Israeli sovereignty doesn’t extend to Palestinian territories

First published by the Arab Weekly on 21/1/2018

Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations.

Fifty years after Israel took control of all of historic Palestine in the Six-Day War, it is taking a number of approaches to the sta­tus and laws that operate in what the rest of the world consid­ers illegally occupied Palestinian territory. Israel regards the area as “disputed” territory that it might consider returning — or more likely return part of — to secure peace with its neighbours.

In reality, Israel behaves as if it is sovereign over the whole of historic Palestine. It is important to note that UN Security Council Resolu­tion 2334 distinguished between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, thus rejecting Israeli sovereignty over them.

International law does not consider Israel as sovereign over the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, which the Israelis in 1967 annexed in the Six-Day War. In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump referred to Israel as a “sovereign nation” that can “determine its own capital.” He is wrongly recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the whole city.

There is no way to access the ille­gally occupied Syrian Golan Heights except through Israel. That border has been effectively shut since the 1967 war, with the exception of some movement facilitated by the UN peacekeeping force for humani­tarian reasons. Even this move­ment came to a halt after violence erupted in Syria.

The Gaza Strip is accessed through the Beit Hanoun crossing, which Israel controls, or the Rafah crossing, which Egypt controls.

Entry to the West Bank and East Jerusalem is under Israel’s control, too. Palestinians with a Palestinian Authority (PA) passport enter and exit only via King Hussein Bridge, while Jordanian passport holders issued with Israeli visas by Israel’s Embassy in Amman can enter via the Sheikh Hussein Bridge further north.

Those carrying foreign passports, including European and US citizens wishing to visit either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories, can enter through one of the bridges or through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

The situation for human rights activists who wish to visit the oc­cupied territories has changed con­siderably over the past few years. While some have been subjected to questioning about the purpose of their visit and who they were plan­ning to meet, most were allowed to enter, especially those who man­aged to convince Israeli authorities they were tourists visiting holy sites.

Faced with increased scrutiny of its policies and an escalating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, however, Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations. It does this in addi­tion to pushing allies to implement anti-BDS laws, particularly in the United States, where some 20 states have such laws.

While Israel has long denied entry at will to activists and EU and US citizens of Palestinian heritage, it is now routinely denying entry to those working in organisations sup­porting BDS or individuals who are vocal in criticising it and supporting BDS. Israel has passed legislation amending its law of entry to specifi­cally deny access to such individu­als. This included Hugh Lanning, chairman of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign and myself. Shortly after this, it denied entry to Anwar Makhlouf, the head of the Palestinian community in Chile and three Swedish citizens, members of the World Council of Churches, over alleged BDS affiliations.

Israel went further in implement­ing its ban in July, ordering Lufthan­sa airline to deny boarding to five members of an interfaith delegation at Washington Dulles International Airport, including Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise. Jewish Voice for Peace, an activist organisation opposed to the occupation, said this was the first time Israel had barred Jews, including a rabbi, entry to Israel be­cause of political positions. Israel’s law of return stipulates that all Jews have the right to move to Israel and become a citizen. The airline claimed: “We don’t know who these people are. We have no information as to why the Israeli government does not want them to enter. We simply have to abide by the rules and regulations of every country in which we operate.”

Israel has gone even further, using intelligence about those planning to travel to one of its entry points to ban them before attempting to board flights. On November 13, it announced it was barring seven EU officials from travelling with a 20-member delegation of European Parliament members, national lawmakers and mayors over “sup­port for Israel boycott” and for their aim to raise awareness on the plight of Palestinian prisoners, including political figure Marwan Barghouti. Israel’s Interior Ministry said the delegation had planned to visit Barghouti in Hadarim prison. It an­nounced its decision a week before the delegation was to visit.

The European Union — France in particular — might have been expected to stand up for its citizens but instead used the sovereignty issue as a reason not to challenge Israel’s decisions. A French Foreign Office minister said: “One can regret this Israeli decision but it remains nonetheless sovereign.”

This is rather bizarre as the European Union does not recog­nise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories. It was left to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to challenge the decision. The group’s executive director, Sharon Abraham-Weiss, said: “The interior minister is not authorised to serve as a commissar standing at the gate and deciding for the country’s citizens and for the residents of the occupied territories, who are dependent on Israeli border crossings, which positions are ap­propriate to be heard. Freedom of expression is not just the right to express oneself but also the right to be exposed to opinions, even opinions that outrage and infuriate the majority in Israel.”

The European Union must take a stand on the issue of sovereignty, especially as it relates to the oc­cupied Palestinian territories, to ensure non-Israelis can access them or consider taking their own measures, including denying entry to illegal Israeli settlers wishing to visit. Otherwise, the message to Israel is “Carry on; there are no red lines to cross.”

