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7 December 2012
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
“I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, US President 1953-1961
In the United Nations General Assembly on 29 November 2012, 188 of the 193 UN member states voted on a motion to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. The motion was adopted by 138 votes to 9 with 41 abstentions.
Despite months of hard worldwide lobbying for a no vote, the United States and Israel managed to seduce only one other top-table country into their camp, namely Canada.
The other naysayers comprised two small states, the Czech Republic and Panama, plus a quartet of Pacific nano-states – Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru.
Two states which habitually support the US/Israeli position – the United Kingdom and Germany – abstained on this occasion, to the patent chagrin of the motion’s opponents.
Israel wasted no time in retaliating.
The day after the UN vote, on 30 November 2012, it announced plans (1) to build 3000 new homes for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and (2) to zone for construction the undeveloped corridor of land (known as “E1”) between occupied East Jerusalem and the existing Israeli West Bank colony of Maalé Adoumim, which is home to around 35 000 settlers.
All Jewish settlements on the West Bank are illegal under international law. UN Resolution 242, adopted unanimously by the Security Council on 22 November 1967, outlaws the acquisition of territory by war.
The Israeli announcement drew criticism from France, Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. Israel’s unconditional backer, the United States, called the move “counter-productive”.
The European Union, which had voiced doubts about the wisdom of the UN motion, also expressed its concern.
While downplaying the likelihood of economic sanctions against Israel, Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague is quoted as saying that “if there is no reversal of the decision….we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take”.
Undeterred, on 2 December 2012 Israel announced that it was freezing the transfer of customs duties to the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank. Normally, Israel collects these duties on Palestinian imports and hands them over to the Palestinians. It has now said that, following the vote in the UN, it will use the duties instead to pay down an outstanding Palestinian debt for electricity supplied from Israel.
The harsh retaliation by Israel should be seen in the context of the Israeili parliamentary elections scheduled for 22 January 2013. Seeking re-election in a political climate favourable to the hardline right, many of whom favour a Greater Israel incorporating much, if not all, of the West Bank – for which they use the name of the historic Israeli districts of Samaria and Judaea – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must be seen to be talking tough.
The question is whether he will tone down the rhetoric sufficiently after the elections to bring the Palestinian side to the negotiating table. In the past the Palestinian government in Ramallah headed by Mahmoud Abbas has made a resumption of negotiations conditional upon a halt to the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The UN vote took place 65 years to the day after the then 57-member UN General Assembly voted – on 29 November 1947 – by 33 votes to 13 with 10 abstentions (and one member state absent) to partition the land area known as Palestine between a Jewish State and an Arab State. The UN decision was largely welcomed by Jews but rejected by Arabs. The proposed division of the territory of Palestine in accordance with the decision – roughly 55 % was earmarked for the Jewish state and only 45 % for the Arab state – was a major bone of contention. Under the UN plan, Jerusalem, a holy city for both Jews and Arabs, was to enjoy international status.
However, the UN decision was never fully implemented. On 14 May 1948 the British Mandate in Palestine came to an end. On the same day, the Jewish People’s Council proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The next day, 15 May 1948, Arab states in the region invaded Israel. The rest is history. The Arabs lost the war (which, according to convention, ended on 10 March 1949) and, as a result, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their land and homes. This period is known to the Arabs as the “nakba” or catastrophe. To the Israelis it is the War of Independence.
The dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs continues unresolved to this day. Since the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948/1949, there have been two others: one in 1956, when Israel, Britain and France invaded Nasser’s Egypt, and the other, known as the Six-Day War, in June 1967. Conflict involving the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southern flank and the state of Lebanon to the north has broken out repeatedly.
The battle for ownership of land is as old as man.
Nonetheless, a settlement of the Arab/Israeli conflict is long overdue. If borders can be agreed in any forthcoming negotiations – a big “if” – they should be policed for as long as is necessary by a large international military force under UN command.
Only then will this combustible micro-zone – the source of unending altercation out of all proportion to its natural geo-political significance – be in a position to revert to its historic role as the Fertile Crescent.
BREAKDOWN OF THE UN “NO” VOTE ON 29 NOVEMBER 2012
The 9 votes against were by countries with a total population of roughly 372 million (including four Pacific island statelets with a combined population of 205 000). World population is around 7 billion.
Israel 8 million
United States 315 m
Canada 34.5 m
Czech Republic 10.5 m
Panama 3.5 m
Micronesia 107 000
Marshall Islands 68 000
Palau 21 000
TOTAL 371 705 500
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.