Nothing is ever simple in the Middle East in general, and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular. The rather tired parable of the frog and the scorpion as applied to this arena (‘This is the Mid East, not the Mid West’, says the scorpion to the frog as they both drown) would be funny if it were not so sad; it can be applied to any number of protagonists in the conflict. Yet, in the case of the UNGA vote to ‘upgrade’ Palestine to non-member observer state status, the politics are, strangely perhaps, somewhat less knotty than the law.
Only the US, Canada, the Czech Republic and a few small Rent-a-States voted against the resolution. A good number of states, among them some undoubted Israel friends, abstained, and a large majority, including some other undoubted Israel friends, voted to accept Palestine to this new status.
The EU was all over the place, with member states in all three camps, including key member states such as Germany, the UK, Poland and the Netherlands among the abstentions, and others such as France, Italy and Spain, voting in favour. So much for the Common Foreign Policy.
Politically this was said to be a resounding defeat for Israeli diplomacy. That it was; but even the most brilliant diplomacy would probably have been of no avail here. The vote was a universal repudiation of Israel’s settlement policy which practically the whole world, including the United States, regards as an obstacle to peace and as illegal under international law. Indeed, it is illegal. The recent attempt by the Israeli-appointed Edmond Levy Committee to ‘kosher the pig’ by resurrecting arguments from the 1970s, which have today even less bite than they had then, has been largely met with derision. Interestingly the Levy Report remains ‘under study’ by the Israeli government, which has wisely avoided any official endorsement. Legally destabilizing the 1967 boundary, as the Report does, would be welcome, paradoxically yet understandably, not only to Israeli annexationists but also to Hamas. The UNGA vote was, indeed, intended by many as an expression of support for the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas in the intra-Palestinian struggles.
It was also, rightly or wrongly, an indication that in the blame-game, many in the international community ascribe more blame to Israel for failed movement in the peace process than to the Palestinians, the uncompromising and scary ‘negationist’ statements and policies of Hamas notwithstanding. If I am right in this last assessment it may also have an interesting, even profound, legal implication. Israel’s duty under the still-controlling UNSC Resolution 242 is to return Territories (and let’s not get into the stale discussion on the omission of ‘The’ in the resolution) in the context of a peace agreement, one objective of which would be to ensure peace within recognized and secure boundaries (the word ‘secure’ is the one which opens the possibility to mutually agreed border adjustments). Israel remains a lawful belligerent occupant pending such a peace treaty. Can that last forever? Surely this must be subject to some ‘good faith’ negotiation requirement if the legal formula does not become a recipe for permanent belligerent occupation. Read the rest of this entry…