Efrat settlement, West Bank.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Once again the UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel for the settlements, and once again Israel termed the council biased. Nothing would be newsworthy about this if this time the council had not focused on companies. This discussion turns on money. Once financial loss becomes an issue, companies may find it hard to continue operating in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
This is something that Israel has properly understood.
It is less certain, though, whether Israel has equally internalized the resolution’s attempt to portray any commercial activity in these territories as a human rights violation. It does not matter if the company actually violates human rights; its mere presence in these territories constitutes a violation. When it comes to human rights, the rhetoric becomes absolute. Everything is black or white, there are no gray areas. We must uphold human rights. Even the slightest violation cannot be “koshered.” Ultimately, it is the good guys versus the bad ones.
Facing this human rights framework, both Israel and the international community make one basic mistake. Israel cannot understand how the world fails to grasp the historical reality that Jews lived in the land long before the Arabs.
Israel believes that as far as the world is concerned, time stopped with UN Resolution 242, or at Oslo.
Not all territories will be returned to a future Palestinian state and surely not Area C under the Oslo agreements.
Yet, for the international community, all of the captured territories should be potentially part of a Palestinian state. The Oslo accords are a temporary security rather than political agreement. In this sense, the Palestinians can continue building even in Area C. When the European Union sponsors such building, Israel protests.
From its part, the international community’s mistake is different. It views the Israeli occupation bereft of any security aspects, although they exist. For example, the international community calls upon Israel not to occupy the Golan Heights but does not address what will happen once Israel does so and attacks start to be launched from there. The same is true also with some of the neighborhoods in east Jerusalem or parts of the West Bank.
For this reason, the correct basis upon which all discussion should be held is not human rights, but security. After all, Resolution 242, which is the spine of any international law solution to the conflict, speaks about security together with peace. Once discussion turns to security, things cease to be black or white.
They become more complex.
If Israel is ready to explain this complexity to the international community it must become serious about it. Israel must explain case by case why the holding of a particular piece of land captured in 1967 serves its security interests. This will be easier in some cases, more difficult in others, or even totally unfeasible. In some instances, Israel will be able to demonstrate how leaving a particular area or neighborhood in east Jerusalem may augment attacks on its citizens. Other examples, like the settlement blocs, will comprise a redefinition of the security parameter to encompass the internal security of Israeli society and the turmoil and instability any evacuation of large populations may bring. Finally, in other cases, valid security reasons may not be found at all. Israel must be equally ready to admit this and relinquish these territories.
When university students start their PhD, they are told that they should not presuppose that the reader is accustomed with their case or with their argument. Any PhD student knows that he has to take his reader through a journey before any conclusions are stated. For the international community, Israel keeping some of the areas captured in 1967 is a novel argument, despite Resolution 242. If Israel wants to sustain it, it must tell its story, leading its reader – the international community – step by step through a detailed national security discussion. Israel must write its own national security PhD. So far it has not even lifted the pen.The author is Visiting Lecturer at King’s College London Dickson Poon School of Law.