A False Dichotomy: Security vs Human Rights

In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris last week, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon remarked on the tension between security and liberty. “In the United States until the events of September 11, the balance between security and human rights favored human rights on the issue, for example of eavesdropping on potential terrorists,” he said. “In France aBtselemnd other countries in Europe, [a shift toward security] hasn’t yet happened. Countries fighting terrorism have no alternative in this other than shifting in the direction of security. I assume that we will see a large number of steps [to carry out] inspections: passport inspections, inspections at the entrance to public places.”

As in the U.S. this dichotomy between security and human rights is at the very heart of the debate in Israel. ”We believe not only are these not contradictory, but that human rights provides security,” said Hagai El-Ad, the Executive Director of B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights groups monitoring its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on a recent press call. “Indeed, we think that human rights are the reasons for which we have security, they are why people have a society that must be protected. So one has to wonder what kind of society do we end up with (in Ya’alon’s framework) and would that society be worth defending if you take Ya’alon’s idea to extremes. I hope that idea will work differently in France. Time will tell.”

A Proposed UNSC Ceasefire Plan For Gaza

The attempt to resolve the ongoing, albeit highly uneven, exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza has now reached the United Palestine_election_mapNations Security Council (UNSC). The draft proposal, initially pushed by the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, bears many of the same hallmarks as the most recent Egyptian ceasefire proposal. The United States came late to the game, but at least so far, it appears supportive of the idea. It remains to be seen how this will play out as the proposed resolution nears Security Council consideration.

The goals of the West are clear. One, resolve the current violence. Two, remove the difficult blight of the assault on Gaza, which is a much more powerful motivator for people to join pro-Palestinian protests than the more banal occupation of the West Bank. And three, bring the Gaza Strip back under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

This last goal implies actualizing the unity government that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw as a casus belli. The actions he has taken—especially in June with the so-called “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a massive sweep through the West Bank—were intended to destroy the agreement the PA and Hamas had struck earlier in the year.

The reason for stopping the violence is self-evident. With ongoing talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and, most especially, the new recognition that the Islamic State is a threat that cannot be ignored, the last thing the EU and US need is ongoing turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, what they really need is the return of the peace process. Peace is not necessary, but the spectacle of diplomacy tends to lower the volume on protests in the West over the plight of the Palestinians.

Why Israel Will Dislike the Resolution

Those points address the first two goals, but the real meat is in the third one. Here we need to consider what the “elements” of the proposed UNSC resolution would say. Ha’aretz reported the following:

  • The return of control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
  • Security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities.
  • The prohibition of the sale or supply of all weapons and munitions to the Gaza Strip, unless authorized by the PA.
  • A commitment to preventing the financing of terrorism.
  • The lifting of “economic and humanitarian restrictions” on the Gaza Strip in order to enable the reconstruction, economic rehabilitation and development of the territory.
  • The full reopening of all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, “taking into account the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.”
  • An international mission monitoring and verifying implementation, investigating and reporting violations to both parties and to the Security Council, facilitating the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza and serving as a liaison between the parties.
  • Asking the UN Secretary-General to draft a plan to help the PA establish “effective governance” in Gaza.
  • Urging UN member states to contribute to Gaza’s reconstruction and help the PA to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza and increase the capabilities of its security forces.
  • A call for a return to the talks aimed at a two-state solution

The resolution would seem to enable a lifting of the seven-year long blockade of Gaza while addressing Israel’s security concerns, though it’s not at all certain that the Israeli government would agree with that evaluation of the draft’s terms.

At the same time, this resolution would restore the status quo ante of years gone by when the West Bank and Gaza were regarded as a single territorial unit, the building blocks of the state of Palestine. Netanyahu would undoubtedly regard that as a serious setback, and all the more so because it would mean not only that his ambition to destroy the Palestinian unity government had utterly failed, but also that the unified PA would have some degree of international imprimatur. It would, in short, become a fact of life.

But that particular fact is one even the United States wants to actualize. Netanyahu may have a very hard time convincing the US to employ its UNSC veto power on that basis; he may just have to swallow it.

Many in Israel will recognize the sense of it, but they are represented almost entirely by the opposition, including the Labor Party. Netanyahu’s right flank will be up in arms, to an extent that could threaten his ruling coalition. But he will not be able to do much if the UNSC approves this resolution.

A Conundrum for Hamas

For Hamas, the question becomes whether or not they still want to be part of a unified Palestinian government. The pressures that led them into unity still exist, many of them intensified in the wake of the massive destruction Israel has wreaked upon Gaza. And, with the possibility of lifting the blockade, there are new reasons for Hamas to feel pressed to accept such a resolution.

