Monday, September 28, 2015
Saturday, August 08, 2015
Friday, July 17, 2015
Tuesday, July 07, 2015
By Ian Williams
In the preceding article, Jonathan Cook details some of the issues surrounding the intense American pressure on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to drop mention of Israel from the report on Children and Armed Conflict. It was all the more appalling since the agent for the pressure was Samantha Power, who previously had enjoyed a good reputation for her concerns for international humanitarian law.
Although Israel was excised from the list of offenders in the front of the report—ironically along with Hamas, as a trade off—the U.N. Human Rights officers made sure that it was mentioned copiously in the body of evidence presented, reducing Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., to paroxysms of percentages. Interestingly, he did not even try to rebut any of the allegations specifically, but rather resorted to abstract statistics—Israel got 11 percent of the report’s attention while Syria only had 6 percent. Prosor attacked the U.N. special representative, Leila Zerrougui, for “widespread, systematic and institutionalized biased conduct against Israel.”
The battle over the excision of Israel from the list seemed to be denting Ban’s usually well-deserved reputation for integrity, even though his spokesman Stephane Dujarric was at pains to point out to press that the specific incidents of Israeli harm to children were still detailed in the body of the report.
Indeed the report is quite explicit. It reports, along with many detailed incidents from last summer’s conflict, that:
“87. On average, between 8 July and 26 August, more than 10 children were killed daily in Gaza. More than 80 percent of the children were killed between 17 July and 5 August during the ground incursion by the Israeli security forces. At least 13 children in Gaza were reportedly killed as a result of rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups towards Israel that fell inside Gaza.
“88. At least 2,955 Palestinian children were injured in Gaza. Preliminary estimates indicate that up to 1,000 of them will be permanently disabled. Apart from the July-August Israeli military operation, another 76 children were injured.”
However, on the day of the report, Ban redeemed himself when he told told press: “I am aware of the controversy surrounding the report. I want to express once again my full support for my Special Representative, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, and the excellent work that she and her team have done.”
And at the introduction of the report to the Security Council he specifically singled out Israel, stating, “I am also deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year.
“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals.”
The net result of Ambassador Power’s hypersensitivity on behalf of Israel was that the country she was intending to protect was singled out more than ever! Part of the package that Washington urged on Ban and the U.N. was that the U.S. needed to get Israel taken off the list in order to ease the passage of any agreement on Iran though Congress. Ban, under attack from both sides, is in an invidious position. He needs the cooperation of the U.S. to achieve many of the objectives he wants for the U.N., and he wants the deal on Iran.
The Israeli Spoke
In yet another example of Israel being the spoke in the wheel of diplomacy, the U.N.’s regular review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was even more inconclusive than before. With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu making so much noise about Iran’s alleged nuclear effort, it takes a lot of chutzpah for congressmen ganging up on Tehran to support the one country in the Middle East which has not signed the NPT and which scarcely makes a secret of its possession of a large nuclear arsenal.
The signatory members of the NPT met this summer at the U.N. to denounce the official nuclear powers—Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.—for not taking the steps toward disarmament that they promised at the time they persuaded the rest of the world to renounce nuclear weapons. It’s their hypocrisy that India, Pakistan and North Korea cited when they went nuclear. Israel keeps quiet about it, of course, officially neither confirming nor denying its nuclear arsenal, but making sure that everyone knows about it.
In 1995, the NPT was scheduled to expire unless it was renewed, and members extracted some promises from the nuclear powers in return for extending it indefinitely. One of the concessions was the call for “the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.”
Egypt had been asking for this since 1990, and it was an expansion of the proposal that had been passed annually by the U.N. General Assembly since 1980 for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference the countries agreed to start implementing the Middle East Conference, and Britain, Russia and the U.S. agreed to work with the U.N. secretary-general to hold a regional conference on it in 2012.
When 2012 came around, however, the U.S. just postponed the conference, blaming “conditions in the Middle East” and vaguely suggesting there was lack of agreement on “acceptable conditions” by the would-be attendees. Of course, there was one state, unnamed, that would only agree to a nuclear-free region if it were the sole state excluded from the conclusions. In fact, Israel is not a signatory of the NPT—but Iran is.
