There is something peculiar about how the world, the UN included, has been dealing lately with Israel’s uncontested repression of human rights and violations of international law. The main most common concern raised in this respect is “Israel’s best interest.” If something is good for Israel, then the world should push for its implementation, if not, then no need. The United States’ threats of using its veto in the UN Security Council and its relentless other efforts in torpedoing the UN’s now thwarted attempt to send fact-finders to Jenin can be understood in light of its role as Israel’s real defensive shield; but the complicity of the UN chief and the European Union can hardly be explained, except if seen in the context of promoting what’s “best for Israel.”
After it audaciously refused to comply with UN Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal from recently occupied Palestinian territories, the Israeli government outdid itself when it arrogantly announced that unless “its conditions are satisfactorily met” by the UN, it would not allow the team’s entry, Kofi Annan tried to “convince” the Israeli prime minister relax those conditions. Bolstered by the boundless support from the US Congress, and, to a slightly lesser extent, from the Bush Administration, Sharon conducted his negotiations with the UN from a position of strength, which allowed him to deal with Kofi Annan with a little more respect than he usually gives to Arafat. Strikingly, he even applied to the UN the same logic of dictates and evolving conditions often used with the pathetically disadvantaged Palestinian “negotiators.” Despite all that, Annan bent over backwards in accommodating several of the unusual Israeli terms. “The UN,” a report in the Guardian stated, “has already bowed to Israel’s demand that the identity of soldiers who testify should remain secret, and that they will not have their evidence used against them.” Furthermore, the very composition of the team was also modified to meet some Israeli “legitimate concerns.”
Even after all this unprecedented tolerance exhibited by the UN, the Israeli communications minister, Reuven Rivlin, chastised the Jenin initiative saying, “This awful United Nations committee is out to get us, and is likely to smear Israel and to force us to do things which Israel is not prepared even to hear about, such as interrogating soldiers and officers who took part in the fighting.” Singing the same tune, the more “dovish” Shimon Peres insisted on Israel’s “right” to decide who would testify, and superciliously declared, “Israel won’t sit in the place of the accused. Israel will sit in the place of the accuser. This is an attempt to place baseless blame, almost a blood libel, on Israel.”
To calm Israel’s “understandable” fears, Annan still argued that it was “best” for Israel to “put behind us” all the rumours, and to dispel “the long shadow which has been cast over Jenin,” for otherwise it “will be with us for a while.” Annan’s preoccupation with the “shadow” rather than the reality the hard evidence collected meticulously by human rights organizations, including the latest damning report by Human Rights Watch implied that the accusations leveled against Israel were grossly exaggerated or simply illusionary. Consequently, he helped defuse some of the world fury over Israel. Assuading Israel’s “PR crisis” therefore became the prevalent, and oft repeated, justification for the investigation, and not the fact that there was compelling evidence of horrific war crimes committed by Israel, whereby real people were killed, or injured and left to die without medical attention, real houses were demolished on top of their inhabitants and real humans were used as shields by the merciless Israeli soldiers. It wasn’t in “Israel’s best interest” then to focus on those real but marginal details.
Conforming to the same shameless theme, the European Union sheepishly deplored “the fact that…the [UN] team is unable to go to the region and begin its mission.” They could not have invented a longer and safer detour! Even Israel’s nemesis on the team, the former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Cornelio Sommaruga, “regretted” the cancellation of the mission only because it could have made “a contribution to a certain detente in the region.” He also “felt” that Israel had “nothing to hide.” Apparently, the condemning reports issued by the Red Cross on Jenin had not raised his interest.
Adding insult to injury, the UN’s special representative in the region, Terje Larson, in the aftermath of Israel’s “Defensive Shield” and his own falling out of favour in Israeli eyes for mildly describing the devastation he witnessed in Jenin, flew to Beirut to impress upon the Lebanese government the absolute sanctity of the UN-designated “blue line,” loyally emulating the previous visit by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, days before that. The fact that Israel had just crossed all the “red lines” were lost on the seasoned European diplomat. He also joined the chorus trying to convince Israel to accept the fact-finding mission, because it was “good for Israel.”
Iraq, in comparison, has been suffering for more than eleven years of utterly inhumane sanctions due to its alleged non conformance to certain aspects of UN resolutions. Hardly anyone at the UN bothered to ask where the Iraqis’ “best interest” lied.
In Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, among other places where international organizations conducted investigations into war crimes, what was “good” for those countries was emphatically decided as it ought to be by international bodies, independently of the wishes, the desires, or the “legitimate concerns” of the respective governments. After all, when someone, or some political entity, is accused of committing war crimes or crimes against humanity, their preferences, not to mention their conditions, as to how the investigations should be conducted, should hardly be taken into consideration, for the obvious reason that they have an inherent conflict of interest that prevents them from being sufficiently transparent or forthright.
It would be unfair, though, to put all the blame for this hypocrisy on the shoulders of the UN and the Europeans, since Arab leaders, including the Palestinian chairman, have made a habit of justifying their political ideas based on the “Israel’s-best-interest” logic. Mr. Arafat’s strongest argument against the Israeli siege of his headquarters was: how can I fight terror when you’ve confined me and destroyed most of my security tools? Several Arab leaders have presented to the US similar arguments about the need to strengthen Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, since that was “the only assurance for Israel’s security.” Indeed, most Palestinian and Arab leaders have strived in recent years to sell the idea of a Palestinian state as the “best security guarantee” for Israel. Manifestly, their argument was quite persuasive for Mr. Bush, as well as several Israeli leaders, who have turned into strong advocates even nagging ones, in the former case of a Palestinian “state.” Hence the creatively novel adjective, “viable,” came about to describe a necessary requirement of such a state, for if it were to die, so would Israel’s security and along with it Israel’s “best interest.”
What then would have satisfied Israel’s best interest in the Jenin ordeal, from Israel’s own perspective, and not how all the “concerned” others perceive it? Perhaps a clue can be found in the following confession in Ha’aretz (April 27, 2002): “One [Israeli] official recalled this week that back when the UN committee was formed to evaluate compliance with the Grapes of Wrath understandings, Israeli-American coordination was so close that the investigation’s main conclusions were agreed upon ahead of time.”
Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian doctoral student of philosophy at Tel Aviv University. He is now residing in Ramallah. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org