What Qualifies a State for ‘Rogue’ Status?

By Joseph Levine

As I write this, not all the facts are in. For the most part we’ve only heard Israel’s version of the events surrounding the killing of peace activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza. There are reasons to think this version is misleading, to say the least. But in a way this doesn’t matter. Even if the particular events on the boat unfolded exactly as Israeli authorities claim, Israel has revealed itself, yet again, to be among the world’s top “rogue states”. And to Israel’s charge that they are treated by the world community according to a different standard, I say “absolutely”.

What qualifies a state for “rogue” status? The basic idea is that rogue states are those that violate agreed norms of international behavior seriously enough to threaten international peace. That said, let’s look at the “double standard” charge.

Consider the officially designated “rogue states”: North Korea, Iran, and (pre-invasion) Iraq. In 1990 Iraq occupied the territory of another sovereign nation, and in response the US led an international coalition to forcibly remove them from Kuwait. Israel has occupied Palestinian territory since 1967, and, from 1982 to 2000, Lebanese territory, yet there was not so much as a hint of international action to remove them. Not even mild sanctions.  Iraq supposedly defied UN resolutions, and so was invaded in 2003. Israel defies the UN repeatedly, and instead is given billions in aid from us and favored economic status by the EU.  Iran, a signatory to the Non-proliferation Treaty, appears to be attempting to develop nuclear capabilities (without, as yet, clearly violating the terms of the treaty), and all diplomatic hell breaks loose. Israel sits on hundreds of nuclear weapons, and then refuses to agree to negotiate the terms of a Middle East nuclear-free zone, or join the non-proliferation regime, and there is almost no reaction from the West. Finally, North Korea seems to have attacked a South Korean ship in international water, killing dozens of sailors. In response South Korea cuts off all ties, and the US sternly pronounces its commitment to back up South Korea in any confrontation. Israel has just attacked a ship sailing under the flag of a NATO ally, killing at least nine civilians, and our own government cannot even mention Israel’s name when condemning the “actions” that led to the deaths. 

Double standard indeed!

Again, Israel’s apologists will insist that her actions be seen in context; again, I agree completely. To the argument that Israel is only protecting herself from a fanatical, violent movement bent on her destruction, it’s enough to point out both the recent and somewhat distant history. With regard to Gaza, Hamas was democratically elected to leadership of the Palestinian legislature in 2006, won total control of Gaza in 2007 in response to a (US- and Israel-inspired) Fatah provocation, and kept their end of a truce throughout much of 2008. Israel broke that truce in two ways: it never relieved the siege as it agreed to, and then on US election day in 2008 they attacked and killed six fighters in Gaza.  After Hamas retaliated with rockets, Israel then engaged in the massacre of 08/09. To this day Gaza is sealed off with only enough food and medicine to keep people alive, but no chance of leading a decent life.

Yes, the Freedom Flotilla was a threat to Israel’s blockade. But why did 700 civilians and private international aid organizations have to be the ones to “threaten” this illegal and immoral blockade? Why weren’t the nations of the West, who claim to uphold “civilized” norms of international behavior, the ones to challenge Israel directly? For precedent note that in 1967, when Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping (Israel’s casus belli for the Six Day War), President Johnson offered to send US ships through to end the blockade.  (It never happened because Israel attacked before the flotilla could be organized.)

Finally, to put the recent events in an even wider context, note that Israel has behaved as a rogue state for its entire existence. In the 1950’s we had the attacks on Qibya in Jordan and the Egyptians in Gaza, as well as the Lavon affair. In 1967, Israel attacked the USS Liberty in international waters. Over the years there have been many assassinations and kidnappings in neutral countries, not to mention the killing of Rachel Corrie, an American citizen, in Gaza a few years ago, and the recent assassination in Dubai. When one compares Israel’s international behavior to other states, is there one that comes close to winning the prize? Unfortunately, there is: US. And maybe that’s why Israel continues to get away with it.

– Joseph Levine is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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