Even the current unappetizing Egyptian regime maintains some principles. It reintroduced its call for a conference on a Nuclear Free Middle East into the preparations for this year’s NPT Review conference. This is, of course, an entirely laudable principle. After all, if everyone in the region eschews nuclear weaponry, then there is really no excuse for any country in the region to have them.
In the classic way of global governance, diplomats worked around the clock to obscure the issues, but Cairo persevered and secured the language in the draft document for this year’s conference that called for the secretary-general to convene a conference on a WMD-free zone by March 2016. That would have avoided the implicit veto of having the U.S., Britain and Russia as convenors.
The United States, Britain and Canada decided not to support the draft final document from the NPT review conference because of the deadline. Speaking at the conference, Washington said it objected because the plan to set an agenda and hold a conference was not based on “consensus and equality,” and that the document proposed “unworkable conditions” and “arbitrary deadlines.” Canada, in its new role as being more pro-Israel even than the U.S., wanted Israel to be included in the negotiations for the nuclear-free zone even though Tel Aviv is not even a signatory to the NPT, so hardly in a legal or ethical position to demand a place at the table.
It seems eminently reasonable of the members attending to put a deadline on a process that the U.S. has repeatedly postponed.
As always, however, there is one law for Israel and one for everybody else.
The hypocrisy is stunning. To summarize: the permanent five, who all possess nuclear weapons, feign commitment to disarming—while modernizing their nuclear weapons systems. They continue to maintain sanctions on Iran for allegedly taking tentative steps toward refining nuclear fuel that could be used for weaponry. But Britain and the U.S. effectively vetoed a conference that sought to set up a nuclearfree zone in the region because Israel, which is a non-signatory to the NPT and has nuclear weapons, did not want them to. If there is any ethical principle there, it is very well hidden indeed.
All of the parties concerned know that Israel has nuclear weapons. They know that the whole purpose of the procrastination and obfuscation is to avoid Israel having to admit that. It is somehow perplexing that Egypt, despite massive military aid from the U.S., has the chutzpah to be independent on such issues, while the U.S., despite its massive military aid to Israel, does exactly what Israel orders.
Welcome to the Wonderland of international diplomacy. ❑
Friday, June 26, 2015
Thursday, June 18, 2015
United Nations Report Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June July 2015.
U.S. Protects Israeli Occupation, U.N. Reinforces Morocco’s in Western Sahara
By Ian Williams
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE watching the great powers at work to demonstrate just how ephemeral “eternal” principles are, and how expedient their implementation. It is reported that Washington is trying to persuade the French, in particular, to back-pedal on their attempt to lay down the accepted principles of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This would essentially emphasize the illegality of settlement activity and the applicability of the 1967 boundaries as enshrined in numerous repeated U.N. resolutions over the years and accepted by every country in the world except Israel.
But for once, the Obama administration is not doing this simply as a favor to Israel. It is a different kind of pandering: Washington is discreetly asking the other countries to hold back so that the White House can concentrate on the Iranian deal and get it through Congress in the teeth of Israeli lobby opposition. It is demeaning, of course, but over the decades not uncommon for American diplomats to plead for forbearance with foreign colleagues so that they can cope with geopolitically illiterate American legislators.
In this case there is an extra twist, in that the U.S. is hinting that once the Iran deal is done, it can get around to dealing with Binyamin Netanyahu’s recalcitrance, with the further hint that Israel cannot take the American veto at the U.N. for granted.
That raises the question of why President Barack Obama could not say that before the Israeli election. Netanyahu has gratuitously interfered in domestic American politics all his political career, and in particular over the Iran issue. If Obama and Secretary of State Kerry had forcefully announced to the world that should Netanyahu persist in disavowing agreed terms for peace and refused to stop settlement, there would be no guarantee of a U.S. veto in the Security Council, it might well have cost him the election. Israeli voters see no downside in Netanyahu’s chutzpah,and clearly a majority of them agree with his hard-line stance—as long as he can get away with it.
In a chain of connections, the Marshall Islands is one of the few countries that frequently supports the U.S. on Israel. Of course, it has to! It was one of the former U.N. strategic trust territories in the Pacific taken from Japan and administered by the U.S., and Washington only agreed to its “independence” if it relinquished its right to its own defense and consulted with the U.S. on foreign affairs.
