Archive | August, 2018

Revisiting the Earth Charter

27 Aug

[Prefatory Note: The following essay will appear as a chapter in Peter Burden & Klaus Bosselmann, eds., The Future of Global Ethics(Edward Elgar, 2018),  with the title ]

 

 

Revisiting the Earth Charter 20 Years Later: A Response to Ron Engel

 

 

Ron Engel has articulated an insider review of the Earth Charter so thoughtfully, urbanely, and persuasively that my initial temptation was to restrict my response to a single word: ‘Amen!’

 

Yet I am familiar enough with the academic ways of gathering diverse voices to explore a topic or to evaluate the scholarship of a distinguished author, as to discard my one-word option. At the same time, it would be misleading if I didn’t praise Ron Engel for putting so many elusive issues before us in such a lucid and compelling manner as to make my efforts at dialogue feel a bit forced, given the high level of agreement.

 

This endorsement of Engel’s call to action for the realization of the ambitious goals of the Earth Charter does not strike me as particularly dialogic, but rather as expressive of the importance of transnational consensus-building at this stage among the likeminded constutency of ecological worried on the crucial transformative challenges that lie at the heart of the making the Earth Charter into a Plan of Action, or at the very least, a manifesto. In effect, if the Earth Charter presents the vision, a manifesto could implore implementation by identifying what needs to be done, and by whom.

 

Can we amid the complexities and contradictions of the historical present identify agents of change or social forces comparable to the manner in which Marx and Engels interpreted the role of the working classes in mid-19thcentury Europe? Without differing from Ron Engel except in choice of words, I am wondering how to achieve political traction for a transformative political movement that agrees with him that the most formidable obstacles lying on the path leading toward planetary peace and justice are ideologies and practices associated with neoliberal capitalism and its strong linkages of mutual dependence with militarized governmental bureaucracies.

 

In recent years this toxic set of institutional/ideological linkages has been able to divert the peoples of the world and most governing elites from the challenge of restoring pre-industrial ecological integrity to such issues as the threats to civilizational coherence posed either by transcivilizational migratory flows that expose the fragility of democratic values and practices, climate change, various forms of globalization that reinforce inequalities and enrage those feeling themselves left behind. In reaction, many populated and affluent societies of the world have perversely placed their trust, and their future, in demagogic leaders and ultra-nationalist political parties who proclaim anti-ecological agendas in spirit and substance.

 

In light of this, it does seem rather utopian to situate current hopes on the ecological radicalization of democracy in ways that insist on the implementation of equality across the spectrum of human concerns and even extend the boundaries of ethical sensitivity to encompass non-human species. Can we, in other words, really rely on the peoples of the world to form a movement powerful enough to bring the Second Axial Age into being, especially at a time when the transcendent values of the First Axial Age are being so widely betrayed? At least, we need some exploration of why such a belief in the reinvigoration of democracy is not a mere exercise in wishful thinking, and needs to be put aside if we are to contemplate the future with an open mind.

 

I admit that if a skeptical eye is turned toward the present potentialities of democracy, we need to ask, ‘what then?’ to escape from falling into a dark pit of despair. Certainly, none of the now competing secular ideologies, or their religious analogues, seem capable of taking on such a mission. It could be that we are experiencing nothing more than a democratic pause, and that there will be a dialectical renewal of democracy in reaction to the dominant autocratic/populist political trajectories that now seem to be moving the world toward ecological crisis, if not catastrophe.

 

We need to remember that the best Athenian minds, including Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, all lost faith in democracy due to the capacity of demagogues to turn the citizenry of their city into a frenzied warmongering mob that made Athens succumb to its own hubris. This surrender has often been misunderstood and misapplied by the power-mad realists shaping global governance in its present hybrid mixture of statism and geopolitics, the chaos of interacting sovereign states ‘disciplined’ by the grand strategies of the dominant states. The Melian Dialogue in Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, is often cited by writers on international relations to show that in the foreign encounters of states, power counts, and that’s it, with reliance place on Thucydides’ often invoked arresting words: “”those who have power do what they like, those who do not, do what they must.”[1]A more careful reading of Thucydides’ whole history shows that this first great historian of warfare was using this apparent whitewash of cruelty and opportunism in war as indicative of Athenian decline, and not as a comment on the way the world works. It was suggesting to attentive readers that those who do not respect universal morality in dealing with their weaker adversaries will themselves perish before long. This is a message our militarist political elites refuse to heed or even receive, and are aided in doing so, by think-tank realists and power hungry academics who wrap themselves in the false flag of ‘realism.’

 

Perhaps, the most startling claim in Engel’s essay is that the Earth Charter is actually illuminating the ontological essence of human reality. Such a bold assertion sets the agenda of the Second Axial Age as above all tasked with converting this sense of humanity as ecological beings into a living historical reality. By invoking ontology Engel is claiming that Earth Charter perspectives depict “the essential structure of reality” that definitively establishes the moral boundaries of human endeavor and grounds hope for a relevant global movement for self-government as necessarily responsive to this understanding.

 

I share the view of Engel that we must keep focused on what is necessaryand desirable, and not let our views of the future get hijacked by the self-interested entrepreneurs of what is feasibleand reasonable who continue to exert near monopoly control over the exercise of political and economic power.Among the most insidious of these entrepreneurs are the corporatized media giants that feed our minds with a false confidence in the normalcy of our times, thereby distracting us from an appreciation of the urgent priorities that stem from its unprecedented systemic abnormality. This media spin on the contemporary world obstructs most efforts to achieve a relevant critical awareness. Without such an awareness, the needed emergent consensus on who we are and how we should behave is situated on a terrain that is out of human reach. Instead of an ecologically driven focus, the mainstream media is leading the worthy fight in so many places to protect freedom of expression from statist and corporate encroachments, thereby offering a better understanding of the abuses attributable to autocratic forms of governance operating at the level of the state.

 

While this struggle is truly significant, and must be waged, it is not as central as is the struggle to recover am ecological sense of our beingness-in-the-world, a sense that came naturally to many native peoples around the world whose existence was not only suppressed and exploited, but their wisdom discarded by reductionist and hegemonic versions of how human society interacts with its natural surroundings. At the very time when we need to be conditioned by the ecological imperatives of a new global ethics, most societies are in the grips of these earlier struggles to avoid slipping into 21stcentury versions of the dark ages or at best making themselves content with being ‘entertained’ while the fires of ecological disarray move ever closer. In this sense, the political struggles being waged are tinkering with the modalities of how human society manipulates nature for its benefit instead of recovering modalities of mutuality and reciprocity that can produce structuralchanges as well as fight policy battles within anachronistic ontological frameworks.

 

What is possible and necessary, and follows from the coherence of the Earth Charter, and our recognition of the truthfulness of its presentation of reality, is altering the sense of citizenship and political participation, at least for those of us that endorse the vision. I find that the call for global citizenship, which Engel affirms, to be somewhat misleading. Citizenship presupposes community, and what is lacking at present is any meaningful sense of global political community. For the overwhelming multitude of people the boundaries of territorial sovereign states exhaust the content of political community. Moving toward an ecological civilization will require the emergence and construction of a genuine and robust global community, but that is a project for the future rather than presenting an existing alternative. It is a task for the future, and needs to be identified as such to avoid a purely nominal claim of globalcitizenship in a global setting shaped by nationalist ideologies that inhibit in the name of traditional patriotism, any real engagement with either species or ecological wellbeing, especially when these normative strivings are seen to place burdens on the pursuit of nationalist priorities. For this reason, I prefer the language of ‘citizen pilgrim’ as self-identifying those of us seeking to construct a global community that is organized around global ethics of the sort that flows from an acceptance of the worldview embedded in the Earth Charter. In my imaginary, the citizen pilgrim is embarked on such a journey equipped with maps that locate no fixed destination, but dwell upon the idea, at once spiritual and material, of establishing a global community by stages as opportunities arise.

