Friday, 2 June 2017

Trump - Saviour or Poison Chalice

The visit to Israel by US President Donald Trump has come and gone, and the analysts will undoubtedly still spend some time considering their verdicts dissecting each aspect of the visit.  At first glance, the visit appears to have been filled with symbolism but short on substance.  Following a turbulent first few months in office for the US president, there are many who wonder whether his support for Israel is welcome, or whether it is turning out to be more of a poison chalice than a helping hand.

Trump has been openly and publicly supportive of Israel's position, even from before he was elected.  His high profile campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been the subject of much debate and controversy.  When his victory in the presidential election was revealed, the Israeli government (and many other Israelis) welcomed his election with the hope and expectation that this would change the anti-Israel bias within the US government and elsewhere that was such a feature of the Obama administration.  And changes have certainly been felt since his election.

The current atmosphere at the United Nations is entirely different from the one that ruled during 2016 and before.  Part of this change can be attributed to new UN Secretary General António Guterres, who is much less inclined to entertain the constant barrage of anti-Israel sentiment that prevailed under Ban Ki Moon.  Much of the change is, however, thanks to new US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the change in policy that she represents.  She has imposed the Trump administration's support for Israel at the UN in the strongest possible terms.  The days of raising frivolous anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council are over for now.  The international community has understood that these will be vetoed by the US, and that there is little point in raising them under the current administration.  Haley has been vociferous in her condemnation of the constant attempts to paint Israel in a negative light.  There can be little doubt that the changes at the UN have a great deal to do with the new man in the White House.

President Trump's visit to Israel was highly symbolic.  He made Israel one of the stops on his maiden foreign tour since becoming president.  He visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem during his visit, becoming the first US president to make this visit while in office.  He emphasized to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that funding terror is not acceptable.  He reinforced the support that Israel will always enjoy from his administration.  In spite of this, he stayed clear of the key substantive issues confronting Israel and the region now.  He did not raise the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.  No mention was made of the constant accusations against Israel regarding construction in Judea and Samaria.  Nothing was said about Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, or accusations regarding Israel's claims to Jerusalem as its capital.  His outward shows of support were all seized upon, recognised and appreciated by the majority of Israelis.  The lack of meaningful progress in getting Israelis and Palestinians to sit down around the peace table is what the international community has seized upon.

The issue that Israel needs to consider is Trump's overall standing within the USA and further afield.  It was clear before he arrived in Israel that Trump has many enemies at home, and that they are determined to keep him on the back foot by levelling all types of accusations against him.  Trump's own conduct in defending these accusations has certainly not helped his cause.  And Israel was dragged into the crossfire when Trump was accused of sharing secret intelligence received from Israel with Russia.  If true, this would be a serious violation of trust, and norms associated  with the sharing of intelligence information.

Distrust for Trump appears to be spreading rapidly within the international community as well.  Trump's recent appearances at the G7 and NATO meetings did not show him to be in accord with any of the other western leaders.  On the contrary, there are indications that Trump is being sidelined from the key international organisations.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”  This is an art that Trump has clearly not yet mastered.  Even though Trump frequently says things that many people are thinking, he has not yet discovered how to say it in a way that does not create enemies.  While Israel has no particular issue with Trump's popularity (or lack of it) in the international community, there is a danger that Israel will be tarred with the same negative brush if she is seen to be too closely associated with Trump.

There is no doubt that Israel has already gained a great deal from the change of administration in the White House.  Trump's influence over US domestic and international policy towards Israel, and his influence over proceedings at the UN cannot be under-estimated.  Israel will certainly wish to see more of that in the future.  There is a danger, however, that the association with Trump could prove to be negative in Israel's relationships with other countries around the world.  If Trump continues to completely ignore the accepted rules of international engagement while representing his contrary views, he will quickly became a pariah in the international community.  And, even if Israel wishes to stay close to Trump to benefit from his supportive views and actions, the association with him may proved negative. 