Even at the time, that raised eyebrows, since these are some of the crucial indicators of sovereignty. Nonetheless, the General Assembly accepted the new micro states as full members, and they have consistently voted with the U.S. on Middle Eastern issues. Among the few sources of revenue were annual grants from Congress, so no wonder the islanders were so interested in Middle Eastern affairs. One other revenue source was fees from the islands’ sideline as a flag of convenience, where American shipowners could escape domestic labor and safety regulations.
But at the end of April unforeseen consequences cropped up when Iran arrested an American ship that was flagged out of the Marshall Islands. Some Israeli commentators immediately tried to get the U.S. Navy to fulfill its defense obligations under international law—for them, of course, it is always a good day to attack Iran. Interestingly, the Marshall Islands would have recourse to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea since it is a signatory—unlike the U.S., Israel and Iran! Quite why the U.S. should risk World War III for a shipping company that expatriated its ships to avoid U.S. taxation and regulation is a question that remains unanswered.
While Arab states and others—such as France—are quick, and correct, to call attention to how U.S.-drafted Security Council resolutions bend over backward to cover for a certain state on the eastern end of the Mediterranean, they remain resolutely silent over France’s cover for another state at the opposite end of the Mediterranean that flouts previous resolutions and international law.
A Free Pass for Morocco
Morocco’s continuing occupation of the Western Sahara, with its own separation wall, the Berm, snaking across the desert, continues to get a free pass in Resolution 2218 passed April 28 in New York.
The name of the U.N. operation that the resolution extends for yet another year says it all. MINURSO, in full, is the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, and it was set up in 1991 with a timetable of one year. Almost a quarter of a century has passed, with Morocco still impeding any attempt to implement the “self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations” that the resolution breezily refers to in its preamble, even as its substance robs it of meaning.
Back in 1991, Johannes Mantz, the first head of the mission, promised the U.N. press corps that the operation would be open within a year, since a Spanish census 18 years before had identified the voting roll and even the infants had now come of age. There is now an entirely new generation of Sahrawis born and come of voting age.
Many of these are young, unemployed and disaffected, and the secretary-general’s report gives evidence of unrest and demonstrations on both sides of the Berm, in Polisario- and Moroccan-controlled territories alike. After decades in which the world seemed happy to let the Sahrawis wallow in their misery as long as there was no spillover, there are now increasing worries at the possibilities of destabilization in the region. The possibilities for smuggling and cross-border crime are now joined by apprehension at the prospects of extremist recruitment of unemployed youth with few if any prospects and facing rampant injustice exacerbated by the “benign neglect” of the world community.
The African Union, whose membership includes the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), has taken a renewed interest in the issue and has been pushing for a referendum. After all, one of the founding principles of the Union was that the old colonial boundaries had to be respected, not so much because of their own inherent value but rather because the belligerent consequences of trying to redraw them would be so bloody. Morocco did not join the Union because of SADR’s membership—and objected in April when the Union tried to get the SADR delegate to speak on non-proliferation in Africa.
A veritable chorus of forked tongues speaks on the issue, with words getting new and Orwellian meanings. The U.N. reports praise Morocco for its progress on human rights in the territory, while Morocco and France, with active U.S. and British support and Russian connivance, fought to ensure that the resolution did not mandate an active human rights monitoring mission called for by the African Union.
The West often castigates Africa for its allegedly lackadaisical attitude to human rights violations. But in this case the great powers actively fought to keep MINURSO the only U.N. peacekeeping mission without a human rights component, and for the even more singular honor of being the Mission for the Referendum on self-determination on the Western Sahara that is not allowed to carry out a referendum or mention that Rabat has repeatedly announced that it will not allow self-determination.
Polisario has raised Morocco’s sale of off-shore oil rights to foreign oil companies and had thechutzpah to justify it by reference to the 2002 letter on the matter from Hans Corell, who was then U.N. undersecretary-general for legal affairs. As he has repeatedly said since then in several articles, the legal opinion he gave was that selling the oil contracts was in flagrant breach of the Geneva conventions on Occupied Territories—and that the companies accepting the contracts were in breach of international law.
While even the U.S. does not insist on praising Israel for its cooperation when it so clearly does not cooperate, the April U.N. resolution praises Morocco for its progress in the teeth of its flamboyant defiance.