 

In the background of such musing, is a problematic sense that the United Nations, as the institutional center of the international legal order, was supposed to prefigure such a global community. From a reading of the Preamble to the UN Charter it was clear that the new organization was expected to promote humaninterests rather than provide an additional vehicle for realization of nationalinterests. Such an idealistic perception of the UN was always doubtful, and at most expressed a vague expectation to be fulfilled at some distant time in the future. The constitutional makeup of the UN reflected the anarchic workings of existing world order, giving priority to the equality of sovereign states as against the claims of either people or nature and allowing the dominant states to use their right of veto so as to opt out of their obligations to comply with the UN Charter, as well as their geopolitical entitlement to view international law as discretionary for themselves while being mandatory for the others.

 

In light of this background, it should have been anticipated that the UN would become over time primarily an instrumentcombining statecraft and geopolitics, and only rarely a crucial venue for global policy making. As the UN has matured, it has not developed as its most ardent supporters had hoped, but on the contrary has lost much of its earlier relevance to the resolution of international conflicts, and seems more marginal than ever on the major challenges of our time. Such a generalization is not meant to withhold credit from the UN, especially from its specialized organs dealing with health, children, culture, human rights, and environment in ways that improve lives and the habitat, but within frames of thought and action that are almost totally pre-ecological.

 

At the very outset of his essay Engel delimits the overriding goal and challenge facing humanity to be one of achieving what he calls ‘a new era of global governance.’ It never becomes evident what that would entail by way of institutional and normative renovation. The realization of the Earth Charter vision would seem to depend upon the existence of institutions having as their primary mandate a mission to serve peace and justice for all peoples of the world, not by implementing the outlook of a growth-oriented developmental economy, but by reference to an ecologically infused global ethics. This undertaking is quite revolutionary in its call for reordering the values and practices that have prevailed throughoutmodern human history, it is further extended, by a fundamental ecological pedagogy insisting that we as a species can only expect to live in a sustainable manner if we also enlarge our moral and political imagination to take into account the wellbeing of non-human species.

 

What that means concretely needs to be worked out in ways that acknowledge the contradictions that exist when it comes to mediating inter-species relations on the basis of some measure of mutuality. Does it, for instance, require the adoption of a dramatic dietary embrace of vegetarianism by the entire human species, or is it sufficient to treat animals decently and killing only for subsistence as native peoples clearly did? Who is there to identify the demographic limits that meet the standards set by an ecologically grounded global ethics, and how will such limits be set and implemented? Engel regards non-violence as integral to the dynamics of the transformation expected to result from the Second Axial Age, but does that mean that security for communities can dispense with weapons and count on the disappearance of violent crime? Such questions are illustrative only.

 

I was struck by a recent report that a year ago in a penguin colony in Antarctica only two penguins survived from a birth cohort of 18,000 due to the diminished ecological conditions prevailing in their customary habitat.[2]Among the causes of such a doleful incident is industrial fishing that has greatly diminished the supply of krill on which not only penguins, but giant squid, the blue whale, and seals depend upon for sustenance. From the perspective of humane ecology, there arise a series of questions about balancing the needs and desires of the human species against the wellbeing of other species, including whether certain market driven activities should not be prohibited or severely restricted, as well as the question of who decides when the issue concerns life support in the global commons.

 

Given the gross disparities that exist in material circumstances and resource endowments in the world as we know it, is it plausible utopianism to insist on equalityas the measure of a just society, or is it more credible to settle for equity, fairness, and material needs(as already posited as human rights in Articles 25 and 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). There are many more relevant issues if the design of ecologically oriented global governance is to become, whether by stages or through a revolutionary surge, the signature achievement of the Second Axial Age. One such overarching issue is whether a kind of minimalism could fashion early effort to make the Earth Charter assume the status of being a political project, and more maximalist views being held in abeyance.

 

There is also the question of time, and the related urgency of meeting challenges that cannot await for the usual rhythms of historical change to work their way into human experience. The pace of technological innovation shortens time horizons in ways that societies seem unable to absorb, and so deny to varying extents. This seems true whether it is the advent of nuclear weaponry or digital life styles. It would seem that we are living with unrealistic calmness in the midst of a consuming global emergency. We cannot hope to achieve the vision of the Earth Charter by waiting for it to happen, and the value of Ron Engel’s essay is to impart such feelings of urgency with respect to moving from vision to action. In my terms, can a band of citizen pilgrims be the Paul Revere’s of this age, sounding alarm bells that awaken the slumbering masses before it is too late?

 

I know that some respected commentators on the global situation insist that we are already too late, have crossed vital ecological and biodiversity thresholds of no return. I resist such pessimism, or its twin, optimism, for the simple reason that the future is unknowable. If unknowable, then we share the responsibility and opportunity to work toward a preferred future. We are living in a period when the only politics that meets our needs as a species and our planet as an ecological entity is ‘a politics of impossibility,’ which is another way of saying that mastering the art of the possible has no chance of embodying the vision and values of the Earth Charter, along with Engel’s gloss, in the realities of the human future.

 

[1]Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War (Free Press, translated by Richard Crawley, 1998) 588.

[2]See article by John Sauven, director of Greenpeace, in The Guardian, Oct. 13, 2017 under the title “Penguins starving to death is a sign that something’s very wrong in the Antarctic.”

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The Future of NATO: An Interview

11 Aug

The Future of NATO: An Interview with Daniel Falcone

 

[Prefatory Note: An interview with Daniel Falcone on the future of NATO that considers Trump’s brazen challenges and the tepid responses of European political leaders, and what this interplay signifies for the future of world order. At least, Trump’s approach has so far avoided the drift toward Cold War 2 that might have happened had Hillary Clinton become president, but Trump’s trade war mentality may hasten the advent of a different kind of second Cold War, with China and Europe at its epicenter, that is, if the Trump presidency is not undermined in the November elections or otherwise. We should be puzzled by the seeming passivity of the deep state in the U.S. Does it not exist after all?]

 

 

 

 

Q1. What are the reasons for Trump’s insistence that NATO is just another extension of corruption and an institutional burden for the United States?

 

It is difficult to evaluate Trump’s particular moves from coherent rational perspectives. He seems driven by narcissistic motivations of various sorts that have little to do with any overall grand strategy, and a diplomatic style that he has managed to impose on the conduct of American foreign policy that consists of provocative bluster and insults of respected foreign leaders, a continuation of the sort of vulgar irreverence that brought him unexpected success on the presidential campaign trail in 2016 and earlier celebrity in the deal-making world of real estate, gambling casinos, beauty pageants, professional boxing, and reality TV (“The Apprentice”). Explaining Trump’s recent confrontational focus on financial contributions by NATO members seems as simple as this at first glance, but of course, such assessments based on personality never tell the whole story in the complex unfolding political narrative. Undoubtedly, another part of the story can be associated with the insistence during a Trump’s interview that Europe is a trade rival of the United States. A further conjecture may be a geopolitical ‘peace’ framework based on Russia, China, and the U.S..

 

With regard to NATO, Trump has a clear target related to two things he seems to love, and admittedly such affections were not alien to the foreign policy he inherited from his predecessors: money and weapons. By showing that he can gain what Obama failed to achieve with respect to meeting the agreed 2% of GDP goal set for NATO members, he can, and certainly will, boast of his greater effectiveness in protecting America’s material interests than prior presidents. As suggested he measures foreign policy success by reference to monetary returns and America, First (and Me, First) criteria, and tends to put to one side the solidarities of friendship among countries sharing a common cultural identity and mutual respect that have been at the core of the alliance ethos over the decades, especially in relations with Western Europe since World War II. For Trump it appears that alliances, including even NATO, are to be treated as nothing more than business arrangements that are only worthwhile so long as their profit margins hold up. This means that financial contributions become the clearest test of whether cooperative frameworks makes sense in present settings. Interests and values are put to one side while the bundles of cash are counted. In such a process, the circumstances that brought the alliance into being, or justify its continuation, are ignored. Actually, Trump could make a credible case for withdrawing from or greatly downsizing the alliance, given present world conditions, which would help reduce the U.S. fiscal deficit, as well as easing the burdens of security that fall to Washington.