The prime minister and the Israeli government has a tough job to navigate a careful path to take advantage of the emerging situation, without losing too much in the process.  Will Trump prove to be the good things for Israel that were predicted, or a poison chalice?  Only time will tell.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Damned If You Do, and Damned If You Don't

Much has been written and discussed about Marwan Barghouti's article in The New York Times, trying to explain why prisoners in Israeli jails have embarked on a hunger strike.  Most of the comments have surrounded the factual inaccuracies in Barghouti's statements and accusations against Israel.  Or they have questioned why The New York Times had the audacity to allow such subversive trash to be published at all.  My question is a different one.  I ask whether it is right that Israel should allow its prisoners (whether they are criminal or political prisoners) the freedom that it does, and that allows people like Barghouti to make such ludicrous claims in public?

It is somewhat ironic that Barghouti accuses Israel of operating an "inhumane system" in its attempt "to break the spirit of prisoners" and of "grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people", while still having the freedom to publish these accusations in The New York Times.  Surely this is a contradiction in terms?  If Israel was so intent on breaching the Geneva Convention, it would surely do more to ensure that prisoners do not have access to publish their articles in international publications.  Or at least opppose violations more vehemently than it has.  It is common knowledge that prisoners in many systems, even in countries that pride themselves on their democracy, are not allowed access to go unpunished when they publish their complaints and accusations in public.  And yet, Israel has hardly responded to Barghouti's article to punish him.

In many countries around the world, even in democratic countries, prisoners have significant restrictions placed on them.  This is even more true of those convicted of terror-related crimes, or who are considered the most dangerous after committing very extreme crimes.  In some cases, these restrictions can result in the opposite outcome of the one that the authorities hope to achieve.  In the case of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa, his popularity grew substantially while he was in prison and isolated from the outside world.  He had no access to the media, and his likeness was not allowed to be published at all by the press.  Despite this, the campaign for his release only grew more over time.  The same was true of Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky when he was imprisoned in the Soviet Union.  Despite these examples, the act of isolating prisoners seems, in the most part, to keep them out of the public view.  This raises the question as to whether a stronger reaction to Marghouti would not be in Israel's best interests?

In spite of accusations of Israel acting in a racist way towards Arabs, and even being called an "Apartheid country", Israel values its democracy and freedom of speech almost above everything else.  And while security considerations are always of paramount importance in every situation, the notion of preserving democracy and freedom has a very high priority.  The Jewish people have suffered so much discriminatory behaviour over the generations that it would be anathema to have a Jewish country that does not embody democracy and freedom in every respect.  Even if it means being tolerant of those who seek Israel's destruction.

It seems as though the furore over the article has died down, and the hunger strike in the prisons has been abandoned by large numbers of prisoners.  It is ironic that some of the most important facts about the treatment of prisoners in Israeli jails seem to have been kept low-key in the whole uproar.  The system of housing prisoners in jails is well demonstrated in the list of the improvements that the prisoners are striking for.  These include;
- increasing family visits from the current 45 minutes a time, to 90 minutes a time
- increasing the frequency of family visits from once a month to twice a month
- allowing the prisoners an increased selection of TV channels in the prisons
- allowing the prisoners greater education facilities.
Comparing this to the way in which Israeli prisoners have been held by Arab states over the years seems a joke.  And yet, The New York Times sees it fit to cover this matter.  This hardly points to the systematic violations of the Geneva Convention that Barghouti accuses of.

With the story having almost burnt itself out, perhaps it was the right decision by the Israeli government not to respond more actively to the article that was published.  In Israel's case, the criticism seems to come whether she has done something, and equally when she has not.  Ultimately, we need to feel good with ourselves that we are doing what allows us to feel good when we look at ourselves in the mirror.  I believe that this is what has been achieved in this case.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Action At Last

The decision by US President Donald Trump to launch an attack in Syria following the recent chemical weapons attack has been widely welcomed by Israelis.  It is also a welcome change from the policy that was pursued by the US during the presidency of Barack Obama.  Finally, the free world has a leader who is prepared to take action rather than utter words.

Last Friday, President Trump really showed what he is made of.  Following the horrendous chemical weapons attack that was carried out earlier last week by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against his own people, Trump took a few days to consider the situation and gather the required evidence before striking in retaliation.  The retaliation was not against a violation of any US interest in particular.  The retaliation was rather against the violation of innocent women and children, and against the unacceptable use of chemical weapons.

