Debatable Progress: The PA resolution and the signing of the Rome Statute


Video and Edited Transcript 
Phyllis Bennis and Ambassador Philip Wilcox
Transcript No. 422 (29 January 2015)


Samirah Alkassim: For today’s panel: What should we make of the recent bids by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the UN Security Council to set a timeline for the end of Israeli occupation and its recent signing of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

There has been much debate about the efficacy and timing of these measures while acknowledging that they are in theory good measures to take. In reality, they raise many questions and involve many challenges to implement on the ground. Will they bring a more positive outcome to the Palestinian people? Will they actually bring Israeli officials before the ICC? What are the likely challenges that will be involved in such proceedings?

Our speakers will talk about these questions and more.

Phyllis Bennis will be our first speaker. She directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a fellow of the Transnational Institute of Amsterdam. She has been a writer, analyst and activist on Middle East and UN issues for many years. In 2001, she helped found and remains on the advisory board of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. She writes and speaks widely across the U.S. and around the world as part of the global peace movement. She continues to serve as an informal advisor to several top UN officials on Middle East and UN democratization issues. Among her many books, she’s the author of Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power and Understanding the Palestinian Israeli Conflict: A Primer. She’s also co-editor of Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader and Altered States: A Reader in the New World Order.

Our next speaker, Ambassador Philip Wilcox retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 1997 after a 31-year career and was president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace until 2014. He previously served as press attaché in Vientiane, Laos, political and economic-commercial officer in Jakarta, Indonesia and chief of the economic-commercial section in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His last overseas assignment was as chief of mission and consul general in Jerusalem. Ambassador Wilcox served as special assistant to the undersecretary for management, deputy director for UN political affairs in the Bureau of International Organizational Affairs and as director for regional affairs in the Bureau for Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs. He has held the positions of director for the Israeli and Arab-Israeli affairs and deputy assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs among many other posts.

I believe now we can start with our first speaker Phyllis Bennis. Thank you.

Phyllis Bennis: Thank you Samirah and thank you all for coming out on this very cold day. I wanted to start with something I heard on the way over here that was rather extraordinary that I thought I should share which had to do with a hearing that’s going on for the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is now of course chaired by Senator John McCain. The hearing today had to do with global security issues and the honored guest who was being featured was Henry Kissinger. Not surprisingly, there were some protesters who came to say that this was very inappropriate. What Senator McCain chose to do was, rather than either saying what others have said in that situation was, “The reason we need to fight is to defend the right of free speech even to terrible speech like this,” or to say something like “Well, whatever,” or “Guards, please keep these people quiet.” Instead, what he said was, “Get out of here you low life scum!” I just thought it was too classic of an opening of the first hearing of the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

We need to laugh about something because the situation in the region we’re here to talk about is very, very dire and not getting better anytime soon. There are new dangers as well as existing dangers. The dangers of a war expanding to the Israeli-Lebanon border is very real with the fighting that’s gone on in the last day or two. It’s a very dangerous moment.  And what we are here to talk about today in terms of the initiatives at the United Nations, we should be clear that none of these initiatives are going to change the dire situation on the ground anytime soon. That doesn’t mean they’re not important, but it does mean anybody who thinks that this is going to be “the answer” is going to be sorely disappointed.

So I think first of all, from my vantage point, it is important to distinguish the two components that Samirah spoke of and that we’re here to talk about: the effort to get a resolution at the Security Council that would end the Israeli occupation is one thing, membership in the International Criminal Court, the ICC, is something very different. Both I think are important, as I said neither would have ended the occupation. But both do something very important even when they fail – which is to internationalize the issue: to make clear that those responsible for solving this are not found in Washington. That maintaining the current assumption that only negotiations under the thumb of Washington is going to work is belied by 24 years of failure and every indication that another five years will make it 29 years of failure. So by internationalizing the issue, by internationalizing the question, one of the things that happens is that it undermines the legitimacy that should never have been there: of that U.S.-led diplomacy. That was never going to work, and it never should have been given the impromada of the world’s approval: the creation of the so-called “Quartet”; which was never a quartet, it was a solo with three backup singers. I mean, the idea where you have a quartet with the United States, Russia – only because it was almost the end of the Cold War – and the United Nations, which includes the United States and Russia, and Europe, which includes, I think it’s 23 countries now, which are also members of the United Nations – it never made any sense unless you understood it as a way of giving political credential to a unilateral U.S. move, which is precisely what it was.

