The Trump administration’s attempt to condemn Hamas and Islamic Jihad at the UN would mean Israel’s blank cheque from the US could be underwritten by a UN resolution. The Trump administration carries on with its trademark reckless approach towards issues of high sensitivity and deep import worldwide. Nikki Haley, outgoing US Ambassador to the UN, submitted a draft resolution condemning Palestinian armed groups—Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular—with a UNGA vote scheduled on Thursday, December 5.
The draft resolution makes no mention of a two-state solution, settlements, the siege on Gaza, Jerusalem or any of the other core issues of the conflict, but “condemns Hamas for repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence” in a macabre twist that holds the Palestinian side exclusively responsible for incitement and deterioration of the overall security situation.
The US added irony to insult in a clause calling for the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza under the Palestinian Authority (PA), while completely ignoring the fact that Israel is a central factor behind the physical division and publicly halting any efforts at reconciliation. But why now?
A common mistake made by analysts when observing American behaviour on issues related to Israel is to view it through the lens of American interests or internal politics. As renowned scholars like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt highlighted a decade ago in their well-known book ‘The Israel Lobby’, American behaviour is directly governed by Israel’s demands when it comes to the Middle East, with the US Administration having very little say in it.
Take a look at President Obama, well known for being a strong advocate of the two-state solution. Nonetheless, he did little to nothing to stop Israel from burying the possibility of any solution over expanding illegal settlements, their apartheid regime, or the annexation of Jerusalem and other occupied territories.
It was only until the end of his term (when he no longer needed the pro-Israel lobby for another electoral victory, or to pass any bill at the Congress) that he simply abstained from blocking the UNSC resolution, which added nothing but condemnation of Israel’s policy of encroaching settlements.
This, of course, does not entirely rule out the fact that internal issues do shape US policy on Israel. Trump desperately needs anything to divert attention from his scandals or from issues like MBS’s involvement in murdering Khashoggi. But let us suppose for a moment that Trump didn’t need the diversions. America would still be acquiescent to Israel’s demands and narrative. Critical attention should be given to why Israel decided to bring the matter to the UNGA, a place it frequently disrespects and disparages with deep disdain. As Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Dannon said, “it’s a win-win”. For Israel, simply diverting attention from its grotesque violations of international law, its actions aimed at politically paralysing Palestinians and maintaining dominance over Palestinians is a winning strategy. Israel cannot defend its actions, but why justify when you can just put the Other under the spotlight?
Jerusalem and Golan are annexed, as the rest of the West Bank will be eventually. The legal system is well designed to ensure Palestinians have no say in any democratic elections. The dilemma of refugees would be ‘solved’ by shutting down the UNRWA, and so far, the one ‘unsolved’ matter is the Palestinian armed groups, and their spirit of resistance, that Israel was unable to eliminate. Well, perhaps the intentions are corrupt, but should Hamas not be condemned anyways?
Sweden’s foreign minister mentioned some reservations regarding the US draft earlier but emphasised that Hamas should be condemned anyway. Let’s take a deeper look at the situation. The principle of self-determination, emphasised in international laws, agreements and customary law, is a basic pillar of international law, and the means for achieving this principle have been protected and enshrined by international law as well. The UNGA conferred a special status on national liberation movements and several UNGA Resolutions, including UNGA Res 37/43 of 1982, 43/106 of 1988 and many others, that “Reaffirm[ed] the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.” The same resolutions affirmed that they apply to the case of Palestine.
I believe Palestinians should seek means of peaceful resistance at all levels. However, limiting their right to seek self-determination would have disastrous results on the very practice of self-determination worldwide. It would justify a state’s occupation of another state or territory while providing those states with the perfect pretexts they need to justify suppressing opposition and labelling it as terror. What of the PLO?
Against all expectations, the Fatah-led PLO has adopted a strong position against the draft resolution and called upon all states’ missions to the UN to reject it, viewing it as an assault against the Palestinian people.
It is known to all how serious the Fatah-Hamas rift is, and it isn’t just about who leads. To a large extent, it is about how to lead, and what approach to secure Palestinians’ rights. For Fatah, the peace process was the first choice until its chances for success were recently strangled, and then it was unilateral action at international courts and fora.
For Hamas, peace efforts which are not backed by military force are useless. They often cite that Oslo was a result of the serious security pressure from the First Intifada. However, Fatah was very firm in its position, certainly not to please its rival Hamas, but because it is well aware that this draft resolution is part of a broader context with lethal undertones: isolating the Palestinians and reaching a ‘solution’ that certainly doesn’t require their consent. So, where does this take us?
Though the UNGA resolutions are not legally binding, it is not the law that Israel seeks, but the symbolic value of UNGA resolutions. Any UNGA resolution will have to be voted on by the entirety of the United Nation’s member states. This implies political value that could be employed in many ways. What Israel seeks from this resolution goes well beyond diversion of attention from its crimes. It seeks to dehumanise Palestinians and disenfranchise their cause so that it may carry out a larger operation in Gaza, either uprooting Hamas and any armed group there or simply pushing Gaza 50 years back through further destruction of its infrastructure and what little is left of the city.
What we saw in previous wars is possibly nothing compared to what Israel could do if left unchecked, while empowered by a US blank cheque underwritten by even a single resolution.
It doesn’t take a lot of wisdom to realise that the United States and the international community should be going after the strong who can solve the conflict, instead of the weak that have hardly any say on the issue in first place. Palestinians, whether they go back to the artificial rituals of a peace process or opt for armed struggle are not the ones who can decide on the outcome. All they can do is try to halt or hinder their opponent’s plans. It is only the United States and Israel that can end this misery, and reach a just solution for all.