FCO has ‘unrealistic belief in the power of persuasion’
Enquiry into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights work in 2013, as it relates to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
The starting point is the Department’s 2013 Report on Human Rights and Democracy.
Written Submission from JfJfP to Foreign Affairs Select Committee
By Arthur Goodman
May 03, 2014
(A) Brief Introduction to Jews for Justice for Palestinians
(B) Satisfactory aspects of the FCO’s work
(C) Unsatisfactory aspects of the FCO’s work
(D) Potential means of applying pressure to Israel
(E) European Neighbourhood Policy
(F) “Access to justice and the rule of law”
(G) Relationship of policy towards Israel to the general principles of human rights and international law, which the FCO supports
(A) Jews for Justice for Palestinians
(A1) JfJfP is the largest Jewish peace group in the U.K. or Europe, with about 1,750 signatories. We have been actively lobbying since our formation in 2002. We know that we and the other Jewish peace groups in the UK represent the views of a significant part of the UK’s Jewish population. We travel regularly to the Middle East and are in contact with all the main Israeli and Palestinian Peace organisations. We are a founder member of the European federation of 11 peace groups, European Jews for a Just Peace.
(A2) We believe that the Palestinians have the right to their own state in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, no less than Israel has the right to a secure existence within the 6 June 1967 borders. Accordingly we believe that Israel should negotiate in good faith to withdraw to the 1967 borders, subject to an agreed, equitable land swap to accommodate the built-up areas in some of the settlements adjacent to the Green Line.
(A3) We abhor terrorism of all kinds and believe it cannot be condoned. This applies equally to Palestinian attacks on civilians, to Israeli “targeted killings” by rocket in crowded places which inevitably kill and maim bystanders, and to Israeli attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza and Lebanon in 2006, in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, and again in Operation Pillar of Defence in Gaza in 2012. We believe, however, that the recurring cycles of terror and state terror are caused by the long occupation, by Israel’s obvious intention to use the settlement project and the Separation Wall to annex large swathes of the occupied land, and by the many punitive measures it takes against the Palestinian population.
(B) Satisfactory aspects of the FCO’s work relating to Israel and the OPT
(B1) The FCO correctly criticises specific human rights abuses committed by Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas authorities in Gaza, and lobbies where appropriate to correct unjust practices. It also correctly makes it clear that by far the greater volume and seriousness of abuses are those committed by the Israeli Government, and that these abuses are part and parcel of Israel’s occupation and settlement of the Palestinian Territories.
(B2) The FCO supported the renewed American-led attempt to broker negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to end the occupation by creating a Palestinian state, the so-called Kerry negotiations. No doubt, it will support any further negotiations that may take place.
(C) Unsatisfactory aspects of the FCO’s work relating to Israel and the OPT
(C1) Despite the FCO’s good work on specific issues, its approach to the conflict remains unsatisfactory in one major way. As far as we can judge from the Report and from our meetings with officials, the FCO has an unrealistic belief in the power of persuasion alone to influence the current Israeli government to accept the internationally legitimate parameters for ending the occupation. There appears to be no willingness to consider the necessity of applying pressure to Israel.
(C2) Understanding the motivations of Israeli governments with regard to the OPT is crucial to this issue. Their basic goal since 1967 was to keep large parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That is self-evident from the settlement project. No government would have encouraged and subsidised some 550,000 of its citizens to settle there, at a cost of billions of dollars and much IDF manpower to protect the settlers, unless it wanted to keep the land and resources.
(C3) Over several years, especially since 1988 when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation recognised Israel within the 1967 borders, the internationally legitimate parameters for resolving the conflict have devolved basically to four things: recognition of the 1967 borders which divide the land 78% for Israel and 22% for a Palestinian state; an agreed 1:1 land swap to accommodate the built-up areas of some of the big Israeli settlements near the Green Line, which contain the large majority of settlers; East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state; and a negotiated solution of the refugee issue.
