, 338, and 1397 (acquiring territory by force, refusing to withdraw militarily from occupied territory, and despite for the requirement that permanent borders be based on the 1967 lines), of UNGA resolutions 181, 194, and 273 (concerning access to Jerusalem and its holy places), and of the Fourth Geneva Convention (confiscation of civilian property and displacement of any persons not allowed to return to the Israeli side of the Barrier). Moreover, such an attempt by the State of Israel would violate provisions of international law with respect to water rights, in particular to the highland aquifers beneath the Ariel fingers and the Etzion Bloc. The restrictions on movement that a border as serpentine as the route of the Separation Barrier would place on Palestinians would violate their basic human right of freedom of movement.

Were the State of Israel to seek to impose unilaterally the Separation Barrier as its border with the State of Palestine, the obvious necessary recourse for Palestinians and the international community would be legal action and the imposition of sanctions until Israel agrees to retreat to borders based on the 1967 lines.

Finally, and importantly: if the State of Israel ever acknowledges that its colonization activities are so extensive that it cannot transfer sovereignty over the West Bank to Palestinians, then only one option remains to the State of Israel: It must annex both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and grant full citizenship to all Palestinians living there.

Palestinian solidarity and international law: Part I

Palestinian solidarity and international law: Part III

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.