The Israel-Palestine conflict has been the longest running modern conflict since the end of the Second World War.
There have been many attempts to broker solutions of sustainable and long-standing peace in the region – and none that have been implemented thus far have worked. Recently, Palestine submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council, which, among other things, sought to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by the end of 2017. With one vote shy of the nine required to pass the resolution, Palestine’s attempt to implement the resolution was met with rejection
The immediate result of the rejection was that Palestine signed about 20 international agreements including the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which would make Palestine a party to the Court, and allow it to take Israel to trial for war crimes. The aftermath of this vote could mean retention of the status quo for the time-being until the International Criminal Court takes over.
To the observer, the Security Council’s rejection of Palestine’s resolution might seem like an egregious failing on its part. But scratch deeper and the actual failing is in the political bottleneck that manifests itself in the form of national interests.
Firstly there are the USA’s interests and relationship with Israel, which ought to be summed up.Primarily, many treaties that the USA negotiates in the Middle East are largely influenced by Israeli concerns; secondly, the relationship that the USA and Israel share has culminated in the special protection of Israel; and thirdly, it has also resulted in impunity for Israel in the international arena. This special relationship has certainly influenced the US vote in the Security Council. Yet, the US was clever in not using its veto outright. In the run up to the submission, there was a round of heavy hauling in the drafting of the resolution after August 2014, when the Gaza war ended. The result was an Arab state-sponsored resolution, arriving smack centre at a time when the USA leads a coalition of these very Arab States against the Islamic State (IS).
To reject the resolution outright could have rubbed the Arab States, and much needed allies, on the wrong side. So instead, the US decided to pull Nigeria into the picture as a supporter. Two phone calls, one from John Kerry and one from Benjamin Netanyahu, to Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan changed the Nigerian stance, with the nation supporting the US contention that the path to peace lay only in a “negotiated solution”.
Supporting Israel is simply “good politics” in the US. It is a popular deal among voters – especially since the US-Israel relationship is seen to have “broad and deep” support among the public in the USA.
The reason why Israel has tremendous support among the masses in the US is because of the moral image of Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East, and the oft-endorsed perception that a democratic state is truly the foundation for US-Israeli relations and peace in the Middle East. This does not mean that this is true of every last person in the US. Statistics show that as many as 65% of the US-Jewish population actually disapprove of Israel’s policy of illegally occupying the West Bank, and it has been found that UScitizens of Jewish faith aged under 35 are the least likely to identify themselves as Zionist.
However, what changes things in the projection of “public opinion” from the masses to the government is the segment of “older and more conservative Jews” who generally do seem to have a fair amount of clout with national level politicians in the US – enough to sway the direction of foreign policy – concerning Israel (the oft-cited “Israeli lobby”). It is possible that the US may continue in this direction for a while.
Does that mean that the doors to peace are closed once and for all in Palestine? Not necessarily. While some may argue that the Security Council is the chief authority vested with keeping peace and security internationally as a matter of law-mandated duty, and that by rejecting the resolution, the organization has failed to do so, one need only look one step further.
Agreed, the Security Council is vested with the core responsibility of maintaining international peace and security. Granted, that it is the Council’s duty to prevent the encroachment of sovereignty and territorial integrity of its member states. But it is wrong to infer that by the Security Council rejecting Palestine’s draft resolution peace may altogether elude the region.
Now that Palestine has moved to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), there is every possibility that it may be accepted as a member state for the Court to hear the case against Israel. Secondly, even if Israel may contend that it has disengaged with Gaza, the generally held opinion across the world is that even after Israel disengaged with Gaza in 2005, Israel’s control over the territory amounts to occupation.
With Palestine being recognized as a non-member state by the UN General Assembly, it is possible that the ICC’s Fatou Bensouda may accept Palestine’s files. It is a risky prospect for Palestine to present its claims before the ICC – especially given that there have been cases of Palestinian attacks on Israel. But this could be argued against, because the Palestinians that did carry out these attacks themselves are not immune from prosecution or penalty in Israel if caught. On the other hand, Israel has enjoyed a state of self-and-American-assumed immunity for its actions – and Palestine’s accession to the ICC could portend the dismantling of this immunity. Another point that could work in Palestine’s favour is that the ICC statute specifically outlaws the transfer of civilians from an occupying state to an occupied state as a war crime. Israeli claims of non-violation of international law because of the absence of a prior sovereign does not hold any water, as the International Court of Justice ruled in the Legality of the Construction of a Wall in Palestine opinion. Therefore, it is possible that justice will not evade Palestine, and peace built on the foundation of justice is far more sustainable than negotiated and brokered peace at the cost of justice or in wait for justice.
This does not mean that the path ahead is a bed of roses. Israel could rely on the US and its European Allies to be the trump card that might encourage the ICC’s prosecutor to dismiss Palestine’s case. But then again, this need not be so, because the ICC is badly in need of redeeming its image, especially after being blamed for handling cases only against African leaders.
What the Palestine issue brings to the fore, though, is a bigger question involving reforms in the Security Council. In part II of this two-part article, I would like to address some of the concerns that emerge vis-à-vis the current political bottlenecks that hamper the smooth functioning of the Security Council.