The objective of Israel is not to resolve the Middle East conflict but to keep the flames of the conflict at a manageable level. Israel has already declared and proven with acts that it is not ready to abide by international law, or to subject itself willingly to international bodies. In this situation, the international community should choose between sacrificing the Palestinian people while accepting Israel’s systematic violations of international resolutions and international law, or to establish methods to force Israel to act legally. To date the international community has proven that it prefers to sacrifice the Palestinian people.
The following is the basis of the presentation made by Sergio Yahni, Co-Director of the Alternative Information Center (AIC), at the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People: Assistance to the Palestinians- Challenges and Opportunities in the New Reality of a State under Occupation. Held at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Rome, on 27-28 February 2013.
I. The Context
A realistic analysis of the current situation of the Middle East conflict, and the “conflict” is not solely an Israeli-Palestinian conflict but a regional one, must consider that Israel is not interested in a peaceful settlement. In addition, such analysis must take into account that Israel does not see the intervention of the international community in the conflict as desirable or even legitimate.
A peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict means reaching a regional agreement over the fate of the Palestinian people: the questions of the state, the refugees as well as the status and rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Whatever such a settlement will be, even the one proposed by Netanyahu during the Bar Ilan speech of June 2009, means restricting Israel’s colonial enterprise within Israel’s borders, as well as in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.
However, Israel’s social structure, the reproduction of its ruling class and the very limited welfare the state can provide to its Jewish population, is totally dependent on the confiscation of Palestinian and Syrian lands, as well as the permanent colonization of the Negev, the Galilee, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Colonization provides profits for construction and security companies, as well as housing and labor for the Israeli Jewish poor and middle classes. Moreover, the conflict generated by colonization boosts Israel’s police and military exports. The ideology of colonization, and its associated idea of Jewish supremacy, provides disenfranchised Jewish communities in Israel a sense of belonging, preventing acute social conflict and allowing the reproduction of its social structures.
Moreover, a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict means, by definition, an integration of the state of Israel into the region. This idea is rejected by Israel in principle. The state of Israel conceives itself as part of a white European civilization in permanent conflict with the East. Sometimes Israel perceives itself as part of a mission civilisatrice, bringing progress to the East, drying the swamps and making the dessert bloom for the benefit of all. Today, however, most Israeli leaders adopt the idea that there exists a clash of civilizations, and that Israel stands in the midst of it.
Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated because he hesitantly attempted to bring the conflict in the Middle East to an end. The interesting fact is that following Rabin’s assassination, his own political milieu strayed from the path of negotiations as defined by the Oslo agreements, attempting to impose on the PLO a unilateral map that the the organisation could never accept.
Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party, the predecessor of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, was created with the idea of a unilateral Israeli redeployment from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, from areas on which Israel alone would decide. This further means that no restrictions would be imposed on Israeli colonization of the territories remaining under its direct control following the retreat.
Common to both the Oslo period and the unilateral redeployment strategy is Israel’s inability to control the occupied Palestinian territory.
The sole Israeli alternative to an end of the conflict is a strategy built on a series of tactical moves that maintain the conflict on a manageable level. At times this strategy requires larger military operations, such as the 2009-2010 and 2012 offensives on Gaza, sometimes it requires policing and crowd control methods, and in other periods it requires providing some level of economic improvement to the Palestinian population.
Uri Savir, in his memoirs about the secret negotiations leading to the Oslo agreements, writes that on the first meeting with Abu Ala
“I presented the two conditions Rabin and Peres had insisted on. I stressed that Palestinian autonomy could not extend to Jerusalem. ‘Jerusalem is the center of our national ethos, and if that is open to negotiation, no progress can be made. As to outside arbitration, you must decide whether we are to act as partners, and solve all our differences through dialogue, or request Security Council-like arbitration and end up with a pile of resolutions that will remain no more than numbers.”
At the best moment of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Uri Savir, representing the only Israeli government that was ready to bring the conflict to an end, made it clear that Israel would not abide by resolutions of the international community.
Israel is not ready to be subordinated to international regulations (such as the Geneva Conventions) or international institutions (such as the United Nation’s General Assembly or the International Court of Justice).
