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Gaza and the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood
Henry Siegman
Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center
August 2014


Executive summary

The slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the Dresden-like reduction to rubble

of large parts of

Gaza by Israel’s military forces in the name of its own citizens’ security has

exposed the hypocrisy

that lies at the heart of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians. Israel’s claim to

the right of

self-defence in order to prevent its victims’ emergence from under its

occupation is the ultimate

expression of chutzpa.

An occupying power is under two obligations in international law: to end the

occupation, and until

it does so, to protect the population under its occupation.

Israel is in blatant violation of both of these obligations. The security threats to

its own population

that it invokes to justify its assaults that regularly result in the killing of far

more Palestinian

non-combatants than militants are triggered by its occupation. Occupied

people who are told by

their occupier that their subjugation is permanent and that they will never be

allowed to exercise

the right to national self-determination and sovereign existence on territories

recognised by

the international community as their rightful patrimony have every right to

resort to resistance,

including violent resistance, to achieve their freedom if they are reacting to the

violence that is

keeping them illegally under occupation. It is a right exercised by the Jewish

people when their

own struggle for statehood was challenged.

The slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the Dresden-like

reduction to rubble of large parts of Gaza by Israel’s

military forces in the name of its own citizens’ security has

exposed the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of Israel’s

dealings with the Palestinians. Israel’s claim to the right of

self-defence in order to prevent its victims’ emergence

from under its occupation is the ultimate expression of

chutzpa.

Without entering the debate over whether the rocket

assaults on Israel from Gaza were precipitated in every

instance by Israel’s own violations of truces and ceasefire

accords it negotiated with Hamas, as documented by

various analysts (including Amira Hass, Peter Beinart,

Nathan Thrall, Sara Roy and others), Israel’s claim to

self-defence is based on a glaring falsehood.

An occupying power is under two obligations in international

law: to end the occupation, and until it does so, to

protect the population under its occupation.

Israel is in blatant violation of both of these obligations.

The security threats to its own population that it invokes to

justify its assaults that regularly result in the killing of far

more Palestinian non-combatants than militants are

triggered by its occupation. Occupied people who are told

by their occupier that their subjugation is permanent and

that they will never be allowed to exercise the right to

national self-determination and sovereign existence on

territories recognised by the international community as

their rightful patrimony have every right to resort to

resistance, including violent resistance, to achieve their

freedom, if they are reacting to the violence that is keeping



them illegally under occupation. It is a right exercised by

the Jewish people when their own struggle for statehood

was challenged.

This reality has certain clear policy implications for the

ceasefire discussions currently under way. Robert Serry,

the United Nations (UN) special coordinator for the Middle

East peace process, told the UN Security Council on August

18th that “The basic equation [in these negotiations] must

consist of ending the blockade on Gaza, and addressing

Israel’s legitimate security concerns”. These two “legitimate”

goals are utterly irreconcilable, unless the Israelis

are prepared to offer the Palestinians a guaranteed and

enforceable road to a two-state solution, in conformity with

the Road Map for Middle East Peace, to be implemented in

parallel with Gaza’s demilitarisation. If they cannot or will

not agree to this, there is no basis whatever for their

demand for Gaza’s demilitarisation, for Israel has no right

to expect Palestinians to acquiesce to the status quo as an

occupied people as their permanent destiny.

The war crimes committed by Israel’s armed forces during

its War of Independence have been documented by Benny

Morris in his book Righteous Victims, and more recently by

Ari Shavit in his book My Promised Land. Both argue that

because there would have been no Jewish state without

these crimes (an unproven and doubtful claim), they must

be accepted as a necessary evil. It is a dispensation that

neither author, nor Israelis in general, are prepared to

extend to Palestinians under Israel’s occupation who are

still struggling for their people’s independence and

statehood.

Too many Israelis seem to believe – indeed, to take absolutely

for granted – that they have a God-given right to

occupy, suppress, disenfranchise and displace non-Jews

– particularly Arabs – in Israel. This right seems to be

implied in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that

Palestinians affirm the State of Israel as the historic

homeland of the Jewish people.

It is a belief that, by extension, also leads some Israeli

Jews to discredit and disenfranchise fellow Israeli Jews –

typically those of Israel’s political left, and NGO humanitarian

and civil rights activists – who criticise Israel’s behaviour

as deeply violative of democratic and humanitarian

norms. This is why there have been repeated efforts in

Israel’s Knesset to outlaw such NGOs.

It may also account for the fact that adherents to a Jewish

religious tradition that stresses the sanctity of human life

and man’s creation in the image of the divine react so

callously to the destruction of innocents as Israelis have,

80-90% of whom approved Israel’s killing and maiming of

so many of Gaza’s non-combatant population. It seems not

to occur to them that this sense of special entitlement that

characterises their behaviour resonates an ideology that

led to the Holocaust – even as they invoke the memory of

the Holocaust to justify measures they say are intended to

prevent its reoccurrence.

