Sunday, October 25, 2015

No Easy Way Out in Syria

Tribune October 24 2015
Written By: Ian Williams
Published: October 24, 2015 Last modified: October 20, 2015

Ten years ago, every country in the United Nations adopted “the Responsibility to Protect”, a euphemism for humanitarian intervention. R2P as it is known in the UN, was steered through by Kofi Annan, who was then the Secretary General. Rather than rewrite the UN Charter with its overly punctilious respect for national sovereignty above all other considerations, the resolution reinterpreted the Charter’s Chapter Seven so that the threats to international peace and security now included mayhem being inflicted with national borders.
The international commission that came up with R2P found that there were deep worries about how the concept could be abused. Hitler had, after all, invoked humanitarian reasons for seizing Sudetenland. There was also a common caution that the UN Security Council should be very careful about how it was implemented. The Commission cited Hippocrates’ advice to doctors: “First, do no harm”.
R2P has been adopted varying degrees of enthusiasm, with the Russians and Chinese dragging their feet most often. But oddly the strongest defenders of the sovereign rights of tyrants to massacre their citizenry at will are often so-called socialists who have forgotten the proletarian internationalism thing in their rush to canonise sundry dictators as anti-imperialist saints.
The first line of defence against abuse of R2P is the role of the Security Council as gatekeeper since there could be no intervention without its permission. That is why, ironically, the Russian annexation of Crimea and creeping occupation of Ukraine is illegal even though Vladimir Putin evoked the alleged threat to ethnic Russians posed by the Ukrainian nationalists .The problem with the Security Council is the refusal of the veto holders to turn the key when the gate does need opening. It is easy to point the finger at Russia, but many UN members look at Moscow’s cover for Bashar al-Assad’s assault on his own citizenry as no better or worse than Washington’s cover for  waves of destruction on Gaza.
Similarly, there is a repeated pattern in which the West, having secured doubting Russian co-operation over Libya, or Iraq,then disregards Moscow’s views and stretches the resolutions farther than was implied. Iraq, touted as humanitarian intervention by Tony Blair, proved all of the warnings about the dangers of R2P that its supporters had identified. The invasion had no legal or moral authority and its conduct was cretinously colonial even by American standards, while inept by every standard of winning hearts and minds. It was wrong in every sense, from conception to execution and the Syrian tragedy is a continuing aftershock.
Syria is clearly a total humanitarian disaster, and if ever there were a need for intervention and international action this is it. But there is now a real dilemma. It is very difficult to conceive of any course of action that would not make things worse. We prefer the binary simplicity of absolute good and evil, even though sordid reality usually presents us with comparative worse and better. Syria’s complexities also defy attempts to rally world opinion behind any course of action. Indeed Syria has already had more than enough intervention with outside powers pursuing their sanguinary sectional interests across the heartland of civilisation. The United States has been unable or unwilling to restrain the Saudis and Gulf States from arming and bankrolling their own brand of fundamentalists. Russian and Iranian support of Assad means that he has seen no need to negotiate.
Even what would have been a straightforward response some time ago, enforcing a no-fly zone to prevent Assad’s aircraft bombing civilians now leads us to some literally awesome possibilities – do we want to risk a third world war by challenging Putin’s aggressive attacks on Assad’s non-ISIL opponents?
The pleas from UN representatives, Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and others for diplomacy can sound like wimpish abdication. But only concerted action by the major players, which might involve the US talking softly to Russia and China while waving a big stick at the Wahabi dynasties in the Gulf can produce a solution that might rescue Syrians from the horrors of previous partisan interventions. Putin and the ayatollahs are certainly a big part of the problem – but they also have to be part of the solution.

Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why China has a P5 seat, and Japan is unlikely to!