 

In the end, Trump could credibly claim a narrow victory for himself at this recent NATO summit in the transactional sense of gaining assurances from the European governments that they will be increasing their defense budgets.In return Trump reaffirmed continuing U.S. support for the NATO alliance. Like a Mafioso family gathering when the cash flow is restored, friendship between European governments and Trump’s America becomes again possible, providing foreign leaders are prepared to continue absorbing the insults Trump delivers along the way, and then when they create awkward moments, as with Teresa May in Helsinki, are curtly dismissed as his own ‘fake news.’ When ‘fake’ is used to discredit the truth, trust vanishes, and one of the pillars of a healthy democracy is destroyed. We gradually lose our understanding of what is truth, and worse, no longer care or hold leaders accountable by reference to reality.

 

There is no indication of any attention given by Trump to the crucial question: whether NATO serves sufficient useful purposes in the post-Cold War world to be worth the economic costs, let alone the political costs associated with spending on weapons rather than the wellbeing of people and their natural surroundings. Would not the long overdue transition to a real peacetime security posture have many positive advantages for the U.S. and Europe, including exploring prospects for a mutually beneficial cooperative relationships with Russia and China? We have reached a stage in world history where we should be asking whether NATO might be abandoned altogether or drastically redesigned in light of the current agenda of actual global policy challenges. If NATO were converted into a vehicle for the realization of humansecurity, setting its new agenda by reference to the wellbeing of people, it would be a genuine triumph for Trump and the global public interest, but such an orientations seems well outside the boundaries of his political imagination. In fairness, no American leader has dared to adopt the discourse of human security, or questioned the continued viability of Cold War alliances and accompanying strategic doctrine, and it would be pure wishful thinking to expect such demilitarizing words to issue from the lips or mind  of Donald Trump. At least those of us who watch the Trump spectacle in bemused fear should more than ever put forward our own hopes and beliefs in broad gauged cooperation between North America and Europe based on a commitment to  peace, justice, and security, and demand that discussion of the future of the relationship between Europe and North America not be reduced to a demeaning debate about how to raise the level of military spending or keep obsolete alliances in being by the artifice of worrying only about whether particular governments are meeting the 2% goal, which seems like an arbitrary number that is unrelated to the actuality of security challenges..

Q2. How do you forecast the European reaction to the Trump commentary on NATO and could you explain how this might impact key portions of US foreign affairs?

 

Europe’s governmental response to the Trump onslaught so far has been very disappointing, while recent civil society responses in Europe has been generally encouraging. On the one side, NATO leaders seem to pout like aggrieved children, angered and humiliated, but too frightened of the uncertainties associated with confronting Trump to raise their objections above the level of a whisper. On the other side, their acquiescence to the Trump insistence that NATO viability is to be measured in dollars or maybe Euros, unaccompanied by even a pretense of putting forward a relevant substantive rationale for Cold War levesl of spending. Such passive aggressive behavior by European leaders is likely best understood as a sullen endorsement of Trumpism. In effect, the Europeans are muttering “yes, we in Europe should be allocating more of our resources to the defense budget and begin to live up to our 2% commitment” so as to keep a renewed watchful eye on Russia and go along with the slouch toward a Second Cold War. There is no justification given for supposing that Europe will be safer if more heavily invested in military equipment, and my view is that Europe would be far safer, more secure, and more serene if it instead invested these additional funds in helping alleviate the refugee challenge at both the asylum end and at its various sources where combat and climate change have made some national habitats virtually unlivable. It might be emphasized that these habitants from which people are escaping to Europe most commonly at great risk to themselves, have been rendered uninhabitable partly by industrialization in the West and by the bloody aftermath of European colonialism that left behind arbitrary borders that did not correspond to natural communities.

 

Responding to the root causes of refugee and migration pressures should be seen as a matter of long deferred collective responsibility, and not as charity or as exercises of discretion. Furthermore, if NATO were responsive to real threats to the security of Europe, including to its democratic way of life, it would focus its attention with a sense of urgency on these issues instead of implicitly preparing the continent for a new Cold War that an anti-Russian weaponized foreign policy will, ironically, help bring about, initially no doubt in the form of a destablizing arms race, and calls for raising defense spending to even higher levels.

 

Here Trump seems to have his priorities confused. At times, for instance in supporting Brexit, and now endorsing a hard Brexit and the Boris Johnson approach, Trump seems to be furthering Moscow’s prime aim of weakening the unity of Europe, while at the same time by rallying NATO members to increase military spending Trump seems to be lending credibility to Russian worries of a new Cold War.

 

Whether for personal reasons associated with his shady financial dealings and his vulnerability to blackmail or a sense that the way to bring stability to the world is to have strong leaders work together, and establish a grand alliance of autocrats, Trump’s soft spot for Putin may be preferable to what a hard-edged, NATO enthusiast like Hilary Clinton would have brought to the White House had she won the election. A Clinton presidency would almost certainly have gone easy on NATO when it comes to the economics and politics of burden-sharing while insisting on the adoption of a hardline on such geopolitical issues as Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Given the recent show of timidity by NATO leaders scared to cut the umbilical cord that has tied their security policies to the diktats of Washington ever since 1945 (with the notable exception of DeGaulle’s ‘France, First’/. leadership). We sometimes forget that aspiring to the role of global leader has always come with a high price tag, but the expense involved is more than offset by the benefits of status, heightened influence in global arenas, and a favorable positioning in the world economy, or so it seemed to the political elites of both parties until Trump through handfuls of sand into the intricate machinery of the national security state..

Q3. In the past US led and authorized NATO bombings are criticized rather easily and justifiably from the left, but what is the danger of the Trump mentality to foster a disregard for global order from the reactionary right wing? And does resistance to Trump cynicism put NATO skeptics on the left in a difficult position in your view?

 

I think that the ideological discourse has definitely been altered by Trump’s  alt-right approach to NATO. The left, such as it is, has refocused its energies on resisting what it believes to be a slide toward fascism at home arising from its correct perceptions of the Trump presidency as racist, ultra-nationalist, chauvinist, Islamophobic, subverting constitutionalism, and haunted by demagogic leadership. Those most upset with the attacks on the alliance underpinnings of NATO are not the left, but rather the more centrist liberalconstituencies encompassing moderate Republicans as well as mainstream Democrats. These are persons likely as upset by the challenge mounted by the mildly insurgent left-leaning politics of Bernie Sanders as by Trump, perhaps more so. Trump is ardently pro-business, pushed through Congress tax reform that mainly benefits those, like himself, who are part of a tiny billionaire class. What remains of the liberal establishment, whether on Wall Street or situated in the dark inner and hidden recesses of the deep state, is on the verge of tears in the aftermath of Trump’s assault on the NATO anchoring of the Atlanticist approach to American foreign policy that became so iconic for the political classes comprising the bipartisan American establishment ever since 1945.

Q4. Trump was elected partly because of what amounts to his “Me First” Doctrine as well as his “Make America Great Again” slogan. Does he in your estimation fully intend to utilize NATO in the background while appeasing his rabid anti institution base?

 

Trump and his fanatical base in the U.S. never seem far apart. Even in pursuing trade wars around the world, especially with China, that harm many of those who voted for him, his rationalizations, invoking the ‘America, First’ language and jobs rhetoric whether or not the evidence supports such claims. Apparently, so far, a relentless demagogue can fool many of the people all the time, especially by the rants of a populist politic that takes delight in scapegoating outsiders and arousing rage against the insiders who are portrayed as reaping the benefits of the international liberalism that gave us both the Cold War world economy and produced a neoliberal predatory aftermath identified in the 1990s as ‘globalization’, a view of political legitimacy that combines a private sector economy with some minimal form of democracy.

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How NATO will eventuallu fit within this Trump scheme is not yet clear, and may never be so. It seems a blustery sideshow at this point as NATO does not seem to have clear missions in post-Cold War Europe except to be a rallying center for counterterrorist tactics, which operationally depend on national policing and paramilitary capabilities. It seems that Europe is willing to pay up to sustain the NATO status quo, allowing Trump to laugh his way to the bank. NATO’s leading members are most worried these days about keeping the EU together in the face of various stresses associated with Brexit, refugees, a far right anti-immigration resurgence, and some loss of confidence in the EURO and austerity fiscal discipline. Handling Trump is an unpleasant additional chore for European leaders, but it is so far treated more in the spirit of the London protesters’ giant baby balloon, a matter of parenting, lacking real substantive weight, or so it seems. Aside from Turkey no European government seems to be considering alternative alignments now.

