What You Get for Not Rocketing Israel

Throughout its short life, Israel has engaged in many actions that the world democracies have deemed dubious and inconsistent with Israel's claim to be "the only democracy in the Middle East." One can mention the Israeli wall in the West Bank, Wars on Lebanon and Gaza, a choking and indiscriminate blockade on the citizens of Gaza, ethnic discrimination against Arabs and attack on and killing of a number of individuals on board a Turkish flotilla in international waters just over the past few years alone. Israel has consistently countered condemnations and repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions denouncing its actions with one argument: those actions are necessary because of the actions of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza has refused to accept the existence of Israel and repeatedly fired rockets into Israel.

So is that Israeli claim true? Are Israel's actions truly a reaction to hostilities against its existence and security? Let's look at this claim in the context of the ongoing negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. Here is a Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, representing the Fattah Movement in the West Bank, under whose leadership not a single state-sponsored rocket has been fired at Israel from the West Bank. Here is a president who is spending a significant amount of political capital to accept President Obama's invitation to pursue renewed negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran condemned Mr. Abbas for resuming negotiations with the Israelis and called on the Palestinians to fight on, Mahmoud Abbas showed unprecedented leadership by strongly condemning Ahmadinejad, stating "He who does not represent the Iranian people, who forged elections and who suppresses the Iranian people and stole the authority, is not entitled to talk about Palestine, or the President of Palestine."

And what has President Abbas gotten in return from the Israelis? After taking office, Prime Minister Netanyahu would not even mention a Palestinian state as a solution. He only did so later and under much long-overdue pressure from the Obama administration. But at a time when there is much at stake in the current negotiations and much hope for its success, the Prime Minister refused to renew the freeze on settlements.

It is true that Netanyahu's freeze on settlements was somewhat unprecedented for Israel. But what is sorely missing in the public debate or media's reporting on the settlements is the reminder that Israel is building houses for resistance on land it has illegally and militarily occupied in 1967, has held hostage since and used as leverage in negotiations. This makes settlements undeniably and unequivocally illegal and in direct violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. These are not subjective ideas, opinions or points-of-views. These are simple, ink-on-paper facts that have not been challenged even by the Israelis.

Some are quick to say that while these facts are correct, we should still refrain from criticizing Israel to not jeopardize delicate talks. But the problem is that we have refused to condemn Israeli settlements and actions for so long that it has led to an unacceptable level of arrogance and unjustified self-righteousness among extremist Jewish settlers. At a cement-pouring ceremony to mark the end of the freeze over the past weekend, Gershon Mesika, a member of Samaria Council of Settlers said, "From this stage, I speak to Hussein Obama: The land in Israel belongs to the Israeli people." That is true, except the West Bank is not Israeli land! And if by Israel, he is referring to the patriarch Jacob, someone needs to remind him that international borders are determined in collaboration with nation states and in international conventions, not according to a small group's interpretation of a religious book.

What is outrageous is that the settlement movement is not on the fringe of Israeli politics, but receives the recognition of mainstream politicians on a regular basis. One of the people who was at the aforementioned event was Danny Dannon, a Likud member of Parliament. In response to a question from a New York Times reporter, asking "Do you want a deal [with the Palestinians] in a year [the timeframe set forth by President Obama and agreed upon by Netanyahu and Abbas]?" he said "No."

So as the State Department is currently working hard to convince the Palestinians to not walk out of negotiations, we have to ask ourselves, why is it that we continue to credit Israel with being the democracy in the conflict and give it a whopping 2.5 Billion dollars a year in military aid even as reports show that one in every seven Americans is now under the poverty line, but we expect its Palestinian counterparts to be the grown-up and put up with counter-productive and sabotaging Israeli actions?

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