Opinion: Why China is in the Security Council and Japan is Not

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Ian Williams is Senior Analyst, Foreign Policy in Focus and columnist for the Tribune, and who recently completed a new edition of The U.N. for Beginners
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2015 (IPS) - Will Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council be frustrated by its Foreign Ministry’s undiplomatic and uncalled for attack on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon?
Japan’s attempt certainly will not be helped by the Japanese Foreign Ministry official who complained sniffily that the world body “should take a neutral position on events that focus mostly on the past” and expressed “strong displeasure” at Ban’s attendance in Beijing for the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
ianThe churlish rebuff, with overtones of anti-Korean sentiment came just as the issue of reforming the Security Council is having a periodic upsurge of interest in this 70th session of the United Nations. It is of course no accident that the 70th Anniversary of the U.N. coincides with the 70th Anniversary of the end of the War. It was World War Two that gave birth to and shaped the United Nations, which is why China is on the Security Council and Japan is not.
But the U.N. Charter is about controlling inter-state aggression of the kind that the defeated nations in the Second World War indisputably started. Japan invaded its neighbors, not the other way round, and in general its occupations were brutal, despite the rhetoric about co-prosperity.
The U.N. is not neutral, it was an organization founded to defeat the Axis powers, particularly Germany and Japan and that is explicit in the U.N. Charter still. Although Poland moved a pious resolution in the General Assembly after the reunification of Germany declaring that the “enemy states” clause in the U.N. Charter no longer applies, the clause is still in the Charter – and the unrepentant attitude from the Abe administration is calculated to remind the Chinese, and indeed the Russians that because of the war they have a veto on all reform proposals.
Certainly, Poland realized that the reunified Germany was not the same country as in 1939 and was expediently magnanimous in its declaration. One can hardly imagine either of the Koreas emulating that with Japan, which had to be pressured by the other members of the Council to vote in the end for the Korean Secretary General to make it unanimous.
There is no end of skeptical comments one can make about the seventieth anniversary of Axis defeats. Historically, maybe Ban should have gone to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial in Taiwan – or the Republic of China as Beijing prefers they call themselves! It was after all the ROC not the PRC that was the official combatant and final victor in the war and which was accordingly granted a seat on the Security Council.
But then it was the USSR and not Russia that won a permanent seat and did so much to defeat the Nazis that we, as much as Moscow, tend to overlook the Stalin Hitler pact just before. Each of the victors has skeletons in their cupboards, from the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn Wood to Dresden and Hiroshima.
After 70 years, it is indisputably time to reform the Security Council, but it is also indisputable that the permanent five have a veto on that process and that many other members have mutually contradictory plans for how to reform it. It is highly likely that the Japanese comments have given ammunition to those hostile to its bid for a permanent seat.
There are in fact very good reasons, for justice and efficiency, not to expand the number of permanent seats on the council. Many countries have braved the displeasure of big neighbors who are candidates to say so, and to demand that at best the contestants be eligible for re-election or to have a longer mandate. The likely result is a stalemate in the reform process and Tokyo’s intemperate response has made that outcome even more likely. Chinese hostility and potential veto make the other reform proposals.
Speaking before the Beijing parade, Ban’s office said he “believes that it is important to reflect on the past, look at the lessons we have learned and how we can move ahead to a brighter future based on these lessons.” Shinzo Abe should have drawn some lessons. He would have been better accompanying his former colleague Tomiichi Murayama to Beijing and reinforcing his historic apology for the war in 1995 in Beijing.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

Nuance not Slogans for new non-New Labour Foreign Policy

Tribune : Ian Williams
Published: September 27, 2015 Last modified: September 22, 2015

As Robin Cook said, foreign policy must have an ethical dimension. He was cannily aware that nations have interests and that rules are, shall we say, guidelines. If Jeremy Corbyn is in Number 10 in the future, he too will have to confront real life ethical conundrums – and dare one commit thoughtcrime in this new age? Tony Blair was sometimes right. His action outside the United Nations chain of command in Sierra Leone was beneficial and effective in relieving the misery. He was also right over Kosovo where faced with unreasonable vetoes in the UN Security Council, it was right for Nato to threaten to invade – and if Bill Clinton had not disclaimed that option early, Slobodan Milosevic would have folded without the messy diversion of high level bombing designed to minimise American casualties. Without Blair’s efforts, the ethnically cleansed Kosovars would probably still be in refugee camps across the Balkans.
Iraq was different. The last invasion was disastrous for Iraq, the region – and for international law. As the Chilcot Inquiry should show, even through the layers of whitewash it has been accumulating over the years, it was an unnecessary and illegal war. Blair did serious damage to the growing concept of Responsibility to Protect by invoking humanitarian intervention as an excuse for Iraq, when he realised that the nebulous weapons of mass destruction were not going to solidify.
As an MP with an internationalist outlook, who has show deep concern for human rights and violations of international law, one would hope that a Corbyn administration would actively support moves to implement R2P, perhaps Kofi Annan’s greatest achievement, which is actively supported by Ban Ki-moon.
Annan got the 2005 summit of world leaders to declare that the UN’s enforcement clause, Chapter VII, is not restricted to conflicts between states, but also applies to mass violations of humanitarian law within states. That creates obligations on all members of the UN, and even more so on permanent members, to be able and ready to answer such calls for assistance. That should be taken into consideration as we correctly question the size, cost and purpose of the armed forces.
There might be pragmatic limits, but the United States veto on behalf of Israel in the Security Council should not inhibit a Labour government from taking action to deal with trade and aid for illegal settlements to implement existing resolutions.
Fulfilling Britain’s full potential in the United Nations might also involve a much more active role in the European Union. For a start, a joint declaration by Britain and France renouncing or limiting the conditions under which they use the veto could send an ethical signal to other existing or potential permanent members. On many issues, especially in the Middle East, the EU members collectively return resounding abstentions, and one reason cited has been Britain’s deference to American positions of unconditional support for Israel. More active British diplomacy would actually have a leveraged result in the general assembly and send the clear signals that Benjamin Netanyahu is currently not getting.
Which brings us to relations with the US. Pragmatically, when people talk about the special relationship in Washington it is the one with Israel, not with Britain. There is no British lobby in Congress to threaten electoral defeats.
However, it is also true that US administrations do genuinely want to have Britain onside for parlous initiatives. It is likely that British resistance to Iraq would have headed off the war instead of egging it on as Blair did.
The fervent ineptitude of Washington against Cuba and Venezuela, or indeed Putin’s Russia, should not blind us to the genuine authoritarian cast of those regimes. The 1945 Labour Government’s attitude to Russia was moulded by Moscow’s treatment of socialists in Eastern Europe and none of these icons of the far left have shown much more tolerance for dissent. A Labour prime minister has to steer between fostering delusions of grandeur of Britain’s reflected power from the so-called special relationship, and a Chomskyite world view that not a sparrow falls without the CIA targeting it. Geopolitics calls for nuance, not slogans.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Two Cheers for Obama!


