Gaza redux January 15, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Israel, Palestine.
Reading Vincent Browne in yesterday’s Irish Times was a frustrating exercise. It’s not that he’s incorrect in his article. For he notes that a ‘Monstrous Injustice [was/is] inflicted on Palestine’ and noted the machinations that underpinned the latest UN resolution on Gaza, in particular the craven way in which the United States having sponsored the resolution chose to abstain. As he notes:
[The President of the UN Council] then put to the vote the resolution drafted by the US, Britain and France. All members of the council voted for it, except the US, which abstained.
Rice read a statement expressing total support for the resolution and said the US had abstained because it wanted to see the outcome of the peace talks in Cairo, involving Israel and the Palestinians. CNN thought this was a significant breakthrough.
He parsed the text of the resolution noting too that:
The US, British and French resolution stressed “the urgency of and [called] for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”.
The al-Jazeera people observed that the resolution was essentially meaningless, for how could there be an “immediate” ceasefire that was at the same time “durable” and “fully respected”?
They said this allowed Israel to continue the bombing, the destruction and the slaughter of people in Gaza because there would never be “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire”.
Then there was the word “leading”: “leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”. “Leading” could mean an immediate withdrawal or a withdrawal anytime in the future.
They predicted Israel could continue doing what it had been doing, which of course was precisely what happened.
And all this is true. The US abstension provided a space which the Israeli government was able to use to continue to prosecute their campaign.
Browne continues by arguing that not merely has Israel, and effectively the international community, ignored previous UN resolutions (most notably 242) but that the “UN’s role in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has been inglorious from the outset”.
it was the UN that played a large part in igniting the conflict at the outset by calling for the partition of Palestine and the creation of Jewish and Arab states, without any regard to the wishes of the people of Palestine.
At the time, Arabs constituted more than two-thirds of the population of 1.78 million.
The state of Israel was declared on May 14th, 1948. There followed a war, during which 700,000 Arabs were driven or fled from their homes.
More than three-quarters of the territory of Palestine was incorporated into the new state of Israel.
The international community was guilt-ridden by the then recent revelation of the Holocaust and its appreciation of its complicity in the pogroms against Jews over the centuries. The infliction of another historic injustice, this time on the Palestinian Arabs, was the means whereby that guilt was idly assuaged.
That monstrous injustice lies at the heart of the conflict in the Middle East since then.
The refusal of the international community to acknowledge the origins of the state of Israel is the obstacle to a resolution of the conflict.
The problem is how to take his final sentence and use it as a basis from which to proceed. Because Israel does exist and will continue to exist. Its population, the majority of whom were born well after the events of 1948, and its societal dynamic have assumed a direction that has it’s own intrinsic internal self-legitimation. Israel has a right to exist. But that its existence may become essentially entirely insular and arguably paranoid as it attempts to find ‘security solutions’ that depend upon force rather than negotiation and persuasion with its neighbours – and may not necessary find itself receiving upon the largesse of the US in the mid to long term future – makes the current issues more rather than less intractable. And with that right comes further responsibilities still.
Or to put it another way, yes it is true that a monstrous injustice was committed against Palestinians, a result in part of a monstrous injustice committed against Jews in Europe that resulted in the displacement (and death of many) of the former, but that doesn’t much help us as we try to chart a way forward. What should, but probably won’t happen, is that the international community and the United States should exert genuine pressure on Israel to understand that it has responsibilities as well as rights and that primary amongst those former is the necessity to address the issue of those who were forcibly displaced and their descendants. That responsibility has been entirely lacking in the relationship between Israel and the truncated Palestine that now remains. Across four decades the consistent Israeli policy appears to have been to limit and constrain and curtail Palestine and its political and social expressions, and where ‘concessions’ were given to keep these as minimalist as possible. And all this when by any reasonable criteria it had absolutely no right to do so.
The Guardian referenced this in its editorial yesterday when it noted that:
The Times’s chief leader writer last week attempted a measured explanation of why international pressure on Israel often seems so futile and inadequate. The experience of Jews in the first half of the 20th century, he wrote, meant that Jews no longer felt safe as the wards of world opinion. “When Israel is urged to respect world opinion and put its faith in the international community the point is rather being missed,” he wrote. “The very idea of Israel is a rejection of this option.”
