United Nations Report
By Ian WilliamsAt the time of the Oslo accords, the mild-mannered Edward Said was intemperate in his denunciation of Yasser Arafat and the PLO for accepting the deal. I could see there were problems, but thought he was a bit over the top in his rhetoric. Within a year or so, however, it was clear that Said was entirely correct. The government of the Land of Milk and Honey maintained its reputation as the regime of fig leaves and phony diplomacy.
Oslo was not about peace with the Palestinians: it was about breaking Israeli isolation worldwide, and providing diplomatic camouflage for Israel and its supporters in Washington—which of course included the Clinton White House and Congress—to pretend that Israel was seeking peace. The doubling of the number of Jewish settlers while talking about negotiations based on an agreement which pledged that neither side would make any unilateral changes is an example of prestidigitatory diplomacy of a prize-winning kind. Just as the conjuror's patter is designed to lull the audience's attention so they do not focus on what his hands are doing, Israeli diplomatic practice is to keep on nagging and hectoring so that the U.S. can pretend it does not see what is happening on the ground.
But there are other aspects to Israel's continual chatter—above all its leadership's continual attempts to persuade itself that its behavior, despite violating almost every tenet of international law and of Jewish ethics, is really moral and legal.
That was epitomized with the recent commission which "found" that Israel's settlement policy was entirely legal. The commission, chaired by former Judge Edmond Levy, has caused controversy worldwide by finding that Israel is not an "occupier" in the West Bank and that all Jewish settlements are legal—including those even the Israeli government itself calls unauthorized.
We can tell what a responsible and objective body the commission was: it included former Israeli Ambassador to Canada Alan Baker, who lived in a settlement himself and whose law firm had been contracted to prove that very point before he joined the entirely unbiased investigatory committee! The committee was, of course, commissioned by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose views on settlements are obvious since he has refused all President Barack Obama's appeals to stop building them!
So the only purpose of the Levy commission is to reinforce Israel's incestuous political isolation, which is analogous to the prisoner in the dock telling the judge, jury and public that he knows the law better than they do. It will certainly have no persuasive effect outside the country.
However this is indeed what Israel has been saying in international fora for decades. Baker correctly asserts that the Levy commission's finding is "no different from Israel's policy statements over the years, including speeches by all of Israel's leaders and ambassadors in the United Nations, as well as in official policy documents issued by the Foreign Ministry." The former persecutor of Richard Goldstone also rounded on the many sane American Jewish critics of the commission for their temerity in what he laughably called helping the "delegitimization of Israel."
What concerns the critics is, of course, the report's shredding of the creative ambiguity that has characterized Israeli policy. If the territories are not occupied and the Geneva Conventions therefore do not apply to them, Israel has to explain to the world—and to itself—why it has refused to allow civil liberties to the Palestinians living in them while extending full citizenship to Jewish settlers outside its legal boundaries.
The critics are concerned that this will pave the way for a one-state solution, which is becoming increasingly attractive to many people on both sides of the Green Line. It is of course what Likud wants but dare not say so, because its vision is to take the land without the people.
Apart from wishing wistfully for divine intervention, a sort of rapture in which all the Palestinians just disappear, there is reasonable suspicion that someone somewhere has contingency plans to make that happen, perhaps under cover of a wider war—say, with Iran—in which the U.S. and others would be indisposed to act. Otherwise annexation makes no sense, compared with the implied policy of establishing isolated quasi-autonomous Palestinian Bantustans that Likud has hitherto been working toward, effectively albeit unethically!
Israeli Attorney Joins U.N. Counter-Terrorism CommitteeAs usual, while scorning all U.N. resolutions on the Middle East except the one that established Israel and those against Iran and Iraq, Israel's love/hate relationship with the U.N. means that it always crows when it secures a position at the U.N., no matter how minor. The latest appointment, in interesting counterpoint to the plethora of reports condemning Israeli behavior in the occupied territories, was of David Scharia to be legal coordinator for the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee. Before coming to the U.N., Scharia previously had worked for the Israeli attorney general as the lead lawyer for counterterrorism cases in the Israeli Supreme Court.
Of course he is bound by the rules for U.N. civil servants, that they show no allegiance to their state of origin in their work.
What Can Be Done About Syria?As explosions rocked Damascus, Russia and China vetoed yet another resolution on Syria. Of course, Moscow looks at Libya or Syria and spells them Chechnya, while Beijing spells them Tibet and Taiwan—but it is difficult to see how these vetoes serve anyone's interests. They are, in fact, every bit as counterproductive as all the U.S. vetoes on behalf of its own dodgy client state in the region. Indeed they have the same effect: removing the incentive for an intransigent regime to make the compromises it needs for a lasting settlement.
To all but rabid conspiracy theorists, it is clear that the U.S. does not want to intervene in Syria, even if it would look kindly on someone else taking action. It is not comforting for outsiders to see a country with chemical and conventional weaponry on the scale of Syria disintegrating into the patchwork of sectarian militias that Assad's intransigence seems to be driving it toward.
Even so, "anti-imperialist war" groups in the West have been busily burnishing Assad's revolutionary credentials, even though he had been happy to act as a torture franchisee for Western intelligence agencies, and failed one litmus test for the so-called anti-imperialist left by frequently stiffing the Palestinians.
It is worth remembering the role played by the Syrian Ba'athists in colluding with Phalangist pogroms of Palestinians in Lebanon—Tel-El Zatar being a case in point. Indeed, it is entirely possible that over the years Damascus has been responsible for more Palestinian deaths than the IDF has been.
And of course, like Qaddafi, the Syrian regimes, so eager to condemn their dissidents as "terrorists," were longtime safe havens for indisputably terrorist groups. But that does not stop the dictators clucking about foreigners coming in to fight, or weaponry coming from abroad.
One suspects that many of those reflexively condemning any intervention in Syria or Libya have an icon of Che on their walls. Would they condemn the disastrous intervention of the Argentinean-born, Cuban-backed Che in Bolivia? It certainly showed most of the practical pitfalls of interventionism—but, as always, the principles are expediently flexible in application.
Which begs the question: what can be done about Syria? The only sure thing is that it should be done quickly, and that Moscow's continuing support for the Assad regime has clearly persuaded the latter to fight rather than settle, to the point where there is real danger of a pogrom against the Alawites who dominate the regime.
Moscow could have been part of the solution, and maintained its influence in the region. But this it is going to lose because of its shortsighted policies—and the Syrians will pay the price. It is difficult to see a favorable outcome from the present impasse—and, as the situation deteriorates, it is even more difficult to envisage volunteers for an effective U.N. peacekeeping force venturing into such a Middle Eastern maelstrom. There is a clear case for intervention, but few if any credible candidates—except perhaps Turkey, which has problems of its own.