I’ll speak first of the resolution around ending the occupation: it was a very weak resolution. If it had passed, it would have given the impromada of the United Nations Security Council to a pseudo-state that did not have territorial contiguity, that did not have control of its own borders, did not have control over its own air space, did not control its own waters, had control of none of its own resources, had no independent way of bringing people or goods in or out without the continuing approval of Israel, it did nothing to demolish the settlements – so it was not anything we would write home about. Really what it did was say, “We would recommend that the U.S.-backed negotiations should go forward again and be done in a year.” Well that’s very nice, but the U.S. negotiations were never going to do anything anyway. So it was really kind of a fraud. But you might wonder, “Why did the U.S. push so hard to make sure it didn’t pass if it was such a fraud?” The answer is, what I said first: it delegitimizes U.S. control simply to have it under the auspicious of the United Nations. So that had become very important, the fact that Europe in particular changed its longstanding willingness to stand by the U.S. in this situation was very important. The fact that France said, “We don’t even like this resolution very much but we’re going to vote for it because we think it’s important that something break the momentum of this U.S. failure,” – that was important. The United Kingdom abstained instead of voting for it was a very important statement. It was almost a statement of what is needed is an entirely different kind of diplomacy that’s based on international law and the primacy of the United Nations, rather than one based on Israeli power and the continuing power of the United States. I would say part of the reason Europe voted the way they did is because European countries have been flooded with enormous and powerful and creative BDS campaigns – (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions which is a global campaign initiated by Palestinian civil society) – has had enormous impact across Europe: economic impact with the cancellation of major projects and major contracts. That’s been huge, and that’s a big part of the reason why European governments are changing their opinion. Now it had no enforcement, not proposed under either Chapter Six or Chapter Seven which would have allowed for sanctions to be imposed, if there were violations – none of that was there, there was no consequence that was included. The resolution was never something that was going to change the situation on the ground, but it’s also true that it was never going to pass because the U.S. is determined that the United Nations not be the venue for solving this longstanding problem. Washington has to be the venue. The State Department – five blocks away from here – that’s where we have to solve it. And we know how successful they’ve been.

This is part of the problem. What do we think was going on? There’s this claim that the U.S. didn’t veto. That it doesn’t count as a veto because even though the U.S. voted no, the resolution didn’t have the nine votes necessary to pass and it didn’t pass only because of the U.S. veto. That’s the technical definition – but in the real world, the U.S. vetoed it. What does that mean? The U.S. prevented it from passing. You can debate UN resolutions, but in the real world it was the U.S. that made sure it didn’t pass. How did they do that? Well, the usual ways. There’s something at the United Nations called the “Yemen Precedent”; it started in 1990 at the time when the first Bush Administration was desperately trying to get a unanimous vote in the Security Council to endorse war against Iraq. There were two countries that were saying no: one was Cuba that opposed it on principle and the other was Yemen, the only Arab country on the Security Council. Yemen had just been reunified after a long civil war, there was no way they were going to endorse the invasion of another Arab country. Yemen voted no. And no sooner had Abdullah al-Ashtal put down his hand that the U.S. ambassador was at his side saying, “That will be the most expensive ‘No’ vote you ever cast.” Sure enough, three days later, the U.S. cut its entire aid budget to Yemen. In the meantime, the remark was picked up on an open microphone, and a lot of people said, “Oh, it’s so careless, he shouldn’t have ever said it, blah blah blah.” I don’t think so. I think that he said it deliberately knowing the microphone was open because the message wasn’t really about Yemen. The message was to the rest of the world: “You cross us on an issue that’s important to us, and you will pay a price.” Yemen paid the price. That became something they still talk about at the UN, known as the Yemen Precedent – this use of raw power to punish, bribe and threaten other countries.