There may well be a psychological truth in this, but it will plainly not do in other respects. It does scant justice to the noble, democratic and broadly admirable ideals of the founders of a Jewish homeland and it is impossible to reconcile with Israel’s obligations as a member of a wider community of nations. This wish to join the world on equal terms was, after all, the aspiration of the first Zionist leaders. The question – as Israeli tanks grind into Gaza City – is what actions or arguments the rest of the world can take or make that will have any resonance in a country which now gives every appearance of having turned its back on global opinion.
And it continues…
The final area for discussion is Israel’s obligations as a member of the community of civilised nations. Israel should take no comfort from the protracted wrangling that led to last week’s UN resolution calling for a ceasefire, nor from America’s abstention or Britain’s hand-wringing. All the signs are that the Obama administration is not going to be sympathetic to a future of failed blockades or the intransigent refusal to talk to Israel’s enemies.
I think both the Guardian and Browne may be touching upon something that is very noticeable at the present time. The criticisms of Israel in our parliament this week have been of a level that to me seems unprecedented. The direct criticism of the Israeli ambassador and the calls for his expulsion as a response to the events in Gaza appear to represent a significant change in attitude to that conflict and to the Israeli government. And this isn’t restricted to this state but is seen in varying degrees internationally. It is as if a consensus is emerging that the actions overseen by the Israeli government have reached the limits of toleration. And this is intriguing.
Because I’d hazard that the Israeli government did not expect such a response. Indeed I’d bet that they supposed that during the transitional period between the end of the Bush White House and the arrival of the Obama Presidency they were offered a perfect opportunity to deliver a message to the latter (and to see how he would respond) that they were going to exercise their self-perceived prerogative to exercise their military might as a means of subduing Gaza and that they would also seek to destroy Hamas as a functioning political entity.
However, it seems to me that they chose precisely the wrong time to do this, or rather that circumstances were not quite as they might have wished. For far from the transition providing a period when they could operate without criticism due to the lack of focus in Washington what has happened has been a remarkable concentration by the media on their actions in Gaza. Perhaps even an unprecedentedly critical concentration. It’s difficult to pin down precisely the reasons for that. In part I suspect its because what they’re doing is simply too redolent of what has been seen in the last eight years in Iraq and that there is a general sense that such actions are most likely counterproductive. Also the studied and rather ambiguous messages emanating from the Obama camp, tied into the generalised lofty rhetoric of his campaign (whatever about his tactical shifts on the issue of Israel and Palestine during that campaign) seem to hint at a more optimistic way forward. Sure, that’s all hot air until it is made manifest, but it seems to have informed at least some of the discourse albeit at second hand. This appears to have allowed the media to operate ‘off the leash’ as it were in a way which otherwise might not have happened. Thirdly the very circumstances of the current events, or rather their lead up, make the Israeli case harder to make… there was a cease-fire, it was effective, the breaching of it by whatever side and the media seems to be pinning this on Israel, makes the current actions appear self-interested. Which they most evidently are. And then added to that is the clear impetus given to them by Israeli domestic political concerns. Finally there is the unbelievably counterproductive nature of the actions and most importantly their impacts on the inhabitants of Gaza. And all this played out in the international media. Of course there are other elements, but it is remarkable how strong the critique of the Israeli government is, and indeed it is heartening.
It is less heartening to see the reductionist arguments of some of those both abroad and closer to home who have championed Israeli government and military actions in a manner which would be laughable in another context. To hear the earnest analyses of Hamas as an ineradicable evil (and let’s be clear, Hamas is an organisation that few progressives would or should feel comfortable with) and to further hear this as a justification for the current events merely points up the futility of the exercise. That Israel and Hamas have, and will again, dealt to construct ceasefires – or indeed the dismal pragmatism of the reality that Israel and Hamas are probably already in contact to construct the next ‘twelve month’ ceasefire – is curiously omitted from the narratives we’re presented with as is the absurd notion that if Hamas could be eradicated in some fashion then all would be well. That merely demonstrates an inability to distinguish – or to deliberately confuse – symptom from cause. The wellsprings that Hamas has drawn upon run far deeper than any individual organisation or movement. They will continue to exist long after Hamas is but a memory and will remain active unless Israel eschews military force and moves to deal with the underlying problem in a manner which sees it living up to its responsiblities. And these aren’t responsibilities limited to a notion duty of care – which has been abrogated on far too many occasions – but a responsibility to see that the events of the 1940s which saw a disaster for two peoples are remedied to the greatest extent possible. And in that Vincent Browne is very right indeed.