Netanyahu is redefining ethnic cleansing not pursuing genuine peace

First published on the Middle East Monitor on 10/11/2017

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [Benjamin Netanyahu/Facebook]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not known for missing an opportunity to push peace further into the distant future. The dust had not even settled on the Balfour Centenary, which the Palestinians marked with anger and Israel and its supporters celebrated, before Netanyahu took to the air to absolve Israel of any fault for the lack of progress towards peace. Israel is in a difficult neighbourhood and therefore its security needs are such that meeting these is almost incompatible with a Palestinian state.

In an interview with the well-known BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr, he trotted out the usual talking points. Israel, he said, “stands out as a beacon of democracy, a beacon of self-restraint in a sea of trouble”. As for the Israeli army, “there is no more moral army in the world,” he said. The settlements “are an issue but I don’t think they are the issue”. Instead he believes the issue “is the 100-year-old refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognise a Jewish state in any boundary”.  Netanyahu took issue with Marr regarding the settlements, saying “the idea that Jews cannot live in Judea [the West Bank] is crazy”. When challenged that it is Palestinian territory, which the UN says is a flagrant violation of international law, he said that it is “disputed territory”. He even claimed that the settlements are “a side issue for Palestinians too,” arguing that he is continuing to work for the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine.

On the prospects for a Palestinian state he said that the Palestinians “should have all the powers to govern themselves and none of the powers to threaten us”. Marr pushed him on whether this means the end of the two-state solution and the move to a different solution – one state. “No,” he replied, “I don’t want a one-state solution. I’ll be clear about that”. He argued that it was about the kind of state that emerges. To him it would have to be demilitarised and recognise the state of Israel. In fact, the Palestinian Authority has already met both these conditions. In signing the Oslo Accords, the PLO recognised the state of Israel while Israel did not recognise a Palestinian state, but rather the PLO as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people”.

In the wider context, the real threat to Israel is the Iranian threat. In a Chatham House interviewearlier in the same week, Netanyahu argued that Iran was a “cause”; an expansionist country that wanted to gobble up small and medium-sized states as it moved towards the “larger states”. To him, Israel shares this fear with Sunni-majority countries. He presented Israel as the only example in the Middle East of what he called “modernity” vs. the “Medievalists,” which were both Shia and Sunni Islamists.

Netanyahu again reiterated his belief that the conflict would be finished if the Palestinians recognised a Jewish state. When challenged that in fact the Palestinians will not get a state but an “entity,” Netanyahu came clean. He argued that it was time to “to reassess whether the model we have of sovereignty and unfettered sovereignty is applicable everywhere on the earth”. He pointed to the British not wanting “outside control” on their economy, hence Brexit, and pointed to the lack of “economic sovereignty” that Greece has, referring to his “friend” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He argued that in the complex world we live in, there are constraints on what are considered sovereign powers.

His argument was that in the case of historic Palestine, the land was too small to divide. He said that he had presented to US President Donald Trump a map which showed the distance from the West Bank to the Mediterranean as 50 kilometres which he said was the same distance form “Trump Tower to the George Washington Bridge”. If Israel leaves the West Bank, then “militant Islam” would move in as happened in Gaza and Lebanon. It is either a “green flag” or a “black flag’. While not wanting to “govern the Arabs,” he wants overall security from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean: “For us the critical thing is to have the overriding security responsibility.” The demilitarisation of the West Bank would be done by Israel.

In other words, no Palestinian state will emerge but an entity which would have governing sovereignty but no security sovereignty.

At the same Chatham House event, Netanyahu described the demand for the removal of West Bank settlers as “ethnic cleansing,” comparing the settlers to Palestinian citizens of Israel. “From the Palestinian point of view, why do I have to take out Jews for peace? Do I have to take Arab citizens out of Israel for peace?” The comparison between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the illegal settlers is absurd. The Palestinians were there before Israel was created while the settlers were moved into the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights in breach of international law. Their removal would correct a wrong.

This is not the first time Netanyahu has used this analogy. In 2016 he was rebuked for using it by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Obama administration. The Obama administration described it as inappropriate: “We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. Perhaps Netanyahu feels that with Donald Trump in the White House, this approach will find favour.

Another term that needs adjusting according to Israel is refugee. The claim now is that Jews that migrated to Israel from Arab countries at its inception are refugees in the same way as Palestinian refugees deliberately driven out of Palestine in 1948 are regarded as refugees, despite the fact that they are not formally recognised as refugees by the UN.

In Netanyahu’s eyes, rather than Israel work towards meeting its obligations under international law for peace, he is attempting to create confusion and change the discourse to make ending the occupation and creating a sovereign Palestinian state a threat to Israel’s very survival. The two terms he is out to remould are now sovereignty and ethnic cleansing.

I wish he was using the brain power around him to pursue genuine peace with the Palestinians instead of thinking that the status quo and redefining a couple of terms will bring Israel peace or security.