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The Palestinians are not the Ukrainians

In the case of Putin's invasion, one nation has violated its neighbor's sovereignty – comparisons to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict don't hold up
A protest in Tbilisi, Georgia, on February 26, 2022, against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Kober / Wikimedia Commons)

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, social media sites that discuss the Israel-Palestinian conflict have been rife with analogies between the Palestinians’ situation and the Ukrainians’. One British politician, Labour MP Julie Elliott, got in on the act as well. She said, “My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people. Quite rightly we talk about international law. In fact, I listened to the [Foreign Office] minister (Amanda Milling) only a few minutes ago and the vital importance of the sovereignty of states. Yet when Palestinians hear that – how must they feel?’”. She later added after being challenged by a Conservative MP, “What I was talking about was the upholding of international law which your own minister talked about a few minutes ago and the right of upholding international law is as relevant in Ukraine as it is in Palestine…  [I advocate] complete and total ban of illegal Israeli settlements [in the West Bank]…  [recognizing Palestine is the] bare minimum of what the UK should do as part of a two-state solution to the conflict”.

While there is somewhat of a connection with regard to international law, the two cases are not the same by any stretch. In the case of Ukraine, it is a clear case of one state attacking another sovereign state without provocation and in direct violation of international law and the United Nations charter, which states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

When Israel invaded the West Bank and Gaza, which are now widely considered the Palestinian territories, the West Bank belonged to Jordan and Gaza belonged to Egypt. There was no Palestinian state. The invasion was perfectly legal since Israel was acting in self-defense against Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab states. Ukraine never attacked Russia or threatened to attack Russia, and therefore the Russian invasion is clearly not self-defense.

Elliott’s point comes down to this: The UK is supporting international law in one case (Ukraine) so why is it not supporting it in another (the Palestinians)?  This would be like saying that since the government is prosecuting someone for a crime, why is it not prosecuting someone else for another crime. Governments make such seemingly inconsistent decisions practically every day. The devil is in the details of the differences between the two crimes, and the details of the Ukrainian situation and the Palestinian situation are totally different.

Using Ukraine to support the Palestinians’ case is not helpful. If it has any effect at all, it is to weaken the Palestinians’ case by highlighting the differences between them. In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, there is a clear aggressor, but in the Israel-Arab conflict and even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there have been many aggressions by both sides. While Ukraine is clearly a sovereign nation that is distinct from Russia, the Palestinians are claiming the same land as Israel. While the Russia-Ukraine conflict can be resolved by Russia’s withdrawal, the Israel-Palestinian conflict requires an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians which both sides have failed to achieve so far.

Elliott’s reference to Ukraine also reminds us that in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Palestinian representatives are on the wrong side. The Palestinian Authority refused to comment, and Hamas took the side of the aggressor, Russia. Clearly, Hamas does not think much of Elliott’s push for respect of international law. Israel, on the other hand, declared that it will back a UN resolution condemning Russia.

This reminds us yet again of why the occupation of the West Bank continues 55 years after the war that led to it. While Israel should never have built settlements on what is known as the Palestinian territories, Israel’s security concerns are real. If Russia left Ukraine today, it knows that it will not face attacks from Ukraine, but if Israel left the Palestinian territories today, based on the many Palestinian attacks on Israel over the decades and based on Hamas’ refusal to accept the existence of Israel, it seems highly unlikely that Palestinian attacks on Israel would stop.

Palestinians and their supporters who promote their cause by making analogies between Palestinians and Ukrainians should instead stop and reflect on the history of the Palestinian conflict with Israel and what the Palestinians could do differently. For instance, just as I urged Israel in my previous blog post to “engage in peace negotiations with the Palestinians for as long as it takes”, I urge the Palestinians to do the same. Why isn’t the Palestinian leadership making a peace offer and promising to engage in negotiations with Israel for as long as it takes? How can their demand that the occupation end be credible otherwise?

Both sides are failing in the Israel-Palestinian relationship, and the Palestinians should take responsibility for their part just as Israel should take responsibility for its part.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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