Who's Afraid Of International Law? 
by James Brooks
November 22, 2003

Send this page to a friend! (click here)




Most people of good will are inclined to welcome the recent Swiss (“Geneva”) Accords forged between non-official Israeli and Palestinian parties. US support has ranged from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to former president Jimmy Carter. Even Colin Powell sent a note of congratulations to the negotiators. Support in Europe is strong, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the Accords consistent with the ‘road map’ to peace.


Supposedly the Accords “prove there is a Palestinian partner to talk to.” But that could have been accomplished by simply clipping the regional news stories of the last three years. The most common headline would be, “Arafat proposes talks, Sharon rejects”.


Instead, the Accords prove that there is no authoritative Israeli partner to talk to. Although the Palestinian negotiating team was closely connected to Yasser Arafat and the heads of the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s contingent was largely drawn from its peacenik left wing, sporting but a single member from Likud. Led by Yossi Beilin, a veteran leftist Knesset member, they might represent twenty percent of the Israeli electorate.


The Swiss Accords admit indirectly what the monstrous “security fence” is making brutally clear: Israeli “democracy” supported by lavish US funding is not capable of pursuing a just or peaceful solution. Only a minority faction of the domestic opposition is willing to take on the task of actual peacemaking.


While the Swiss Accords claim to reaffirm and supersede UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and other legal documents, they are in fact very selective about what they affirm and what they ignore in international law. Combined with the prior Ayalon/Nusseibeh agreement, they are turning those who advocate a lawful solution into opponents of the “peace process”.


It took the world of 1967 little more than five months and a half-page document to agree on a legal solution to the problems caused by Israel’s so-called Six Day War. On November 22, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 242. It directed Israel to leave all the seized territories, area states were to acknowledge and respect each other's sovereignty, etc., and a "just settlement of the refugee problem" was to be achieved.


While the broad language of the resolution supplied useful ambiguities for those seeking to evade its meaning, Israeli compliance with its spirit would have resolved them in time. Unfortunately, this compliance has never occurred.


Therefore, it was necessary to invent the “peace process”, and eventually something as tortured as the Swiss Accords. These documents propose many things, in clean and efficient detail. They would trade the best land around Jerusalem for a strip of radioactive desert, and leave Jewish settlements and roads pock-marking the West Bank. But their most characteristic appeasement can be found in their treatment of the Palestinian refugees.


In the War of 1948, Israel completely obliterated hundreds of Palestinian villages and waged terror campaigns and massacres against hundreds more neighborhoods, villages and cities, forcing or terrorizing 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. The following year, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved Resolution 194, calling for the implementation of the Palestinians’ right to return home. Largely thanks to US protection, Israel has been allowed to defy Resolution 194 ever since. So in 1967 Israel drove another quarter of a million Palestinians from their homes.


Following World War II, the Fourth Geneva Convention squarely addressed the inhumanity of massive Nazi and Soviet projects that expelled millions from their lands in Eastern and Central Europe. The Convention declared the right to return to one’s home after being forced or coerced to abandon it.


This natural and conservative corrective to injustice was applied in the huge refugee return movements following the war. Millions streamed across Europe to return to their homes, or what was left of them. This process is recognized as the only just way to correct the inhumanity wrought by land-grabbing racists, governments, ethnic cleansers and fascist "social engineers". It is also a principle of the recent Balkan peace process, where limited numbers of refugees have returned to homes seized by Bosnian-Serb forces.


Israel continues to deny the relevance of international law and UN resolutions to the refugee problem. Yet it claims that the “just settlement” language of Resolution 242 implies due consideration of its concerns. How can we even begin to discuss a “just settlement” without recourse to the law?


Israel says that it presents a special case, a Jewish State that welcomes only Jews. However, international law does not recognize such distinctions. International law rejected the Christian-only goals of the Bosnian-Serbs and the white-only goals of South Africa’s apartheid regime as inherently discriminatory. Israel is not a special case. It should not get a “pass” on human rights in order to achieve its own racist ideal.


The Swiss Accords, conveniently ignoring the Geneva Conventions altogether, manage to “recognize” UN Resolution 194 while swallowing Israel's position hook-line-and-sinker. Under their terms, neighboring Arab countries would be assigned quotas of Palestinian refugees to absorb, while Israel wouldn’t be required to admit even one. Turning international law on its head, we are supposed to take it as self-evident that Israel will never “agree” to recognize human rights. So we must reward the Israeli terror.


To their credit, the Swiss Accords do not pursue the 'wall-and-separate' approach to statehood espoused by former Labor chief Avram Mitzna in his doomed election campaign against Sharon. Instead, they envision a range of joint Israeli-Palestinian projects in all spheres, excepting, of course, national defense; their Palestinian 'state' would not be allowed that luxury.


It will take more than good works and one-sided 'demilitarization' to bring lasting peace. The Swiss Accords and the Ayalon/Nusseibeh agreement inherit the legacy of Oslo, Wye River, Madrid, and all the other "understandings" based on Israel's defiance of international law. They have gone so far in bargaining away Palestinian rights and property that they are attracting the otherwise unlikely support of people like Mr. Wolfowitz.


A peace agreement founded on injustice is written in sand. Denying the right of return, a cornerstone of the Palestinian struggle, is very risky business. It will create a future without peace because it is unjust.


The conflict appears intractable only because the occupation seems unstoppable. But the occupation is not unstoppable. The refugees are not beyond the reach of home and justice. And recognition and security for Israel are not impossible dreams.


To make these basics of peace and justice possible, the solutions are clear. Israel must no longer be allowed to violate internationally guaranteed human rights, dozens of UN Security Council resolutions, scores of UN General Assembly resolutions, and the most fundamental tenets of international law. It must join the family of nations and begin shouldering the responsibilities it began shirking when it joined the UN in 1949.


The Palestinians, the Israelis, and the world need a resolution consistent with law and historical truth. That solution is on the table, and it is self-evidently just and peaceful. But it requires us to affirm that human rights supersede the prejudices of individual states in the resolution of international conflict. If we can handle that, Israel can finally be held accountable to the standards of peace and justice recognized by the world community: UN resolutions and international law.


It’s a solution that scares only the criminals. 


James Brooks is a writer, activist, webmaster, and former business owner. Articles have been published by several web sites covering the Middle East, investigative journalism and alternative politics. Currently Brooks serves as webmaster for Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (www.vtjp.org) and the Vermont Sun (www.vtsun.com), and publishes News Links, a free, once-daily (Mon-Sat) e-mail digest of in-depth Middle East news and commentary. To subscribe, contact jamiedb@attglobal.net.


Other Articles by James Brooks


* Israel's New War Machine Opens the Abyss: "We Didn't Know" Will Be No Excuse

* Deep Roots of Islamophobia

* Bad Cop, Really Bad Cop

* This War Could Cost You Your SUV

* 35 Years Late To Stop The War

* The Day The War Starts

* Veto

* Send Hans Blix to Nes Ziona: Palestinian Civilians Attacked with Poison Gas
* Saddam is Monica: The Scandal the Scuttled Colin Powell's Case
* We The People: Deluded, Armed and Dangerous in the Middle East
* The Israelization of America





FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com