More debate on borders & international law

More debate on borders & international law

The following is part of my exchange with “Bob Dylan” (an alias), a vociferous critic of Israel, whose arguments, nonetheless, I take seriously.  We engaged with each other at the Tikkun Daily blog, where he attacked my critique of Norman Finkelstein and others who, in my opinion, rely rigidly and dogmatically on what they interpret as international law, rather than a negotiated resolution.

As I indicated to “Dylan,” I actually would like to see the IDF withdraw its protection from outlying settlements, but I know that this will never happen within the heavily populated settlement blocs contiguous with Green Line Israel.  Nor will this happen in parts of East Jerusalem where 200,000 Jews now live and where ordinary (non-fanatic) Israeli Jews have resided for 30 to 40 years. Israel will not risk civil war to coerce 400,000 Jews to abandon homes they’ve lived in for decades, and to leave areas that most Israelis want to see recognized as part of Israel within a two-state agreement. There needs to be a negotiated territorial compromise in these places.

One should not be overly rigid in applying international law. The application of any law is generally subject to discretion. Police are given some discretion when it comes to enforcing certain laws (e.g., J walking, marijuana); prosecutors exercise some discretion in deciding when to prosecute; and judges usually have the right to exercise discretion in sentencing (even leaving aside that huge matter of interpreting the law). And politics often trumps law, especially when we are dealing with sovereign states (which are armed) rather than non-sovereign individuals. Furthermore, the interpretation of international law is more contentious and therefore more problematic than law in general.

I don’t favor endless negotiations and I would like to see a very assertive international community pressure both sides to come to an agreement. Yet, like it or not, only a mutually agreed upon resolution can bring this conflict to an end in a peaceful way. It will not be decided in a court of law.

Bob Dylan says:

*Obviously I’m using this name because it is somewhat dangerous to criticize Israel in American society.*

Mr. Seliger, I must say your position seems rigid and ideological. “Only a mutually agreed upon resolution…It will not be decided in a court of law.” Well that’s a perfect recipe for never ending the conflict. Israel is never going to agree to anything and after the disgraceful performance of the U.S. Congress today (what was it? 29 standing ovations for Netanyahu? Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley! Applause. Jerusalem will never be divided! Applause. Hamas and al Qaeda are the same thing! Applause.) it’s clear that the United States is simply not capable of, or interested in, being anything other than Israel’s uncritical protector.

What evidence do you have that could convince any rational being that negotiations have any prospect of success? Netanyahu told Congress today that Israel doesn’t want peace. He announced that the only concession Israel might make in the future (not now of course) is to allow the Palestinians a sliver of Palestine that they can call a state if they like once Israel takes the parts of the West Bank it wants. Congress responds by applauding him as if he’s Jesus. It was a scene right out of North Korea. The Palestinians would be insane to continue within the U.S. negotiation framework.

We’re not talking about two equal parties. We’re talking about an Israeli state that is immensely powerful, that has successfully wiped most of Palestine off the map, that is continuing to integrate the West Bank into Israel, that is ruled by political parties opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, that is a nuclear power, and a state that has the “unshakeable” backing of the most powerful state in human history. What power do the Palestinians have? Their only option is to take the case international! The only thing they have is international law! Negotiating with the U.S. and Israel DOES NOT WORK. It’s over. The negotiations are a U.S.-sponsored public relations campaign, nothing more. The Palestine Papers and a million other sources reveal the contempt with which the U.S. and Israel hold the Palestinians and it’s high time this dispute is internationalized. You said yourself you’d like to see “a very assertive international community pressure both sides.” That’s what the United Nations is for. …

…. Netanyahu said Israel is NOT a foreign occupier because of the 4,000 year connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. He’s insinuating that the “painful concession” he’s willing to make is to allow the Palestinians a couple of inches of “Eretz Israel.” I’m sorry Mr. Seliger but you need some international law to go up against that sort of rejectionism and defiance. You need an International Court of Justice and a United Nations to say, “No Mr. Netanyahu, the whole of Gaza, the whole of the West Bank, and the whole of East Jerusalem are Occupied Palestinian Territories to which Israel, as the occupying power, has no rights, only responsibilities.”

