By Erna Paris, Globe and Mail, September 22, 2011
Erna Paris is the author of Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History and The Garden and the Gun: A Journey Inside Israel.
Enough already: That’s what a majority of world governments are preparing to say when they debate Palestinian statehood at the United Nations Enough of the blame game. Enough of wars and intifadas that target civilians. Enough of the disingenuous peace process and the stale narratives that make up the status quo. Enough of the occupation of one people by another, regardless of rationalizations.
It’s in Israel’s strategic interests to support what’s likely to be overwhelming recognition of Palestine. Whatever one thinks about the Palestinian effort to focus world attention on the plight of its people, it’s a showcase example of the shifting global order. The ground has moved, leaving Israel behind. International law and human rights have gained precedence in the past decade and, for the first time, “lawfare” has emerged as a bloodless alternative to warfare. The Palestinian bid for statehood is a bold attempt to introduce legal diplomacy into the arsenal of conflict resolution.
Israel should support the Palestinian bid because to do so is the lesser of two evils. Yes, it’s true the immediate outcome can’t be predicted, but going with the international flow will reduce Israel’s increasing isolation. Far from “delegitimizing” the Jewish state, positive support will relegitimize it in the eyes of the world.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “big stick” vision of security and settlements expansion has become increasingly unsustainable as the Arab Spring uprisings have challenged once-stable configurations: Hosni Mubarak is gone, and Egyptian rioters recently attacked the Israeli embassy; Israel’s refusal to offer a face-saving apology to Turkey over the killing of nine people in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla seriously upset ties with a former ally; Syria is in turmoil; Iran is challenging Israel’s nuclear hegemony in the region; radical West Bank settlers are attacking local Palestinians, increasing the likelihood of another intifada.
If these are not reasons enough for a policy review with regard to Palestinian aspirations, America’s diminishing power in the world should be. Israel relies on unconditional U.S. support, including billions of dollars in annual aid, armaments and the threat of back-up military force to maintain its position in the neighbourhood. But with the U.S. edging into economic depression, how long can this degree of aid be sustained? Furthermore, President Barack Obama has declared himself in favour of a Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders, so there can be no succour in that quarter. Finally, is there stronger evidence of America’s waning influence than Saudi Arabia’s recent threat to review its special relationship (read oil and military bases) should the U.S. veto the Palestinian request for statehood in the Security Council?
The status of the Palestinians is about to change. Israel would do well to get on board and restart negotiations from the inside.
What Israeli officials fear is the International Criminal Court, and liability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government has been fighting the trend toward international justice since the disastrous 2008 Gaza war, after which an investigation concluded that war crimes had been committed by both sides. Yes, the recognition of statehood, however attenuated, will allow the Palestinians to bring accusations of war crimes to the ICC, but it will also expose their own leaders to comparable charges. The prospect of criminal accountability may well encourage sober second thoughts on both sides.
"Lawfare" replacing "warfare"? Is that what this author would call the sacking of the Israeli embassy in Cairo? Is that what we have been watching in Libya for the last three or four months? Is that what the repeated intafada that erupts in the Middle East signifies?
There is no doubt that there is a dramatic shift in geopolitical power going on. The weakened, indebted state of the United States, after two wars and the Wall Street meltdown linked to both a housing bubble and a continuing voracious appetite for energy has brought the U.S. virtually to its knees. It may have its Treasury bonds as a safe and secure investment for those "in the market" but it will demonstrate its impotence tomorrow if and when it vetoes the will of many, if not most, countries on the question of Palestinian statehood, in the Security Council.
Bringing combatants from both Palestine and Israel to the Interntional Criminal Court, if fully carried out, could result in that body being so blocked with cases that it is incapable of coping. It could render that court limp and lame. Presumably it is the potential for criminal charges this author is referring to when theorizing about the substition of lawfare for warfare. However, if the U.S. is any example, where there are laws for virtually every kind of aberrant human behaviour, the courts have not made the country safer simply because the volume of cases is so high, and the prisons so overcrowded and the criminal justice system so corrupt that the American justice system is, itself, becoming a victim of its earlier success and the cultural belief that law is a panacea for everything that ails a society.
It isn't; and the International Criminal Court will likely soon demonstrate the truth of that maxim in international relations.
If, on the other hand, the threat of criminal prosecution actually deters some of the potential for violence on both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, that in itself will prove to be a desireable result of the move for statehood by the Palestinians.
What is significant is the position of both the U.S. and Canada both of which countries would vote NO if they both had seats on the Security Council. It is the U.S. that holds the veto over the procedure and Canada does not even have the coveted Security Council seat for which it lobbied so extensively earlier this year. Clearly, the countries who voted to exclude Canada from a seat at the Security Council knew more about the international posture of the Canadian government than the people of Canada, when they voted on May 2.
Snubbing the thrust for a Palestinian state is not necessarily demonstrating loyalty to Israel; in fact, there is a significant group of Israeli artists and thought leaders who are supporting the Palestinian claim of statehood, and are urging Israel itself to support the move. Perhaps it is the current Israeli government, with its insistence on building settlements and its refusal to negotiate for a two-state solution that is the major roadblock to preventing this Palestinian initiative.
The photo of a significant member of the Israeli government of Netanyhu beside Rick Perry in his televised press conference in New York yesterday where he blasted the Obama government for its failure to support Israel is just another indication of the breakdown of relations between Netanyhu and Obama, at the urging of Netanyhu.
Perhaps the Israelis need to change governments almost as urgently as do Canadians. Unfortunately, it would seen that the Americans are more bent on removing Obama in 2012 than either the Canadians or the Israelis are in opposing their current governments. When the U.S. vetoes the Palestinian move in the Security Council, Obama will have another political albatross around his neck, only this one may be so heavy that he does not get a second term. Supporting a two-state solution, and vetoeing this petition for statehood, to many, will seem incompatible.