Justice for Tzipi


On December 27th, 2008 the Israeli Defense Forces unleashed a ferocious attack on the Palestinians called Operation Cast Lead. The international condemnation that began once the extent of the offensive’s brutality was revealed seemed to culminate in the Goldstone Report. But in a further development, Tzipi Livni, foreign minister and member of Israel’s war cabinet during the attack, party to the decision to go to war, along with others involved, was indicted by a British court for war crimes. The court was right to pursue justice.

The British government is under pressure to change the law under which Ms Livni can be punished. But why should it? Does it no longer care about international law? Is it something to be applied to enemies, such as Sudan, but not to allies, such as Israel? Or are politicians so afraid of being called “anti-semitic” they will grant immunity to war criminals?

Some people are saying that this is typical of the international community’s antipathy toward Israel, and its relentless attack on the Jewish people. However, Israel is by no means the only target of international criminal law. International law has been moving in the direction of trying political and military leaders, even sitting heads of state, for decades. Leaders from all around the world have appeared in court for jus cogens offenses: Charles Taylor of Liberia, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for crimes against humanity, Augusto Pinochet of Chile for torture; and with any luck, the list will get longer.

Moreover, a decade ago, people complained that it was mostly only leaders from the former Yugoslavia who were on trial, and that African and Israeli leaders who committed crimes under international law were escaping the knife. But customary law has made it possible to try a wider range of criminals. Universal jurisdiction now applies to everyone, regardless of rank, who commits the most egregious crimes. To read the reports of the human rights organisations, including the Goldstone report, on Operation Cast Lead, it is clear “egregious” is an appropriate word to describe this war.

Others warn that arresting Israelis for war crimes or upholding the law according to the findings of the Goldstone Report could derail the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians that the rest of the world seems so keen on pursuing. To this I ask, what peace process? Not only are there no negotiations to speak of at the moment, but it is easy to forget that justice is a prerequisite for peace. Only the threat of punishment can prevent further massacres like Operation Cast Lead. What Israelis and Palestinians need to live in peace is more justice, not less.

Tzipi Livni has said she might travel to the UK to see if the law would really be enforced, and make an example of how flawed the idea of justice is. The British government has assured her they will not arrest her. I say, let me pay for your ticket, Ms Livni, and we shall see what happens.

Releasing Gilad Shalit and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace

A major security issue in Israel at the moment is the fate of Gilad Shalit. As I write in my recent essay on last year’s war in Gaza, Shalit is a corporal in the IDF who was captured by Palestinian militants in a border raid on the Gaza Strip in 2006. He has been in captivity ever since. A few weeks ago, it looked as though negotiators had reached a breakthrough, and Shalit would be released in exchange for 450 Palestinians in Israeli jails, though that number may be as low as 100 now. (The uneven numbers give you one idea of how important this issue is to Israelis; more below.) That deal fell through, but there is more hopeful talk of releasing Shalit all the time (here, for instance). Some say a prisoner swap could be the key to peace. I disagree.

Call me a realist, but as readers of the Menso Guide to War know, I have never been hopeful about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. I study, among other things, the cultural roots of conflict. Culture can legitimise war or peace, and needs to be taken into account when prospecting for either. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian culture is conducive to a real, lasting end to the war. The bitterness would not simply end because one condition for ceasefire has been met. Militant Israelis will continue to push for anything that will protect every last Jewish life. Militant Palestinians will continue to do anything they can to end the occupation. Where does that leave Shalit?

Gilad Shalit has become a kind of national hero in Israel. One TV news anchor ends every broadcast by tearfully counting how many days Shalit has been under lock and key. Haaretz, considered one of the more dovish of Israeli newspapers, runs a counter at Haaretz.com displaying the same time to the second. On his birthday in August 2009, Twitter’s second highest trend was Gilad Shalit. Over a Jewish holiday in 2009, newspapers displayed pictures of Gilad as a toddler, dressed in a sad clown costume. Poor Gilad: an innocent boy kidnapped by terrorists. (The 7700 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, apparently, are all guilty.)

So surely, when Hamas releases Gilad Shalit, Israelis will be so grateful they will demand an end to the blockade of Gaza, right? Why would they? The thing they care most about Gaza will have been returned to them. Hamas’ one bargaining chip will be gone. Where is the incentive to continue negotiations? Though a majority of Israelis favour the current deal, the hardliners are not willing to give up Palestinians with “blood on their hands” to get Shalit back. Many Israelis would see the release of 100 Palestinians as a huge concession to a group everyone hates (Hamas). But attacks on Israeli targets would not end, because they will never end while the occupation continues and in the West Bank, expands. The Israeli right wing would probably push even harder to punish Hamas and refuse to talk. Impoverished Palestinians would be caught in the middle again. Under these conditions, extremism will not go away.

