by Peter A. Belmont / 2008-12-03
© 2008 Peter Belmont
Most commentators favoring Israeli/Palestinian peace offer advice about direct US intervention in the “peace process.” Such advice, excellent as it sometimes is, fails to address the cruel and increasing denials of Palestinian human rights in Israel’s conduct of the occupation. Do these writers think these matters unimportant because they believe that the occupation will soon be over? They have no reason to think so.
If I had Barack Obama’s ear, I would advise President Obama to limit his attention in the matter of Israeli/Palestinian relations to something that he can achieve with near-universal support both internationally and from the US public. He should act to ensure that Israel conduct its occupation of Palestinian lands legally—starting immediately and for so long as the occupation continues—thereby restoring to the Palestinians the human rights purportedly guaranteed to them by international humanitarian and human-rights laws and treaties.
I am not alone in this thinking. An April 19, 2010, post on
bitterlemons.org says it better than I can:
In his Cairo speech, Obama also said, “We cannot impose peace”. I hope he has reached clarity that imposing peace is not what is needed to avert yet another catastrophe in Palestine. What is needed is for the US to respect international humanitarian law and numerous UN resolutions, and leverage US power to bring Israel in line with the will of the community of nations by forcing it to end its occupation. For the US to uphold international law would be a true expression of “shock and awe” that could well prove to be Obama’s historical legacy: putting the US on the correct--as in just--side of history in this region.
President Obama should require Israel to lift the blockade on food, fuel, medicines, etc., which presently strangles Gaza, because such collective punishment is forbidden by international law.
President Obama should require Israel to remove all the nearly 500,000 settlers from the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and also require Israel to remove its separation wall from those territories. This will only improve Israel’s security, since its army will no longer need to protect the settlers.
It is well-known that the settlements and the wall are illegal. The International Court of Justice, in its July 9, 2004, advisory opinion , and UN Security Council, in several resolutions, have said so in no uncertain terms. In demanding that Israel remove the settlers and the wall, presumably according to a short and definite time schedule, perhaps 6 months, President Obama would be moving the occupation toward legality while improving the human rights situation for the Palestinians living under occupation. He would not be dictating terms of peace to either party. He would not be endangering Israel, since the settlers do not improve Israel’s security and since the wall can be rebuilt within pre-1967 Israel.
President Obama would thereby, incidentally but importantly, be restoring America’s long-lost reputation as a champion of the Rule of Law and would be making amends to all the world for the US’s 40-year-long sabotage of international human-rights law. The US has been helping Israel in its continuous and increasingly oppressive violation of that law by supporting Israel to the tune of $3B/year and by vetoing all UNSC resolutions critical of any aspect of Israel’s conduct of the now 40-year occupation.
Now is the time to act. President George W. Bush’s overwhelming attacks on the rule of law, both at home and abroad, have badly tarnished the US’s reputation, and the repair of that reputation will be popular. Moreover, Mr. Bush’s well-known failure to do anything concrete or helpful on the Israel/Palestine problem is a warning to do better and do it soon.
Requiring Israel to remove the wall and the settlers from occupied territory would also benefit the US by mending fences with all Arab and Muslim countries, whose peoples are maddeningly aware of the “aid and comfort” the US has long given to Israel, known to them, correctly, as a cruel oppressor of the Palestinian Arab (Muslim and Christian) people. It would also help to reduce the emotional momentum toward anti-American terrorism which so helps Al-Qaeda in its recruitment.
And what of the Israeli/Palestinian “peace process”?
By removing Israeli settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, President Obama would transform a very strong political constituency within Israel from one which opposes peace-making to one which would, to some extent, favor it.
Today, the settlers oppose peace-making because they live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and want to remain there, and Israel would be expected to give up most or all of the West Bank in any peace treaty which the Palestinians could accept. So long as the settlers remain, peace will be anywhere from very elusive to impossible. No Israeli government can be expected to voluntarily remove the settlers (or even very many of them).
However, under duress from the US (and law enforcement is surely a form of duress), the government of Israel would be required to remove the settlers involuntarily. It would have no choice.
With the settlers removed, the Israeli constituency of (present) settlers would be transformed to one favoring peace-making, because they would hope to return to their homes in whatever settlements might be retained by Israel after peace is made.
President Obama would, of course, experience resistance to such a program from the Congress, too long under the thumb of, and servilely submissive to, well-financed hardliners such as AIPAC which claim to be “pro-Israel.” Congress must be persuaded to “join the program.” To persuade Congress, I’d first look for support from American Jews who have been increasingly restless with the hardliners who purport to represent them. Jews have traditionally favored human-rights and have abandoned that stance, to the extent they have, only from deep concerns for Israel’s security. Once they publicly recognize that the settlers and the wall do not promote Israeli security, other Americans, commendably sensitive to the feelings of the American Jewish community, will be empowered to join them with exuberance. For all Americans, Jewish and otherwise, this is a “teachable moment.” If President Obama speaks to the nation, explains that the need to protect Palestinian human rights and to enforce the Rule of Law are entirely consistent with Israel’s security, and adds that Israel and the Palestinians are free to negotiate a peace treaty which returns some of the settlements to Israel in a territorial exchange to be accomplished after the occupation ends—when such an exchange would be legal—all Americans should be expected to support his proposed policy.
It is a new day, and President Obama, soon President Obama, can seize the opportunity to transform the situation without doing any more than to demand legality in a world thirsty for justice.