Who’s Afraid of a Palestinian State?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently cozied up even further to the Republican Party, if that is possible. He has been invited by the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives to speak at a joint session of Congress next month. It is widely expected that Netanyahu will use the speechto lay out some further steps toward an agreement with the Palestinians and to counter an expected speech from President Barack Obama that is expected to lay out an American plan to restart stalled peace negotiations.

Netanyahu may be worrying that Obama might hang up on him

As usual, the dance here is between the Americans and Israelis, with the Palestinians doing their own waltz solo on the sidelines. But there is a difference this time. The Palestinian two-step is heading in the direction of the United Nations and a proposed vote in September in the General Assembly on recognizing an independent state of Palestine.

There’s a lot to be said about this issue. It is a big gamble on the part of the Palestinians. It is not doubted that such a resolution will have a clear majority of support in the GA. But the real question is whether it will have the support of Europe and even the United States. It is the prospect of the latter that have many on Capitol Hill, both in the government and in the role of lobbyists, shifting into high gear to act on the will of the Israeli right.

How panicked? Well, as I recently reported here, there will be legislation in both houses of Congress to try to push an anti-UN agenda, based on the recent op-ed by Richard Goldstone. Well, consider the words of one Congress member, Joe Walsh (R-IL), who introduced the legislation in the House. This is from a “Dear Colleague” letter he circulated to other members in advance of his introduction of the resolution:

What is worse, the United Nations may use the Goldstone Report as justification to officially recognize a Palestinian state, which could place Israel in the position of occupying lands belonging to a sovereign state and member of the United Nations.  Yet, Goldstone’s confession confirms that the United Nations lacks the moral authority for such a declaration.

So let’s start with the first part, where Walsh seems to be virtually screaming in terror at the very prospect of recognition of a Palestinian state. This bears some examination. Continue reading

New Senate Letter on Goldstone

I’ve pasted below the text of a letter circulating in the Senate right now, one that is very likely to garner the signatures of many, even most of the Senate for the resolution it discusses. (Note: see here an article regarding similar legislation in the House)

This is just more fallout from Richard Goldstone’s irresponsible Washington Post op-ed. But we should also understand that this question goes well beyond Israel. The Goldstone Report, despite whatever flaws it might have, had the potential to be a major step forward in accountability.

The United States, as the world’s leading military power (and all the more so because it is rapidly losing ground economically to its competitors) has little interest in an international system of accountability. In that sense, Israel is sort of the vanguard in that battle against accountability. Israel will fight the fight on the front line, with US backing.

Thus, the attack on the Goldstone Report, reinvigorated by Goldstone’s own op-ed, is not only about Israel’s ability to attack Gaza with impunity and maintain its occupation without fear of repercussion, but also about the USA ensuring that the world continues on a “might makes right” basis. It is that system which international law threatens.

Here is the text of the Senate letter. I had hoped to be able to move on to other issues by now, but, as Al Pacino once put it, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Continue reading

Last Words on The Goldstone Op-Ed Fiasco

Lots of words have now been spent on the op-ed by Richard Goldstone of last Friday, and I have been one of the worst consumers. I’m hoping this is the last of my spillage on a matter that does more to show how absurd the politics around Israel-Palestine are than anything else.

The Associated Press reported today of what some call Goldstone’s flip-flop of his flip-flop. But it was never so. As I pointed out, the Report overstated a case regarding Israeli intent to target civilians, Goldstone then stated that Israel’s investigations “indicate” that such was not the case, and now he’s saying that nothing in his current view

White phosphorous raining down in Gaza during Cast Lead. This is what need attention, not Richard Goldstone

means that the original report should be nullified, in part or whole.

In fact, all of that is internally consistent. But it doesn’t play that way in the heated realm of Israel-Palestine politics.

Human rights groups have already made their statements, including one by Human Rights Watch and another today in the same Washington Post as Goldstone by my former boss, Jessica Montell of B’Tselem.

I’m ending here with comments on two other pieces by two guys, both friends and colleagues.

The first is Jerry Haber at the Magnes Zionist. Jerry and I have had a bit of back and forth parsing words in the Goldstone report and the op-ed. I think we agree on the most essential point, though—that whatever the Report said or didn’t say or Goldstone said or didn’t say on the matter of intentionality, the level of destruction in Gaza, both of civilian lives and of homes and other civilian property, merits serious investigation. Even without intent to specifically target civilians (which Goldstone merely says is no longer “indicated” and that still means it should be investigated), the central question still is whether proper safeguards to prevent harming civilians were in place. I think Jerry agrees with me that such investigation is still lacking.

But Jerry also says this in his blog piece posted earlier today: Continue reading

Radical Extremists Jump On the Goldstone Op-ed

Not surprisingly, the radical extremists at NGO Monitor and many others are jumping on the op-ed by Richard Goldstone to “prove” that human rights groups, and others, who have been calling for investigations into Israel’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead should retract their claims.

Goldstone essentially said two things of substance in his op-ed: that Israel has done a lot more than Hamas, which has done nothing, to investigate Cast Lead, and this is certainly true, though it might be damning with faint praise; and that Israel did not target civilians as a matter of policy.

