I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, but some prominent American Jewish doves are implicitly suggesting that Israel doesn’t have the right to chase after terrorists who flee into Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
I had the first inkling of this radical new position last summer, in an exchange of correspondence with Gideon Aronoff, CEO of “Ameinu,” formerly known as the Labor Zionists of America. He had co-authored an op-ed berating Israel for “occupying the Palestinians.” I wrote to him to point out that Israel stopped occupying the Palestinians back in 1995, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin withdrew Israel’s forces from the cities where 98% of the Palestinians reside.
Mr. Aronoff replied that since ‘the Israeli military operates” in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, “the Palestinians essentially are under the military control of Israel.” I wrote back: “[B]rief forays do not constitute an "occupation" in any meaningful sense of the word. Soldiers chasing terrorists for a few hours constitutes a search-and-arrest operation, not an ongoing presence.” Mr. Aronoff did not respond. I wonder why not.
The implications of what Aronoff was writing were more troubling than our disagreement over what constitutes “occupation.” Aronoff and “Ameinu” support the creation of a Palestinian state in nearly all of Judea-Samaria. They strongly oppose what they call the “occupation.” Which could be understood to mean that they oppose Israel’s “occupation policy” of briefly sending soldiers into the territories in hot pursuit of terrorists.
This week, we had another hint on the subject, from an even more prominent spokesman for the U.S. Jewish left. Pundit Peter Beinart, writing in The Forward, reiterated his usual demands for Israeli withdrawal from all the territories and creation of a Palestinian state there. To pre-empt those who point out that Israel does not occupy the areas where Palestinians live, Beinart wrote:
“Yes, Israel subcontracts certain governing functions to the Palestinian Authority, but it still controls the entire area. Israel’s army—and the army of no other nation—can enter any square inch of the West Bank anytime it wants and arrest anybody it wants…”
Since the whole point of Beinart’s essay was that Israel should stop “controlling the entire area,” he appeared to be saying that Israel should stop doing what he considers the number one example of “controlling”—that is, going into PA areas to arrest terrorists.
At a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on February 15, 1994, Rabin explicitly defended the right of Israel’s army to engage in “hot pursuit” of terrorists, whether the PLO/PA liked it, or not. MK Benny Begin asked, “How far can we pursue?” Rabin replied: “As far as possible.”
International law clearly was on Rabin’s side. The right of hot pursuit of terrorists and criminals, which is based on longstanding maritime practices, is enshrined in Article 23 of the 1958 Convention on the High Seas, reiterated in Article 111 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The authorities of the violated party are granted the right to engage in “hot pursuit” of their attackers when they have “good reason to believe” that the attackers “violated the laws and regulations of that State.”
I don’t know if Gideon Aronoff or Peter Beinart have thought about the past occasions when Israeli governments under the Labor Party engaged in hot pursuit. I do recall that some on the Jewish left opposed David Ben-Gurion’s decision to pursue Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. I wonder if any peaceniks were uncomfortable with Yitzhak Rabin’s decision to pursue the terrorists who were holding hostages at the Entebbe Airport, in Uganda.
But let’s leave the past aside for the moment and focus on today and tomorrow. To say that Israel’s exercise of hot pursuit is a manifestation of an “occupation” that the Jewish left considers illegal and immoral is to say that Israel should stop chasing terrorists who flee into Palestinian Authority areas.
I hope I am mistaken. I hope that Gideon Aronoff, Peter Beinart, and others in the “anti-occupation” camp do in fact accept Israel’s right to chase terrorists. Surely at this point, they have an obligation to address the issue, publicly and explicitly, so the Jewish community will know exactly where they stand.
Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.