Web Only / Views » July 7, 2011
In Israel, a Tsunami Warning
The U.S. and Israel are trying to sustain indefensible positions: the occupation and its subversion of the overwhelming consensus on a diplomatic settlement.
In May, in a closed meeting of many of Israel’s business leaders, Idan Ofer, a holding-company magnate, warned, “We are quickly turning into South Africa. The economic blow of sanctions will be felt by every family in Israel.”
The business leaders’ particular concern was the U.N. General Assembly session this September, where the Palestinian Authority is planning to call for recognition of a Palestinian state.
Dan Gillerman, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, warned participants that “the morning after the anticipated announcement of recognition of a Palestinian state, a painful and dramatic process of Southafricanization will begin” – meaning that Israel would become a pariah state, subject to international sanctions.
In this and subsequent meetings, the oligarchs urged the government to initiate efforts modeled on the Saudi (Arab League) proposals and the unofficial Geneva Accord of 2003, in which high-level Palestinian and Israeli negotiators detailed a two-state settlement that was welcomed by most of the world, dismissed by Israel and ignored by Washington.
In March, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned of the prospective U.N. action as a “tsunami.” The fear is that the world will condemn Israel not only for violating international law but also for carrying out its criminal acts in an occupied state recognized by the U.N.
The U.S. and Israel are waging intensive diplomatic campaigns to head off the tsunami. If they fail, recognition of a Palestinian state is likely.
More than 100 states already recognize Palestine. The United Kingdom, France and other European nations have upgraded the Palestine General Delegation to “diplomatic missions and embassies – a status normally reserved only for states,” Victor Kattan observes in the American Journal of International Law.
Palestine has also been admitted to U.N. organizations apart from UNESCO and the World Health Organization, which have avoided the issue for fear of U.S. defunding – no idle threat.
In June the U.S. Senate passed a resolution threatening to suspend aid for the Palestine Authority if it persists with its U.N. initiative. Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., warned that there was “no greater threat” to U.S. funding of the U.N. “than the prospect of Palestinian statehood being endorsed by member states,” The (London) Daily Telegraph reports. Israel’s new U.N. Ambassador, Ron Prosor, informed the Israeli press that U.N. recognition “would lead to violence and war.”
The U.N. would presumably recognize Palestine in the internationally accepted borders, including the West Bank and Gaza, with the Golan Heights returned to Syria. The heights were annexed by Israel in December 1981, in violation of U.N. Security Council orders.
In the West Bank, the settlements and acts to support them are clearly in violation of international law, as affirmed by the World Court and the Security Council.
In February 2006, the U.S. and Israel imposed a siege in Gaza after the “wrong side” – Hamas – won elections in Palestine, recognized as free and fair. The siege became much harsher in June 2007 after the failure of a U.S.-backed military coup to overthrow the elected government.
In June 2010, the siege of Gaza was condemned by the International Committee of the Red Cross – which rarely issues such reports – as “collective punishment imposed in clear violation” of international humanitarian law. The BBC reported that the ICRC “paints a bleak picture of conditions in Gaza: hospitals short of equipment, power cuts lasting hours each day, drinking water unfit for consumption,” and the population of course imprisoned.
The criminal siege extends the U.S.-Israeli policy since 1991 of separating Gaza from the West Bank, thus ensuring that any eventual Palestinian state would be effectively contained within hostile powers – Israel and the Jordanian dictatorship. The Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, proscribe separating Gaza from the West Bank.
A more immediate threat facing U.S.-Israeli rejectionism is the Freedom Flotilla that seeks to challenge the blockade of Gaza by bringing letters and humanitarian aid. In May 2010, the last such attempt led to an attack by Israeli commandos in international waters – a major crime in itself – in which nine passengers were killed, actions bitterly condemned outside the U.S.
In Israel, most people convinced themselves that the commandos were the innocent victims, attacked by passengers, another sign of the self-destructive irrationality sweeping the society.
Today the U.S. and Israel are vigorously seeking to block the flotilla. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton virtually authorized violence, stating that “Israelis have the right to defend themselves” if flotillas “try to provoke action by entering into Israeli waters” – that is, the territorial waters of Gaza, as if Gaza belonged to Israel.
Greece agreed to prevent the boats from leaving (that is, those boats not already sabotaged) – though, unlike Clinton, Greece referred rightly to “the maritime area of Gaza.”
In January 2009, Greece had distinguished itself by refusing to permit U.S. arms to be shipped to Israel from Greek ports during the vicious U.S.-Israeli assault in Gaza. No longer an independent country in its current financial duress, Greece evidently cannot risk such unusual integrity.
Asked whether the flotilla is a “provocation,” Chris Gunness, the spokesperson for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the major aid agency for Gaza, described the situation as desperate: “If there were no humanitarian crisis, if there weren’t a crisis in almost every aspect of life in Gaza there would be no need for the flotilla â(euro) .125 95 percent of all water in Gaza is undrinkable, 40 percent of all disease is water-borne … 45.2 percent of the labor force is unemployed, 80 percent aid dependency, a tripling of the abject poor since the start of the blockade. Let’s get rid of this blockade and there would be no need for a flotilla.”
Diplomatic initiatives such as the Palestinian state strategy, and nonviolent actions generally, threaten those who hold a virtual monopoly on violence. The U.S. and Israel are trying to sustain indefensible positions: the occupation and its subversion of the overwhelming, long-standing consensus on a diplomatic settlement.
Editor’s note: The original version of this article misstated the status of the Golan Heights as a potential part of a future Palestinian state. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war and annexed them in 1981. The text has been corrected.
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Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy. His most recent book is Who Rules the World? from Metropolitan Books.