by William Saletan
Want to stop losing friends in the United Nations? Stop insulting our intelligence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing new West Bank settlements after the U.N. vote on Palestine
Four days ago, the United Nations General Assembly voted to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. The vote was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. Israel tried to squelch the resolution, then tried to defeat it, then scoffed that the vote meant nothing, but punished the Palestinians anyway by announcing new settlements and withholding Palestinian tax revenue. Now even the United States is ticked off.
How has Israel managed to lose the vote in a landslide and alienate its friends? By blowing its credibility on ludicrous complaints:
1. Unilateralism. Ever since Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas announced his plan to seek statehood through the U.N., Israel has denounced the move as “unilateral.” “Going to the UN with unilateral declarations and unilateral actions is not negotiations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protested on Oct. 31. A week later, Netanyahu argued that “peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly.” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, warned the U.N. Security Council, “Every Member State that lends its hand to supporting Palestinian unilateralism at the UN will be responsible for the grave consequences that follow.”
Shlemiels! The phrase “every Member State that lends its hand to supporting Palestinian unilateralism” is a contradiction in terms. If most of the General Assembly’s nearly 200 members approve something, that something is, by definition, not unilateral.
How did the Palestinians win the support of all those countries? By negotiating. They just weren’t negotiating with you. That’s how negotiation works: You have to offer the other side a better deal than they can get elsewhere.
That’s where you failed. Not just because the Palestinians didn’t like your offer, but because 138 countries lost faith in you and voted for Palestinian statehood themselves. Granted, plenty of governments hate you just for being Jewish or Zionist. But to get to 138, with only 9 countries on your side, took real effort. How did you achieve this debacle? By continuing to build settlements, even as you bellyached about the “one-sided” U.N. resolution. And how did you thank the U.S. and the other eight countries that stood with you? By announcing yet more settlements after the vote, this time in a West Bank sector that would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. What was that again about unilateralism?
2. Incitement. Netanyahu claims that in his U.N. speech, Abbas “incited against [Israeli] soldiers and Israeli citizens.” The Israeli cabinet says that Abbas’ remarks “included expressions of severe incitement” and that an Israeli investigation has found further “incitement in the Palestinian Authority,” such as “calls for a return to Jaffa and Haifa” and “complete ignoring of Israel on official maps.” According to Netanyahu, such incitement precludes serious peace talks: “As long as the Palestinian Authority educates the younger generation to hate, how is it at all possible to talk about peace?”
Give me a break. Yes, Abbas’ speech was full of purple invective about apartheid, colonialism, racism, and ethnic cleansing. That’s how an advocate talks when he’s pitching the plight of his people to an assembly full of countries that have suffered apartheid, colonialism, racism, and ethnic cleansing. Abbas thinks Israel has done a lot of evil things. Rebut him if you like. But you can’t just label this rhetoric “incitement” and claim that it makes peace talks impossible.
Any honest look at Palestinian history will tell you two things. One, there’s been plenty of real incitement to violence against Israel. And two, this speech wasn’t part of it. While Hamas has championed violence, Abbas has steadily preached negotiation. “Our people cling to the right to defend themselves against aggression and occupation,” he told the General Assembly, but “they will continue their popular, peaceful resistance.” That’s a speech of incitement? Please.
3. Jewish state. Since 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization has acknowledged “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” Abbas has reaffirmed that commitment. “We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a State established years ago, and that is Israel,” he told the General Assembly. What Palestinians demand, he stipulated, is the right “to live in peace and security alongside the State of Israel.”
But Israel refuses to take yes for an answer, because Abbas fails to include the magic word Jewish. “You still refuse to recognize the Jewish state,” Ambassador Prosor chided Abbas in a rebuttal address before the General Assembly. On Sunday, Netanyahu said, Palestinians’ “unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in any borders whatsoever is the root of the conflict. … The Palestinian Authority is unwilling to move towards accepting the existence of the State of Israel.”
Oy. Here’s how recognition works. You acknowledge the other state. You don’t tell it whether to be Jewish, Muslim, or Zoroastrian. Nor do you whine about Palestinians failing to call you a Jewish state, or failing to ensure that you’re named on every map, while you flagrantly withhold the same courtesy. In official Israeli statements since the U.N. vote, I find no acknowledgment of Palestinian territory. Instead, I find repeated references to “Judea and Samaria,” coupled with an assertion that “Israel, as the state of the Jewish People, has a right and claim to areas, the status of which is under dispute, in the Land of Israel.” That’s some chutzpah.
4. Diplomatic terrorism. Several months ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon came up with the charming idea of calling Palestinian initiatives in the U.N. “diplomatic terrorism.” This perversion of language alarmed other Israeli officials, but it hasn’t stopped. Two weeks ago, Liberman again accused Abbas of “diplomatic terrorism.” And on Sunday, Netanyahu called Abbas’s U.N. statehood bid an attempt “to use the diplomatic process in order to bring about the end of the State of Israel.”
