Monday, October 01, 2007

1-Oct-07: About carrots and sticks

Innumerable international organizations and NGO's one way or another sit in judgment on Israel. It's exceptionally rare for any of them to admit to shortcomings. Such a pigs-do-fly moment came this week via the current chairperson of the UN Human Rights Council, Doru Costea.

His council has failed to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a balanced fashion, he said in the French daily Le Temps. It concentrates too much on abuses by Israel and he's dissatisfied. "The council has failed... The council must remain simple, and concentrate on the human rights dimension, but it must look at the stance of all sides, not only one country." The fact that a majority of the Council's 47 seats are held by Asian and African countries "gives a certain power, but that does not mean that this power is always used wisely" said the man who ought to know, with straight-faced understatement.

Candor of this sort is not so common. How have other NGO's been dealing with the extremely hostile stands of some of their office-holders, constituents and members in relation to Israel and the Jews? It's a bleak picture. Look at how Israel's decision this past Wednesday to impose further economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip was treated.

The Israeli government's security cabinet sat down last week to formulate a response to the steadily increasing scale of acts of terror directed at Israel from Gaza. Its well-publicized decision raised for the first time the explicit possibility of cutting off electricity to Gaza's inhabitants. The decision defines Gaza as "hostile territory"and says that if more Qassam rockets are launched from Hamas-controlled territory, there will be possible fuel and power cut-offs down the road.

A word of background. In 2005, Israel under prime minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally pulled its forces out of Gaza and uprooted all the thriving Israeli towns that had been created in the area. The entire Gaza Strip was now in Palestinian hands. (The entry and exits remain under Israeli and Egyptian control.) The stated expectation was that this would end terrorism from the area. The result of course was the opposite: a violent, jihadist Hamas regime took over, and rocket attacks on Israel have consistently increased.

The decision last week is a carrot and stick strategy where the ass is the Hamas regime which until now has shown zero responsiveness to logic, political good sense or humane behaviour. In practice, nothing has changed yet while Israel sits and waits to see whether - against all the odds - some rare good sense prevails in Gaza's halls of power. But as the authoritative NGO Watch points out, the practical and legal ramifications of Israel's new stand are unclear. No action has yet been taken. This is about future cut-offs of Israel-originating electricity; future cut-offs of Israel-originating fuel; future firings of Gaza-originating Qassams.

But even though Israel has done nothing so far to give effect to the threat of sanctions, let's pay a moment's attention to the mature and sober judgments of the international community.

Oxfam: Jeremy Hobbs, executive director - Israel's actions are "immoral and contrary to the Geneva Conventions."

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) calls for one-sided international action to "prevent the starvation siege Israel plans to impose on Gaza." Note: ICAHD is funded by the EU under its “partnership for peace” budget.

Human Rights Watch (which NGO Monitor observes has a history of instant condemnations before the facts are known) says "Israel’s threat to impose additional sanctions on the Gaza Strip would constitute unlawful collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population... Israel has the responsibility to protect its citizens, but not by collectively punishing the people of Gaza, which seriously violates the laws of war."

Israeli NGO B'Tselem: "Cutting off electricity to a civilian population is collective punishment and a violation of international law… It doesn't really make a difference whether it's cutting off the supply from Israel or bombing the power station."

The list goes on.

NGO Monitor observes that all of these statements ignore the context of terrorism and downplay Israel's legitimate right to self-defense. The orgs and their spokespeople have little apparent interest in the rocket attacks and in the waves of terrorism emanating from Gaza. Instead they focus narrowly on Israel’s efforts to find a means of deterring these attacks, and that's the problem.

The reaction of Hamas is no surprise. Israel's threat is “a declaration of war against the Palestinian people, an attempt to target resistance forces and to undermine Hamas politically”. Hamas asserts that Israel "must supply humanitarian needs" and the security cabinet's decision “shows that Israel is not ready for political compromise with the Palestinians” in peace talks.

Putting this in some context, Gaza needs about 200 megawatts of electricity. It gets 80 Mw from Egypt, and almost all the rest (except for some minor supply from a Gazan plant) from Israel. A full shutdown of the Israeli supply would leave Gaza with adequate energy for its hospitals, government offices and other vital services. Its 1.5 million inhabitants would inevitably suffer periodic blackouts; these would be more severe if a fuel cut-off were also implemented. Life would be uncomfortable but not threatened.

Israel, which has always had the power to do so, says it will implement this plan if Palestinian terrorists continue to fire rockets into Israel. The overwhelming sentiment among Israelis is: why hasn't such a step been threatened before? Where else, other than in Chelm, would a government provide its enemy with enough power to allow business as usual?

And where else, other than in the context of the well-orchestrated, relentless Arab-driven campaign of delegitimization of Israel and its actions, would so many otherwise sober organizations make such jackasses of themselves?

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