So we had the Yemen Precedent well under way here. One of the aspects of that was Nigeria. Until the moment of the vote, everyone thought that Nigeria was going to vote for the resolution. At the end of the day, Nigeria abstained. Why? Well among other things, they had gotten phone calls the night before from both John Kerry and Bibi Netanyahu and at midnight from President Obama directly to Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan. Now what did they talk about? I wasn’t a fly on the wall in that meeting, you’d have to talk to the NSA who got the wiretaps, but I can imagine the issue of Israeli weapons that Nigerians have been buying was on the agenda, that U.S. purchases of Nigerian oil was probably on the agenda, there’s a lot of pressure points and I have no doubt that any of them were used. So, no surprise, it didn’t pass. Again, this was a very weak resolution, it was not going to have much impact.

Now the International Criminal Court: that’s a different matter. There we are talking about something that is going to happen in the future – not yet – that is going to have some real impact here. The idea that Palestine is now a member of the International Criminal Court is something that has been greeted with outrage in the halls of the U.S. Congress, the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon and a bunch of other countries allied with the United States. The U.S. and Canada issued almost identical statements of outrage. They’re called “communication statements” that are filed with the United Nations as part of the treaty, they are considered a sort of amendment to the treaty which, we should note, the U.S. is not a member of, it signed but never ratified. So what the U.S. and Canada said was that they don’t believe Palestine is a state and therefore this is something we can’t take seriously because they have no right to join the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court. You would sort of think that the General Assembly of the United Nations decided that Palestine is indeed a state in the context of international law, that the U.S. and Canada for once would sort of say, “Maybe we should keep our mouths shut,” just because, hello! The rest of the world made another decision! But no, humility has never really been popular around here or apparently in Ottawa these days. So they were out there saying, “We don’t accept this!” Really? Who cares: that’s one part of the answer, because you’re not members of the Court anyway! Why should your opinion matter? Well, it matters because we’re talking about the United States: the bully of the world. So the Yemen Precedent is something particular to the United Nations, but there is no question that it works in other arenas as well.

I was in Rome the time the Rome Treaty was being negotiated. I was there for the first two weeks, and it was an astonishing thing to see. The U.S., which everybody knew was not going to sign that treaty, was not ever going to vote for the treaty at that point (this is in 1998), had the biggest delegation there – there were more than 200 U.S. diplomats. Now, no offense to U.S. diplomats, some of my close friends are U.S. diplomats or former U.S. diplomats, but these guys had a very specific assignment: to undermine and weaken the court as much as you can. The way they did it was very surreptitious, it was all, “Listen, if you just change that one piece of the language, maybe we can get the U.S. to vote for it,” “If you weaken this one part of the jurisdiction, maybe we can get the U.S. on board,” “If you just change one part, just narrow the crimes under the jurisdiction of the court, maybe we could do it.” Somehow, God love them, some of these diplomats around the world fell for it. There were a few of us running around saying, “You don’t really believe this, do you?” But it worked. There were 200 people who were stalking everyone – they were in the bathrooms, they were in the smoking rooms, they were in coffee rooms, they were everywhere! You couldn’t blink without falling over a U.S. diplomat. They were everywhere – and it worked. The court that was created was and is highly politicized, highly weakened relative to what it might have been, but it is an incredibly important step forward.

