Friday, 1 February 2008

Demystifying the Palestinian issue

Resolving the Palestinian issue? It's as simple as one, two, three.

Well, relatively simple when we strip-away Israeli rhetoric and look clearly at the key legalities of the situation.

Israel cynically portrays the issues as being deeply complex, part of its long game of evading international criticism while trying to break the Palestinians. Alongside the perpetuated myths of 'Palestinian intransigence' that followed Oslo, Olmert and his predecessors have sought to foster the notion of fiendishly difficult peace details bogging-down negotiations, requiring some kind of Olympian effort on their part to resolve it.

Not so, according to the esteemed US academic Norman Finkelstein. In contrast to many of the seriously intractable conflicts around the world, potential resolution of this one, he believes, is strikingly straightforward. Indeed, it's remarkable "how uncomplicated it is".

In his recent lecture at LSE, Finkelstein stressed this central fact: that all the key legal arguments over Palestinian rights have already been adjudicated in their favour by the International Court of Justice, or World Court. These, of course, stand alongside the multiple UN resolutions clearly condemning Israel's Occupation and aggressions.

Finkelstein is particularly keen to emphasise the significance of the ICJ ruling (9 July 2004). And with good reason, when we look closely not just at the ruling, but in how it was interpreted. In its deliberations over the "separation" wall, the Court had to consider not just the wall itself, but the core legalities surrounding the case. On three central points, which coincide with the three main "final status" issues, it found Israel to be in gross violation of international accords, which view as illegal the appropriation of land through aggression. As Finkelstein outlines, Israel was deemed to have acted illegally with regard to the 1967 borders, the West Bank settlements and annexation of East Jerusalem.

The UN Charter holds clear that it is "inadmissable to acquire territory by war", rendering Israel's 1967 land seizure, including East Jerusalem, illegal. Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, likewise, renders all Israeli settlements contrary to international law. All these violations clearly informed the actual ruling on the wall.

Following judicial application of these three legal points, the court came down in favour of the Palestinians, declaring, 14-1, that the wall is unlawful and should be dismantled, with appropriate compensation paid to those whose land has been encroached upon. As Finkelstein reiterates: "There is no ambiguity whatsoever" about the rulings. "The highest judicial court in the world has resolved these issues."

The right of return for Palestinian refugees has also been made specific by UN declarations. However, Finkelstein also notes that while remaining a legitimate negotiating point, there is ample room for conciliation, involving compensation for those dispossessed, a point consistently intimated by the Palestinians themselves.

Thus, on all the crucial issues, there is clear evidence of a linear formula to resolve the conflict. So, when people say the Palestinian issue is complex, long-standing and intractable, it's worth remembering Finkelstein's assertion that once we demystify the politics, it's actually very straightforward.

If Israel complies with international law and standing judgments over borders, settlements and East Jerusalem, there will be an end of the Occupation. The Occupied Palestinian Territories - the official UN-designated title of this land - will become a viable state. In time, with a fair settlement of the refugee issue and appropriate efforts to rebuild the devastated Palestinian economy, people across this land could, with reasonable expectation, begin to live in peace.

Clear refusal

The relative simplicity of the outstanding issues here, however, highlights the zero-sum game Israel is playing in refusing to comply with international law, thus fostering ongoing conflict across the Middle East and beyond.

Israel, in short, is simply unwilling to give up what it has stolen. And neither, it seems, is Washington ready or willing to exert the necessary pressure on its favoured-client state to enforce a change of mind. Yet, while much of this can be attributed to the influential Israeli Lobby in the US, it doesn't follow that the US is simply beholden to Israel.

As Finkelstein argues (contra Mearsheimer and Walt), the Israeli Lobby may be powerful and share core goals with the neoconservatives - as in their common belligerent intentions towards Iran - but immediate US interests, rather than Israeli ones, will always have primacy in determining policy in the region. Any incoming US administration will, likewise, maintain support for Israel on that basis.

Yet, the terms of that support may be subject to change where the Occupation becomes an increasing liability for US interests, regional and domestic. In the latter regard, Finkelstein cites recent studies showing that support for Israel is diminishing among American Jews, the mainstay of its foreign political support. Identification with Israel among American Jews is waning, particularly within the younger demographic who don't share the same affinity as previous generations. Jews in the US are also, in general, liberal by inclination. And they're seeing more clearly, and with increasing embarrassment, the gross illegality and injustice taking place 'in their names'.

The situation is also unravelling from within the Israeli state. This week's report from the Winograd Commission, criticising Olmert's 'failed war' on Lebanon in 2006 (no mention, of course, of Israel's actual war crimes here), illustrates how the Israeli elite are now turning-in on themselves, seeking scapegoats and struggling to maintain the notion of Zionist invincibility.

Factor in Hamas's bravura blasting of the Egyptian-Gaza border defences, and we see a state increasingly struggling to comprehend and deal with its political and diplomatic weaknesses.

