According to the Financial Times, Western support for Israel’s assault on Gaza “has undone months of work to paint Moscow as a global pariah for breaching international law”. As one “senior diplomat” noted in reference to the Global South, “Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won’t ever listen to us again.”
The most obvious example of Western hypocrisy involves the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Last October, she denounced Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure as “war crimes” and “acts of pure terror”. Fast forward one year and she has made no such criticisms of Israel’s “complete siege” of Gaza, instead proclaiming that the “EU stands with Israel”. (Her remarks are plastered all over the Arab press.)
Quoting the Financial Times again:
Just four weeks before the Hamas assault on Israel, leaders from the US, EU and western allies attended the G20 summit in New Delhi and asked developing nations to condemn Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian civilians … Since last Sunday, many of those officials told the Financial Times they have had the same argument read back at them.
But the similarities between the Israel/Palestine and Russia/Ukraine conflicts go well beyond the issue of attacks on civilian infrastructure. In both cases, a military power is occupying territory in violation of international law based on historical claims and perceived threats to the security of its people.
It scarcely needs to be said that Russia’s occupation and subsequent annexation of parts of four Ukrainian oblasts is in violation of international law. Indeed, this is something that Western officials have been stating over and over again for months.
Yet Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, its occupation of East Jerusalem, and its annexation of the Golan Heights are also in violation of international law. Indeed, the illegal annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981, which is recognised by only one country (the U.S.), is directly analogous to Russia’s illegal annexation of the four Ukrainian oblasts last September.
Even Israel’s European allies consider the country to be violating international law. In May 2021, a joint statement by the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. described West Bank settlements as “illegal”, urging Israel to “cease its policy of settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
The two countries have offered justifications for their ongoing violations of international law which, as noted above, are remarkably similar. Both claim they are protecting their people in what was historically their land.
Interestingly, the similarities don’t end there. For the time being, neither conflict can be resolved through peaceful means due (in large part) to the strategic importance of a certain piece of territory. In Israel’s case, it’s the West Bank. In Russia’s case, it’s the land bridge to Crimea.
Putting historical considerations aside, Israel is not going to give up the West Bank. Why? The reason is obvious when you look at a map. If Israel gave up the West Bank, most of its major population centres (which are dotted along the coast) would be extremely difficult to defend. There would be almost no strategic depth for countering an attack from the East.
And it’s the same for Russia, which is not going to give up the land bridge. If it did, Crimea would be extremely difficult to defend. Much of the peninsula would be in range of artillery and the only supply routes would be via sea, air or the precarious Kerch bridge – which has already been severely damaged twice.
The only condition under which either country might be willing to give up the relevant piece of land is if it had security guarantees concerning its core strategic interests (Israel’s coastal plain and Crimea, respectively). Since such guarantees are not on the horizon, territory will only change hands in the event of either country’s military defeat.