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Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

18 Aug

Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

The decision to ban, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, disgraces the leaders of both the United States and Israel, confirms the illegitimacy of both political parties by their tepid responses, and confirms once more the unhealthy relationship that has evolved between Trump and Netanyahu, these two most reactionary of political figures, and badly reflects on the political atmosphere in the countries they represent.  For an American president to encourage a foreign government to deny entry to elected members of Congress is not only unprecedented, harmful to the quality of democratic life in America, and represents a wrongful and extremely distasteful use of his position to engage in nasty partisan reelection politics aimed at the 2020 elections. This outrageous display of further impeachable behavior by Trump is further accentuated by the defamatory, as well as maliciously and demonstrably false assertions in this notorious tweet that Ilhan Omar and Rashid Tlaib, hate Israel and all Jews, and nothing can alter their views.

 

For Netanyahu, the leader of Israel, to reverse an earlier decision to allow these U.S. officials to enter the country in response to Trump’s tweet has just the reverse effect of what is claimed. By seeming to forego Israel sovereign rights in response to an inappropriate interference in Israeli public policy by the American Head of State, Netanyahu reveals to the world Israel’s weakness, not its strength, and in the process casts a dark shadow over Israel own claims of political legitimacy. As well, to give way in this unseemly manner to Trump may also prove to be a tactical blunder in the Israeli context even if it contributes one more sordid chapter to their quid pro quo relationshiip. Such a craven move by Netanyahu miight turn off just enough Israeli voters to tip the balance against the Likud Party in the forthcoming September 17thelections. Not only was Trump’s tweet an effective assault on Israeli sovereign rights, but it also undermines the long absurd propaganda claims of Israel to be a democratic state that values and protects freedom of expression.

 

After further political turmoil, Israel appeared to relent, but by affixiing humiliating conditions, and then only with respect to Rashida Tlaib. The Israeli Minister of Interior, Aryeh Deri, agreeing to a ‘humanitarian’ visit provided the Congresswoman agreed not to promote boycotts of Israel while in the country, her visit restricted to the sole purpose of visiting her 90-year-old grandmother in a small Palestinian village not far from Ramallah. After initially accepting these constraints over the intense objections of her supporters and even her family back in Palestine, Rep. Tlaib reversed her own acceptance of the Israeli conditions, issuing a statement denouncing the constraints she earlier accepted, and refusing to restrict her time in her own Palestinian homeland to a personal visit. Of course, an Israeli rebuke followed from Deri, claiming that her rejection of Israel’s humanitarian gesture exhibits the Israeli-bashing intent that motivated the factfinding visit. Deri hammered one more nail in Tlaib’s already exposed flesh: “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for grandmother.” More understandably, Tlaib also was rebuked by many Palestinians for initially accepting Israel’s conditions intense objections to her face from supporters, alleging that she fell into Israel’s trap, “and accepted to demean herself and grovel.”

 

Seeking to thread this needle separating an ill-timed family ties from her high-profile political image, Tlaib chose these words, “Silencing me and treating me like a criminal is not what she [her grandmother] wants for me—it would kill a piece of me.” Although Tlaib used poor judgment by first agreeing to Israel’s acceptance, her statement explaining her reversal a short time later, had a redemptive effect. Perhaps, more disturbing, was Tlaib’s failure to sustain a posture of public solidarity with Ilhan Omar, whose relevance was ignored in Tlaib’s three-step dance movement.

 

The distractions caused by this secondary development involving Tlaib should not be allowed to divert attention from the primary outrage resulting from the Trump tweet and Israeli gag order imposed on nonviolent advocates of the BDS Campaign, which in this instance meant banning entry to elected U.S. government officials, supposedly a super-ally.

 

In my view Israel’s decision to ban these two members of Congress can at best be considered ‘an unfriendly act’ by Israel toward its unconditional ally. This alone should persuade a self-respecting U.S. Congress to react with much more than a few empty words of disapproval. At the very least, a message of censure should be formally endorsed by the House of Representatives, and delivered to the Israeli government, which strongly discourages further visits to Israel by members of Congress until Israel announces a policy of allowing entry any American official to visit Israel without restrictions. Perhaps, a more suitable alternative would be to urge banning members of the Knesset until Israel welcomes as visitors any and all members of the UN Congress without conditions. A further appropriate step would be to condition any approval of future military or economic assistance to Israel on lifting the ban on future visits by government officials, but also ideally by all American citizens regardless of political views; After all, American taxpayers have long paid their share of the annual aid package of at least $3.8 billion, the greatest per capita amount given to any country in the world.

I believe that by singling these two members of Congress, who happen to be the first two Muslim women ever elected to the House of Representatives, in the manner of Trump’s tweet is a clear instance of racism and hate speech, especially considered in light of his past hostile statements directed at prominent women of color who dare enter political life and oppose his presidency, including his past slanders of these two brave individuals. The language of Trump’s tweet also sought successfully to interfere with their effort to engage in a legitimate legislative undertaking in a discriminatory manner, and included this inflammatory and false allegation: “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” The tweet ends with this shocking expression of hostility that demeans Trump and the Office of the Presidency rather than its intended targets, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Trump’s final tweeted words– “They are a disgrace!” It is best understood as “You are disgraced.”

 

The media at least gave major attention to this unfolding political drama, although more in the spirit of narrating a human interest story than offering a damning commentary on the anti-democratic moves of these two ‘illiberal democrats.’ Tom Friedman, never foregoing a chance to deliver fence-setting know-it-all lectures to whomever would listen, managed staked out some liberal territory by condemning the tactical damage to their own countries and especially to the ‘special relationship’ between them as a result of making the Republicans the true friends of Israel, and the Democrats not so clear, hence fraying the edges of bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel. Friedman also took the opportunity to make it clear that in his view Tlaib and Omar were not better due to their ill-considered support for BDS, which he argued dooms to two-state liberalism, and implies that by their criticism of Israel, the excluded officials are widening Jewish/Islamic cleavages rather than building bridges. [See Friedman, “If You Think Trump is Helping Israel, You’re a Fool,” Aug. 16, 2019]

Such misleading pontificating, which we should know is the standard offering of Friedman in his opinion pieces that reek of vanity and pro-establishment moralizing. It is part and parcel of the overall Zionist strategy of diverting attention from Israeli wrongdoing and criminality by discrediting the victim while airbrushing the oppressor. Here, those in genuine solidarity with sustained peace for the two peoples will not be distracted by such prevarications from the underlying encroachments on freedom of expression and the rights of an ethnically cleansed people to return to their homeland as a matter of right.

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Will Trump’s War-Mongering Lead to War with Iran

12 Aug
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[Prefatory Note: This post is an edited version of an interview on 11 August 2019 by an Iranian journalist, Nozhan Etezad, and published in Iran Newpaper. It addresses various aspects of the troubled recent relationship between Iran/U.S.]

Will Trump’s War-Mongering Lead to War with Iran

1-Why is there a contradiction in Trump’s policy towards Iran? On the
one hand, he says he wants to negotiate, and on the other, US
government is boycotting Zarif and the supreme leader of Iran. What do
think about this issue?

You are quite right to take note of this striking contradiction, but the world has cometo expect such inconsistencies in Trump’s diplomatic style between Trump’s forthcoming and forbidding sides. He is consistently unpredictable, and as such, is capable of moving without much warning in either belligerent or accommodating directions when it comes to decisions involving action. On balance, he seems to prefer negotiations to warfare. If so, it would seem sensible for top Iranian political leaders to make clear statements indicating their willingness to discuss any concerns with Trump, expressing their interest in a meeting and their commitment to the avoidance of further war endangering confrontations.

Two important unknowns should be read as qualifications to my response: how much effective pressure are outside actors putting on Trump to maintain an aggressive approach to Iran; how strong is the opposition in Tehran to any Iranian compromises or to displays of an unconditional willingness to engage in direct talks with the U.S. Government given Trump’s hostile behavior up until now. Would too great a show of eagerness for accommodation and normalization suggest Iranian weakness, including a readiness to offer concessions?

2-Some say Rouhani is not on the sanctions list of US Because Trump
want to meet him. what is your opinion? Is it possible to negotiate
with him in the current situatio? Even when Ayatollah Khamenei has
stated that neither war nor Iran will be negotiated?

There are two concerns here. First, would Trump be more receptive to Rouhanithan Zarif as a negotiating partner? Possibly, because Rouhani is the president of Iran, thus possessing an equal status in government as Trump. It might be worthwhile for Iranian leaders to explore this possible diplomatic opening, and the fact that it seems inconsistent with other aspects of U.S. behavior should not be taken too seriously as an obstacle if the initiative otherwise seems worth exploring.

The second concern is on the Iranian side. Would Ayatollah Khamenei or others in Iran block such a meeting or oppose following up should it achieve a positive outcome? I have no special opinion about this, but a lack of sufficient support on the Iranian side could have the effect of making the current situation between the two countries even more dangerous by making diplomacy appear to be a dead-end, and this could give warmongers in the U.S. Government additional influence on policy toward Iran. 