Written By: Ian Williams
Published: August 7, 2015 Last modified: August 8, 2015
Attacked almost as fervently by the left as by the right, Barack Obama is now doing what second-term presidents often do – looking to his legacy. He has been remarkably successful, not least in the face of a rabidly hostile right wing in Congress and with a frequently lukewarm Democratic Party in support. Many Democrat legislators would make New Labour’s worst sound like Bolsheviks in comparison.
For Americans, Obamacare is his signature legacy. Although deeply flawed in comparison with a single payer system, compared with what passed for healthcare before, it is a huge step forward. Like most American legislation, it is a complex product of messy compromises with the pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies which had to be persuaded not to kill the reforms completely It is sad but true that while donors have considerable influence in the Tory Party, and were gaining it rapidly in New Labour, in the United States, quite often they literally write the law. That is one of the reasons why donor-driven policy making has failed to reform the American financial system since the sector is a major donor to the Democrats.
Even so, Obamacare has offered millions of Americans health insurance coverage who could not afford it before and has even managed to constrain the cost inflation that has already made American healthcare the most expensive in world. Diehard Republicans have tried more than 50 times to repeal it. The Republican leadership is glad at the failure. Depriving millions of voters of healthcare in the run up to an election would have brought reality crashing down on the empty rhetoric of the Republican right.
Foreign policy is a traditional recourse of second-term presidents trying to make the history books and here Obama has faced down strong lobbies such as the Israel and Cuba to make a mark. It is only a couple of decades since Bill Clinton bowed down to the Cuban American Foundation and ratcheted up sanctions against Havana in return for campaign donation. Obama has now finally normalised relations with Cuba and is surviving unscathed. Third-generation Cuban Americans now either don’t care or even actually welcome more access to their ancestral homeland. The business community is more concerned with getting its toe in the door than closing the gate on Cuba business. It has long been clear even to the more rational American conservatives that Cuba is no threat to the US nor to the hemisphere and that the policy has been counterproductive. The domestic lobby was moribund, and internationally there was nothing but praise for the move.
Over Iran, he has had to work much harder to overcome the prejudices and passions against Teheran where there are unlikely allies from the Saudis to the Israelis uniting to sabotage the deal. Obama has had to take on the mother of lobbies, AIPAC and its allies, exhorted on by Benjamin Netanyahu and a host of derangedly conservative Likudnik billionaires. Again, he saw his chance. Polling showed that Netanyahu’s support among the American Jews was minimal. Fewer and fewer American Jews see their identity as particularly tied to Israel and, like the general American public after Iraq and Afghanistan, even fewer relished the idea of another all-out war in the Middle East – let alone the one that the Israeli leadership is so ostentatiously trying to provoke. John Kerry and Obama have kept the line to get the agreement which is now enshrined in United Nations Security Council resolution 2231. Netanyahu’s attempts to interfere directly in Washington’s foreign policy decisions have been so outrageous that he might well have alienated the Democrats away from the hitherto unbreakable bipartisan support for the Israel lobby.
But Obama’s administration is so overcome with its own temerity that it shows signs of the “fight or flight” syndrome. The release of the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is clearly an attempt to compensate Netanyahu, as is the public talk of increasing military and economic aid. So, can he force a durable Middle East peace settlement on Netanyahu and Israel? It was one of his first avowed ambitions on taking office, and after all the humiliations he has endured at the hands of Israel’s Prime Minster, it would be of deep personal and historical significance to pull it off now with political pressure instead of the traditional pandering.
About Ian Williams
Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

