I recently spent three weeks in Lebanon to research the Palestinian refugee situation and the effects of the uprising in Syria on the region. I will be writing extensively about my trip when I return from Israel-Palestine later this month. For now, I have posted my appearance on Transit, a current affairs/political interview program on Lebanon’s Future TV (the official network of the Hariri family’s Future Party). To my complete surprise, the producers decided to air the complete, uncensored “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem” video in the middle of the interview. The video punctuated a lengthy discussion of issues ranging from AIPAC to the Tea Party to the Palestinian statehood resolution to Barack Obama’s disappointing presidency. I appear at the 1 minute mark in the first clip:
Last week I attended a discussion on the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid at the UN by Susan Akram, a Boston University School of Law professor who is a leading expert on refugee issues and international law. Akram delivered a withering assessment of the PA’s statehood campaign at the UN. She focused her lecture on contrasting the PA’s strategy with Namibia’s, demonstrating how Nambia managed to achieve independence despite its initial designation by the UN to be one of the least likely colonial mandates to attain the status necessary for statehood, and despite a prolonged occupation by apartheid South Africa. Nambia and its supporters filed a steady stream of submissions to the International Court of Justice, winning decisions that confirmed the illegality of South Africa’s occupation while demanding sanctions on South Africa. Thus Nambia established a legal framework guaranteeing that any UN resolution granting it statehood would also establish its full independence.
In contrast, the PLO and PA accepted the formula of a negotiated land for peace, allowing the UN Security Council to relegate Resolution 194, the right of return resolution that guarantees individual, inalienable Palestinian rights, to “final status” talks (the UN’s acceptance of Israel as a member state in 1949 was contingent on its fulfillment of Res 194). Since Israel’s occupation of Palestine began, the Palestinian Authority has made only one request for an advisory opinion from the ICJ, when in 2004 it challenged Israel’s right to build the separation wall across the Green Line. Though the PA received a favorable ruling, it did nothing to enforce the ruling — no mobilization of civil society or demand for sanctions. In fact, despite the ICJ’s recommendation, the PA rejected the Palestinian civil society call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel.
Akram said the PA’s failure to enact a strategy of “soft and hard law” had left an array of questions about the upcoming Palestinian statehood resolution unresolved, casting serious doubt on the whole endeavor. She enumerated some the key unresolved issues:
1. What do the 150 UN member states who vote for the resolution do with the recommendation? Do they afford Palestine full representation or representative status? Where will their embassies be? Since Israel will refuse to allow foreign embassies in East Jerusalem, will they instead be in Ramallah, and if so, does that mean that Ramallah is the future capitol of a Palestinian state? Will passports be issued to Palestinians and will they receive full consular intervention if they require it abroad?
2. What will be the recognized population of Palestine? Will it include Palestinians in the diaspora? In the West Bank and Gaza? Inside Israel? The refugees? If it does not include the refugees, do they then lose the legal right to return to their property and land confiscated by the state of Israel? None of these questions have been answered and the consequences are enormous.
3. If Palestine will be considered a legitimate state on the diplomatic front, it will not have relations with states that refused to recognize it. That means it would not have relations with the United States. How does that impact Palestine’s status at the International Court of Justice or the UN, where the US and Israel could prevent its admission to the Human Rights Council?
4. What can Palestine do to enforce the withdrawal of Israeli settlements and its territorial integrity in the absence of Israeli withdrawal and the backing of the US? The issue of enforcement has not been addressed through the statehood resolution.
5. Even if new avenues open for legal recourse against the Israeli occupation, Israel does not recognize the International Court of Justice’s authority and the United States will block any efforts to bring Israeli defendants to the ICJ for crimes they committed against Palestinians. So in real terms, what can Palestine do? Further, if Palestine becomes a member of the UN, it could table and introduce resolutions, but does this represent a change in the observer status the PLO has enjoyed since 1974? It does not.
6. Do Palestine’s security forces become a legitimate military force with all the benefits that it entails? Can they purchase arms as all state military forces do? If Israel refuses to accept members of the Palestinian military as legitimate soldiers than the status quo of captured Palestinian soldiers being treated as terrorists remains.
The consequences of statehood without real independence are enormous, Akram said. In the absence of a strategy based on hard and soft law, the PA’s statehood resolution bid could be an exercise in futility. While Namibia relied on a protracted legal battle for 40 years along with armed struggle and a political/media strategy to lay the foundation for its independence, Akram warned that the outcome for Palestine is highly uncertain.
On June 22, the Jewish Federations of America’s new, multi-million dollar “Israel Action Network” hosted a conference call with Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. The call was an urgent response to the flotilla preparing to cruise towards Gaza in order to challenge Israel’s maritime blockade of the destitute coastal strip. David Sherman, the vice chair of the Federations’ board of trustees, introduced the new initiative and Oren’s involvement in it as a key to combating Israel’s “delegitimization.”