Principles can be so tedious for politicians. ❑
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Sunday, May 17, 2015
WRMEA, May, 2015, pp. 20-21
United Nations Report
Three New Amigos: Graham, Netanyahu And Blair
By Ian Williams
“It’s déjà vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra famously said. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently put in a bid for more campaign funding from Sheldon Adelson and his friends. At the AIPAC annual conference and on Fox, the senator threatened to reopen the tedious tactic of threatening Washington’s payment of its $654 million in dues to the U.N. Once a hardy perennial on the Hill, the issue had gone away since the relatively benign relations between the world body and Israel seemed to have dulled the edge of Washington’s constant grating chorus.
Despite their professed disdain for the U.N., Israeli diplomats and politicians clearly wallow in the reflected glory of every minor committee membership the state has achieved since it became a de facto member of the West European and Other Group.
As on those earlier occasions, it is pro-Israel activists rather than Israel itself trying to score donations and points by bashing the U.N. This time it is not just Palestine, but the Iranian issue that has them exercised. Graham knows that there are major donations to be had from deranged Likud supporters like Adelson.
“All the money that goes in to support the State Department comes through my committee,” Graham, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, told Fox, adding, “I’m gonna put the United Nations on notice.” He warned that he would slash U.S. funding to the U.N. if that body decided to lift sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear agreement. “Twenty-two percent of the funding for the United Nations comes from the American taxpayer and I’m in charge of that account,” Graham stated.
“If they go to the U.N. Security Council, and the U.N. Security Council lifts all sanctions before we ever get a chance to look at this deal, absolutely I would suspend funding the United Nations, because I don’t think your money should go to an organization that irresponsible,” he affirmed. “I’m not going to allow the United Nations to be used as a way to get around the United States Congress for a deal that affects the very existence of Israel and our own national security,” he vowed.
Since there is no way the Council could consider lifting sanctions on Iran without the support and vote of the U.S. delegation, which has a veto there, the senator really is talking about using his assumed legislative prerogatives to thwart an agreement by his own country’s president and diplomats. It is an act similar to that of the 47 Republican senators who wrote Tehran on behalf of Israel threatening not to honor any agreement with Iran, which is hardly surprising since Graham was one of the signatories.
The tentacles of Likud-USA, as AIPAC has become, are everywhere. Bereft of direct influence over President Barack Obama and the State Department, they are using their bully power everywhere else. Binyamin Netanyahu’s election rally in front of an adoring Congress might have helped him win back home with the voters—but it was much less effective with the White House.
When Netanyahu gauchely topped his Washington performance with his election eve speech to hard-line settlers explicitly denouncing recognition of any Palestinian state, he made it even more difficult to win over the White House. What little diplomatic credibility the U.S. has had globally on the issue was that it was pulling Israel along toward the stated goal of a two-state solution, as enshrined in all previous declarations from Oslo onwards.
However, Netanyahu’s promise should not have come as much of a surprise to most observers. Anyone who looked at Netanyahu and Likud could see the unconvincing hollowness of their protestations of support for a Palestinian state. They had put so many conditions on recognition that it clearly said “Bukra fil mishmish” (when pigs fly) to any recognition. However, it suited American leaders and their diplomatic hangers-on to overlook all this and pretend that Israeli leaders sincerely wanted peace. Otherwise they would have to confront their Israeli “ally” publicly, with all the fraught consequences for domestic politics that would entail.
In order to win re-election, Netanyahu went farther than usual in dropping the pretense of cooperation in peace talks. An already exasperated President Obama deliberately delayed telephoning him to congratulate him on his victory, and when he did, reminded the Israeli leader of U.S. policy on the two-state solution and the U.S. view of settlement building.
Similarly, at the United Nations, U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq read a prepared statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying, “It’s incumbent on the new Israeli government, once formed, to create the conditions for a negotiated final peace agreement with the active engagement of the international community that will end the Israeli occupation and realize the creation of a viable Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. This includes the cessation of illegal settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territory. The secretary-general firmly believes this is also the best and only way forward for Israel to remain a democratic state.”
It was not exactly casting down the gauntlet, but in diplomatic terms, and coming from the low-key Korean secretary-general, it was quite a strong rebuke.