What we’ve seen since that time has been a vast expansion of the idea of international law having a legitimate role to play in the political world. So you have the Pinochet Precedent, something to really cheer about (not like the Yemen Precedent), which proved that a sitting head of state that had just left office, could be held accountable for the actions that he took during the time as head of state. Unfortunately he had to die before he could be jailed, but he was held under house arrest – this was huge. This was huge. This set a precedent for what international law, international jurisdiction, could look like.

Similarly, the notion of Palestine being a member of the International Criminal Court becomes a huge potential for the future. The court is an independent agency, the prosecutor of the court has the right to make her own decisions about what investigations she will launch. Palestine is going to present an official request to the court to initiate an investigation – we don’t know exactly what will be included. Presumably, it will include the ongoing violation known as the “settlement process” – an ongoing violation of international law in the Geneva Conventions, something that is included in the Rome Statute. It will also presumably include some of the specific war crimes that were committed last summer in Gaza that involved collective punishment, targeting of civilians, et cetera. How that happens we don’t know for sure. Palestine can ask for an investigation but we don’t know that it’s going to come forward as we would like. There are enormous restrictions: complementarity is one restriction meaning that the court is designed only to complement the investigations carried on by the government itself if the Israeli government – making the claim that it’s investigating, so many things are being investigated in Tel Aviv, we never hear the end of the investigations, they never really happen but we hear that – that could become an excuse to not have the court intervene because the Israelis are doing it themselves.

The Security Council can stop an investigation launched by the court – that would not be easy. It’s one thing for the U.S to veto something in the council; it’s another thing for it to be able to get sufficient votes to. pass it. There are a lot of potential dangers. The U.S. has forced at least 100 countries to sign resolutions that are known as Article 98 Agreements. What they say basically is that it’s an agreement between the United States and all those governments that promise that government will never turn over any U.S. officials, political or military officials, who might be indicted by the court to the court. It was known as the “Invade the Hague” law when it was passed in the United States that said the U.S. would invade any country that tries to hold a U.S. official accountable – we should be immune from any accountability.

So finally, I want to end in just a minute so we have plenty of time for discussion and questions. The question is what do we really need here? We should, number one, be cheering that Palestine, whether we think it’s the right governmental processes or not, has put itself under the jurisdiction of not only the International Criminal Court but of the important human rights treaties like the treaties for the Rights of the Disabled, the Rights of Women, the Rights of Children, the Geneva Conventions, all of these things. The Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian government itself has said, “Palestine is going to hold itself accountable.” That’s something to cheer about. That’s a good thing. From Palestinians who live under what is often a very repressive set of governments in the Occupied Territories, that by itself is a good thing. It’s most important for the possibility of being able to hold the Israeli officials accountable for their violations of international law that have everything to do with occupation and apartheid. How is that going to play out? It might be in the context of the General Assembly moving on under the United for Peace Precedent that allows it to substitute for the Security Council when the Security Council is paralyzed by a U.S. veto or threat of veto.

At the end of the day, this is all about political will – that’s what’s going to enable Palestine’s occupation and apartheid. It’s not going to come from Washington, it’s not ultimately going to come from New York, it’s going to come because it’s going to cost too much for Israel to maintain its own occupation and apartheid. This is where it’s going to be like South Africa where, at a certain point, white South Africans started to realize the apartheid system was not cost-free. For South Africans it had everything to do with sports: when the white South Africans realized that their beloved Springboks could no longer play in the World Cup because of apartheid, suddenly it began to change. Now Israelis aren’t so much about sports – Jews are not so big on sports. When I was in high school the only team that ever won anything was the chess team. It’s not about sports, it’s about science and culture. When Israelis start realizing that they’re not getting to see the musicians, the poets, the writers, the theater groups that they want to see because they’re boycotting it under the call of BDS, that’s going to change the situation on the ground. What we need to do here is in every moment be challenging what our government is doing in claiming that it has the right to say, “The International Criminal Court is irrelevant, Palestine has no basis being there, the UN is not allowed to be the venue for any solution,” and to stop how the United States enables Israeli occupation and apartheid through $3.1 billion of military aid every year and providing impunity at the United Nations and in the International Criminal Court. That’s our job. Thank you.