II. Israeli retaliatory measures
The Israeli retaliatory measures to the United Nations admission of the state of Palestine are rooted on the conceptions that (1) the PLO bid for a Palestinian state in the United Nations arena and its admission by the General Assembly are illegitimate and (2) retaliation should aim to punish the Palestinian Authority whilst attempting to maintain the conflict on a manageable level.
Practically speaking these two principles have been translated thus far into a growing distance between Israel and the United Nations’ system, as well as the adoption of measures against the Palestinian Authority and its leaders that clarify Israel’s superior position.
While relying on US administration support, mostly on the support of Congress and the influence of the Israeli lobby, Israel detaches itself from UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council and UNESCO, claiming the UN system is by nature biased.
On October 2012, Israel thwarted a UNESCO resolution condemning its Temple Mount (Haram Al Sharif) activities and in January 2013, Israel boycotted its scheduled HRC Universal Periodic Review. Israel has additionally boycotted several UN inquiry committees related to human rights violations and Palestinian rights.
The most prominent measure adopted by Israel in retaliation against Palestinian progress in the international arena is the approval of construction in settlements, specifically in Jerusalem and the existing settlement blocs.
Immediately following the United Nations’ General Assembly recognition of Palestine as a non-member state, Israel approved construction of a total of 6,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs.
This includes the construction of a new neighborhood in area E1 of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, the construction of a new settlement in Jerusalem’s Givat Hamatos area, where 2,610 new homes will be built, and the approval of new building in the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo, Pisgat Zeev and Ramot. In addition, 700 housing units were approved for construction in various West Bank settlements.
However, the major impact of these settlement construction decisions is declaratory. Construction starts within the limits of existing settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank in a way that does not exceed the existing settlement blocs. So far, it appears that construction in the E1 area will be delayed. Real change in the geography of settlements is made by unregulated outposts, which are supported by the state.
A second form of retaliation adopted by Israel is limiting the freedom of movement of Palestinian officials by canceling or not renewing their VIP permits. The Israeli-issued cards, which enable their holders freedom of movement in the West Bank and Israel, had been granted to dozens of top PA officials over the past two decades.
While Israel confiscated VIP cards after the United Nations’ General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member state, numerous PA officials had their cards confiscated long before the UN vote. These officials had lost their VIP status following statements criticizing Israel.
Finally, Israel is withholding tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority as punishment for Palestinian diplomatic successes. This method additionally allows Israel to create destabilizing pressures on the Palestinian Authority.
In early December 2012 Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced he would not transfer NIS 450 million ($120 million) in tax revenues that were to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Two months later, in late January 2013, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that revenues collected in December would be transferred to the PA in order to help ease its serious financial difficulties. The monies, however, were never transferred. Nevertheless, on February 24, 2013, the Israeli prime minister ordered the Treasury to release to the PA the January tax revenue, conditioned that the PA would take all necessary measures to calm Palestinian protests following the death of Arafat Jaradat in Megiddo prison during his interrogation.
It is important to remember that similarly to canceling the VIP status of Palestinian officials, withholding taxes is not a new method adopted after the UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member state. This method has been in use since the January 2006 Palestinian elections to the Legislative Council, when Israel, and the international community, boycotted the outcome of these democratic elections.
Obviously, the recognition of a Palestinian state by UN General Assembly did not change the reality of occupation imposed by Israel on the Palestinian people. It neither changed the aims nor methods used by Israel to keep the Palestinian people and its leadership submissive.
As stated above, the objective of Israel is not to resolve the Middle East conflict but to keep the flames of the conflict at a manageable level. Moreover, Israel has already declared and proven with acts that it is not ready to abide by international law, or to subject itself willingly to international bodies.
In this situation, the international community should choose between sacrificing the Palestinian people while accepting Israel’s systematic violations of international resolutions and international law, or to establish methods to force Israel to behave in the international arena in accordance with these resolutions and law.
To date the international community has proven that it prefers to sacrifice the Palestinian people.
 Uri Savir, The Process, 1,100 days that Changed the Middle East, Vintage Books (New York 1998)
This article was published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)