By Or Amit*
Sweden made international headlines in October 2014 when it decided to recognize the State of Palestine. Not surprisingly, Israel whimpered and condemned Sweden’s perceived impertinence. Israel and its supporters were clearly worried that other countries may follow suit, thus giving the Palestinians political and moral boosts.
Sweden is to be lauded for this symbolic act, but there is a practical side to the recognition of Palestine that to my knowledge receives very little attention in the media: the issue of diplomatic missions.
Having recognized Palestine as a sovereign nation, Sweden should send a diplomatic mission—call it an embassy, a consulate, or anything else—to the Gaza Strip or to the West Bank. There it will be protected by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which Israel is a signatory. The convention prohibits signatories from invading or destroying diplomatic missions, or from harming or arresting their staffs.
Now imagine twenty, fifty or a hundred nations recognizing Palestine and peppering the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with their diplomatic missions. The Israeli military could not afford to put these missions at jeopardy and when the Israeli military begins its next assault on Gaza (sadly, only a matter of time) its planes won’t be able to bomb anywhere near these missions.
Israeli pilots, for whom the Gazan landscape is little more than a shooting range with live targets, will be forced to navigate their bombs around those diplomatic pains in the neck. The periphery of these missions will serve as a de facto safe zone for Palestinian civilians fleeing aerial assaults.
Diplomatic missions will serve another, equally important purpose. Throughout history, diplomatic missions have served as safe houses for individuals, citizens and foreigners alike, who face persecution by the host state. WikiLeaks hero Julian Assange has been using the Vienna Convention and the humanitarian hospitality of the Ecuadorian government to hide in its embassy in London since 2012, and while I don’t envy his situation there, it is far preferable to spending the rest of his life in prison once the Swedes play their part in the charade and pass him over to the Americans.
The same can be done in Palestine. Palestinian Mevukashim—those wanted by Israel’s military and Shin-Bet—are usually either assassinated or tried in Israeli military courts in which they have no hope of receiving a fair trial.
If these hunted individuals receive asylum, they could hide in the foreign missions in Gaza and the West Bank, thus leaving the Israelis with several unpleasant choices: to storm the mission and instigate a diplomatic incident; to waste resources and risk soldiers’ lives by sieging the mission, as the UK does with Assange; or to let the wanted individual be.
Alternatively, they could capitulate and promise to try the wanted individual in a civilian court, but methinks this is the last option they’d ever consider.
I am not an expert on internal law or diplomatic relations and I have little doubt that sending diplomatic missions to Palestine will be a very complicated affair, as the Israeli government will fight it tooth and nail. Nevertheless, it’s worth a try. At the very least, it will give Israel one more international headache to deal with.
* Or Amit is a freelance writer living in Dresden, Germany. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.