(C4) The PLO has long accepted these parameters. They are also the core of the Arab Peace Plan. Ehud Olmert appeared to have realised that Israel’s long-term interest is also to accept them and give up the goal of expansion. His government was negotiating with the PLO on this basis in the last months of his Premiership in 2008.
Binyamin Netanyahu, however, judging by several of his actions, has emphatically not come to that realisation.
(C4a) Firstly, in both his previous and present governments, he chose to join with parties to the right of Likud, obviously knowing that would prevent him from accepting the parameters. He could have chosen more centrist parties but they would have demanded continuation of the Olmert negotiations.
(C4b) Secondly, his negotiators did not once put a proposal for borders on the table during the whole nine months of the Kerry negotiations, or respond to the PLO’s proposal for borders. In fact, his government continued to announce settlement expansions during the whole period.
(C4c) Thirdly, his three outrageous demands made during the negotiations could not possibly be accepted by the Palestinians. These were:
(1) Israel would maintain a unilateral military presence in the Jordan Valley for at least 10 years, as well as control of Palestinian airspace, and would be the arbiter of when it has to withdraw. There would also be a high fence along the border with Jordan. It is difficult to see why any of this would be necessary for Israeli security considering that an international presence along the border with Jordan, including American forces, is an alternative. It is particularly difficult to see why Israel should be the arbiter of when it would withdraw.
(2) The new Palestinian state would have only a “toehold” in East Jerusalem (in the words of Thomas Freidman in the New York Times). East Jerusalem has been the Palestinians’ traditional cultural and commercial centre for hundreds of years and is their natural capital. Israel has no more claim to it than Palestinians have to West Jerusalem, and the East Jerusalem settlements do not change that. The Old City could be under international or shared sovereignty.
(3) The PLO would have to recognize Israel as the “Jewish State”, rather than as the State of Israel which it has recognized for 26 years. This is the most aggressive of the demands. One can adduce two motives. Firstly is to be a spoiler against any refugee return. Secondly, there is the deep Israeli psychological need to deny the expulsions of 1948 by Zionist forces that created the large Jewish majority in Israel, and in the process created the Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians have as deep a need to refuse to recognize Israel as the “Jewish State” as the Israeli right has to demand it. To do so would mean their accepting the pretence that no great wrong was ever done to them. No people can be expected to do that. Recognising the “Jewish” state would also be unjust to the 1.7m. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who would thereby be made formally into second-class citizens.
The PLO has long recognised that few refugees will in practice be able to return, but it cannot accept an Israeli diktat as to how many. The Palestinians’ sense of honour demands that the PLO be able to negotiate the solution. There will have to be some very painful conversations in which Israel will have to acknowledge what the Zionists did in 1948.
Either Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to ensure the negotiations would be still-born, or he really believed he could force the Palestinians to publicly accept abject defeat. Neither intention is consistent with wanting to make peace.
(C4d) Fourthly, in a well-publicised speech a few months ago, he said that no settler would have to be uprooted. That is not something an Israeli Prime Minister would say if he wanted to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The “uprooting” of some 20%-30% of the settlers is an essential concomitant of allowing the other 70%-80% to remain in situ in a land swap. Ehud Olmert’s government was negotiating just that with the PLO in 2008.
(C5) For these reasons, it is obvious that this Israeli government never intended to negotiate meaningfully to end the occupation and will not voluntarily do so. It is therefore futile to depend on patient diplomacy or persuasion. Pressure by the international community will be required to exact a price for continued intransigence.
(C6) This right-wing Israeli pattern of behaviour is well-known to all Middle East specialists. It is reminiscent of the Sharon Government’s response to the “Roadmap to Peace” produced by the Middle East Quartet in 2003. After formally accepting the document, Israel suddenly added several “reservations”, any one of which would nullify its effect.
(C7) One would have expected the FCO to be considering ways to apply pressure on this Israeli government. Now, with the failure of the Kerry initiative, it is surely not before time. The desire of UK governments to support US Administrations is well-known, but it can be overdone. If the UK wants to be effective in helping to bring about a resolution of the conflict, then it will have to use its influence with the European Union and the US Administration to press for strong measures to be taken.