Over the past few years, the world became used to the Obama style of doing things.  Obama threatened, but never made good on his threats.  So, it comes as no surprise that Assad gambled on the US not responding to this chemical attack.  After all, previous chemical attacks went unanswered.  In fact, it was the deal that was struck during Obama's presidency in 2013, that enabled this chemical attack.  When Obama discovered the extent of the stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons, he decided to cut Assad some slack and allow him a way to diplomatically and elegantly dispose of them.  The deal struck with Syria by negotiation between the USA and Russia involved the dismantling of no fewer than 12 chemical weapons productions facilities, numerous storage locations, a research and development facility and the destruction of thousands of tons of chemical agents.

But, under the noses of the international supervisors, and with the tacit knowledge of Obama and other members of the international community, Assad succeeded in retaining some of these chemical weapons for himself.  It was one of the worst-kept secrets in the Middle East.  The Israeli intelligence community believed that the Assad government retained a "residual" chemical stockpile of somewhere between several hundred kilograms to several tons of chemical weapons, about 1% of its original stockpile.  Obama's reaction was fairly predictable.  He turned a blind eye.  Last week's Sarin attack by Assad is the public evidence of Obama's failed policy.

In taking action in the way that he did, Trump sent out a number of very important messages.  The first was a very clear message to Assad and his army.  This US president will not tolerate bully-boy tactics being employed against innocent women and children, even if he is still in the honeymoon period of his presidency.  And he will not tolerate the use of illegal chemical weapons, even if his predecessor was prepared to turn a blind eye to this.

The second message was sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  He has been Assad's patron for a number of years.  Initially, this support was in the form of supplying weapons and vetoing resolutions against Assad at the UN Security Council.  While this support has continued, it has also escalated to include Russian boots on the ground in Syria and Russian warplanes in Syrian air space.  Even though Trump was determined to forge a closer link with Putin when he first entered office, the message to Putin is that everything has changed.  Even Russian support, and the possibility of damaging US relations with Russia will not prevent Trump from taking action against Assad.

The third message was sent to other rogue nations of the world, including Iran and North Korea.  In a similar way to how the deal with Syria was struck, Obama also struck a deal with Iran.  This deal involved nuclear weapons rather than Syria's chemical weapons.  The stakes were much higher, but the lack of backbone on Obama's part was exactly the same.  He decided to strike the deal with Iran despite the obvious signs that Iran was pulling the wool over the eyes of the countries signing the deal.  Despite Obama's attempts to placate Israel and other detractors of the agreement, its blaring shortcomings were obvious to anybody with a mediocre understanding of the situation.  Trump, however, sends a completely different message.  He has started his time in office by questioning the logic of the deal with Iran.  And the attack against the Syrian forces sends an even stronger message that Trump will not tolerate any deception or aggression on the part of Iran, and also North Korea.

For the Israeli government, the intervention is welcome.  Israel is typically a country for whom actions speak louder than words, even if the actions are frequently very quietly done.  It is inconceivable that the Jewish state could idly watch from the sidelines when chemicals are being used to kill innocent women and children.  The memory of the world standing idly by and watching during the Holocaust is still too fresh in our minds.  It is a great dilemma about how to respond to a situation like the chemical attack in Syria.  On the one hand, Israel would wish to respond with force to the use of chemical weapons.  Doing so would, however, seemingly play into Syria's hands, and immediately embroil Israel in the war in Syria.  Given the history of the two countries and the way in which friendships line up, this could potentially involve Iran, Syria and the USA very quickly indeed.  This would escalate to a regional conflict, and perhaps even result in a conflict that goes beyond the regional borders.

Trump's strong message shows decisive leadership, and finally a willingness to confront rogue states head-on.  This is welcome.  While debates and condemnations at the UN and other forums may have their place, action on the ground sends a much stronger and more serious message.   And his action also saved Israel from, once again, having to respond in a way that will not result in a war involving multiple countries.

We watch with bated breath to see how things develop with Iran.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Israel Apartheid Week - A Contradiction in Terms

Source; Haaretz
Every year, many universities around the world hold an event on their campuses know as "Israel Apartheid Week".  The event is justified by the fact that it brings the so-called discriminatory behaviour of Israel to the attention of the general public to allow people to know "what is really happening in Israel and the Palestinian Territories".  There could be no greater contradiction in terms than this.

