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Israel Cries Foul at United Nations

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment
Israeli missile strike in Rafah, southern Gaza. The Guardian.

Israel announced today that it would block any effort by the U.N. to investigate its 2008 military “offensive” in the Gaza Stip or to try Israel soldiers before an international war crimes tribunal.

South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who heads the UN report, said that Israel used disproportionate force which resulted in the death of hundreds of civilians and caused widespread damage to the area. The report is largely grounded in the mass of human rights reports released in 2009.

The Associated Press reports, “But the U.N. report could carry much more weight, both because it was authored by a widely respected former war crimes prosecutor and because it could ultimately lead to charges against Israel before the International Criminal Court.”

Palestinians inspect damage in Gaza, Jan. 14. The Guardian

Pundits suspects that the United States, which is known for playing the veto card for Israel in the Security Council, would block the prosecution of Israeli officials in the ICC. Rather, political actors here are awaiting the result of the Palestinian Authority’s request to join the ICC. If its membership is approved, the prosecution will bypass the Security Council.

In Israel, the report produced an uproar, with President Shimon Peres calling it a “mockery of history,” and many officials eliciting barbs about Anti-Semitism.

The AP reports,

Goldstone is a former South African judge who prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Goldstone, who is Jewish and has close ties to Israel, was well aware that his work would draw fire. As a condition for heading the inquiry, he insisted that the panel look at the actions of Palestinian militants.

… Israel launched the three-week war in late December to quash Palestinian militants in Gaza who had bombarded southern Israel for years with rocket and mortar fire.

Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the conflict, including hundreds of civilians, and thousands more were wounded. Thirteen Israelis also died, including four civilians.

Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping craft an interim 1993 peace agreement with the Palestinians, said the Goldstone report “makes a mockery of history.”

“It draws no distinction between the attacker and the attacked,” Peres said. “The report essentially grants legitimacy to acts of terrorism, shooting and killing, and ignores the right and duty of any country to self defense, as outlined in the U.N. charter.”

In his statement, however, Peres, founder of one of the first settlements in the West Bank, ignores the phrase “disproportionate use of force,” which grants legitimacy to the offensive.

At this time, both Hamas and Israel are citing self-defense for their actions December 2008 and onward.

The U.N. investigators recommended the Security Council require both sides to launch credible probes into the conflict within three months, and to follow that up with action in their courts.

If either side refuses, it said the U.N. should refer the evidence for prosecution by the International Criminal Court, a permanent war crimes tribunal, within six months.

Deputy Foreign Minister David Ayalon told the American Jewish Committee in New York, “The Goldstone Report should be treated like the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism, thus we must mobilize and act with all force against the report in order to remove it.”

According to Haa’retz, Ayalon plans to meet with Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN to discuss ways to minimize the report’s damage to Israel’s reputation.

Time Magazine writes,

What worries authorities in Jerusalem is that many European countries are signatories to a Geneva Convention that allows their courts to arrest and prosecute individuals accused of committing war crimes in other countries. Such legal options, Israel fears, may be used to bring politically motivated charges against its citizens. The daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday that Israel’s Foreign and Justice ministries have begun drawing up lists of law firms in different European countries that could be enlisted to defend Israelis in any future cases.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

Light Flickers on Peace….

August 30, 2009 Leave a comment

In June it seemed that Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu had extinguished all hopes for even the pretense of peace. His acceptance of a two-state solution at Bar Ilan University mollified many in the West, but infuriated Palestinian leaders. Netanyahu advocated a state whose military and even political powers would be restrained relative to those of Israel. More than that, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal demanded a cessation to the settlements in the West Bank–a key issue on which Netanyahu remained silent.

Earlier this month, however, Netanyahu agreed to a partial halt of settlement activity. The move is not a formal moratorium however. According to the AP, Israel has not issued settlement permits in months, and will halt activity until peace talks can proceed.

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who has been working to reconcile the Palestinian factions, is not moved by the temporary solution. During his first visit in 5 years to the Oval Office, Mubarak commented,

“This issue has been going on 60 years, and we cannot afford wasting more time because violence will increase,” the 81-year-old Mubarak said, speaking through an interpreter. “We need to move to the final status solution. … The Israelis said talk about a temporary solution. I told them, ‘No, forget about the temporary solution, forget about temporary borders.’ That’s why I came today to talk to President Obama to move forward on this issue.”

