Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why Israel Must Now Move from Concessions-Based Diplomacy to Rights-Based Diplomacy. Part I


1st part of 3 


by Dan Diker


  • Israel faces a painful paradox. Its generous territorial concessions climaxing in the 2005 Gaza withdrawal have not resulted in greater international support or sympathy, but rather a further deterioration in its international standing. Indeed, the very legitimacy of the Jewish state continues to be questioned in international circles including the West.
  • Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip expecting both peace and broad international understanding in the event that these areas would be used to attack Israel in the future. However, the condemnations of Israel only seem to be worsening. On May 15, 2007, Amnesty International condemned Israel for "war crimes" in its previous summer's defensive war against Hizbullah. Britain's University and College Union (UCU), the largest academic organization in the United Kingdom, accused Israel of crimes against humanity and apartheid.
  • Ironically, mounting criticism of Israel has occurred as Israeli civilians have come under repeated attack from Kassam rockets launched from the post-withdrawal Gaza Strip. The concern in Israel over ever-sharpening anti-Israel sentiment even brought the liberal daily Ha'aretz to conclude in its lead editorial of May 27, 2007, that "Britain has become the battlefield in Israel's fight for existence as a Jewish state, and . . . the anti-Zionist winds blowing in Europe strengthen the position [there] that the birth of the Jewish state was a mistake."
  • For most of the period from 1993 to 2000, Israel's overall diplomatic strategy focused on helping the Palestinians achieve their demands for what Arafat and Palestinian spokesmen had always termed their "legitimate rights," hoping this would result in peace and security for Israelis. Once Israel dropped its past reliance on a diplomacy based on its own rights and adopted a new concessions-based diplomacy instead, its spokesmen essentially acquiesced to the Palestinian historical narrative. The Israelis offered no alternative perspective.


The violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Iranian-backed Hamas and the group's ongoing Kassam-rocket assaults against southern Israel present a painful paradox for the Jewish state. Israel's generous territorial concessions climaxing in the 2005 Gaza withdrawal have not resulted in either greater security for Israelis or international sympathy for Israel. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. While Israel continues to absorb attacks from Hamas in Gaza and braces for another possible confrontation with Hizbullah in southern Lebanon and possibly with Syria, the very legitimacy of the Jewish state continues to be questioned in international circles including the West.

In May 2007, Britain's largest academic union voted to initiate a boycott against all cooperation with Israeli academic institutions. South Africa's largest trade union also called for a full trade boycott and a break in diplomatic relations.1 The widespread delegitimization of the Jewish state, particularly following fifteen years of Israeli territorial concessions, suggests that Israel should fundamentally reassess its diplomatic strategy.

Government leaders and diplomats would be advised to adopt a more aggressive diplomatic stance based on Israel's longstanding international legal and historical rights to a sovereign state in its own homeland with a united Jerusalem as its capital.2 Moreover, in 2007, some eighty-five years after the League of Nations established the right of the Jewish people to reconstitute their Jewish homeland throughout the territory west of the Jordan River, fifty-nine years after the founding of the State of Israel established its incontrovertible right to defend against encroachments on its sovereignty, and forty years after UN Security Council Resolution 242 affirmed Israel's legal rights to secure borders, the State of Israel should reassert its sovereign rights to secure boundaries in the West Bank opposite Palestinian demands for a state in Gaza, the entire West Bank, and Jerusalem.

Generous Israeli concessions have, if inadvertently, reinforced the charges by some that Israel not only lacks legal rights to the disputed territories of Gaza and the West Bank, but that Israel's very legitimacy is inextricably linked to further territorial concessions. Therefore, Israel should now recalibrate the moral force of its rightful claims that today have been all but lost to the Palestinians in the international court of public opinion.



The Failure of the "Concessions-Based Paradigm"

The tepid international response to continuing, Iranian-backed, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket attacks on southern Israel points to an uncomfortable conclusion. Israel's far-reaching diplomatic concessions to its Arab and Palestinian neighbors - full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the offer of nearly 95 percent of the West Bank at Camp David in 2000, continuous territorial withdrawals during the Oslo process from 1993 to 2000, and the IDF's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 - have failed to generate security for Israelis, diplomatic progress with Palestinian and Arab neighbors, or greater international support for Israel's diplomatic positions.