Philip Wilcox:
Phyllis, I have never heard anyone describe such great powered influence to American diplomats, as you mentioned during the negotiation of the Rome Treaty. The agency, I think, in the U.S. government, that was most resolutely opposed to the creation of the International Criminal Court, much less U.S. succession, was the Department of Defense. Because the U.S. is, alas, and has been involved too often in foreign military conflict. And the Defense Department, which is perhaps the most powerful and well-funded agency in the U.S. government, wanted no part of any statute which might even theoretically criminalize the behavior of American soldiers.

I’ll say a few words about the UN Security Council, a forum which the U.S. had a major role in creating when the UN was founded after World War II. At a time when our leadership was committed to the idea of more ruled-based international system, in which international law and the UN would play an important part. Alas, there has been a progressive retreat from that over the recent decades and the U.S., as a great power, does not normally accept the limitations of international law when it finds something to be manifestly in its vital interests.

Now, the interesting thing to me about the failure of the Security Council resolution on settlements back in December which was designed to set a deadline for successful negotiations and peace, was that as the initial, what they call them, “blue lines,” the drafts were introduced, the State Department spokesman said something which I found quite remarkable. She said, “The U.S. does not regard action by the UN Security Council as unilateral,” which was the charge that had been leveled against the UN Security Council meddling in the affairs of Israel and Palestine. And she said, “We will await the text and have a look at it.” That was astonishing because even before any drafts have been initiated in the past. The U.S. has always said the Security Council has no right to address this problem. What that suggests to me, is that somehow, remarkably, the seventh floor in the State Department had an open mind about this and just might have been willing to engage in drafting and supporting a decent Security Council resolution. But my hunch is that as soon as it got up to a higher level, and you know where that is, the answer was no. So we reverted to what we have done for the past 30 years. There was a time when the U.S. did engage on such resolutions with great success, and we as a permanent member of the United Nations, as a great power, have an enormous influence in shaping resolutions that would protect our interests and protect the interests of other nations, as well. We didn’t do it.

Phyllis mentioned the General Assembly’s procedure called Uniting for Peace. It’s an arcane, seldom-used measure, but in short, if one nation vetoed a Security Council resolution, the General Assembly is authorized to take up the same issue and adopt the decision that the Security Council might have adopted and it will have binding authority. The Palestinians may have this in mind, in their statement that they want to go back to the Security Council sometime early this year. There is a new Security Council that changes its complexion every year, as you know, because of votes for representatives among non-member states and the new Security Council has a slightly more progressive, non-aligned complexion than the previous one. And it’s not certain that the U.S. could prevent a nine-state majority that would enable the full vote of the Security Council. I don’t know whether the Palestinians are going to do that. They may want to trigger the United for Peace resolution so they can use the UN effectively on their behalf. Another method of internalization which no one knows very much about which could cause great difficulty for the United States is the succession of the state of Palestine to fifteen to 20 specialized agencies, I’m thinking of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Civil Aviation Organization and several dozens of others. The Palestinians joined UNESCO and quickly the United States government stopped paying its dues to UNESCO because, believe it or not, the U.S. Congress has adopted legislation that says that if the Palestinian Authority joins any of these specialized agencies, the U.S. will withdraw its funding. Normally when the U.S. withdraws its funding, the United States will no longer be a member of these organizations. It is unlikely the U.S. would ever allow this to happen, it would have to amend its legislation or provide some kind of waiver for the Palestinians to do it.