3-How do you evaluate Iranian diplomacy as a means of countering Trump’s pressure?
Has Iran’s diplomacy been successful?

I think that Iranian diplomacy has so far exhibited composure and resolve, communicating to Washington a determination by Tehran not to be intimidated even by the ‘maximum pressures’ reportedly mounted by Trump. These signs of Iranian strength and political will may be over time improving the prospects for a diplomatic accommodation as it should now be clear that coercive moves by Trump short of war will not lead Iran to back down or surrender politically in response to sanctions or other hostile acts, and recourse to war, as dangerous as it would be, so far seems only to be. relevant as a default option, that is, occurring by miscalculation or accident.

4-Do you think it is possible in the current situation to create
Track II Diplomacy for behind-the-scenes negotiations between Iran and
the US? Is there any will in America for that? Do you think Iran is
interested?

 

These questions are all difficult to answer as Track II diplomacy to be effective must be undertaken and carried forward discreetly at its early stages without public disclosure or political comment. In my view, considering the difficulties of achieving a breakthrough by way of traditional diplomacy, it is worth giving consideration to a Track II approach. Whether either government has the will or capability to pursue such a course at this point is not evident. Finally, without proper authorization by political leaders, Track II initiatives have a risk of backfiring by being disowned through contentions that the initiative was improperly authorized or dealt with in bad faith.

5-Why was Zarif sanctioned in your opinion? Is Trump angry about his
diplomatic ability and his relations with the media and American
politicians? Will subtle sanctions make him unable to travel to New
York? Will the American media no longer interview him?

My response to these questions is necessarily highly speculative. Zarif has been quoted at one point saying that agreements with the U.S. are not worth the ink used to write them, and that might have been regarded by the White House as an unacceptable insult, although I regard it as a reasonable reaction to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, familiarly known as the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Agreement) and other unprovoked unfriendly and damaging policies pursued by the United States. Other motivations may arise from Zarif being seen as the architect of the repudiated agreement that Trump has rejected in such a defiant manner, making him disposed to be a difficult negotiator.

If Zarif comes to NYC on an official visit to represent Iran at the UN I would expect that he would be allowed to enter the US, but restricted in his movements beyond the city. While present on a UN mission, I do not think the media would be hesitant or precluded from talking with him.
.

6-Some believe that Iran is now launching a maximum countermeasures
campaign against the United States and exerting pressure on the EU. These counter-measures have so far taken the form of increased uranium enrichment and the seizure of several foreign oil tankers in the Persian. Gulf. Why has Iran taken such action? Is it in the interest of Iranian diplomacy? Can Iran use the leverage of these measures in a possible future negotiation with the US?

Both the incremental withdrawal of Iran from the obligations of the JCPOA and the tanker seizures in the Gulf seem designed to demonstrate both Iranian readiness to stand upfor their national interests and legal rights, and its pursuit of a policy of retaliatory response to provocative actions taken against its country by Trump. By so acting Iran has is sending a message to the effect that if the U.S. or others act strongly to imperil Iran’s wellbeing, then Iran will react with equivalent measures of hostility and displays of defiance.

 

Iran’s approach has risks but it also is the most promising alternative to a no-win strategy of passivity. In effect, I think Iran is making it clear that the coercion of the sort deployed will not work to weaken their political will or alter their policies, and that either there must be genuine moves by the U.S. toward normalization and respect for Iran’s sovereign rights or there could be a war that would have bad effects for many political actors. I am assuming that Iran is hoping that its adversaries realize that war would be devastating for all involved, and that in the end compromise and accommodation is the best approach for both sides. We cannot be sure about this, especially considering the various irresponsible influences at work, both seen and unseen. Given the alternatives, I believe Iran has adopted correct policies to uphold its sovereign rights in this vigorous manner given Trump’s provocations.

7-Do you find it possible to negotiate with Iran during the Trump era?
If there is a negotiation, what kind of cards does Iran have for
playing?

 

We cannot be sure about anything with regard to international negotiations in the Trump Era, but it is probably helpful to remember that Trump would politically gain immensely from walking back the crisis and achieving normalization with Iran, and lose dramatically if the crisis spins out of control, and a costly and chaotic war ensues. Remembering that presidential elections in the US are scheduled for November 2020, American domestic politics exert a huge and greater than usual impact on foreign policy. In this sense, Iran holds the cards that could give or withhold a huge political victory for Trump by whether or not it reaches an agreement.

 

It may be instructive to consider the approach adopted by Trump toward North Korea in somewhat parallel circumstances. His Korean diplomacy can be interpreted as a sign of the willingness of Trump to pursue a war-avoidance diplomacy with a long-term adversary of the United States even in the face of criticism from some advisors. The. Iranian situation is, of course, different, especially as it is closely linked to the U.S. relationship with Israel, and touches on other complexities of Middle East politics. On balance, Iran should be cautious about being too hopeful about normalization in the near future, but at the same time should remain sensitive to the emergence of potential opportunities for a diplomatic breakthrough.

8-Do you think that if Trump is reelected there will be a change in Iran’s approach to negotiations? What should the Iranian diplomacy team do if confronted by a reelected Trump?

 

It is almost impossible to predict what Trump would do with respect to foreign policy if reelected. On the optimistic side, he might want to simplify the challenges facing the. U.S. by resolving foreign policy concerns to the extent possible so as to focus on such domestic priorities as health and immigration. His presidency might also shift from popularity with voters concerns to legacy concerns, and whether in the end Trump wants to be remembered as a geopolitical warrior or as an innovative peacemaker. We can only hope that the latter possibility prevails if political misfortune befalls, and Trump is reelected. I would also suggest that at this point it is not more than 50% likely that Trump will be reelected. It depends on whether has Democratic opponent has unified support among Democrats and whether the American economy remains strong (employment, stock market).

With respect to Iran’s response to Trump’s reelection, it seems like to depend on intervening developments, and whether Trump seems combative in depicting American foreign policy toward Iran and the Middle East. I would recommend that the Iran diplomatic team assess the situation as it unfolds without endorsing expectations either of accommodation or intensifying confrontation. The most likely future is continuity, a small variation in either direction as compared to the present unsatisfactory situation.

9-Why did Trump abandon a military strike against Iran? Was it because of the
fear of Iran’s military response deterred or because of Iran’s diplomatic consultations?

 

The true motives for such a sudden policy reversal are rarely truthfully disclosed by governments, I suspect a combination of factors converged in this instance of which the most important was the sense that the conflict would dangerously escalate once military force was used, raising the risks of a foreign policy disaster to unacceptable levels. Besides, Trump had campaigned in the past against war making in the Middle East, and during his presidency while he has often irresponsibly bluffed and threatened, so far he has not acted militarily.

10-How successful has Iranian media diplomacy been in influencing
regional and global public opinion to counter Trump’s policies?
Does Trump Really Want Negotiation or War?

Iranian media diplomacy has been successful in conveying to the world the resolve of Iran to resist by all available means pressures from the U.S. and its regional adversaries. This has likely made regional actors advocate caution on the part of U.S. allies at least via confidential communications. There are few voices in the region that view a war with Iran as a viable option, and what Iran has shown by its strong recent responses to the repudiation of JCPOA and sanctions is that without war no political victory can be achieved merely by relying on threats and various forms of coercion. Also relevant as discouraging military action are the experiences of war in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen

11-How successful has Iran’s diplomacy been in persuading Europeans to
profit economically under a nuclear deal?

I am not an expert on this, but see little evidence that Iran has been able to work out significant beneficial arrangements with European countries, especially with respect to arranging oil sales. My impression is that while Europe is critical of the Trump path it is not prepared to risk worsening its economic and diplomatic relations with the US by rescuing Iran from the sanctions policy.

12-Some believe the US cannot make peace in Afghanistan without Iran’s
participation. Is it possible for Iran and the US to discuss an Afghanistan arrangement
during the Trump era? Some reports suggest that Russia will hold a
summit on Afghanistan soon. Do you think a meeting is possible
between Iranian and US officials on the sidelines in the course of such an event?

 

I think anything is possible along these lines with respect to finding a path to peace in Afghanistan, which seems a high priority of Trump, as well as of other political actors. It all depends on how priorities are weighed against one another by Washington and others. There is no requirement of overall consistency when it comes to policymaking. Iran might also resist constructive participation in Afghan negotiations favored by the West so long as Iran is targeted by sanctions and by threats/warnings.

 

Informal meetings on the sidelines are also quite possible as both sides may want to signal their willingness to find a mutually acceptable path to normalization and away from a slide toward war that would have catastrophic consequences for all involved.

14-Some people are saying that if US Senator Rand Paul’s meets with Zarif it could lead to improvements in Iran-US relations. What is your opinion? Others say appointing
a representative, such as Zalmay Khalilzad, would be a better idea to
negotiate with Iran because he had previously talked to Iranian
officials about Afghanistan. What is your opinion? If Trump wants to
deal with Iran might he indicate this by giving Paul a green light to go ahead?

