One has to be indebted to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, for revealing the sinister Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian land, particularly in the West Bank. At the UN Security Council last week, B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El Ad presented an expose that showed how successive Israeli governments, especially Benjamin Netanyahu’s, have been redrawing the historic map of the Palestinian occupied territories. The most significant and dangerous point of this policy is dealing with occupation as a local rather than a world matter. In a nutshell, B’Tselem accused the Israeli government of turning an international affair, such as the control of the West Bank since 1967, into an internal issue.
Established in the mid-1980s as an Israeli registered human rights body, B’Tselem is most respected for its efforts to keep detailed records of various Israeli governments’ policies in the occupied territories, particularly the colonial actions on the Arab land and Jewish colony expansion. A peaceful organisation of 40 Israeli and Arab men and women, mostly lawyers and human rights activists, B’Tselem’s main declared task is to end occupation as the only way forward to a future “in which human rights, democracy, liberty and equality are ensured to all people both Palestinian and Israelis, living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea”.
However, Hagai El Ad’s account at the UN Security Council reveals how Israeli government management of the occupation has gone far beyond the point of no return, as Israel’s abhorrent behaviour in the West Bank continues unabated and ignored so far by the world community. Blindly supported and protected by the Donald Trump administration, it is not surprising to see how the Israeli government can flout international rules with impunity. Israel believes it can do whatever it pleases in the occupied territories.
New friends in Europe
What makes this policy dangerous is the lack of internal opposition. Apart from the 12 Arab members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), political opposition among the 120 Knesset members is non-existent. When it comes to the Israeli occupation of Arab territories, political parties which are presenting themselves as the alternative to the government either support its policy or vehemently assault the government for not being sufficiently oppressive against the Palestinians to gain a few extra votes in the elections.
As the Israelis continue to dispossess, destroy, arrest and kill Palestinians with impunity, Netanyahu is successfully promoting his policy in Europe, Asia and beyond. He’s found new friends and supporters among the rising populist political right in Europe, whether the pro-fascists in Hungary and Poland or the neo-Nazis in Austria and Germany.
Ignoring the historic suffering of Europe’s Jewish communities, Netanyahu’s government is unashamedly extending the hand of friendship to these political powers in exchange for their support to block any international action against the continuous and reprehensible occupation. He also encourages Jewish lobbies in these countries to consolidate the power base of the rising right in Europe.
More importantly, Russia’s ‘unwavering’ support of the Palestinian cause since the Six-Day War of June 1967 is no longer guaranteed given the rapidly changing political scenario in the Middle East. With Moscow bogged down in the Syrian maze, Russia’s Middle East policy has seen a dramatic shift. Netanyahu has become more accustomed to seeing Russian President Vladimir Putin; their meeting in the Kremlin last July was the ninth since September 2015.
During this three-year period, Netanyahu would have met Putin more times than with any other leader, including both US presidents Trump and Barack Obama. Since the two leaders have devoted their time in these frequent meetings on the vital issue that concerns their countries — national security, the Palestinian cause has certainly dropped right down in Russia’s priorities. Russia’s military power is practically camped out from Netanyahu’s point of view, and hence the importance of close consultation to coordinate to readjust their policies for each other’s interest.
Even India, historically the Asian champion of Palestine, has shown unprecedented attention to relations with Israel as its prime minister, Narendra Modi, became the first Indian leader to visit Israel in July 2017. Netanyahu reciprocated and visited India last January. During the visits, 16 agreements were signed to cooperate in areas of solar energy, space science, technology, innovation, water, agriculture, oil and gas, medicine and air transport among others. This does not necessarily mean that Modi has shifted his country’s policy on the Palestinian question (after all Modi managed to spare a few hours to pop into Ramallah to meet the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), but it does show where India’s current priorities lie.
Therefore, B’Tselem’s latest presentation at the Security Council is a reminder to the world that Israel’s sinister control over the lives of several million Palestinians is undoubtedly an international question and not a local matter. The Israeli occupation is effectively a colonial activity on territories beyond Israel’s internationally recognised borders.
Mustapha Karkouti is a columnist and former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. Twitter: @mustaphatache