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Shir Hever: UN Vote and criticism over Gaza attack matter little to Netanyahu who unites with Minister who advocates ethnic cleansing of Palestinian citizens of Israel

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

This is the first in what will become a regular series of reports on the situation in Israel politics, geopolitics, and that will be with Shir Hever, who now joins us. Shir is an economist studying the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories for the Alternative Information Center—joint Palestinian-Israeli organization dedicated to publishing alternative information and analysis. He’s now studying in Germany. And as I said, he’ll be doing regular reports for The Real News. Thanks for joining us, Shir.


JAY: So what do you got for us this week?

HEVER: On Thursday we had the Palestinian appeal. The Palestinian authorities appealed to the United Nations General Assembly to be accepted as a member of the UN—a very important historical event, which I think is not covered so much from the various political and economic and social aspects that it involves.

JAY: Yeah. Well, first of all, talk about the legality. Like, what does the significance of the General Assembly vote mean? What does it mean to Palestinian statehood recognition by the UN? ‘Cause the Security Council still has to weigh in on this.

HEVER: Yeah. The Palestinian Authority has easily obtained a significant majority in the General Assembly of the UN, because the official position of almost every country in the world is that the Israeli occupation is wrong and should end. This is also the official position of country—of states like the United States and Canada, which tried to block the Palestinian appeal. So they have a certain problem with what is their official position and what is their actual position.

But the legal issue here is just a first step for the Palestinian Authority, because being accepted by the General Assembly is still not full membership in the United Nations. And we’re assuming that as long as Barack Obama is president, the United States will continue to veto the Palestinians’ attempt to become full members.

However, it does give the Palestinian one legal venue that was closed to them up until now: they could decide to sign the Rome Convention of the International Criminal Court in Hague. And this would make all of the Palestinian territories, the occupied Palestinian territory—we’re talking now about the territory that was annexed by Israel in 1967—not annexed—that was conquered by Israel in 1967, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would become under the—would fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in Hague. And that means that every Israeli soldier or settler who commits a crime in this territory, the Palestinians could ask that this person would be extradited to the international court.

JAY: Now, just let me ask a question here first. So they can’t do that now, because they don’t have that kind of status, but the General Assembly vote does give them that status.

HEVER: Yes. If they choose to sign the convention, the Rome Convention, which I believe they probably would, because I think a lot of Palestinians expect this from Mahmoud Abbas—the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and the president—and they expect this to be a way to put more pressure on Israel to stop committing crimes in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Now, the Senate, the U.S. Senate, has already issued a warning that if the Palestinians would use this venue to try to prosecute criminal Israelis in the international court, they will cut all funding to the Palestinian Authority. I think this perhaps shows just how significant this threat really is.

But the interesting thing is that although the United States Senate has already jumped on this piece of news, in the Israeli media the issue is almost not mentioned. There’s very little debate about it. And I think now this is a very critical issue, because there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli soldiers and approximately half a million Israeli settlers who are actually going to live under the jurisdiction of the international court. And if they will be documented being involved in a crime, then if they ever travel at any point in their lives to another country that has signed the Rome Convention, there could be a warrant for their arrest waiting for them.

JAY: So why isn’t this more of an issue in Israel on two sides, one, the extent of the diplomatic isolation—even Germany abstained; when people thought originally Germany would join Canada and the U.S. to vote against this, they abstained. And the diplomatic isolation, you would think, would be somewhat of a story, and then the issue of the International Criminal Court. Why isn’t this more an issue in Israel?

HEVER: Yeah. A senior German official said that Germany originally wanted to vote no in the General Assembly against the Palestinian people, but they have changed their mind, and he said, we’ve asked Israel time and again to stop illegal construction in the occupied territories, and Israel did not listen, and this is the result. At some point, it just doesn’t make sense anymore, even for extreme pro-Israeli governments like the German government, to make these claims as if they support the two-state solution, and, when it comes to the actual vote, to vote against everything they’ve said for the past two decades. I think abstaining is still quite hypocritical by the German government. But all other European governments, also with the exception of Britain, made it very clear that they support the Palestinian cause, and they don’t act in—at least in the area of the vote in the UN General Assembly, they haven’t taken their hypocrisy to that level of the United States and Canada.

But this isolation that you’re talking about is something that has been a very important issue in the Israeli political sphere, and we’ve seen that especially after the attack on Gaza of 2008-2009, the Cast Lead attack, which was an argument made at the time by Netanyahu before the elections of 2009—the current government is too soft, they’re not punishing Gaza enough, while the more so-called leftist government that launched the attack on Gaza, headed by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barack, they argued that because of their better international connections, because they are perceived in the international community as more moderate, they have the ability to use more force against the Palestinians, because the international community doesn’t stop them.

