Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Knowing Ones' Real Friends
By Curtis F.J. Doebbler
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 13, 2010
The Israeli-Palestinian talks taking place under the auspices
of the United States highlight a denial of reality and a shocking
ignorance of international relations by the Parties involved.
than providing any chance of a just solution to the Palestinian problem,
the talks offer an opportunity to evaluate the credibility and legitimacy
of the various actors in the process. They are an opportunity for the
Palestinian people, the Arab community, the Islamic community, and the
international community at large to review the integrity of several actors
in the process and to learn lessons that might make a solution possible in
the future. Some of these lessons are already apparent.
will not act in good faith
The first lesson to be learned is that
Israel is ruthlessly committed to perpetuating its own existence as a
state without regard for international law or the views of the rest of the
international community. This is troubling to anyone who has respect of
the rule of international law. It is also a strong indication that the
type of action needed to sway Israel will not be negotiations, but will
need to include effective enforcement measures.
its intransigence this week in the context of negotiations around the UN
Human Rights Council by calling for removal of consideration of the
situation of Palestine from the Council’s agenda. This was an attempt by
Israel to avoid criticism from a body that has frequently been critical of
Israel and has attempted to apply international law. Rather than acting in
accordance with any of the numerous resolutions of the United Nations tat
cal on Israel to respect international law, Israel focused on killing
these calls by removing the Item concerning Palestine from the agenda of
Israel’s contempt for international law as even
reached the state of its most respected leaders apparently encouraging the
perpetration of the crime of genocide. Israel’s former chief rabbi Ovadia
Yosef recently stated about Palestinians that “all these evil people
should perish from this world.”
Israel’s intransient refusal to
respect international is manifested in so many ways that they are hard to
count. Most notably it continues to deny Palestinians their right to
self-determination by continuing an occupation that the United Nations has
repeatedly called illegal. Israel has taken so much land from the
Palestinians that there is no longer enough land for a viable state. In
undertaking its land grab 1948 and 1967 borders have been ignored as has
been the will of the Palestinian people which is a condition of
international law applying to the creation of any state in the region long
before Israel was created.
On a daily basis Israel has
intentionally created conditions of life that are intended to destroy all
or at least a significant part of the Palestinian people living in Gaza.
These conditions included daily violations of the human rights to food, to
health, to education, to security of person, and even to life. They also
include the wilful killing of dozens of Palestinian women and children.
Even in the West Bank, as they talk with the Palestinian
President, Israel is continuing to build settlements to confiscate
Palestinians’ land, to destroy Palestinian homes, and violate rights to
health, to education, to freedom of movement, to participate in
government, to fair trial, and to life.
negotiations, especially those about such a weighty matters, must be based
on international law. Israeli’s disrespect for the law has made it
painfully clear that this can not be the case. The international community
must learn the lesson that they need to move to dealing with Israel
through enforcement measures.
The US not a neutral party
While most Palestinians learned the lesson that the US is not a neutral
negotiating party long ago, many others in the international community,
including the United States have not learned this lesson. President Obama
still pranced down the red carpet leading the parties into negotiations as
if he were a neutral party. To most Palestinians and Arabs this was merely
a display of an arrogant leader leading the humbled and obedient
Palestinians to the gallows.
The US remains the main funder of
Israel’s occupying military and the main champion of Israeli while it
continues to oppress the Palestinian people. At the same time the United
States continues to keep both the PLO and HAMAS on its list of terrorist
organizations. Such differences in treatment show a bias so extreme that
one should wonder if any right-minded politician would ever even talk to
the United States. In any event, most certainly under such circumstances,
it is impossible for the United States to be an impartial actor or a
mediator in peace talks.
The talks are not really supported by
Palestinians or the international community
While Washington seeks
to claim that it is convening peace talks that are widely supported, the
opposite is more likely true based on the statements of Palestinians and
other prominent actors in the international community.
allegations that polls showed support for the direct talks before they
began, among prominent Palestinians the reaction to the talks inside and
outside of Palestine has been overwhelmingly negative.
