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Zionism and Legal Skepticism


Writing in the Guardian of London on March 21, 2003, under the title, “Thank God for the Death of the UN”, just as the American invasion of Iraq was getting underway, Richard Perle, member of the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Board, said of Saddam Hussein:

… He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The “good works” part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.

As free Iraqis document the quarter-century nightmare of Saddam’s rule, let us not forget who held that the moral authority of the international community was enshrined in a plea for more time for inspectors, and who marched against “regime change”. In the spirit of postwar reconciliation that diplomats are always eager to engender, we must not reconcile the timid, blighted notion that world order requires us to recoil before rogue states that terrorise their own citizens and menace ours.

Mr. Perle’s contempt for Saddam Hussein seems matched by his contempt for the United Nations as well as for international law more generally. In light of the incongruence of these words with the picture as it has evolved over the past year, it is well to contemplate how much power Perle has wielded in both the Reagan and Bush administrations and the influence he has had on this administration’s decision to undertake a pre-emptive war to overthrow another government.

Perle continues:

The most dangerous of these states are those that also possess weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is one, but there are others. Whatever hope there is that they can be persuaded to withdraw support or sanctuary from terrorists rest on the certainty and effectiveness with which they are confronted. The chronic failure of the Security Council to enforce its own resolution is unmistakable; it is simply not up to the task. We are left with the coalition of the willing. Far from disparaging them as a threat to a new world order, we should recognize that they are, by default, the best hope for that order and the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the UN.

Mr. Perle’s claim that the UN will die as a result of the American defiance of the UN manifest by the US’s (effectively) unilateral invasion of Iraq strains one’s sense of logic. But Mr. Perle’s lack of logical acuity as well as his disposition to invent facts is hardly new. In any event, time has shown not only the falseness of Mr. Perle’s claims but also that it was not the UN whose prestige was diminished but that of the United States. The model of sobriety provided by the deliberative process of the UN Security Council which included the reservations expressed by the UN representatives of France, Germany, and Russia as well as the expertise and competence marshaled by the UN weapons inspection team led by Hans Blix, in retrospect, certainly appears to be a far more reliable guide to the future in adjudicating the tensions of diplomacy versus war than the model provided by the small group of conservative neo-cons who now control the American government and who are the champions of unilateralism and pre-emptive wars.

If Perle was basing his claim of the death of the UN as an effective force in maintaining world order on the obvious good that would be derive from the invasion of Iraq as opposed to a containment strategy in which the UN would play a major role, that good has not been realized and it is unlikely that bypassing the UN for the purpose of initiating an armed attack on another nation has gained any more adherents in light of the evolution of the occupation over the last year.

Such distain for international law is very clearly expressed in considerable detail in a 1996 document prepared for the incoming Natanyahu government of Israel of that year entitled, A Clean Break: a New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, prepared by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David and Meyrav Wurmser, James Colbert, and Robert Loenberg in their capacity as members of The Institute for Advanced Strategy and Political Studies’ “Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000” a Washington/Jerusalem based think tank providing policy analyses for the government of Israel

This document is remarkable for its very existence because it constitutes a policy manifesto for the Israeli government penned by members of the current US government. From the perspective of a reader of this document and from one who has also watched its program unfold during the course of the Bush administration, one can best view the confluence and the inseparability of the Israeli and the American governments. In addition to Perle, Douglas Feith is currently undersecretary of defense for policy, the departments number three man and a protege of Perle who has worked closely with him in the past. David Wurmser initially assistant to undersecretary for arms control, John Bolton, at the State Department, the latter coming from the far right conservative American Enterprise Institute has since moved into the Vice President’s office.

This document advocates the scrapping of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 – the “land for peace” formula – in favor of one based on the “balance of power”. Since Israel possesses the 4th largest army in the world with essentially unlimited weaponry, unrestrictedly provided by the US, and since the Palestinians have no army at all, the “balance of power” formula application simply means that Israel should respect no constraints of its expansionist aspirations. Indeed, the authors state, “Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimensions, “peace for peace,” is a solid basis for the future.” Surely this also means “the unconditional acceptance of the Israel’s unilateral definition of Israel’s rights.”

Other declarations of unilateralism are:

1. …a clean break from the slogan “comprehensive peace” to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power.”

2. “Displaying moral ambivalence between the effort to build a Jewish state and the desire to annihilate it by trading “land for peace” will not secure “peace now.” Our claim to the land — to which we have clung for hope for 2000 years — is legitimate and noble…”

The authors go on to affirm the continued commitment of Israel to overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq both because Saddam Hussein poses a direct threat to Israel and in order to exert pressure on Syria whom the authors feel poses an equal threat to Israel. The authors also advocate “Striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.”

