Tuesday, 24 January 2017

How to think about the Israel-Palestine problem

New Zealand likes to “punch above its weight,” but MFAT’s last-ditch effort to make its mark on the UN Security Council embarrassingly showed the ministry doesn’t understand the Israel-Palestine problem.

The UN Security Council voted on December 23 in favour of a resolution calling for Israel to cease building settlements in the Palestinian Territories. Egypt originally introduced the measure but withdrew it December 22 under pressure from the then US President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli leadership.

Israeli warplanes over Tel-Aviv
New Zealand and three co-sponsors Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal then requested a vote. Consistent with the policies of President Barack Obama the US abstained, provoking condemnation from Mr Trump who had called for a veto. To pass, the resolution needed nine votes and needed to avoid veto by the US, France, Russia, China or the UK. It received 14 votes.

MFAT probably thinks it acted honestly, but it isn’t thinking clearly. Israel and Palestine are fighting over the same thing – real estate. But they do not fight alone. A clue is in the above paragraphs: which country is mentioned more than any other? Elie Kedourie’s 1970 collection of essays called The Chatham House Version explains what’s going on, as does Naseer Aruri’s Dishonest Broker.

One more clue: The UN is best understood as a tool for Washington in the age-old battle between generals and diplomats. This struggle occurs in every country, but in 2017, Washington also happens to be the centre of a vast global empire. In the US, the State Department and the Pentagon wrestle for control over the swamp’s bureaucracy, and therefore the planet. International affairs can’t be understood outside that framework.

Washington's factions are tied like pretzels to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Arlington supports Israel with its strong, but weakening Zionist lobby, while Foggy Bottom’s hordes of humanitarian progressives raucously support the Palestine cause.

Washington delivers billions of dollars in military hardware and goods to both sides every year. If that’s not support, what is? But without this support, Palestinians and Israelis would have to settle their dispute bilaterally. Israel possesses its own arms industry, while Palestine does not. Yet for 30 years every clash seems to result in Israeli concessions. This is curious. The strong generally are not overridden by the weak.

So on the one hand Washington appears to support Israel, but clearly Israel's military would be stronger if the US disappeared. Which means Washington opposes Israel at the same time by sending aid to Palestinians. Something fishy is going on.

Under classical international law, Israel as a sovereign nation state actually has full rights to defend itself however it sees fit, for instance by destroying every rocket launcher in Gaza and rounding up recalcitrant Palestinians who refuse to stop fighting. With the military hardware available to Israel and the stone-age tactics of the Palestinians, it could do this in a matter of months. But we do not live in that world anymore.

The reality is the US artificially constrains Israel – being as it is the controller of the UN and other international institutions – by forcibly removing the rights of that sovereign nation to conduct respectable warfare. It has transferred those rights onto itself, its UN tool and the "international community" – by which I mean to only Washington, which acts as judge, arbitrator, enforcer and governor in one neat package.

Since Washington is always honest (of course) it alone chooses when countries are "violating the rights of humanity." Washington is always right on these matters. And when Israel wishes to recover some land, it is violating the rights of humanity, whereas when Palestinians do the same they are defending them. The former fears Washington, and rightly so. The latter is helping it support democracy. Only the muddy waters of the Potomac separate them.

At bottom, Palestinian belligerency is simply irredentism – a special case of revanchism. This is a particularly wicked action. No one speaks of the conflict along those lines, but it is true. US support doesn’t just keep the Israel-Palestine conflict burning, Washington’s sponsorship of Palestinian irridentism informs them that fighting – as opposed to either accommodating to Jewish immigration, or leaving the region altogether – is the correct option, and may actually succeed.

And so it becomes clear why MFAT’s dream of bringing peace to the region could never work. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a profession, providing employment for thousands of Americans – and the entire population of Gaza and the West Bank. By "employment" I mean parading daily with green Hamas flags and AK-47s in exchange for bags of UN wheat.

Wilsonian US foreign policy, superseding every pre-WWI classical international norm, is today considered more humanitarian than letting Israel and Palestine govern their own affairs. Has this policy been good for Palestinians? With an estimated 78,000 killed since 1920, it's hard to see how.

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