Monday, October 12, 2009

Tony Blair comments in Buffalo on international law, Gaza, and Goldstone: full transcript

Mondoweiss linked to a YouTube video of Tony Blair's response to a question by a student at the University of Buffalo last week. Apparently the questioner, Nicolas Kabat, got permission to speak at the microphone because he'd said he was going to ask about something else. Adam Horowitz and Helena Cobban have posted their reactions to Blair's "nonsense" (Cobban), but here is a transcript of just what was said.

A UN investigation found that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the recent Gaza conflict. Yet, the U.S. and Israel insist that the report was biased, and proceeding with the committee's recommendations would be harmful to the peace process. Why is international law not applied in this case, when the evidence exists, and please explain as Quartet envoy why the application of international law would be harmful to the overall peace process, and furthermore, why the siege on Gaza is not similarly demeed harmful to the peace process. Thank you.

Well, of course international law should be applied. But you have given one view, but the trouble is there's another view. And so this is a matter of the most deep and profound contention between Israel and the Palestinians. And I'll tell you what I think very honestly, and I've been to Gaza twice within the last period, and it's a tragedy because the people there are hemmed in, it's very difficult for them, there is a blockade on Gaza. But it is also true, one of the things you learn about conflicts like this, and I learned this in Northern Ireland, is that you never solve these conflicts by taking one view and forgetting about the other. It is also true that in 2004-2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. And Israel took their settlers with them, and rocket attacks came out of Gaza, on Israeli towns. Now, those rocket attacks have got to stop, as well. The Israeli soldier who is kidnapped for the moment, Gilad Shalit, should be released. You know, yes it's true, it's true that I have [inaudible] many times that our policy with respect to Gaza should be different. But so should the Hamas policy towards Israel be different, too. And therefore my view of this is very simple, you know, and I, this is sort of a difficult thing to say, don't misunderstand what I'm saying, because I believe that international law should apply to these situations, yes I do, but it's not in the end going to be resolved by that, by a debate over a report that is hotly supported on one side and hotly and deeply contested on the other. It's going to be resolved when we understand what the basic issue is. Israel needs security. The Palestinians need an independent state with the Israeli occupation lifted. The only way in my view we will get this is if we build from the bottom up as well as negotiate from the top down. What do I mean by that? I mean that we build the institutions of Palestinian statehood, as we're doing in the West Bank, as part of my role as Quartet envoy, building their economy, building their institutions of government, their security forces. Just to tell you some good news out of Israel and Palestine, [inaudible] there's a lot of bad news. When I first became the envoy, I couldn't have gone to a city like Jenin or Nablus on the West Bank. Today I go to Jenin and Nablus. We opened a hotel in Nablus just the other day. I go to places like Qalqilya. I go to Hebron, I go to Jericho, Ramallah obviously. In other words, I can go around the West Bank. And that's because the Palestinians, with European, American, and other support, are actually providing security; as a result of that, some of the major checkpoints are now open; and the Palestinians have a greater control over their territory. Now that's what we've got to build on, in my view. This dispute will only be resolved if everyone agrees to end violence, everyone agrees to a political negotiation, everyone agrees that the outcome of that negotiation is two states living side by side in peace, and the international community shows the will and commitment to deliver it. And believe me, I mean I've seen the situation in Gaza. It is horrific. But changing it is not a responsibility for Israel alone. It's a responsibility also for those who run Gaza, and it's a responsibility for us in the international community. I believe that you will think this strange, I actually believe it is possible to resolve this dispute, but it's only possible to resolve it on the basis that we understand the pain of either side, get them to understand that they are not alone in their pain, and ensure we have a just and fair [inaudible] solution that allows each, Israelis and Palestinians, their own state, to live together in peace.

Where to start?

  • Avoiding any judgment of the content of the Goldstone Commission report, Blair says it is "hotly supported on one side and hotly and deeply contested on the other." But Blair is speaking four days after the Palestinian Authority decided not to bring up the issue with the UN Human Rights Council, so which side is he saying the PA is on? Or does he not know or care?
  • Using the word "kidnapped" (rather than "captured") to describe the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would suggest that this was the work of some criminal gang acting in defiance of legitimate authority. So then what is the legitimate authority here? It can't be the Israel Defense Forces, because Blair reminds us that "in 2004-2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza." Shalit was a soldier of a hostile army who was captured on Israel's border with Gaza. And of course, as others have pointed out, Israel holds many thousands of Palestinians it has captured (or kidnapped), but Blair doesn't mention any of them.
  • "When I first became the envoy, I couldn't have gone to a city like Jenin or Nablus on the West Bank." Mentioning this is just weird, because Israel, and only Israel, would have been preventing him from going there. He goes on to say that now, "I can go around the West Bank ... because the Palestinians, with European, American, and other support, are actually providing security; as a result of that, some of the major checkpoints are now open." These Palestinians are providing security for Israelis, not for Palestinians.
  • Tony Blair may have been prevented from going to some West Bank cities when he was appointed Quartet envoy two years ago, but just last December, the UN-appointed envoy Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, was expelled on arrival by Israel and prevented from even setting foot into the Palestinian Territories to do his job. By coincidence, the day before Blair's appearance in Buffalo, Falk gave a lecture at the Palestine Center in Washington on "Imagining Israel-Palestine Peace: Why International Law Matters." It is worth hearing or reading for a dose of sanity after Blair's comments.