Friday, July 17, 2015

50 Shades of Grey remaindered: From Sanders to Syriza, Moving Right is Wrong for Democratic Socialists!

50 Shades of Grey remaindered: From Sanders to Syriza, Moving Right is Wrong for Democratic Socialists!


Written By: Ian Williams
Published: July 11, 2015 Last modified: July 8, 2015
The worldwide triumph of mediocrity demands explanation. Across the globe, politics seems to have been abandoned to uncharismatic personalities who make the average bank manager look glamorous. Almost the only thing that makes the favourites’ line-up for the Labour Party leadership less yawnable is the Republican presidential primaries in the states, where there are so many runners that one Congressman issued a press release to announce he was not standing.
Surely it is time to revive the tale of the emperor’s new clothes: to point out and pillory the nakedness of the new statesperson. In fact, nudity would be an interesting step up for most them. One reason for the ubiquity of the 50 shades of grey among politicians is that our current imperial tailors are spin-doctors who weave their fabric from focus group fodder. They follow the Clintonian and Blairite principle of looking for a numerous enough group of people amidst whom to hoist their standards regardless of any political principles. Bashing unions, or immigrants, or the unemployed, if that’s what the tabloids want, they will chase then them down the foxhole.
This bizarre New Labour outlook is why so many candidates arrogantly assume they can ignore what members and voters say, and instead play to the media gallery, which is located in some alternative universe where There Is No Alternative to austerity and preferential taxation for plutocrats. The dismissive comments on Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of support among parliamentary apparatchiks is symptomatic of their unconcern for what members and traditional Labour supporters want. As New Labour fades into historical oblivion, like Alice’s Cheshire Cat, the last thing we will see is the smug smile on the face of the fat cats as they take their profits and run offshore.
Here in the United States, the Republican line-up is almost a vindication of market principles. Rarely has there been such a collection of spectacular market failures, usually rescued by family or government money. Donald Trump is the most outstanding blow-hard whose horrifying support among Republican voters typifies HL Mencken’s prediction. “On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Trump’s big defence of his business acumen is that he has never been personally bankrupt, and he can rely on the amnesia of the morons and the media to overlook the repeated collapse of his businesses, the Trump Plaza hotel, the Trump Shuttle airlines and the sundry casinos. That, in its way, is iconic. As with Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates, their business failures are all too oft interred with their nomination papers. Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose minions closed access from the George Washington Bridge to a town whose mayor would not endorse him as governor, wins the chutzpah award for his candidacy.
While these murky candidates, Labour or Republican, tend to get respectfully coverage, it is interesting to check out worldwide who is getting the crowds. In the US, media attention is overwhelmingly on the pundits’ choice, Hillary Clinton. She is well known, and a woman, so almost an automatic choice among the type of American liberals who overlook the historical gender triumphs of Ladies Macbeth and Thatcher. However, despite media bubble, the crowd puller on the hustings is not the former First Lady and accomplice to Clinton’s war on welfare, but Bernie Sanders. He is the only avowedly socialist senator, and running for the Democratic primary. It is perhaps a token of his potential that the Democratic machine in New York State is trying to keep him off the primary ballot there. While Hillary and the Republicans are tapping the usual billionaire suspects, Bernie has been very successful in raising lots of small donations from well-wishers.
It has to be said that while Bernie does not exactly have the glamour, nor even the oratorical skills of his rivals, he more than makes up for it with the sincerity of his democratic socialist ideals. And now we have an inspiration. The triumph of the Yes vote in Greece shows that, in the end, principles may be rewarded. Syriza should be an example to us all.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Now you see It, Now you don't. Names on the Offenders' List.

United Nations Report

Although Left Off List of Offenders, Israeli Crimes Against Children Detailed in Report

By Ian Williams

Leila Zerrougui, the secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, addresses the Security Council open debate on the issue, June 18, 2015. (U.N. PHOTO/EVAN SCHNEIDER)

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. 