I doubt that Rand Paul would be given any serious diplomatic role. He is looked upon in Washington as an eccentric and inexperienced outsider that is not trusted by the political mainstream, including by most members of his own political party. With Trump, nothing can be ruled out, and it is possible Paul would be used as an expendable triial balloon. In contrast, Khalilzad is an experienced and mainstream envoy whose appointment would signal an intention to give diplomacy a serious chance. But it might also require a commitment to diplomacy that Trump is not presently ready to make. If so, Paul could become a preferred option as there would not be strong expectations of success created by his appointment.

15-What will be the position of Trump as stand between Bolton and Pompeo and
the pursuit of his anti-war approach towards Iran?
How much diplomatically is it possible for Iran to convince the new
British government to come to an agreement with it? What is your
prediction? Will Boris Johnson be closely associated with Trump after Iran’s
election or will he pursue a more independent policy?

As far as the relationship of Boris Johnson’s leadership of Britain to Iran is concerned, I imagine that the most likely course is one openly supportive of Trump. Johnson will be preoccupied with minimizing the post-Brexit challenges facing Britain, and will be highly motivated to seek positive and enhanced trade and finance relations with the United States to offset an economic freefall some expect to follow quickly in the event of a no-deal departure from the EU. Under these conditions Johnson is almost certain not to allow any friction in relation to Iran to interfere with this overriding priority. At the same time, Johnson is ambitious, impulsive, and unpredictable, and might take the chance of adopting a more independent approach to Iran and the Middle East generally. 

16-Finally, Could Trump risk making a military strike against Iran before
the 2020 election? What if he wins again? Do you think it will be
possible for the US or its allies to attack Iran after the election?

 

Anything is possible, but as my earlier responses suggest, it is most likely but far from certain that Trump will seek to avoid war with Iran and not follow the advice of such anti-Iranian hawkish advisors as Bolton and Pompeo. I think the inhibitions on recourse to military action against Iran will be somewhat stronger before the 2020 election than after a Trump political victory in the form or reelection. At such a point, I would still expect that Trump would seek to avoid war with Iran, and also that even Israel in the end would also not want an. actual war, which could cause Israel to experience massive devastation, and therefore, behind the scenes Israel can be expected to push either for a continuation of the present diplomacy of exerting pressure as at present or even might favor deescalating the conflict for fear that it could at some point unintentionally produce a mutually destructive war. 

 

 

Context Matters Except for the Palestinians

2 Aug

Context Matters Except for the Palestinians

 

Just imagine the Israeli reaction to a peace plan put forth by a future U.S. president elected to pursue the agenda of ‘the squad,’*[*]appointing Noam Chomsky, the head of CAIR, and Medea Benjamin on assuming office to lead its moves toward peace in the Middle East. Imagine further that prior to disclosing President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s revolutionary peace initiative, Washington’s new leadership took the following unilateral steps: tabling a Security Council Resolution calling for the dismantling of the Israeli separation wall in accord with the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the World Court, insisting on Israeli adherence to Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Conventions while calling for the prompt re-settlement of all Israeli settlers behind the 1967 Green Line, and informing Congress of its intention to discontinue further annual economic and military assistance to Israel. In addition to these ‘provocations,’ the U.S. energetically pursued a regional diplomacy with Arab neighbors designed to exert the greatest possible pressure on Israel to go along with whatever Washington proposes or suffer severe adverse consequences.

 

I know this would strike even most pro-Palestinians as an absurd way to seek sustainable and just peace arrangements, but this is precisely the road taken by the White House in its multiple acrobatic moves designed to build leverage for the Trump/Kushner ‘deal of the century.’ Even Obama’s feeble attempts to balance the scales ever so slightly brought fury to the lips of most Israelis, including its leaders. We can hardly imagine the Israeli response to a peace initiative launched by the squad along the above lines, which for all of its seeming radical character would actually be reasonable from the perspective of international law and morality even as it was causing collective apoplexy in Tel Aviv. The absurdity of this inverted ‘peace’ scenario should help us understand how extreme has been the pro-Israeli brand of extremism of the Trump White House. The fact that this has to be demonstrated rather than taken for granted underscores how victimized the Palestinian national struggle has become in the eyes of many of us in the West.

 

Equally worth observing is the discourse on the Trump diplomacy adopted by Zionist apologists, and even some anti-Trump liberals and Israeli peace activists such as Gershon Baskin. Their bad faith message to the Palestinians is along three parallel lines: “Don’t repeat past mistakes by simply rejecting Trump’s peace proposals,” “Under the circumstances, what Trump offers is the best Palestine can hope for given altered conditions on the ground and in the region,” and “Don’t reject in advance, participate, listen attentively, responding favorably to any positive elements, and project an image of constructive engagement.” Revealingly, this advice to the Palestinians is set forth without any consideration of the extreme anti-Palestinian contextcreated by a series of deliberate moves by Trump from the moment he was elected. Can you even imagine giving Israeli leadership this kind of advice if the political realities were ever to be reversed?

 

It hardly requires a vivid imagination to conjure up the expletives that would undoubtedly lend color to the most probable Israeli responses to being told what to do in comparable circumstances. The Palestinians, in contrast, are being chastised for not being receptive and refusing to come to the table with an open mind. True, the Palestinian Authority has not shown much finesse in handling the situation, relying on the sufficiency of its skeptical mumbling and an ambivalent public ‘NO.’ Better would have been an explanation along these lines, “Given the hostility toward Palestinian concerns that have been a trademark of the Trump presidency since its beginning, how can anyone in their right mind expect us to be so foolish as to pretend that there exists any basis for exploring the Trump/Kushner proposals as if they might offer a fair resolution of our long struggle for the most basic rights of the Palestinian people?” Sitting down in such a tilted diplomatic atmosphere would be the height of folly for the Palestinians, making them seem without dignity or understanding, mere puppets assembled so that their enemies could manipulate the strings.

 

Palestinians could and should have done better in setting forth their own vision of peace.  The extreme one-sidedness of the Trump approach handed Palestinians a golden opportunity to declare as convincingly as possible the urgent and immediate need for a new peace intermediary that was a facilitator, and not a partisan as past American presidents, or worse, an imposer as this one seems to be. The United States had long overplayed its hand as ‘honest broker,’ but now it had gone so far as to make any further Palestinian acceptance of the American role a source of humiliation, if not a sign of political senility.

 

It is worth noticing always, how the background of pro-Israeli objectionable behavior is treated by international commentary. When the context of justification is overlooked or repressed it usually signals an intention to persuade the audience by excluding complicating considerations, in this instance, the multiple signs that the United States has destroyed all reasonable expectations on the part of the Palestinians of fairness or objectivity in a proposed peace process. The Oslo framework as set forth in 1993 was deficient from these points of view but the deal of the century/peace from prosperity framework is so much worse, and yet it stands unrepudiated. When the context is put forward, it represents a genuine attempt to discover whether there are reasonable grounds for moving forward, and in this case there are none.

 

In the end, there is an underlying misinterpretation that has further distorted most commentary. What is being sought by Trump’s ‘peace diplomacy’ is not a political compromise that takes accounts of the basic rights of the two peoples, but a victory of one side over the other. It is an approach lightly theorized by Daniel Pipes and his confederates at the Middle East Forum, seeking to justify and advocate an increase of coercive U.S. and Israeli moves that will induce the Palestinians to acknowledge political defeat and submit to conditions at the behest of the Israeli victor. Thus, the success of the Trump/Netanyahu approach is not a matter of finding common ground between the two sides to form an agreement, but turning the screws of oppression so tight that the Palestinians will surrender. The approach has relied upon unilateral punitive actions supplemented by regional and global geopolitical leverage, but little direct violence beyond the endorsement of Israeli excessive force in dealing with the Great March of Return over the course of the last 68 Fridays.

 

Against this background, there exists an opportunity for responsible Palestinian leaders to do more than sit sullenly on their hands. In addition to explaining why Trump’s moves makes the traditional U.S. role unacceptable for purposes of negotiation, the Palestinians of all factions should do their utmost to set aside their disagreements, and achieve a unity of purpose, at least for the duration of their national struggle. Even more important might be, seizing the diplomatic initiative by making public a document that develops a comprehensive peace proposal that stakes out in general terms the contours of a political compromise on Jerusalem, settlements, statehood, borders, refugees, water, offshore resources, economic cooperation, security, and whatever else seems relevant. Even if only in the form of a declaration of principles, with explanatory commentary, it would manifest an intention to do more than refuse the paltry offerings that Kushner, Inc. is peddling throughout the region.  Such a positive initiative articulated by the Palestinian side is long overdue, would be of help to the Palestinians in the continuous ‘public relations war’ that may in the end be as relevant to the political struggle as the diplomatic tug of war or even resistance struggles. At this stage, nothing would give greater weight to Palestinian demands than its backing of an approach to peace that would seem so much reasonable and responsible than what is now being promoted by the Trump White House.