(C8) In a reply to an on-line comment to the Human Rights and Democracy Report, the FCO Human Rights team said ”The UK in no way seeks to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As friends of both we feel able to deliver the frank messages that both sides need to hear.” JfJfP believes this approach, although appearing at first sight to be even handed, is in fact biased towards Israel. Israel is occupying and settling Palestinian land and preventing the Palestinians creating their own state, not the reverse. The human rights abuses and the recurring cycles of violence are part and parcel of the occupation. The present Israeli government obviously has no intention of giving up the goal of expansion. The UK and other governments should take sides.
(D) Potential means of applying pressure to Israel
(D1) There are a number of measures that can be taken, both by the European Union and the United States. We urge the British Government to use its influence to promote them. The main measures would be:
(D1a) The European Union should insist that the European Commission Guidelines be included, to the letter, in any future cooperation agreement with Israel which has EU budgetary implications. The EU Commission and the Council of Ministers should also seriously consider suspending the tariff concessions which Israel enjoys under its membership of the European Neighbourhood Policy (formerly as part of the EU-Israel Association Agreement). Roughly one-third of Israeli exports go to EU states. Suspension of the tariff concessions would be powerful leverage. Only a small portion of EU states’ exports go to Israel.
(D1b) Great Britain singly, and the European Union collectively, should support the PLO’s applications to join further international organisations, including the International Criminal Court if that should prove necessary. Further memberships cannot replace negotiations with Israel, and are not intended to, but rather will reduce the power imbalance in negotiations. Their potential effectiveness is clear from the Israeli Government’s threatening reaction to the PLO’s announcement of the applications.
(D1c) The EU and the United Kingdom should demand compensation for the destruction of properties funded by the European Union. They should also cease selling military equipment to Israel or buying military equipment from Israel.
(D1d) The United States Administration should cease giving Israel the automatic cover of the veto in the Security Council, and the permanent EU members of the Council should vote in favour of measures which justifiably criticise Israeli actions.
(D1e) The United States Administration could decline to sell Israel certain weaponry, such as the latest fighter aircraft or bunker busting bombs, or tear gas (at the opposite end of the sophistication spectrum). Congress may be able to vote large defence appropriations to Israel, which the President is powerless to hold back, but the President can decide not to sell particular weapons under those appropriations.
(D1f) The US Congress could be prevailed upon to remove the unique benefits of the appropriations that Israel has, such as receiving the whole $3b. up front each year, which it then invests until it decides to spend it. Tranches would be released only when needed for approved purchases or projects. Approvals could be made very difficult, which might mean only part of the appropriation ever being released.
(D2) Until recently, expecting the United States to take any of these steps would have been naïve in the extreme. However, three recent statements made by Secretary Kerry in Congressional testimony show a growing impatience with Netanyahu’s government, so it may not be naive now. Within the last two months, he called the demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state a “mistake”, he said Israel’s latest announcement of settlement expansion was the straw that broke the camel’s back in killing the negotiations, and two weeks ago he said Israel was headed for apartheid. For an American Secretary of State, those were blunt criticisms indeed.
(D3) The main point of the EU and the United States taking such measures would be to affect the domestic Israeli political debate. There are establishment parties and political leaders in Israel who understand that it is not in Israel’s long-term interest to live by the sword forever and to court growing international opprobrium. That is clearly demonstrated by the reactions of both the Labour and Meretz leaders, as well as of Tzipi Livni, to the settlement expansion announcement.
(D4) However, their arguments against Netanyahu and his ilk are continually undermined when the EU and the US back away from applying pressure on Israel. Netanyahu can and does say: “Why should we listen to them? The US and EU slap us on the wrist, but do nothing, so we can keep having it both ways. We can keep the occupation with all its benefits and also continue getting international protection, legitimacy and further integration into the EU. Why should we change?” The only way out of this bind is for the EU and the US actually to do something.
