Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Simple Quiz For Richard Cohen

Who said the following, when, and in what context?
  • Settling Israelis in administered territory, as is known, contravenes international conventions, but there is nothing essentially new about that.

  • Everybody has to move; run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them.

The first quote is Moshe Dayan, in a 1968 memo proposing massive settlement in the occupied territories. The Second is Ariel Sharon in 1998, displaying concern that a peace deal with the Palestinians might result in the loss of Gaza, before he woke up to the demographic consequences of Israel's territorial claim to that region. For people like Sharon, from the start the purpose of the settlements was to frustrate the peace process and to create "facts on the ground" that would prevent the return of most or all of the occupied territories to a Palestinian state. Richard Cohen appears to understand this, flatly asserting,
[Israel's settlements] are all, under international law, illegal.
So let's move to part two of the quiz. What U.S. Administrations were responsible for each of the following statements, and when were the statements made:
  1. The [Government of Israel] is aware of our continuing concern that nothing be done in the occupied areas which might prejudice the search for a peace settlement. By setting up civilian or quasi-civilian outposts in the occupied areas the GOI adds serious complications to the eventual task of drawing up a peace settlement. Further, the transfer of civilians to occupied areas, whether or not in settlements which are under military control, is contrary to Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, which states "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

  2. The expropriation or confiscation of land, the construction of housing on such land, the demolition or confiscation of buildings, including those having historic or religious significance, and the application of Israeli law to occupied portions of the city are detrimental to our common interests in [Jerusalem]. The United States considers that the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is governing the rights and obligations of an occupying Power. Among the provisions of international law which bind Israel, as they would bind any occupier, are the provisions that the occupier has no right to make changes in laws or in administration other than those which are temporarily necessitated by his security interests, and that an occupier may not confiscate or destroy private property. The pattern of behavior authorized under the Geneva Convention and international law is clear: the occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering with the customary life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by the immediate needs of the occupation.

  3. Substantial resettlement of the Israeli civilian population in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under the convention and cannot be considered to have prejudged the outcome of future negotiations between the parties on the locations of the borders of states by the Middle East. Indeed, the presence of these settlements is seen by my government as an obstacle to the success of the negotiations for a just and final peace between Israel and its neighbors.

  4. U.S. Policy toward the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is unequivocal and has long been a matter of public record. We consider it to be contrary to international law and an impediment to the successful conclusion of the Middle East peace process.

  5. The Reagan Plan states that ‘the United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period (5 years after Palestinian election for a self-governing authority). Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlements freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be fee and fairly negotiated.

  6. The United States believes that no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues that can only be reached through negotiations. In this regard the United States has opposed, and will continue to oppose, settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 which remain an obstacle to peace.

  7. [T]he settlement enterprise and building bypass roads in the heart of what they already know will one day be part of a Palestinian state is inconsistent with the Oslo commitment that both sides negotiate a compromise.

  8. Our position on settlements, I think, has been very consistent, very clear. The secretary expressed it not too long ago. He said settlement activity has severely undermined Palestinian trust and hope, preempts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations, and in doing so, cripples chances for real peace and prosperity. The U.S. has long opposed settlement activity and, consistent with the report of the Mitchell Committee, settlement activity must stop.

The answers? 1. The Johnson Administration, 1968; 2. The Nixon Administration, 1969; 3. The Ford Administration, 1976; 4. The Carter Administration, 1980; 5. The Reagan Administration, 1982; 6. The George H.W. Bush Administration, 1991; 7. The Clinton Administration, 2001; 8. The George W. Bush Administration, 2002. Again, while he appears ignorant of the details, Cohen appears to grasp the gist of things, admitting,Cohen argues that, from a Palestinian perspective,
As for the average Palestinian, settlements are a poke in the eye. The construction of each one means yet another piece of his land has gone over to the enemy and cannot be a part of a Palestinian state. It is an in-your-face reminder of impotency, of the inability to control life or fate -- and of a baleful history that has seen nothing but defeat.
Although I doubt he has a sufficient grasp of the history of the conflict to have passed either quiz, Richard Cohen has expressly admitted that Israel's settlements are illegal and an impediment to peace, a position superficially consistent with the position taken by every U.S. Administration throughout the entire history of the occupation. The settlements have resulted in vast areas of the occupied West Bank being declared off-limits to Palestinians (the blue and red areas are exclusive to Israelis; the Green area represents an occupied portion of Hebron, with about 20,000 Palestinians under martial law for the benefit of about 400 radical settlers), with their lands criss-crossed with "settler only" roads, roadblocks and checkpoints:

Map of Israeli Settlements

But it's Richard Cohen, so you can't expect that anything logical will flow from his pen. Although he admits the settlements are illegal, an impediment to peace and a deliberate thumb in the eye of the Palestinians, Cohen argues that the religious and ideological importance of the settlements justifies dictating to the Palestinians, up front, that "some, regardless of legality, are going to stay". He makes no call for any sort of reciprocal land swap. For Netanyahu, whose government he has already described as perpetuating an illegal enterprise, Cohen complains that the settlements have "enormous symbolic value" and that for a minority of Israelis "settlements have enormous religious and ideological importance". It was thus "a major concession" for Netanyahu to (sort of, but not really) freeze the expansion of the settlements for ten months as a prerequisite for peace talks.

So you have a clear legal picture: Cohen sees the settlements as illegal. You have a clear consequence of continued settlement activity, with Cohen recognizing that each brick laid makes the possibility of achieving peace more remote. You have the consistent position of every U.S. Administration that the settlements are an impediment to peace and cannot be allowed to interfere with the peaceful resolution of the crisis. And you have an Israeli Prime Minister who says, "Screw you, even if the peace talks crash and burn we're going to go right back to expanding the settlements."

So, in Richard Cohen's mind, who is to blame? The party he describes as committing an offense against peace? Of course not. The party that is losing its prospect of statehood as a result of that intransigence? Not unless it results in the end of peace talks. What about the mediator who is trying to bring the two sides together to reach a peace deal? Yes, obviously the mediator is at fault, even though his position is 100% consistent with that of his predecessors and even though he has done nothing to create the problem:
Obama, too, has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give. It was bad diplomacy, recalling neither Metternich nor Kissinger but the ol' professor and his question about the inept Mets ["Can't anybody here play this game?"].
Cohen apparently doesn't understand the difference between "can't" and "won't", and doesn't actually care about the consequences to peace of taking "no" for an answer. It is tragic that imbeciles like Cohen are given prominent positions where they can advance counter-factual arguments that undermine the peace process and perpetuate the crisis. But, as they say, welcome to America.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to see Cohen comment on this.

    "Israel showed the international community on Tuesday that the country is ruled by a circus, not a responsible government with a policy. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the representatives of the world's nations from the UN podium that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is spreading illusions and silly talk about peace. There is no chance for a permanent settlement for a generation, Lieberman said, and it is necessary to "exchange" populated areas and adjust the state to its correct size. Or, in less diplomatic English, the Arab citizens of Israel must be expelled to the Palestinian side of the border....

    Now comes Lieberman, Israel's most senior diplomat, and tells all those leaders that it's all crap, that Netanyahu is faking. Even worse: the foreign minister is implying that Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is merely cover for the expulsion of Arab citizens. A speech by the foreign minister of a country that is given before the United Nations is supposed to reflect the official policy of the government, not just the private views of the chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party."

    Not because I think it would change his mind, but because I'm truly curious to find out how he would blame Lieberman's speech and Netanyahu's (non-) reaction on Obama.


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