By Jose Rodriguez
Yesterday, September 24, 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the United Nations. It was an impassioned speech, an angry speech, that he opened with a rebuke to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was also a rebuke to the United Nations, who allowed Ahmadinejad to speak at the UN the day before. The Iranian President had recently denied the Holocaust’s existence, which prompted Netanyahu to spend a great deal of his time presenting documents proving the existence of the Holocaust, and even more time talking about the threat of anti-Semitism to Israel’s existence.
While Netanyahu is absolutely correct in demonstrating the truth about the Holocaust, and while he is absolutely correct in describing anti-Semitism as evil, he is wrong in attempting to portray Israel as an underdog, vulnerable to the evil Muslims and Arabs that surround them. The truth is that Israel is the strongest nation, militarily, in the region; and the truth is that Israel has the strongest ally possible: the United States.
A common theme appears in Netanyahu’s speech that is part of the Israeli psyche– that there is always the possibility that another Holocaust could occur. It is so indelibly burned into their collective consciousness, especially since Israeli politicians continually invoke those memories, that the Israelis live in perpetual fear. It does not matter that in every military engagement since 1948, Israel emerged victorious. It does not matter that the U.S. has, for the most part, delivered military weaponry to support Israel in its wars. The truth is that the Holocaust will never, never, be replicated because the world community, and the United States in particular, would never, never, allow such an horrific event.
Netanyahu rebukes the United Nations for allowing Ahmadinejad a platform to speak, as though it would be better to simply deny him an ability to speak at the UN, a right that every world leader has, whether we agree with them or not. Ahmadinejad’s speech, on the contrary, gave many countries the opportunity to get up and leave, demonstrating their solidarity with Israel and their disgust with the filth and lies emanating from Ahmadinejad’s mouth. The French delegation led about twelve other delegations, including the United States, in a walk-out during the Iranian President’s speech, symbolizing their extreme disagreement with Ahmadinejad and their unwillingness to dignify his speech with their presence.
Another chunk of the speech was dedicated to the Palestinians, who he described, as Abba Eban once did, as participants who willingly miss opportunities for peace. This is patently false, and extremely offensive. He began by citing the failure of the Palestinian leadership, in 1948, to accept the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states. While this is an accurate statement, it nonetheless is false in its implications. The fact is that Palestine belonged to the Palestinians, and had belonged to them for 2,000 years (some Palestinians would argue that they have been there far longer, since they trace their roots to the land as far back as Abraham, as the Jews do). The Palestinians constituted a majority in Palestine— roughly 1.35 million Palestinians, whereas there were only 650,000 Jews. They had been promised, since the end of World War 1, their own state. The British Mandate was intended to provide the Palestinians the necessary guidance and support they would need in order to reach full statehood. However, there had been a substantial immigration of Jews into Palestine, who intended to take the land away from the Palestinians. As the Peel Commission suggested in 1937, and the UN carried out in 1948, the land of Palestine was to be divided without the approval of the Palestinians, who constituted an overwhelming majority of the population and had historical ties to the land thousands of years old. However, by 1949, the Palestinians had been driven from their land, and the Jews constituted a majority in a land where they previously had been a minority.
So, naturally, they opposed the partition of Palestine (especially since the UN plan allocated more land to the Jews than the Palestinians) on grounds that they had natural rights to statehood that were being usurped by colonial powers (i.e., Britain and the U.S.). But it was too late for the Palestinians. The full and horrific extent of the Holocaust came to light, and out of sympathy and guilt, the UN created a homeland specifically for the Jews, and ran roughshod over the inherent right of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination in their own land.
I know that this is a topic that inflames people’s passion. In the U.S. we are so reflexively supportive of Israel that if anyone is even remotely critical of the state then they are accused of being anti-Semitic, or any other horrible pejorative they can think of. A great deal of this, I suspect, is that they do not know enough about the region or its history to intelligently debate the subject. So, they revert to name calling in order to cut off any discussion. It is wrong and it is not right. It is un-American, quite frankly. Ironically, in Israel, people have this debate every day and it is an honest and open debate, yet we in this country cannot.