Following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas various concessions including at least $600 million in withheld tax revenues.3 Several months earlier, Olmert accepted the Saudi-inspired Arab League peace plan as a basis for negotiation despite its non-negotiable demand of full Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines and the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. These were two red lines that had prevented former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from discussing the plan when it was first proposed in 2002.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz confirmed on June 9, 2007, that Olmert had passed secret messages to Syrian President Bashar Assad via a third party offering Syria a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement.4 Olmert was quoted by an adviser as saying in a closed-door meeting that,"My duty as prime minister is to examine [the negotiations option] even if intelligence evaluations say it's a deception and even when Western and other leaders warn me."5

Unfortunately, recent experience shows that Israeli diplomatic gestures and territorial generosity have backfired. Since Israel's unilateral Gaza withdrawal and particularly following last summer's war with Hizbullah in Lebanon, Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza have increased exponentially6 despite Sharon's statement on the eve of the 2005 pullout that removing the IDF was intended to "reduce terror as much as possible, and grant Israeli citizens the maximum level of security."7 Similarly, Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 failed to end hostilities with Iranian proxy Hizbullah. Instead, it fueled war preparations that resulted in Hizbullah firing more than 4,200 rockets that paralyzed Israel's northern cities during the Second Lebanon War.8

Israeli land concessions and IDF pullbacks in Gaza and the West Bank following the 1993 Oslo accords resulted in scores of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities during the 1990s. Yasser Arafat's rejection of Israel's unprecedented territorial offers at Camp David in 2000 resulted in a similarly unprecedented terror campaign known as  the Second Palestinian Intifada. Israel suffered no fewer than 26,000 terror attacks, nearly 1,100 Israeli civilians killed, and more than 6,000 wounded from 2000 to 2005.9


The Global Diplomatic Intifada against Israel's Legitimacy

Israel's policy of generous territorial compromise not only failed to improve its security but also did nothing to alleviate - and may well have contributed to - the growing delegitimization of Israel in the West. For example, every year Israel was hammered in the UN General Assembly with the adoption of about twenty anti-Israel resolutions that undermined Israel's most fundamental diplomatic claims. It was expected that with the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DOP), the first of the Oslo agreements on September 13, 1993, Israel's international standing would vastly improve and the anti-Israel campaigns in the General Assembly would finally come to an end. Yet exactly three months and one day after the DOP was signed, the General Assembly resumed its ritual adoption of a slew of anti-Israel resolutions. The unprecedented concessions Israel offered in the DOP did nothing to affect UN voting patterns against the Jewish state.10


More recently, on May 15, 2007, Amnesty International condemned Israel for "war crimes" in its previous summer's defensive war against Hizbullah. Amnesty's latest annual report essentially equated Israel's defensive actions with Hizbullah's unprovoked attacks.11 On May 30, 2007, Britain's University and College Union (UCU), the largest academic organization in the United Kingdom, accused Israel of crimes against humanity and apartheid, and voted to consider boycotting all academic cooperation with Israeli academic bodies. The UCU also called for full European cooperation in the boycott.12 The British Union of Architects and Civil Service Union have since called to boycott Israel, while Britain's National Union of Journalists' embargo remains in effect.

On May 30, 2007, South Africa's largest trade union also demanded a full government boycott of Israeli products and a cessation of Pretoria's diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.13 The president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Willy Madisha, called for the diplomatic and trade embargo in response to "Israel's apartheid policies, occupation of Arab land, violation of UN resolutions, and its policy of targeting Hamas leaders."14

The concern in Israel over ever-sharpening anti-Israel sentiment even brought the liberal daily Ha'aretz to conclude in its lead editorial of May 27, 2007, that "Britain has become the battlefield in Israel's fight for existence as a Jewish state, and . . . the anti-Zionist winds blowing in Europe strengthen the position [there] that the birth of the Jewish state was a mistake."15

Israel's legitimacy problem is not limited to Europe. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter accused Israel of "even worse instances of apartheid than we witnessed in South Africa" in his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.16 It may not have been a coincidence that Carter wrote a book about the State of Israel and entitled it Palestine. He may well have wanted to downplay Israel and instead reenergize the importance of the British Mandate of Palestine that preceded it, or perhaps to reassign Israel's international legitimacy as a state to the Palestinian Authority.17

Britain may be for the moment the epicenter of European anti-Israel indictment. However, demonization of Israel has swelled in Western circles for the past seven years since the failed Camp David peace summit in 2000 and the Palestinian Authority's ensuing war of terror against Israeli cities. The unprecedented concessions former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered PA leader Yasser Arafat - Gaza, nearly the entire West Bank, and most of Jerusalem's historic Old City - did little to upgrade Israel's diplomatic profile abroad. Indeed, in 2002, Nobel laureate Jose Saramago compared Israel's policies toward the Palestinians to those of Nazi Germany.18

In 2003, American historian Tony Judt called Israel "anachronistic" and recommended its replacement with a binational state instead.19 Shortly before Israel's Gaza withdrawal in September 2005, London Mayor Ken Livingstone labeled Prime Minister Sharon a "terrorist" and "war criminal" and accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing."20 A 2005 German poll undertaken by the University of Bielefeld revealed that 68 percent of those surveyed believed that Israel was waging a "war of extermination" against the Palestinian people.21

Former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler noted that Israel had been cast as the "Antichrist" and "the world's meta-human rights violator" at the 2001 UN-sponsored World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa.22 It seems clear, therefore, as Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld has pointed out, that the argument advanced by Israel's harshest critics is no longer about its 1967 "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza but about 1948 and the alleged "crime" or "original sin" of its very founding.23



Why Did Israeli Diplomatic Concessions Boomerang in International Circles?