But things have changed a great deal since the unity agreement was signed. The PA, under Mahmoud Abbas, continued its close cooperation with Israel in maintaining security in the West Bank throughout Israel’s massive West Bank operation in June and the bombardment and invasion of Gaza later in the summer. Abbas’ public standing was reduced to almost zero, and Hamas accordingly has reason to distrust his leadership.

Hamas can easily make the case that continued cooperation with Abbas after such collaboration would be yet another betrayal of the Palestinian people. More than that, though, they will be faced with a stark choice: abandon their identity as an armed resistance movement and hope there will be elections in the near future that will give them a secure place in the government; or, defy the will of the United Nations and escalate their struggle against not only Israel, but also the Palestinian Authority. Given the circumstances of recent events, neither of those options can be very palatable for Hamas.

Hamas’ resources and structural ability to govern Gaza have been crippled, and they simply have no means to address Gaza’s current economic and humanitarian devastation. If they refuse to cooperate with a UNSC resolution like this one, which seems to be gaining momentum, they will need to tell the Palestinian people why they are preventing the lifting of the blockade and refusing the sort of political unity that most Palestinians have considered a top priority for years.

Weakening Hamas is undoubtedly a driving force behind this resolution. If implemented, it would effectively de-fang Hamas while rescuing Abbas from political oblivion. After more than two decades of a fruitless “peace process” that only brought more destruction and Israeli settlements to the Palestinians, and Abbas’ cooperation with Israel, which has made him look like the worst kind of collaborator, the West is probably facing its last chance to keep its reliable partner in place.

Like past international peace plans for this region, the resolution is very advantageous for Israel. It omits any notion of investigations, much less charges, over Israel’s actions in Gaza, provides a solid system to ensure Israeli security, and addresses everything the Israelis have publicly said they were seeking from the bombardment of Gaza. It seems likely that, despite the Israeli public’s heavy rightward tilt, much of it would regard this plan as a good deal.

Fortunately, this resolution is also good for the Palestinian people. There are, to be sure, a huge number of pitfalls here, but an end to the territorial split between the West Bank and Gaza and to the split in the Palestinian leadership is an essential ingredient for any progress. Allowing the Gazan economy to start growing again is also imperative. Rebuilding the strip is an urgent necessity, especially since the shortage of water there, which was already a massive threat, has been greatly exacerbated by Israel’s onslaught.

It’s hard to see how those factors could outweigh the best interests of Hamas in the minds of most Palestinians. If this resolution is submitted and ultimately approved, Hamas will have to confront reality and ask whether it is fighting for itself, or for the Palestinian people.

The Syriza Effect

The big news coming out of the EU Parliamentary elections this past weekend was the gains the right wing made, and these were very real and important. But what we’re really seeing is a response to the eurozone which is not working for way too many in Europe. The right, in most countries, was the side that offered some sort of alternative. Greece demonstrated, however, that there is a real opening for a leftist party that is going to offer opposition to big European capital interests. I explore in Souciant today.

Peace With Iran: Obama’s New Middle East Strategy

The Obama Administration has never had the best relationship with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu has never hidden his disdain for Barack Obama, and worked for his defeat in 2012. But the level of invective between the US and Israel in recent days is quite unprecedented.

No doubt, a lot of this has to do with Netanyahu’s inability to chart a course for Israel that includes resolution of any of its conflicts–either diplomatically as the center-left would prefer or by massive exercise of force, as the right favors. Instead, he has chosen a path of perpetual conflict, which has not sat well in Washington and Brussels, where the past decade has whetted their appetites to turn attention elsewhere and, most of all, to extricate themselves from the spreading conflicts and increasingly hostile politics in the Middle East.

But a good deal also is due to an apparent determination on the parts of Obama and John Kerry to change the way the US pursues its agenda in the Mideast. Despite the hysteria of those, such as Abe Foxman, Malcolm Hoenlein, David Harris and Netanyahu himself, who prefer to see Israel in perpetual conflict, the US is not about to abandon Israel, nor its new BFF, Saudi Arabia. But Obama’s opponent in ’12, Mitt Romney, actually laid out the issue very well. When he describes how he would decide on US foreign policy in the Mideast, he said his first step would be to phone his friend, Netanyahu. That’s actually how it has worked for some time, and Obama is trying to change that, though the odds are against his success. I explore in Souciant.

Syria For Americans

Both opposition to and support of Barack Obama’s proposal to bomb Syria have been focusing on a chemical weapons attack that killed some 1400 people while pushing to the background a civil war that has killed 100,000. The spiraling situation in Syria and the growing callousness of the discourse around it, in the West and elsewhere is long on what should not be done but tragically bereft of what should be done. I try to change that in my piece this week in Souciant.