I am trying to work out why the focus is on Israel's reportedly discriminatory behaviour in particular?  Why Israel, as opposed to discrimination by the Turks against the Kurds, or discrimination by the Chinese against the Nepalese, or by the Russians against the Ukrainians in Crimea and other former Soviet countries, or the discrimination in many African countries, or discrimination by many Muslim countries against their minorities and foreign workers, and even their own citizens?  There are surely so many countries on the list of those behaving badly, that universities could mark some country's discriminatory behaviour every week of the year.  While one form of discrimination does not justify another, the question is why Israel is singled out for an apartheid week of its own?  Surely this is discriminatory in itself?  It brings into question the real motivations of those who are the main instigators behind this highly questionable event, and how come it has gained so much traction around the world that it is repeated on an annual basis?

The first question that arises, is whether Israel really behaves in the discriminatory manner that is alleged by so many in the international community?  Given the level of threat and violence that is a constant in and around Israel, it is easy to conclude that Israel discriminates against Arabs.  News broadcasts frequently show IDF soldiers in action against those who are presented as innocent civilians.  Israeli is constantly engaged in one military operation or another.  This supports the easy conclusion about Israel being discriminatory against Arabs.  This conclusion, however, would be misguided.  Instead, it would be more accurate to say that Israel discriminates against the threat of terror and violence that she has to deal with.  And judging Israel's actions using a standard for a western country, that is not subject to the same risks and terror attacks, is not an even playing field.  It would be interesting to see how other peace-seeking countries would respond to the set of circumstances that Israel finds herself in.  I suspect that Israel's so-called "discrimination" would be seen in an entirely different light.  Using the term "apartheid" to describe Israel is simply an emotive term trying to play on the ultimate success of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.  There is no link between what is happening in Israel today, and Apartheid South Africa.

Many people try to put constant attacks on Israel in the international community simply down to Israel-hating and Jew-hating.  It is easy to say that these are anti-Semitic activities dressed up with a political justification, and leave it at that.  And, even though much of that is probably true, I don't feel satisfied with leaving the explanation there.  It is important for me to put this into greater context.  I wish to understand where this comes from, and why it is rearing its head at this time and in this way.

The anti-Israel activities that have become common around the world, and which are epitomised in Israel Apartheid Week, bear resemblance to the wave of anti-Semitism that was in evidence in the years leading up to the Second World War.  We know that anti-Semitism is an age-old phenomenon that has no real explanation or justification.  We know that it has been allowed to rise and fall, largely by the general tolerance and acceptance of the general community.  It increased in its intensity when leaders in the international community have encouraged it, or tolerated it.  Hitler's Germany is the best example when the state encouraged anti-Semitism on an industrial scale at the highest levels.  The man in the street needed little further encouragement, and the results are one of the most shameful periods in history.  It is my contention that the constant criticism of Israel at the highest echelons of the international community, is effectively encouraging the man in the street to believe that his hatred towards Israel and Jews is justified and consistent with public opinion.  It is inconceivable that Israel justifies being the one country in the world with more negative resolutions against her at the UN Security Council, or having a permanent agenda item to answer to at the UN Human Rights Council.  These unjustified actions are encouraging anti-Semitism on the streets of Europe, the USA and around the world.

We have just celebrated the Jewish festival of Purim, that marks victory over unjustified anti-Semitism in Persia more than 2,000 years ago.  It seems that little has changed since then.  Not in the modern-day Persian country of Iran, and not elsewhere around the world.  People are taking their cue from international leaders who find it acceptable to spew venom against Israel at every chance.  And to turn international institutions, particularly those connected to the UN, into tools of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment.  This provides the green light for people around the world to feel that it is politically correct and acceptable to focus their hatred towards Israel.  This is clearly a form of anti-Semitism, in the same way as much of the anti-Israel activity is simply anti-Semitism dressed up to look politically acceptable.

Surely the time has come for international leaders to show true leadership and stop the discrimination once and for all.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Making Use of the Trump Card

Donald Trump has finally taken office as the 45th president of the United States and, along with it, many expectations from different quarters regarding the numerous outspoken promises made during his campaign for election.  One of the more controversial campaign promises made, was to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  This point has been the subject of much focus, and some question marks over whether Trump will ultimately see this promise through.