Friends in High Places

Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: June 14, 2015 Last modified: June 9, 2015
It helps to have friends in international politics and currently there are many examples of how it trumps any other principles. Saudi Arabia is blockading humanitarian aid to Yemen, dependent though it is for 90 per cent of its food on imports. It is also intensively and illegally bombing its impoverished neighbour. Realising, perhaps, that an action replay of Israel devastating Gaza is not good public relations, the Saudis offered to bankroll the entire $274 million United Nations appeal for humanitarian aid to Yemen. However, there is no sign of the money, while its promise might well have dissuaded other donors who thought that if the Saudis broke Yemen, let them fix it.
There is an amazing silence about the Saudi blockade of Yemen. In fact, one of the few to raise the issue, even obliquely, was the new United Nations humanitarian head Stephen O’Brien, the former Tory MP. (Incidentally, showing that friendship does not cure all, David Cameron had tried repeatedly to foist his  utterly unqualified chum Andrew Lansley for the job but even mild-mannered Ban Ki-moon stood his ground and refused.)
Visiting Yemen is disconcerting. The habit of chewing qat has the locals’ cheeks puffed up like a hamster’s pouch, but the local politics are hard to swallow as well. The Houthi “rebels” are neither Shi’a nor Iranian stooges, but have legitimate grudges against the former government in Saana. But then almost any Yemeni who was not being cut in for the president’s corruption had a grudge.
Which is one reason why what the Saudis are doing there is not only illegal and immoral, it is a mistake, compounded by all the other countries mesmerised by Saudi money who, even if they have not joined in the Saudi assault, are not striving to restrain them. To be fair, it is not just the Saudis. They have learnt from their new allies, the Israelis, that all one has to do is to make the equation that Shi’a equals Iranian equals Muslim extremism and terrorism, and everyone shuts up.
Hence one of the more bewildering couplings of the decade – Israel and Saudi Arabia. One of the few times that the Israel lobby was defeated in Washington was by, of all people, US President Ronald Reagan, who wanted to sell advanced surveillance aircraft to the Saudis. It was an exercise in reflexive anti-Arab prejudice by the lobby, since the Saudis were no military threat to anyone. Reagan won because he marshalled the military-industrial complex lobby to fight for their
right to amass petrodollars by selling unnecessary but prestigious and expensive hardware to the sheikhs.
Fast forward to the present, and we have an Israeli-Saudi axis banging the war drums in syncopated harmony against Iran, and conspiring to subvert the White House’s efforts to come to a deal with Teheran. One does not have to be a fan of the ayatollahs to wonder at the strange partnerships here.
Iran has many faults. But it has fewer than the Saudis by any standards. Iran’s Jews might have a hard time. Saudi Arabia’s don’t since there aren’t any. There have been questions raised about the standards of Iranian elections, but when did anyone last question the results of a Saudi election. Yes, Iranian women have to wear a headscarf, but when they do they can go to work – and drive there. Saudi money was deeply involved in bankrolling the World Trade Centre attacks. It has bankrolled the most primitive and recidivist fundamentalists from Afghanistan to Syria . And while we rightly deplore Iran’s emulation of the United States and China in executions, Saudi Arabia’s 88 public decapitations seem to have avoided the obloquy that Islamic State’s showier practices attract.
Saudi Arabia has come of age. It joins Israel as a country totally dependent on US military back-up while cocking a snook at the US President and getting protection at the UN. And to show the benefits, repeated lobbying by Samantha Powers, US Ambassador to the UN has secured the deletion of Israel from a report listing Israel as a maltreater of Palestinian children not least during the Gaza assault. However, it is a mixed victory: UN officials point out that the elbow twisting meant Hamas, which was also listed, is now dropped off as well, but that the actual annexe to the report details all the evidence which supported the listing. Who knows, someone might have the courage soon to point a finger at the Saudis’ blockade as a reason for Yemeni suffering.

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

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (r) meets with Kim Bolduc, his Special Representative and Head of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). (UN PHOTO/EVAN SCHNEIDER)

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. 

Ian Williams 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

AIPAC, Graham, Netanyahu and the Utter uselessness of the Quarter

WRMEA, May, 2015, pp. 20-21

United Nations Report

Three New Amigos: Graham, Netanyahu And Blair

By Ian Williams

Tony Blair
International Quartet special envoy Tony Blair at a July 15, 2014 press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Still criticized in Britain for his role in helping George W. Bush launch the 2003 war on Iraq, Blair more recently has been attacked for focusing more on his own economic interests than in bringing peace to Palestine and Israel. (ILIA YEFIMOVICH/GETTY IMAGES)

“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 <>.