A European Role in Palestine?

A European Role in Palestine?A European Role in Palestine?

A report submitted earlier this month by the NGO “Defense for Children International–Palestine” to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Israel-Palestine conflict’s toll on children in 2014 underscores some of the most damaging consequences of this state of affairs. Its reception also serves as a reminder of why we have made no progress toward peace.

Last year, according to the DCIP report, 561 children were killed, 557 of them Palestinian, most as a result of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza during the summer. In addition, almost 3,000 Palestinian children were injured during that 50-day conflict, with about 1,000 permanently disabled.

The report also details the destruction of schools, the post-conflict mental health problems faced by the young, and the imprisonment of children.

According to Ban, the number of Palestinian children killed in 2014 was higher than the numbers of child deaths in Syria and Darfur, and was exceeded only in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of schools destroyed in Palestinian areas was the highest recorded anywhere.

According to children rights coalition Remember These Children, “The majority of Palestinian children are killed and injured while going about normal daily activities, such as going to school, playing, shopping, or simply being in their homes.”

Meanwhile, the oldest dispute in the region, the subject of a decades-long peace process that moves nowhere, continues to fester and worsen, Chris Patten wrote for Project Syndicate.

  US Pressure

Not surprisingly, the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended that Israel should be placed on the UN’s annual list of states and groups that gravely violate children’s rights. But the United States put pressure on the secretary-general to leave Israel off the list; Ban acceded, and ultimately decided to leave Israel off the list.

This is while the Palestinian Authority handed over its first submission of evidence of Israeli war crimes last week to the International Criminal Court, in a last-ditch attempt to speed up an ICC inquiry into abuses committed by Israel during last year’s Gaza conflict.

Israel, frequently lauded in the US Congress as America’s most dependable ally in the region, is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

It is difficult to imagine that US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power had her heart in lobbying to whitewash Israel.

Many Europeans will conclude that this is further evidence (if any was needed) that the US will always, and disastrously, protect Israel from the international and reputational consequences of its actions. But this is not enough.

Israel and Palestine are trapped in a bloody cul-de-sac, which is catastrophic for Palestinians and increasingly dangerous for Israel’s prospects.

  Two-State Solution

As a group of eminent European politicians recently noted, a two-state peace deal between Palestine and Israel could be lost. This group, which included former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, European Union commissioners and senior diplomats, sent a set of proposals to EU leaders in May.

Europe, according to the group, should offset America’s evident withdrawal from the diplomatic process and play a serious role in reviving prospects for peace.

At the heart of the proposals is EU support in the UN Security Council for a resolution that “either (1) calls for new negotiations and sets a mandatory deadline for the completion of an agreement to establish a two-state solution, or (2) creates a greater equivalence between the Israeli and Palestinian parties, including through recognition of a Palestinian state and strong support for Palestine accession to international treaties and organizations.”

  Obnoxious Behavior

The call for such a resolution reflects the impact of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s obnoxious behavior and the extremist views of several of his ministers, which have increased European countries’ righteous support for Palestinian statehood.

There is also a growing clamor in the EU to enforce the correct labeling of products made in Israel’s West Bank settlements. These products are exported to Europe under bilateral trade agreements between the EU and Israel. But the settlements are not part of Israel under international law. Sooner or later, someone will take EU countries to court over this.

The response to these sorts of proposals from Israel has been depressingly predictable. First, Israeli spokesmen accuse Europeans of anti-Semitism, a now exhausted and overworked accusation.

But there is a real danger in conflating criticism of Israeli intransigence and extremism to this. To say that it is anti-Semitic to condemn the killing and maiming of children in Gaza is to make light of Israel’s brutalities against children.

Second, Israel repeats its claim that it has no potential partner for peace. In fact, Israel is in deep denial, which was reflected in Netanyahu’s contemptuous rejection of a two-state solution in his successful reelection campaign.

The fact is that every situation in which a dominant power confronts those it condemns as terrorists sooner or later ends in negotiations. In Algeria, South Africa, and Northern Ireland, those in power invariably claimed that they had no partner for peace, until they made peace with the very so-called “terrorists” they had spent decades vilifying.

To put off talking makes violence increasingly difficult to end, which means that the sentiments that violence breeds become increasingly difficult to change. To secure peace, Israel will one day have to talk seriously to Hamas as well as Fatah and the PLO. There is no alternative.

Until that happens, the children, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinian, will continue to suffer. How long will the rest of the world look the other way?