Since first hearing of this promise by Trump, I have tried to work out what would have driven him to decide to make this undertaking.  It seems fairly clear to me that Trump decided to make this promise of his own volition, and not as a result of a particular request by any party.  So, what would have given Trump the reason to decide to make this matter a central part of his foreign policy in relation to the Middle East?  Did he think that this would be a statement against the Arab world?  Or a statement in support of Israel?  I feel quite sure that the Israeli government would not have requested such an action of Trump.  So Trump's motives seem strange in light of these facts.

The location of international embassies in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem goes back to the time of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  It is accepted and usual for countries to locate their  embassy in the capital city of the host country.  In Israel's case, foreign governments decided not to locate their embassies in Israel's chosen capital, Jerusalem, in order not to contravene the spirit of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine that was passed in November 1947.  This resolution called for the city of Jerusalem to be a "corpus separatum", a separate body from the Jewish and Arab states that the resolution also called for the establishment of.  History shows that the Jews accepted the resolution and went on to build the Jewish state as envisaged by the resolution, while the Arabs did not.  Instead, they attacked the Jewish state in attempt to take it for themselves to control the entire area, a battle that rages until this day.  In spite of all of this, the international community has been insistent to maintain the independent status of Jerusalem, and not show favour towards one part nor the other in their claims over the holy city.  It is for this reason that Jerusalem has not be recognised as the capital city of Israel, for fear of stepping on Arab toes.  This is the situation that has persisted until the current day.

Israel would clearly wish for the embassies to be moved to Jerusalem, and for the international community to recognise the holy city as the capital of the Jewish state.  So Trump's initiative is not entirely unwelcome.  The real question is whether this is what Israel would wish to see Trump using his energy to do as a first gesture of his support for the Jewish state?  I believe that there are currently larger and probably more important fish to fry, and that Trump's assistance could give would be more helpful in other areas.  Examples of this include the issue of Iran, that remains a major thorn in Israel's side.  It is not so much the direct threat that Iran presents to Israel, even though this is a huge issue, it is more about the massive funding that is being channelled by Iran to other terror groups.  All of which are trying to destroy Israel in any way possible.  The deal that was struck between Iran and the P5+1 countries has delivered economic benefits to Iran which have served to increase the flow of funds to these terror groups.  It would be very desirable for Trump to somehow help to turn this clock back.   Trump could also help to redress the imbalance that has existed in the international community against Israel for too long now.  There is no doubt that Trump can also help to isolate terror groups that have been operating against Israel and against Jews.  It is my view that some of these issues are more pressing than moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump's assistance to Israel, even if it is genuine and well-meant, will have its limits.  He has many pressing US domestic issues to deal with, along with foreign policy issues affecting US allies and enemies alike. The amount of time and energy that he will have to devote to Israeli issues will be limited, and it would make sense for Prime Minister Netanyahu to prioritise the help that he needs from Trump very carefully in order to make it really count.  I believe that the location of the embassy in Jerusalem is a lower priority issue.  While I don't think that Netanyahu should forget this idea completely, it may be advisable to freeze it and put it on the back-burner for now.

Netanyahu and Trump are diarised to meet on 15 February in Washington.  Netanyahu will be drawing up his agenda very carefully to get the maximum benefit from this meeting.  It is arguably more difficult for Netanyahu to fix his agenda for the meeting with Trump, than it was to arrange the agenda for meetings with less supportive presidents such as Obama.  It is a little like a kid in a candy store trying to decide which he should leave behind.  The choices are difficult.

With the Trump presidency having started with such positive support for Israel, there is a great danger that Israeli expectations may be heightened to the point of ultimate disappointment.  Only time will tell.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Obama's Final Act of Betrayal

Image courtesy of
After weeks of speculation as to how the US will vote at the UN Security Council when presented with the resolution condemning Israel's policy regarding the so-called "settlements", we now have a clear and unequivocal answer.  In the vote held on Friday, Barack Obama instructed his ambassador to the UN to abstain from the vote at the Security Council.  This action allowed the motion to be carried, with 14 countries voting in favour and 1 country (the USA) abstaining.  Had Obama decided to vote against the resolution, it would not have been carried despite the majority voting in favour.  Because the USA has a veto right at the UN Security Council, it had the power to defeat the motion on its own.  This veto right was not exercised on Friday.

