NZ has rejoined the mainstream on condemning Israeli intransigence
It is a supreme irony that Israel, as the only state ever to have been set up by the United Nations, now disdains this institution and its authority.
To end the British Mandate over Palestine in 1947, the General Assembly recommended that the Jewish immigrant minority in Palestine could establish a state of Israel over 56 per cent of Palestine. The indigenous Palestinian Arab majority could set up their state in the land which remained.
Only the first part of the formula was realised. Through the Arab-Israel War of 1948, Israel expanded, half as large again as the UN had originally provided for. The Palestinians were denied their state. Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan took over the West Bank.
According to CIA estimates, the Israelis expelled 900,000 Palestinians from Palestine at this time.
Refugees and borders have been at the core of the conflict ever since. Israel confers to Jews a ‘right of return’ to Israel, but denies the millions of Palestinians any right to return to their homes, because they are the wrong ethnicity.
To create Israel in 1947, the UN gave to the Zionist movement in Palestine an exemption from the rule of local self-determination which was to apply everywhere else in the post-colonial world. But the UN at least applied a condition on Israeli membership of the General Assembly. Israel had to allow the refugees back. Israel has never met that condition.
The recent Security Council Resolution 2334 is not about refugees, or whether Israel should return to its original UN borders. UNSC 2334’s focus is on the degree of control Israel has over the last 22 per cent of Palestine which Israel did not manage to conquer until 1967.
UNSC Resolution 242, in response to that conquest, stated a principle of international law, that of the ‘inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force’. Israel has spent the past 50 years avoiding this instruction. Its cabinet is now honest and militarily secure enough to no longer even give lip service to the aim of establishing merely the rump of the Palestinian state envisaged by the General Assembly 70 years ago.
The UN has huffed and puffed in the years since. The United States likewise has tried to talk Israel into an accommodation, from the Rogers’ Plan in 1969, through Kissinger’s ‘shuttle diplomacy’ in the 1970s, Bill Clinton’s Oslo Accords in the 1990s, to John Kerry’s almost permanent hot line to Premier Benyamin Netanyahu since Israel flattened much of blockaded Gaza in 2014.
The US has provided much carrot, especially vast military supplies – yet hesitated to even mention any stick.
Israel has been able therefore to inexorably build settlements, completely illegal under international law, throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights.
Israel has interpreted UNSC 338 of 1973, calling for UNSC 242 to be implemented through direct negotiations, as a license not to implement 242 at all. It has raised new demands, such as in 2009 the precondition that the Palestinian side must recognise the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.
Israel now makes it clear that it will never hand control over any of this land to anyone else. It will continue to confiscate land to build settlements, violate its own Oslo undertakings, detain Palestinians without charges, destroy Palestinian homes and respond to any resistance with disproportionate violence.
Palestine has been a UN failure, longer standing than comparable disasters of Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Aleppo, but uniquely a problem the UN set up for itself in the first place.
Frustration at hardening Israeli attitudes and a clearer picture of what Israeli aims have always been led the US to abstain on UNSC 2334 and the consequent Israeli outrage that the Security Council could dare reiterate its previous decisions and international law.
Benjamin Netanyahu has declared war on New Zealand – presumably metaphorically. Israel’s local supporters call Murray McCully a mad dog for promoting UNSC 2334.
The challenge now is how mad a dog he and his colleagues need to be to give UNSC 2334 some teeth before he retires as Foreign Minister later this year.
He could start by phoning Netanyahu and telling him we don’t need an Israel ambassador to return to Wellington after being recalled.
Then McCully could implement Clause 5 of UNSC 2334 which calls upon all states to distinguish between Israel and the territories it took in 1967. Our law already provides the mechanisms for banning Israeli imports from the West Bank.
Steven Joyce can issue a Ministerial Directive to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to cease its investments in Israel banks which fund the construction of Israeli settlements. It has already jettisoned its shares in companies which build them and obliquely invited a directive on the Palestine issue.
Maggie Barry could contribute as well and cancel the recent NZ-Israel Film Co-production Agreement, instead of merely delaying signing the deal until Israel had stopped getting bad press for bombing Gaza.
New Zealand National Party politicians have a history of breaking with blind US partisan support for Israel and listening to the other side. Warren Cooper, as New Zealand Foreign Minister, met with PLO representative Ali Kazak in Wellington in 1982. Sir Robert Muldoon met Palestine National Council member Ibrahim Abu Lugod in Auckland in 1987.
In contrast, the US ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, was sacked in 1979 for meeting with his Palestinian counterpart in the UN.
Thirteen other countries voted with New Zealand at the Security Council, with none against. In the General Assembly the numbers are as overwhelming, with only a disparate collection of four or five micro-states which ever vote in support of the US backing Israeli intransigence. We have rejoined the mainstream.
Serena Moran is a member of the Wellington Palestine Group.
– The Dominion Post