The best we can hope for is that the prisoner swap succeeds and leads to more negotiations. There have been very few moves toward peace of late, but if earnest negotiators can persuade their constituents to give up more for peace, there will be progress. Meanwhile, long term solutions such as intercultural education are necessary to end the cycle of racism that portrays the other as only understanding force. Finally, what Shalit says when he is released will influence public opinion. He could be Nelson Mandela and say that he feels no bitterness, only greater understanding; or he could say nothing constructive and perpetuate the culture of anger. We must hope for the former. Release Gilad Shalit, release the Palestinian prisoners and see it as a chance to end the war.

Paving the Road to Gaza: Israel’s National Role Conception and Operation Cast Lead

On December 27, 2008, the Israel Defense Forces began their assault on the Gaza Strip in what they called Operation Cast Lead. 13 Israelis and as many as 1400 Palestinians were killed in the three weeks of fighting. The war enjoyed wide support among Israelis: according to the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, 94% of Jewish Israelis (76% of Israel’s population) supported the attack. Operation Cast Lead caused enormous suffering in Gaza and has been a thorn in the side of Israelis since its commencement. Numerous human rights organisations have issued reports on the conflict accusing both sides of war crimes, and the Israeli government has denied any but the noblest intentions. How did we get here?

This essay uses national role conception theory to explain how Israel’s political culture approved of Operation Cast Lead and permitted the latest brutal attack on the Palestinians. You can find it at the following link.

You cannot derail a train no one is on

A spokesperson from Israel’s foreign ministry warned the United Nations that if the Goldstone Report on war crimes in the Gaza War of early this year is endorsed by the UN Security Council, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will be in jeopardy. Surely, this is a joke.

The peace process has yielded no results since the second Intifada. The Palestinians herded into Gaza elected Hamas, which has no interest in peace, and the screws have tightened on Palestinians everywhere. The Oslo Accords, the closest things to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord ever signed, are a distant memory. “Natural growth” of settlements continues. Israelis retain all the power in negotiation. Would Israeli government movement away from peace be a sudden turn, or would it be on course? It is not much of a threat to say you will derail a train no one is on.

Israel’s courts will try soldiers that are accused, by Israeli fact-finding commissions, of war crimes. Israel has never been a country that desperately sought approval from others, and is unlikely to start now. It will not give into blackmail. Any anger that outsiders’ actions generate within Israel will make it easier to go to war again the next time.

The goals of the war, Operation Cast Lead, were long term ones. An article in Haaretz says that Israelis hoped its success would mean Egypt and Israel’s working together to produce results in Gaza, such as inter-Palestinian reconciliation, which in turn could lead to negotiations with them. It implies that, all because of forces outside of Israel’s control, such as the shrinking stature of Mahmoud Abbas and the growing one of Iran, ferment in Jerusalem and fighting in Gaza, the long term results the war aimed to achieve will never materialise. Things just never seem to go right when you are the victim.

Sarcasm aside, it is hard not to agree with Israeli claims that the report is biased. The annoying words “anti-Semitic”, the words that imply that the only racism that matters is that against Jews, words used so often one might be forgiven for thinking that everyone outside Israel is an anti-Semite, may in fact be a fair accusation in this case. As I have said before, the UN Human Rights Council is hopelessly biased against Israel, and the UN has not been much better. The Human Rights Council is full of human rights-violating Arab states that hate Israel. The Council’s existence throws the UN’s legitimacy into question.

The Council’s anti-Semitism is so blatant that it has made no attempt at a reference to Palestinian (presumably mostly Hamas) crimes during or before the war in its resolutions condemning Israel. Amnesty International’s report was not similarly biased, and its authors called for all crimes to be punished. We can clearly see which organisation is truly interested in human rights.

Because of the lack of legitimacy of the body that commissioned the Goldstone Report, the report’s veracity is too difficult to ascertain. Because there was little trace of a peace process to start with, things could easily degenerate into violence. And because Israel is used to this sort of bullying, nothing is likely to change between Israelis and Palestinians.

The consequences of Israel’s territorial gains from the Six Day War for peace with Egypt

My essay is finished. The link is here:

My contention is that the formerly Egyptian territory Israel gained in the Six Day War was the key motivation in Egypt’s signing of the Camp David Accord with Israel, the hardest negotiated concession Israel made and as such, was the principal factor for peace between the two countries. This essay seeks to understand the role Israel’s territorial gains of the Sinai Peninsula and the waterways around it played in securing its peace with Egypt. It will examine Israeli and Egyptian leadership, their decisions, the external influences on their decisions, and the importance of territory in peace negotiations and the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt. It will focus on the time between the end of the war and the signing of peace treaties, and does not consider ancient Arab and Jewish territorial claims.

