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Boycotting oneself: Washington, Jerusalem on dead end road

America’s war on the world continues: After threatening to cut funds from the United Nations if the organization promotes the Palestinian delegation’s status, the State Department decided to freeze its support for the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of the United Nation (UNESCO) because the latter defied Washington’s order and accepted Palestine as a member state.

Israel has added a threat of its own – to completely withdraw from UNESCO. In recent years Israel took pride in the fact that UNESCO recognized World Heritage Sites within its borders – Tel Aviv’s white city being one of the latest additions – so such a move, if it happens, would be the equivalent of boycotting oneself and is likely to hurt Israel more than any other country. The Tel Aviv Municipality would have to change its website, for starters.

Later came another Israeli response – the decision to construct 2,000 housing units in settlements and East Jerusalem. Strangely enough, I remember Prime Minister Netanyahu declaring that settlement construction is not aimed against the Palestinians and doesn’t hurt the peace process; now Netanyahu presents it as retaliation to a Palestinian unilateral move. So which Netanyahu should we believe? The one saying that the settlements aren’t a problem or the one using them as a punishment?

Neither, is the correct answer. Netanyahu’s policies in the West Bank have nothing to do with UN diplomacy. He is building settlements simply because he believes Israel should control this territory forever. Under real pressure (which is not the case now), Netanyahu might concede some areas to limited Palestinian control – his version of the two-state solution, which has nothing to do with “states” or “solutions” – but not much more. The prime minister has said so many times, and he is backing his words with actions.

It seems that everyone is playing internal politics: Netanyahu, whose right-wing position sits well with an Israeli constituency who is indifferent to the occupation and feels that the status quo serves it well; Palestinian President Abbas, who is enjoying a boost in his popularity after standing up to Israel and to the United States, and the American administration, which simply decided that it doesn’t have the political capital to spend on getting concessions out of an Israeli government with such strong ties in Washington, so best to simply forget about the whole thing and limit its Middle East policy to damage control. Withdrawing from international bodies and threatening to hold funds from the Palestinian Authority are likely to further weaken the United States’ position, something more and more people now view as an unavoidable process on the road to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As for Israel, one thing should be clear: The internal conversation regarding the Palestinian issue will not result in a new policy and not in a new government, even if elections are held next year. Actually, Netanyahu is getting stronger, not so much because of a rise in his own popularity, but due to the collapse of Kadima, the main opposition party. Perhaps for the first time in thirty years, there is no major political force in Israel that seriously pushes for the end of the occupation. Not one party and probably not one Knesset member who wakes up in the morning and asks him or herself what would he do today to get there. There used to be such people in the political system – Beilin or Peres, with all their faults, come to mind – but there is absolutely no one now. Everyone swears by the two-state solution, but nobody would spend political capital on it.

By shielding Israel even from the mild diplomatic pressure the Palestinians are able to promote, Washington is making sure that these local trends continue.

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    1. Richard Witty

      “Perhaps for the first time in thirty years, there is no major political force in Israel that seriously pushes for the end of the occupation. Not one party and probably not one Knesset member who wakes up in the morning and asks him or herself what would he do today to get there. ”

      Why not? Why not work to start one or participate in party-building?


      Construct something.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Max

      Framing the situation as the State Dept ‘choosing’ not to fund UNESCO is a bit misleading. The US Congress passed legislation that would automatically defund the organization if Palestinians gained membership. The State Dept was following this law as it is legally obligated to do. Officials within State were (and are still) pushing Congress to overturn the law, but it’s now election season in one of the world’s most dysfunctional democracies, so I wouldn’t hold your breath. It’s just not a priority at the moment.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYLA

      Thank you, Noam. This somehow reminds me of my all-time favorite facebook status update, by a friend, which read: “Yossi is going to start to throw stones at himself for political reasons.”
      I can’t believe we have an entire year to go until the U.S. election.
      It’s up to citizen uprising–per Richard Wittys comment. That’s the lesson of this past year, and this upcoming year. And now. Things we never imagined possible have happened. Therefore, things we do not imagine possible, are.
      my m.o., inspired by Sami Awad: Israelis and Palestinians must demonstrate together (in coordination). I understand how unlikely this is. So what.

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      No one seems to notice that the US payment to UNESCO could have easily been made before the vote to admit Palestine as a member. The fact that it wasn’t, that the government waited on the outcome of the vote, invalidates the “we couldn’t help ourselves” excuse.