In sum, Israel's apartheid policies are approaching a state of hegemonic crisis. There's a growing awareness, domestic and foreign, of its oppressions and military limitations. And, as shown, it doesn't have a legal leg to stand on within the major international courts and assemblies. Beyond the confident posturing, these are all worrying concerns for the Israeli establishment.

In the final Q&A section of the lecture, Finkelstein takes-up the 'one-or-two-state' issue, arguing that the former only detracts from what is realistically achievable. He is also "agnostic" on the question of boycotting Israeli academia, supporting it in principle if shown to be having an impact, yet reticent about allowing Israel the space to shout about "academic freedom" rather than face the central issues.

Yet, beyond these tactical differences, the main issues and tasks remain clearly evident.

It's abundantly clear what has to be done by Israel to reach a just settlement. Its depressingly clear that it has no intention of pursuing one. Yet, it's reassuringly clear that, with all the key legal arguments on their side, the Palestinian case is gaining ground. It's also clear, for Finkelstein, that justice for the Palestinians must involve individual and collective mobilisation akin to the pressure brought to bear on apartheid South Africa.

As Finkelstein says, there's no need to mystify the conflict or complicate the practical actions needed to resolve it. "It's not rocket science". It's simple, really.



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marlene said...

I liked this article much more accessible than others for the average human being.I wish the solution was that easy.I suppose it would be the same as saying aparteid in South Africa was simple,give back what you took away.but isnt that that the part that seems impossible to resolve
Israel will never share that territory.whatever relaxation they offer palestine will cause them more problems.The link to Finkelstin was very interesting.
The creative problem solving essay is complete without your help. I know men find it difficult to think with the right side of their brain which means you would have been of limited use anyway.In fact i think that is the root cause of most conflict and distress in the world.The inability of men to think creatively. Anyway I have move on to the next essay which is on a similar theme but you apply it to an organisation rather than a single isse. I know its interesting but i am not letting you help me. There is a good programme on this week about Hamas cant remember which day look out for it. Is the other message genuine i clicked on the link doesnt look like your sort of thing. Must get on with my essay, no offers of help please I do not want to offend by refusing.

Take care

John Hilley said...

Glad you found the piece and Finkelstein's lectures useful.

Remember that while Israel is seemingly determined to maintain the Occupation, it can't remain immune forever from the gathering pressure – internal and external.

What a spoiler you are keeping me back from the creative essays - castigating us cerebrally-limited males, in the process!

And there was me trying to forget what I'd read in geneticist Steve Jones's fine but dispiriting book, 'Y: the Descent of Men' about the evolutionary decline of the male.

I agree pretty much with what you say about the finer qualities of females. However, I've only one word of warning to offer about gender generalisations: Thatcher.

As the song line goes: “The female of the species is more deadly than the male. Shock, shock, horror, horror, shock, shock horror....”

I've no idea who the above interloper is, just in case you think my 'creative activities' involve such dodgy liaisons.



marlene said...

The programme about Hamas was depressing. Did you watch it? Imagine living in such oppressive circumstances both from inside as well as Israel.

Have you been following the American presidential election? Many aspects of the campaign are nauseating especially the big rally’s but the situation between H.Clinton and Obama has obviously gripped the nation. I think if she wins she will need to keep him as her depute to keep on board all the black voters who have gone to the polls for the first time. If he wins he should ditch her he would get on better without her and Bill.

I wonder if it will really make a difference as to how the USA engages with the rest of the world.

Very clever I remember that song. I think I also read some of that book but gave up.

Oh how predictable “Thatcher” is always dragged out the closet when women suggest they would be better in government. Never mind the endless examples of male dictators who committed genocide in the name of order and control.

Thatcher was living in a mans world and tried to become a man to survive and compete

Well maybe women are more deadly. That must be why men (generalising) put so much effort into making sure women don’t get too much power in case we - take over!!

I was just looking at a news article on the four masterpieces which were stolen. That would be my chosen profession if I could start again an art thief. What would you do?

Will now return to essay at hand

John Hilley said...

Thanks, marlene.

Some discussion at the next post.


Julia Riber Pitt said...

Thank you for this post. I found the information very useful. It really puzzles me, how the Israelis always say they want "peace" yet at the same time they want to cut up the West Bank (Palestinian land) and have the Palestinians go along with it as if nothing was happening to them. I go to college in an area of California where zionist influence is strong (Dr. Finkelstein came to my school to give a few lectures back in February and the students were all upset about it, as if they want the rest of the student body to be sheep living in the Matrix). The thing I wish more people would pay attention to is the ruling of the International Court mentioned in this post. All the settlements in the West Bank are illegal, yet the zionists keep trying to say BS like, "Oh, we have such a small piece of land, we absolutely NEED more!". That's pure FDA approved cow shit patties. (I guess if you give a mouse a cookie he'll want some milk, if you know what I mean.) And another thing, I mentioned that I go to school where zionist influence is strong, right? Well, that's because so many Israelis are leaving Israel and moving to southern California. So, if that's the case, and so many Israelis are moving out, why do they keep insisting that they "need" more land? The whole thing is flat out disgusting.

Peace (the authentic kind),

Julia P.