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Peeling Back the Layers of Gaza: Expanding the Discussion

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In response to the interesting commentary that followed my article, Peeling Back the Layers of Gaza, I would like to provide the following:

On occupations. The same standards must be upheld in all areas that are occupied. Western Sahara is another example of an occupied territory and there have been plenty of other short-lived occupations in history.

Rules of war and occupation are the minimum standard that we should expect from all states in conflicts -- and by upholding them consistently with any other country, it gives credence to the effort by the United States as well as by international institutions to enforce the standard wherever they are not being respected -- with allies and adversaries alike.

US commitment to multilateral diplomacy. Obama has committed his administration to work within multilateral organizations such as the UN and the Human Rights Council in a way that the US has not in the past. The value of increased US engagement in these institutions is that we have the opportunity to effect how human rights and humanitarian law standards are applied consistently across the board, to see some of the worst cases get the attention they deserve, and to not let popular sentiment drive priorities. Thus, in the Middle East, this would mean the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza would receive attention, as would the human rights records of Iran, Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and others where state authorities mete out a daily dose of abuses to their citizens who dare to challenge the regime. Plenty of international organizations assess the records in these countries and the level of 'deprivation' can be judged by measurable standards. In addition, as events unfold -- as they did last week off the coast of Gaza -- there should be appropriate responses from the international community.

Borders of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. Since enough discussion seems to relate to borders, it is worth mentioning that whatever one's political or religious beliefs, the Green Line is the internationally recognized border between Israel and the occupied territories since 1967. This is the starting point for any future negotiations with Palestinian interlocutors as well as with bordering Arab states.

Palestinian leadership. One does have to ask who is in charge. There has been a virtual civil war between Fatah and Hamas since the 2006 parliamentary elections in which Hamas candidates won 74 seats to Fatah's 45. Their assuming power over the West Bank and Gaza was rejected by a multitude of parties, including Fatah, Israel and the United States. Yet, the fairness of the elections was attested to by international organizations and observers on the ground. Would their assuming political authority over the whole Palestinian Authority have created a greater crisis of security is an untested question.

A generation ago, Yasser Arafat was the reviled leader of the PLO, which was widely recognized as an avowed terrorist organization. When he chose a political role over a military one, he became a player on the international political and diplomatic scene. His successors in the West Bank are now embraced as the moderate leadership of the Palestinian people.

Occupation and the 2006 withdrawal. As I sought to establish in my previous article, while Israel withdrew its ground forces, its control of Gaza is quite considerable. This extends beyond a presence at the borders, but includes preventing the import of basic goods, cracking down on financial transactions which is effectively strangling the economy, and blocking the movement of people going in or out of Gaza. While the sanctions on Gaza are meant to discredit the Hamas leadership, the deprivation of the population is also increasingly blamed for an increase of despair, desperation and extremism.

The legality and effectiveness of blockades. An editor of the Star Ledger asked me, doesn't Israel have the right to blockade Gaza in the same way that the US blockaded Cuba, or as is now being considered in Iran?

If Gaza were an independent country, then sanctions would be a legitimate tool in the diplomatic-economic-military arsenal according to international law.

However, Gaza is not and has never been an independent country.

More relevant to consider, is what does one expect to achieve through a blockade? Is it to harm the leadership or the people? The population is feeling the effects much more than the leadership. Is it to convince the population to reject their leadership? If so, I think there is plenty of evidence that it is doing the opposite and is deepening the population's rejection of Israel which is imposing the blockade, of Fatah which is considered the moderate Palestinian leadership, and of the West which is endorsing the blockade either actively or through its inaction.

Cuba has been under a blockade for 48 years. Has that really had any effect? Is there any logic to continuing that anachronism? While Cuba has been neutralized as a military threat, the blockade has done more to make Castro a symbol of opposition than anything he could have done on his own.

If the United States does build an international coalition to impose sanctions on Iran, the Obama Administration has already made it clear that it would be done through established international mechanisms and would follow the rule of law established by the international community.

Looking Forward. Obama's determination to work in concert with the international community is admirable. Lets hope that it helps lead both US policy and intergovernmental organizations into a more balanced and empowered stance by helping set the agenda in those organizations, prioritize countries by the level and persistence of human rights abuses that their populations suffer usually in silence, and by raising the level of the rights protected worldwide.