Israel, the US and Iran Flirt with Disaster
Date 2010/3/9 19:40:00
|Doha, Qatar, March 9, 2010 – Internationally speaking, there |
are only two subjects to talk about in the Middle East. These are
Israel, the Palestinians and the Americans; and Iran and Israel.
The two subjects dominated the annual meeting here of the
Institute for Mediterranean Political Studies, a group of senior or
retired European, American, and Middle Eastern officials and
observers, otherwise known as the Club of Monaco
The prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran was of general
concern, assumed as certain to bring Iranian retaliation against oil
transit to the West and against American forces in Iraq and the Gulf
principalities, as well as on Israel itself, leading to ruinous
escalation and grievous permanent consequences -- most of all to the
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff,
was in Israel in mid-February to warn the Israelis not to attack
Iran, the message he has since been conveying to all and sundry. In
an aside on the Afghanistan war, during a February 22 press
conference at the Pentagon, the admiral – who unlike most other
senior U.S. commanders is old enough to have experienced the Vietnam
war -- delivered a short admonition concerning the “essential truth”
about war: its horror.
His message to the Israelis had been that an
attack on Iran would be “a big, big, big problem for all of us, and I
worry a great deal about the unintended consequences.”
Despite Admiral Mullen’s warnings, the Obama administration
perversely continues to encourage Israeli belligerence through its
failure to react to the calculated insolence of the Benjamin
Netanyahu government, displayed this week with the announcement of
1,600 new housing units to be constructed in East Jerusalem. This
deliberate humiliation of the Obama administration is undoubtedly
intended to reinforce the Israeli prime minister’s domestic political
position, and that of the Likud party.
In addition, and more important, the function of this contemptuous
treatment of the vice president and of Barack Obama is meant to
demonstrate to the Palestinians, and to the Arabs generally, that
Likud’s political blackmail of the American administration and the
U.S. Congress can withstand any Israeli excess.
The first news Vice President Biden received when he arrived in Jerusalem
on Tuesday to launch a new American negotiations initiative (and give a university
lecture on U.S.-Israel “solidarity!”) was that the Defense Ministry had
already authorized 112 new residence units in an existing ultra-Orthodox settlement
on Palestinian land -- an “emergency case.” The 1,600 came afterwards.
The new peace initiative has Israel and the Palestinian Authority
negotiating indirectly, but in “proximity,” with the tireless Senator
George Mitchell running back and forth between the two. No one has
the faintest expectation of anything coming of this. Israel under
its present government is determined to continue to annex and settle
The actual terms of a realistic settlement have long ago been agreed
by official and unofficial negotiators and been ratified by both
Jewish and Palestinian populations in the course of the so-called
Geneva Initiative with its recently published annexes. This
agreement was privately circulated to the electorates on both sides
and accepted by both. However it, too, is meaningless so long as
Israeli policy remains what it is.
Two other initiatives are worth discussion. Both involve
international intervention. One could be launched by the
Palestinians themselves; the other involves the European Union and
such other members of the international community as wished to join.
These ideas eventually dominated discussion at the IMPS meeting.
The first is a version of the proposal already made by French Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner. The essential element in this plan is
international recognition of the declaration of a sovereign
Palestinian state within the territory recognized by the UN and
international law as Palestinian -- even though part of this
territory is occupied by Israel.
It has recently been described in the French press by Dominique
Moisi, an influential commentator and proven friend of Israel, as a
means for international intervention to “save a people and their
leaders rendered monstrous or powerless by the madness of man or an
aberration of nature.” He cites Rwanda and the atrocity at
Srebrenica in Bosnia as prior cases where the international community
had a duty to intervene.
Moisi defends this as saving Israel from itself, which – as its
former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni recently said -- “has been taken
hostage by its extremist parties.” Moisi quotes David Ben-Gurion
himself: “It is reasonable to believe in miracles.” A miracle would
be necessary to make the United States support such an action as this.
There nonetheless might be the ingredients of a miracle in the second
proposal discussed at the Qatar meeting. In 1947, Palestine was
partitioned and Israel created by the United Nations. Israel today
is recognized internationally within its 1967 borders.
It is conceivable that the Palestinians could petition the UN, or a
permanent member of the UN Security Council, to lay before the
Council its duty to complete its unfinished work from 1947: to set
the borders of the state of Palestine that was meant to be jointly
created with Israel, and to recognize its sovereignty within those
borders. The United States, of course, has a veto in the Security
However there is a further consideration. The Security Council in
1947 acted on the recommendation of the General Assembly. It is
possible that a Special Session of the General Assembly could be
convened to address the Palestinian petition.
There is no veto in the General Assembly. John Whitbeck, the
international lawyer who first raised this possibility in an article
published in 2001, says that if “a constructive and principled
General Assembly Resolution were passed on to the Security Council,”
an American use of its veto against the Palestinians would at the
minimum “cost it all remaining regional support for its war in
It was, after all, the United States in 1950 that found a way, by
means of a “Uniting for Peace” resolution in the General Assembly, to
mobilize the UN’s successful intervention against North Korean
aggression against South Korea, at a moment when Security Council
action was blocked by a Soviet veto.
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