Because people are so ignorant of the facts and of history, I put try to put it in the simplest of terms: How would you like it if the UN, without our consent, were to partition the United States? How would you feel if the UN said, “We’re going to give over half of the United States to the Native Americans, a quarter to the Mexicans, and the U.S. can live in the remaining quarter”? I don’t think too many Americans would appreciate that. In fact, if you think the TEA Party people are pissed, just wait and see how many more people would be equally pissed, if not more, if the UN did this to us.
And, again, he defended the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces, who waged an aggressive and indiscriminate war against the people of Gaza. Granted, as he stated, there were elements of Gaza (Hamas) who were firing rockets into Israel, threatening the safety of Israeli citizens. However, there is a prevailing rule in International Law regarding proportionality and protection, at all costs, of civilians. According to Israeli Human Rights group B’tselem, IDF killed 1,387 people, with 773 civilians killed, including 320 children under the age of 16 and 109 women over the age of 18. Only 330 people killed were active combatants, and another 248 were Palestinian security forces, most of whom were killed on the first day as a result of aerial bombing. B’tselem could not determine the status of 36 people.
Only 13 Israelis were killed during the war: 5 were soldiers in Gaza, 3 were civilians killed by rocket fire, 1 was a security officer in Israel killed by rocket fire, and four were killed in friendly fire. Though this is not to demean the lives lost, it is, nonetheless, an example of the disproportionate use of force by the IDF.
Part of the anger and resentment in Gaza stems from Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has crippled their economy, stymied the freedom of movement, and denied Gazans important resources, such as medicine, food, and fuel. The Pope has even expressed his desire to see the embargo lifted: “Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted.” This anger has, obviously, manifested itself in violence.
Be assured, this violence is not aimed at the overthrow or destruction of Israel, but is intended to show the Israelis the price of occupation. It is also, in their eyes, an act of self-defense.
And finally, Netanyahu asserted that Palestinians have never recognized Israel’s right to exist, which, again, is patently false. It is Israel who has never recognized the right of Palestinians to exist. It is hardly worth noting since it is so obvious, but I will list just a few examples to make the point.
* On December 14, 1988, after several attempts to satisfy the U.S.’s definition of accepting the right of Israel to exist, Arafat held a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland. There, he said, “We want peace…we are committed to peace, and we want to live in our Palestinian state and let others live.” He outlined several key points: The PLO accepted UN Resolution 242, the PLO promised recognition of Israel, and the PLO also renounced terrorism.
* In 1993, Yassir Arafat wrote a letter to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In the letter, Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinian people, formally recognized the right of Israel to exist. In the letter, Arafat wrote: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” That sounds pretty definitive and unambiguous. He went even further: “In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of Principles and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid.”
* More recently, in 2002, President Bush made a feeble attempt at brokering a peace agreement through his “Roadmap for Peace.” As a pre-requisite for negotiations, the Palestinians had to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The fact that negotiations were undertaken proves that President Bush must have been assured that the Palestinians met that requirement. The Palestinian negotiators also put out this statement: The “Palestinian leadership issues [an] unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”
The bottomline is that the balance of power is in favor of Israel. They have unlimited U.S. military and economic support, they have control over the territories, they are the ones who can simply pull back to the pre-1967 lines. The Israelis argue that a pull back would endanger them, and they point to Gaza as proof. However, if they were to allow the Palestinians to create their own state, as they are entitled to, then there would be no more grievance. Arab states all across the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, and including Hamas, have already stated that they would recognize Israel’s right to exist if they allowed Palestinians to have statehood and if they pulled back to their pre-1967 lines.
It’s that simple.
So long as there are hardliners, like Netanyahu, who keeping moving the field goal posts back, and insisting that any future Palestinian state must bend to the will of Israel, there can be no solution.
In the end, there may have to be an imposed settlement, whether they like it or not.