Let me turn to the ICC bid, I am deeply skeptical that this will produce tangible results because of the complexity of the statute, the very limited jurisdiction that can impose conflicts and the political issue involved. This is the most fraught, volatile and sensitive international issue that I can imagine and I have grave doubts that the ICC, a relatively new institution, would want to take this on because the court has had very little success in its decade of existence. It has received thousands of complaints and has acted on almost none of them. It has convicted only two individuals of war crimes – Congolese warlords and a case that appeared to be succeeding against the President of Kenya failed, and so it has a very poor track record and that does not engender a lot of respect or support for the court. They do aspire ultimately to the U.S. accepting the Rome Statute and I think they are wary of provoking the United States by accepting jurisdiction or investigating and prosecuting a case against Israel.

But one has to understand that there is certainly nothing illegitimate about Palestine joining the ICC. They are a state as recognized by the General Assembly, they have a perfect right to do so. They probably would not have done so if it had been warned in advance by the U.S. that we might be obliged to impose sanctions against the Palestinian Authority or we might, indeed, withdraw our aid. But they saw no other avenue to pursue their cause having failed for over twenty years to gain anything through bilateral negotiations, during which the Israeli policy of settlement and occupation of the Occupied Territories has created what many believe is a non-irreversible situation. So the Palestinians played along with negotiations, they negotiated for a long time, but they got nothing out of it. The Palestinians, I think, now realize that political violence is not an effective weapon in this conflict particularly with the state of Israel. There has been a grassroots movement of non-violence with the Palestinians that has failed – I can’t say that it’s failed permanently, but it really hasn’t made any difference or struck the conscience of the Israeli public and the Israeli leadership. So Abu Mazen was under great pressure to do something having failed to achieve Palestinian liberation through conventional means and he said, “Well, I’m going to internationalize,” and he has done so. Does that mean that the conflict now has become an international conflict in which the international community will assert its will and prevail? No, it doesn’t. But there is, as Phyllis said, a real symbolic significance to the Palestinians joining this agency and the public relations gain they will achieve is not trivial. However, it will hardly be decisive with virtually no impact on the situation on the ground.

The U.S. opposed this because, as Phyllis says, it still presumes that it is the only great power that can serve as a mediator between the two parties. We have proclaimed that privilege for many decades now, yet we have not filled the normal duties and obligations of a good-faith mediator and peacemaker. We have deferred increasingly over the last 30 years to Israeli government policy – it wasn’t always that way. Back in the 1970s even into the early eighties, the U.S. would accept UN Security Council jurisdiction and even voted for some resolutions that were critical of Israeli policy. But since then almost invariably, with a few exceptions, the U.S. supported the Security Council censure of the Israeli bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq and in a few other cases. Almost uniformly, it decided that the Security Council had no business in dealing with us. Is that going to be a permanent feature of U.S. policy? I don’t know. I think not, because the current Israeli policies are becoming increasingly untenable, Israel has been increasingly isolated as a pariah state because of its policies of occupation settlement which are utterly incompatible with the rules of international behavior and the twenty-first century. The U.S. as the guarantor and underwriter of Israel has lost real credibility because of this policy. So this policy will change ultimately.

The question is, how long will it take? In the meantime, what are the chances for success in the ICC? They are very limited for complex reasons, but I will mention two: if the Palestinians decide to focus on settlements – it’s not clear if they are going after settlements or war crimes in Gaza first, but the press seems to emphasize their desire to press the Gaza claims – there will be counter-claims by the Israelis. The Palestinian Authority is technically one authority that governs all of Palestine including Gaza and the Israelis will claim that Gaza was carrying out war crimes with their missiles aimed against the civilian populace in Israel. So there’s a problem that will dissuade the court from a full-scale investigation. On settlements, the statute says that the situation which the court addresses must take place on the territory of the plaintiff. There has never been an international definition of the “territory” of the Palestinian state, and I doubt seriously that the ICC would want to take upon themselves the responsibility for defining the borders between Israel and Palestine.

The other one is that the statute appears to prevent retroactive jurisdiction over events that have taken place in the past. Those that it has jurisdiction for, according to the letter of the statute, are those that have taken place after the signature of the Rome Statute by the complaining state.

