Thursday, September 24, 2009

UN Goldstone Report on Gaza Threatens US as well as Israel

Not that Israel needed any more confirmation. What is new is that in recent months Israel has felt that its one reliable trustworthy ally, the United States, is also slip sliding away. Witness the remarks of President Barack Obama before the UN yesterday.

It is true that he re-affirmed the commitment of the United States to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. However, he also said, "we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

What the President Obama should realize (and either does realize or suffers from alarming naivete), to the so-called "moderates" in the Arab world, the words "Israeli settlements" mean all Israeli neighborhoods or towns beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines (often mis-described as the "June 1967 borders"--they were not internationally recognized borders). That would include areas such as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion block of towns, all of which are Jewish areas that were captured by the Jordanians in the 1948-49 war that broke out upon Israel's creation. For some reason, the capture of Jewish lands by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948 makes those lands Palestinian lands (even though Jordan did not create a Palestinian state when it had the chance), while the recapture of them in 1967 does not reverse the process. If someone can explain that distinction to me in terms of international law, it would be deeply appreciated.

It gets worse. To much of the Arab and Islamic world, including Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and their ilk, all of Israel is an illegal settlement. The Palestinian Authority takes that position as well in its public pronouncements. Consequently, they may wonder whether President Obama is sending a coded signal that he concurs with their position.

No U.S. President has ever stated publicly that in a permanent peace settlement Israel must return to the 1949 ceasefire lines. Indeed, it has been extensively documented that the U.S. delegation that crafted U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which ended the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, contemplated that a permanent peace treaty would include border adjustments.

But I digress, my subject was the UN Goldstone Report on Gaza. I was gratified to read yesterday pleased to read that the Obama Administration initially indicated to Israel and American Jewish leaders that it would block any effort by the Palestinians to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court on the basis of the Goldstone Report. According to JTA:
A top White House official told Jewish organizational leaders in an off-the-record phone call Wednesday that the U.S. strategy was to "quickly" bring the report -- commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council and carried out by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone -- to its "natural conclusion" within the Human Rights Council and not to allow it to go further, Jewish participants in the call told JTA.

The reason for that sound position is not sympathy for Israel, but rather enlightened self-interest on the part of the United States (which by-the-by should always be the basis for United States foreign policy). The causes of the civilian deaths in Gaza are indistinguishable from the situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters and leaders take refuge in civilian areas, often leading to deaths and injuries of non-combatants in U.S. and NATO attacks. An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal points that out, and also provides an excellent description of the inacurracies and bias manifest throughout the report.

However, true to its perplexing diplomatic style, the Obama Administration has already flip-flopped on its earlier assurances. JTA reports that Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, called JTA to say that the White House official quoted in the earlier JTA article had "mispoke." Vietor said that the Administration's official position on the report remains as articulated last week by Susan Rice, the U.S. Abassador to the United Nations. She condemned the report as biased, but said nothing about the U.S. blocking an International Criminal Court action against Israel. So the U.S. has left Israel dangling in the wind, even at the expense of America's own interests.

This is why polls in Israel show that the percentage of Israelis who trust in the good intentions of the Obama Administration toward Israel has dropped to 4%. As former UN Ambassador John Bolton commented to Fox News yesterday, the Obama Administration is sending out signals to the world that it will treat enemies of our country better than it will treat our friends.

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