Vey iz mir. After so many Israeli deaths at the hands of real terrorists—people who orchestrate and perpetrate violence against civilians—how could you forget the meaning of the word? How could you stoop to cheapening it? You just fought a war with Hamas in Gaza over rocket attacks on your citizens, while Fatah’s leadership in the West Bank pursues diplomacy instead. But instead of doing what Jewish values demand—resolutely distinguishing peaceful dialogue from indiscriminate violence—you deliberately conflate them. You demean our heritage and the memory of the dead.
I’m not here to defend Abbas or his U.N. address on every point. His account of Palestinian history was whitewashed. His portrayal of Israel was cartoonish. His description of what happened in Gaza was pathetically misleading. His failure to repudiate Hamas’ violence was gutless. Israel also has good reasons to demand, as part of any statehood agreement, security mechanisms and the renunciation of further Palestinian legal claims. But nobody hears any of that when Israel goes on building settlements and saying ridiculous things. All we hear is that you’re insulting our intelligence.
At the conclusion of its week-long campaign of intense aerial bombardment of Gaza last week, Israel hastened to declare victory over Palestinian resistance factions, touting its military achievements and announcing that it had restored its capacity of deterrence in the South.
In the official Israeli ‘scorecard’ of the conflict, the IDF claimed to have targeted no less than 30 senior resistance leaders, 19 high-level ‘command centers’, 980 underground rocket launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 42 ‘operation rooms and bases’ allegedly owned by Hamas and 26 ‘weapons manufacturing and storage facilities.’
What this perverse assessment of reality very clearly did omit however, were the scores of innocent Palestinian lives lost in Operation Pillar of Defense and the approximately $545 million of direct damage and $700 million of indirect damage that it inflicted on Gaza. According to a spokesman of the government in Gaza, the Israeli military destroyed 200 buildings and damaged 8,000 others over the course of the eight days of fighting. This new damage comes on top of as yet unhealed damage caused by Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
Nonetheless, temporarily casting aside this deplorable developmental and humanitarian situation in Gaza, what the pompous Israeli reckoning is also tellingly silent on is the disastrous toll conflicts such as these are exacting on Israeli national resources and society in general.
According to data compiled by Israeli government ministries, manufacturers, banks and investment houses, the damage to the Israeli economy from the last round of fighting in Gaza is expected to exceed $760 million. If the military preoccupation with Gaza continues, forecasters also expect the state budget deficit to grow, requiring further cuts in the welfare and education budgets, amongst others.
According to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth , the damage to the civil economy is huge: Tens of thousands of soldiers were been recruited and had left their workplaces. In addition, business owners in areas within the missile range are losing tens of millions of shekels in income and economic activity. The loss of proceeds in the commercial and services sector in the south is estimated at more than $25 million a day.
The paper says physical damage incurred to Israeli property during the operation including devastation to houses, roads, public equipment, infrastructure, vehicles and businesses has set back the economy tens of millions of shekels a day.
Additionally, the activation of the National Economy Emergency System came at a cost of millions of shekels. “The opening, renovation and maintenance of hundreds of bomb shelters cost local authorities tens of millions of shekels, which will be fully demanded from the state coffers. The expenses of Magen David Adom, fire services, police, ZAKA and other rescue and emergency organizations are estimated at tens of millions of shekels.”
Local production has also been damaged, and tourism is suffering too. Some 300 000 tourists canceled their visits to Israel and according to projections, the fighting in Gaza has cost the industry $1.8 billion in damages, extinguishing hopes that 2012 would be a bumper year for Israeli tourism.
“The public will have to pay for some of the new war expenses,” the paper quoted a senior economy official as saying.
Startling admissions have also been made of the scale of the financial burden faced by the Israeli defense establishment. Every single launch of an Iron Dome missile cost the military about NIS 250,000 (approximately half a million rand) and a staggering $25 -$30 million was spent in the 8 days of conflict alone to intercept 421 relatively unsophisticated Palestinian projectiles.
Ironically, many of Israel’s own defense specialists have themselves gone on record clarifying that most Palestinian rockets from Gaza pose more of a psychological threat to Israelis than a physical threat.
And now even as the Israeli defense establishment demands between $250-510 million from state coffers in compensation for war expenses, the Defense Ministry is busy conducting tests on the Magic Wand, an air defense system that will be able to intercept any hostile object launched from a distance of at least 70 kilometers. The purported cost of a single cutting-edge interceptor missile: a mind blowing $1 million.
Inevitably, much of these defense costs will be shouldered by a compliant US administration. Nonetheless, it is truly incomprehendible that Israel as a state expends such a great percentage of her resources on means to protect its system of privilege without even considering affording a fraction of those energies to remedy the root cause of her insecurities, namely its racist policies of Occupation and Dispossession.
To take a leaf from Briffault’s chronicles of the Roman empire, “No system of human organisation that is false in its very principle, in its very foundation, can save itself by any amount of cleverness or efficiency in the means by which that falsehood is carried out and maintained, by any amount of superficial adjustment and tinkering. It is doomed root and branch as long as the root remains wh