Paradoxically, Israel's readiness to part with territories for peace mirrors the perception of many in the West, particularly in Europe, that the Jewish state is an international outlaw that is merely giving back lands over which it has no claims to the Palestinians, who are seen by many as the sole and rightful displaced owners of "Palestine" on both sides of the 1967 Green Line. Moreover, Israel has inadvertently positioned itself as the only member of the international state system whose very legitimacy is perceived as being justified only as a function of its readiness to make additional territorial concessions to the Palestinian Authority.24

But even today this concessions-based strategy is patently counterproductive. As already demonstrated, it did not help improve Israel's international status and today it continues to undermine Israel's position. With the best of intentions, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni published an op-ed in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on June 18, 2007, that detailed her support for the creation of a Palestinian state as well as Israel's readiness "to take painful steps to advance this goal." She explained that this would require "additional territorial withdrawal."25 To her credit, Livni reminded readers that UN Security Council Resolution 242 did not require a full Israeli withdrawal, but this single reference was overshadowed by her effort to reach out to the Palestinian narrative.

A sample of the talkbacks to her article in Arabic showed no appreciation for the depth of the concessions she offered. One reader said Israel must admit to the crime of stealing a land from a people. Another demanded a full "right of return" for the Palestinians. A third talkback preferred to focus on Deir Yassin and Muhammad Dura. Perhaps Livni's offer of concessions, without sufficient corresponding reference to Israeli rights, only reinforced in the minds of Arab readers that their embrace of the Palestinian narrative had been right all along, causing more rage despite Livni's conciliatory tone.

Another sharp illustration of the limits of concessions-based diplomacy was revealed in the June 6, 2007, "dueling" op-eds by Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that appeared in an issue of The Guardian commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 war. In his article, Olmert neglected to mention Israel's territorial rights and claims opposite the Palestinians. He also did not deny Palestinian rights and claims. Instead, Olmert lamented the negative Palestinian response to Israel's ongoing concessions.

He wrote, "Nearly two years ago, Israel withdrew its troops and civilians from Gaza, with no preconditions. Last year my Kadima party came to power on an agenda promising further withdrawals. In the face of concessions that have threatened our own domestic consensus, the constant refrain has been the Palestinian refusal to end its violent attacks on our citizens."26 Nevertheless, Olmert capped his article by reiterating that "Israel is prepared to make painful concessions to pay the price for a lasting and just peace that will allow the people of the Middle East to live in dignity and security."27

In contrast, Haniyeh's article delegitimized Israel and reasserted Palestinian claims, averring that in 1967 Israel "seized all that remained of Palestine and completed the process of ethnic cleansing that started in 1948." Haniyeh continued, "In reality, it is Israel, through the prosecution of colonial war, that has threatened the Palestinians' right to live in their land.... My people will not repeat the mistakes of 1948. They will remain rooted in their land, whatever the price, and pursue their legitimate right to resist the occupation."28


The negative result of this type of Israeli diplomacy is twofold. First, by neglecting to make an affirmative case for Israeli rights while Palestinians press for their rights, Israel has created a world stage in which the only affirmative case ever made is in opposition to Israel, and Israel's diplomats are always on the defensive. Second, by emphasizing that Israeli concessions are the key to peace, Israel creates and reinforces the impression that the demonstrable lack of peace is Israel's fault and can be rectified only by further Israeli concessions.

Over the past two decades, the Palestinians have succeeded in popularizing the narrative that they were the indigenous population of British Mandatory Palestine and that the Jews arrived later as part of a colonial-settler enterprise supported by European imperialism. It was to promote this version of history that Arafat and much of his Fatah leadership went so far, at Camp David in 2000, as to deny that the biblical Temple of Solomon was ever erected in Jerusalem. Palestinian historical revisionism denies the overwhelming archeological evidence of ancient Jewish life in Jerusalem. No less important is the more recent fact that a Jewish majority in Jerusalem already existed in 1863 - well before the arrival of the British Empire and the era of European military supremacy in the Middle East.29 Indeed, waves of Jewish immigrants came to Palestine in the mid-twentieth century in defiance of British policy. But Israel rarely makes such counterarguments to the Palestinian political narrative.


Dan Diker

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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