The Bush administration is asking both sides in the Israel-Palestine standoff to “bend”. It seems like the administration is whispering its advice rather than pushing hard, but the tone is right.
But in a comment today, Tony Snow said that he thought that the UN should not issue a resolution condemning Israel’s incursion into Gaza.
Whether the UN should or should not do this is a point I don’t care to debate.
However, I will recount elements of a conversation in which I recently participated. I have to protect the people involved — but suffice it to say that there was a significant diplomatic presence at a small luncheon and most of the diplomats were involved deeply in UN affairs. The guests were from a disparate group of think tanks, as well as representatives from the Congress and the administration.
One of the U.S. government officials present advised the ranking diplomat at the lunch that if there was a strong desire to get the United States in as a member of the Human Rights Council next year, it would “help” if the Council did not disproportionately focus on Israel as compared to other nations where there are far more significant and important human rights abuses underway. In other words, the U.S. official was saying that life would be easier for America and for U.S. participation in the Human Rights Council if other allies could help take some of the heat off of Israel.
Frankly, I don’t think that this was such bad advice. There are many human rights abusers in the world that deserve far more attention than Israel, but that said, Israel does deserve the scrutiny of the world for the way it has treated Palestinians during the Occupation. To be fair, I found it fascinating to learn recently — and quite heartening in fact — to learn that Palestinians can sue for all sorts of causes in the Israeli Supreme Court and often win their cases. That shows a positive side of Israeli justice that few see, but there is also a harsh and often radicalizing side to Israeli interaction with the Palestinians that is just as often the reality.
But what the U.S. official needs to understand is that America’s zealous protection of Israeli interests in the United Nations is not being helped by Israel itself. Tony Snow stated today that the White House is “encouraged” by Israel’s decision to hold back a full scale invasion of Northern Gaza. Frankly, the White House should be miffed that Israel has gone to the lengths it has to disrupt the quality of life of tens of thousands of Palestinians in their pursuit of their kidnapped soldier.
The Israeli response in attempting to secure Gilad Shalit has done several things. It has increased the fear among average, innocent Palestinians of Israel and that they will be potentially killed or have their lives disrupted because of such incidents as the kidnapping. This is probably a lesson Israel wanted to teach. But it also increases support and empathy for those fighting Israel — and further alienates average Palestinians from Israeli communications and objectives. It seems obvious to me that such behavior from Israel is exactly what the most militant factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad wanted to have happen. Their stock rises when Israel is provoked to fury — and the innocent middle that Israel needs to somehow reach is crushed.
I realize that this situation is murky. So many have said that the Palestinians have brought this on themselves. There is a silent majority in Palestine that was tired of the corruption of their former government — a corruption that included many senior members of the Israeli elite. They also yearn for self-determination and an end to Israel’s occupation of their homeland.
Israel has gotten very close to working out these problems in the past — with Rabin in particular. My hunch is that if Ariel Sharon had remained healthy, he might have eventually been pushed towards a negotiated endgame to his unilateral withdrawal plan — but my view is only speculative and based on some background conversations that are not definitive.
But there is an opportunity to take unstable situations where there is high drama and to pull off a grand, pragmatic bargain. Olmert and Peretz need to get on more strategically adept ground and turn this mess into an opportunity.
The status quo can’t stand.
— Steve Clemons