Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2012, Pages 24-25

United Nations Report

Israel Responds to Investigations of Its Illegal Behavior With Chutzpahand Hasbara

By Ian Williams

altIsraeli soldiers march during clashes with Palestinian and international activists in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, on March 16, 2012, following a protest against the confiscation of Palestinian land to build the nearby Jewish settlement of Hallamish. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

In any rational world, Hillary Clinton's harsh words about Russia and China over their protection of Bashar al-Assad, and previously of Muammar Qaddafi, would have come back to haunt her when, once again, the U.S. was the sole vote against the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) setting up an inquiry into Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The resolution passed 36 to 1, with 10 cowardly abstentions.

Israel is calling in the ambassadors of the European countries that voted for the resolution to "dress them down." Belgium, Austria, Norway and Sweden will doubtless be duly chastened by the experience of being hectored for their misdeeds by a recidivist criminal state.

It is the 10 member states who abstained whom the world community should be chastising, even if they justifiably take it for granted that Washington is beyond redemption. Despite the U.S. vote, it is worth recalling that there is not a single nation outside Israel that considers its settlement activities in the West Bank legal. Even the U.S. has condemned them. Israel itself, at Oslo and to the Quartet, has promised that it would stop settlement expansion. But the building proceeds as fast as ever, with the Netanyahu government ignoring its own Supreme Court's orders to remove some of the settlements that violated the generally very elastic laws of Israel itself.

Palestinian houses built without a permit get bulldozed. Israeli authorities even deliver to the settlements deemed illegal by their government water siphoned from the locals, and electricity, telephones, roads and security siphoned from Israeli (and, one presumes, American) taxpayers.

An even better example of chutzpah is the threat to cut off relations with the Palestinian Authority for its temerity in raising the issue at the Human Rights Council at all. The sensitivity to the resolution is interesting. In part, of course, it reflects a guilty conscience, since the Israelis are well aware of what they are doing.

Pre-emptively (its favorite tactic), the Israeli government has withdrawn cooperation from the inquiry into settlement activity called for by the council. When the report does come out, the Israeli government will proceed to emulate the mythical patricide who pleaded for mercy on the grounds of orphanhood, by claiming the report is, firstly, biased, because it never heard the Israeli point of view, and, secondly, factually wrong, because the inspectors could not go to see the cancerous settlement growth in person.

The next stage will, of course, be pre-vilification of the team charged with the investigation, and then, if Goldstone is any judge, an ad-hominem or ad-feminam personal campaign against them. If poor Richard Goldstone is any example, the Israelis will apply personal pressure on team members to "retract" some minor detail and then cry complete vindication.

There are some grounds for voting against the UNHRC inquiry, however, and they were laid out in a Haaretz editorial: "No U.N. investigative committee is needed to understand that the West Bank belongs to another people and its lands are not available to a Jewish and democratic state." It would have been good if the U.S. had said that instead of warbling along about the unfairness of a resolution. Indeed, Haaretz proved itself bolder than the White House when its distinguished reporter Akiva Eldar reported last week that Israel's Civil Administration had identified an additional 10 percent of the West Bank as "State Land" and earmarked it for settlements. Much of the coveted land is to the east of the illegal wall, giving some serious hints about the degree of sincerity of successive Israeli governments concerning peace talks.

It is worth recalling that even Washington does not justify the settlements, since it supported such Security Council resolutions as 242 that invoked the U.N. Charter and general international law on the "Inadmissibility of the Acquisition of Territory by Force." But it predictably echoes the AIPAC line of "the unfairness" and "bias" of having so many resolutions against Israel. This puts the U.S. in the position of the mugger who complains that since so many of his fellow robbers get away, it is unfair that he should actually be caught.

The proper response, of course, is to chase more actively after other perpetrators, not to let this one go.

One must give Israeli hasbara (propaganda) flacks some dubious credit. They don't deny what they are doing, but like all card sharpers, they just keep talking and counter-accusing everybody else. "Never mind what I do, listen to what I say!" Sadly, this camouflage of verbiage seems to work, not least with a media attuned to the sound-bite, of which Israeli ministers provide so many, rather than examining what is actually happening. And this is the case not only with settlements.

The Campaign Against Iran

The campaign against Iran is a prime example of chutzpah, where the compounded hypocrisy is so intense that it makes the otherwise utterly unlovable ayatollahs seem wronged. The evidence suggests that they stole the last election—even though they might have won!