I would love to hear feedback, either here or at Scribd.

Research Paper Proposal–Israel’s territorial gains from the Six Day War and their consequences for peace with Egypt and Jordan

After consulting with my professor, I have decided that the previous topic was too broad. I went through literally a dozen other research questions and have decided on the following proposal. Again, if my readers can give any feedback, I would really appreciate it.

For my research paper, I will attempt to ascertain how Israel’s territorial gains in the Six Day War led to the Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan peace accords.

Middle East scholars agree that the Six Day War was a momentous occasion for the region, with ramifications far beyond the capture of territory. Perceptions of threats to security in the Middle East, including to Israel’s very existence, have been radically altered. A lasting peace seems to have been attained between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan. Another way of framing this question is, how did perceptions of Israel’s territorial acquisitions from the Six Day War affect peace negotiations? The conclusions of this paper will help us understand how Israel’s two major peace agreements were reached and may help us understand the territorial dimensions of similar, future accords.

To answer this question, I will need to determine the consequences of the acquisitions of the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. In other words, what did Israel’s gains lead to and not lead to? I will also need to look at peace proposals related to territory (“land for peace”) and compare them to the treaties that were eventually signed. This paper will focus almost entirely on the time between the end of the war and the signing of peace treaties, and will not delve into ancient Arab and Jewish territorial claims, except insofar as they affected the parties’ decisions. Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian official positions and perspectives will be an important factor in understanding the extent to which territorial concessions played a role in achieving peace.

Secondary questions therefore include, did Israel’s acquisition of the Sinai lead to its peace accord with Egypt, and if so, how? How were the decisions of leaders such as Anwar al-Sadat and Hussein bin Talal to go to the negotiating table affected by territorial considerations? How important was the captured territory to Israeli leaders? Were they anxious to give it up in return for peace? Did outside actors such as Jimmy Carter, the UN Security Council and the USSR push for territorial bargaining?

In order to understand the influence of Israel’s captured territories on peace, I will divide my essay into the following sections (which may change before the essay is complete):

1)      An introduction to Israel’s territorial acquisitions from the Six Day War and why they are important for answering this question.

2)      A timeline of relevant events between June 10, 1967 and the signing of the peace accords (though this will probably be consigned to an appendix).

3)      Leadership. How did the perspectives of leaders such as Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin on the territorial consequences of the war bring them to the negotiating table? How important was the territory to the leaders? This and the following section could be broken into the subsections of Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

4)      Peace. How are land clauses in proposals for peace similar to those of the treaties eventually signed? What happened during the negotiations focused on land and how were they resolved?

Research Paper Proposal–the Six Day War’s consequences for official relations between its combatants

The reason I have not been posting for the past two weeks is that I have begun a class at the University of Victoria on the politics of the Middle East. I would like to ask my readers’ opinions on my research paper proposal. This is part of my mark and it is due on Monday, July 20th. I am asking for advice on the structure of the proposal, the proposed structure of the essay, the questions I am asking and any sources you can think of that may give me interesting perspectives on the subject. And if you can’t help with any of those, what do you suggest as a good title? Here is my proposal.

For my research paper, I will attempt to ascertain to what extent the Six Day War has shaped Israel’s official relations with Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the United States.

Middle East scholars agree that the Six Day War was a momentous occasion for the region, with ramifications far beyond the capture of territory. Perceptions of threats to security in the Middle East, including to Israel’s very existence, have been radically altered. Another way of framing this research question might be, what has happened since June 10, 1967, that has affected relations between Israel and its once most belligerent neighbours, and its now most loyal ally?

To answer this question, I will need first to determine the direct consequences of the Six Day War and then draw conclusions about what they have lead to. For the purpose of this paper, the term “official relations” means Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian and American government and military positions, decisions and actions that have influenced Israel, and vice versa. Some events that will feature prominently in this paper are the Yom Kippur War, the Camp David summit and peace accords, the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, perceptions of threats and border issues.

Secondary questions therefore include, did Israel’s acquisition of the Sinai lead to its peace accord with Egypt? How have leaders such as Anwar al-Sadat, Hafez al-Assad and Hussein bin Talal affected official relations? How has official blame for losing the war soured Israeli-Arab contacts and negotiations? How have pride and shame at the Six Day War’s outcome affected prospects for peace?

Though Saudi Arabia and Iraq played roles in the conflict, they were not humiliated in the way Egypt, Syria and Jordan were. My assumption is that their relations with Israel have been less affected than those of the countries on Israel’s periphery, and as a result will not be delving deeply into their relations with Israel. This paper will address the USSR’s influence in the region after the Six Day War but, as a defunct entity, Israel no longer has relations with it, and it is not central to this paper. The United States, on the other hand, has increased its strategic presence in the Middle East and its relations with Israel have affected its prospects for peace with its neighbours, for better or worse.