On the broader posture of anti-institutionalism and anti-multilateralism, Trump has kept faith with his pre-Fascist base by bullying tactics at the UN, repudiating the Nuclear Agreement with Iran, and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. These are big ticket items that represent extremely serious setbacks for responsible efforts to address challenges of regional and global scale that pose severe threats to peace and ecological stability.

Q5. Trump likes to portray himself as a populist alternative to the Bushes and Clintons and their reckless foreign policy while questioning our “exceptionalism.” In reality however we have broadened and expanded our presence around the world under Trump. Can you talk about the Trump foreign policy and how’d you categorize it?

 

Trump foreign policy, such as it is, seeks to diminish engagement with international institutions, including treaty regimes, and retain greater freedom of maneuver for the U.S. Government in international relations. It seems also to deny the reality of such global challenges as climate change, global migrations, genocidal behavior, and extreme poverty. It is definitely statist in outlook, both because of a belief in nationalism as the best guide to policymaking and problem solving, and because the United States as the richest and most powerful of states can supposedly gain greater advantages for itself by reliance on its superior bargaining leverage in any bilateral bargaining process. Borrowing from his deal-making past, Trump seems convinced that the U.S. will get more of what it wants when it deals bilaterally than in hemmed in my multilateral frameworks as in trade relations or environmental protection.

 

Beyond this kind of transactional search for material advantages, oblivious to substantive realities that make cooperative approaches more likely to achieve beneficial results, Trump has been consistent in promoting reactionary issues at home and abroad whenever given the chance, whether by tweeting or issuing executive orders. While in Europe he gave public voice via TV to an anti-immigration screed, telling Europeans that immigrants were ruining Europe, bringing to the continent crime and terrorism, a malicious argument similar to the slander of undocumented Hispanic immigrants present in the United States, some long in the country, and making laudable contributions.

 

Trump’s silences are also important. He seems determined to ignore crimes against humanity if committed by states against people subject to its authority, whether the Rohingya in Myanmar or Palestinians in Gaza. American support for human rights, always subject to geopolitical manipulation, is now a thing of the past so long as Trump hangs around, although such considerations may be cynically invoked when helpful to strengthen arguments for sanctions and uses of force against adversery states.

 

Whether wittingly or not, Trump seems determined to shatter the legacy of the Bushes and Clinton built around an American led liberal international order, but without any real alternative conception of global governance to put in its place. So far this has produced an ad hoc approach, beset by contradiction, which one day can veer in the direction of confrontation as with Iran or North Korea, or on another day seem to seek some sort of long-term accommodation with Russia and North Korea, and sometimes even China. Also evident is the extent to which Trump’s foreign policy initiatives are designed to please Israel, as with the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem announced last December, or the heightened tensions with Iran, or have no justification other than to uphold the expectations of billionaire domestic donors of his presidential campaign. And finally, there is the search for the grandiose, ‘the deal of the century,’ a breakthrough that will make Trump great for once and for many, but when more closely considered the deal, as the one in the offing to end the Israel/Palestine struggle turns out to be a house of cards, so one-sided that it effectively collapses before its absurdly pro-Israeli contents have been officially disclosed.

 

Whether by his blunt actions sowing discord or his silent acquiescence in the face of atrocities, we have reason to fear the trajectory of the Trump presidency. In this sense, the NATO performance was just a tip of a dangerous iceberg imperiling world order, but also the future of responsible and responsive governance in a period of grave danger and intense turmoil. As with the weak response of European governments to Trumpism, there is reason for disappointment about the resilience of republican institutions within the United States, including such stalwarts as separation of powers and the constitutional integrity of political parties. Alarm bells should be ringing through the night at maximum volume, but so far the silences outweigh the noise as the world slouches toward catastrophe, chaos, and cruelty.

 

Beirut Forum on Palestinian Unity and Justice: A Feminist Angle?

6 Aug

A Very Short Addendum re Beirut Forum on Palestinian Unity and Justice

 

For Stefan

 

A friend reacted to my post on the Beirut Forum of a few days ago positively with respect to the political analysis. He did have a caveat. I referred to the wife of Nabil Hallak, the principal convener, as ‘beautiful,’ which he warned me would be viewed as sexist by female readers in the current atmosphere of cultural politics.

 

Although it was my spontaneous reaction to my brief meeting with Nabil’s wife at the end of Forum I saw his point, and maybe that was the point. I realized that if the convener had been a woman, and introduced me to her ‘handsome’ husband I would never have used such an adjective of that sort to describe my favorable response. I might have said‘charming’ or ‘intelligent.’  So I dutifully edited the post, substituting the word ‘gracious’ for ‘beautiful.’

 

I cannot fully resolve the issue in my own mind. From one standpoint the celebration of the beauty of women seems intrinsic to the magical properties of the feminine, part of the joy of life, and many, if not most, women partake, devoting their energy and resources to make themselves beautiful and appealing, not necessarily, and certainly not only, for the pleasure of men, but also for each other, and for themselves.

 

From another standpoint, women through the ages and in most cultural spaces have been objectified through demeaning comments about their body, replete with sexual and sexist overtones, which have so often served as the prelude to predatory and macho behavior abusive of women. Especially in the Western sensibility of the early twenty-first century, I want to be respectful of any past pain, present fear, and whatever sentiments, memories, and resentments are attached. At the same time I am deeply reluctant to forfeit the enchantments of mutual attraction that include forms of appreciation, and recognition of gender differences and variations.

 

Although I write as a conventionally heterosexual male, conditioned to some extent by age, having lived through several earlier generations, and having been brought up by a father who loved women (too much, especially beautiful ones) while harboring conventional sexist stereotypes of his generation, I also wanted to make clear that other sexual identities can have their own distinctive sense of enchantment and beauty that warrant the same thoughtful mixture of reflection, celebration, and sensitivity.

 

I am grateful to my friend for sensitizing me somewhat to this range of unresolvable feelings and contradictory lessons from the human condition as it continues to unfold struggling to preserve its mysteries in this time of promethean claims on behalf of AI and digital algorhythm. I welcome further commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palestine, Israel, and the UN: A PassBlue Interview

4 Aug

Palestine, Israel, and the UN: A PassBlue Interview

 

 

[Prefatory Note: I am posting an interview with Dulcie Leimbach, the wonderfully

probing editor of PassBlue, an online new service covering the United Nations. PassBlue is sxc r.la nonprofit digitial journalism website covering the United Nations. Check it out: http://www.passblue.com/2018/07/24/richard-falk-on-palestine-israel-and-the-un-in-the-trump-age/

 

The interview was initially published on July 17, 2018, and Dulcie managed to get me to talk more about my personal background than I intended, but here it is for those with curious eyes, although most of the private disclosures were not in the published text. Part of the motivation for the interview stems, I suppose, from the bewilderment of how a Jewish boy from Manhattan’s West Side should become so committed to the Palestinian national struggle. I could evade the issue by insisting that before the Palestinians I was an ardent advocate of the Vietnamese people, the anti-apartheid campaign targeting South Africa, and on behalf of other peoples struggling against heavy odds to achieve their rights, including native Americans and indigenous Hawaiians. I would like to think of my commitments as flowing from a global humanist perspective rather than offering hostile critics an example of an inverted ethnic attachment that marked me at birth, but only seems relevant by referencing the still prevalent markers of a tribalized world order. As a self-proclaimed citizen pilgrim I have sought for myself the markers of an ecologically sensitive and morally attuned citizen pilgrim, and invite others to join this invisible, yet deliberately subversive and potentially transformative, world political movement.]

 

 

 

 

Dulcie Leimbach’s introductory note: Richard Falk is an American academic and writer who from 2008 until 2014 was the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Palestine since 1967, a post that nearly always invites controversy. For Falk, however, the work compelled him to declare, among other things, that Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza in 2008 amounted to “war crimes.” He has been banned from Israel since then.