My prediction is that the ICC will not decide to carry out a full-scale investigation, it is already doing a temporary investigation, and cannot do a full-scale one for another thirty days. It’s too ambitious a reach for the ICC at this stage. Has it helped Israel – I’ve mentioned the public relations advantage at this stage – but essentially, it will do nothing for the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, a state of their own. The prospect of accomplishing this in the long run: it will happen. But in the long run, as someone once said, we’ll all be dead.

The interval between the change in American and international policy, if we don’t change it sooner, will be full of mayhem, tragedy and disaster for Palestinians, Israelis, and, in some cases, the rest of the world. That makes it all the more urgent that we change our policy sooner rather than later. Will we do it? Not, I think, during this administration. While the administration rhetorically supporting Palestinian equity and a rapid turn toward peace and opposing settlements has done virtually nothing to change that situation and while it complains, sometimes bitterly, of Israeli policy, it’s never made it clear to the state of Israel that there are consequences for their behavior and that it is jeopardizing our relationship with them. They will not change their policy until it becomes clear to them that they are losing favor and support from their best and only friend.

So that’s the challenge. It’s just conceivable that Obama might decide in the last two years to try once again. But he’s been thwarted in the past, he’s been advised by everyone within his inner circle that he shouldn’t touch this, it’s a hornets nest and we have always failed when we’ve tried energetically to do so in the past.

There’s another obstacle here and that’s the Palestinians, who are a divided community. If the Palestinians are to prevail in the end, they have to develop a new and credible strategy: they have to unite the two wings of the Palestinian national movement. Otherwise, the Israelis will not take them seriously nor will the rest of the world. Whatever their lack of strategy or vision, the idea that the U.S. or international community is going to rush to their aid is not true. So there’s an internal challenge for the Palestinian Authority.

So I wish I could offer something more optimistic to you, but that’s the way it looks to me. Now this can change, Israel is a volatile country, elections are being held on 17 March, there is a maybe 46 to 48 percent chance that a more pragmatic and moderate government will come to power. Even if it does, that is not likely to make a big change in the current policies of occupation and settlement because those policies are so deeply entrenched with Israel. To change those policies and reverse the situation would require an enormous transformation of the modern state of Israel. That is unlikely to take place until the Tel Aviv and public Israeli leadership understands that the future of their country is at stake. They have not yet grasped that in large part because the U.S. has consistently rushed to their aid even when it doesn’t serve U.S. interests and adopted a policy of impunity which has created the illusion to the Israelis that they can act as they are exceptional and that they don’t have to play by the rules of other nations. Thanks.


Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. She is also a fellow of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. She has been a writer, analyst, and activist on Middle East and UN issues for many years. In 2001 she helped found and remains on the advisory board of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation. She writes and speaks widely across the U.S. and around the world as part of the global peace movement. She continues to serve as an informal adviser to several top UN officials on Middle East and UN democratization issues. Phyllis Bennis is the author of many books including: From Stones to Statehood: The Palestinian Uprising (1990); Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN (2000); Before & After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis (2003);Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy US Power (2006);Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer (2009). She is also co-editor of Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader (1991) and Altered States: A Reader in the New World Order (1993).

Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox, Jr. retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 1997 after a 31-year career, and was president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace until 2014. He previously served as press attaché in Vientiane, Laos, political and economic-commercial officer in Jakarta, Indonesia, and  chief of the Economic Commercial Section in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His last overseas assignment was as chief of mission and consul general in Jerusalem. Ambassador Wilcox served as special assistant to the undersecretary for management, deputy director for U.N. political affairs in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and as director for regional affairs in the Bureau for Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs. He also held the positions of director for Israeli and Arab-Israeli affairs and deputy assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairsHe has been awarded the Department of State’s Meritorious, Superior, and Presidential Honor Awards. He is a member of the board of American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) and a member of the Washington Institute for Foreign Affairs and Dacor-Bacon House.

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.