By William Pfaff
PARIS—Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad have an important thing in common: When a part of the populations under their control rise up against them, they do not negotiate or compromise; they bomb the rebel civilians, even when this violates international law, which they then shrug off.
The U.N. and others have tried to convince the Syrian government to negotiate with Syria’s insurgents. The response has been more bombs and military repression. The Palestinian population of Gaza chose in internationally supervised elections in 2006 to be governed by Hamas, which Israel and other countries consider to be a terrorist organization.
Israel is legally Gaza’s occupying military power under the Geneva Conventions and is legally accountable for the well-being of the persons under its control. It has evacuated the Jewish settlements illegally established in Gaza. Only the Gazans remain in hunger.
Hamas along with other Palestinian militant groups continue what they consider to be their liberation war, while their rival Palestinian Authority on the West Bank has cooperated with Israeli and American security forces, but has been unable to halt Israeli annexation and settlement in the West Bank, and has been unsuccessful in its attempt to negotiate a formal two-state settlement with Israel.
In the absence of such an agreement, the Palestinian Authority has made known that later this month on November 29, the anniversary of the U.N.‘s original proclamation of Jewish and Palestinian states, it will ask the U.N. General Assembly (where no veto exists) to confirm that proclamation and admit the Palestinians to non-member “observer state” status in the United Nations.
Israel, the United States and the European Union all oppose this and threaten pitiless reprisals, because U.N. observer state status, together with subsequent membership in other U.N. agencies and organizations, would give the Palestinians standing to go to the international justice system to appeal against Israel’s occupation of their state, its illegal annexations and construction of settlements on their territory, and to seek redress for war crimes and other crimes committed in the course of that occupation.
Egypt, which together with Qatar has established new and closer relations with Hamas, was providing its good offices to the Hamas authorities in negotiating a cease-fire that would stop the rockets being fired at Israel by Gazian extremists (not members of Hamas, but potentially controllable by Hamas). These rockets are what precipitated this crisis.
Along with the assistance of Israeli civilian peacemakers, an agreement for a long-term cease-fire reportedly had been reached with the Hamas military leader, Ahmed al-Jabari. An Israeli targeted assassination killed al-Jabari just before the agreement could be signed.
There are two obvious motives for al-Jabari’s assassination, and for the Israeli military intervention that followed, with its threat of a massive ground assault.
The first, as Israeli commentators generally agree, is domestic politics, to strengthen Netanyahu in Israel’s forthcoming national elections. The Gazans, though they may not know it, die to elect Bibi.
The second motive has been to undermine or cause the postponement or abandonment of the Palestine Authority’s plan to appeal to the General Assembly this month.
This presents a problem to which the Netanyahu government has yet to find a solution. Hence its present policy is indefinitely to fend off the need for a decision, even by such desperate measures as another invasion of Gaza. It and its predecessors have consistently succeeded in blocking two-state settlement agreements. They have done this because such an agreement would prevent the eventual creation of a “greater Israel” incorporating all of the Palestinian territories.
The existing Arab population, as Netanyahu made plain at Davos just after his first election in 1996, would necessarily be treated in a manner encouraging them (to employ a useful expression introduced into our vocabulary by Mitt Romney during the U.S. presidential election) to “self-deport” to wherever they came from. Since where they came from is nearly always exactly where they are living now, surrounded by Zionist immigrant settlers, more drastic measures would be necessary to remove them, which even Washington might regret and possibly would not tolerate.
The only real solution would be for the Israeli electorate to come to its senses and elect a new government willing to reach a civilized agreement with the Palestinians for the two peoples to live together in peace. But a civilized agreement would require civilized leaders, and there are none in sight.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.