International Law And Accountability Lacking When It Comes To Israel – OpEd
By Arab News
By Chris Doyle*
A hundred days after the Nov. 1 election in Israel that led to the formation of the most far-right extremist coalition in the country’s history, it would be hard to impossible to detect the faintest alteration in the international community’s approach to Israel. It leaves many pondering just how extreme, how bigoted, how racist and supremacist an Israeli government would have to be to elicit a change.
To recap for those who have not been following, this coalition contains senior ministers with a history of violence. The likes of Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, was convicted in Israel of supporting a terrorist organization. Added to this propensity for violence and promoting violence against “Arabs” (they do not typically accept the existence of the Palestinians) is a range of racist quotes against Arabs and support for the transfer or expulsion of Arabs. A major party in this Netanyahu led-coalition is called Jewish Power. Its policies are explicitly Jewish supremacist.
Plenty of Israeli politicians have historically made anti-Arab racist comments and have pushed for transfer. It just seems this latest batch is itching to do so.
Even if there is an unwillingness to call out this Israeli bevy of reprobates, an understanding is clear that the risks of a third intifada and major bloodshed are high. CIA Director William Burns said: “I was a senior US diplomat 20 years ago during the second intifada, and I’m concerned — as are my colleagues in the intelligence community — that a lot of what we’re seeing today has a very unhappy resemblance to some of those realities that we saw then too.”
The rate of Israeli killings of Palestinians has been averaging more than one a day in 2023, following a record year in 2022. Palestinian attacks on Israelis, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem, have also kicked off.
Demolitions are also on the rise. Yes, not demolitions of Israeli Jewish homes but of Palestinians. In East Jerusalem, Ben-Gvir is embarking on another demolition derby. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the rate of demolitions from Jan. 1 to Feb. 7 was double the rate last year. Many thousands of Palestinian homes are at risk.
How have major international actors reacted? Whether any American or European politician of standing would meet some of the more toxic ministers such as Ben-Gvir or Bezalel Smotrich is unknown. These two may not care too much. Their passion is not about adulation in the White House but the transformation of Israel to a state founded on their supremacist chauvinist dreams. If this coalition lasts for long, we may see what sort of government, politicians and diplomats are prepared to rub shoulders with open racists.
Most international politicians have veered away from how they might describe this government. Perhaps wisely. What exactly is the appropriate word? A British Labour MP was censored for calling it “fascist,” a term that some felt was inappropriate given the association between fascism and Nazism. Yet as one member of the Israeli group Peace Now confirmed to me, fascism was a term he would use, and was often used among the protesters in Israel. One Likud minister, Miri Regev, boasted: “I am happy to be a fascist.” Condemnation for overzealous language but zero condemnation from the Labour leadership when it comes to Israeli war crimes.
Israeli protesters have led the charge for six straight weeks in crowds 50,000 strong. The challenge is that although they number in their thousands, only a small percentage protest against the coalition because of its treatment of Palestinians. The driver for these protests has been the coalition’s attempt to disempower the Israeli judiciary, in particular the Supreme Court. It undermines the claims of Israeli democracy, something that was already challenged with the human rights community charging Israel with the crime of apartheid. The protesters may win but the war crimes against Palestinians will continue.
A few international figures are prepared to comment, if only indirectly. US President Joe Biden made a pointed comment: “American democracy and Israeli democracy” are both “built on strong institutions, checks and balances, on an independent judiciary.” The message was clear. Destroy that and Biden’s US may not be talking about shared values with Israel anymore. President Emmanuel Macron of France weighed in at a dinner with Netanyahu in Paris. The treatment of Palestinians was not a suitable dinner table conversation it seems.
But how do international powers view Israeli policies against Palestinians? The trouble here is the new coalition is continuing the existing sets of policies, just with bells on. The previous coalition was heavily involved in major violations of international law and oppression, when the international community said close to zero, seduced by the smiles and charm of the likes of Yair Lapid. He and his partners were advancing forced dispossessions and a crackdown on civil society just as this government is. Many forget that Netanyahu’s lifelong political agenda has been a “Greater Israel” with exclusive rights for Jews. Netanyahu brought the Kahanists (followers of the ideology of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane) into the Knesset and into his coalition, and shares more of their views than he might wish to admit on CNN.
Call the Israeli government what you want, but forcible evictions, or colonial settlement in the Occupied Territories, are war crimes. These, unlike fascism, are very specific and defined legal terms. As of yet, no major international statesman has ventured a valid legal critique of Israeli actions.
In some ways the US administration has been bolder than many European powers. Clutching at very short straws, the Biden administration has made some discreet noises and issued some red lines, even if this falls significantly short of what constitutes a genuine position of principle. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a special visit aimed at reducing tensions. His private remonstrations may have postponed some of the Israeli coalition criminal plans, but not all of them.
The international community should not meekly normalize an Israeli government hellbent on Jewish supremacy. A basket of policy consequences must be developed in the likely event that major forced evictions and war crimes ensue. Leaders should be hailing the importance of international law and accountability, just as they have with Russia and Ukraine.
The stick cannot be kept in the closet. The US has not used punitive measures since 1992, when President George H.W. Bush withheld US loan guarantees on account of Israeli settlement expansion. The EU has plenty of tools in its kit as well. Vitally, warning shots should be fired now. It would be far preferable to ward off further war crimes than moan about them afterward. The next 100 days could be telling.
• Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding in London.