Vijay Prashad: Most European countries including UK support statement denouncing new settlements
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s version of the Prashad Report with Vijay Prashad, who now joins us from Hartford, Connecticut. Vijay is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford. His latest books are Arab Spring, Libyan Winter and Uncle Swami: South Asians in America. And also he’s a regular on The Real News. Thanks for joining us, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD, PROF. INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: Thank you so much.
JAY: So this week you’re going to talk about what’s been happening at the United Nations.
PRASHAD: Well, yes. So just to put it in context, on 29 November, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. Well, two developments took place right after that, essentially, to punish Palestine for that vote.
The first has been a very gradual and systematic kind of financial embargo of Palestine. So the United States has threatened and then begun to cut the economic support money that it had been providing. And secondly, the Israeli government has held back on customs duties and taxes that it, you know, collects on behalf of the Palestinians. And that’s to the tune of about $100 million a month.
You know, I want to just underscore that. This is not Israeli aid to the Palestinians. The Israelis collect customs duties and taxes on behalf of the Palestinians. And despite the fact that this is essentially Palestinian revenue, the Israeli government has refused to hand it over to the Palestinian Authority, which means that $100 million a month, which is about a third of the Palestinian Authority’s budget, has been held back from it.
The second thing that occurred was, you know, right after the UN vote, the Israeli government announced that on E1, parcel E1, a part of, you know, the map of the occupied territories, Israel was going to build, you know, tens of thousands of new homes in a very large settlement development. This was roundly criticized by everybody, including the United States.
Well, you know, over the course of the past week, using its new nonmember observer status, the Palestinians put forward a resolution to the UN Security Council. In the UN Security Council, there are two kinds of, you know, things it can do. One is there can be a so-called presidential statement, where all 15 members of the council gather together and unanimously pass a presidential statement. You know, that’s a unanimous finding. There’s no real vote. Well, the Palestinians wanted to have a presidential statement, but that was not possible, and largely because the United States wouldn’t sign on to it. That means it could not be unanimous, it could not go through.
Secondly, the president of the council this month is from Morocco, and there was pressure on the president to ask for a vote on this statement, which essentially condemns Israel’s settlement-building activity. The reason, of course, there’s condemnation of it is that since at least the 1970s, the UN has been quite clear that Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories is a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, you know, which doesn’t allow an occupying power to go and build and to settle its population on land that it’s occupied. So based on that, there was pressure on the Moroccan president to ask for a vote.
So on December 19, you know, the question was put to the council, and once more the United States said that if the Moroccan president insisted on calling for a vote, the United States would veto this resolution. Neither did it want the presidentialâ€”you know, unanimous presidential statement, nor did it actually want to be called to account to have to veto this statement. So the Moroccan president, under immense pressure, withdrew the statement, and there was no vote on December 19 on the settlement activity.
But of course it doesn’t end there, because outside the chamber, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, made the statement that it is now being considered by the Palestinians whether they should take the very, I think, strong UN documentation about the other war against Gaza, Operation Cast Lead of 2009. They’re considering whether to take that documentation, including the report from the UN Human Rights Council which was chaired by the South African jurist Richard Goldstoneâ€”they want to take all that material, put it in a very large binder, and take it to the International Criminal Court. So for the first time, the Palestinians have directly said that these measures are possible. If they’re blocked in the Security Council, they might consider very strongly going to the International Criminal Court, where they would ask for the indictment of the then head of government that is in 2009 of Israel, and that’s Ehud Olmert, which would be a very significant occurrence if this is what indeed the Palestinians do in the next few months.
JAY: As we approach the almost vote that was going to happen on the question of Israeli settlements, if I understand correctly, most of the European countries were going to vote in favor of the resolution the Palestinians put forward. I think that’s correct. And if it is, how do you account for such a difference on the Israel issue between many of these European governments and the United States when they’re so much on the same page on most international foreign policy questions?
PRASHAD: No, this is quite correct. In fact, the UN ambassador from Britain was the one who spoke at the press conference, and he had with him his other three European partners. These are the four countries that have a seat in the current Security Council. In other words, Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal. These four unanimously wanted to support both the president’s statement, and they were going to vote on the side of the Palestinians if a vote had been called.
Now, the issue is that the statement made by the British ambassador to the UN was very similar to the kind of language used in the State Department by Victoria Newland, who’s the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department. In other words, both put forward quite strong criticisms of this Israeli policy of settlement building. You know, there’s no question even the United States is with them. There is no question that settlement-building activity is illegal. It’s a violation of the Geneva Conventions. You know, there is no intellectual and legal defense of settlement-building activity. So the United States actually, in terms of its own statements, supports what this resolution was saying.
But on the other hand, there has been a policy since the 1970s that the United States is going to block any attempt in the UN to criticize Israel. And they take the position that any vote in the United Nations is not useful for the peace process, that the peace process is essentially a bilateral process between Israel and the Palestinians, with the so-called quartet as the, you know, chaperones for this peace process. So they don’t want Israel to be embarrassed, even thoughâ€”despite the fact that the United States State Department believes along the same grain as the European partners.
JAY: How do you explain that difference, that the Europeans, especially the British, who are, you know, as close as a government can get to the United States, other than perhaps Canada, how do you explain that the Europeans diverge on this?
PRASHAD: You know, the simple explanation is this is a tactical difference, that both have the same strategic goal, which is to try to prevent Israel from conducting what everybody agrees is an illegal policy. But tactically, the Europeans feel that increased pressure needs to be brought on the Israelis, and the Americans believe that if any pressure is brought on Israel, Israel is going to become more stubborn. That’s the conventional, you know, answer if one, you know, comes in that direction.
There are other, you know, issues that could be raised, which is that the United States has a very difficult time in the UN criticizing Israel. In fact, you know, in 2002, this was the famous Negroponte doctrine which said that there can be no criticism allowed of Israel even when Israel does something flagrantly wrong.
You know, it’s important to consider that earlier this year the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to empanel a commission to go and study settlement activity. You know, they were not going to condemn it; they just simply wanted to study it. The chair of that commission is a very respected French jurist. She wasâ€”you know, put together a very good panel from one member from Pakistan, one member from Botswana.
And the United States in the Human Rights council voted against the impaneling of the council. You know, they hadn’t presented a report, just the impaneling. In the Human Rights Council there is no veto. So the commission went out there to study the question of settlements, but Israel didn’t allow them to enter Israeli territory or the occupied Palestinian territory, and the United States backed Israel on this as well.
So, you know, the question is, there is now, you know, a habitual policy in the U.S. that no criticism of Israel is to be permitted. In fact, there should be no investigation of Israeli action either.
JAY: How much has this gotâ€”does this have to do with the power of AIPAC and the sort of right-wing lobbying on behalf of Israel is simply that much stronger in the United States?
PRASHAD: Oh, you know, this obviously must be part of the equation. In other words, it’s not simply a tactical difference. It’s not simply about Negroponte doctrine. It’s certainly about the very famous Israel lobby.
In fact, in the U.S. Congress, when there was pressure to cut these economic support payments to Israel, a letter circulated in Congress saying that we should basically dry out the Palestinians, you know, the Palestinians. And the letter was being signed by one after the other of congressmen who were very happy to join in against this. And one of the pieces of that letter was that they felt they should expel the PLO’s representative who’s in Washington, D.C., you know, Mr. Rashid Areikat. But Mr. Areikat then wrote another letter to the same congresspeople, saying, look, you know, take usâ€”it’s a serious matter if you say we don’t have a role in this. You know.
So the power of the Israel lobby is certainlyâ€”you know, its hand is definitely here.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Vijay.
PRASHAD: Thank you so much.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.