Israel's actions strain relations with the US

Israel continues to defy the international community by enacting policies in the occupied Palestinian territories which  undermine US efforts to restart Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The latest is an Israeli military order, which came into effect has produced an outpouring of criticism from Palestinian leaders and Israeli human rights groups. They say it can be used to deport thousands of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Originally adopted in 1969 to deal with Palestinian fighters clandestinely entering the territories occupied in 1967 to resist Israeli rule, the order would classify anyone without Israeli residency permits as an ‘infiltrator’ and mandate his or her deportation within 72 hours or imprisonment for up to seven years. Military tribunals are to replace civilian courts, which in some instances, have disallowed deportations.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared that the order contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits occupying powers from deporting occupied peoples.

Vaguely worded

Ten Israeli human rights organisations called for implementation of the order to be postponed. In a letter to Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak these organisations argued that the measure is worded so vaguely as to lend itself to broad interpretation. They also said the order was introduced with such secrecy that it “raises grave concerns” that the military intended to go ahead “without public debate or judicial review”.

The organisations warned that the measure could be employed against “the vast majority of Palestinians now living in the West Bank who have never been required to hold any sort of permit to be present therein”. The presence in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank of thousands of Palestinians and others without current documentation is a consequence of Israel’s 2000 decision to freeze applications for permanent or temporary residence.

Sari Bashi of Gisha, one of the signatories of the letter, stated, “This order is part of a series of steps taken by the military to empty the West Bank of Palestinians, especially by removing them to Gaza.” Initially this could mean deporting to Gaza 8,000 Palestinians with Gaza identity cards, many of whom are children born in the West Bank. Next in line could be foreign spouses of Palestinians and Palestinians whose identity cards have been revoked because they studied or worked abroad.

They could be expelled to neighbouring countries or Gaza. Some 35,000 who entered the West Bank as Palestinian Authority officials and security personnel could be exiled. Foreigners working with Palestinian organisations and Palestinian anti-occupation activists could be deported or jailed. ‘Infiltrators’ could be obliged to reimburse Israel for expenses incurred by their arrest, detention and expulsion.

Call to refrain

The day before the order came into effect, Jordan’s King  Abdullah and US President Barack Obama called on both sides to refrain from actions that could undermine the US effort to broker indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Abdullah, who is the guardian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, expressed concern that unilateral Israeli actions on the ground are preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, the settlement formula accepted by the international community.

Israel’s deportation order was issued against the backdrop  of the 47-nation nuclear summit convened by Obama, deepening consternation in Washington at a time relations between the administration and the Netanyahu government are strained. The gathering, the largest in the US after World War II, was called to impose curbs on the proliferation of weapons grade nuclear material and prevent it from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Among the attending nuclear weapons states which are not members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty were India, Pakistan and Israel. Obama called on all three, Israel by name, to sign the treaty.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu snubbed the summit because he did not want to face such calls and criticisms from Turkey and Egypt over Israel’s refusal to agree to a West Asia nuclear arms free zone. Israel is estimated by security analysts to have 200-300 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them. This means Israel may be the third largest nuclear weapons power after the US and Russia. Therefore, Netanyahu’s boycott of the summit is seen as fresh provocation by the US administration.

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