 

His appointment in 2008 by consensus in the Human Rights Council was criticized at the time by John Bolton, United States Ambassador to the United Nationsfrom 2005-2006, who said,”This is exactly why we voted against the new human rights council,” and that “He was picked for a reason, and the reason is not to have an objective assessment — the objective is to find more ammunition to go after Israel.”

 

Falk, who is 87, was born in New York City and raised in midtown Manhattan. He graduated from the Wharton Schoolat the University of Pennsylvania, in 1952, before completing a Bachelor of Laws degree at Yale. He obtained a doctorate in law from Harvard University in 1962.

 

His academic career started at Ohio State University and eventually landed him at Princeton University for 40 years as a professor of international law. He is now affiliated with the University of California at Santa Barbara.

 

  1. First things first, what you have been doing since your work ended as the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967? Are you still affiliated with the University of California at Santa Barbara? You live in the city year-round, but you spend some months in Turkey, where your wife, name tk, is from and where you are right now?

 

Falk: Since ending my role as special rapporteur in 2014, I have continued to write on various international topics, publishing two books on general international relations, Power Shift: On the New Global Order, Zed, 2017) andRevisiting the Vietnam War(edited by Stefan Andersson, CUP, 2018) as well as a book on the ongoing Palestinian national struggle, Palestine Horizon: Toward a Just Peace, Pluto, 2017).  I was also the co-author with Virginia Tilley of a controversial report to the UN Economic and Social Council of West Asia [ESCWA], released on March 15, 2017, as to whether Israel’s practices and policies toward the Palestinian people amounted to apartheid. The report was harshly attacked by Ambassador Nikki Haley with a demand that it be repudiated by the new UN secretary-general, António Guterres. Haley’s rant included an attack on me but without any specific criticisms of either my record or the report. The SG ordered the report removed from the website of ESCWA, but its director [Rima Khalaf, a Palestinian living in Jordan] resigned in protest, explaining her reasons in an open letter to the SG, rather than follow this instruction. Formally, the report has never been repudiated, has been officially archived by ESCWA and was always meant to be an academic study without necessarily pretending to reflect UN thinking with a clear disclaimer to this effect.  Of course, the fury of the attack gave this otherwise obscure report much more attention than it would otherwise have likely received. The text is available on several websites under the title, and has been published in French, Spanish, and Arabic. Here is a helpful link.

“Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, March 15, 2017.

 

I am continuing to live most of the year in Santa Barbara, where my wife and I both maintain an affiliation with UCSB, as research fellows. We do spend several months in Turkey every year, and have some academic and journalistic affiliations there. I am currently completing work on a volume of my collected writings over the years on issues affecting nuclear weapons, as well as struggling with a memoir. All in all, I think I am entitled to claim “an active retirement,” at least from Princeton, where I taught from 1961-2001.

 

  1. What is it like to be in Turkey now, as an American, as the nature of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “executive presidency” becomes apparent?

 

Falk: This had been a period of intense contestation in Turkey, especially in view of the national elections on June 24, the most important in the history of the country, which not only resulted in the re-election of Erdogan as president, but involved implementing the constitutional transformation of Turkey from being a parliamentary system to a presidential system with a very strong concentration of power in the presidency and few of the constraints that we associate with a “republican democracy” (checks and balances, separation of powers, independent judiciary, human rights as beyond governmental reach). At the same time, two things should be kept in mind: the changes have not yet altered state/society relations in Turkey; what had previously been done by Erdogan in a de facto manner over a period of almost 16 years is now given the blessings of law, making it de jure. Also, it should be remembered that before Erdogan and the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] came on the scene, the elected government was subject to a military tutelage system with periodic coups taking place whenever the military leadership felt dissatisfied with the policies pursued by the elected leaders. It should also be kept in mind that when the Turkish government made many changes enhancing human rights in the early years of Erdogan leadership, from 2002-2009, partly to satisfy its ambition to gain membership in the European Union, it received no encouragement; in fact, the opposite. Nevertheless, in the period since the failed coup of July 15, 2016, there has been a serious repression of dissent, affecting freedom of expression in universities, media and the governmental civil service, as well as a clampdown on the Kurdish national movement. There are extenuating circumstances, involving the penetration by the [Fethullah] Gulen movement of all sectors of government, as well as security threats from the conflicts in the region. The Erdogan leadership has delivered many benefits to the more disadvantaged classes in Turkey and public funds for development of the previously neglected eastern part of the country.

 

  1. Your work as the UN special rapporteur was controversial, given the topic of Palestine. The US government, including Susan Rice, as ambassador to the UN, consistently rejected your findings. How did you feel when your work was refuted by the US? Would you have done your work differently, in hindsight?

 

Falk: I felt during the period disappointed by the criticism from high officials in the US government (during the Obama presidency) and that of a few other governments (Canada, Australia, UK), which seemed in all instances to be based on pressures exerted and “information” supplied by ultraZionist NGOs, such as UN Watch and NGO Monitor. These pressures took no account of the substance of my reports but attacked me as biased and unbalanced, misleadingly referring to my supposed views on other issues, taking them out of context and then exaggerating their contentions. I realized when I accepted the position that some of this defamatory pushback came with the territory, but its intensity and personal invective surprised me somewhat, as well as the irresponsible reinforcement by high officials in my own government. I would not report differently in hindsight.

 

I have told journalists that anyone with 10 percent objectivity would come to the same assessment of Israeli occupation policies and practices from the perspective of international humanitarian law. There was no need to be balanced to reach these conclusions, as the realities associated with Israeli control of Occupied Palestine were so clear, and really mostly beyond dispute and often confirmed even by official Israeli sources. I came to the view that this explains why the pushback on criticism of Israel is not substantive, but focuses on killing the messenger while ignoring the message, and even in discrediting the institution rather than refuting the criticisms.

 

  1. What was the most rewarding aspect of your work as UN rapporteur? How can the role of the rapporteur be enhanced and more influential more generally?

 

Falk: I found that despite the attacks that were directed at me, and possibly partly because of them, there was much offsetting appreciation from many governments, including those in Europe that conveyed views privately that were more critical of Israel than the posture taken publicly. Within the UN, my reports did have some effect on changing the discourse with respect to the use of some words that were more illuminating than the standard ways of describing the situation. For instance, talking of “de facto annexation” with respect to the impact of settlement expansion in the West Bank rather than the static term “occupation,” and calling attention to the “colonialist” nature of the dispossession of the native population, which was a long-term phenomenon continued after the mass dispossession in the 1948 War through the “settlements,” which violated Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

 

I also discovered that several important governments relied on my reports to shape their understanding of the situation, and shaped their policies responsively. Perhaps, most importantly, these comprehensive reports that I submitted twice a year (once to the Human Rights Council in Geneva and once to the General Assembly in New York) were relied upon by many influential groups in the NGO world, including religious organizations like the World Council of Churches. The role of special rapporteurs [SRs] has become more recognized in recent years, and receives more attention and respect from the global media. The position is unpaid and voluntary, and as a result, SRs are not formally part of the UN civil service, giving those selected a valuable degree of independence, and this has come to be more widely understood in public spaces concerned with various issues of global concern. Even in the face of my difficult tenure, many excellently qualified persons applied to be my successor, and despite a great effort being made by the US government and Israel to influence the electoral process in the Human Rights Council, which did have some effect in disqualifying suitable candidates, but not enough to avoid the selection of someone who has turned out to be as critical of Israel as I was, Michael Lynk, a widely respected law professor from Canada.

 

  1. What do you see as the most profound changes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since you stopped being the UN rapporteur?

 

Falk: The advent of the Trump presidency has changed the tone of the relationship between the United States and [Israel] with Washington abandoning any pretense of impartiality, making clear that Palestinian interests and concerns are irrelevant to the US government’s public discourse and concrete policies. This development has been accentuated by the shifts in approach taken by Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have been outspoken in their comments encouraging the Palestinian Authority to accept whatever is offered to them by Washington.

 

In the opposite direction, the BDS [Palestinian-led  and originated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] Campaign, having its 13thanniversary, has gained momentum in the last year, and governments, including South Africa and Ireland, are moving toward endorsements of boycotts. There is also a sense in the European Union that if a diplomatic solution is to be reached it will require a more balanced intermediary than what the US has provided.

