When it comes to imposing law and order on the Palestinians, what applies is not international humanitarian law, but the law of the jungle. And, of course, it is quite clear who the king of the jungle is.
The Palestinian Israeli conflict is about survival, about the right of one strong party backed by a superpower to “exist” as a Jewish state at the expense of the indigenous non-Jewish population of historic Palestine and their descendants who are not allowed to “exist” in a separate but unequal state of their own. It is about the right of the weak party to negotiate for its own autonomous survival on bits and pieces of leftover “territories”, but only if it first concedes its dispossession, if it ensures the security of the strong party and remains its “client”.
Why the so-called Middle East conflict endures after more than half a century is because the strong party is unconscionably greedy and the weak party is constitutionally incapable of being submissive or forgetting its dispossession.
The logic of the jungle is the logic of the Oslo Accords, which is basically a (mis)understanding between the strong and the weak. For such a relationship to work in the animal world, the weak party must continually show submission by exposing its neck and belly to the dominant party, and the strong party must continually strut its stuff.
Among human beings, such a relationship is a recipe for elemental violence, not elemental harmony. Civilizing the issue by bringing international humanitarian law to bear on it has failed, because the world of international law remains stuck in a twilight zone, unless the strong also subscribe to it. If you look at the literature on international law in scholarly journals, you will not be surprised to find the discussion dominated and defined by Israel and the United States in the form of spurious legal questions.
The position of the Israeli government, based on a farfetched “legal” interpretation of the Convention, is that the Geneva Convention is not applicable to the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This necessitates an equally elegant rebuttal from legal scholars - niceties that are irrelevant to the day-to-day struggle of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants and of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.
Israel’s spurious legal arguments, however, cannot be easily waived away, because they are designed to prevent international law from being the framework of the “final status” negotiations. International law is what will move us away from the jungle, but the king of the jungle would naturally not give up his kingdom, and in fact is looking to expand it.
If the occupation is not an occupation, if Israel does not acknowledge the Geneva Convention, then there is nothing to prevent it from transferring parts of its own civilian Jewish population to the Palestinian territories while at the same time controlling the population registry of the occupied Palestinians. Israel, as the world knows, has done just that with the impunity of a king of the jungle.
Condoleezza Rice’s visit a few days ago did not yield one solitary word against the illegal Israeli expansion in 31 settlements in the West Bank that took place under cover of Israel’s war with Lebanon. This activity on the part of Jewish settlers was supposedly “unauthorized”, but the US is doing absolutely nothing to stop it or other such authorized activity that was taking place in the open all around Rice. She could see it easily through her tinted, bullet-proof window as she sped on the smooth Ramallah-Jerusalem road that is reserved for Jewish settlers after her meeting with Abbas. Part of the reason for her silence is that anything “authorized” by the Israeli government is entangled with “legal” arguments that pit Israeli law and Israeli sovereignty against international law.
Palestinian laws and legal arguments issued from their putative Legislative Council have zero weight in such a context, because the international legal status of the Palestinian Authority is neither fish nor fowl.
And when Palestinian claims come from a political party that is conveniently debased and hounded as “terrorist”, they are discarded as extreme, “unrealistic”, un-diplomatic or inconsonant with Quartet “principles”. Israel’s denial of the occupation “under the law” and all such a denial entails on the ground is regarded the height of reasonableness.
After 58 years of Palestinian struggle and the proven bankruptcy of the Oslo Accords, what Hamas and other Palestinian factions now want to put on the table and being derided for it are two fundamental propositions:
1. The Palestinians cannot be forced to declare their acceptance of their dispossession in 1948, certainly not when millions of refugees are still waiting to return to their ancestral homes.
2. Palestinians have a right to resist their occupation by any means possible even when the occupier refuses to recognize it as such.
If Israel can claim that it is not even occupying the Palestinian territories, why can’t the Palestinians make equally fundamental claims? What Israel has wrought since Oslo is as follows: it has consolidated its illegal de facto annexation of East Jerusalem, engineered a massive change in demographics in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank through various means, expropriated a good percentage of Palestinian lands, and shamefully exploited the Palestinians economically. As far as Israel is concerned, it has done all of this “legally”, and no one has challenged it seriously on these counts.
It is time that the Quartet revises its “principles” to protect the weak against the strong, and not the other way around. Only then will international law replace the reigning law of the jungle.
Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.