The sustainability of the conflict
If Israel were to have a central counter- propaganda unit, one of its functions would be to address the regular abuse of semantics to demonize the country. Two expressions of such abuse which easily come to mind are the repeated misuse of international humanitarian law by Western authorities, as well as the term “disproportionality” where Israel’s military reactions are concerned.
At the top levels of the American government a new expression has emerged concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: “unsustainability,” or “unsustainability of the status quo.” This seemingly rhetorically neutral expression hides a completely different message, i.e., that Israel has to make concessions to the Palestinians so that there will be a two-state solution. One can add that whatever might happen afterward – for instance, the possible Palestinian state takeover by Hamas – is not of interest to those who pressure Israel.
While celebrating the White House’s annual Ramadan-Iftar dinner in July 2014, US President Barack Obama said, “The situation in Gaza reminds us again that the status quo is unsustainable and that the only path to true security is a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, where differences are resolved peacefully and in ways that respect the dignity of all people.” It would have been more truthful of him to say that “the extreme criminality in parts of the Muslim world is unsustainable.”
The term was picked up by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said in October 2014 that, “The current situation, the status quo, is unsustainable.” Kerry repeated this sentiment yet again two months later in response to the Palestinian statehood resolution at the United Nations.
“The status quo is unsustainable for both parties… Right now what we are trying to is have a constructive conversation with everybody to find the best way to go forward.”
When the US voted against the Jordanian resolution on Palestinian statehood in the UN Security Council on December 30, 2014, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, found it necessary to say, “Today’s vote should not be interpreted as a victory for an unsustainable status quo.”
All these facts indicate that after the Israeli elections, Americans will most likely pressure the government to make concessions in support of the so-called “peace negotiations.”
The concession of the century, which Israel made to the Palestinians, was the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 by prime minister Ariel Sharon’s government.
In 2004, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya’akov Amidror and David Keyes wrote for The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that “the eventual take-over of the Gaza Strip by Hamas certainly cannot be ruled out, given the enormous political clout it already possesses and the relative decline of the Fatah movement in recent years.”
By the summer of 2006, American diplomat Dennis Ross wrote, “With Hamas in control of Gaza and Hezbollah having provoked a conflict that has many in the international community questioning the logic of Israel’s response, one might be tempted to say that history’s verdict is already in, and it is not kind to Sharon.”
Today, we know that Sharon unilaterally created a “lose-lose” situation. Sharon and the State of Israel initially received some international acclaim after the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Since then, however, the Israelis are only worse off due to Gazan terrorism and rockets. Israel is also ferociously criticized by media and politicians for its measures taken against Gazan terrorism. The Gazans are worse off due to the closure of their area and the consequences of Israeli reactions to the endless provocations of Hamas, an Islamo-Nazi movement which aims to kill all Jews, and which the Palestinians voted into power.
When Sharon died in 2014, many Western leaders eulogized him. Several of them, despite having had eight years to think over Ross’s aforementioned conclusion, had yet to understand its validity. Although Sharon had created the Gaza withdrawal disaster, some of these eulogizers presented it as a positive achievement. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “called on Israel to build on the late prime minister’s legacy of pragmatism, to work toward the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state next to a secure Israel.”
A far more correct statement would have been that Sharon had created a calamity for his country, and that the current Israeli prime minister should be careful to avoid repeating such mistakes despite the fact that he is under constant international pressure.
Kerry’s eulogy was less clear, but he also saw Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza as a positive event, saying, “Sharon surprised many in his pursuit of peace, and today we all recognize that Israel has to be strong to make peace. And we also know that peace will make Israel stronger, not just with its near neighbors, but throughout the world.”
Kerry’s words were interpreted as putting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make concessions.
Any logical analyst of Sharon’s lose-lose policy in Gaza would draw the opposite conclusion: Israel should stay firm rather than weakening itself to please many in the international community.
As far as “unsustainability of the status quo” goes, the term is used in the political world in regard to the Palestinian- Israel conflict more than in regard to other conflicts around the globe. It is also used to describe the situation in Gaza. In December 2012, then-EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov released a joint statement in reference to Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.
They “fully recognized Israel’s security needs,” but asked for the “unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of goods and persons to and from the Gaza Strip, the situation of which is unsustainable as long as it remains politically and economically separated from the West Bank.” Ashton and Lavrov knew well that the closure of Gaza was a measure taken to assure Israel’s security – which they claimed they wanted to protect, but in reality were willing to sacrifice.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council repeated this sentiment during the summer 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. They stated, “The situation in the Gaza Strip has been unsustainable for many years and a return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option.”
During his May 2014 visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Pope Francis I said, “The time has come to put an end to this situation, which has become increasingly unacceptable.” One wonders whether he simply hadn’t yet caught up to the more fashionable term.
One would have expected many experts to have warned that when the last US troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, they would leave behind an “unsustainable” situation. Indeed, the Americans have had to return to Iraq in 2014 to fight one of the local factions, Islamic State, and are now also doing so within Syria, as well. The Iraqi situation after the American withdrawal was truly unsustainable, but many great Western pundits could not see the writing on the wall. That should serve as a lesson – that there is a need for the West to systematically assess which are the situations around the world where the status quo is most unsustainable. A number of conflicts within Muslim countries would probably come up on top, well before the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The author is a former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.