Israel gets Vindictive

by Benjamin Studebaker

In the aftermath of Palestine’s victory in the recent UN vote, Israel has decided to withhold $120 million in Palestinian tax revenue, representing 3% of Palestine’s GDP, and to expand the illegal construction of settlements on Palestinian land. Today, I intend to denounce these policies as vindictive, irrational, and against the interests of the Israeli state. They are, from all reasonable points of view, the wrong policies.

Perhaps you live in a country in which public opinion on the Israel/Palestine question is rather split. Before I go on to argue that the Israeli response to the UN vote is inexcusable from all reasonable points of view, I would like to illustrate the margin of victory by which the Palestinians won the vote, which grants them observer status in the UN and the right to use the international legal available to states to pursue legal claims against Israel. From The Daily Beast:

This was no close vote. Palestine won in a landslide. This in and of itself does not make Palestine’s cause just, of course, but it does demonstrate that, in the court of world opinion, Israel is, at minimum, losing the propaganda war. So when over a hundred countries make it known that they consider your treatment of the neighbour with whom you have been in on and off conflict for more than 50 years unacceptable, it would stand to reason that perhaps you should consider changing your policy, if for no other reason than to regain the confidence of many countries who used to be reliable supporters but are now abstaining (UK, Germany, Australia) or are even voting against you (France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand) despite the fact that the most powerful nation on earth remains unequivocally supportive of your cause. When countries are blatantly defying American pressure in droves to abstain or vote against you, you have an image problem, regardless of whether or not your cause is just or your policies are metaphysically correct. History shows that, since the spread of Islam to the Middle East, non-Islamic states can only survive in the region with constant enthusiastic backing from western countries–the Kingdom of Jerusalem only lasted so long as the west would send crusaders, the state of Israel will only last so long as western states arm, defend, and trade with Israel. This image represents the number one threat to the Israeli national interest going forward, and these new policies unveiled by Netanyahu only make the problem worse. From an Israeli perspective, these new policies just add fuel to the fire of the public relations disaster that was the recent bombing of Palestine.

Not only are the policies bad in terms of how they are being viewed by the west (even the conservative-led British government, which abstained, is calling for action against Israel if the settlement plan goes through), they are bad ethically because they create suffering to serve no purpose. These policies will not deter the Palestinians from taking legal action against Israel–Palestine is already so poor and so decrepit that it has nothing to lose by trying to free itself from the Israeli yoke. If anything, it will only serve to deepen the Palestinian resolve.  We often hear supporters of Israel claim that the United States would never tolerate rockets being fired from Mexico into Texas, but would the United States tolerate $450 billion of its tax money being seized by a foreign power with which it had just signed a ceasefire agreement? That amount of money is 3% of US GDP, precisely the same percentage that Israel has stolen from the Palestinian Authority. In a place as poor as Palestine, every dollar counts. This only serves to fuel the argument that Israel, with its settlement construction, blockade of the Gaza Strip, and impediments to freedom of movement, is deliberately strangling the Palestinian economy. It makes the Palestinians more poor, more miserable, more desperate, and consequently, more violent. It makes Israel look like a spoiled, vindictive nation unwilling to accept the judgement of an international organisation to which it willingly subscribes, even when it was a  UN vote itself that was responsible for Israel’s creation in the first place.

But the most morally damning thing about Israel’s recent set of policies? It is not the damage it does to Israel’s reputation, not the short-term economic suffering it will add to an already miserable Palestinian people, it is the damage it does to the peace process and to the credibility of Israel’s claim that it genuinely is seeking peace.

To quote Barack Obama’s Cairo Speech:

The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

What Israel has done flies directly in the face of what Barack Obama talked about in 2009. It is a rejection of peace, it is a rejection of the peace plans proposed by western countries, it is a petulant, defiant act, on par with anything we have seen in recent years from rogue states like Iran or North Korea in its willingness to disregard completely not only the will of the international community, but the will of allied states. Barack Obama stuck his neck out for Israel in this most recent vote, and Netanyahu has the gall to embarrass him over it with a blatant show of disrespect for the American president and his peace plan.

The Israeli government, in its arrogance, has forgotten that it is a dependent state. It is dependent on the United States and the west for protection. Israel has a population of  7.7 million. There are a billion Muslims out there. Israel owes its existence to western guilt over the holocaust. It did not earn its statehood, it was given it, and it maintains it at the pleasure of the west. This most recent action from Israel demonstrates that it has forgotten its place. It should be reminded. Until Israel agrees at minimum to retract these disastrous policies and follow Barack Obama’s peace plan, the west should:

  1. Cut military aid to Israel
  2. Impose sanctions on Israel
  3. Threaten to vote the Palestinians full statehood

I recently suggested a plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israelis are demonstrating that they will not participate in any such plan without foreign coercion. So be it. Over the last half-century, the Israelis and Palestinians have demonstrated that they are no better than quarrelling children, and, like quarrelling children, deserve a paternalist, coercive, externally imposed peace, against their will if necessary. Every president since Israel’s founding has tried to make peace by playing nice, and all it has gotten the United States is the enmity of the Muslim world, 9/11, and multiple wars. I am tired of my country getting sucked into defending Israel. This ungrateful nation with an overriding sense of entitlement continues to muck up relations between the west and the Muslim world for its own benefit, selfishly exploiting western guilt to do so and offering nothing in return, not even a willingness to go along with western peace proposals. It has no claim on us, and it is not in our interest to save it from the consequences of its racist, militant nationalist, fascist policies.