 

The basic point lingers. Context matters, and when it is eliminated, assessments of behavioral reasonableness are bound to be distorted and extremely misleading, especially if what is at stake is highly contested. This is particularly true for the Trump/Kushner unabashedly cruel approach to peace that can only be properly understood as placing a thin veil of deception over a concerted push to achieve an Israeli ‘victory’ while pretending to seek peace on the basis of political compromise. This emperor has no clothes! Those who care about justice must not let this happen!  

 

 

[*]‘The Squad’ is the name given to a group of four progressive Congress persons elected in 2016, and challenging the bipartisan precepts of American foreign policy. Their names are Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and best known, Alexandria Ortiz-Cortiz.

GEOPOLITICAL CRIMES: A REVOLUTIONARY PROPOSAL

23 Jul

[Prefatory Note: The essay below is a modified version of the 2018 Annual Lecture of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) of Queen Mary’s University London, given on March 22 of that year. Its original title was “Geopolitical Crimes: A Preliminary Jurisprudential Proposal.” The text of the lecture has been further revised since publication in the Spring 2019 issue of the Journal of State Crime. Its major premise is that international criminal law has developed a framework for judging the criminal conduct of states with respect to armed conflict and in the relations of state/society relations, but is silent about even the most severe crimes of diplomacy. It is these ‘geopolitical crimes’ that are more responsible for inflicting mass suffering on civilian populations than are most of the forms of international behavior currently criminalized. I am aware that criminalizing acts of diplomacy is a revolutionary idea, but no less for that, deserving of commentary and debate.]

 

GEOPOLITICAL CRIMES: A REVOLUTIONARY PROPOSAL

Points of Departure

When we think about international relations in a general way we typically presuppose a state-centric world order. I find this misleading. Actually, there are two intersecting and overlapping systems of rules and diplomatic protocols that are operative in international relations: a juridicalsystem linking sovereign states on the basis of equality before the law; and a geopoliticalsystem linking dominant states regionally and globally with other states on the basis of inequalities in power, scale, wealth and status. It is convenient to consider the juridical system as horizontal and the geopolitical system as vertical so long as this distinction is understood as a metaphor to distinguish hierarchical from non-hierarchical relations that are operative in international politics.

The United Nations (UN) embodies this structural dualism that pervades world order, and is hierarchical: the subordinate horizontal organizational axis based on juridical equality as exhibited by membership procedures and by the recommendatory authority of the General Assembly. This compares to the supervening vertical axis as embodied in the Security Council in which the permanent membership of the five states considered victors in World War II enjoy a right of veto, and possess an exclusive authority vested in the Security Council to make decisions that are theoretically enforceable.

My purpose in these remarks is to extend the notion of international state crime from its familiar horizontal axis, and suggest the significance of state crime on the vertical axis, which I will call “Geopolitical Crime”. I believe that this category of criminality has been “overlooked” in international criminal law (ICL) despite its responsibility for massive human suffering, and directly linked to some of the most serious deficiencies and unresolved turmoil in contemporary world order. Perhaps, overlooked is not the best word to describe the malign neglect. Maybe “blocked” is more accurate, as consistent with successful efforts of geopolitical actors through the centuries to evade all forms of accountability under international law for state crime unless adversary leaders are. targeted by the winners in major wars.

Of course, I am mindful of the fact that Geopolitical Crimes have not yet been formally or conceptually delimited, and are not even conceptually delimited in aspirational language at the present time, and are likely to never be accepted by the current breed of juridical gatekeepers as a valid legal category. Nevertheless, I believe that the identification and articulation of Geopolitical Crime is of pedagogical value in understanding the causal antecedents of some of the worst features of global politics, as well as of normative value in identifying what kinds of behavior in certain diplomatic settings are likely to produce future harm and by so identifying, encourage more mindful statecraft in the future.

At the outset it needs to be appreciated that international criminal law (ICL) as part of the horizontal/vertical normative mix is currently a very flawed system of law: in such crucial areas as humanitarian intervention, criminal accountability, human rights and the International Criminal Court (ICC), the application of ICL exhibits double standards, which has been producing a pattern of increasing accountability for the weak and vulnerable, and almost total impunity for the rich and geopolitically powerful and politically insulated. The result is a form of “liberal legality” that is structure blind when it comes to holding geopolitical actors to the same standards of criminal accountability as other sovereign states.

My intention is to put forward in an exploratory and tentative spirit a somewhat comprehensive proposal to imagine and delimit two closely related behavior patterns that deserve to be properly classified as Crimes Against Humanity, but are not now so treated. I am provisionally calling these “crimes” “Geopolitical Crimes of War” and “Geopolitical Crimes of Peace”.

My purpose is to identify patterns of deliberate behavior by leading governments in global or regional contexts that inflict severe harm on the individual and collective wellbeing of people, and do so knowingly, willfully, or with extreme negligence, especially in the contexts of war and post-war “peace diplomacy”. Actually, I would be receptive to suggestions of a more suitable label for these patterns of behavior than “Geopolitical Crime”, but for now will stick with this terminology. These proposed “crimes” have yet to be acknowledged as such, much less formally prohibited by treaty or practice. In this sense, this proposal for their inclusion in a jurisprudence fit for humanity is ‘revolutionary.’

On one level, I realize that I may be casting myself in the role of a latter day Don Quixote tilting at the windmills of an ideal legal order rather as did the erstwhile nobleman of La Mancha as he yearned for the gallantry of knights of old. I am sensitive to the fact that delimiting the behavior of leading states as a Geopolitical Crime may strike many persons as a wildly romantic or utopian non-starter, if not seen more destructively, as an effort to subvert the authority of liberal legality by highlighting its jurisprudential deficiencies.

My central critique of ICL is its grant of a free pass or exemption to geopolitical actors and their close allies, which has caused so much harm in the past, continuing into the present, and threatens to do even greater harm in the future. It can be argued that even if this is the case, why call attention to the weakness of ICL by proposing a form of criminalization that is unlikely to ever happen, and if it does, will never be implemented. The experience of the ICC makes these low expectations seem realistic. Nevertheless, while aware of these concerns, I believe there are several reasons that make it worthwhile to delimit Geopolitical Crimes.

First of all, to discuss what I propose to identify as “Geopolitical Crimes” by pointing to historical examples helps us consider why many things have gone so badly wrong in international relations over the course of the last hundred years at the cost of millions of lives. I am well aware that counterfactual narratives of history are inevitably problematic as we can never know what might have happened had we chosen “the road not taken” to recall the motif of Robert Frost’s famous poem.

Secondly, aspirational norms of ICL can become meaningful for civil society actors, even if ignored or rejected by the diplomacy of geopolitical actors (e.g. BAN Treaty – UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, New York, United Nations General Assembly 2017). Delimiting Geopolitical Crimes seeks to fill serious world order and international law gaps created by destructive and intentional policies and practices of geopolitical actors. Raising an awareness of such gaps also helps us understand the degree to which the UN, including its subsidiary organs, is similarly constrained when seeking to fulfil its substantive undertakings as set forth in the Preamble to the UN Charter.

Indeed, civil society tribunals, ever since the Russell Tribunal (International War Crimes Tribunal, Stockholm/Roskilde, 1967) have examined allegations of unacknowledged war crimes of geopolitical actors, including Crimes Against Humanity, by the U.S. in Vietnam, back in 1966 to 1967. Such an undertaking was dismissed and denigrated at the time by mainstream thinking as an absurdly misguided challenge to the behavior of a geopolitical giant in the midst of an aggressive war. In fact, the Vietnam War was the kind of war that international criminal law in the aftermath of World War II had no trouble classifying as a Crime Against Peace at the Nuremberg Tribunal when addressing the behavior of a defeated Axis power.

Despite these efforts to discredit the Russell Tribunal its inquiries and testimonies produced valuable commentaries on the Vietnam War that would not otherwise be available to us. In this regard, in a manner similar to the government-organized war crimes tribunals after World War II, the main value of such civil society initiatives is to narrate on the basis of substantial evidence the wrongdoings of the defendants, whose punishment is of secondary importance, despite these individuals having done terrible things on behalf of a particular state.

I was involved in the Iraq War Tribunal that in 2005 brought to Istanbul before a jury composed of internationally known. moral authority figures, Iraqi testimonies of combat experiences and an array of international experts to record the violations of international law and of the UN Charter on the part of the United States and United Kingdom. In the end, in a manner no other institutional actor could do, this civil society initiative documented and supplied moral and legal reasoning as to why this war should be regarded as a criminal enterprise.

Part of my argument here is that the failure to delimit “Geopolitical Crimes” deprives us of a truer understanding of what went wrong and was wrong, particularly in the course of and the aftermath of World War I and II, and more recently in the responses to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The wrongfulness in these instances arises from the manner in which the war and peace diplomacy was used to demonize the adversary and exonerate the victor, or in the 9/11 instance, to embolden a wounded and traumatized superpower to take steps previously treated as prohibited by international law. Considering Geopolitical Crimes is also a matter of attentiveness to the historical antecedents of conflict and political extremism that are habitually misrepresented by propaganda and one-sided interpretations, if treated at all.