The decision by the USA delegation to abstain from Friday's vote flies in the face of USA policy at the UN Security Council in recent years on the subject of resolutions condemning Israel.  In the words of outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Israel has been the victim of a disproportionate number of resolutions condemning her actions at the hands of various UN organisations.  One could interpret this to mean that Israel has been unfairly targeted by the UN, and unjustifiably singled out for constant criticism and condemnation.  The USA has somewhat redressed this imbalance by exercising its right of veto at the Security Council over the years, and has ensured that the unfair condemnations of Israel are not allowed to stand, at least in that forum.  The most recent example of this was in 2011, when the Obama administration vetoed a resolution that condemned Israel's settlement activity.  The resolution on that occasion was remarkably similar to the one passed by the Security Council on Friday by virtue of the US abstention.  So what has changed in 5 short years, that justified the US turning its back on Israel at this time?

In 2011, there was a great deal more at stake for President Obama.  He had been in office for approximately 3 years, and was already eyeing his re-election with the hope of returning to the White House for 4 more years.  His decision to veto the resolution on that occasion was all about serving his interest at that time, rather than showing what he genuinely felt and believed.  Fast-forward 5 years, and Obama has no political capital to win or lose from the Security Council vote.  He will vacate the Oval Office in less than a month, and this vote has no bearing on his future whatsoever.  The only reason that he would vote in one direction or another, is to reflect his genuine view on the matter.  This view is shown loudly and clearly in a resolution that is one-sided and false in its depiction of the reality.  This is the legacy that Obama and Kerry are leaving on their peace-making efforts over the years, that were presented as being fair and even-handed.

This act puts an entire 8 year presidency into context.  There were many conspiracy theories about what Obama's true position on Israel was.  Was he influenced by the fact that he comes from Muslim heritage?  Was he genuinely sympathetic to Israel's struggle for survival?  Did he understand that the obstacles to peace are numerous, and not only the fault of one party or the other?  He tried to cloud the answers to these questions, and presented himself as a friend of Israel throughout his term in office.  This single act at the end of his presidency, however, has clarified all that has gone before.    While Israel would never wish to oppose the possibility of reaching a genuine agreement with the Palestinians, it has always been important to Israel that any agreement be reached on the basis of mutual respect and recognition between the parties.  This respect and recognition has been sorely missing from the Palestinian side.

The only real purpose that this resolution serves, is to continue to perpetrate the view that Israel is solely to blame for the lack of progress towards peace.  And Israel's policy on settlements is an easy scapegoat to use to illustrate why Israel should be blamed.  If it was true that the settlements are the main obstacle to peace, why was peace not achieved in the period from 1948 to 1967, when there were no settlements to blame.  Not only was peace not achieved, the Arabs were hell-bent on destroying Israel at any and every opportunity.  But now, the settlements are being presented as the only reason for the lack of a peace agreement.  Where is the criticism of the fact that the Palestinians refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, that has a right to live in peace and security?  Or of the fact that the PLO charter continues to call for the destruction of the State of Israel?  Or the continuous terror attacks that Israelis are forced to endure?  These were conveniently ommitted from the UN Security Council resolution, and this emphasizes how one-sided how this resolution really is.

If the resolution served to somehow move the peace process forward or to make a positive contribution the situation, I would be able to understand Obama's decision to allow it to stand on the record.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Instead, it is a pointless finger-pointing exercise that makes little contribution to the creation of a positive environment for peace-making.  And now, it is clearer as to who is pointing at whom.  Obama, your true colours have been revealed.  Shame on you.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Real Obstacle to Peace

If one believes all that is written in the international media about the current state of the Middle East conflict, it would be easy to reach the conclusion that there is only one obstacle to peace - Israel's policy on the so-called settlements.  According to these accounts, if Israel agreed to uproot its citizens who are living in the disputed areas of Judea and Samaria,  peace would magically break out in the Middle East.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And the fact that outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry (amongst others) constantly uses the line that the Israeli policy on settlements is the obstacle to peace, is a shameful inaccurate depiction of the situation.

