By Majdi Khaldi1
On September 18, 1967, roughly four months after Israel occupied the 22 percent left of Arab Palestine, the Israeli Foreign Ministry submitted a legal opinion to its prime minister’s office. Known as the “Meron Opinion,” it aimed to answer questions regarding the establishment of settlements in the occupied territory. “My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” concluded the note, which even though it used the political term “administered” instead of “occupied,” acknowledged Israel’s character as an occupying power, including the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
But this opinion quickly “disappeared” from the Israeli prime minister’s desk, and Israel refused to recognize its obligations, while the international community took no steps to honor the rights of the Palestinian people. The outcome is known: Israel has utterly ignored its obligations under international law. In parallel, Israel moved into two tracks that are part of the same path: A de jure annexation of East Jerusalem and vast areas around it, as well as a de facto annexation of the rest of the occupied territory. The “Meron Opinion” not only shows that Israel knew very well what it was doing from the very beginning, it also served as a test to see the reaction of the international community.
Whether or not the international community wants to acknowledge facts on the ground, it has become clear that tolerance of Israel’s crimes and violations has become a threat to the very idea of a rules-based world order. It has enabled Israel to move ahead with a “Greater Israel” project, negating the rights of the Palestinian people and pushing an ongoing annexation process that involves the imposition of a colonial-settlement enterprise and its related infrastructure. Today there are almost 700,000 Israeli settlers in the occupied territory of Palestine.
Both colonization and annexation are respectively the equivalent of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Their systematic implementation has had virtually no consequences on Israel’s international relations. If anything, Israel has been rewarded. While the norm suggests that accountability and justice are basic requirements for peace, when it comes to Palestine, there are those who suggest that Israel should be granted impunity and even showered with compliments such as having “shared values” or being a “vibrant democracy” to incentivize Israel to achieve a solution. But both theory and practice suggest otherwise.
If anything, impunity has been a key element in developing the current reality of apartheid, as denounced by prestigious human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem. Israel is no longer afraid of showing its true colors, as seen during the approval of the racist Jewish nation-state law back in 2018, and it is precisely a combination of dozens of laws that only discriminate against Palestinians wherever they are, in addition to the policies and practices of this colonial-settlement enterprise that has prevented the achievement of a just and lasting solution.
The international community may condemn and indeed put pressure, as seen in cases such as Khan al-Ahmar and Sheikh Jarrah, but the context has not changed: Israel may delay the execution of its plans in a particular case, but the laws and policies that enable such crimes remain in place. Let us also set a clear record: Such policies do not come in a vacuum and are not set by a group of radical settlers but rather are Israeli state policies. The least the international community can do is to make sure that they do not participate in the negation of our rights, as was clear in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) opinion on Israel’s illegal annexation wall. UNSC Resolution 2334 makes clear the need to differentiate between Israel and the territories it occupies, yet on the ground, we have foreign foundations, companies, and individuals that take an active role in this colonial-settlement enterprise, including through companies from the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Korea, and Mexico, just to mention a few.
The message of impunity has been passed on to Israeli settlers. They know that their crimes will be largely met with impunity, and as regularly seen, they will continue to be protected by Israeli forces while committing such terror attacks aimed at forcibly displacing Palestinians. Such attacks range from the burning of mosques or churches to the killing of Palestinians, and include the destruction of infrastructure, agricultural fields, and vehicles. During 2021 there were hundreds of victims of such attacks. In May alone, we had 187 documented cases (as opposed to 44 in the previous year). The numbers have continued to be significant under the new Israeli government, including through marches of Israeli settlers in Occupied East Jerusalem and elsewhere chanting “Death to the Arabs” and “Your village will burn.” Such slogans are even heard in football matches of the Israeli league.
Israel enjoys very privileged relations with the European Union even though its bilateral Association Agreement includes a clear reference stating that “relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.” Can anyone claim that the same Israel that denies the Palestinian right to self-determination meets such principles?
The African Union, a historical ally of Palestine, has accepted Israel’s observer membership through its Chairperson of the Commission without asking for any steps to respect the rights of the Palestinian people. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states that “all peoples shall have the right to the assistance of State Parties to the present Charter in their liberation struggle against foreign domination, be it political, economic or cultural.” Israel’s membership is a step in the opposite direction when it comes to Palestinian rights. We know that such a step was rejected by several African countries and may cause its freeze.
Can anyone doubt the commitment of European Union and African Union members to the rights of the Palestinian people? Absolutely not. But the message Israel gets is that, as once stated by Benjamin Netanyahu, its diplomatic relations continue to “flourish” while Palestinian rights continue to be violated.
Supporting the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination includes a number of steps, and we are indeed very thankful to all countries that contribute to our economy and the development of our institutions. Yet rewarding Israel contradicts their stated goals. At the same time, several such countries claim to support Palestinian rights and the “two-state solution,” yet they continue to avoid the basic step of recognizing the State of Palestine.
An ambassador once asked me what would be the minimum that Palestinians would settle for? My answer was that there are no shortcuts to achieve the dignity and rights of our nation: Peace requires the dismantlement of all policies of supremacy and colonialism. This includes the freedom of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Honoring such basic principles of equality, freedom, and security for all are the core of a rules-based world order. Israel opposes such principles and makes a mockery of the whole concept mainly because it assumes that it will suffer no consequences for it: The claims that Israel respects the “rule of law” or that it is a “democracy” are clichés that fail to pass the test when it comes to the rights of the Palestinian people.
The occupying power’s practices of land theft from the State of Palestine in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as the blockade of the Gaza Strip, threaten to eliminate what remains of the vision of a two-state solution. The alternative it offers isn’t one democratic state for all but one racist entity that promotes Jewish supremacy throughout historical Palestine. This game has become open to everyone: If Israel doesn’t want the two-state solution and rejects equality through one single state, its chosen policy can simply be an apartheid regime. Palestinians today represent more than 50 percent of the population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and they, just like any other people in our place, would never accept to live as slaves denied their rights.
International public opinion has begun to realize this reality. In fact, there is a growing trend, even in the United States, that supports the fulfilment of the rights of the Palestinian people, ending the Israeli occupation and policies of Jewish supremacy. As we are at a turning point, Israel cannot avoid answering whether it wants a two-state solution, meaning two sovereign and democratic states living side by side on the 1967 border, or one state with equal rights for everyone, regardless of religious, national, or ethnic origin. Israel’s “choice” of apartheid cannot but be met with international rejection through the tools available under international law for those engaged in crimes against humanity.
Article 1 of the UN Charter, on the organization’s objectives, is unequivocal: “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.” Translating this on the ground must include the protection of the Palestinian people from the occupation’s attacks, including those perpetrated by settlers, as a very first step. Such protection must include listing settler organizations as illegal and preventing their funding from anywhere in the world.
Leaving the issue of Palestine unresolved by not implementing the principles that the international community has set for world peace and security, including the right to self-determination, is leading to a loss of hope in the integrity of the existing international order, including its institutions. We keep hearing comments from certain countries that oppose our activity in multilateral forums, ironically claiming that Israel is being “singled out,” while they are effectively rewarding the crimes that prevent our nation from enjoying its rights. This is not how a rules-based world order is built. It is long overdue for decisions to be taken in order to achieve justice, freedom, equality, security, and dignity for all.
1. Dr. Majdi Khaldi is the Diplomatic Affairs Adviser to the President of the State of Palestine