Though Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian Authority as recognized under Oslo, the authors state, “Israel should change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas and [should nurture] alternatives to Arafat’s exclusive grip on Palestinian society” [italics mine]. The authors also state, ” Israel has the right to insist on compliance [presumably with Oslo], including closing Orient House…” Orient House in East Jerusalem was envisioned under Oslo as the seat of the Palestinian Authority. Thus the provisions of the internationally recognized and mutually negotiated Oslo Accords are not merely ignored but are overridden.

Israel has violated more that 60 UN Security Council resolutions and has never recognized the constraints of UNR 242 and 338 which requires the relinquishing of the parts of Palestine taken by force in the ’67 War, much less UN Resolution 194 which call for the reparation of the indigenous Palestinian population expelled from Palestine in 1948. Recently Israel refused to recognize, along with US support, the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in its petition from the Palestinians regarding the illegality of the imposition by force of the construction of the wall running through the West Bank which is obviously designed to annex large portions of the West Bank to Israel as well as to confine Palestinians to areas designated by Israel to serve Israel’s need to expand while simultaneously meeting Israel’s demographic concerns of the maintenance of a pure Jewish state. The US joined Israel in boycotting the hearings of the court.

Israel’s disregard for the Geneva Accords has been a persistent feature of Israel’s 37 year old occupation which includes the recent rampage of destruction and demolitions in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. There, Israel killed 62 people, destroyed more than 150 houses and created more that 1900 homeless to add to the 20,000 or so residents of Rafah already made homeless in 3 * years of the intifada. Israel, during its 37 year old occupation, has demolished more than 12,000 Palestinian homes and destroyed more than 10% of Palestinian agricultural lands. These flagrant breaches of the 4th Geneva Accords continue year after year with no end in sight.

Mr. Perle and his disciples, to which we should add Undersecretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, seem to have functioned as a conduit to equalize the long running distains of Israel’s disregard for international law with that of the American government under George Bush.

The United States has now matched Israel in its contempt for international law as the US has now declared to the world that it will no longer abide by the ABM treaty, nor by the Comprehensive Test Ban, put into place under Clinton, nor by the Chemical Weapons Treaty. It has rejected the Kyoto Accords, and also the Protocol to the Biological Weapons Conventions which was written to strengthen compliance with that treaty. And it has said that it will not honor the procedures of the recently formed International Criminal Court. The US repeatedly threatened the UN with irrelevancy in its run-up to the Iraq invasion.

The administration has promulgated the new strategic doctrine that the United States will arrogate the right to pre-emptively attack any state which, in its view, might threaten its security at some indeterminate time in the indefinite future, which also happens to be a long standing Israeli military doctrine. That’s what the Iraq war is about. This arrogant principle is a challenge to the very foundation of the United Nations and its prohibition against the non defensive use of force. The Bush administration and a strong viable and effective regime of international law cannot co-exist.

If the US is now matching Israel in its distain and disregard for international law, it is not unrelated to the actions of Perle, Wofowitz, and the authors of “A clean break” who provide a bridge between the two governments and form a common intersection.

Perle continues:

…[I]n the heady aftermath of the allied victory, the hope that security could be made collective was embodied in the UN security council – with abject results. During the cold war the Security Council was hopelessly paralyzed. The Soviet empire was wrestled to the ground, and Eastern Europe liberated, not by the UN, but by the mother of all coalitions, Nato….

Facing Milosevic’s multiple aggressions, the UN could not stop the Balkan wars or even protect its victims. It took a coalition of the willing to save Bosnia from extinction. And when the war was over, peace was made in Dayton, Ohio, not in the UN. The rescue of Muslims in Kosovo was not a UN action: their cause never gained security council approval. The United Kingdom, not the United Nations, saved the Falklands.

Perhaps two of the UN’s greatest recent disappointments have been its failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its failure to prevent the American pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. Both of these owe much to the influence exerted by Richard Perle and his fellow neo-cons. If the Security Council was paralyzed in the case of the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was because of the US’s consistent vetoes of resolutions put forward by the Palestinians and the US’s seduction by Israel’s claim in each case that the resolution “was not balanced for not also condemning Palestinian terrorism”.

Perle may be motivated by a skepticism that neither human intelligence and ingenuity, nor the evolution of moral and legal thinking and experience is capable of producing a body of principles of international law that can mitigate international violence, resolve conflicts if not prevent them, and protect the weaker states from the exploitation if not the ravages of the strong. Alternately, Perle may be just motivated by his Zionism which takes the form, in fact, of a Revisionist Zionism which views the UN as a potential threat to Israel’s existence as a pure Jewish state because of UN Resolution 194 requiring the reparation of the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948, and also because the UN is a potential constraint on the expansion of Israel to all of historical Palestine which is the goal of the Revisionists.

Of course, we need not be obliged to choose between the two and we may well understand that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and 1967, without which the state of Israel as a racially pure or almost racially pure Jewish state could not exists, and the contempt for the international humanitarian principles embodied in international law are necessarily interlinked.

WILLIAM JAMES MARTIN is a visiting Instructor of Mathematics at the University of Central Florida, Orlando. He can be reached at:

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