Diplomacy should conform to international norms

By JAY BUSHINSKY
December 22, 2011 22:55

A Different Perspective: Israel’s int'l image has been severely marred because of the settlers’ presence and the behavior of extremists.

4 minute read.



Shiloh settlement in West Bank

Shiloh settlement in West Bank 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Two major mistakes were by Israeli policy- makers: The Oslo Accords of 1993 and the unilateral and unconditional withdrawal of troops and civilians from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

These ill-considered initiatives have caused seemingly insoluble problems.

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They were radical departures from the Jewish state’s original adherence to traditional diplomacy based on international norms, and deviated from the initially consistent effort to gain recognition as a bona fide member of the international community.

In the first instance, secret negotiations were conducted with the Palestine Liberation Organization, a terrorist outfit with which Israeli citizens were forbidden to make contact.

This was done at the behest of then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, whose second-echelon emissaries closed a deal whereby the areas conquered in the Six Day War would be handed over to the PLO, earmarked for eventual autonomy and readied for possible statehood.

The fact that the PLO under its enigmatic and often ruthless leader, Yasser Arafat, had resorted to the hijacking of civilian aircraft, indiscriminate attacks on civilians here and abroad, and relentless propaganda about Israel’s alleged illegitimacy, was ignored if not forgotten.

Not surprisingly, his triumphant entry into the Gaza Strip and establishment of a provisional capital in the West Bank city of Ramallah were followed by two intifida uprisings against Israeli rule and by deadlock in bilateral negotiations.

It led to the international consensus in favor of a Palestinian state whose territory would include most if not all of the territory taken in 1967 (an idea first broached by Hillary Clinton in 1996, then the US’s first lady.

The unconditional pullout from the Gaza Strip was implemented by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in a total reversal of his previous contention that strategical considerations militated against such a move. Exclusive credit for this change of heart was given by the local Palestinians to the homegrown Hamas organization’s anti-Israel operations.

This resulted in Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian election of 2006 – a predictable development that then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who avidly advocated the untimely poll, was unable or unwilling to foresee. Since then, the Strip has been a launching platform for rockets, missiles and mortar shells aimed at adjacent Israeli territory.

A third major mistake by Israeli policy-makers was the virtual carte blanche given to Jewish settlers intent on creating “facts on the ground” that presumably would facilitate the annexation of the West Bank.

This enterprise, which involves between 325,000 and 500,000 settlers (no precise or official figures are available) and accounts for nearly 10 percent of Israel’s Jewish population, has cost successive governments an estimated $8 billion since the late 1960s.

The crux of this problem is not its cost, however.

What matters most of all is that it not only violates the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, an international compact prompted by Nazi Germany’s effort to plant German nationals in occupied countries, especially Poland, but also violates the principle that countries that wage wars against one another negotiate peace treaties afterward while the post bellum status quo remains in effect until the former belligerents come to terms with one another.

Jordan, which should have joined Israel at the conference table soon after the war ended on June 11, 1967, stayed away (despite thendefense minister Moshe Dayan’s famous remark that he was waiting for a telephone call from King Hussein). The call never came.

In the interim, Israel should have maintained the military government that had been successfully administering the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The local Palestinians (as the indigenous Arabs came to be known after 1967) did not fight in the Israeli-Jordanian war and therefore were not eligible to enter into the customary peace talks. When they learned that the PLO had been invited to take over their governance, several told me that they did not want to live in a typical third-world dictatorship but rather “in a democratic country like Israel!” When several of the (mainly British) war correspondents who were my colleagues on what was to become the Palestinian side of the line pointed out that the projected Jewish settlements would violate the status of the West Bank as occupied territory subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Shlomo Hillel, then a deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry whom I interviewed on this issue, said the area concerned was not “occupied,” because it had been seized by the Jordanians during Israel’s War of Independence of 1948- 49 and therefore was not subject to the convention’s stipulations.

Had the outcome of this conundrum resulted in the emergence of local Palestinians as their projected state’s leaders, the consequences might have been acceptable. Many of them argued at the time that they and not the PLO cadres who had fled the country should take over the territory in question. But that was not to be.

The result is that the settlements have become a handicap to the negotiating process, not only because Israel would find it politically and economically difficult to relocate tens of thousands of resentful settlers, but also because a significant if not overwhelming number of voters in ante bellum Israel prefer that they stay put.

In the meantime, Israel’s international image has been severely marred because of the settlers’ presence and the behavior of the extremists among them toward their Palestinian neighbors. In addition, Israel’s diplomatic credibility has been seriously reduced.

These and many other negative consequences simply do not justify the ongoing settlement project or make it worthwhile.

The writer is a veteran new correspondent.


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