By Janfrie Wakim, spokesperson for the NZ Palestine Solidarity Network
[This opinion piece was published in full in the NZ Herald today.]
NZ must show Israel cost of staying its course
Our government, and the United Nations Security Council, are optimistic if they think the UNSC Resolution 2334 is a bold and balanced measure which will bring a two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The only thing new in the passing of the resolution was the lifting of the United States veto which had protected Israel from any UNSC criticism during the Obama years.
Previous United States’ administrations, from President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, to Secretary of State James Baker in 1991, have been much harsher in their responses to Israel’s military or settlement adventures than Secretary John Kerry’s recent tepid statements.
Other than Obama’s betrayal of his previous obsequiousness towards Israel, what generated UNSC 2334 was the increasing rate of growth of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel has continued its settlement building, contrary to clear international law and its own Oslo Agreement undertakings, since it conquered these lands in 1967.
According to Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett there are now 650,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the proposed area of the Palestinian state. The passage of UNSC 2334, as an attempt to save a two-state solution, with Jews in one and Palestinians in the other, becomes quixotic in the context of such a deliberate non-reversible demographic injection designed by Israel to thwart that two state outcome.
Demographics, history and control of land are the only factors by which both Israelis and Palestinians realistically assess their future and by which the conflict can be understood.
The United Nations General Assembly divided Palestine in 1947, giving the minority Jewish immigrant population the majority of Palestine’s land to form Israel. For the Israeli leaders this was but the first step.
In 1948 the Israeli military expanded well into the land designated for the Arab state and expelled upwards of 700,000 Palestinians from Palestine. The neighbouring Arab state of Jordan shared the spoils by taking over East Jerusalem and the West Bank and took in most of the refugees.
The refugees, now numbering about 6,000,000 are the largest permanent refugee population in the world. Israel’s greatest diplomatic success in the Camp David Accords was removing consideration of these refugees from the peace process.
That however has only halved Israel’s demographic nightmare. The stated Israeli ‘mission statement’ of a Jewish and democratic state can be achieved only through prolonging the stops and starts and unresolved issues of the peace process. Or by mass expulsion of Palestinians.
While some 20 per cent, nearly two million, of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, the Israeli government can usually manage to live with that minority. Israel’s real agenda, though, is sometimes revealed, for example, when Premier Netanyahu warned his supporters ‘Arabs are voting in droves’ during the most recent election, or when the Israeli government recently banned a romance novel in Israeli schools because it would ‘threaten Jewish identity’ by encouraging relationships between Jews and Palestinians.
The Israeli electoral franchise extends to Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories. But there is no vote for the nearly three million Palestinians in those same territories, suffering under occupation by Israel for nearly 50 years. There is a name for this arrangement of ethnic discrimination on the same land – apartheid.
If Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank then it would have to give everyone the vote. Israel has used an endlessly prolonged peace process to save itself from having to do this.
In crowded Gaza a different solution applies. Israel removed its 8,000 settlers in 2005 and blockaded the area. Israel removed what have become almost two million Palestinians from a potential place on the Israeli electoral roll. The paltry cost to Israel is relinquishing less than one per cent of the land Israel still controls.
Israel has options. It can annex the Occupied Palestinian Territories, extend the franchise to everyone and accept that Jews are a minority.
Or, it can withdraw to a more modest and legally less suspect geographical area within the limits set by the UN in 1947(and for the first time define where Israel’s borders actually are).
Or, it can continue to ignore world opinion and international law, steal land to build settlements, characterize all criticism and disagreement as anti-Semitic, systematically destroy Palestinian homes, livelihoods and farmland (a family sitting in the ruins of their home is not pretty sight in either Syria or Palestine), periodically bomb Gaza or South Lebanon and basically muddle on until it hopes the Palestinians will give up.
A sub-set of this approach is to selectively annex a patchwork of West Bank land with a contrived low concentration of Palestinians, leaving most Palestinians walled up in ghettos.
New Zealand, as the Western country most identified with UNSC 2334, needs to demonstrate mettle to show to Israel there is cost to pursuing its third indefinitely temporary and permanently apartheid option.
We can refuse to accept imports or Israeli visitors from the Occupied Territories. We can pull out of the recent NZ-Israel Film Cooperation Agreement which lacks any distinction between activities in Israel and in the Occupied Territories.
We can put a stop to a range of economic and academic collaboration between Israel and New Zealand. Our government should tell the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to divest in Israeli banks which openly fund the West Bank settlements.
And, Murray McCully can tell Netanyahu that we don’t like countries declaring war on New Zealand for pointing out what international law is, and Netanyahu doesn’t need to bother sending his recalled ambassador back to New Zealand until Israel behaves itself.