 

In this context, Israel has felt empowered to move to maximize settlement expansion

and legalization (within Israeli law), while using excessive force in response to shows of Palestinian resistance.

 

The most basic development in the last few years has been the marginalization of the Palestinian issue due to the priorities of leading Arab governments, the sense that further diplomacy is futile, and some international acceptance of the Israeli claim that the conflict is essentially over, and a “solution” can be reached only if Palestinians can be persuaded to accept political defeat, abandoning their struggle to achieve the central national goal of self-determination, and some kind of sovereign polity, whether in a two-state or one-state format.

 

  1. Do you think President Trump has an actual peace plan? If so, what do you know about it and how do you think Palestinians will react to it? Some people think Trump will announce the peace plan close to US midterm elections in November to boost the prospects of the Republican party?

 

Falk: My understanding of the Trump proposals is that they are built around the idea of “economic peace,” — support for enhancement of Palestinian material circumstances and daily experience, if and only if the political goal of genuine statehood and the normative pursuit of self-determination are quietly renounced, or nominally satisfied in a way that does not emancipate the Palestinian people from the realities of subjugation. Such proposals are likely to be so unsatisfactory to the Palestinian leaders and public, including from the perspective of the quasi-collaborationist Palestinian Authority, as to be rejected without any effort to negotiate on such a one-sided basis. If this happens, Israel will rejoice, and Trump will almost certainly condemn the Palestinians as “rejectionist,” allowing the Israelis to insist, as they have in the past that they have “no partner” in the search for peace.

 

How this turn of events will play politically in the US prior to the midterm elections is hard to foresee. Trump may get some credit from his base by claiming that he has done his utmost to promote peace, but could not overcome Palestinian rejectionism. Without much doubt, his main Zionist donors will express some gratitude by upping their donations, but whether this will make any tangible difference in an election that is almost certain to be essentially a popularity contest about Trump and Trumpism, even though the November elections are limited to Congressional races. Aside from the balance between pro- and anti-Trump sentiments, the Republican electoral performance will likely hinge on the public perception of economic factors, and may reflect the outcome of the Mueller investigation, especially if the Special Counsel submits his final report in October, as rumored. As Mueller was my senior thesis advisee 52 years ago at Princeton, I have some sense as to his style of reasoning, and believe there are grounds for supposing that he will follow the trail of the evidence wherever it might lead. I attach here the link to my article that discusses what I learned from rereading his thesis a few weeks ago.  https://www.thenation.com/article/robert-muellers-undergraduate-thesis-adviser-wrote-gives-hints-hell-special-counsel/

 

 

 

  1. What do you recommend that the Palestinian leadership – Mahmoud Abbas – do for Palestinians in this increasingly difficult situation, with the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, the murders of Gazans during the Great Return March with impunity and zero progress on a two-state solution?

 

Falk: It is a difficult, no-win situation for Abbas and the PA [Palestinian Authority] in this setting. The present posture of public defiance, indicating objections to the embassy move and Israel’s use of excessive force, while collaborating with the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] in maintaining West Bank security and suppressing Hamas is not contributing to the legitimacy of Abbas as leader or the PA as international representative of the Palestinian people. Abbas is caught in a swirl of contradictory dimensions of his leadership role, which is itself under attack by Palestinians under the PA administration and throughout the refugee and exile communities.

 

There have been some less-noticed PA initiatives that disturb Israel, such as recourse to the International Criminal Court, and continuing efforts to establish the trappings of statehood via increased diplomatic recognition (over 130 countries), membership in international institutions, and adherence to international treaty arrangements. These formal developments have raised the Palestinian status as a participant in the UN system and generally, but these changes have had no positive effect on the lives of Palestinians living under occupation or in refugee camps. For Palestinians, their living circumstances have continued to deteriorate.

 

It might be possible, given other pressures for the PA to work out some sort of sustainable reconciliation with Hamas that would give the Palestinian people a more unified and credible representation in international settings. Hamas seems receptive, and has moderated its tactics, ideology and goals in recent years, but this has not led to any lasting cooperation between the PA and Hamas. Israel strongly favors maintaining these existing tensions, which are regarded as contributing some political force to their apparent interest in separating Gaza from the rest of Occupied Palestine, encouraging Jordan or Egypt to resume administrative responsibilities, and thus allay Israeli concerns about “the demographic bomb” if Israel moves toward an Israeli one-state endgame.

 

  1. Why do you think the Trump administration – and Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the UN – are seemingly so averse to remedying the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation? Do you think they have intensified the problem with their rhetoric and actions?

 

Falk: My sense is the Trump administration—and Haley as the lead voice—seek to please their domestic political base by killing two birds with one stone: attacking the UN and siding with Israel as supreme counterterrorist, anti-Islamic ally. In this regard, the policies are not qualitativelydifferent than what was done during the Obama presidency, but more bombastically and belligerently articulated by Trump and Haley, and backed by some tangible reinforcement—especially, the embassy move to Jerusalem while ignoring the massacre at the Gaza border, signaling that so far as Washington is concerned Israel can do what it wants in the name of security and without any regard to international law or UN majority views. There was almost no prospect for a sustainable peace during the Obama years and less than zero now.

 

 

  1. Is the Trump administration’s increasing global isolationism seriously damaging the UN? What do you think are the motives of Trump and Haley for walking away from many aspects and agencies of the UN, such as the Human Rights Council? What do you predict will happen to the Human Rights Council without the US as a member?

 

Falk: It is helpful to realize that the Trump hostility to the UN is part of a broader retreat from American involvement in international institutions and multilateral arrangements. In this regard, the UN posture is fully consistent with the American withdrawal from the Paris Climate  Agreement, the Iran nuclear agreement and the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP). Trump questions multilateralism in general as he seems to believe it weakens the bargaining advantages of the US as the strongest state, militarily, economically and diplomatically. For these reasons, Trump is seen as an advocate of transactionalapproaches to international cooperation based on bilateral agreements worked out by threat, coercion and, above all, reflecting disparities of power. One outcome is the unfolding trade war with China, and tension with even close allies in Europe and North America. Another is the great loss of soft power leadership that had been exercised by the US ever since World War II, a reputational decline that leaves the world without much capacity for global policymaking at a time of several urgent global challenges.

 

The Human Rights Council loses some of its stature without the participation of the US, and creates enmity by withdrawing when it could not force its will on this leading UN human rights arena. At the same time, without US obstructionism, the proceedings of the Council should be more amicable and possibly more fruitful and constructive.

 

Q If you had lunch with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, what would you say to him?

 

I would, of course, suggest meeting at the best Portuguese restaurant in New York City.

 

I would express empathy, first of all. It is not pleasant to become secretary-general at

a time during which the UN faces financial pressures and the loss of prestige due to the rise of nationalistic tendencies throughout the world, the bullying diplomacy of Haley/Trump,

the decline of human rights amid a rising tide of migration. Never has the global setting been more averse to the pursuit of UN goals. At the same time, never has the world more needed a robust global problem-solving capability. The UN suffered serious losses of credibility by its failures to protect Iraq against American aggressive warfare in 2003 and its seeming irrelevance to the Syrian strife that has continued since 2011 at great human cost.

 

I think that Mr. Guterres would do well to speak more openly and directly to the peoples of the world, accepting invitations to address influential conferences and set forth the case for a more responsible participation in the activities of the UN. His position as SG [secretary-general] still enjoys prestige as a source of commentary on the human condition — what is encouraging and what it discouraging. Along with Pope Francis, the SG post enjoys the greatest weight with respect to voicing opinions on the morality of international behavior. If Mr. Guterres articulated effectively a positive role for the UN at this stage of world history he could exert a benevolent influence on world public opinion that could affect governmental attitudes and behavior especially if there are swings back to more internationalism in important states in the next few years. In this regard, the US remains the most important national arena with respect to the UN, both because of its funding role and the symbolic fact that UN headquarters and its most important organs are situated within the US.

