Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Scribblings: Goldstone's Overreach

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Tzvi Fleischer

There is one positive aspect of the ridiculous, yet still highly destructive Goldstone Report into Gaza instigated by the notoriously biased UN Human Rights Council. It went so far in accepting at face value the claims of Palestinian witnesses controlled by Hamas, and NGOs with dedicated political agendas, that it went a long way toward discrediting itself among serious people.

To quote one good example, here’s what the Economist magazine, which is often highly critical of Israel, said of it:

This week’s report was deeply flawed…

The report takes the very thing it is investigating as its central organising premise. Israeli policy in Gaza, it argues, was deliberately and systematically to inflict suffering on civilians, rather than Hamas fighters...Israel’s assertions that, in the difficult circumstances of densely populated Gaza, it planned its military operations carefully and with constant legal advice are taken by the report as evidence not of a concern to uphold international law but of a culpable determination to flout it. Israel’s attempts to drop warning leaflets, direct civilians out of danger zones and call daily humanitarian pauses may well have been inadequate, but the report counts them for nought…

Israel has argued that Hamas fighters endangered civilians by basing themselves around schools, mosques and hospitals. The mission had Hamas’ co-operation, but its fact-finders could detect little or no evidence for this – despite plenty of reports in the public domain to support it. The report does criticise Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel and for using the conflict as cover to settle scores with its Palestinian rivals. But its seemingly wilful blindness to other evidence makes that look like a dash for political cover.

The magazine concludes, “If the mere fact of Israel’s attack were enough to condemn it then Mr. Goldstone’s report was pointless all along” adding that “with its thimbleful of poison, the Goldstone report” has made Israeli-Palestinian peace “all the harder”.


The Real Downside

It is worth expanding on the ways the Goldstone Report has made peace “all the harder” as some are far from obvious. As American law professor Alan Dershowitz has pointed out, this report makes a peace deal entailing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank considerably more difficult.

Why? Because what Israelis fear most is that any withdrawal will lead to a repetition of the Gaza rocket bombardment, but this time affecting the whole of the centre of the country. The majority of Israel’s population, which lives in greater Tel Aviv, could come under the sort of daily rocket bombardment that Sderot and other southern towns suffered for years. Moreover, Israel’s only international airport, Ben Gurion, is only a few kilometres from the West Bank border and would be relatively easy to close down on an almost continual basis with primitive rockets. This nightmare scenario, which inevitably results from the experience following the Gaza withdrawal, would allow a few cells with primitive rockets to make normal life, as well as normal economic activity, all but impossible for a majority of the Israeli population.

One answer to this nightmare scenario is that no such bombardment could last – it would inevitably provoke an Israeli military response to stop it. That argument today looks much less appetising. Goldstone has effectively declared any such response would be a war crime and provided a precedent that means such future Israeli military responses to rocket attacks from civilian areas will cause massive condemnation and opprobrium at the UN and elsewhere.

Not only does this precedent thus diminish the attractiveness for Israelis of more territorial withdrawals, it creates an even more perverse incentive. If Israel does withdraw, it will greatly encourage rejectionist groups like Hamas to try to provoke an Israeli military response by firing rockets – thus guaranteeing a big win for their cause of delegitimising Israel when Israel is inevitably condemned for “war crimes” as a result.


Palestinian “Unilateralism”

There was some controversy in late August when Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced that his government had a plan to create a “de facto” Palestinian state within two years, and thus “end the occupation, despite the occupation.”

While most commentary focused on this move toward “unilateralism” and what this boded for formal peace talks, it strikes me that the substance of what Fayyad is trying to do is more positive than negative. Basically, according to the plan he has released (which you can read in English at tinyurl.com/kop2aq) he wants to reduce the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israel, unify the legal system, improve governance and downsize the government, plus build infrastructure – including for natural energy sources and water – and improve housing, education, and agriculture.

While the rhetoric surrounding this concerning the utter evil of the occupation by the Israeli enemy is unhelpful, this program is nonetheless consistent with the bottom-up approach favoured by the Netanyahu Government, usually described as “economic peace.”

The fact is there is very little hope for a final peace in the next couple of years. However, we do have an improving security and economic situation in the West Bank, plus much more freedom of movement, thanks in part to the policies of the current Israeli government. If the Fayyad Government can capitalise on this to build governance and a monopoly of force, and improve the daily lives of Palestinians, we will certainly be closer to peace than we are now. Moreover, if the Palestinian leadership focuses on building their own state – something historically they have done poorly – rather than fighting Israel, that would also be a major step forward.

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