By Williams, Ian
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. 31, No. 6
At the time of the Oslo accords, the mild-mannered Edward Said was intemperate in his denunciation of Yasser Arafat and the PLO for accepting the deal. I could see there were problems, but thought he was a bit over the top in his rhetoric. Within a year or so, however, it was clear that Said was entirely correct. The government of the Land of Milk and Honey maintained its reputation as the regime of fig leaves and phony diplomacy.
Oslo was not about peace with the Palestinians: it was about breaking Israeli isolation worldwide, and providing diplomatic camouflage for Israel and its supporters in Washington-which of course included the Clinton White House and Congress-to pretend that Israel was seeking peace. The doubling of the number of Jewish settlers while talking about negotiations based on an agreement which pledged that neither side would make any unilateral changes is an example of prestidigitatory diplomacy of a prize-winning kind. Just as the conjuror's patter is designed to lull the audience's attention so they do not focus on what his hands are doing, Israeli diplomatic practice is to keep on nagging and hectoring so that the U.S. can pretend it does not see what is happening on the ground.
But there are other aspects to Israel's continual chatter-above all its leadership's continual attempts to persuade itself that its behavior, despite violating almost every tenet of international law and of Jewish ethics, is really moral and legal.
That was epitomized with the recent commission which "found" that Israel's settlement policy was entirely legal. The commission, chaired by former Judge Edmond Levy, has caused controversy worldwide by finding that Israel is not an "occupier" in the West Bank and that all Jewish settlements are legal-including those even the Israeli government itself calls unauthorized.
We can tell what a responsible and objective body the commission was: it included former Israeli Ambassador to Canada Alan Baker, who lived in a settlement himself and whose law firm had been contracted to prove that very point before he joined the entirely unbiased investigatory committee! The committee was, of course, commissioned by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose views on settlements are obvious since he has refused all President Barack Obama's appeals to stop building them!
So the only purpose of the Levy commission is to reinforce Israel's incestuous political isolation, which is analogous to the prisoner in the dock telling the judge, jury and public that he knows the law better than they do. It will certainly have no persuasive effect outside the country.
However this is indeed what Israel has been saying in international fora for decades. Baker correctly asserts that the Levy commission's finding is "no different from Israel's policy statements over the years, including speeches by all of Israel's leaders and ambassadors in the United Nations, as well as in official policy documents issued by the Foreign Ministry." The former persecutor of Richard Goldstone also rounded on the many sane American Jewish critics of the commission for their temerity in what he laughably called helping the "delegitimization of Israel."
What concerns the critics is, of course, the report's shredding of the creative ambiguity that has characterized Israeli policy. If the territories are not occupied and the Geneva Conventions therefore do not apply to them, Israel has to explain to the world-and to itself-why it has refused to allow civil liberties to the Palestinians living in them while extending full citizenship to Jewish settlers outside its legal boundaries.
The critics are concerned that this will pave the way for a one-state solution, which is becoming increasingly attractive to many people on both sides of the Green Line. It is of course what Likud wants but dare not say so, because its vision is to take the land without the people.
Apart from wishing wistfully for divine intervention, a sort of rapture in which all the Palestinians just disappear, there is reasonable suspicion that someone somewhere has contingency plans to make that happen, perhaps under cover of a wider war-say, with Iran-in which the U. …