We hear so much talk of "bias" and "unfairness" that it is worth remembering just to whom this applies. While Israel is being arraigned for generally admitted breaches of international law, Iran is in the dock for behavior that many other countries have entirely legally committed.

The Iranian issue is before the U.N. Security Council only because the U.S. twisted enough arms at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to get Iran referred for potential breaches of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Israel, a nuclear state which has not signed the treaty, pushed for the referral. A key swing vote at the IAEA came from India, another nuclear non-signatory, in return for which the U.S. promised a free pass from the nuclear sanctions that, under the treaty, Washington should have imposed. The Iranians were perhaps a tad too conscientious. They could have followed North Korea and "unsigned" the NPT, quickly. But they seem to support it.

The Security Council—"legally," but unjustly—has insisted on conditions for Iran beyond the requirements of the NPT, according to which Iran is perfectly entitled to refine nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. Many of us, even before Fukushima, considered nuclear power generation to be uneconomical and un-environmental. Most Western governments have been saying differently, however, so Tehran could be forgiven for following the uranium road since most Western politicians have pointed out how green and cheap it is.

It is the original flaw of President Dwight Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program that, while it is not possible to drop megatons of coal on people's heads, the peaceful use of nuclear power involves refining uranium in a process which, without too much further technology, can be turned into bombs. The Security Council, and the U.S. above all with a separate program, are now sanctioning Iran for doing precisely what many other countries have done.

But no one even claims that Iran possesses nuclear weapons. As a rather significant aside, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa saying nuclear weapons are un-Islamic, and people who speak Farsi and who have parsed President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's much quoted speech assure us that, even though we can have little doubt that, like so many others, he wishes it weren't there, he never threatened to wipe Israel of the face of the map.

Iran is not the sort of society in which I or any of my friends would be comfortable—but it has not attacked any of its neighbors. In contrast, the U.S. and the West armed Saddam Hussain for a war of aggression against Iran involving illegal chemical weapons and long-range missiles, providing diplomatic cover and targeting information. The U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner full of passengers. The U.S. has fleets and bases surrounding Iran on all sides, and has a fairly consistent track record of doing what Israel wants, and that plucky little state, with its 200-plus nuclear weapons, is jumping up and down shouting how much it wants to bomb Iran.

Frankly, if Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, we should be amazed at its forbearance! Certainly most of the Iranian opposition actually supports Iran becoming a nuclear power as they look at their neighbors Israel, India and Pakistan.

Rational Israelis know that an attack on Iran could have very, very serious consequences, and even the most bellicose seem to work on the principle that the U.S will come in to defend Israel from the consequences of its own reckless aggression. Indeed, one wonders just how much Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is playing to the electoral gallery at home by pumping deep into the reservoirs of paranoia. On the other hand, while shrewd, he also clearly has an unsettled psyche. (But I repeat myself: he is a Likudnik prime minister, ideological heir to generations of terrorists!)

So far, President Barack Obama seems to have made it plain that big brother might not come to help. Instead of saying so loudly and swatting the Likud mosquito, however, he has pandered to AIPAC by stepping up sanctions and getting other countries to do so. And there the question of Netanyahu's shrewdness does arise. With one notable exception, Likud and the Republican candidates are all calling for war and sanctions. As Iranian oil goes off market, the prices rise. American voters then blame the president when they have to take out another home equity loan to fill their gas tanks.

We might not be impressed with Obama's delivery on the Middle East, but Netanyahu and his supporters have made little secret of their deep fears that in a second term he would make them eat the dirt of the demolitions and settlements for all the insults they have heaped upon him during his first term.

Almost as worrying as the potential for a 1914-style Sarajevo moment in the Gulf is the possibility of the election of any of the deluded Christian Zionists currently parading their xenophobic ignorance across the hustings.

It is a déjà vu moment for those who lived through the miasma of lies and belligerence, the axiomatic acceptance of utter untruths, that led us into the Iraq disaster. Someone, somewhere, wants the U.S. mired in yet another Middle East war, even though voters are weary with the current ones.

The Iran-Iraq war ended with a quasi-theological compromise. The U.N. secretary-general set up an inquiry into who had started the war. The much-unheralded report blamed Iraq—which by then was at war with the U.S. and Kuwait, so no one paid much attention. Maybe it is time for Ban Ki-moon, safe in his second term, to work out some similar compromise. But do Israel and the U.S. want a deal, or do they prefer the demonization?

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations who blogs at <www.deadlinepundit.blogspot.com>.