Leveretts on International Law and the Gaza Crisis – and US Policy Toward Russia, Ukraine, and the Iran Nuclear Talks

Flynt Leveritt and Hillary Mann Leverett, July 22, 2014

As the human toll of Israeli military action in Gaza mounts, the Obama Administration continues its cynical endorsement of Israel’s “absolute right” of “self-defense.”

Earlier this week, Flynt appeared on RT’s CrossTalk to discuss the Gaza crisis; see here or here (YouTube). Over the weekend, Hillary went on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Parry (on both Saturday and Sunday) to discuss the Gaza crisis (see here, here, and here), as well as the West’s mounting tensions with Russia over Ukraine (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) and the extension of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran (see here). We highlight below some themes discussed.

The Gaza Crisis, International Law, and the Road to a One-State Solution

Among various substantive points in the CrossTalk episode on which Flynt appeared, the discussion was distinguished by one of the other guests – Martin van Creveld, a well-known Israeli military historian at Hebrew University – yelling at Flynt to “shut up” and then storming off the set, all within the first nine minutes of the program. Flynt’s apparent offense was to challenge Prof. van Creveld’s assertion that Israel is no longer occupying Gaza.

Flynt noted that, while Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from inside Gaza in 2005, it continues to control – strictly and severely – Gaza’s air, land, and sea access to the world; thus, “under international law, Israel is still occupying Gaza.” (For analyses on this important point, see – for starters – here, here, and here.) For Prof. van Creveld or anyone else to claim otherwise is, literally, to “reinvent international law” – and not in a positive or legitimate way.

As Hillary explains on Melissa Harris-Parry, international law has much broader relevance to the Gaza crisis:

“There is a legal solution, which [the United States] has repeatedly blocked at the United Nations, and that is to allow the state of Palestine to sign up to, to adhere to the International Criminal Court. Samantha Power, our ambassador there, has said publicly, she has made it her number one priority, every month, to meet with international institutions to block the entry of the state of Palestine to get legal protection. Legal protection would constrain American power, would constrain Israeli power, and that’s why we oppose it…

There is this body of international law that came out of World War II, came out of the persecution of the Jewish people. There is a body of international law that was instituted, that was created with the U.S. hand, with Europeans, so that this would never happen to another people again. Th[e Palestinians] are a protected civilian population under occupation; that’s the law. The United States should get out of the way.”

Politically, too, there is a way forward, as Hillary lays out:

“We don’t talk about it because we demonize [HAMAS] as a terrorist organization that can’t possibly have a sane idea, but what they have put on the table is a ten-year ceasefire with Israel, in exchange for Israel lifting the siege of the civilian population in Gaza, with an internationally supervised airport and seaport…That is a critically important contribution to conflict resolution.”

However, as Hillary underlines, this runs up against both Israeli and American strategic preferences:

“The Israelis want to manage occupation, they want to manage a siege. The Palestinians don’t want that. It’s as simple as that. I’ve been to Gaza several times, as a student, as a U.S. official, as a U.S. diplomat. It is, under the best of circumstances, a horrific place to live. No one wants to live there. The vast majority of the population are refugees, without clean water, without health care, without basic necessities. They don’t want a siege. What HAMAS is offering is to change that situation, to change that dynamic.

The problem is that, for the United States and Israel, we would prefer to have the management of conflict, to have the management of an occupation. We don’t really want to see a resolution of this. That’s why the Middle East peace process has always failed – because we don’t really want a two-state solution, we don’t want the constraint of Israeli and American power in the Middle East.”

And that, Flynt argues, puts the parties and the rest of the world on the road toward a one-state solution to the Palestinian conflict:

“Israel essentially has no strategy for dealing with the Palestinian problem. It is committed to open-ended occupation. We are already at a point where the number of Arabs living under Israeli control exceeds the population of Israeli Jews, which means that what we call the state of Israel is already a minority regime in the areas that it controls. And as long as Israel continues this open-ended occupation of Arab populations, it is going to face resistance, it is going to face violence. HAMAS is not some foreign force imposed on Israel; it is a home-grown resistance movement. Until Israel – and I think this would require, basically, an utter recasting of the Israeli state – until Israel is prepared to stop being an occupying power, this is what it is going to suffer, and it is increasingly going to delegitimate itself in the process…

That is what Israel has brought on itself. The two-state solution is, at this point, in my view, effectively dead, and we are on what is going to turn out, I think, to be a very, very slow, very, very bloody, very painful but ultimately inevitable trajectory toward a one-state solution.”

In this context, it may be worth noting that, this year, July 25 will be Qods Day.

Ukraine and American Policy Toward Russia

Hillary linked the current debate over how to deal with Russia to the American political class’s eager embrace of the George W. Bush administration’s “fraudulent case” for invading Iraq just over a decade ago:

“This is the bipartisan failure of our political class, that we buy into over and over again, based on assumptions of who we deem to be the bad guy…The foreign policy elite in the United States have acted, from day one after the collapse of the Soviet Union, like we defeated Russia, and we’ve acted that way ever since. What Putin represents is a rise to that attitude, that we defeated them. We have basically no response – there is no endgame in trying to bring Putin down, to bring Russia down. We’ve tried that in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, and it has failed. And now we’re taking it to the doorsteps of one of the world’s historic superpowers, a power with nuclear weapons, a cyber army, dollars, and oil. This is not going to turn out well for us…

This is about Russia’s reemergence to power and its challenge to the United States. It really does need to be dealt with on a Russian-American level, where there is an assurance that we will not encourage, support, or in any way facilitate – for Ukraine or any of these other countries close to Russia – their entrance into NATO. That is the red line for Putin, and if we could do that, that opens the door to conflict resolution. Everything else is noise.”

Flynt Leverett is professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs. Hillary Mann Leverett teaches US foreign policy at American University and is CEO of STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy. They are both retired national security professionals, Flynt of the CIA, State Department and National Security Council; Hillary of the State Department, National Security Council and US mission to the United Nations. They are co-authors of Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Visit their website.




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