Media Microscope: Much ado about nothing


As many sensible analysts predicted, the Netanyahu Government’s July 1 date to begin extending Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank came and went without anything happening. Nonetheless, most of the media commentariat was still pontificating on the idea.

On ABC Radio “PM” (June 30), veteran US Middle East peace mediator Dennis Ross explained the complicated variables that were always likely to make it difficult for Israel’s Government to proceed, including needing Trump Administration approval. 

Ross said that while he didn’t agree with the Trump peace plan letting Israel absorb all the settlements because of the difficulty of separating the two peoples, he thought the Palestinians could benefit from learning that there is a price to pay for always rejecting peace plans without making a counter-offer. 

On July 1, on ABC Radio National “Breakfast”, former Clinton and Obama Middle East envoy Martin Indyk also explained the impediments on the Israeli Government and argued that any annexation would be illegal under international law “because Israel signed up to UN Security Council 242…that has a very clear statement that declares the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force… on top of that the Oslo Accords… say that Israel cannot take a unilateral act like annexation.”

Former US Democratic staffer turned Sydney University academic Bruce Wolpe predicted that “in raw political terms, annexation would lead to an unprecedented break in bipartisan support in Washington for Israel,” Canberra Times (July 6).

On ABC TV‘s “The World” (June 24), New Israel Fund Australia’s Liam Getreu said the plan was “a dream of Israel’s far right-wing of the settler movement for many, many years now.”

In fact, settler groups have objected to the current plan as not going far enough. 

Getreu said Palestinians were excluded from the consultation process “from the start”. Actually, they chose to boycott the process. He also claimed Israel would still control millions of Palestinians who would not have full civil rights, but in reality, almost all West Bank Palestinians would remain under Palestinian self-rule, pending Palestinian statehood.

On the ABC’s website (July 6), Palestinian activist Samah Sabawi accused Israel of wanting to “drive…out” Palestinians and “replac[e] them with a preferred Jewish population that has full rights and privileges under Israeli law.” Zionist Federation of Australia’s Bren Carlill’s response alongside it said, “the Palestinian rate of population increase is among the world’s highest. Either Israelis are particularly bad at ethnic cleansing or they don’t actually possess a nefarious, decades-long plan.”

In the Sydney Morning Herald (June 26), Professor of Law Greg Rose, responding to a previous piece by Prof. Ben Saul, explained the legal status of the territories, noting that Jewish rights of settlement there were recognised under the League of Nations Mandate in 1922. He said, “Israel never abandoned its claims of sovereignty to this area” and since 1967 had offered to withdraw from the vast majority of it, but the Palestinians have refused. According to Rose, “there is no comparable international legal situation in the world today where a country that acquired territory in self-defence and offered to surrender it in exchange for peace was refused.”

On ABC Radio Melbourne (June 29), academic Scott Burchill said if Israel did proceed, it “should be treated the same way that Russia was treated when it incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation.” 

The Australian (June 27) ran international law expert Prof. Eugene Kontorovich who said, “annexation has a precise meaning in international law: the forcible incorporation by one state of the territory of another state. The land to which Israel seeks to apply its laws isn’t legally the territory of any other state, nor has it been since Israel’s independence in 1948… Putting this move in the same category as Russia’s seizure of Crimea is entirely misleading.”

AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro suggested extending sovereignty might “break the logjam in the moribund peace process,” which has stalled since 2014, pointing to “Palestinian Authority PM Mohammed Shtayyeh’s recent proposal to the Middle East Quartet for a renewal of direct negotiations with Israel,” Daily Telegraph (July 10).

A Nine Newspapers’ report (June 29) on former Australian PM Kevin Rudd’s call for Australia to condemn any Israeli move to apply sovereignty quoted AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein calling for the international community to urge Palestinians to negotiate on the basis of “the Trump peace plan, which does specify the need for a Palestinian state and land swaps from within sovereign Israel.”