And so the attack against Gaza in 2008-2009 was actually planned to last for five days, and at that point the Israeli government already had a plan where they will be forced to sign a ceasefire because of international pressure. And the international pressure never came. And that, I believe, was the main reason why in 2009 Netanyahu won the election, and the right-wing government was formed, and Netanyahu appointed as his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is one of the most extreme politicians in Israel, who has been boycotted by many governments in Europe, who refuse to receive him as a guest because of his extreme racist opinions.

And basically this was Israel’s way of saying, and Netanyahu’s way of saying as prime minister, we don’t care about international opinion, we don’t care about international pressure, they can’t do anything to us. And this kind of politic is very appealing to a lot of Israelis who realize just how difficult it is for them to explain what Israel is doing and the ongoing occupation, the crimes committed against a civilian population, the discrimination, the apartheid. How can they explain this and say that Israel is a democracy, Israel is part of the developed world, Israel is just another country like most European countries, and so on? The only way that they could reconcile this kind of cognitive dissonance is by saying, actually, the rest of the world doesn’t matter. The recent attack on Gaza was in many ways also an election war which caused a massive—.

JAY: And the elections are coming quite soon. I mean, what’s happening in terms of the elections? And Barak, the defense minister, announced that he’s not going to run again. What is the latest?

HEVER: Barak, the minister of defense who broke off from the Labor Party in order to be able to remain in Netanyahu’s government when the Labor Party announced that they will—they are preparing to leave the government, was involved in every attack on Gaza in the past four years, and he’s one of the most violent leaders in Israel’s history. But he in many ways embodies a kind of political faction in Israel that is historically affiliated with the Labor Party of so-called rational Zionism or pragmatic Zionism, which is the idea that although ideologically Barak is not that different from the most extreme settler groups, the most extreme right-wing groups—he also said it in a couple of occasions, ideologically. But he also believes that in order to promote his ideology, he should make some compromises and act in a more rational and well thought of way in order to prepare international opinion to his invasions, in order to make it seem as if Israel cares about Palestinian civilians and not just killing them wherever they may be.

And in many ways Barak has lost all popular support. He did some political maneuvering in order to stay in the government, to stay in a very important position as minister of defense. I think he also contemplated an attack on Iran, which was something that was discussed in The Real News quite in depth. And eventually when he realized this is not going to happen, he understood that if he participated in the upcoming elections, this is not going to get any votes, or very little, and he might not even be a member of Parliament. So he announced his retirement.

But of course we know that he’s not just a politician, also a businessman. Now he could cash in and make money from all the contacts that he made as minister of defense and all the benefits that he gave to the Israeli military industry.

But what we see instead of Barak, if Barak is representing this sort of rational Zionism or pragmatic Zionism, which seems to be a sort of dying political breed, we see the same kind of motivation, the same kind of political fervor that we’ve seen in the previous election, which is to say, we’re not going to conceal our ideology anymore, and if Jewish majority and Jewish supremacy and territorial expansionism and religious fervor are things that we care about, we’re not going to hide it for the sake of the international community.

And the place where we’ve seen this is in the internal election in the Likud Party. The Likud Party, which is Netanyahu’s party, the main party, the most powerful party in the Israeli parliament at the moment, has recently joined forces with the party of Avigdor Lieberman, the most extreme-right politicians in the government. So, basically, Avigdor Lieberman’s party said openly, we don’t think Palestinian citizens in Israel should have their citizenship taken for granted. Their citizenship—.

JAY: Yeah, but Lieberman’s never been shy about his ideology. He’s—quite openly had submitted various proposals that would essentially ethnically cleanse Palestinians out of Israel.

HEVER: Yeah. We’re talking about not just the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the occupied territories, but also revoking citizenship from Palestinian citizens of Israel, which are about 20 percent of the population.

So joining forces with the Likud Party is in a way delegitimizing the whole party. It shows that the Likud Party became now a new force which is equivalent to some of the most extreme right-wing movements in the world. But furthermore, the recent internal elections within the party, which are used to—the primaries, which determined the sequence in which members of the party can be elected into the Parliament, have brought the most extreme and the most chauvinistic, jingoistic members of the party to the first ten places.

JAY: Okay. We’re going to talk more about all of this in the coming weeks. Shir’s going to be doing regular reports on this, and we’ll dig more deeply into all of this, but we’re out of time now. Thanks very much for joining us, Shir.

HEVER: Thank you, Paul, very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you’d like to see more reports like this on The Real News, don’t forget we’re in our year-end fundraising campaign. If you donate $1, it will be matched by a matching grant. And the Donate button’s somewhere over here. And if you don’t click on it, we can’t do this.


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