The third justification for this line of prescriptive thinking is essentially pedagogical to influence normative discourse in relation to war and peace, suggesting that to ignore geopolitical wrongdoing is to overlook one of the major causes of conflict, chaos, injustice and extremism in the world order experience of the last hundred or more years. Jurisprudential innovations of the kind recommended here has taken place in the past. Raphael Lemkin is often heralded as the person who single-handedly invented the word “genocide” in 1944, and finally produced its acceptance by the powers that be, leading to its incorporation in the authoritative Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in New York (United Nations General Assembly 1951).

In the course of the Vietnam War, in response to the conduct of environmental warfare, a biologist at Yale, Arthur Galston, came up with the term “ecocide”, an analogue to genocide, but in relation to natural surroundings. I later drafted a proposed Ecocide Convention that I hoped at the time could and should become part of international criminal law (see Falk 1973). Unfortunately, unlike genocide, ecocide has not yet been incorporated into ICL, at least never at the inter-governmental level, although civil society actors are active in promoting ecocide as an international crime that should be implemented by enforcement. In this regard, the idea of ecocide as a crime has been widely accepted in several influential civil society settings, and has become part of the progressive public discourse relating human activity to environmental harm.

And fourth and finally, the articulation of geopolitical crimes, as crimes, might induce greater care on the part of some policy planners and governmental leaders in avoiding harmful practices in the future, even if such decision makers continue to deny any legal obligation to do so. The nuclear taboo is an example of a tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons that in part stems from the horrific realization of the atomic antecedent of these weapons in the closing days of World War II. The normative discourse reinforced this taboo, most notably by General Assembly Resolutions (United Nations General Assembly 1946), the Shimoda Case decided by a (Tokyo District Court 1962) and by a 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (International Criminal Court 1996). We might describe such a taboo as “informal law” that if backed by practical wisdom can lead to impressive levels of compliance, sometimes higher than what is achieved by formal law, even in a treaty form, especially if compliance is geopolitically inconvenient (Article VI, United Nations Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, New York, United Nations 1968). Beyond this, if such taboos are violated, the perpetrators might appropriately be deemed responsible for criminal behavior if what is done is widely regarded as Geopolitical Crimes, which might have the effect of expanding the jurisprudential and pedagogical influence of civil society tribunals.

Delimiting “Geopolitical Crimes”: Jurisprudential Clarifications and Historical Illustrations

It is appropriate to consider Geopolitical Crimes from a jurisprudential perspective, and then provide illustrative cases. I will choose the impact Geopolical Crimes on the practices and policies imposed on the Middle East in the peace diplomacy of the victors after World War I. I will also make brief reference to the Geopolitical Crimes of War and of Peace associated with the conduct of World War II and the conditions of peace established subsequent to the war, especially the ambiguous legacies of the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Trials. I would also point to early initiatives of the United Nations, which bears serious unacknowledged responsibility for the ordeals of the Palestinian people and the failure over the course of decades to find a sustainable peace based on the respective rights of these two long embattled peoples.

These various historical circumstances present complicated and controversial contexts, and as I am suggesting, my commentaries at this point are more intended as a means to initiate discussion than a claim to achieve an authoritative interpretation of such multiply contested and layered historical events.

An alternative illustrative situation that qualifies as geopolitical criminality could have been provided by offering a critical account of punitive restrictions imposed on German sovereignty by the Versailles Treaty in the form of reparations and demilitarization. It is arguable that this diplomacy constituted Geopolitical Crimes of gross negligence contributing to the rise of Hitler and Nazism. It is significant, suggesting an informal learning process, that peace diplomacy after World War II deliberately avoided the imposition of a punitive peace upon the defeated Axis Powers, although these defeated states and their leaders were guilty of a far worse path of criminality than what the countries defeated in World War I had done.

More recently, in the context of the First Gulf War in 1992, the victorious coalition again imposed a punitive peace on Iraq in the form of economic sanctions that pro- duced catastrophic predictable losses of civilian lives, including among children (see Beres 1992). Why these punitive and indiscriminate sanctions were imposed remains not entirely clear. Partly it reflected a substitute or compensatory course of action for the failure of the victorious coalition to pursue all out political victory of the sort that ended both world wars. The post-war sanctions imposed on Iraq can be thought of as compromise between pushing for regime change in Baghdad and the grudging acceptance of the government of Saddam Hussein as legitimate. The Geopolitical Crime arises from the failure to take steps to avoid causing suffering to the civilian population of Iraq. To target civilians is an instance of state terror that should be treated as an international crime.

Let me first try to describe more adequately what I mean by “Geopolitical Crimes”. My reference is to deliberate or grossly negligent undertakings by leading governments representing sovereign states or international institutions that violate core norms of international law, diplomatic customary practices and the protocols of international relations, and fundamental principles of international ethics. Often, the most serious harm done by these violations results from longer term dislocations that should reasonably have been foreseen. If this is so, it provides a rationale for imposing legal responsibility as reasonable and appropriate, especially with an eye towards inhibiting the repetition of comparable behavior in the future. It could be thought of as ‘a precautionary principle’ for diplomats. For example, if the imposition of “punitive peace” had been rendered unlawful in light of the World War I experience it might have exerted some deterrent impact on imposed harsh conditions on Iraq in 1992.

Historically, there is a tendency for the victors in major wars to have opportunities to alter international relations according to their values, interests and fears. This was certainly true of the outcomes of the major wars involving Europe (see Beres 1992). However, this is not always the case. Sometimes Geopolitical Crimes have immediate, intended and foreseeable effects. Two obvious recent examples: the 2017 blockade and related steps coercively imposed on Qatar in response to its failure to meet the 13 Demands made by a coalition of members of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt (see Falk 2018). The Geopolitical Crime present centers on the unlawful intrusion on Qatari sovereignty, with intended harm to public and private sector activities, as associated with the impact of the 13 unreasonable demands as reinforced by administrative decrees and blockades.

My second example is President Trump’s thrashing (Borger et al. 2018) and subsequent repudiation of the P5 + 1 Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 2015), a course of action that makes a destructive and unlawful war in the Middle East far more likely, and its threat, a certainty.

It is, of course, entirely reasonable to argue that some alleged “Geopolitical Crimes” produced bad outcomes that could not have been reasonably anticipated or that the political actors involved had been motivated at the time by good faith, conventional wisdom and political realism. One important context for geopolitical criminality, as earlier suggested, is in post-conflict peace diplomacy where the victor calls the shots.

For instance, at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of surviving German and Japanese military and political leaders, the criminal activities of the victors were exempted from scrutiny, and could not be mentioned by the defense, however serious and relevant. In partial deference to such a constraint on prosecution, German and Japanese defendants were not charged with crimes that the Allied countries had committed. This selectivity was extensively critiqued as “Victors’ Justice” (see Minear 1971). More specifically, in light of the Allied “saturation” bombing of German cities, the German, Italian and Japanese bombing of civilian populations was not among the crimes alleged. Such forbearance in the manner of victors’ justice not only exempted the practice from accountability in the war crimes tribunals, it unwittingly normalized for the future saturation bombing as beyond the reach of international law.

This double effect was particularly striking in light of the pre-war denunciations of

Germany, Italy, and Japan for the “inhuman barbarism” of the bombing of cities in their military operations, which of course were far smaller. It led Franklin Delano Roosevelt to address an “urgent appeal to every Government which may be in hostilities to publicly affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, under- take the bombardment from the air of civilian populations” (quoted in Franklin 2018; reactions to German bombing of Guernica in Spain, Japan in Manchuria, Italy in Ethiopia. No effort to condemn at Nuremberg & Tokyo in view of Allied practice, also McNamara’s acknowledgement to LeMay in The Fog of War, [2003], that if war lost, they would likely be prosecuted as war criminals.). What seemed “inhuman barbarism” when done by the enemy became a matter of “military necessity” when done by the victorious side in the course of the war, despite being done on a far larger and more destructive scale. Such an exemption from legal accountability offered the West de facto justifications for recourse to massive bombing tactics in the Korean War (1950– 1952) and the Vietnam War (1962–1975) that cost several million civilian lives.

In partial acknowledgement of this failure to hold the strong responsible for compliance with international law in a manner equivalent to those formally charged, the American prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Jackson, famously declared in his closing statement, “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.” Robert H. Jackson’s (1945) belief that Nuremberg would generate new standards of international behavior applicable to the victors quickly turned out to be wishful thinking. It is of the essence of being a geopolitical actor to refuse as a matter of principle, the discipline of legal or moral restraint. Each of the states that pre- vailed in World War II subsequently committed acts violating the Nuremberg findings without incurring any serious normative backlash, but worse than this, their wrongdoing in this prior war established precedents that so normalized the behavior as to place outside the orbit of legal accountability.

