“Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial.” These were the words uttered by Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon in 2001 in reference to an international investigation committee that was setup following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces. Does it sound like a breach and casual contempt of international law?
I’m sure most of you would concur that it indeed does. But, is this an aberration or anomaly when it comes to Israel’s foreign policy stance? Sadly, not. This is why when on the morning of 31st May Israeli forces stormed a Turkish flotilla of aid ships heading towards Gaza, the raid was expected to be just another addition to the long list of Israeli operations that go unquestioned and largely unchallenged. However, the attack on the “Freedom Flotilla” that was carrying an ensemble of political activists hoping to end the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel in 2007 caused an unanticipated diplomatic backlash resulting in intense worldwide pressure. Despite this and regardless of the fact that the raid was made on international waters, resulted in 9 deaths of unarmed activists and was severely condemned, Israel has been warding off calls for an independent investigation. But, how and why can Israel afford to ignore such pressure from all quarters including the United Nations when it has clearly violated all set standards of international law?
Calling the unexpected diplomatic response, an “international attack of hypocrisy”, Israel has insisted that it has been unfairly criticized and castigated for a crime it hasn’t committed. In the same vein therefore, the country has stated that the raid was carried out in order to seize the ‘jihadists’ and ‘extremists’ on board who were carrying weapons and attempting to smuggle them into Gaza making it imperative for the Israeli government to act. Additionally, the state has also maintained its stance of self defence by issuing a statement claiming that the Israeli forces fired only when first attacked by those on board; a report that is in sharp contradiction to eye witness accounts. Hence, by simply playing the victim and proclaiming the moral high ground, Israel has in my opinion been able to thwart a significant amount of pressure that would be impossible to ignore otherwise.
This isn’t it though, for more than its sympathy card, I believe the Jewish state has been able to get away with such an infringement because of its staunch support from long time friend and ally, the United States. Whilst, the raid was met by harsh criticism from Turkey, China and several European countries like France and Germany, the US meted out a fairly weighed out and prudent response by “regretting the loss of life without assigning either blame or responsibility.” The recipient of billions of dollars of aid from the US, military technology and diplomatic cover, Israel has been unwaveringly and unconditionally supported by America due to several reasons. One explanation given is the extremely strong hold of pro-Israeli lobbies like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and its affiliates on the Congress that are widely known to fund campaigns in return for political representation and influence. Subsequently, this “hijacking of American foreign policy” as recognized by former President Jimmy Carter by such lobbies has become easier because of the lack of any sort of opposition or competitive threat. Secondly, Israel provides the US with a key foothold in the Middle East; a largely Muslim and now anti-American region (due to the War on Terror) making it an indispensable ally. Nevertheless, with America’s shifting interests and Israel’s deliberate attempts at stalling the Middle East peace process now hindering US efforts in Iran and Iraq, how long can this torrid love affair last?
Not too long, I predict. General David Petraeus, head of UN Central Command, has conceded that a swift end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the national interest of the United States and as such its unconditional support in the face of Israel’s blatant defiance is now an impediment to domestic and international concerns. This then inevitably begs the question “is America’s policy of absolute endorsement no longer compatible with President Obama’s Middle East agenda?” In my opinion, the answer is in the affirmative. From Palestinian-Israeli negotiation calls by the US and the Obama administration’s rebuke of increased Jewish settlements to Israel’s breach of arbitration protocol and its own vested interests in expanding into the West Bank, there now seem to be fault lines appearing between the policies and perspectives of both the countries. I therefore feel it is only a matter of time before the alliance between the American government, for whom a stable Middle East is now a top priority and the exceedingly isolated Jewish state no longer remains a given. Moreover, this isolation of Israel in the international community and flak from the public has led to the easing of the blockade with Israel allowing the entry of certain items into Palestine. This result of hue and cry over the acute humanitarian crisis in Gaza is therefore prescient of an Israel that cannot afford to act independently for too long without suffering the repercussions. So, even though it has been largely unaccountable, missions like the “Freedom Flotilla” and the upcoming “Second Freedom Flotilla” that raise awareness and force the international community to listen and act are now in fact taking Israel to task. I for one have just this regret; I wish you were watching Mr. Sharon.