Worsening the situation is Israel’s ever more icy relationship with the Obama administration. Israeli-US relations in 2009 have been characterized by harsh words and, to some degree, paranoia. President Obama has taken the hardest-line stance with Israel than any other president to date. The Administration has veered from Israel’s positions on how to deal with the conflict and also on a nuclear Iran, and in doing so,  the Administration has lost favor among the Israeli right. Even his chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel is losing clout with Israeli political actors.

Politico reports,

An observant Jew with deep ties to Israel, Emanuel is viewed as something of a native son, his rise through the ranks of American politics celebrated by Israelis who reveled in details such as his childhood summers spent in Israel and his volunteer stint during the first Gulf War in an Israeli military program for civilians.

… But in a dramatic emotional shift, Israelis have become increasingly disenchanted with Emanuel, and the disappointment is especially intense on the Israeli right, which supports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his opposition to Obama’s call for ceasing settlement activity.

As Obama’s most senior Jewish proxy, Emmanuel faces the impact of Israel’s “widespread unhappiness” with the Administration. Both Emmanuel and senior adviser David Axelrod have been called “self-hating Jews” by the Israeli Prime Minister, Haaretz reports. Although Netanyahu’s spokespeople have denied the allegation, the sentiment is widely publicized and shared  in Israel.

While the temporary halt on settlements buys time for all nations involved, a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference may further upset this nebulous state of affairs. President Obama hopes to convene a meeting of heads of state on September 24th to discuss nuclear terrorism and global disarmament, and Israel’s alleged nuclear power program may end up on trail or a target of suspicion and accusation.

Obama also has another summit planned for March 9 and 10, which will stir up animosity among nations. Arab states will undoubtedly use Israel’s alleged nuclear program to counter Obama’s plans for a nuclear-free Middle East, and the Jewish state will crop up national security issues as a reason to remain laconic and mulish on the issue.

Despite the laundry list of conflicts and entanglements, Obama is optimistic about the future of the peace talks and is not worried about lost ground.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

Israel Makes Little Progress with Palestine and Its Neighbors

In June, Hamas and Fatah wholly rejected Netanyahu’s stipulated version of a two-state solution, and violence has since escalated at the 500-mile “barrier” that separates the West Bank from Israel.

The Associated Press reports,

Palestinians have been staging weekly demonstrations at both sites to protest the barrier’s route, which crosses through the villages and cuts farmers off from hundreds of acres of agricultural fields.

Israel says the barrier–a mix of towering concrete walls and electronic fences–is needed to stop Palestinian militants from crossing into Israel to carry out attacks. Palestinians call it a land grab because parts of it jut deep into the West Bank, cutting them off from territory they claim for a future state.

Israel has classified the protest areas as closed military zones and troops have clashed frequently and increasingly violently with protesters, some of whom hurl rocks at the soldiers.

In May, Israel’s Justice Ministry opened a criminal investigation into the firing of tear gas shells at the demonstrations. Tear gas shells struck one of the two Palestinian demonstrators killed recently and injured the American.

The AP reported Saturday that Israeli Defense Forces sprayed a “putrid” substance on protesting Palestinians and sent plainclothed Palestinians across the border.

Confrontations over the barrier have become increasingly violent, with two Palestinian demonstrators killed in recent months and an American supporter seriously injured.

Video footage of one incident at the West Bank village of Naalin showed three masked undercover agents surrounding a shirtless Palestinian demonstrator, throwing him to the ground and then calling for backup by uniformed soldiers.

Several rocks hurled by protesters struck the ground near the troops and one of them pulled a pistol and fired in the air as Palestinians fled the scene. Two Palestinians were arrested, the military said.

In his June 4th address in Cairo, President Obama said the Palestinian experience has been defined by “the daily humiliations…that come with occupation,” and he has since pressured Israel to neogitate with Fatah and Hamas. Under these conditions, the failure of negotiations is lamentable and is fortified by ongoing violence on the ground and by Israel’s seizure of humanitarian aid groups, including the “Spirit of Humanity,” which carried US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

Prospects for peace have also been wrecked by Israel’s diplomatic relations with neighboring Arab states. In recent months, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have sent an ambassador to Syria. The former after five years and the latter following a lengthier inter-country contention from the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiki Al-Hariri to disparate support from Hamas and Hizbollah.