 

Often, the complexities, subtleties and secrecy surrounding diplomacy make it virtually impossible to establish the mental state of mind of the perpetrators of Geopolitical Crimes. One notable exception is an exchange on the U.S. news pro- gram, “60 Minutes”, between Lesley Stahl, TV journalist, and Madeline Albright, on 12 May 1996, then the U.S. Secretary of State, on the impact of harsh sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War. Lesley Stahl asked the American official, “(w)e have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” and Albright replied “we think the price is worth it.” Although this chilling response was later partially retracted by Albright, it offers a striking example of a high government official endorsing the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by way of a sanctions policy framed to punish the Iraqi regime for its Kuwait attack and as a warning to Iraq and others to remain within its borders in the future of face the geopolitical fury of the United States.

There are, then, two complementary tendencies that bear on my inquiry into the interplay of state crime and world order: the first, is to obscure crimes of state by manipulating the public discourse in misleading ways; Israel has been very effectively done this with respect to the victimization of the Palestinian people in the course of implementing the Zionist project; e.g. persuading the U.S. Government to describe the unlawful Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine as “unhelpful” rather than “criminal”; the second, is to treat as “crimes” morally and politically distasteful past acts, which were not crimes at the time of their commission, which is my main theme in these remarks, that is, retrospectively criminalizing past behavior. In the first case, the crimes of state are denied or obscured, while in the second instance past governmental wrongdoing is irresponsibly criminalized.

A similar issue is presented by the frequent assertion that indigenous peoples in various settings in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere were victims of genocide perpetrated by settler communities, generally backed by colonial powers. Again, there is an inevitable normative ambiguity present – the behavior can be properly castigated as “genocide” if this is understood to be a moral and political condemnation, but the implication that such past behavior was also “a crime” in a legal sense is misleading absent an acceptance of natural law thinking based on notions of intrinsic wrong. This would itself be a rather strange jurisprudential move in a modern context where valid international law is based on the consent, or secondarily on the pronouncement of respected civil society organizations..

Nuremberg never directly addressed the criminality of the Holocaust as the most systematic and massive form of genocide out of this respect for “legalism”. It should be remembered that Stalin and Churchill favored summarily executing Nazi war criminals without the ritual of a trial, enabling the moral and political condemnation to be clear and absolute, as well as focused on the core evil without the distracting irrelevance of a long trial. The American view prevailed but at the previously discussed heavy jurisprudential cost of legalizing and normalizing civilian bombing, which had previously been viewed as falling outside the scope of acceptable behavior (see Bruce 2018),

There was a notable progression from strategic bombing to saturation bombing as Allied tactics against Germany intensified in the latter stages of the European theatre of combat. In relation to Japan’s case, this refusal to apply legal standards of accountability to both sides in the war had the momentous side effect of legalizing the atomic bomb for the future, which set the stage for the legalization of nuclear weaponry. (Nuclear weapons are geopolitically legal, while being considered juridically unlawful, at least under most circumstances. (See International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion, 1996.) This unfortunate byproduct of the war crimes approach was further distorted by the NPT approach, which allows nuclear weapons states to possess, deploy, threaten, and use, while denying even pre-acquisition development options to other sovereign states. (After waiting for disarmament over the course of decades the patience of non-nuclear states and civil society has begun to run out; (See United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 2017, and International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [ICAN] Nobel Peace Prize 2017 counter-moves; Geopolitical Crimes of World War II). In this sense, the NPT approach, as supplemented by a geopolitical regime of implementation currently threatening to unleash a war with a Iran, has given geopolitical support to a highly dangerous feature of world order as currently operationalized.

 

Geopolitical Crimes Arising from World War I’s Peace Diplomacy

As suggested, the Geopolitical Crimes of World War I and II are specified as including an extended conception of war as encompassing “peace diplomacy”, that is, the arrangements imposed on the defeated side after active combat ended. The basic contention is that diplomacy that was deliberately wrongful should be held subject to accountable procedures if responsible for inflicting massive suffering on innocent people and their societies. More specifically, the argument set forth suggest the desirability of adding Geopolitical Crimes to the list of Crimes against Humanity set forth in Article 7 of the Rome Statute (United Nations General Assembly 1998) governing the activities of the ICC.

It seems relevant to ignore chronology and mention the most obvious Geopolitical Crimes of World War II before turning to World War I. As earlier suggested, the most consequential Geopolitical Crime involved the normalization of bombing of civilian populations and cities as exemplified by post-1945 patterns of warfare in Korea, Vietnam and more recently in Iraq, Syria and Yemen; this normalization covered atomic bombs, which without comment also extended the cover of legal- ity to nuclear weapons under the positivist precept that whatever is not explicitly forbidden is permitted; imposed “partition” arrangements for Korea, Vietnam and Germany, disrupting natural and traditional political communities of these countries giving rise to warfare and war-threatening tensions that lasted for decades, and reflecting geopolitical arrangements of convenience that under later Cold War conditions could have led to the outbreak of World War III, Korean War

and Vietnam War. These divided country arrangements were implemented with- out consulting the people affected and ignored what became known as “the inalienable right of self-determination” in the decolonization period.

Turning to the peace diplomacy that followed the ending of World War I, it too created by design severe problems that would haunt the affected populations for generations. Although mindlessly indifferent, given the failure to prohibit such behavior, it is admittedly not responsible to suggest after such a lapse of time that this peace diplomacy was a Geopolitical Crime in any plausible legal sense. However, it is in my view quite reasonable to suggest, even retroactively, that the Allied powers were politically and ethically responsible for the commission of grave Geopolitical Crimes. A similar logic seems applicable to Armenian contentions that Ottoman Turkey was guilty of “genocide” due to its responsibility for the organized massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915. A genocide occurred, as noted by Hitler and the world did nothing to stop it. This distinction between what is unlawful and what is political and ethically wrong is important. In 1915, the word genocide had not yet been invented and no norm of prohibition was formally adopted prior to 1951, making any attempted legal application retroactive in violation of the fundamental principle of criminal justice “no punishment without a prior law”.

And so unlike Albright’s assertion, which is contemporaneous with the events, the World War I allegations are of a political and ethical nature, but with the encouragement that such negative diplomacy be stigmatized by being criminalized. In the context of World War I’s peace diplomacy I would call attention to three major initiatives each of which contributed to the current regional landscape of turmoil, extremism and violence causing massive suffering: the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate (1924). The first two of these initiatives occurred prior to the ending of World War I but were explicitly incorporated into the peace arrangement imposed on the Middle East. These two colonialist initiatives embedded in the peace diplomacy, did not as such violate prevailing legal norms, nor directly contradict Western political and ethical standards, but seemed imprudent in view of nationalist challenges emanating from the non-West and the wholly disruptive nature of the Zionist project (creating a Jewish state, temporarily disguised as a Jewish “homeland” in a non-Jewish society; at the time of Balfour the Jewish population in Palestine was in the vicinity of 8%).

Kemal Ataturk decreed the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924 as part of his central project of making Turkey a Europeanized secular state along the specific lines of France. Although such an undertaking would have negative reverberations later in Turkey, it would not be reasonable to expect a political leader to anticipate this, and in fact, the secularization of Turkey was consistent with the modernization

norms that prevailed politically and ethically in the West. In actuality, however, Ataturk’s modernization project had a dislocating effect in Turkey that bears comparison with the Zionist impact on Palestine: it represented an attempt from above to impose a secular Europeanized state on a religiously oriented and non-Western multiethnic society that had long existed in Turkey. The Shah of Iran attempted the same sort of social engineering transformation of Iran that also produced a drastic backlash.

In my view the basic Geopolitical Crime committed with respect to the Ottoman Empire involved the imposition of European territorial states on a region that had been previously governed in a loose and largely non-territorial manner. More concretely, the region had for centuries been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire that divided the Arab world into “millets” vested with responsibility for local self- government, based on distinct units reflecting ethnic and religious identities. This system of governance was long largely accepted by inhabitants as “natural” or legitimate political communities, with identities that were local and tribal as well as civilizational and religious, and essentially non-territorial in the sense of the modern state system based on the central juridical idea of territorial sovereignty.

What Sykes-Picot attempted to do was to satisfy the colonial ambitions of Britain and France substituting territorial colonies within fixed international boundaries for Ottoman millets. This meant overriding the preceding natural and established communities by imposing borders and authority structures responsive to colonial priorities (e.g. Britain wanted to secure Palestine so as to be in a better position to protect the Suez Canal and trade routes to India; France wanted to establish Lebanon within borders that would ensure the presence of a Christian majority state in the region subject to its control).

