Enough with Words

It is time that Arab states lead the world community in standing up against Israeli practices which jeopardize the national and human rights of the Palestinian people.

Palestinians gather after performing the last Friday of Ramadan to protest over the eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 7, 2021. Ammar Awad/Reuters

It is truly shocking what the Palestinian people have again encountered in Jerusalem and Gaza lately. Peaceful worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have been prevented from fulfilling their religious obligations during the holy month of Ramadan. The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem has endured systematic attacks to expel Palestinians from their homes all for the gain of Israeli settlers. Such developments provide definitive evidence that Israel is an occupying power which flouts international and humanitarian law. Defining moments such as these compel states and their leaders to adopt clear positions on the issue, make impactful decisions, and undertake effective actions to uphold a global order of international law. Such is the duty of states committed to the rule of law, not the rule of power. 

The recent events in Jerusalem are shameful and appalling, yet remain altogether quite common in the history of Israeli occupation, now more than seventy years old. It is no longer suitable to merely analyze the situation, and rhetorical condemnations do not suffice. Therefore, I will limit my remarks to specific demands, recognizing from the outset that such proposals pale in comparison to the scale of the crimes we have witnessed. Rather, these are minimum demands—steps to start holding the Israeli aggressor accountable. Even though the Gaza Strip—with its entrances and exits tightly controlled—effectively lives under the weight of the Israeli occupation as well, I limit my observations to Jerusalem and its surrounding area in order to circumvent unconscionable arguments based on false equivalences and shoddy justifications about the use of force in self-defense. These arguments, in essence, recognize only the right of the occupying power to defend itself and deprive the Palestinian people under occupation of that same right.

First, it is a mistake to imagine that statements from Arab states condemning Israeli practices will resonate internationally or even among Arab countries. Besides, the Israeli government is completely ignoring such vacuous declarations. One would also be mistaken to conclude that the rhetorical focus of Arab League resolutions on conventional diplomatic efforts is credible or appropriate for the horrific events of recent days. No, quite the opposite; it is no longer sufficient to demand that the international community take a clear stance without concrete steps from the Arab side as well. Rather, Arab states can do the following:

  • Present direct demands to the UN Security Council, General Assembly, and international legal institutions to discuss and adopt specific actions to affirm the illegitimacy and illegality of Israeli actions and the violation of humanitarian law. Suggest punitive action against the occupying power if these actions continue or are not redressed.
  • Summon Arab ambassadors based in Israel back to their respective capitals for consultations, not in order to sever diplomatic relations but to convey to Israel a rejection of its latest actions in Jerusalem. This  would also constitute a signal that pursuing this course will carry costly consequences for Israel and strongly affect its long-term relations with Arab states. This move does not renounce Arab-Israeli peace, but does serve as an Arab denunciation of Israel interpreting such peace as a blanket license for universally-condemned action against the Palestinians.
  • Take decisive measures on the national level against the occupying power. All Arab states with normalized ties with Israel should announce that access to the delegates of the occupying state will be limited to sub-ministerial contacts in their capitals.
  • Stop issuing entrance visas to Israeli citizens, and do not sign any new commercial agreements between Arab states and Israel until such policies are stopped. 

What Biden Should Do

It is absurd for the Biden administration to present itself as the champion of human rights and democracy while sufficing itself with vapid statements calling both Palestinians and Israelis to equal self-restraint. Such declarations presume that what we’re witnessing now in Israeli policy is somehow new—an ephemeral, unique, and wholly unsystematic phenomenon. Enough hypocrisy! Rather, the most basic demands from the United States to affirm the rule of law are as follows:

  • Recognize that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and the capital of the Palestinian state according to the two-state solution and based on the June 5, 1967 borders.
  • Condition U.S. aid to Israel on the cessation of its illegitimate and inhumane policies in the occupied territory. Do not allocate future assistance to Israel until the Department of State has presented a yearly report to Congress on whether (and to what extent) its preeminent ally in the region has explicitly halted illegal practices against the Palestinian people.

As for the other states who are permanent members of the UN Security Council—Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France—passive resolutions which fail to deter the aggressor are no longer satisfactory. Neither are statements that do not represent the tragic reality on the ground. I wonder if such states have relegated their role as a friend and supporter of Palestinian rights to the mere expression of concern. Is their responsibility in the UN Security Council limited to simply raising issues that only concern themselves? 

Such a view assumes that the Council serves their narrow interests, rather than assuming that their distinctive role as permanent members reflects their unique responsibility, as entrusted by contemporary international frameworks, to safeguard the peace and security of all countries according to the charter of the United Nations. This is not acceptable. The UN Security Council must convene and adopt binding resolutions that end the Israeli farce and deter the state from more unjust action.

I call on Islamic states, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans to stand up against Israeli practices which jeopardize the national and human rights of our brothers and sisters in Palestine and which constitute an egregious offense of our religious customs during the blessed month of Ramadan. I ask from these friends:

  • Summon Israeli ambassadors within their respective countries to the foreign ministries and demand that Israel immediately cease its discriminatory practices toward the Palestinians.
  •  Support the proposals of Arab states made in international forums to stop Israeli action and hold Israel to account for its transgressions.

I ask European states which pride themselves on upholding human rights, the rule of law, and humanitarian principles: are you truly committed to human rights? Or are such obligations limited to the rights of the individual now and then, as influenced by local interest groups? If so, you are ignoring the crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian individual and people. I ask of you:

  • Recognize East Jerusalem as occupied territory and the capital of the Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders.
  • Take the initiative in proposing measures within international legal and humanitarian settings to hold Israel to account for its transgressions of Palestinian rights and deter it from repeating those crimes.

Enough with words. It is time for decisive and concrete action.

Nabil Fahmy

Nabil Fahmy, a former foreign minister of Egypt, is the founding dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. He served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States from 1999–2008, and as envoy to Japan between 1997 and 1999. On Twitter: @DeanNabilFahmy.

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