Today Netanyahu and the U.S. Congress dug there heels in and said “bring it on” (they were also saying f*** you to Barack Obama and his 1967 borders heresy). They know there’s a fight coming in September. On one side is the Palestinians, international law, and virtually every government and people in the world. On the other side is Israel and the United States in splendid isolation in support of settlements, occupation, and rejection of the long-standing international consensus of a two-state solution on the 1967 borders. If Israel doesn’t agree to a Palestinian state soon it’s looking at a prolonged anti-apartheid struggle and the probable eventual destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. The court of law solution might not be all that bad Mr. Seliger. Green Line Israel is 78% of Palestine; that’s a pretty good deal for the Jews.

Ralph Seliger says:

Mr. Dylan’s anti-Israel argumentation illustrates how Netanyahu’s refusal to accommodate legitimate Palestinian national aspirations is as bad for Israel as it is the Palestinians; although I can debate some of Mr. Dylan’s points [I’ve omitted his outrageous expression of support for a comment by someone else that Israel’s very existence is “a crime”], much of his basic thrust is what the dovish and progressive pro-Israel camp has been arguing all along. Yet it’s precisely because of Israel’s power and its alliance with the United States, that it’s hard to see a Palestinian appeal to the UN as breaking the impasse; still, the Palestinians are welcome to try.

Dylan and other vituperative critics of Israel ignore the poisonous dynamics of how Israelis and Palestinians have interacted with each other over time. It’s tragic that the Olmert-Abbas negotiations broke down prematurely as a result of Olmert’s legal difficulties and the war with Hamas, after coming agonizingly close to success (as recently documented by Bernard Avishai in the NY Times). Also, the launching of the bloody second intifada (hard on the heels of the peace process of the 1990s) and the rise of Hamas in Gaza (following Israel’s complete withdrawal in 2005) [not to mention the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel since] are examples of how the Palestinians have contributed to the problem, undermining the confidence of most Israelis in making further concessions. The first led to Sharon’s election in 2001, while the second set the stage for Netanyahu’s comeback in 2009.

By | 2011-05-31T15:27:00-04:00 May 31st, 2011|Blog|2 Comments


  1. tmitch57 May 31, 2011 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    Your basic problem with “Bob Dylan” and those of his type are that you recognize the reality of international anarchy and they don’t. One school of international law seems to hold that all use of armed force is illegal unless sanctioned by the UN Security Council. It ignores centuries of customary law and treats equally the signatures of those states that sign multilateral treaties and never observe them or intend to observe them with those that do. I find it ironic that a national liberation movement that traffics primarily in terrorism makes demands in the name of international law.

    Thomas Mitchell, PhD

  2. Anonymous May 31, 2011 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    I really can’t blame Mr. Dylan for not wanting to reveal his name; after all, the critics of Israel such as those holding ‘Israel Apartheid Week’, editors and writers for several magazines, sites such as Electronic Intifada and Deir Yassin Remembered, CAIR, Noam Chomsky, ect ect have all risked life and limb to fight this, er, unnamed threatening force.

    Obviously, the Palestinians should engage in war and ‘resistance’ against Israel; after all, it’s been very effective thus far. And how could they look to Egypt as and example? After all, according to such luminaries as Finkelstein, they’ve lost ‘dignity’ due to the agreements!

    Obviously, due to the imbalance in power, it’s best to use the UN to deal with the issue. After all, the UN has shown its fairness to the region by appointing Kuwait to the UNHRC. Maybe Mr. Selinger could go into more depth about the history of the UN. After all, the Palestinian cause only has the mass support given to them by the entire Arab and Muslim world; clearly, they have no real backers.

    Also, if you’re serious about ‘historical Palestine’, then perhaps negotiations with Jordan begin. After all, most of it was carved off from the Mandate, and most of its population (majority Palestinian) is ruled by the Hashemites.

    (As a note, I’m not sure what the UN could do against Israel, assuming that the case was brought to them. Sanctions? Condemnations? Peacekeeping?)

    I’d like to bring up an error in your response, however. If I’m not mistaken, the US has never backed the settlements, at least officially; the administrations have treated them as problems that need to be solved. Of course, it’s inconceivable that Israel could disagree with the United States; after all, what other nations could possibly do such a thing?

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