The politics of the Middle East are complex and in order to fully understand the situation between Israel and Palestine, one must do more than simply listen to CNN or read catchy Facebook memes. Without understanding the history of the area, one cannot understand the issues of the present. Period. However, I am hearing vast numbers of people, including one Donald Trump, jumping blindly in with their uneducated opinions, saying that the U.S. was wrong to abstain from voting on the U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity in Palestinian areas. Uneducated opinions are permitted in this country, but in most cases are not helpful. This is no exception.
I cannot possibly explain everything about this situation in 1200 words or less, but perhaps a very brief overview will help to explain why I believe President Obama and Secretary Kerry made the right decision. Israel is our ally, and we have, through the years, supported them in many ways. Despite Trump’s assertion that the Obama administration is treating Israel with “disdain,” the Obama administration has repeatedly increased funding to support Israel’s military and in September, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide $38 billion in security assistance to Israel over the next 10 years — the largest single pledge of military assistance in U.S. history to any country.
However, when a friend is making a bad decision, you may be less than eager to support him. This is why we did not veto the resolution, but merely abstained. Think of it this way … you would do anything for your best friend, right? Yet, if that friend tells you she is going to break into a house and steal a television set, and she wants you to go along to help her carry the television, are you going to do it? You have three choices: a) you can go along and help her, even though your conscience tells you it is the wrong thing to do; b) you can report her plan to the authorities, or c) you can do neither. We chose option ‘C’ in the case of the U.N. resolution.
The territories in dispute are the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In the 1967 Six-Day War, aka the Arab-Israeli War, Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria and as a result, occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. This area has come to be known as Occupied Palestine. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 forbids an occupying power, in this case Israel, from settling its people in conquered territory. The United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and the High Contracting Parties to the Convention have all affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply in this case.
Though the building and existence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are in violation of international law, Israel has been building settlements in the West Bank since 1968, and now has 123 authorized settlements and 102 unauthorized settlement outposts on the West Bank. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has plans to build additional settlements in the near future. The Israeli settlements take land and jobs from the Palestinians, as well as create economic, social and environmental problems too complex to go into here. And, as agreed to by the international community, they are not legal.
This is a divisive issue, with some believing that since Israel is our ally, we should be committed to supporting them no matter what, and others believing that we must offer our support only where it makes sense to do so. I am of the latter thought, that we should help Israel, but that they cannot simply continue making themselves at home on land that belongs to Palestinians, blocking Palestinians from driving on the roads they build, and other offenses, especially in light of the fact that their moves are in defiance of international law.
I also understand and respect the opposing view — there are far more grey areas than clearly defined black-and-white ones, and I could almost argue either side. What I do NOT respect is people who claim that President Obama and Secretary Kerry are failing our ally, are being disrespectful of Israel, and even that they are anti-Semitic, when those people do not even begin to understand the situation and have not bothered to learn. I am tired of people weighing in on extremely complex issues with simplistic one-liners. It shows a lack of intelligence and a lack of respect. As I said at the beginning of this post, the situation is too complex for me to do it justice, and in truth, there are facets that I do not understand despite much reading and years of studying the Middle East. But at least I have the good sense to keep my mouth shut when I do not understand an issue, or ask somebody who has the knowledge I lack. And that is the purpose of this post — not to attempt to explain a situation about which hundreds of books have been written, but to urge people to try to gain an understanding of a situation before commenting on it. Just as with the faux news stories, there is danger in sharing silly, over-simplified memes that some will read and assume that every one of the 5 words defining the issue are true! Okay … Filosofa is stepping down from her soapbox now — for a few hours anyway.