Arab Liberation Front’s Ibrahim Al-Za'aneen called the talks a waste of
time. Former legal advisor to the PLO Diana Buttu, referred to the
decision to enter talks as being “incredibly unpopular with Palestinians.”
Palestinian National Initiative leader Mustafa Barghouthi implored Abbas
to reconsider his decision to enter into direct talks. HAMAS spokesman
Sami Abu Zuhri called the talks a “conspiracy against the cause.” And
Miftah.Org reported on 1 September that based on a recent poll less than
25% of all Palestinians believe the peace talks can succeed.
Outside of Palestine, the resentment and scepticism of Palestinians is
equally growing. Almost fifty prominent, mostly living outside Palestine
signed or endorsed a letter on 22 July calling for criticizing Abbas for
caving into demands from the United States and Israel. The letter to Abbas
stated that as Palestinians the right to self-determination and other
rights under international law “inhere in us as a people; they are not
yours to do with as you please.” It went on to call for a “legally and
democratically elected leadership that is responsible, capable and
committed to the fulfilment of our national rights and aspirations to live
in freedom, dignity and just peace in our ancestral homeland” and called
upon Abbas “to immediately revive the democratic processes” so that
Palestinians “can designate leaders with an effective vision and strategy
for achieving our rights as a people.”
The lack of legitimacy of
the current Palestinian leadership has also been apparent to outside
observers. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah criticized the talks as a
sell out of the Palestinian people. And Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad referred to the talks as “doomed to failure” and questioned
the legitimacy of the Abbas to speak for the Palestinian people. Indeed,
Abbas’ term expired more than year ago but he has continued to be an
unelected President until he authorizes new elections to be held.
Even Palestinian strongman Mohamed Dahlan, who is widely credited with
having instigated the HAMAS crack down in Gaza by threatening to overthrow
the elected government, was reported by the Jerusalem Post on 9 September
as saying that the “negotiations [are] doomed to fail because US is biased
in Israel's favour.” This is a significant statement coming from a ‘love
child’ of the Americans, but it also shows the delusions harboured by
Dahlan’s own Fatah party in entering into negotiations under American
You can’t negotiate peace without one of the parties
The absence of HAMAS is perhaps the biggest single handicap to the
peace talks. Excluding this actor is apparently a concession to the
arrogance of the Americans and the pride of the Ramallah based
There are few examples in international history of a
lasting peace being imposed on parties. Those examples that do exist are
based on large scale enforcement efforts that usually are wars. The First
and Second World Wars were attempts to impose peace. Both these wars were
allegedly fought on a foundation of justice. To impose peace on the
Palestinians by force would be to impose injustice.
imposed by coercion and threats, including implicit threat of use of
force, in which HAMAS has not participated is likely not to be accepted by
the majority of Palestinians. It may even create a greater divide between
Israel and Palestinians.
A just peace could perhaps be achieved by
the collective use or threat of force to require Israel to recognize the
Palestinians’ right to self-determination. But this type of action is
unlikely under the current circumstances. It would also require that
Israel and the United States put such faith in international law and
processes that they could accept that this might mean that the state of
Israel would cease to exist.
The second best alternative would be
to make the peace process more transparent and inclusive. This would
require involving HAMAS.
Only a real international
initiative might work
If it is recognized that the United States
is not a neutral broker, then a search can begin for a more appropriate
forum. For such a forum to work it will either have to be an inclusive
regional forum or an international forum.
