For a number of years the idea of peace in the Middle East has been just that, an idea. In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict the West has steadfastly supported the Israelis.The argument has been that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and as such the West should support the Israeli government. I always found this argument unsatisfactory, as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey (until recently) could easily be called democratic nations. Irrespective of the merits of this justification, this doesn’t mean that the West must support Israel in all circumstances. I have long argued that the Palestinian people are being oppressed, but given the recent actions of the Israeli government I think it’s about time the West brought Palestine into the international community.
The current Israeli government is the right-wing in the country’s history and its approach towards the Palestinian people in recent years have become down-right authoritarian. In terms of military actions the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have been brutally cracking down on Palestinian protests or responding to acts of terrorism with a level of force that could only be described as grossly disproportionate.
On Sunday, anti-settlement protesters in Ramallah were attacked with rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas. In addition, Haaretz reported that in the first week of 2017 the Israeli government has already demolished 151 Palestinian homes. Eyewitness accounts of Israelis traveling to the Gaza Strip have also found that Israel’s blockade has cut off water and electricity, thus causing the deaths of children in the area. No matter how fervently somebody supports Israel, the deaths of children are unacceptable.
It must be stressed that Israel’s military actions have been brutal for a few years now. In 2014 the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge which was a response to Hamas rocket attacks and the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers by the militant group. Nobody disputes the right of Israeli citizens of whatever religion to live free from the threat of terrorism, but the resultant campaign was condemned around the world as being hugely disproportionate. 67 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed and an additional 469 soldiers and 87 civilians were wounded.
Obviously this loss of life shouldn’t be minimised as every fatality had a family who loved them, but the scale of the devastation was disproportionately felt by the Palestinians. In the same military exercise, a United Nations report has claimed that 2,251 Palestinians were killed, of whom 299 were women and 551 were children. The same report claims that 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children were injured. Again, irrespective of one’s views of the Israel-Palestine situation, this mass loss of life cannot be justified.
The rhetoric of the Israeli government has also increased in its severity. I’ve previously pointed out quotes from members in the Israeli but I think it’s worth repeating. The current Israeli Minister of Education is Naftali Bennett who has gloated “I have already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there’s nothing wrong with that” and has said “I will do everything I can to make sure [Palestinians] don’t get a state”. The current Israeli Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, has previously labelled all Palestinians as “the enemy” and has also described Palestinian children as “little snakes”. These people aren’t extremists who are far from the corridors of power, they are in the Cabinet and are have a direct impact Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach toward the Palestinians.
The Israeli government’s response to the international community has been increasingly petulant. Following the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank under international law, the Israeli government limited diplomatic ties with all the nation-states that supported the resolution. More specifically, the planned visits to Israel by the Ukrainian Prime Minister and the Senegalese Foreign Minister were cancelled, and Israel’s ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand were recalled.
Prime Minister Netanyahu also summoned the ambassadors of the US and ten of the countries who backed the resolution in order to personally reprimand their governments. In their final childish act the Israeli government cut off $6 million from the UN in protest at the passage of the resolution. It’s worth pointing out that Resolution 2334 doesn’t compel Israel to do anything, it simply says that what they are doing is bad. There a number of other resolutions in recent years that have done exactly the same thing and have not provoked this kind of reaction, and recent history shows that Israel is likely to ignore the resolution anyway.
The final thing I want to bring up before talking about what the West should do is the recent comments of Shai Masot. Masot works at the Israeli Embassy in London as the senior political officer. He’s been in the news recently because he was recorded by an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera saying that Alan Duncan, the conservative Deputy Foreign Minister, should be “taken down” because of his stance on Israel-Palestine. The Conservative chairman of the of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Crispin Blunt, was also referred to by Masot and has described the comments as “outrageous”. The Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev has apologised on behalf the Israeli government.
The point I want to make here is not about this incident specifically but about a mindset. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the Israeli Ambassador’s apology, but the fact that there are people in the Israeli diplomatic service who are talking about this is worrying. Israel is an ally of the UK, however embassy officials are openly musing about removing MPs from ministerial positions because of their views on Israel. If a nation-state is talking about subverting the British political system because the foreign government in question doesn’t agree with someone’s political positions, they should be treated as a potential threat to national security.
So what should the West do? Firstly, in the context of Britain, Masot should be expelled from the country immediately and a full investigation into the pro-Israel lobby should be started as soon as possible. Hopefully such an investigation will show no nefarious influence over government policy, but that doesn’t mean an inquiry should be avoided.
Secondly, and more broadly, the West should recognise the state of Palestine. The Israeli government has become more militant about the expansion of settlements and the persecution of protests, which is ironic considering that Israel’s supporters cite the country as a democracy and the right to protest is part and parcel of being a democracy. If countries start recognising the existence of the state of Palestine, or even threat to do so, the Israeli government will be forced to change tack.
Furthermore, the West should act to isolate Israel internationally. According to Article 6 of the Charter of the United Nations: “A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”. I personally don’t think that it is hard to argue that Israel has violated the principles of the UN and should be expelled.
Practically speaking this is impossible as the UNSC has to vote on the membership of any member state, and the US would veto such a resolution, but this doesn’t mean the Israel cannot be isolated. In October 1974 South Africa was suspended from the proceedings of the 29th session of the UN General Assembly because of its Apartheid policies. South Africa was marginalised but not expelled under Article 6, and the same line could be taken with Israel.
Its also worth remembering that, as I mentioned above, the Israeli government has just withheld $6 million of funds from the UN. I don’t want to sound crazy but if you want to be part of a club but don’t pay the whole membership fee I don’t think you can complain when people criticise you. If Israel wants to blame the UN for the passage of this resolution are want to financially punish the organisation, I genuinely don’t see why the UN should have to roll over and take it.
In terms of what individual nation-states should do, I believe that they should target Israel economically and politically. The international community recognises the 1967 borders as a legitimate option at a two-state solution. Although there needs to be a nuanced debate about whether a one-state, two-state, or three-state solution would be best for a lasting peace, if the international community united and established a DMZ along the 1967 borders, hopefully the killing can be stopped. Blue berets deployed to the region in the same was as have been done in Cyprus and Korea would force the two parties to the table for constructive negotiations.
On the financial side of the things, nation-states should support the BDS movement and force Israel to go to the negotiating table. Economic strife within Israel will make the government incredibly unpopular and would force senior politicians to sit down and begin negotiating.
None of these suggestions are designed to undermine the legitimacy of the Israeli state, but to respond to the actions of the Israeli government. If Jews want to live in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa that’s fine by me, but at the end of the day the rights of Palestinians to do the same should be respected. Everything I have just endorsed is not because of a burned hatred of Jews or a view that Israel is the worst country in the region, but to use the West’s leverage to get a peace agreement.
For the longest time Western policy has been to get a two-state solution in the Middle East, but the extreme right-wing government of Israel has no interest in achieving such a deal or even sitting down to hammer out a treaty. The international community needs to work together to create a lasting peace and that will not happen if Israel is allowed to continue throwing its weight around and do whatever it wants. The West needs to act to finally achieve peace in Israel-Palestine.