 

During dessert, I would encourage Mr. Guterres to focus on those issues that affect humanity as a whole, and are not currently contentious as between states. I would thus emphasize the importance of climate change, extreme poverty, nuclear disarmament and the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity. The SG has an opportunity to become the most visible exponent of the conscience of the world. I think if this were done imaginatively, with a certain ironic humor, it would have spillover effects allowing the UN to become again more effective in addressing immediate challenges in the domain of war and peace, thereby recovering from its various disappointing roles in the Arab world, including Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya.

 

To be effective, considering the UN structure, heavily weighted in favor of the five permanent members of the Security Council [Britain, China, France, Russia and the US], the SG must navigate between the pressures exerted by geopolitical actors and the high ideals and procedures embedded in the UN Charter. This requires skillful navigation, but it also holds out the possibilities of lighting candles that could Illuminate a path to a safer and more sustainable and satisfying future for the peoples of the world.

 

‘The Arab International Forum for Justice for Palestine’ (Beirut, 29 July 2018)

1 Aug

‘The Arab International Forum for Justice for Palestine’ (Beirut, 29 July 2018)

 

[Prefatory Note:I was invited to attend and speak at this Forum to be held for one day in Beirut on July 29, 2018. My initial impression after experiencing a 90 minute airport line for those carrying foreign passports to gain entry to Lebanon was that the conference was incredibly disorganized. There was no program available to the participants even after the Opening Ceremony began in a packed hotel auditorium with a crowded and passionate gathering of persons dedicated to justice for Palestine, hailing from many countries, from as far away as Mumbai and San Francisco, including diplomats, religious personalities dressed in traditional garb, and those who had kept faith over the years with the Palestinian struggle. Not surprisingly, the Irish participants stirred the crowd with their fiery eloquence, and shared experience of a somewhat similar prolonged struggle. The Forum was a microcosm of what Palestinian inclusiveness looks like. I was not really surprised that Ramsey Clark was the beloved Honorary Chair of the Conference, and learned that only a recently broken hip kept him away.

 

There were many moments of personal satisfaction during my longone day visit (that seemed like three), including a warm coffee chat with Rabi’ Bashour, recalling our ESCWA experiences, and discovering that his venerable father, Maan, was the heart and soul of the Forum, both as moderator of the event and throughout the entire process from its origins. The guiding idea of the Forum is to establish a platform that is wide enough to accommodate all tendencies in the Palestinian national movement provided there is evidence of dedication to justice for the Palestinian people. This meant Fatah and Hamas in the same room, religious figures and firmly secular persons, representatives of trade unions, student organizations, prisoner and detainee family members, women’s group, members of parties from the far left and the center (I didn’t sense any right wing participation). It was the central task of the Forum to keep this symbolic expression of Palestinian unity in robust good spirits, and only secondarily, to address matters of substance. The unspoken dream of the occasion was that the success of the Forum would lead the political leaders of the now deeply divided Palestinian movement to put aside their differences and achieve sustainable unity to pursue together the far greater convergence of goals at the core of their struggle.

 

There was a call from the podium at the outset for ‘practical proposals’ rather than just ‘speeches,’ but rhetorical style is almost impossible to discipline, and so there were an assortment of speeches mainly validated by frequent emotional flourishes throughout their delivery, yet in fairness there were several promising concrete suggestions for action initiatives.

 

I came to appreciate greatly the anarchistic style of hospitality, above all by Nabil Hallak, the guiding spirit with no observable capacity for conventional organization beyond a restless vitality that made us all feel welcome, appreciated, and well cared for. Once I relaxed about the chaotic logistics enough to go with the flow I enjoyed being in such a setting, and everything important worked out somehow. It turns out Nabil has a most gracious wife, has fought in Palestinian resistance, and as a result possesses a body that was pierced by nine Israeli bullets; nevertheless, Nabil is modest about his past, projects a joy-for-life espritand has an obvious intense dedication to the Forum as an ongoing political project. He is close to Tima Issa, a TV producer in Beirut with whom I had done a program a year ago, who extended the initial invitation and made the social dimension of my brief visit both enjoyable and memorable.]

  1. There was bright sunshine throughout the entire Forum thanks to the announcement that Ahed Tamimi and her mother were released on that very day, and boldly reaffirmed their abiding commitment to resistance. This teenage Palestinian icon from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh had completed an eight month jail term for slapping an IDF soldier after her cousin had been shot in the face. Instead of exhibiting empathy for Ahed Tamimi, Israel exhibited its vindictive approach to the Palestinian reality by jailing such a sensitive young woman rather than acting in a civilized manner by exhibiting sympathy for the normalcy of her reactions, indeed their dignity, to being a witness of such brutality by an agent of the Israeli state.

 

 

The Tamimi family were prominent resisters before ‘the slap heard  around the world.’ It was evident by the frequent reference to Ahed by speakers at the Forum that her show of defiance and youthful exuberance was worth a thousand missiles, expressing not only sumud, but also the conviction that nonviolent resistance can become transformative if adapted to the realities of an oppressive situation. Of course, not a word in theNY Timesabout Ahed’s release, while papers in Lebanon wrote complementary feature stories with sympathetic pictures of this heroine, and in every Turkish paper I saw her release was a front page story. Ahed seems comfortable with the prominence of her role despite being so young. As far as the eye can see, Ahed seems completely unintimidated by the immediate shadows cast by the harshness of Israel’s response to this totally innocent gesture of resistance.

While celebrating Ahed’s release, we should also pause to remember Razan Al-Najjar, the heroic 21-year old medic tending the wounded at the Gaza Great March of Return fatally shot on June 1st by an IDF sniper in cold blood while well apart from the demonstrators, away from the fence, dressed in easily identifiable white medical clothing, working in the vicinity of Khan Yunis.

We should also salute Dareen Tatour, fine young Palestinian poet, author of the poem ‘Resist My People, Resist Them,’ sentenced to five months in prison just now for the sin of writing defiant poetry, having only recently been released from years of house arrest, denied access to the internet, and even to her own village community.

 

 

  1. There was one feature of the Forum that made me increasingly uncomfortable as I listened to speaker after speaker pour cold water on Trump’s promise, or was it a threat, to end the conflict with ‘the deal of the century.’ When it came my turn to speak I started by admitting that I was astonished that so much attention was given to this catchy phrase used by Trump. According so much attention gave the still undisclosed U.S. proposal a political weight it didn’t deserve, and could put the Palestinians in an unnecessarily awkward, defensive, and combative position. I pointed out that Trump’s erratic approach to the world since he became president had weakened greatly the U.S. global leadership role, and that his extreme partisanship with respect to the Palestinian struggle had reduced to zero American credibility as an impartial or constructive arbiter in relation to the future of the two peoples. U.S. credibility as a peacemaker had long ago been convincingly challenged, for instance, in the devastating book by Rashid Khalidi, Brokers of Deceit, and even more comprehensively by Jeremy Hammond in his important book, `Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict (2016). It seemed to me that the words ‘the deal of the century’ had entranced and bewitched this Palestinian audience, leading to a fear that Trump had put them on a road leading to a political dead end for the Palestinian aspirations, crushing their struggle by being tricked into such a spiderweb of bombastic irrelevance.

 

What the U.S. seems ready to offer, what Israeli leaders have been talking about more and more openly, is that if the Palestinians abandon their rights along with their dreams, ‘peace’ becomes possible. This includes abandoning political goals associated with the right of self-determination. If the Palestinians are so foolish as to do this, then they can become hapless beneficiaries of ‘an economic peace’ courtesy of Israel’s generosity and charitable nature. The deal of the century reduced to substance is little other than ‘geopolitical bribery,’ exchanging some dollars for inalienable rights. In such a bargain the devil is NOT in the details, but is the essence of what is being proposed. Of course, there are almost certain also to be humiliating details involving various aspects of permanent submission by the Palestinians: acceptance of uncontested Israeli control of Jerusalem, a complete denial of any right of Palestinian refugees or exiles to return, and a series of master/servant economic arrangements. My pitch at the Forum was to put ‘the deal of the century’ in its proper perspective by ignoring it, or if it must be mentioned, then reframe all references to the deal that is less a deal that an attempted diktatby identifying it as an attempt to commit ‘the crime of the century!’

