Saturday, 26 March 2011

Of Triumphalism and Hypocrisy: letters on Israel

I've had a bit of a to-and-fro in the letters section of the South China Morning Post, on the ever-disputatious  issue of Israel, US support of same, land, settlements and security.

There's been a lot else about Israel recently, not least around the murder of a young Jewish family, the beheading of their 3-month old baby, and I'll post those [PS: here are some, at Melanie Phillips blog.  PPS: and another about BDS, here, from Andrew Roberts]  Meantime, just posting for the record the corro with a Mr James Quinn of Lamma Island.
Here we are, a couple of gentile gweilos, sitting on our comfortable islands, thousands of miles away from the epicentre of the hate and violence.   Does it matter what we think? Well, it does, to this extent: that in my view there are many in the west that hew to the views of Mr Quinn: that is, that the blame is entirely Israel's for holding "occupied territories" and building on them.  According to these bien pensants, Israel should simply hand the territories back to the "dispossessed and violated Palestinians", so that there can be peace in the region.

To the extent that this view is widely held, it clearly has influence on the politicians, especially in Europe, but also in the US, where Obama has engaged in some ill-advised foreys into the region, wearing the glasses tinted the same colour as the bien pensants the likes of Mr Quinn.  They need to be challenged.  Fortunately there are many who do, but mostly in the blogosphere.

There's lots wrong with Quinn's latest letter, but I'm not going to write to the paper about it.  Something about these two gweilos on their islands, not quite right about it...

Letters below (first to last):

Quinn #1: Wrong time to be triumphalist (March 2)
I refer to the letters by Des Moriarty ('Manning's treatment exposes US' hypocrisy', February 20) and the reply by Chris Exline, of Republicans Abroad Hong Kong ('Manning no freedom fighter', February 25).
I do not wish to comment on the subject of Bradley Manning per se but rather make an observation on the tone adopted by Mr Exline.
While it is accepted that the US Constitution is indeed a very worthy document, I feel he has chosen the wrong time to be so triumphalist about the sentiments expressed therein.
In particular, about how America stands by 'citizens coming together to encourage their voice to be counted'.
To claim that the US 'responds to those who stand for freedom' so soon after the disgraceful use of the veto at the United Nations - against the resolution that Israeli expansion of the settlements is an obstacle to peace - is at least chutzpah and at worst cynical hypocrisy.
This craven submission to the all-powerful Jewish lobby in America directly contradicts any number of recent utterances by among others US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden
Let us qualify the claim and say America stands by these people in a very selective way.
I am sure that paragon of liberty, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, would nonetheless applaud this stance.
James Quinn, Lamma
PF #1: Put pressure on Palestinians, too (March 12)
James Quinn says the recent US veto of an anti-Israel resolution at the UN was "disgraceful" ("Wrong time to be triumphalist", March 2).
But that veto was simply in keeping with the long-standing US bipartisan policy of vetoing any resolution critical of Israel that is not also critical of terrorism and does not appeal to all parties for a political settlement of the conflict.

When you think about it, this makes sense.

What is called for in any swap of "land for security" is something tangible (land) for something intangible (a promise). Israel is asked to give up "real" estate, rather difficult to get back, in return for security - "unreal", a promise easy to break.

Any movement on the issue needs a copper-bottomed guarantee of that security for Israel. Yet all the pressure is on Israel. Rarely do we hear of pressure on the Palestinian side for verifiable guarantees of security.
Israel was ready for such a verifiable swap way back in November 1967. It said it would abide by UN Resolution 242, which would have returned the territories captured in the war, in return for acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist. The latter was never forthcoming, at least until recently - and then in various qualified ways.

It is about time more of the heat were directed to the Palestinian side of this unequal equation.
Peter Forsythe, Discovery Bay

Quinn #2: US envoy guilty of hypocrisy (March 24)
In his letter ("Put pressure on Palestinians, too", March 12) Peter Forsythe widens the discussion and in doing so fails to address my reference to American hypocrisy ("Wrong time to be triumphalist", March 2).

Nevertheless I am willing to respond to the elements he introduces to the debate.

First, let me quote the words of Susan Rice (US ambassador to the UN) that the US rejects "in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity". This is a hypocritical sentiment from the official who had just exercised the American veto.

It is naive for Mr Forsythe to suggest that had the "anti-Israel" resolution contained a clause condemning terrorism, the US may not have exercised its veto. He suggests that not enough pressure is being put on the Palestinians. A startling assertion considering that, for more than 40 years, the Palestinian people have lived with the very real existentialist pressure of displacement, illegal occupation and continued settlement expansion.

Recently WikiLeaks revealed just how many concessions Palestinian negotiators were prepared to offer, including on the very contentious issue of "right to return". He demands "copper-bottomed" guarantees. Why should those people, 70 per cent of whose land has been annexed by conquest, secured by state terror and continued encroachment, give security guarantees to their oppressors?

Meanwhile, Israel continues to flout international law in full confidence of continued American support.

James Quinn, Lamma

PF Postscript: Land was not "annexed by conquest" -- there's a legal difference between "occupied" and "annexed".  In any case, a fairer description should be "disputed" rather than "occupied", or especially "illegally occupied".  Even if you granted "occupied", os suggest that there should be no guarantees of security in return for land (as required by Resolution 242), would be national suicide by Israel.  Talk of "naive"! 
Nor is Israel "flouting" international law; it has its own view of the issues and one that's strong, in my reading of it.  There's never been any serious recognition by Arab states and the reps of "Palestinians" of the obligations under 242; the obligation to recognised Israel's very right to exist.