“This is a difficult night for Israel,” said opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) in wake of the recent UN Security Council resolution condemning all Israeli settlements, which he opined the United States should have vetoed. Herzog said the resolution “seriously harms our capital Jerusalem, the settlement blocs and Israel’s status and diplomatic achievements accumulated over the years.”
To be sure, the more vociferous cries of ‘shameful’ and ‘crazy’ by Netanyahu and the government caught more attention. But I believe Herzog’s words deserve extra attention precisely because of their more down-toned nature, yet outrageous hypocrisy.
As Gideon Levy notes, “opposition leader Isaac Herzog can babble that ‘we need to fight the decision with all means,’” but what is this babble really about, what does it mean about the mainstream Zionist ‘left’, and why is Herzog defending the settlements?
Since Israel has had right governments for close to two decades (and the most rightist government ever now), it may be easy to forget that Israel’s occupation and settlement policy is not a brainchild of the right, but rather of both left and right in concert. As I had pointed out before, it was the leftist Abba Eban who in 1969 invoked the term “Auschwitz” in regards to the 1949 ceasefire lines (often regarded erroneously as 1967 borders). Eban was speaking to the UN in his capacity as Foreign Minister, and his words from then deserve special attention:
“We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. For us, this is a matter of security and of principles. The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz.”
This statement became the basis for the colloquial Israeli reference “Auschwitz borders”, and devout Zionist pundits use it as reference in our times to advocate against territorial retreat, as here, where it is also noted that “just one month before his assassination, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Labour leader, said, “The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.”
These settlements are part of this strategy. The retaining of the ‘settlement blocs’ plus the ‘temporary (yet indefinite) control’ of the Jordan valley were at the heart of Ehud Barak’s deceit when he made his supposedly ‘generous offer’ to Yasser Arafat in 2000.
Israel has always tried to claim facts on the ground, and it has always claimed ‘security’. First it was just the ‘Auschwitz borders’, that is, ‘we’re feeling too persecuted and about to be annihilated’, as it were – and ‘now that we’ve captured larger territory we’re not going back to Auschwitz’. Then came the settlements, and they’re a fact on the ground – so they need to be defended, walled etc. Then you have the Jordan Valley, the security claim for which even former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami regards as being ‘mythical’. And before you know it – you have a set of Bantustans surrounded and controlled from all directions.
This is the Israeli concept of ‘peace’, as it applies to Palestine – from right to left. No wonder Rabin could assure the Knesset in 1995 that Oslo was about “less than a [Palestinian] state” and that “we will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines”.
But the recent UNSC resolution regards ALL settlements, including East Jerusalem, as a ‘flagrant violation’ of international law (this pertains to Fourth Geneva convention article 49), and the settlements are a means of Israel’s enforcement of ‘facts on the ground’, to assert its claim to territories acquired by war – which is directly opposed by the seminal UNSC 242 “emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
But why ‘settlement blocs’? Why doesn’t Herzog just say ‘settlements’? Because Israel plays a double game. The ‘pioneers’ who run up on hilltops to create an outpost, may be doing so in ‘violation’ of Israeli law, in the sense that they are not part of an official plan, or that they occupy private Palestinian land. Thus, they may be evacuated, maybe even a few times, and it may even be after a Supreme Court case. But in the bigger picture, they will often eventually be retroactively ‘recognised’, they will expand, and eventually you have a ‘bloc’ of these settlements. But, as Amira Hass notes, “unlike the Israeli High Court of Justice, international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute make no distinction between building settlements on private land and building them on public land: The first considers them a violation, the latter – a war crime.”
So Israel is playing a dual game, which for the left can be called ‘occupation lite’, ‘settlement lite’, ‘colonisation lite’, ‘Apartheid lite’ and so on. The dual game has intellectual players even claiming that ‘there is no occupation’, yet on the other hand being unwilling to realise the claim in civil terms, that is to offer full civil rights to all under this supposedly ‘non-existent occupation’. Israel relies upon the actual belligerent occupation status in order to enforce military rule upon Palestinians, denying them common civil rights, but it obscures the status of the occupied territories by regarding them as ‘disputed’. Occasionally Israel seeks to annex occupied territories, especially when it has already managed to ethnically cleanse them to a considerable degree. Thus, public security minister, Gilad Erdan, said on Saturday night that Israel should “announce a full annexation of settlement blocs” in response to the resolution.
This is the hypocrisy that Herzog presents to us, in toned-down language. When compared to the loud barks from further right, his words seem moderate. But whilst the right wingers are angry, he is sorry. He is sorry that Israel has enraged the world that is now against us, that Netanyahu made too much noise rather than worked more “discretely and circumspectly” as Herzl would have had it.