As Jerusalem tries to form a new coalition, the UN's institutions continue their efforts to chip away at Israel's legitimacy. A UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission recently published a harsh report in which it condemned Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and claimed that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.
A panel of three judges, led by Christine Chanet of France, used harsh terms to criticize the settlements, which it claimed "seriously impinge on the self-determination of the Palestinian people." It also urged governments and private corporations across the world to consider imposing economic and political sanctions on Israel.
The Palestinians welcomed the report and hailed it as another achievement in their ongoing campaign to extend the recognition recently granted to a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly. As expected, Israel rejected the "biased" report that "hinders" the advancement of direct negotiations with the Palestinians.
Dr. Roi Sheindorf, who heads a special Justice Ministry unit that handles overseas legal proceedings, provided information showing that the UN Rights Council has condemned Israel more than 40 times over the past seven years – more than Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iran combined.
The Council's Goldstone Report severely damaged Israel's standing in the world, while much less severe reports were published on those responsible for the crimes in Libya and Syria. The Council's extreme and biased conduct detracts from the validity of its decisions, thus opening the door for an Israeli response. But how should we respond?
For years Israel has been fighting international councils that damage its standing in the world, and Israel's legal establishment has been doing great work in this regard. But the issue, in its essence, is political rather than legal. It is not enough to boycott hostile councils or speak of their hypocrisy. Israel must engage in serious discussions with the Palestinians and the Western world, particularly the US, on the basis of the "two states for two peoples" paradigm that Netanyahu supported. Seeing that nearly the entire world, including Israel's closest allies, considers the settlement enterprise to be illegal, Israel must – as an opening point for peace negotiations - make a clear political and geographical distinction between Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, as well as the settlement blocs situated near the Green Line, and other territories in the West Bank that will eventually be part of a future Palestinian state. Israel must end the construction policy based on "punitive diplomacy," which was implemented after the UN recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state. Furthermore, Israel must emphasize that its actions cannot be compared to war crimes and ask its few allies to condemn any attempts to make this comparison. Israel must express its willingness to swap lands and agree to an extensive evacuation of settlements in the event that a peace agreement (or any other agreement) is reached. Finally, Israel must assert that true reconciliation and peace must allow Jews to live under Palestinian rule. This may not be the settlers' preferred option, but it is a legitimate demand of a democratic country. Israel must work determinately and wisely to change the occupation's problematic image in the Western world. It must rebuild trust with the White House and President Obama, as they no longer believe the rhetoric coming out of Jerusalem. Israel must take advantage of the international inquiry commissions' extremism and hypocrisy to jumpstart the peace process. The establishment of a new government provides the perfect opportunity to change direction and seek international support for resolving the Palestinian issue, particularly in light of the failures and crimes in the Arab world around us. Professor Yossi Shain heads Tel Aviv University's Abba Eban Program of Diplomacy