The near-total isolation of U.S. diplomatic policy from that of the overwhelming majority of the world in its stance on Palestine ought to be troubling to us as citizens.
The United States’ vote two weeks ago against granting Palestine non-member observer status at the United Nations General Assembly means our government stands virtually alone against the international consensus in favor of a two-state solution along 1967 borders, with some mutually-agreed land swaps, but it’s nothing new — the U.S. has unilaterally vetoed more than 30 Security Council resolutions critical of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights since 1972.
It is imperative that our government radically change its policy in this area of the world if justice and peace is ever to be achieved through a viable two-state solution.
Ambassador Susan Rice justified the vote by arguing that seeking General Assembly recognition amounted to skirting direct negotiations. Not so. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly said it is willing to negotiate if illegal settlement construction – a self-conscious effort to scuttle a two-state solution – stops.
Last year’s leak of the so-called “Palestine Papers” — confidential negotiation documents covering the last decade of negotiations — actually show a Palestinian Authority so desperate to strike a deal that it was willing to make concessions so sweeping that virtually all Palestinian citizens would probably reject them. In fact, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was so embarrassed by the details contained in the papers, including his offer to cede virtually all Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, in return for which Israeli negotiators were willing to cede absolutely nothing, that he first tried to deny the authenticity of the papers, then accused Al Jazeera, who published the documents along with British Guardian newspaper, of serving the interests of Israel and Iran.
Our government has played the role of continually pushing the Palestinians to accept less while providing a diplomatic shield against an overwhelming international consensus: a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, support for which is regularly voiced at the U.N. only to face a U.S. veto.
For its part, Israel has been unwilling from the get-go to make the concessions necessary for a viable Palestinian state: full sovereignty, access to water and arable land, retention of the center of economic and cultural life in East Jerusalem, territorial contiguity and meaningful links between the West Bank and Gaza.
With last week’s vote, the Israeli government’s biggest fear is that its leaders may be brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of war crimes – an outcome that is not unlikely, though Palestinian leaders may demur since some of them are also susceptible to war crimes charges, for indiscriminate rocket fire, for example.
Nonetheless, an ICC ruling would likely find that all Israeli settlement activity to be a war crime. As Aeyal Gross, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, noted in a Sunday Haaretz op-ed, the ICC’s statutes state that “‘The transfer, directly or indirectly, by an occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies’ is a war crime.” An ICC advisory opinion has already stated that this statute applies in the occupied territories, he notes.
Israel was quick to respond to the U.N. vote, the day after announcing it would begin constructing 3,000 new settlement homes within the occupied territories.
The most disturbing announcement was that Israel would build the new housing units in the so-called E1 area. A buildout of the E1 area would complete a salient that would totally divide two sections of the West Bank and cut much of it off from East Jerusalem.
If this step is completed it will finally accomplish Ariel Sharon’s reported plan to divide the West Bank into ‘bantustans’ – a name derived from the pseudo-state reservations to which black South Africans were confined in during apartheid – using settlements, massive walls, and checkpoints. If these scattered remnants – largely deprived of their water resources and farmland, the most important natural assets in the desert region – were then officially recognized as a state by the Israeli government, then one could call it a state or one could call it fried chicken, to paraphrase a 1996 statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former communications and policy planning director.
Construction in the E1 area has been held up by U.S. opposition until now, as the Haaretz editorial board noted Sunday. The “particularly grave and dangerous decision” to move forward with these plans, they said, is likely to do great harm to Israel’s diplomatic position. “After America was left as virtually the last supporter of Israel’s position at the United Nations, Israel is repaying it with a resounding slap in the face,” the paper warned.
The best thing the U.S. could do for justice and peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be, simply, to step away and let the international community take the lead. It’s likely Israel, Hamas and Fatah would be forced to agree to a two-state solution, or perhaps even an equal and integrated one-state solution, if it were not for the consistent diplomatic cover the U.S. provides for the most powerful party.