Before suggesting what I think the real obstacle to peace is, it is worth understanding the true legal standing of this disputed land.  Until 1948, the land in Judea and Samaria was under a British mandate in terms of the San Remo conference of 1920.  In 1947, the United Nations adopted a resolution to support the establishment of an Arab state and a Jewish state in the land under British mandate, then known as Palestine.  The Arab world rejected this idea, chiefly because they objected to the establishment of a Jewish state.  Ultimately, the Jewish state was established, and the Arab world declared war on it.  In the aftermath of this war, the area of Judea and Samara came under the rulership of the Jordanian government.  It remained like this for 19 years.  During the course of the Six Day War in 1967, Israel captured this land and put it under Israeli military rule.  This situation continued until 1982, when a semi-civil authority was appointed to oversee rulership of this area under the auspices of the Israeli ministry of defence.  This is the situation until the present day.  What is clear from history, is that Arabs were handed the opportunity to rule over this land on a golden platter in the UN partition plan for Palestine in 1947.  It was rejected by them.  Had it not been rejected, we would not still be arguing over ownership issues today.  In addition, had the Arab world not plotted to try to wipe Israel off the map in 1967, the land would probably still be under Jordanian control.  So now, that Israel has responded to protect the existence of the Israeli state, the complaints are too little, too late.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Arab world is using all at its disposal to bring Israel's name into disrepute in the international community, and to take advantage of the easiest argument to convince others that Israel is the evil ogre in the story.  This, it seems, is the argument of Israel's settlement policy which, according to the current rhetoric, is designed to scupper the prospects of peace ever being established in the region.  Memories are, however, short.  It is already long forgotten that it was the Arabs who rejected the opportunity of two states for two peoples in 1947, and it seems strange that questions are not being asked about why that was.

In my view, the real obstacle to peace is the same one that existed in 1947 when the Arab world rejected the UN partition plan, and the same obstacle that existed for many years before that.  The obstacle is the existence of the Jews, and now, the existence of the Jewish state.  Until this "problem" is resolved, there will never be peace in the Middle East.  And, judging by some of the things that are happening in Syria, there is unlikely to be peace in the Middle East even if the Arab world would succeed in removing Israel.  All actions that are undertaken by the Arabs in the context of "peace" discussions, are done with the intention of weakening Israel's position to the point of destroying her.  This is clearly evidenced by the response to Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.  Until that moment, Israel's rulership over Gaza was held up as an obstacle to peace.  Since Israel withdrew from Gaza, the area has become less peaceful than it was before.  Now it is being used as a springboard to launch further attacks into Israel.  As far as progress towards peace is concerned, nothing was achieved by withdrawing from Gaza.  So why should we believe that withdrawal from settlements in Judea and Samaria will be any different?  The truth is that most Israelis do not believe this, even though the desire by Israelis to achieve peace remains as strong as ever.

Over the years, Israel has made numerous unilateral gestures in an attempt to further the prospects for peace.  Terrorists have been released from prison, money has been paid to the Palestinian Authority, borders have been opened and concessions granted, all in the interests of showing goodwill and positive intention to reach a peace agreement.  In return, Israelis have been killed in terror attacks and Israel has had to fight numerous wars and protect her citizens from ongoing missile attacks.  No meaningful progress has been made towards achieving a peace, or towards peaceful co-existence.  It seems no wonder that the Israeli government is hesitant to make further concessions.  They seem to achieve nothing other than further weakening Israel's ability to protect her right to peaceful existence.

The time has come for the world to stop allowing the Arabs to hide behind the rhetoric that Israel's settlement policy is the obstacle to peace.  More than that, the time has come for the international community to stop repeating and validating this ridiculous position.  I feel sure that, if somebody could give a cast iron guarantee that reversing the settlement policy would allow peace to be reached, Israel would agree to it almost immediately.  It is clear to all concerned, however, even to most of those repeating this line in the international community, that Israel's settlement policy is only being used as an excuse to justify why there is no peace.  It is far from the obstacle that, if overcome, would allow peace to be achieved.

The peace agenda contains numerous points that require resolution before a peace can be achieved.  These include land borders, the rights of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the arming of a future Palestinian state and many others.  In my view,  however, there is only one point that is of any real significance in this discussion, and this is the recognition by the Arab world of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  Until this is resolved, there is nothing further to talk about.