Goldstone gets in more trouble the more he talks

To be sure, there are those who did take the Goldstone Report as conclusive proof that Israel targeted civilians intentionally. But here is what I wrote on November 16, 2009:

More overreaching can be seen in Goldstone’s flat statement that Israel, as a matter of policy, targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. Indeed, it is true that the pattern of destruction he cites in his report raises this very disturbing question. But that’s all it does—raise it. Goldstone makes a flat judgment without proving his case, or even substantially supporting it. He’s a prosecutor by trade; he has to know better than that.

B’Tselem, referring to that same accusation, said, on October 19, 2009:

…the mission’s conclusions regarding Israel’s overall objectives in carrying out the operation were not sufficiently supported by facts arising from the mission’s research.

Human Rights Watch also reiterated that the original Report did not support a conclusion of Israel intentionally targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Not surprisingly, the fanatics at NGO Monitor chose not to name a single instance of an NGO leveling the accusation of intentionality that was alluded to in the Goldstone Report. Continue reading

Goldstone Op-Ed Shows Need For Deeper Look At Gaza And International Law

Quite frankly, the Goldstone Report on the Israeli devastation of the Gaza Strip and Hamas rocket firing during what was called Operation Cast Lead has been a fiasco of politicization from day one.

Back in November of 2009, I wrote a piece looking at some of the basic flaws with the Report, but also why it was so very important. Now, Richard Goldstone himself has written an op-ed in the Washington Post that seems to be a retreat from the Report he was the lead author of and that only serves to stir up the hornets’ nest even further.

The politicization has come from both sides, left and right. This is reflected in the responses to the report. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that in light of Goldstone’s op-ed the entire report should be scrapped. On the other side, Adam Horowitz, who recently co-edited a book on the Goldstone Report, says the UN report

Justice Richard Goldstone

which prompted Goldstone’s op-ed only proves that the issue needs to be brought before the International Criminal Court.

For me, the whole episode, from start to finish, simply shows the naiveté of the concept that somehow human rights and international law can be applied objectively and not subjected to political influences.

I had problems with all of this from the beginning. Israel’s constant framing of so many criticisms as anti-Semitism or at least anti-Israel bias has turned into a cry of wolf that only its passionate devotees treat with credibility these days. But when it comes to the UN Human Rights Council, the accusation not only has merit, but is absolutely spot-on.

The UNHRC has only one country, Israel, under permanent review, and as of 2010, almost half its resolutions had to do with Israel. Its rapporteur on the issue is charged only with reviewing Israeli human rights violations, not Palestinian ones. The mere fact that an international human rights body includes among its members such states as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Thailand, and until just a few weeks ago, Libya (and the inclusion of the US, responsible for so many human rights violations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guantanamo Bay, which executes developmentally disabled people, and so many other stains on its human rights record that are ongoing hardly helps) already calls its legitimacy into question. Its record on Israel should have necessitated that another body be overseeing the volatile investigation into Operation Cast Lead.

The fact that Goldstone himself had to refuse the assignment unless the mandate for it was expanded to include all actors, not only Israel, not only reinforces the issue of anti-Israel bias at the UNHRC, but also the fact that these are not legal/criminal investigations, but political ones. Continue reading

How We Report On Human Rights Matters

It is not easy being the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. It is impossible for them to issue any statement that doesn’t become instantly politicized. And, like many NGOs, their reports are often put in less than ideal contexts by the media.

Much like their counterparts — such as al-Haq in the West Bank and groups like B’Tselem and Gisha in Israel — their attempt to report on human rights and, to act as a watchdog on their own government while operating in an atmosphere where the Israeli occupation causes overarching human rights violations creates a difficult balancing act.

Logo of the Palestine Center for Human Rights, located in the Gaza Strip

But PCHR still is the best NGO source for the state of human rights in Gaza. True, it has little competition (though there is some, including B’Tselem’s fieldworkers in Gaza), but its reports have generally proven reliable—so much so, that their releases are often used by the Israeli right.

Today, the New York Times reported on a recent PCHR release, which criticized “members of the Palestinian resistance” for “stor[ing] explosives or to treat such explosives in locations close to populated areas.”

It is important to note that PCHR did not identify the “members of the resistance.” The Times, while scrupulously avoiding any statement that the PCHR statement is referring to Hamas, does say that “Israel has long accused Hamas and other groups of endangering Palestinian civilians by carrying out militant activities in densely populated areas.”

A PCHR spokesman also noted that the Hamas government tried to shift blame for injuries to Gazan civilians that were clearly caused by Palestinian rockets onto Israel.

An unwitting reader of the Times article might infer that PCHR was implicitly accusing Hamas of being responsible for the weapons storage. The distinction there is an important one.

Storing weapons in civilian areas, or dangerously near civilians, carries two threats, both of which the people of Gaza have become intimately familiar with. One is that the weapons will accidentally discharge or misfire when used. The second is that Israel will target the area. Continue reading