Thursday, 17 December 2009


The impunity of Israel and its allies will carry a price

Outrage over Tzipi Livni's arrest warrant would be better
directed to the suffering of Gaza and the risks of a new

Seumas Milne
The Guardian
Thursday 17 December 2009

When evidence of war crimes is produced, you might expect
states that claim to defend the rule of law to want those
crimes investigated and the perpetrators held to account.
Not a bit of it. The decision by a London judge to issue a
warrant for the arrest of Israel's former foreign minister
Tzipi Livni over evidence of serious breaches of the laws
of war in Gaza has sparked official outrage in Britain.

The court's behaviour was "insufferable", foreign secretary
David Miliband declared. The Times called it "repugnant".
Gordon Brown yesterday assured Livni that action would be
taken to ensure no such thing ever happens again.

As it turned out, Livni had cancelled her visit and the
warrant was withdrawn. But for the British government, it
seems, it isn't the compendious evidence of war crimes
during the Gaza bloodletting – including the killing of
civilians waving white flags, the use of human shields and
white phosphorus attacks on schools – that is insufferable.
It's the attempt to use the principle of universal
jurisdiction Britain claims to uphold to bring to book the
politicians who ordered the onslaught.

Of course, it would make more sense if Israel itself held
an independent investigation into its soldiers' conduct in
the Gaza war. That was what the UN's Goldstone report
called for, on both sides – failing which, other states
should start their own investigations. Instead, Israel is
demanding Britain change its laws without delay, and the
British government is falling over itself to oblige.

No doubt both Britain and the US, with their own record of
war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, fear that if universal
jurisdiction is applied to Israel it could be catching.
This was a principle that was apparently only intended to
apply to countries that challenge western power or African
states, not a "strategic partner" and "close friend", as
Miliband described Israel this week.

But Israel's claim that it is being singled out doesn't
stand up to scrutiny; on the contrary, it is trying to put
itself beyond the reach of international law. Attempts to
hold US or British leaders to account over the Iraq and
Afghan wars have also been swatted away, but there have
been official inquiries and convictions lower down the
chain of command. In the case of this year's Gaza war, the
only Israeli convicted has been a soldier for stealing a
credit card.

Nor does the argument that peace negotiations will be
undermined if some Israeli politicians are unable to travel
abroad cut much ice. Government ministers have legal
immunity, and are therefore unaffected. And a viable Middle
East settlement no more depends on the travel arrangement
of Israeli opposition figures than on those of Hamas leader
Khalid Mish'al.

It does, however, depend on western states starting to
apply common standards to both sides in the conflict. The
conviction that no such move is in prospect is what has led
supporters of the Palestinians' six decade-long struggle
for justice to explore any and every way to fill the gap:
hence last weekend's visit to the London courts.

It's not hard to see why they feel like that. A year on
from the onslaught on Gaza – which Livni described as
Israel "going wild" – nothing has changed. The rockets that
were supposed to be the justification for Gaza's
devastation have been virtually silent all year, as they
were for much of the six months before the assault, policed
by Hamas.

In fact, armed resistance throughout the occupied
Palestinian territories has been minimal. So evidently
that's not the block on achieving a just peace, as often
claimed. But the barbaric siege of the Gaza strip continues
unabated, backed by the US, Britain and the European Union,
leaving 70% of Gazans living on less than a dollar a day,
without clean water or the means to rebuild the 21,000
homes, 280 schools and 16 hospitals partially or completely
destroyed last December and January.

That might be thought repugnant and insufferable. But far
from encouraging the easing of the blockade to reward the
ceasefire, the US has prevailed on Egypt to build a new
wall on its border with Gaza to prevent the
tunnel-smuggling that keeps Gazans from utter destitution.

Meanwhile, on the occupied West Bank, illegal Israeli land
seizures and settlement building are proceeding apace,
especially in Jerusalem. Barack Obama's peace initiative
has already run into the sand. Having insisted on a
complete freeze on settlements, his bluff was called by
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the US is
now trying to bamboozle the hapless Palestinian president
Mahmoud Abbas into swallowing Obama's failure.

At the same time, the US and EU are bankrolling, training
and directing a Palestinian security apparatus which is
systematically imprisoning without trial and torturing its
political opponents, in collusion with Israel. Several
hundred Hamas activists have been arrested in the last
fortnight alone. It is widely understood that no genuine
peace settlement can stick without Palestinian unity, but
by requiring a crackdown on Hamas under the guise of
fighting "terror", the US and Europe are making
reconciliation impossible.

If, as expected, Israel releases hundreds of Palestinian
prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the captured
Israeli soldier, the dynamic of Palestinian politics is
likely to shift, probably in Hamas's favour. Confidence in
further negotiations delivering real progress is at rock
bottom. As one veteran Fatah leader and ostensible Abbas
ally, Jibril Rajoub, told me: "If the Americans were
serious, they would encourage national reconciliation. But
they are not, they are making excuses."

If that continues, the Palestinians will have to "consider
other options", Rajoub says, though he specifies he doesn't
necessarily mean armed resistance. "But the occupation has
to be made painful for the Israelis, they can't have
occupation and security." That is far clearer for Hamas,
which certainly won't maintain a ceasefire that is only
answered with blockade and violent repression.

There is talk of another intifada if the present drift
continues. As has been demonstrated this week, Israel is
treated with impunity by its western allies, and neither is
going to shift course unless the price gets significantly
higher. There's no point in western handwringing when the
next upheaval comes – or crying foul if it spills over
beyond the Middle East.

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