Diplomatic ties help Israel defang international criticism
Luke Baker, Reuters, Jul 5 2016
Ahead of the release last week of a report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the Quartet, the word from diplomats was that it would be hard-hitting, especially on Israel and its settlement building. Pindostan., the EU and the UN were fed up with Israel’s consistent violation of international law. While Russia might be more restrained, Israel was set for a serious ticking-off. Those concerns reached Netanyahu’s office. Officials briefed that he was determined to talk the Quartet down. He flew to Moscow to see Putin, and met Jackass Kerry and Federica Mogherini in Rome. In the end, after weeks of delay, the report was mild in the extreme. Israeli settlement-building was criticized but not called illegal. The prime focus was on Palestinian incitement. One regional analyst described the overall impact as “banal.” Palestinians were outraged. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Quartet had attempted to “equalize the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier.” The international community had given in, he said. Among a number of Pindosi, EU and UN diplomats, there is a fair degree of sympathy with that view. One European ambassador said:
There’s just no appetite to go toe-to-toe with Israel and deliver a really harsh indictment. No one sees the upside to it.
Privately, diplomats raise a host of concerns about Israel’s actions: its restrictions on Palestinian movement, security clampdowns they say amount to collective punishment, the demolition of attackers’ homes, the blockade on Gaza, and settlements. But in public, there is far more restraint. Statements from EU foreign ministers and Pindosi officials often express concern about all those issues, but they fall short of threatening action or concrete censure. It is usually much more about carrots than sticks. While the EC has taken steps to more clearly delineate between Israel and the OPT, issuing guidelines on the labelling of settlement goods, officials say Mogherini does not want to go further. One Pindo boxtop who has worked on Palestinian issues for the past three years said:
Israel is effective at pulling the strings. However much frustration you feel on the ground, it doesn’t lead to action from the top.
Late last year, looking for ways to apply pressure on Israel over settlements, State Dept boxtops examined the possibility of suspending loan guarantees, a step last taken by the Bush 41 administration in the early 1990s. But they realized pulling the guarantees offered little leverage: because of low interest rates and Israel’s increased economic strength, the country wouldn’t have a problem raising funds cheaply on international markets. The EU, via funds from individual member states and the EC’s budget, continues to be the largest donor to the Palestinians, plugging holes in their deficit and providing development. But overall, support is being cut, and USAID has reduced funding too. The Toads, Turks & Emirs (RB) contribute large amounts of aid, but it is mostly aimed at keeping the idea of Palestine afloat. It does not come with diplomatic influence that shapes decisions in major capitals. Palestinians themselves tell pollsters they feel abandoned by their Arab allies. The most outspoken voice left is the UN, a body Israel constantly criticizes yet one that can only really bring pressure to bear if the UNSC decides to act. In an op-ed sent out immediately after the Quartet report, the UN’s Nikolai Mladenov appeared to express frustration that the Quartet’s report had not been harder hitting. He wrote:
Most Palestinians have lived with the humiliation of occupation all their lives. They do not need the Quartet to tell them about the devastating impact of the illegal settlement enterprise on their lives, their economy and their legitimate aspirations for an independent, sovereign state.
Notably, Mladenov’s passionately argued piece was not widely picked up, appearing on the UN website and a handful of regional newspapers.
And here it is, prefaced by the UN News Centre’s intro – RB
With two-state solution ‘slipping away,’ UN denounces Israel’s settlement, demolition activities
UN, Jul 4 2016
The UN today condemned Israel for demolishing Palestinians’ homes and advancing plans to build new houses for Israeli settlers, amid the prospect of the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict already “slipping away.” Sec-Gen Ban has denounced Israel’s decisions to move forward with new constructions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, urging Israel to halt and reverse such decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement. His spox says:
The Sec-Gen strongly criticizes the decision by Israeli authorities to advance plans to build some 560 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, as well as the advancement of plans to build 240 housing units in a number of settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank.
The decisions followed the release last week of the report by the so-call Middle East Quartet that provides recommendations to address impediments to the two-state solution. The report, among other things, urges Israel to stop its settlement policy and Palestine to end incitement to violence. The spox added:
The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed that this announcement comes only four days after the Middle East Quartet called on Israel to cease its policy of settlement construction and expansion.
Also today, UNRWA confirmed that Israeli soldiers demolished two homes in Qalandia
RefugeeConcentration Camp in the occupied West Bank in the middle of last night. UNRWA spox Chris Gunness said:
Punitive home demolitions are a form of collective punishment which are illegal under international law. They inflict distress and suffering on those who have not committed the action which led to the demolition and they often endanger people and property in the vicinity. Palestinians and Israelis have, understandably, reached a point where many on both sides have lost faith in the other’s commitment to a future of two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition. UNRWA condemns punitive demolitions and reminds Israel, the occupying power, that under international humanitarian law it has an obligation to protect the occupied people and provide services.