E. European Neighbourhood Policy
(E1) The Report refers to the “privileged relationship” which members of the European Neighbourhood Policy, including Israel, have with the European Union (the tariff concessions being a major part). It goes on to say “The EU supports the level of democratic reform, offering more to those partners that make progress, whilst reconsidering support where reform is not forthcoming.”
(E2) The EU-Israel Association Agreement, like all the Association Agreements, has an “essential elements” clause stating that respect for human rights and democratic principles is a condition of retaining the agreement. This should be applied to Israel.
(F) “Access to justice and the rule of law”
(F1) In this section, the Report says:
“The UK continues to have concerns around Israel’s handling of complaints in relation to armed conflicts. We welcomed the Israeli government-appointed Turkel Commission’s second report on this issue (6 February 2013), recommending 18 ways Israel can improve investigations of complaints. We have urged the Israeli authorities to implement these recommendations, in particular to enact legislation to impose direct criminal liability on military commanders and civilian superiors, and to set out timeframes for concluding investigations and enforcing any necessary legal or disciplinary measures.” This relates primarily to the to the attack on the Mavi Marmara but also to Operation Cast Lead.
(F2) This is welcome as far as it goes. The Turkel Commission recommendations contain much that is good, and, if applied, would improve Israeli investigation practices significantly, but they have one major flaw. They do not recommend altering the current Israeli practice of allowing the Military Advocate General to investigate allegations of serious misconduct by the military, without the involvement of any civilians. This does not meet the normal requirement of independence. JfJfP believes the FCO should have commented on it.
(F3) We also note the Amnesty International Report, “Trigger-Happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank” (February 2014). Among many other things, ”Trigger-Happy” reports the following:
(F3a) The killings of 22 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank last year, of which at least 14 were in the context of protests.
(F3b) In all cases examined by Amnesty, Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers did not appear to be posing a direct and immediate threat to life. Several victims were shot in the back suggesting that they were targeted as they tried to flee and posed no genuine threat to the lives of members of Israeli forces or others. In several cases, well-armoured Israeli forces have resorted to lethal means to crack down on stone-throwing protesters causing needless loss of life. There is evidence that some individuals were victims of wilful killings, which would amount to war crimes.
(F3c) One year on, however, (from the publication of the second Turkel Report) it is unclear to what extent, if at all, the Israeli authorities have implemented any of the 18 recommendations and whether this has led to improvements in the process for investigating allegations of serious human rights violations or breaches of the laws of armed conflict by Israeli forces in the OPT.
(F4) JfJfP believes the Amnesty Report also merited comment by the FCO.
(G) Relationship of policy towards Israel to the general principles of human rights and international law, which the FCO supports.
(G1) The FCO Report rightly makes much of the FCO’s support for international humanitarian law, the international justice system and the International Criminal Court. The FCO should therefore support the PLO’s applications to join international organisations, including the International Criminal Court if it applies. There is no reason Israel should be excluded from having to meet international standards, or be immune from the same sanctions as other countries if it does not meet them. Two continuing aspects of the occupation merit consideration.
(G2) It is illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention for an occupying power to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied territory. In fact, such transfers are classed as a War Crime in the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court. The creation and subsidising of settlements clearly falls within this definition.
(G3) While belligerent occupation following an armed conflict is not illegal, JfJfP would argue that the normal intention of an occupation is to be temporary, i.e. to return the exercise of sovereignty to the occupied people within a reasonable time, after which the occupier withdraws its forces. The intention certainly does not include the occupier transferring its own population into the occupied territory. The settlement project and the duration of the occupation (now 47 years) places it outside the normal meaning of occupations. The FCO should therefore consider whether the occupation itself, as well as the settlements, should be considered illegal.
Arthur Goodman is the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Liaison Officer
Jews for Justice for Palestinians, London and European Jews for a Just Peace