Throughout the call, Oren seemed more concerned about the Arab Spring, Israel’s relations with Turkey, and the Palestinian unity arrangement than the upcoming flotilla. He opened his remarks by launching into a fast paced survey of the myriad regional threats Israel supposedly faced, then explained how the state would tamp down on each one:
Egypt – Oren was convinced that the only parties that are poised to win upcoming elections are “well funded, well led extremist movements.” Presumably he meant the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptian army’s stance reassured Israel. “The army has been telling us that they have every intention of maintaining Camp David and that there will be no substantive change in Egypt’s foreign policy,” Oren said. Israel’s biggest concern at the present moment was attacks on gas pipelines in the Sinai Desert, which Oren claimed were being carried out by Bedouins to extort protection money. He said that Israel’s gas supply was only at 2/3 capacity, forcing it to import environmentally hazardous coal.
Syria — Oren expressed frustration with rumors that Israel was urging a “go slow” approach to the Syrian revolt against the Assad regime. He referred indirectly to an article by Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yaakov Katz (he did not cite Katz by name, but was clearly pointing in his direction) claiming Israel’s military and political establishment would quietly support Assad because he was “the devil we know.” Complaining about Assad’s recent failures to keep the Israeli occupied Golan frontier quiet (Oren misleadingly described it as “Israel’s border”), Oren claimed that “no one in Israel will shed a tear” if Assad is gone.
Iran — Oren claimed Israel possessed intelligence showing that Iran had enriched uranium past the 20 percent level. “The 90 percent dial where they can develop nuclear grade material is a short leap,” he said. He went on: “We are in communication with the Obama administration about another round of sanctions. They are effective; they have taken a major chunk out of Iran’s economy, resulted in high inflation and high unemployment. This is a direct result of sanctions, but they have not had a big impact on nuclear program — we haven’t seen that yet. So in the next round the administration will announce various designations this week that will impair [Iran's] ability to import and export oil; that will hurt transportation and the airlines of Iran. It promises to be quite painful. Throughout, the policy of the State of Israel and America remains that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from developing nukes, the policymakers in Iran believe us when we say that. Look at Gaddafi: he was convinced by a credible military threat from the United States to stop developing nuclear weapons.”
Turkey — Israel’s greatest source of friction with Turkey, according to Oren, was Turkey’s demand that Israel formally apologize for killing several of its citizens on board the Mavi Marmara last year. “We’re trying to find some language to satisfy them that holds up to the unwritten constitution of the democratic state of Israel,” he remarked. He said Netanyahu had congratulated Erdogan for preventing the Mavi Marmara from sailing with the new flotilla. “The Marmara was too large and we couldn’t stop it with technical means,” said Oren, suggesting that the cruise boat’s exclusion from the upcoming fleet to Gaza was a source of great relief to both Israel’s military and diplomatic corps.
The new flotilla — Oren attacked the organizers of the flotilla as “radical anti-Israel organizations…known also for anti-American activities.” He cited statements by the US State Department and UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon criticizing or condemning their actions. Then Oren claimed that the flotilla could simply deliver its aid through a “responsible organization” like UNRWA, or bring their materials through El Arish and allow Israel to offload it. “It’s not a fight between us and the people of Gaza,” Oren claimed. “It’s between us and the group Hamas which is determined to destroy the state of Israel.” (Never mind this Israeli government document). He went on to claim that Israel’s maritime blockade was “in full accord with international law,” though he did not explain how besieging a civilian population that was not actively engaged in a full-scale war against Israel comported with the 4th Geneva Convention or the San Remo Accords.
Next, Oren proudly announced that Israel had tentatively authorized an aid shipment to Gaza containing construction materials for 1200 new buildings and 18 new schools (UNRWA officials were skeptical that the aid would actually arrive as Israel said). The timing of the shipment and Oren’s promotion of it suggested that the flotilla had already made an impact. Would Israeli authorities have authorized the aid in without outside pressure? Whether or not they would have, Israel was seeking to extract as much propaganda value as it could from its agreement.
The Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood — The ambassador seemed far more troubled about the Palestinian Authority’s plan to introduce a statehood resolution at the United Nations General Assembly in September than about any other issue. Oren suggested that Israel would attempt to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table in order to keep them away from the UN. In other words, the peace process would be Israel’s tool for blocking Palestine from winning statehood on a unilateral basis. In this effort, Oren described Dennis Ross, the White House special advisor on Middle East affairs, as Israel’s ally.
“We are working closely with the Obama Administration in trying to find a common framework that would enable the European Union to support negotiations in the framework to get them back to negotiations and keep them away from General Assembly,” Oren commented. “Dennis Ross is in Israel today conducting negotiations so we have reasons for some optimism. But we have to prepare for the worst. [With the statehood resolution] we are preparing for various scenarios of unrest in the West Bank, further attempts by the P.A. to use their improved status to delegitimize israel a la Goldstone type initiatives. Netanyahu has been meeting with the Italian government about this, and they are working tirelessly. And he is working closely with the Canadians who are very supportive.”
When Oren finished his remarks, the administrators of the call allowed time for a few questions. One caller asked Oren what Jews in the United States could do about the flotilla. “Stress that there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the border is open for all materials, there is no shortage of food or medicine, and that our maritime blockade is upheld by the United States as completely legal and necessary for Israel’s defense,” Oren said.
Before I could ask a question about the legality of Israel’s siege of Gaza, Martin Raffel, the director of the Israel Action Network, came on the line to conclude the call. “I want to echo [what Oren said],” Raffel remarked. “Our role is not to be passive observers. We have to shake the public discourse so we’re sending message points and program guidance to everyone involved. And we hope you have some marching orders for when you go back to your communities.”