Finally, I will not be addressing terrorism, Jewish settlers or Palestinian refugees to any great extent, because they concern nonstate actors and thus are not directly related to the question I wish to answer.

In order to understand the Six Day War’s influence on Israel’s international relations, I will divide my essay into the following sections (which may change before the essay is complete:

1)      The direct consequences of the war. This is the essential first step to knowing what this paper should be analysing. I will introduce perspectives on the war’s results.

2)      Pride and shame. Pride among Israelis and shame in Egypt, Syria and Jordan have had consequences for official relations in the Middle East. This section may touch on public sentiment (including American Jewish influence on Israel) but will focus on interpreting Israeli and Arab leaders’ decisions since the war.

3)      War. Interstate conflicts of various types involving Israel and its neighbours have arisen since 1967. How much did the outcomes of the Six Day War lead to such conflicts?

4)      Peace. How effective have Security Council resolutions, the land for peace proposal and high level negotiations been in reducing the risk of war between Israel and Egypt, Syria and Jordan? Has the United States’s relationship with Israel reduced or increased the risk?

Eliminating nuclear weapons is a costly distraction

President Barack is expending political capital on trying to eliminate nuclear weapons. I do not think his endeavour is unrealistic, as he understands his vision is a long-term one, but I do think there are far bigger threats to human security than nuclear weapons.

The problem with prioritising the elimination of nuclear weapons and their trade is that they are largely irrelevant. The reason Mutually-Assured Destruction, or MAD, existed was because, if one of the superpowers shot the other with nuclear missiles, the other would have enough time to retaliate. If one country retaliated, the other would follow up with most of its nuclear arsenal and millions would be killed on both sides. No one wanted to risk millions of lives from their own side, so they could not use their nukes. MAD still exists today. None of the nuclear powers is likely ever to use its weapons for fear of the consequences on its own soil. Nuclear weapons have such devastating impacts that they are simply not worth using.

The case of North Korea is particularly pertinent. While it seems like an irrational rogue state with a desire to explode large bombs everywhere, my guess is the North Korean government understands international politics. If North Korea actually killed people with a nuclear weapon, it would be bombarded and flattened. Kim Jong-il can ride the bomb to the moon if he likes, but he has no option to use it down here.

Moreover, because of MAD, and because most of the major powers and some minor powers have nuclear weapons, it is possible that the continued existence of such dangerous tools mean a more peaceful world. Nuclear weapons could be the reason there was never a direct conflict between the US and the USSR, or the US and China, or the USSR and China, or interstate violence in Europe during the Cold War. It has not eliminated war, of course, but it has led nuclear powers to some careful stepping when in conflict with each other.

(Of course nuclear weapons are not a perfect deterrent. It was believed that massive militaries among European powers before World War One would prevent war, and in fact it led to war. But nuclear weapons are far more destructive than any number of soldiers in trenches.)

While Barack may help to reduce nuclear arsenals, and even set the treads rolling to bulldoze them all, he may want to spend more time and money cleaning up the world’s most dangerous places. The real worry is not that governments have nuclear weapons, but that apocalyptic religious extremists could. They seem to be the only ones that would use them, and the ones who would be too difficult to retaliate against. Shoring up governmental controls over nuclear technology where it exists would help keep the bombs out of the hands of non-state extremists.

If Barack wants a more peaceful world, he should change his priorities. If we are going to eliminate any weapons, let us start smaller. Barack would be better off focusing on small arms and landmines than nuclear weapons. Guns wielded outside warzones cause 200,000 deaths a year, and millions are produced every year. Arms embargoes, the hobbling of commercial weapons makers, and addressing conflicts individually are all answers to reducing firearm death statistics. Landmines caused 7000 deaths and casualties between 2003 and 2005, most of which were in just four countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Colombia. The worldwide landmine ban and disarmament movement could be given a shot of adrenaline by a president eager to set a name for himself as a man of global peace.

There are other preventable problems that kill. Malaria kills over 1m people a year, AIDS 2m, TB 2m, diarrhea 2m, and so on. Nuclear weapons have a pretty clean record next to disease. So why not switch priorities? Bolster efforts to provide vaccines, water sanitation technology, mosquito nets, condoms and education and you will greatly reduce the instances of death by preventable disease, especially among children. We have all these options to help people that I believe are immensely more urgent than nuclear disarmament.

Destroying stockpiles of nuclear weapons may feel good, but it will probably not solve the real problems, and it might even create new ones.