In an opinion piece shared with the media yesterday, titled “Two-state solution slipping away! Do not miss the opportunity to reverse the negative trends,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, wrote as follows:
Two-State Solution Slipping Away!
UN, Jul 4 2016
The report published last week by the Quartet presents an analysis that should come as no surprise to anyone. The negative trends on the ground continue to jeopardize prospects for peace and diminish the prospects for a two-state solution. Palestinian frustration after half a century of occupation, dozens of failed peace efforts cannot be wished away; it cannot be vanquished by aggressive security measures, continued illegal settlement activities in the occupied West Bank, arrests or punitive home demolitions. Neither is it helped when Israeli ministers openly reject the very notion of a Palestinian state, call for the complete annexation of the West Bank or rush to approve more settlement construction. But neither will the violence and terror we are witnessing again help bring about a Palestinian state. A peaceful future for both peoples cannot emerge on the back of statements that glorify terror and justify killing; mutual respect cannot come as a result of stabbings, shootings and car rammings. Most Palestinians have lived with the humiliation of occupation all their lives. They do not need the Quartet to tell them about the devastating impact of the illegal settlement enterprise on their lives, their economy, and their legitimate aspirations for an independent, sovereign, viable state. For them, a nine-page report could never fully capture what it is like to live under a military rule which governs every aspect of their daily existence and which has the power of life and death over them and their children. The shooting of 15-year-old Mahmoud Raafat Badran on his way home from a swimming pool is the latest testament to this sad predicament. No army should kill children by mistake. Equally so, Israelis know that continuing terrorist attacks, the incitement which encourages such acts, and the ongoing militant activity in Gaza are major obstacles not just to peace, but to rebuilding trust. The recent murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel provided further testimony to that. Heroes do not kill sleeping children. Most Israelis have lived with such fears all their lives. It is also clear that the takeover of Gaza undermines the ability to achieve and implement a negotiated solution.
Given this stark reality, Palestinians and Israelis have, understandably, reached a point where many on both sides have lost faith in the other’s commitment to a future of two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition. Many of them have also grown critical of the international community, some thinking it is not doing enough to resolve this conflict while others see it as overly involved with it. At the end of the day, the sad reality for peoples on both sides of the conflict is that the things which they hold most dear, statehood and security, are slipping further away. The report published by the Quartet sends two very clear messages. First, to those who hope that the international community would somehow abandon this conflict and let it descend in a deteriorating status quo to perpetual chaos, we say, no, you are wrong. The report reflects the determination of the RF, the US, the EU and the UN not to look away, but to expose and draw attention to the problems in a more detailed and uncompromising manner than ever before and to hold the leaderships to account on their actions and inactions. Second, to those who hope that the international community will enforce a solution on this conflict, we say, you too are wrong. No third party can decide for Israelis or Palestinians what compromises to make and what risks to take for peace. None of us can convince them to begin trusting each other. What the international community can and must do is to provide the parties with support and incentives to take the right path, the one towards peace, in line with commitments they have already made to each other and before the world. We must pledge to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of UNSCRs 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) through negotiations in a manner that resolves all permanent status issues, meets Palestinian aspirations for statehood and Israeli security needs.
The report describes the Quartet’s view on the main obstacles blocking the path forward, and what needs to be done to overcome them. Both have been critical of the report. But can anyone deny that violence is a problem for rebuilding trust? Who will make the argument that more cannot be done to end incitement? Can anyone question the fact that illegal settlements, the taking of land for exclusive Israeli use and the prevention of Palestinian development in Area C of the occupied West Bank are not undermining the prospect for a two-state solution? Who will say that the RF, the US, the EU and the UN are wrong when they call for these policies to stop? Who can question the need to fully lift the closures on Gaza, end militant activity and reunite it under one single legitimate leadership? This conflict is so complex and so long-standing, that any expectation of a quick fix that resolves all final status issues is at best naïve, and at worst a cynical strategy to avoid the painstaking work needed to rebuild trust and create conditions for a realistic, serious and ultimately successful negotiations that will end the occupation that began in 1967 and realize a two state solution. No one is talking about yet another new transitional agreement but rather about implementing what both sides have already agreed upon and changing reality on the ground to pave the road for the final deal. The Quartet report sounds an alarm bell that we are on a dangerous slope towards a one state reality that is incompatible with the national aspirations of both peoples. The international community stands ready to engage both with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the implementation of the report’s recommendations. We believe that if they take up this challenge, in cooperation with regional actors, Palestinians and Israelis will experience a positive change in their lives and sense renewed hope – a first and necessary step towards a future in which they can each live in freedom and dignity on their ancestral homeland, as good neighbors and masters of their own fate. I urge leaders on both sides not to miss this opportunity.