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UN Week – 10/4/10

October 31, 2010

by John and Douglas Carey, Editors, see

Contents of this issue: more on Gaza; prospects for peace talks;

More on Gaza.

           Late last month, the UN Human Rights Council was informed by an expert committee it had set up that the Israeli and Palestinian investigations of the conflict were inadequate. According to Reuters, the committee found that the investigations “remain incomplete in some cases or fall significantly short of meeting international standards in others.”

           Since the committee claimed they received no cooperation from Israeli authorities, its members said they could not tell whether its investigation met the standards, although Israel had issued four indictments. Palestinian authorities had been of some assistance to the committee but their investigation had not included allegations of war crimes in Gaza, which was exactly what the Goldstone had recommended.

 Prospects for peace talks.

          What does “contiguous” mean? We often hear that word used to describe what the future Palestinian state should look like. For example, a statement issued on September 21st by the Middle East Quartet, a group never contemplated by the framers of the UN Charter and consisting of the UN, US, EU and Russia, reiterated its support for “an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian State . . . .” SG/2162.

           The West Bank does not touch Gaza; does that mean they are not contiguous? If so, what does the Quarter mean? The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (18th printing 1979), volume I of which has 2048 pages of the tiniest font (magnifying glass provided), provides five meanings for “contiguous.” The first requires touching, while and the fifth does not require touching but only proximity. I can only think that the Quartet chose so ambiguous a word intentionally, in order to retain both possibilities.

           On September 25th, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amr Moussa, told the press, in response to President Obama’s remark that Israel is the historical land of the Jewish people, that the land was “the historical land of the Palestinian people. It is historical to whoever considers it historical.”

           I have known and worked with Mr. Moussa and find it hard to grasp so flimsy an explanation from him. He surely cannot have meant to be taken literally; if the citizens of some Pacific island State asserted that the Middle East was their historical land, that would not make it historical without more.

 Moussa did get off a useful and perceptive observation in noting that peace along three tracks, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, would require work beyond conference participation and hand shaking. This can certainly be said of Israel-Palestinian peace talks, where the Palestinian authority ruling Gaza is not even at the table.

 I take the liberty of asserting once again my belief that tackling initially so vexatious an issue as settlements is a mistake, not just because it might accomplish little or nothing about settlements but also because it might derail talks on all issues for a long time to come. I believe the parties should be working on a less conspicuous but still vital issue like apportion-ing the use of water.

In preference to seeing the parties to the Middle East peace talks butting heads like male mountain sheep with their massive curling horns, I suggest they pretend they are just haggling over some object on sale in the Cairo Souk. The object that I think would best fill the bill would be the underground water that straddles the lines between Israeli-occupied land and Palestinian-occupied land.

Let the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government set up a temporary policy committee to study how to fairly divided the precious waters. The committee’s recommendations would not be binding on either side, and could be freely accepted or declined. No harm would be done, and the two sides would at least have decided something together. The next, or the 50th, time that the committee made a proposal, it might just slip through, after painstaking private negotiations. Then the same could begin to occur over and over.

Once the idea of working out water-sharing by consent was accepted, then the committee might gradually evolve into an authority with so much acceptability as to command respect and compliance in the ordinary course. If that could be accomplished, much more would be in the realm of possibility. There might even, some day, be a joint committee to set policy for shared territory within a portion of the City of Jerusalem.

In other words, small steps may accomplish more than large leaps into the unknown.

That’s all for this October 4th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send your own views on these or other UN-related issues to

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