I find it significant that the most influential and stark critiques of this extension of the European state system to the Middle East emphasize the illegitimacy of this element of territoriality. For instance, Ayatollah Khomeini expressed the view that neither territorial European style states nor dynastic monarchies were legitimate forms of political community. He contended that the revolution in Iran was “Islamic” (that is, non-territorial) and not “Iranian” (that is, territorial). Osama Bin Laden in explaining the ethos of his movement challenging the status quo in the Arab world pointed to 80 years of humiliation for Muslims due to the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate. The first slogan after ISIS established its ill-fated caliphate in 2014 was “the end of Sykes-Picot”, exhibiting a historical consciousness hostile to territoriality. It is possible to discount such statements as the voice of Islamic extremists that are not representative of the region, and cannot validly claim to be the voice of the people, which is more accepting of modernity, secularism and territoriality, and the accompaniment of territorial states. At the same time, one notices that these states have not succeeded in establishing any kind of voluntary or natural political community, have confronted recurrent chaos, geopolitical interventions, a series of governing authorities relying on brute force to establish and maintain order. The region has experienced a century of violent conflict, punctuated by periodic regional wars and a series of large-scale military operations, and leading to the expulsion of several hundred thousand Palestinians from their homeland.

One of the worst Geopolitical Crimes involved the coercive fragmentation and victimization of the Palestinian people as a whole. It is little wonder that in the era of decolonization, the establishment of Israel would occasion cycles of resistance and repression with still no end in sight. Surely, Balfour, despite the colonial arrogance of the declaration, could not be held responsible for foreseeing what would unfold, and colonial ambitions were later somewhat moderated by being forced into the mandates system that promised, although vaguely, eventual political independence. As with the Armenian case, what we can learn by looking back a century is that if the Balfour Declaration and its subsequent implementation had been undertaken in today’s post-colonial world it would qualify without question in the sense used here as a Geopolitical Crime, although not from the perspective of ICL.

Similarly, with the third initiative which was a spillover from World War I although distinct from its formal diplomacy. Turkey achieved independence by force of arms under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, a visionary leader who deter- mined to take Turkey down the path of modernization, which meant secularism, nationalism, industrialization, and statism. This led Ataturk to shift course, and in 1924 abolish the Islamic caliphate that had its administrative center in Istanbul, once again reinforcing the trend away from statelessness in the Ottoman Middle East and towards a statist region organized around the somewhat alien European model of territorial sovereignty.

I am suggesting that these three initiatives constitute the deep roots of the tragedy we currently witness in the Middle East undoubtedly aggravated by the presence of abundant oil reserves vital for the functioning of the world economy. This is not meant to diminish the relevance of more proximate realities that help up grasp the more immediate con- text of the present awful conjuncture of forces in the region. The Cold War, starting with the Truman Doctrine, led to rigidity and confrontation that also produced regime-changing interventions, as in Iran in 1953, protecting foreign investment in the oil industry and also ensuring ideological alignment with the West. These realities underlay the later inducements of geopolitical actors to intervene in the region to protect their access to the vast oil reserves of the Gulf, the concern of the West to stem the tide of political Islam that flowed from the Iranian experience in 1979, and to act in ways that bolstered Israel’s security. The 9/11 attacks, an outgrowth of these earlier developments, further aggravated by internal and external engagements that sought to shape the political future of the region. The Arab Spring of 2011 followed by counterrevolutionary responses have led to the chaos and violence evident in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, as well as the kind of repressive regime brought about by the 2013 military coup in Egypt.

 

Conclusion

I think that so me Geopolitical Crimes are ongoing and others are being initiated to reflect current realities. In. my judgment, the democratic citizenries of the world have strong incentives to oppose their commission. To illustrate this contemporary dimension, I would regard the withdrawal by Trump from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (2016) or his decertification of the Iran Nuclear Program Agreement (2015) as blatant Geopolitical Crimes that should be so understood and in a more humane world order, would be prohibited, if possible prevented, and if necessary, accordingly punished.

Telford Taylor, one of the American prosecutors at Nuremberg, ends his book comparing Nuremberg with Vietnam with this provocative quote from the French statesman, Georges Clemenceau: “It was worse than a crime it was a mistake.”  (Taylor, Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, 1970). What I have been suggesting is that we should criminalize geopolitical mistakes of grave magnitude. In this more normative sense, crimes are far worse than mistakes.

We can no longer afford the occurrence of deliberate choices by representatives of leading governments that should be foreseen as producing grave harm to the human interest in achieving humane societies and a sustainable future for the species. In effect, the vertical dimension of world order needs to become subject to the discipline of international criminal law for the sake of human wellbeing, species survival, and ICL needs to be expanded to include Geopolitical Crimes.

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United Nations General Assembly. (1998) “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”,

A/CONF.183/9, 17 July, p. 3. New York: United Nations.
United Nations General Assembly. (2017) “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”,

A/CONF.229/2017/8, pp. 1–10. New York: United Nations.

 

 

Required Reading: Noura Erakat on Palestine and Law

17 Jul

[Prefatory Note: The following review was also published today by Mondoweiss, an outstanding online news and opinion service addressing important international and domestic issues, with special attention to the following: the Palestinian national struggle; Israeli denial of basic Palestinian rights; U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East; and various efforts by Palestinians to promote global solidarity initiatives, and militant Zionists and the Israeli government to discredit, and even impose punitive policies on initiatives and even advocacy critical of Israeli policies and practices.]

 

Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. By Noura Erakat. Stanford University Press, 2019.

 

I make no claim to approach this book with an open mind. Making a fuller disclosure, I acknowledge with some pride that I have endorsed Justice for Some even before it was published, and my blurb appears on its back cover. Beyond this, two months ago I took part in a book launch at George Mason University where Noura Erakat is on the faculty. My effort in this review is not to make a calm appraisal of the book’s strengths and weaknesses, but rather to celebrate it as a major scholarly contribution to the critical literature devoted to resolving the Israel/Palestine struggle in line with the dictates of justice rather than by a continuing reliance on muscular weight of subjugation as augmented by geopolitics. And accordingly, to seize this opportunity to urge a careful reading of Justice for Some by all those interested in the Palestinian struggle as well as those curious about the way law works for and against human wellbeing as revealed by its use in a sequence of historical and societal circumstances.

 

Erakat focuses on the deformations of militarism and geopolitics that have been inflicted on the Palestinian people as a whole, making readers aware of how ‘law’ and injustice have all too often collaborated through the decades. Erakat brilliantly offers readers this illuminating critical jurisprudential exposition, but she does not stop there. Justice for Somealso partakes of a constructivist methodology in the following sense. While Israel has cleverly deployed law to oppress the Palestinian people, Erakat’s text also explains to readers how law can and is being used on behalf of justice, serving the cause of Palestinian empowerment as integral to the ongoing emancipatory struggle of the Palestinian people.

 

In a sense my own partisanship on behalf of the Palestinian struggle parallels that of Erakat who makes evident from the Preface that her intention is to depict Palestinian territorial and national victimization as transparently as possible through the optic of law and human rights and to deplore the Israeli use of legal regimes, procedures, and tactics to carry forward the Zionist project at the. cruel expense of the Palestinians.

 

Justice for Somerepresents an important trend in scholarship, which seeks to combinge academic objectivity with undisguised ethical and political engagement. Such a combination of goals might seem appropriate when dealing with a struggle as poignant as Israel/Palestine, but it has not been so treated. In mainstream scholarship. The academic canon on scholarly writing continues to favor the posture of neutrality or supposed objectivity as to policy implications, which is but a professional mask worn by naïve or cynical academicians unwilling to own up to their own subjectivities of perspective. Worse than this, the Zionist influence over scholarly and media discourse on this subject-matter is so great that forthright writing of the sort contained in Erakat’s book is censored, self-censored, and attacked as ‘biased.’ For the mainstream, Erakat’s originality and the persuasiveness of her analysis is ignored if she is lucky, and if not, demeaned. Such authors are often attacked as representatives of the so-called ‘New Anti-Semitism,’ that is, a label used to discredit writing and writers critical of Israel’s policies and practices by maliciously merging criticism with hatred of Jews. This deformed equation offers us a definition of hate speech that amounts to a death sentence for freedom of expression. It is a national disgrace that American legislative bodies at the state and federal level are swallowing this kool aid!