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    5. directrob

      “Perhaps for the first time in thirty years, there is no major political force in Israel that seriously pushes for the end of the occupation”
      Eh … was there ever a “serious push by a major political force”.
      Anyway for the future as seen by the Israeli government have a look at the map of Israel by the “goisrael” tourism site (a must read).

      Reply to Comment
    6. RichardNYC

      Accurate piece, though whatever kind of Palestinian autonomy Netanyahu imagines would probably be more stable than the status quo, even if ppl write editorials calling it a “bantustan.”

      Reply to Comment
    7. aristeides

      Tyranny is highly stable.

      Reply to Comment
    8. SAMI

      The US’s position in the region will never weaken as long as they invest billions in conflict. They’ll just lose respect.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Noam W

      Now now… don’t taint the entire Knessset. No major political force – true – but no Knesset members? Members from Meretz, Khadash, and the Arab parties absolutely wake up in the morning asking themselves how to end the occupation.

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    10. Sinjim

      I would agree with Noam W, although I’m not sure if Meretz’s priority is ending the occupation. I get the sense that they’re much more interested and invested in solving social and economic problems behind the Green Line rather than dealing with settlements and such.

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    11. AYLA

      Hey–Noam. This thread–one of the most civilized I’ve witnessed here–is beginning to touch the tip of the iceberg of what I need to learn in order to vote, here. I don’t’ understand the parties (beyond some obvious what not to do), nor do I understand the knesset system (better to vote for someone who can win, like in the U.S., or for someone you believe in a little who might earn one seat? does what I wrote just now even makes sense, here?). So. If you are ever inclined to write a piece–perhaps closer to an upcoming election–in which your own musings might somehow inform a person like me, or even someone who has voted before and understands the knesset system but may benefit from more thoughtful consideration before voting–I’d be grateful.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Hostage

      The Palestinians now satisfy the legal criteria necessary to accede to multilateral treaties under the “Vienna formula” contained in Article 81 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

      Prof. Schabas, the author of the Oxford Commentary on the Rome Statute, summed-up the consequences of Palestine’s full membership in UNESCO:

      Thus, nothing stands in the way of Palestine acceding to the Rome Statute except Palestine itself. . . .He [the Prosecutor] should now move on to an assessment of the substance of the allegations that crimes under the Statute have been committed in Palestine since 1 July 2002.


      Reply to Comment
    13. RichardNYC

      But the Cook Islands were self-governing, and didn’t pose a threat to anyone. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this guy is ignoring what’s actually happened in this conflict, and what the international community has already said about it. Some international jurists get a kick out of bending precedent and logic to serve their anti-Israel obsession. It wouldn’t really bother them if the ICC went after US leaders as well, alienating Western democracies and destroying any legitimacy the court had in the first place. Because accountability for war crimes (Bashir, Assad et al) is not their concern – anti-Israel/anti-American polemics are all that matters.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Hostage

      @RichardNYC when the 1967 War began, the Palestinians in the West Bank were part of a political union between Arab Palestine and Transjordan. The new political entity, Jordan, was self-governing; had signed an armistice agreement with Israel; and was represented in the United Nations. Both the UN Charter and resolution 242 protect the territorial integrity of all the states in the region.

      More to the point, the US government included a Memorandum of Conversation, between Mr. Stuart W. Rockwell of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs and Mr. Abdel Monem Rifai, Counselor, Jordan Legation in Washington, June 5, 1950 in the official documentary history of its major foreign policy decisions stating that the the US had recognized the union between Arab Palestine and Transjordan and Jordanian sovereignty over the area. See Foreign relations of the United States, 1950. The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Volume V (1950), Page 921 http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/FRUS/FRUS-idx?type=goto&id=FRUS.FRUS1950v05&isize=M&submit=Go+to+page&page=921

      The boundary established by the Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan is without prejudice to the status of any territories that came under Israeli military government control in 1967. See Article 3.

      FYI, the League of Nations criteria for termination of a mandate regime and the recognition of independence required effective control, but the Council rejected the argument that a state had to be able to defend itself against foreign aggression, since Article 10 of the Charter provided for collective defense in such cases. See Luther Harris Evans, “The General Principles Governing the Termination of a Mandate, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Oct., 1932), pp. 735-758, American Society of International Law, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2189582

      The UN Charter and resolution 242 also protected the territorial integrity of all the states in the region, not just Israel’s. At the Security Council’s 433rd meeting, the Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, stated that the the provisional settlement established by the Armistice Agreements is unchallengeable until a new process of negotiation and agreement has been successfully consummated.The armistice lines do not merely separate armed forces. Hesaid they mark the clearly defined areas of full civil jurisdiction. The Government, the courts, the legislatures, the security authorities of each respective State operate smoothly and unchallenged up to the appropriate armistice line. These lines thus have the normal characteristics of provisional frontiers until such time as a new process of negotiation and agreement determines the final territorial settlement.http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PV.433

      The Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States § 201 Reporters Note 3 says “The United States will treat States the territory of which is under foreign military occupation as continuing to exist.”