It also may explain why of all the democracies in the world,

Israel is probably the only one in which a member of its

parliament (the Knesset), Ayelet Shaked, who publicly

advocates the genocide of the residents of Gaza, has not

been expelled from her political party or from Israel’s

parliament, and whose deputy speaker of the Knesset,

Moshe Feiglin, is an advocate of ethnic cleansing.

If there was any doubt (there never should have been) that

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government had no

intention of ever permitting Palestinians to realise their

right to statehood and self-determination, Netanyahu

personally dispelled it on July 11th 2014 in a press conference

in Hebrew, in which he declared he would never allow

Palestinians the right to genuine sovereignty, the one

element that defines statehood. As noted approvingly in the

Times of Israel by its editor, David Horovitz, “Nobody will

ever be able to claim in the future that [Netanyahu] didn’t

tell us what he really thinks. He made it explicitly clear that

he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian

state in the West Bank.”

Israel’s pretense that it is sincerely committed to a twostate

solution is repeatedly given the lie by the arbitrariness

and contrariness of its dealings with Palestinian

Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. In the more recent

months of their on-and-off relationship, Netanyahu treated

Abbas as a serious partner for peace as long as he was

willing to engage Israel in a phony peace process that

served no purpose other than to provide Netanyahu’s

government with cover for the continued expansion of

Israeli settlements, whose purpose, in turn, it is to prevent

a two-state solution.

When that deception became too obvious even for so

compliant a peace partner as Abbas and his colleagues,

who have been providing Palestinian security forces to

facilitate the continuation of Israel’s occupation, they

formed a unity government supported by Hamas. Abbas

was immediately denounced by Netanyahu as no longer a

partner for peace, and he accused him of having chosen

terror over peacemaking.

But now that Israel is faced with a rising wave of worldwide

the killing and destruction wrought by Israeli forces in Gaza

is being exposed, Netanyahu again finds it convenient to

describe Abbas as a peace partner who can be relied on by

Israel to serve as gatekeeper for the prison in which the

victims of Israel’s latest “grass-mowing” activities,1 both

living and dead, are interred.

1 During the July-August 2014 Gaza war Israeli security officials and pundits described such military campaigns as attempts to “mow

the grass”, meaning a repeated

action needed to maintain the status quo.

3

Noref Expert Analysis – August 2014

His vision is not much different to that of Naftali Bennett,

who heads the ultra-nationalist, religious Habayit Hayehudi.

He is counting on the Palestinians’ and the international

community’s frustration and despair over a two-state

outcome to allow Israel to proceed with unilateral measures

that create disconnected Palestinian enclaves and the

annexation to Israel of much of the West Bank. It is an

arrangement, he believes, that would enable Israel to

escape the stain of apartheid by granting nominal “full

citizenship” to the few Palestinians remaining in the areas

annexed to Israel.

But he is mistaken; it will not happen. Too many Palestinian

mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters have seen

their loved ones killed and injured to allow Israel to escape

the consequences of its ethnic cleansing and the resulting

apartheid.

In the New York Times of August 13th, Isabel Kershner

reports that Netanyahu has dropped his condemnations of

the new Palestinian government of reconciliation. Udi

Dekel, a former lead Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians,

said that most of the Israeli government now supports

the idea of “turning the reconciliation inside out”. Yair

Lapid, Israel’s finance minister and a leader of the government’s

second-largest party, Yesh Atid, and other centrist

ministers have been reported as putting forward plans “for

an ambitious new order”. Some believe that the negotiations

for a truce could lead to peace talks that produce a

two-state accord.

Of course, an opening for a two-state accord is the very last

thing Netanyahu is seeking. He has devoted his entire

political life to preventing such an accord, and probably

believes it is a goal that this latest war in Gaza may finally

have achieved.

Henry Siegman is the president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He

served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a

non-resident research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle

East Programme, School of Oriental and African Studies, University

of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish

Congress.

Disclaimer

The content of this publication is presented as is. The stated points

of view are those of the author and do not reflect those of the

organisation for which he works or NOREF. NOREF does not

give any warranties, either expressed or implied, concerning the

content.

The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) is a

resource

centre integrating knowledge and experience to strengthen

peacebuilding policy and practice. Established in 2008, it collaborates

and promotes collaboration with a wide network of researchers,

policymakers and practitioners in Norway and abroad.

Read NOREF’s publications on

www.peacebuilding.no and sign up for notifications.

Connect with NOREF on Facebook or

@PeacebuildingNO on Twitter

The author

The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre

Norsk ressurssenter for fredsbygging

Email: info@peacebuilding.no - Phone: +47 22 08 79 32
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