February 04, 2019
From the outset of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the question of Palestine has been an international issue.
International actors inserted the conflict into the region, with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate and the UN partition resolution. The UN remained at the core, defining in scores of Security Council resolutions the ideal outcomes, not least the two-state solution. It also became the principal humanitarian safety net for Palestinian refugees.
Far more than the Palestinians and the Arabs, the Zionist movement appreciated the importance of the international community. Its leaders courted the Ottoman Empire, the British, the French and latterly the Americans in a massive and consistent lobbying effort not just to realize Zionist ambitions with the creation of the state of Israel, but maintaining it in the teeth of ardent and often violent opposition from regional actors.
Israel was a child of the UN, born out of a General Assembly resolution. Yet, as many children often are, it has remained distinctly ungrateful. Israel sees the UN as permanently hostile, even anti-Semitic, while never conceding that violating the very resolutions of its parent creator might be an issue.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy is to change all of this. He is determined not just to take the UN out of the “Palestine Question,” but all other international actors too. In this regard, he has a willing dupe in the White House in President Donald Trump.
Israel was a child of the UN. Yet, as many children often are, it has remained distinctly ungrateful
How has Netanyahu fared? Firstly, he has ripped up the internationally agreed parameters on which the conflict was supposed to be set. He has shifted the consensus away from a meaningful two-state solution, where an independent sovereign state of Palestine lies side-by-side with Israel, to a debate over just how much sovereignty a possible state of Palestine might be allowed.
Secondly, Netanyahu has everyone waiting for the “deal” or “steal” of the century. The US plan remains no more than one of many unicorns trotting across the lawns of the White House. It is much promised, and always delayed, and will certainly not be revealed until after the Israeli elections, if at all. If it ever materializes, it will have Netanyahu’s fingerprints all over it. It will be no solution, more an attempt to codify Palestinian surrender.
Thirdly, Israel under Netanyahu has reinforced its hold on the divided city of Jerusalem. The US has moved its embassy there, breaking the decades-old international consensus. Brazil may follow. Australia has recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Fourthly, Netanyahu is in full attack mode to end the refugee issue, aiming to redesignate who is a Palestinian refugee by limiting them solely to those born before 1948. The Israeli leader persuaded the US to defund UNRWA, forcing this key agency to its knees and therefore putting the status and wellbeing of Palestinian refugees at risk. Combining the two points, Israel has also decided to close UNRWA schools in Jerusalem, stating that educational services will be provided by the municipality. Some Israeli figures even deny there are any refugees in Jerusalem. Pop into Shuafat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem and you see one of the most overcrowded camps in the West Bank, hemmed in by the wall and expanding Israeli settlements.
Netanyahu’s most recent action was to end the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). This key historic West Bank Palestinian city is partitioned and, in the ancient center, Israel maintains full control for the benefit of some 800 illegal settlers. TIPH’s mandate was enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution. It was deemed necessary after an Israeli settler massacred 29 Palestinian Muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque 25 years ago. These observers had a paper-thin mandate, resulting in them filing unpublished secret reports no doubt detailing the impunity of settlers in terrorizing Palestinians and how Israel had stymied life for Palestinians in Hebron, closing their markets and shops. Key roads were closed for Palestinian use or, in Israeli official lingo, they were “sterilized.”
Who remembers that actually, under the Oslo Accords, a temporary international presence was meant to be deployed throughout the Occupied Territories? Mutterings of complaint by international actors will have little effect, but the toothless nature of such a force just underlines how successful Israel’s strategy has been.
Finally, Netanyahu has overseen a monstrous attempt to clamp down on any criticism of his policies, however immoral or illegal they may be, both at home and abroad. The UN has issued reports condemning Israel’s consistent attempts to delegitimize humanitarian and human rights organizations operating in the Occupied Territories. In the US, Congress is in the midst of passing anti-boycott legislation to encourage states to outlaw any boycott of Israeli activity.
Netanyahu is clear: The international community does not belong in Jerusalem, Hebron or anywhere else; the international community has, in his view, no right to criticize Israel’s actions or interfere in how it treats Palestinians; and Palestinians are meant to become another minority seeking a minimal degree of rights, which they might receive for good behavior.
The international community is fast disappearing as an actor — an alarming precedent for this and other conflicts. Weakly giving way should not be an option. For all its failings, the international community has been the primary, if limited, break to Israeli aggression, so one can only imagine what might happen if the break is removed.
• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). Twitter: @Doylech