      Reply to Comment
    15. Hostage

      P.S. @RichardNYC it is also pretty obvious that you are ignoring what the international community has been saying about this conflict. They just gave Palestine a green light to join the multilateral treaties as a state party. Nothing prevents the government of Switzerland from confirming Palestine’s accession to the Geneva Conventions or prevents the UN Secretary General from accepting deposit of instruments for the Rome Statute and UN multilateral treaties.

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    16. Philos

      Ayla, my advice is vote for Hadash. All the Jewish parties and all the Arab parties are racial chauvinists. Hadash (which is problematic in its own right) at least pretends to be a party of both nationalities. Alternatively, I recommend not voting for a party at all and putting in the white vote (unmarked ballot), which is to protest all the parties.

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    17. AYLA

      Thanks, Philos! I’ll definitely look into that. Can’t do the white ballot thing, though I totally respect that choice over not voting at all–the value of voting is too ingrained in me.

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    18. Sherri Munnerlyn

      So, does this mean Americans who desire peace in Israel/Palestine should pray for the weakening of America and the sooner we fall, the closer the world will be to peace in Israel/Palestine? I find it amazing the places being humbled takes one.

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    19. RichardNYC

      Once again, you’re missing the point. Posting another shitty flawed argument about international law doesn’t address me point, which is PRAGMATIC, dude.

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    20. AYLA

      yeah, @Hostage–pragmatism is above the law. pragmatism is above political leanings. Pragmatists who live an ocean away from this conflict, are, simply, right. as a rule. get with the program. ;).

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    21. Mitchell Cohen

      @Ayla, your last post is a dangerous slope to take – i.e. one who does not live here (presumably, your last post was talking about RichardNYC) has no right to express their views about the conflict or, at the very least, can’t REALLY know what is going on here. Then I say JStreet, BDS in Europe and America, and all the other diaspora left-wing groups should keep their opinions to themselves, as they are separated “from the conflict by an ocean”. It works both ways….

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    22. Hostage

      @RichardNYC international law is simply the rules that the international community of states have adopted to govern their mutual relations.

      It doesn’t matter if Palestine satisfies the more strict “Vienna formula” that full membership in UNESCO affords it, or the less strict “All States formula” that an upgrade to observer state would afford. Pragmatically speaking, you have to be dumber than a sack of rocks to announce thousands of new construction permits for settlements that the ICJ already advised were a violation of Article 49(6) of the Geneva Convention. That is a grave breach and a war crime according to the 1st Additional Protocol and Article 8 of the Rome Statute.

      Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, president of the ICC Assembly of State Parties, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that a Palestinian observer state could join the ICC and ask the court to investigate any alleged war crimes and other charges against Israel committed on Palestinian territory after July 2002, including Israel’s 2008-09 assault on the Gaza Strip. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904060604576575002527221120.html

      There are 119 member states of the ICC and neither the US nor Israel can cutoff its funding.

      Reply to Comment
    23. AYLA

      Mitchell–I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but I agree with you; people who don’t live here have a right to opinions about Israel and even to influence policy. My general issue with RichardNYC is not his politics (so bringing in Jstreet at al doesn’t counter my issue with RichardNYC). I find his comments to be fairly consistently detached/armchair (not simply because of where he lives), often offensive (again, not because they are politically to the right), and his voice here is one of the most constant.

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    24. Mitchell Cohen

      @Ayla, I’m sure there are things you and I agree on. It wouldn’t be unheard of….:-) I agree that people who don’t live here CERTAINLY have a right to express opinions (including hardcore criticism of some of Israel’s policies). I have a bit of an issue with those who don’t live here influencing (or contesting) the results of a democratically elected government by bullying (financial or otherwise) – left, right, or center. For better, or worse, it is those of us (and our families) living here who have to deal with the fall out of whatever policies our government takes (again, right, left, or center). Regarding this site, in particular, they have their own policies, so it is not for me to say. Every columnist is responsible for monitoring their own channels, but I respect Ami’s policies. He seems to be evenhanded about editing, deleting, or banning posts/ers.

      Reply to Comment
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