It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. As the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates the anniversary of yet another year of Israel’s occupation, the news from places as far flung as Moscow and Beijing must be gratifying indeed.
For almost half a century, and in the teeth of unanimous international opposition to its policy of permanent occupation, Israel has successfully managed to “create facts” that the international community – led by the United States – has either accommodated or proved unable to or not interested enough to challenge.
Since 1967, Israel has settled almost 600,000 of its citizens – 7 percent of its population – in territories which not a single nation recognises as part of the sovereign state of Israel.
Israel has built a modern infrastructure to transform these areas, home to more than four million Palestinians, into unremarkable parts of the state.
As a result, Israel – as intended – has compromised, perhaps fatally, an Arab-Palestinian demand, supported by the international community, to secure a viable territorial base for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Israel’s strategy is a prime example of the old-fashioned way of practising diplomacy. It is concerned less about its standing on the ever-elusive “right side of history” – the source of many of the US President Barack Obama administration’s Middle East policy travails – than about ensuring a hard-headed, often brutal and single-minded determination to win.
Washington’s shortcomings in this regard have been most spectacularly evident in an arc running from Iraq and Syria to Libya – where its policies aimed at undermining state power and sovereignty have never been grounded by any strategy of winning the battles of “the day after”.
Washington may be a stranger to such policies, but Moscow and China, like Israel, are not.
Both countries are buttressing their determination to win – in Russia’s case by cementing its control of the Crimea at Ukraine’s expense, in China’s case by the expansion of its power and presence in the strategically important South China Sea.
The most difficult challenge facing those who oppose Israel's policy of creating facts is not to prevent Israel from pursuing policies that are making these territories into its own.
Each mimics Israel by creating territorial facts on the ground in an effort to shape both the military and diplomatic environment in their favour.
Like Israel’s policies, those of Russia and China present difficult challenges to Washington, challenges that it has so far been unable to reverse.
Does might makes it right?
Construction has just begun of a 19km bridge connecting Russia’s Krasnodar region with the Crimean city of Kerch, annexed following a disputed referendum in 2014. The $3.2bn bridge is designed to cement Crimea’s integration with Russia and its economy.
“Our predecessors understood the significance of this bridge … and tried to complete this project a long time ago,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Let’s hope we can fulfil this historical mission.”
China’s actions are even more sobering. Beijing is literally creating new Chinese territory on water-swept reefs in the South China Sea, despite the opposition of other claimants and parties led by Washington.
Beijing has expanded by 1,300 hectares disputed atolls in the South China Sea in the past two years, according to a recent Pentagon report.
China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands – known in China as the Nansha Islands – where construction is centred.
“China’s construction and deployment of facilities on its own soil in defence of its territory are legitimate acts of peaceful construction and exercise of its right to self-preservation,” explained an official spokesman. “We need necessary means and capabilities to defend ourselves.”
Unintended recognition of success
If Israel’s example is any guide, Russia and China can rest easy. At a recent meeting of the UN Security Council, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour took the international community to task yet again for its failure to end occupation.
“At a time when the situation is boiling, the passivity and silence of the Security Council is truly shocking,” Mansour said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered the Netanyahu government unintended recognition of the success of its strategy when he noted, “a two-state solution that meets the national aspirations of both peoples … seems more distant than it has for many decades … The creation of new facts on the ground through demolitions and settlement building,” Ban suggested, “raises questions about whether Israel’s ultimate goal is in fact to drive Palestinians out of certain parts of the West Bank, thereby undermining any prospect of transition to a viable Palestinian state.”
On Palestine, Ban is 50 years too late. Israel, no matter that it is the party in power, has managed for decades – indeed, it may be argued, since its inception – to successfully wield the power of the state, first to establish, and then to expand, its still-contested borders.
The most difficult challenge facing those who oppose Israel’s policy of creating facts – like those policies adopted by China and Russia – is not to prevent Israel from pursuing policies that are making these territories into its own.
That battle was lost when it extended Israeli law and jurisdiction to parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem before the guns cooled in June 1967.
For nearly 50 years, the bulldozers have been working without pause.
Simply preventing Israel from continuing to pursue its objective of creating facts misses the point.
Those opposed to occupation, whether in Palestine, the Crimea, or the contested atolls of the South China Sea, have a far more difficult challenge – to undo the bitter fruits that the policy of creating facts has produced.
Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle Eastern affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.