According to the Obama administration, establishing diplomatic relations with Syria may weaken its support of Hizbollah and unabashed support of Iran. However, Israel has instead preferred to mobilize military against Iran and has refused to send an Israeli ambassador to Syria because of Syria’s singular demand for Israel to withdraw form the Golan Heights. According to the AP, Syria has refused peace talks with Israel since the latter annexed the area in 1981.

The Associated Press reports,

Syrian forces used the strategic plateau to shell nearby Israeli communities before 1967, and Israel fears those communities will once again become vulnerable should the Heights be ceded. Israeli officials also argue that holding the area gives Israel early warning of Syrian military moves and a buffer zone in case of attack.

The area is also home to crucial water sources, a profitable Israeli winery, and Israeli settlements with about 18,000 residents. About 17,000 Druse Arabs loyal to Syria also live there.

Senior adviser to the Middle East envoy George Mitchell and U.S. diplomat Frederick Hoff went to Israel this week, ostensibly, to shore up talks between Israel and Syria. Hoff will meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barack and other senior military advisers.

Ha’aretz writes, “The Americans believe the crisis in Iran has created an opportunity for the United States to draw Syria closer and resume Israel-Syria negotiations.”

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

Israel Elbows US as Iran Does Things the Hard Way

The Obama administration has always preferred bilateral diplomacy, but the administration is tightening its breeches.  Iran continues to advance its nuclear program and its post-election crackdown, including its prosecution of citizens who cooperate with satellite news programs.

In recent weeks, President Obama has threatened American companies that service the Iranian government  and rescinded invitations to Independence Day celebrations from Iranian diplomats. Now, according to Haa’retz, Israel is pushing its superpower allies to take on a more forceful Plan B.

According to the rationale of Israeli senior officials, the unrest in Iran permits “harsher steps” in the form of stiffer sanctions.

Israel has also been communicating with Germany, France, Russia and Japan on Washington’s persistence with the current path and on securing a military appendix to the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran.

The news follows London’s Sunday Times allegations that Saudi Arabia will allow Israel to use its airspace in military assault against Iran and American vice president Joe Biden said that military action against Iran is within Israel’s right as a sovereign power.

Ha’aretz reports,

In an interview with ABC television, Biden said: “Israel can determine for itself – it’s a sovereign nation – what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else. Whether we agree or not. They’re entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that.”

Biden insisted that pressure from Israel or other countries would not affect American’s planned dialogue with Iran. “There is no pressure from any nation that is going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed,” he said, adding that Washington believes this dialogue serves America’s interests, as well as those of Israel and the rest of the world.

Biden’s sentiment was only slightly undercut by President Obama’s insistence Tuesday that Israel does not have a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Jerusalem Post reports,

The president said that Biden had simply been stating the “categorical fact” that “we can’t dictate to other countries what their security interests are. What is also true is that it is the policy of the United States to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels,” he said.

Nevertheless, the IDF has taken into consideration the possibility that it will not receive US permission to fly over Iraq on the way to Iran, and has drawn up an operational plan for this contingency. While its preference is to coordinate with the US, defense officials have said in the past that Israel was preparing a wide range of options for such an operation.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

U.S. and E.U. on Israeli Elections

February 13, 2009 Leave a comment

As Israel’s political contenders Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu are sprinting for the finish line, both the United States and the European Union watch on with a careful eye.

Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, has claimed a victory in the general election. However, her rival, Binyamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party, has also declared himself triumphant. According to the BBC, the Kadima has the upper hand–albeit by only one seat in the Knesset. This has only electrified the process of jockeying for power, and talks of coalition formation thickens the already dense Israeli political atmosphere.

Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz, has reported that the U.S. the E.U. have both expressed a firm desire for a Kadima-Likud coalition.

The U.S. official position is that it looks forward to “working with any government,” but in back-channel messages the Obama administration has made it clear it would like to see a unity government in Jerusalem over a narrow right-wing government which would in all likelihood result in a freeze in peace talks with the Palestinians.

In a move that would be have been deemed quite uncharacteristic several months ago, the E.U. has adopted a similar position.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief says a new unity government of Israel’s Kadima and Likud political parties would help Mideast peace talks.

This intensified push for sustaining and substantiating the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is perhaps evidence of a revitalized relationship between the U.S. and the E.U. It will be interesting to follow the contours and effects of these positions on Israeli policy.

Jonathan Cross, Trinity ’10

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