An Opportunity Not to Be Missed
This is an opportune juncture for the secretary-general to withdraw from the hollow charade of the Middle East Quartet, the U.S./Russia/EU and U.N. body that epitomizes all the problems of a committee. The “consensus” of the Quartet is of course dominated by the U.S. When it was set up, it was almost a breakthrough that the U.S. and Israel allowed the United Nations any role at all in the “peace process.”
The U.S. has had the strictly limited virtue of consistency over the years, emphasizing the importance of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and thereby seeking to exclude international law and the whole body of U.N. resolutions as a basis for peace. Somehow, however, the U.N. is now bound by this Quartet consensus and, with no decision or discussion among U.N. members, U.N. officials in Gaza and the West Bank were barred, for example, from talking to Hamas. The U.N. secretary-general became the Quartet spokesperson, charged with reading their increasingly anodyne statements marking the complete lack of progress in negotiations and steadfastly refusing to put the blame where it belonged, on the settlement builders and occupiers. Instead of the U.N. position being taken to the Quartet, Washington’s view of consensus has taken over U.N. policy!
It would be unfair to say that the Quartet served absolutely no purpose. It did provide a job and networking opportunities for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom George W. Bush wanted to reward for his loyalty in helping engineer the Iraq invasion disaster. By all accounts, Blair has used his time well—securing contracts from unsavory potentates all over the world and being much favored by Israeli interests.
With a new regime in Washington that does not feel overmuch gratitude for Blair’s part in turning the Fertile Crescent into a sectarian inferno and increasing press scrutiny of the former prime minister’s entrepreneurial activities, Blair’s position is under severe challenge. American officials are briefing that he has “no credibility at all,” while the Palestinians call him “useless, useless, useless.” So, in a sense, Blair is a unifying factor for the Quartet and the Palestinians. They all regard him as a waste of space.
Blair became special envoy to the Middle East Quartet the same day he resigned as prime minister, replacing James Wolfensohn, the World Bank official who had the integrity to resign when he found his every effort to restart the Palestinian economy blocked by the Israelis, who could count on automatic diplomatic cover from the U.S. There was certainly a stark contrast in their approaches. Blair has been careful not to criticize Israel, whose supporters have bankrolled his career almost from the beginning.
Blair won’t be missed at the Quartet, and his departure is the right time to put the stake through the heart of this shambling cadaver of an organization. The U.N. has already charted the real road map, with the full force of international law: Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories, allow refugees to return or compensate them. Under international law, the settlements that Netanyahu is expanding even as Blair shakes his hand are illegal, a point reinforced by Security Council resolutions and a decision of the International Court of Justice.
It is indeed time that the U.N. separated from the man who would not listen to it on Iraq.
Talk Also Cheap in Western Sahara
Interminable peace talks with no progress are also a reminder of Western Sahara, where the Moroccan attempts to cover their own non-cooperation stoked a minor diplomatic flurry in March. Just as no country recognizes the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem, no one accepts the legality of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. So Morocco hosted a conference of an alleged NGO in the territory in the occupied city of Dakhla, and wasted no opportunity to emphasize U.N. connections.
To some extent it backfired, since claiming that a U.N. adviser speaking at the forum implied United Nations support for the lavishly funded event prompted the U.N. to disavow the conference and state the official position. The U.N. statement said:
“The secretary-general was invited to this Forum, but informed its president that he could not attend. He did not delegate Mr. Philippe Douste-Blazy or anyone else to represent him or the United Nations. Mr. Douste-Blazy, who serves as a special adviser to the secretary-general on innovative financing, is attending exclusively in his private capacity.
“While Dakhla is described in Forum materials as a city in Morocco, the definitive status of Western Sahara is the object of a negotiating process being conducted under the auspices of the secretary-general in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions.”
This was a gentle but firm put-down of Morocco, which has shown all the assiduity of Israel in abiding by U.N. decisions. It is now more than 40 years since Morocco was told to pull out of the territory and to cooperate in holding a referendum on its future.
It is a telling reminder of the weaknesses of the U.N. that after all these decades, the Moroccans and the Israelis continue to occupy territory in defiance of U.N. resolutions. But it is also a reminder of the strength of the organization that after all this time no country recognizes the legitimacy of their occupations. There is hope yet. ❑
Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations who blogs at <www.deadlinepundit.blogspot.com>.