This conclusion is not
surprising given that it is exactly the solution initially proposed by the
United Nations acting with the emotional and intellectual intensity
generated by a horrendous world war. When the victors and few
friends got together to create the United Nations they opted for
international dispute settlement mechanisms based on law, on regional
authority, and international authority. The ultimate international actor
was intended to be the UN General Assembly, although the Security Council
was given the primary—not exclusive—responsibility for peace and security
this was conditioned on its ensuring prompt and effective action by the
United Nations. To date the Security Council’s action has been anything,
but prompt or effective. As a consequence the General Assembly has the
responsibility to take over the resolution of “The Question of Palestine,”
as it is generically called in United Nations jargon.
responsibility is not met by the UN Secretary-General’s involvement in
“The Quartet” with Russia, the United States, and the European Union. In
fact, this involvement would seem to contradict the responsibility that
rests squarely on the shoulders of the United States government. Rather
than promoting peace The Quartet has merely fermented resentment and
caused the parties to move further apart. This is not surprising given
what has already been said about the United States, which is the leading
actor in this forum.
While a regional mechanism might also have
been possible, the Arab League, despite its good intentions has shown
itself to be both inadequate and to be perceived as bias by the Israeli
authorities. Despite the good intentions of its Secretary-General, former
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, the League has proven itself to be
inappropriate for the task.
What is needed?
Marwan Al-Barghouthi, the jailed Palestinian activist who would have
likely been elected President instead of Mahmoud Abbas had he not been
imprisoned, unity must be the primary concern of the authorities in
Ramallah and in Gaza. Indeed, the HAMAS leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyah,
has said the same thing.
This meeting of minds of Palestinians,
however, has not been reciprocated by President Abbas. Instead, Abbas has
refused repeated invitations to meet his Gaza counterpart. The Palestinian
diplomats in New York and Geneva have constantly discouraging such
meetings, usually attaching statements of animosity towards HAMAS to their
The Holy Quran requires Muslims to work for unity
(48:29). This would seem to be common sense. Even a small town American
lawyer who became President recognized almost a hundred and fifty years
ago that “[a] house divided against itself cannot stand.” While the
American experience of disunity led to the most bloody war in which the
United States has ever been involved, the disunity between Palestinians
threatens the very existence of the Palestinians people.
wants to show courage and that he really cares about the wishes of the
Palestinian people he should enter into direct face-to-face talks with
Haniyah and continue those talks until Palestinian unity has been
It was the commitment to unity of all Palestinians that
endeared his predecessor to the Palestinian people. It is Abbas lack of
commitment to unity that has characterized his administration.
Only after Palestinians have been unified can they begin to discuss their
strategy for peace with Israel.
At this point they should go back
to the most fundamental basics. They should recognize that Palestinians
have had their right to self-determination denied since their occupation
by the British in the 1920s. According to international law as interpreted
by the overwhelming majority of international jurists, the indigenous
people of Palestine had the right to decide their own fate at the end of
their mandate. They have never been allowed to exercise this right, but
they still firmly possess it under international law.
The right to
self-determination does not mean that the state of Israel that has been
recognized by the United Nations must be dissolved, although it does not
exclude this possibility either. What it does mean is that any decision on
what state or states are formed in the region must be made in full
consultations with the broader Palestinian community.
this manner, as international law requires, it is the Israelis authorities
that must convince the Palestinians to allow them to exist, not the other
way around. Put this way it is also Israel that must make significant
concessions, not the Palestinians. Considered in this light, it is quite
possible that the UN General Assembly could propose a just solution for
“The Question of Palestine” that would meet the expectations of the
parties in so far as these are in conformity with international law. And
in so far as they are not, the General Assembly might have to show that
its has the courage to act on the principles upon which the UN as founded
and takes measure to ensure respect for international law.
solutions, of course, depend on leaders who have integrity, a sense of
purpose, courage, and a healthy respect for international law. Only such
leaders are up to such a daunting and world changing task. Barak Obama,
Mahmoud Abbas, Ban Ki-Moon, and Benjamin Netanyahu have yet to exhibit
these qualities, but it may still not be too late.
Dr. Curtis Doebbler is an international lawyer with an
office in Washington D.C,, a professor at Webster University and the
Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, both located in
Geneva, Switzerland, and the representative of Nord-Sud XXI at the UN in
New York and Geneva.