Updated: Aug 5
Over the years, the dispute between Israel and Palestine has escalated into a humanitarian and political catastrophe. The aftermath of the Six-Day War has revealed the problem to be a question of human rights, a question of the illegal settlements and most importantly a question of war crimes by involved parties. The discussion in the Security Council today is of preventing a humanitarian crisis and an armed conflict. The fact that the Security Council has essentially drifted away from the main question of statehood reflects the state of affairs when it comes to the Israel-Palestine dispute.
On 20th May, the United Nations Security Council held a meeting through Videoconference to discuss the situation in middle-east including the Palestinian question. The Security Council in this particular meeting was compelled to discuss the threat of unilateral annexation of West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised in his election campaign that if elected, he would conduct an annexation in West Bank. This serves as an immediate threat for the Security Council considering the Prime Minister of Israel vowed to make good of the campaign promise in his address to the Knesset of Israel on 17th May. The Special Coordinator for the Middle-East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov in response to such a promise has explained how this promise will act as a heavy blow to the two-state solution for resolution of the dispute. While the entire international community has been very active to condemn such a threat of annexation, it is worth pondering why Israel is still determined to go ahead with the same at the cost of international criticism and possible diplomatic isolation. The Israeli’s have clarified how the decision on annexation will be made in full agreement with the United States, and this clarifies to a large extent why Israel is ignorant of the possible repercussions of the annexation.
The riveting relationship between the United States and Israel
The change in regime at Washington has helped Israel in going back to the aggressive stance that they pursued before the Oslo Accords were signed. The Trump administration has been aggressive towards the issue and it was communicated with the shifting of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is important to understand that both are closely aligned due to the benefits that are being extracted by both from the other party. To understand it in the simplest of ways, Israel serves as an important trade partner for the United States. The United States has contributed significantly to Israel’s economy over the years, however, since 2006 the aid has been made as Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and other economic aid has ceased owing to Israel’s growing economic prosperity. Interestingly, from the aid received as FMF, seventy-four per cent is to be used in acquiring United States defence equipment, services and training by the Israeli government. Owing to the same, Israel serves as the largest market for defence products of United States in the world and thus the whole arrangement in totality serves as a great benefit to the United States and is a major reason for Washington to maintain this close relationship with Israel. Israel has a derived interest from this relationship with the United States. The Israeli interest accrues from political and legal benefits. The relationship between Israel and United States has prevented the Security Council in taking any action with respect to the settlements or question of war crimes since the United States acts as an obstruction to all the Security Council resolutions aiming to do so.
The United States reportedly have used their veto power forty-two times to obstruct a resolution of the Security Council dealing with Israel. The permanent status of the United States also means that Israel shall continue to enjoy such protection in the future too, as long as they share an important and close relationship with the United States.
The Security Council has not been able to refer the question of war crimes in the middle-east to the International Criminal Court since the United States continues to object to the same. The Security Council also constantly fails to invoke Article 39 of the UN Charter and take action under Chapter 7 with respect to the situation due to the vehement opposition by the United States through their Veto.
Politically, United States also acts as a huge support to the Israeli’s since they are an important part of the Quartet on the middle-east and can influence the discussions regarding the peace process in middle-east and tilt them in favor of the Jews.
An Illusion in the name of a peace Plan
While addressing the Security Council meeting, Mr Mladenov emphasized on the nature of Palestinian response to this threat of annexation. He explained that the response is clearly a cry for help and the International community has the responsibility to act. He also requested the Quartet to come with a plan as soon as possible. The representative of the United States (a member of the quartet) mentioned how the proposal by Mr Trump should be promoted and Palestinians should be encouraged to accept the same. However, it is important to have a closer look at the plan that the United States has been suggesting. The plan suggested by Trump shows a shift in policy over the Israeli settlements in west bank by the United States. They have always called the settlements as illegal and against the principles of International law however in the recent plan they term them as ‘consistent with international law’ and call for them to be incorporated into the Israeli territory. In addition to the legalization of the settlements, the United States has also put forth a few other conditions before granting Palestine statehood. The United States has suggested that Palestine will take not take any legal action against the United States and Israel, will put an end to all the on-going legal proceedings against both in International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice and all other tribunals.
The ‘Vision for peace’ seems more like a contract for statehood against the suspension of all legal proceedings than an actual peace plan. It is a clear effort to avoid any investigations and inquiries by the International tribunals over the claims of war crimes being committed by Israel and allied personnel. Such a systematic effort to do the same also to a large extent establishes the guilt of the parties. However, more noteworthy is the lack of intention from the United States to actually negotiate on the matter and provide a platform for Israel to justify its unilateral actions. It is clear that the terms of the agreement suggested in the plan are too harsh on Palestinians and it is almost certain that they will never accept the said terms. The plan can hardly be called a genuine effort to negotiate with the Palestinians. It seems likely that in a couple of months, the Israeli’s will carry out the annexation and will give the justification of stagnant peace process or Palestinian withdrawal from the negotiation table as possible reasons to take such an action. This is why; the question surrounding the Palestinian process becomes even more important for the Security Council in light of this threat looming large over the middle-east.
The way forward from stagnant discussion
The Quartet which has been requested by Mladenov to take an action has been termed as a failure by many stakeholders. The terming of the quartet as a failure is justified in every sense and it should be abandoned to make way for a better platform to negotiate. It has been eighteen years since the quartet was formed and there has been no concrete plan that quartet have put forth or no real outcome from any of the quartet meetings. The Russians have been increasingly passive on the situation in Palestine since President Putin first visited Israel fifteen years ago. A major reason for the dominance of the United States and Israel in the negotiation process is the lack of support for Palestinians. The Soviet Union was a very aggressive supporter of Palestinian statehood however since the new policy of Russia has been devised, their cooperation with Israel has been increasing gradually. Putin had termed Israel as a ‘special state’ on the basis of common interests shared and avoiding confrontation in Syria. This relationship between Russia and Israel has hindered the ability of the Russians in acting as the voice of the Palestinians. The Russians cannot perform the role and it is possibly time for them to admit the same and make way for another country who can match the aggressive diplomacy of the United States when it comes to Middle-east. The ideal candidate is right in front of them in the Security Council. Perhaps, it is time to indulge China in the discussions over the middle-east and let them be the active voice of Palestinians which they desire very badly. China has been pretty vocal about Israel and their actions in the region. Even in the meeting on 20th May, it was only China who suggested removal of the blockade for better assistance to Gaza in times of a pandemic. They have actively argued against the West and Israel for their suppression of the Palestinians and argued for their statehood. They represent a much better voice than the Russians at the present moment and they certainly should step forward to assume such a role in the process and find a solution to this crisis once and for all.