April 22, 2003

THE CRUX OF THE MATTER

Israel is an occupier with a duty to protect: Palestinians are the only ethnic group denied by their occupiers both citizenship and separate statehood (Henry Siegman, 4/22/03, Financial Times)
International law recognises a major difference between the rules that apply in a war between armies and an occupying power, for an occupying army has special obligations to the population under its control. Thus, when military activities ended in Iraq, entirely new standards of conduct were applied to the coalition force. They are now judged by how well they protect and meet the needs of a civilian population under their occupation. That is why the US now faces international criticism for failing to prevent looting and lawlessness in Iraq and for delays in re-supplying power and drinking water, and in repairing infrastructure.

It seems not to register with many Israelis that they are occupiers and as such have inescapable responsibilities towards those in their custody and an obligation to end the occupation as speedily as possible. It is an obligation reinforced by Israel's decision after the 1967 war not to grant citizenship and equal rights in the Jewish state to the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza, even in return for Israel's permanent retention of the occupied territories. The inescapable corollary of this decision is that Israel must grant Palestinians the right to their own state. The alternative is permanent disenfranchisement and subjugation of the Palestinians.

Palestinians are not the only ethnic minority denied separate statehood. The Kurds, the Albanians in Kosovo, and others have been denied a separate homeland. In the case of the Kurds and the Kosovo Albanians, the international community intervened so they would at least be granted the same rights as the majority. However, Palestinians are the only ethnic group denied by their occupiers both Israeli citizenship (which in any case Palestinians do not want) and separate statehood. Mr Sharon's notion of a Palestinian "state" in less than 50 per cent of the West Bank and in parts of Gaza would create South African style bantustans entirely under Israel's control.

The Sharon-led government opposes a viable Palestinian state, and a political process that may result in one, on the grounds that it would serve as a haven for Palestinian terrorism impossible for Israel to control. It is a disingenuous argument. The contrary is the case: it would be far easier for Israel to deal with terrorism from a neighbouring state than terrorism from 3.5m people it is deeply intertwined with and whose national aspirations it represses. This, too, is the lesson of Iraq, where the US and Britain devastated Iraqi forces using measures they could never have used against an occupied population.

But it is Israel's own experience that best demonstrates the difference between internal terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism. There is no cross-border terrorism into Israel from any of Israel's Arab neighbours. This is not because any of them have a special affection for Israel, but because they have experienced the devastating price of allowing such terrorism. And the terrorism Israel failed to subdue when it occupied southern Lebanon for two decades ended immediately when Israel withdrew and threatened a full-blown war should terrorism continue. There is no reason to doubt that a neighbouring Palestinian state would be similarly constrained.

These are exactly the reasons why Yasser Arafat and those in the Palestinian leadership whose goal is the destruction of Israel, rather than an independent Palestine, have always undercut the peace process when it looks like it might be succeeeding. A Palestinian state is a greater threat to them than it is to Israel, and those Israelis and supporters of Israel who seek to put off statehood until a later date are, sadly, de facto allies of the Palestinian extremists. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 22, 2003 8:17 AM
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