Palestine Center Brief No. 328 (June 20, 2019)
By Mohamed Mohamed
In a recent interview, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told the New York Times “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all” of the Palestinian territory of the West Bank.
In a later conference held by the Jerusalem Post in New York, US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt said, “I will let David’s comments stand for themselves. I think he said them elegantly and I support his comments.”
But Israel has no such right.
As lawyers, one would expect that these two individuals would know better. Perhaps because Friedman specialized in bankruptcy law, while Greenblatt started out as a real estate lawyer, maybe they are ignorant of issues concerning international law.
Specifically, UN Security Council Resolution 242 was unanimously adopted, including of course by the US, and it requires Israel to fully evacuate from the territories that it seized during the 1967 war, which includes the West Bank as well as Gaza, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrian Golan Heights. The underlying legal principle is that territory cannot be acquired by force.
Ironically, Israel also accepted Resolution 242, but for 52 years and counting, Israel has failed miserably in fulfilling its obligations under international law. Except for the Sinai, which Israel used as a bargaining chip in its peace treaty with Egypt, it still maintains effective control over the territories that it captured.
Israel “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005, but this is irrelevant, since it has imposed a total land, air, and sea blockade of the strip for 12 years now, which is choking and literally killing Palestinian civilians.
Israel annexed the Golan Heights long ago, and recently, the Trump administration gave formal US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the territory.
And of course, the West Bank and East Jerusalem remain under Israeli military occupation. Since 1967, Israel established more than 200 settlements on tens of thousands of hectares of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are now populated by more than 600,000 Israeli settlers.
This occupation has stolen Palestinian land and resources, violated the basic human rights and freedoms of Palestinians, and controls almost all aspects of their daily lives.
Under the basic tenets of international law, Israel has no right to occupy even one square centimeter of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights. Yet top US “diplomats” and “mediators” such as Friedman and Greenblatt are comfortable in endorsing Israel’s illegal actions.
In fact, they are complete proponents of Israeli encroachment on Palestinian land, sovereignty, and human rights.
Friedman is a staunch supporter of Israeli settlement expansion, and he led an American organization called the American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which provides funding to one of the “most radical” of Israeli settlements, Beit El. In other words, Friedman supports the colonization and theft of Palestinian land.
If Donald Trump wins the White House, he’ll probably be the first US president whose top adviser on Israel used to do guard duty at a Jewish settlement in the West Bank armed with an M-16 assault weapon.
Logical readers would wonder how such “diplomats” and “negotiators” could ever be “honest mediators,” when they are obviously biased toward one side and part of the problem. Clearly, there is a huge conflict of interest.
Even Aaron David Miller, who served as a peace process “adviser” and “negotiator” under both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, admitted that American officials have acted as Israel’s attorney at the expense of successful peace negotiations. To put it simply, US policy has always heavily favored Israel, regardless of the political party in charge.
For this reason, officials such as Friedman and Greenblatt, both of whom are lawyers, are unlikely to be unaware of the legal obligations of international law. It is much more likely that they simply do not care.
Despite many UN resolutions condemning its numerous violations of international law, Israel has yet to face any tangible punishment or sanction. On the contrary, it continues to be rewarded with generous military and economic aid from the US, as well as political and diplomatic cover. As long as the US continues to act as a biased and dishonest mediator between Palestinians and Israelis, and as long as it refuses to hold Israel accountable for its appalling behavior, there will never be peace nor progress.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.