Obama’s speech on Palestine-Israel: responses and clarifications

Obama gave a speech yesterday about the Middle East conflict in which he announced that the US was officially supporting the Palestinian 1967 borders.

From today's Haaretz

Is this a major push toward new solutions, or just more of the same?

Some are saying it is important, since it pushes against the Israeli claim that “1967 borders are not viable.”

Indeed, Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, immediately came to out to denounce Obama’s position, suggesting that Obama just “doesn’t understand the reality of Israel’s situation.”

Obama shot back, by having his aides leak his comment that basically he doesn’t think Netanyahu is after peace at all, but just pays lip service to a “peace process” that never concludes, and in the meantime allows Israel to continue appropriating Palestinian resources and entrenching its own illegal position.

From today’s Haaretz:

Just this morning, Israel announced it would be building another 1,000-plus new homes on confiscated Palestinian land in East Jerusalem.

So its ability or willingness to move towards peace does indeed seem highly questionable.

How can you claim you are moving toward peace when you are building houses on someone else’s property at gunpoint?

Israeli prime ministers have a long history of refusing to make concessions or significant compromises. Often, this refusal is rhetorically justified by the assertion that it is only trying to defend itself. According to some, the best defense is an aggressive offense. Perhaps Israel is using this motto as it decides how to react.

The problem is that we are not dealing with a football game, but with human rights issues.

On human rights issues, unilateral positions are understandably rejected. We didn’t ask Saddam, for example, what he thought about human rights; or whether he thought he was defending himself when he massacred thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq.

Rather, we looked to international courts to provide opinions we could consider as non-biased and juridically legitimate.

Judges from the International Court of Justice

Today, we should be doing the same thing regarding Israel. We should not be listening to the Israeli Prime Minister’s opinion about Palestinian human rights.

We should, if this is not self-evident already, be listening to international juridical bodies: the Hague, the United Nations, the International High Court – the bodies typically charged with trying war crimes, harboring and enforcing the Geneva Accords, and other such things.

These are the international institutions that we all applaud when they condemn Qaddafi or Gbagbo; when they denounced South African apartheid or Charles Taylor’s gruesome killing sprees. Why would anyone be dismissing their opinions regarding Israel, but accepting them regarding everything else?

In any case, the opinions of these bodies are crystal clear, and there is near-perfect international consensus on what the Palestinian human rights include, issues such as the refugees’ “right of return” to their homes from which they were civilians illegally ejected by Israeli army forces (or compensation for denial of this right); the return to 1967 borders (since the Geneva Accords made it illegal to take territory in a war of aggression, see UN Resolution 242); and the demand for Jerusalem as the legitimate Palestinian capital, since it was taken thru aggression by Israel in 1967 (and taking territory through aggression is illegal).

So there is hardly anything complicated here; the opinions of the presiding international institutions are crystal clear and have been for some time. Moreover, they enjoy near-total consensus, with the vote tallies coming to something like 167-2 each year when they vote on these matters.

So it is somewhat bewildering to see the double standard with which some American and Israeli politicians regard issues like human rights and international criminal courts. Reperations were paid to Israel by Germany after WWII based on international treaties. The United States president regularly accuses its adversaries, from Saddam to Gaddafi, of having violated human rights and international agreements. Yet when it comes to Israel and the Geneva Accords, suddenly we are to stop applying the same standards?

Public debates between articulate intellectual figures are clarifying. This morning, Norman Finkelstein and Jonathon Ben-Ami confronted each other over the Obama speech and the Middle East Peace issues (text here, video below).

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