A chance to change the agenda?

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The actions of the United Nations in leading the campaign to demonize Israel have also led to the organization’s decline in prestige and influence. Recently, the process accelerated with the General Assembly decision to refer Israel’s construction of a security barrier to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The 90 nations who voted for this resolution, as well as the 74 who abandoned any claims to morality by abstaining, have never condemned the Palestinian terror campaign that has murdered murdered 900 Israelis in the past three years, and injured thousands more. But, in yet another sign of the power of political correctness, Israel’s actions to defend itself and its civilian population from attack have been singled out.

In turning to the ICJ, the Arab regimes were aware of the fact there is little chance Israel will get a fair trial. Many of the ICJ judges are appointed with the backing of dictators and antidemocratic political leaders. As with other international organizations, the deck has been stacked against Israel long before any evidence is taken. In this environment, Israel’s best strategy might be to boycott this “kangaroo court.”

But there is a different approach, based on precisely the opposite strategy. While the judges may be stacked against Israel, the public proceedings may also provide an opportunity for Israel to demonstrate the core morality of its case. From this perspective, a high-profile presentation of the history of Palestinian and Arab rejectionism, beginning in 1947 and continuing to this day, could be an important opportunity. But to pull this off, instead of a meek defense of Israeli policy, including the construction of the defensive barrier against terrorism, the legal team would have to change the agenda and take the offensive. This high-risk but high-payoff strategy would require making convincing arguments in two dimensions – conceptual and substantive.

In terms of the concept, the Israeli team would need to demonstrate that unilateral separation is necessary to protect lives, and that there is no other realistic way of preventing terrorism. This is the easy part, based on evidence that efforts to negotiate a compromise solution failed repeatedly due to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s policies and his unchanging determination to use terror to destroy Israel.

There is plenty of material, including testimony from Palestinian officials, to show that the “Oslo peace process” was used to prepare for terrorism and violence, and that no sincere or serious effort was made to reach a “permanent status agreement” at Camp David in July 2000. As a recent CIA report concluded, the chances for negotiation of compromise agreements that will actually be honoured by the Palestinian side are miniscule in the next 20 years (the “Geneva Accord” notwithstanding).

On this basis, the logic of unilateral separation to protect Israeli cities is overwhelming. The alternative of maintaining the status quo would sentence hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of additional Israelis to death from terror attacks. From this perspective, unilateral separation is not only logical, but morally and legally necessary.

After making this conceptual argument, the case will move to the substance, and whether Israel is violating international law by not building the separation barrier along the “Green Line”. Here, the Israeli team will need to show the armistice line that was drawn in 1949, following the Arab invasion, and held until the 1967 war, lacks the status of an international boundary and is not, therefore, sacrosanct.

In addition, the history of the 1967 war will need to be presented, including the fact the Israeli capture of the “occupied territories” was an appropriate response to Arab preparations to drive the Jews into the sea. Under international law, territory gained in a defensive war has an entirely different status than the ill-gotten gains of an aggressive one.

For the proponents of an activist strategy before the UN and the ICJ, this represents an opportunity to make up for more than 30 years of meek defensiveness and apologetics that have left Israel politically weak and isolated.

The question is whether the case can be made strongly enough, and whether “international public opinion” is willing to listen.

A chance to change the agenda?

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Gerald M. Steinberg

Prof. Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, where he founded the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation. His research interests include international relations, Middle East diplomacy and security, the politics of human rights and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Israeli politics and arms control.

NGO Monitor was founded following the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban South Africa, where powerful NGOs, claiming to promote human rights, hijacked the principles of morality and international law.  NGO Monitor provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of NGOs claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.

In 2013, Professor Steinberg accepted the prestigious Menachem Begin Prize on behalf of NGO Monitor, recognizing its “Efforts exposing the political agenda and ideological basis of humanitarian organizations that use the Discourse of human rights to discredit Israel and to undermine its position among the nations of the world.”

Steinberg is a member of Israel Council of Foreign Affairs; the Israel Higher-Education Council, Committee on Public Policy; advisory board of the Israel Law Review International, the research working group of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), and participates in the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA). He also speaks at a variety of high-level government sessions and academic conferences worldwide.

Publications include “NGOs, Human Rights, and Political Warfare in the Arab-Israel Conflict" (Israel Studies); "The UN, the ICJ and the Separation Barrier: War by Other Means" (Israel Law Review); and Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding (co-author), Nijhoff, Leiden, 2012.

His op-ed columns have been published in Wall St. Journal (Europe), Financial Times, Ha’aretz,International Herald Tribune, Jerusalem Post, and other publications. He has appeared as a commentator on the BBC, CBC, CNN, and NPR.

Read all stories by Gerald M. Steinberg