 

  1. I highlighted the second observation in my presentation by quoting the opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I felt this kind of interface well depicted the current situation of the Palestinians. It was the worst of times because the alignments in the Arab world together with the geopolitical forces seemed to favor the Zionist Project to an unprecedented degree. The major Arab governments were moving toward postures of ‘normalization’ with Israel without any longer insisting on the precondition of reaching a sustainable peace with the Palestinians. This regional setback weakened Palestine diplomatically, and materially. At the same time the Trump presidency has made no secret of its endorsement of maximal Zionist goals, agreeing to whatever Israel (and Saudi Arabia) wanted. Above all this involved ramping up a confrontation with Iran. Europe was unhappy with these developments, but has so far lacked the energy, incentive, and leadership to play a more balanced role so as to keep alive its supposed commitment to keep burning the barely flickering flame of ‘a two-state solution.’ In other words, from the international community of states, the best that can be hoped for at this stage, is a renewed show of support for the two-state mantra, itself moribund.

 

In sum, if Palestinian prospects are interpreted through the prism of standard international relations, the outlook is dismal, and not by chance this is the line being pursued by the Middle East Forum, an ultra-Zionist NGO. Its chosen mechanism is a rather diabolical scheme labeled ‘the victory caucus,’ which is actively recruiting, with a disturbing degree of success, members of the U.S. Congress and the Knesset. It wants the world to understand that since international diplomacy is dead and with Trump in the White House the occasion offers Israel the opportunity of adopting more muscular tactics to make the Palestinians understand that their game of resistance is over, that to avoid collective suicide there is no alternative left to the Palestine other than political surrender. And if the Palestinians are wise enough to accept this line of thinking, then they could become beneficiary of some variant of economic peace as a sign of Israeli gratitude.

 

Fortunately, this is not the true or real, much less the whole, story. Several recent developments have created new and promising opportunities for the Palestinian national movement to move its own agenda forward. These developments involve a welcome shift of the center of gravity of the Palestinian movement from reliance on inter-governmental initiatives, including those pursued at the UN, to a phase of struggle that combines new modes of Palestinian resistance with a rapidly expanding global solidarity movement. This solidarity movement is receiving a great boost in credibility as a result of the militant support that BDS campaign is receiving in South Africa. In effect, on the basis of their experience of racism, South Africa is delivering this urgent message to the world: we alone know the full horror of an apartheid regime, and what Palestinians are daily experiencing is a form of apartheid that is even worse to what we endured, and finally overcame by a struggle that combined the brave resistance of our people with solidarity of the world; although the circumstances are far different, apartheid in Israel can be overcome by a similar shift in the balance of forces due to an intensifying popular struggle neutralizing the repressive capabilities of military and police domination.

 

I mentioned two developments of particular importance in the emergence of this altered scenario of struggle. First, the Israeli nation-state law of the Jewish people that by its bluntness in asserting the exclusivity of Jewish rights in Israel, including that of self-determination, amounted to a formal adoption of an apartheid ideology by Israel in all but name. In effect, this development vindicated the conclusions of the ESCWA report on Israeli apartheid prepared by Virginia Tilley and myself that was condemned so fiercely by the Israeli ambassador, and even more so by Nikki Haley, the American ambassador at the UN, when it was released in March 2017. As the discourse at the Forum and the mainstream media now illustrate, it is no longer controversial to attribute apartheid to the particular Israeli mode of dominance imposed on Palestinians. What makes the nation-state law so politically helpful in this respect is that the relation of the Israeli state to its Palestinian minority was, although discriminatory, far more benign than their behavior toward refugees or Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza. Thus to acknowledge apartheid as the modus operandiin Israel itself is like a signed voluntary confession as to the character of overall domination.

 

Such an interpretation of the nation-state law is important for mobilizing popular support for more militant forms of solidarity with respect to the Palestinian people. Apartheid is an international crime, one type of crime against humanity that is set forth in Article 7 of the Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court, and deprives Israel of the propaganda value of claiming to be the only democracy in the Middle East.

 

The second development that creates opportunities for advancing the Palestinian struggle is the exposure of the violent nature of Israel’s control mechanisms by its reliance on grossly excessive force in calculated response to the Great March of Return. These demonstrations at and around the Gaza fence are demands to implement the most fundamental of Palestinian rights as set forth by international law. Killing unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition exposes to the world the violent nature of Israel’s structures of domination. This use of lethal force at the Gaza border recalls vividly the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, which many commentators identified as the point of no return for South African apartheid, revealing the true racist nature of its governing process to the world.  The Gaza massacre is actually far worse than Sharpeville, as the wilfull killing has now been repeated on a series of occasions. Further, the deliberate targeting of unarmed Palestinians has been documented, including the shooting of health workers attending those wounded in temporary facilities set up at a considerable distance from the Israeli border.

 

It is the extreme character of these two developments that provides this golden opportunity to civil society activists and their organizations to mobilize wider and deeper support for the Palestinian struggle. The BDS Campaign, already in its 13thyear, becomes more central in this effort to isolate Israel internationally and emphasize the criminal illegitimacy of Israeli apartheid. It is appropriate to mention that South Africa sought to demonize opposition to its racist policies by dubbing activists as ‘terrorists’ or ‘Communists.’ Israel uses a similar rhetorical tactic by branding its critics and activists as ‘anti-Semites.’ Although Israeli apartheid is different in many aspects from South African apartheid with regard to both internal and international contexts, both instances of apartheid involve structures of subjugation based on race with the overriding purpose of maintaining domination of one race, and the victimization of the other. South African apartheid proved vulnerable to resistance and solidarity initiatives. It is my belief that the opportunity now exists, more so than ever before, to establish a comparable vulnerability with respect to Israeli apartheid.

 

It should be appreciated that the great unlearned lesson of the last half century is that military superiority has lost much of its historical agency. The colonial wars were won by the weaker side militarily. The Vietnam War was lost by the United States despite its overwhelming military superiority. The side that control the heights of legal, moral, and political opinion most usually controls the political outcome. The Palestinians have been winning the legitimacy war to achieve such control, and so now is the time for soft power militancy to finish the job.

 

  1. Despite the implicit acknowledgement of apartheid by the adoption of the nation-state law as Basic Law of Israel, that is, as not subject to change except by enactment of another law with Basic Law status, it seem helpful to reassert the relevance of the ESCWA Report. That study, arousing great controversy at the time of release, is no longer as relevant or as needed for purpose of debating whether or not Israel is an apartheid state. Even before the Basic Law innovation, the evidence of Israeli practices shows, as the Report argues, that Israel is an apartheid state. The Report remains relevant, however, to obtain a better understanding of the distinctive and comprehensive nature of Israeli apartheid.

 

For one thing, the Report examines the allegation of apartheid from the perspective of international law as it is set forth in various authoritative places, especially the 1973 ‘International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the International Crime of Apartheid.’ Secondly, it argues on the basis of evidence that Israeli apartheid extends to the Palestinian people as a whole, not just to those living under the dual legal systems of the West Bank or as the discriminated minority in Israel. The apartheid regime developed by Israel applies also to the refugees confined to camps in neighboring countries and to those Palestinians living in Jerusalem, which is governed as if it is already wholly incorporated into the state of Israel. We reaffirm the central conclusion of the Report that the only valid path to a sustainable peace for both peoples requires the priorrejection of the ideologyand the dismantling of the structuresof apartheid. Any other purported peace process will produce, at most, a new ceasefire, most likely, with a very short life expectancy.  A secondary conclusion is that as a matter of law, all governments and international institutions, as well as corporations and banks, have a responsibility to do their utmost to suppress the crime of apartheid as being perpetrated by the leadership of the state of Israel. It also would follow that lending assistance to Israel either materially or diplomatically is now unlawful, aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise.

 

Conclusion: The time is ripe for civil society to represent the Palestinian people in their struggle against the Israeli apartheid regime. This struggle is just and the means being pursued are legitimate. Resistance and solidarity are the vital instruments by which to challenge apartheid, and its geopolitical support structure. This was the path that led to the collapse of South African apartheid, and a similar path is now available for the Palestinian struggle.