Ross Burns article 31 July 2014

Israel May Not Have a Way Back
Ross Burns
The Australian
July 31, 2014 12:00AM

ANOTHER massive Israeli overreaction brings us to the end of the third week of the latest onslaught against the encaged people of Gaza.

The ostensible purpose of this carnage is yet again the “elimination’’ of the rockets that seem to spring up again like daffodils after winter.

This time, the terrible loss of life in one split second on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 may have softened the impact in Australia of the Gaza campaign but, as it drags on, more and more Australians are asking: “Why?”

Certainly, delegates to the ALP NSW conference last weekend registered a new level of dis­approval and marked out a clear difference between ALP and Coal­ition policies.

When Israel’s “right to defend” itself amounts to massive destruction of whole quarters of Gaza on a scale rivalling the destruction in Aleppo, it steps back from being counted as a country that respects the rules of conflict.

It is not enough to argue “Hamas started it” and not address the situation in which Hamas’s actions evolved: the cruel blockade of 1.8 million ­people, depriving them of normal life. Many are asking how many rocket caches are really being destroyed, as against children in cots or patients in hospital beds or boys playing on beaches. Is this really going to stop the next cache being produced?

This is Israel’s 27th punitive operation in Gaza in the past 11 years to have been graced with a codename by the Israel Defence Forces. Each time, evocative titles are devised: “Samson’s Pillars” or the current “Protective Edge”, not forgetting the chillingly appropriate “Operation Locked Kindergarten” in 2006.

The present campaign may be a self-preservation game for the right-wing, Likud-led government in Israel, which shows increasing signs of disintegration as its partners even further to the Right demand more casualties from their Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under pressure from parties that believe in the “transfer” somewhere else (undefined) of all Arabs from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, Netanyahu is letting slip more and more of his real agenda. In commentaries in Hebrew, he has volunteered the bottom lines that led to the breakdown of the recent US-sponsored “peace process” and that probably now make any chance of a return to mean­ingful negotiations impossible.

When responding to the pleas of the US, EU and Australia for a two-state solution, it is abundantly clear Netanyahu is thinking not of a Palestinian state in conventional UN terms, with a checklist of sovereign assets, but an apartheid-like “homeland”, with no contiguous territory, no meaningful frontiers and no capac­ity to refuse Israeli demands to send tanks rumbling through its population like a Sudetenland.

Is the world, once ready enough to respruik Israel’s war cry of its “right to defend” itself, increasingly uneasy in its grudging support or silent tolerance of these operations?

Are the lobbyists with deep pockets suddenly finding it harder to get attention?

Are we now a bit more aware that every member of the UN has a right to defend itself no less than Israel and that Palestine is covered by numerous UN provisions?

Is it now dawning on our politicians that, with one of the world’s biggest armed forces against a puny enemy with largely homemade weapons, Israel may be overdoing it?

Automatic backing of Israel is less adequate as a default position. Israel is losing its place in the world with each campaign. When Israel is at the point where it rules over more people of Arab background than those who present themselves as Jews (thus entitled to the full rights of citizenship), it inevitably loses a basic qualification as a democracy.

Already, the body politic of ­Israel supports structures enshrined in 42 basic laws that are openly discriminatory. It also flouts agreements enshrined not only in the UN but in the framework of the rules of international behaviour that nations have entrenched going back to the Hague Conventions 115 years ago.

Luckily, Australia still attaches importance to this framework, as seen in our commendable campaign to get a UN Security Council resolution on flight MH17.

But what happens when Israel walks out on those rules of international behaviour that we ostensibly believe in?

Though calling for restraint, the Australian government largely ignores the fact an end to the encaging of Gaza is fundamental to a resolution of the issue. Sitting back with folded arms is no longer a viable response.

Israel needs to learn from countries such as Australia that it has gone too far and soon may not have a way back.

Ross Burns was Australian ambassador in Israel from 2001 to 2003 and is on the board of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

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