Mekel: Israel Has Bigger Problems Than Palestinians

Mekel: Israel Has Bigger Problems Than Palestinians

By Ariel Pinsky

AJC Atlanta Director Dov Wilker listens to a point from Ambassador Arye Mekel. (photo by Ariel Pinsky)
AJC Atlanta Director Dov Wilker listens to a point from Ambassador Arye Mekel. (photo by Ariel Pinsky)

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s recently released Commission of Inquiry report condemning Israel for war crimes is just the latest in the frequent singling-out of Israel on the international stage, according to Arye Mekel, the former Israeli consul general to the Southeast who also served as ambassador to Greece.

The veteran Israeli diplomat and journalist stopped by the American Jewish Committee’s regional office in Buckhead for a lunchtime chat Tuesday, June 23.

Mekel said that although the “Palestinian problem” has long been seen as Israel’s chief issue, this assumption may be wrong because of the changing political environment in the Middle East. He said recent power struggles and regime changes in countries such as Syria, Egypt and Libya, as well as the rise of terror groups such as Islamic State, could shift Israel’s focus even further from the Palestinians to other neighbors.

When his parents moved to Israel after surviving the Holocaust in 1949, Mekel said, they viewed the hostility between Jews and Arabs as temporary — they believed that peace would arrive in 10 years or less. Just as the mood shifted when the settlers learned that peace would not come within the decade, so times have changed again, and the Palestinian problem is no longer Israel’s principle obstacle to peace.

Mekel also raised an important question: If the Palestinians received their own state today, would Israel face similar problems tomorrow?

He thinks yes, in part because Israel doesn’t even have boundaries internationally recognized as final.

Reports like the one the UNHRC’s Commission of Inquiry released June 22 on last summer’s Gaza conflict reflect the anti-Israel sentiments of groups other than the Palestinians. The commission, headed by former U.S. Judge Mary McGowan Davis, was created by a U.N. resolution condemning Israel in the “strongest terms” for “gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Though Mekel views the report as less severe and slightly more balanced than the 2009 Goldstone Report — this one assigns Hamas some responsibility for war crimes — he still sees the inquiry as a “bunch of lies.”

He found particularly troubling the accusation that Israel refused to cooperate with the commission by not providing necessary documents; he said several Israeli organizations did comply.

While the commission may be upsetting, Mekel said, Israel is too strong and too powerful for such resolutions to have a huge impact on its foreign policy, and the Jewish community should not be concerned. He views the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the same light — upsetting but ultimately unable to deliver its intended blow.

According to the movement’s website, BDS “targets products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.” Mekel joked that if people want to boycott Israeli inventions and products, they must boycott their own laptops, cellphones and all other devices that require a computer chip.

Mekel said that constantly criticizing efforts such as BDS raises the risk of publicizing and drawing attention to them.

He also spoke about obstacles to a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution. In his eyes, an agreement is not likely in the near future because of the lack of the “right type of leadership” on the Palestinian side. He said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is of the Old World school of thought and might be incapable of committing to a two-state solution demanding considerable concessions.

But Mekel said some 40- to 50-year-old Palestinians who could take over after Abbas may be more realistic in their approach and ideology.

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