The Mid East Peace Conference scheduled to be convened later this week in Paris will have to, or should have to, address the delicate issue of whether and how to distinguish the recent truck terrorist attack in Jerusalem from those in Berlin and Nice.
There is always this notion that attacks against Israelis are more justified than attacks elsewhere, even though the perpetrators of these acts see killing civilians wherever they are as part of their same strategy.
Is terrorism directed against Israelis more pardonable?
Should it be Israel who should make concessions for peace and conversely bear responsibility if peace fails? This will be the underlying focus of the peace conference.
It is certainly the case that the issue has become much more confused since the United States, for the first time since 1979, instead of defending Israel against world political opinion refused to veto the Security Council resolution condemning Israel. U.S. Sectretary of State John Kerry placed blame on Israel for failure to achieve peace. And this change of policy happened at the same time UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in December, in a radical departure from years of UN anti-Israel policy, presented an extraordinary mea culpa on behalf of his organization and its members.
Ban Ki moon said his organization has a “disproportionate” volume of resolutions against Israel, because over the past decade the UN passed 223 resolutions condemning Israel, with only eight condemning the Syrian regime for massacring its citizens. This has, according to Ban Ki-moon “in many cases, instead of helping the Palestinian issue, has foiled the ability of the UN to fulfill its role effectively."
How can the U.S. counter current position be explained? Is this because Israel-Palestine has gotten caught in the crossfire in a clash of personalities: Netanyahu with Obama and Trump with Obama? Has Obama taken revenge against Netanyahu and found a way to say he is still the boss during the few days left in his administration? Was this triggered by Trump's unprecedented and ill-advised coming out on a major policy issue before taking office?
Or is this really John Kerry's way of explaining his failure to bring about a resolution of the conflict, in contrast to Clinton in 2000, when the responsible party was the Palestinians?
However much one might consider Israel's settlement policy wrong or even illegal, the conflict with the Palestinians pales by any objective measure in importance compared to the Syrian war’s 400,000 deaths, 4 million refugees, 50,000 deaths from Assad torture of prisoners — not to speak of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Aside from the simple ego clashes, how does it happen that the Obama-Kerry swan song in foreign affairs became Israel-Palestine, and that they became the partner of so many world politicians and journalists in placing Israel as a headline in newspapers, magazines, and television news?
One reason is that despite the exceptional Ban Ki-moon declaration, the world today, with Obama as a participant, is replaying the same game where the Jews get to be a target when things go wrong and when there is a need for leaders to take the pressure off themselves. Arab governments used Israel and the Jews as scapegoats to the extent that until 1973 they even neglected the Palestinians, insisting on their designation as Arab refugees and refusing the establishment of a Palestinian State. Interestingly, Obama has chosen a moment of what must be terrible frustration for him (he is now claiming that he would have won the election) to put Israel back on page 1.
Another reason for Israel's front page treatment is that Israel has been expected to behave admirably, well beyond the expectations for any other emerging country. This is why the Paris Peace Conference participants who lament loss of life to terrorism in their own countries view Israeli victims differently. The Jews, despite, or perhaps, because of their suffering, provoke European guilt that rebounds into the expectation that it is the Jews who need to rise above the European history of violence, intransigence, and disrespect for law and custom that have been the constant norm for every emerging European country since the Middle Ages.
The absurd singling out of Israel as the obstacle to peace, and even more, Israel becoming the center of interest in international affairs, is precisely what pushes Israelis to elect Netanyahu and consider that compromise doesn't pay. In reviewing UN resolutions going back to the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel was not treated more fairly when the country had more accommodating leaders, such as Yitzhak Rabin. World opinion ignored and continues to ignore that 15 percent of Israel's population are Arabs, that they are represented in Israel's Knesset, and that Israeli Arabs refuse any eventual transfer to Palestinian rule. French television refused transmission of a program they themselves produced showing Israel hospitals, with Hadassah in the lead, as exemplary where Jews and Arabs are treated indifferently because of apprehension that such reporting would be perceived as too favorable to Israel. International opinion ignores that Jews are refused citizenship and even residence in the vast majority of Arab countries.
World opinion also ignores that when Jerusalem was declared an international city in 1948, it was occupied by Jordan and Jews were forbidden access to the city and Jewish holy sites, a situation met with total and complete diplomatic indifference and media silence.
In conclusion, today Israel is the focus of one of the most dramatic reversals of U.S. foreign policy in recent years with its failure to veto the resolution, in contrast to the UN itself attempting, however meekly, to atone for its historical bias.
What can the new administration do to bring some sense of balance into the equation, and defuse what will be the accusation that it will be undermining U.S. credibility as an even handed broker to resolve this conflict?
Here is my suggestion that I would hope the United States government would take into account when asked to play a role at the Peace Conference:
Forget about revoking the UN Resolution condemning Israel! But condition its application on acceptance of real, on-the-ground measures that would insure that a viable and non-confrontational Palestinian State be established. Do not condition Palestinian statehood on success of a peace process!
The United States should take a proposal to the UN that the present resolution would be applicable if in fact the Palestinians accept the creation of their State in the circumstances I proposed in my December Newsmax article.
This means principally that all the difficult issues are off the table until there develops a history of neighborly relations: refugee resettlement, legal status of the colonies, Jerusalem, and Israel's acceptance as a Jewish State. The minimal conditions that the Palestinians will be required to accept, aside from not themselves insisting that all issues be resolved in their favor as a condition to statehood, are the designation of a government to represent the people, nonviolence, demilitarization, and the right of Israeli protection for Jews in their territory if they are in danger — and most importantly an acceptance that they can begin their history as a country without obtaining all that they want.
The Palestinian State cannot be held hostage to all issues being resolved. The Israelis cannot sit in limbo as if time is on their side. The two cannot as well be held hostage to the feeble European attempts to hold peace conferences in Paris where the more and more aggressive condemnation of Israel only makes the problem worse.
It may be unlikely that the Palestinians get their act together to make this happen. If they do, let's give it a try. If they don't, the effort to convince them will slow down the rush to put the Jews on center stage to distract attention from some of the most outrageous episodes of violence the world has seen since WWII.
Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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