 

It is difficult to convey Erakat’s jurisprudential originality without extensive discussion, but I will try. Much springs from her bold assertion “I argue that law is politics.” (4) By this she means, put crudely, ‘the force of law’ depends on ‘the law of force,’ that is legal rights without the capability to implement the law to some degree is without effect or its insidious effect is to give legal cover to inhumane behavior.  Or as Erakat puts it metaphorically, politics provides the wind that a sail needs for the boat to move forward. At the same time Erakat when discussing Palestinian rights and tactics is insistent that the advocacy of ‘force’ does not imply a reliance on or a call for violence. Her tactical affirmation of nonviolence becomes explicit when she discusses approvingly the political relevance of the BDS campaign as well as in her emdorsement of various efforts to discredit Israel at the United Nations and elsewhere. Overall, Erakat reasons persuasively that Israel has been more adept than the Palestinians in making effective use of law, partly because the wind is at their back due to their linkages to geopolitics, especially the United States, but also because Israeli legal experts have done their ‘legal work’ better than have the Palestinians. Erakat’s book can be read as a stimulus to Palestinians to make better use of what she calls ‘principled legal opportunism.’ (19) In a larger sense, Israel due to geopolitical backing and discourse control has succeeded in having its most flagrant international crimes including the excessive use of force, collective punishment, and state terror ‘legalized’ under rubrics of ‘security’ and ‘self-defense,’ open ended legal prerogatives inherent in the very notion of a sovereign state. In contrast, Palestinians exercising an entirely justifiable right of resistance even if exercised against military targets is internationally criminalized and Palestinian behavior is characterized as ‘acts of terror.’ Israel’s most sinister ‘legal’ trick has been to defy  international law repeatedly and flagrantly without suffering any adverse consequences. This dynamic of defying the law can be illustrated by Israel’s dismissal of the World Court Advisory Opinion of 2004 despite the agreement of 14 of the 15 judges (does it surprise anyone, that the lone dissenter was the American judge?) that building the separation wall on occupied Palestinian territory violated the basic norms of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions (1977).

 

Erakat also deserves praise by maintaining a scholarly tone while not mincing her words or becoming entrapped in the often fuzzy language of law. The question of language is crucial to her understanding of the disjunctions between law and justice that have deprived the Palestinian people, and their nation, of the basic rights for more than a century. Erakat is straightforward in a manner of very few international law scholars that the issues at stake arise can be only properly evaluated if fully contextualized historically and ideologically.  Following Anthony Anghie, and several others, Erakat deems it essential to expose the roots of modern international law as reflective of a legal framing that served to legitimate European colonialism and its practices. She provocatively extends this generalization to Israel, identifying it as the last ‘settler colonial’ state to be established. I would add that Israel was established despite the powerful anti-colonial current of history that has flowed in one direction since 1945.

 

Erakat is equally prepared to identify the Israeli prolonged occupation of Palestine following the 1967 War as having become ‘annexation.’ She also affirms the view that Israel’s manner of controlling the Palestinian people through political fragmentation and the instrumentalities of law is a form of ‘apartheid.’ In critical and constructivist approaches the avoidance of legal euphemisms is central to the central undertaking of liberating legal mechanisms from the machinations of states. What truth-telling language does is to see through the legal masquerade so as to illuminate the moral issues at stake. This linguistic surgery is a prerequisite to elucidating the relationship of law to justice and injustice not only with respect to Palestine, but in relation to particular issues, whether involving international migrants, abused minorities, or peoples denied self-determination.

 

Justice for Somehelped me realize that this core sense of law as an inevitably politicized instrument of control and resistance can be at odds with the idea that I emphasized earlier in my own legal writing, that the true meaning of legal norms can only be discerned by their proper interpretation. I argued against the Vietnam War on this basis, contending that the American role entailed uses of force in violation of the UN Charter and international law governing uses of force, and that this argument was legallysuperior to the justifications being set forth by the U.S. Government and its apologists. This regulative (or hermeneutic) paradigm reflects the rhetoric of international law and the way lawyers habitually address controversy, including the modes of legal reasoning used by judges in tribunals, whether domestic or international, to explain and justify their decisions. It is especially applicable to the use of international law in statecraft to validate or invalidate contested behavior, indirectly reflecting both the intensity of the political winds filling the sails of the ship of state, but also the sophistication and motivations of whoever is doing the lawyering, and for whom.

 

Against the background of this understanding, what Erakat seeks and achieves is less about the emancipatory interpretation of legal norms and more about allowing us to grasp the manipulative nexus that underlies international legal discourse, and shapes political patterns of control and resistance. The regulative paradigm is complementary and backgrounded as Erakat’s overriding purpose is to develop a comprehensive rationale for a political and normative paradigm that fits the reality of the Palestinian and similar struggles for basic rights, especially that of self-determination, better than do traditional approaches. These paradigms do not necessarily contradict one another, but rest on differing functions of law and lawyers in various contexts, and from a jurisprudential perspective can be looked upon as complementary. Erakat’s undertaking is less concerned with understanding the way the world is, than how it ought to be. governed, and how law and lawyering can (on cannot) make this happen. In this sense, the defining spirit of Noura Erakat’s book calls to mind that famous remark of Karl Marx: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” [Theses on Feuerbach.

Remembering the World Court Advisory Opinion on Israel’s Separation Wall After 15 Years

10 Jul

Remembering the World Court Advisory Opinion on Israel’s Separation Wall After 15 Years

 

On July 9, 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague issued an Advisory Opinion by a vote of 14-1, with the American judge the lone dissenter, as if there would have been any doubt about such identity even if not disclosed. The decision rendered in response to a question put to it by a General Assembly resolution declared the separation wall unlawful, and that compliance with international law would require it to be dismantled and Palestinian communities and individuals compensated for harm incurred. As with the identity of the dissenting judge, the failure of Israel to comply with the decision was as predictable as the time of tomorrow’s sunrise.

 

Only slightly less anticipated was the American government response, which adopted its customary hegemonic tone, to instruct the parties that such issues should be resolved by politicalnegotiation, which even if heeded would end up as Israel wished, given the hierarchical relationship between Israel as occupier and Palestine as occupied. It doesn’t require a legal education to dismiss the American argument as fatuous at best, cynical at worst. The question put to the ICJ was quintessentially legal, that is, whether the construction of the separation wall on occupied Palestinian territory was or was not consistent with the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation.

 

Although the decision is labeled as an ‘advisory opinion’ it has the authoritative backing of a fully reasoned and documented consensus of the world’s most distinguished jurists as to the requirements of international law in relation to the construction of this 700km wall, 85% of which is situated on occupied Palestinian territory. The degree of authoritativeness of the legal analysis is enhanced by the one-sidedness of the decision. It is rare for a legal controversy before the ICJ to produce such near unanimity given the diversity of legal systems of the 15 judges and considering the civilizational and ideological differences that haunt world order generally.

 

This legaloutcome in The Hague was overwhelmingly endorsed politicallyby the General Assembly mandating Israeli compliance. It is disappointing that Israeli defiance of both the ICJ, the world’s highest judicial tribunal, and the General Assembly, the organ of the UN most representative of the peoples of the world, should have occasioned so little adverse commentary over the years. It is not only a further confirmation that the UN System and international law lacks the capacity to deliver even minimal justice to the Palestinian people but that such institutional authority is subject to a geopolitical veto, that is, international law without the backing of relevant power becomes paralyzed with respect to implementation.

 

When considering the constitutional right of veto given to the five permanent members of the Security Council as augmented by the informal geopolitical veto enabling dominant states to shield their friends as well as themselves from the constraints of international law, the dependence of law on the priorities of power becomes obvious, painfully so. It helps us grasp the perverse ways the world is currently organized.  It is truly pathetic that only the weak and vulnerable are subject to the constraints of law, while the strong and those shielded by the strong are the lawless overlords of this unruly planet.

 

The wall a notorious international symbol of coercive and exploitative separation, as epitomized by the apartheid security structures imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole has a grotesque pattern of implementation. Its ugly structures slice through and fragment Palestinian communities and neighborhoods, separating farmers from their farms, and creating a constant and an inescapable reminder of the nature of Israeli oppression.

 

It may put the issue of the separation wall in historical perspective to recall features of the Berlin Wall. During the Cold War it came to epitomize oppression in East Germany, and more generally in Eastern Europe. If the East German government had dared extend the wall even a few feet into West Berlin it would have meant war, and quite possibly World War III. And finally, when the wall came down it was an occasion of joyous celebration and a decisive moment in the historical dynamic that let the world know that the Cold War was over. It is helpful to appreciate that the Berlin Wall was designed to keep people in, while the Israeli Wall is supposed to keep people out.

 

There is also the question of motivation. As many have pointed out, the wall remains unfinished more than 15 years after it was declared necessary for Israeli security, which tends to support those critics that pointed out that if security was the true motive, it would have been finished long ago. Even if the claim is sincerely, in part, motivated by

security, it illustrates the unjust impacts of ‘the security dilemma’: small increments of Israeli security are achieved by creating much larger increments of insecurity for the Palestinians. Beyond security, it is obvious that this is one more land-grabbing tactic of the Israelis that is part of the wider Israeli strategy of treating ‘occupation,’ especially of the West Bank, as an occasion for ‘annexation.’ Even more insidiously, is the apparent Israeli intention to make Palestinian life near the wall so unendurable, that Palestinians relinquish their place of residence, ‘ethnic cleansing’ by any other name.  

 

What messages does this anniversary occasion deliver to the Palestinian people and the world? It is a grim reminder that the Palestinian people cannot hope to achieve justice or realize their rights by peaceful means. Such a reminder is particularly instructive as it comes at a time when intergovernmental efforts to find a political compromise between Israeli expectations and Palestinian aspirations has been pronounced a failure. This failure, again not surprisingly, has meant a dramatic shift in approaching ‘peace’ and ‘a solution’ from diplomacy to geopolitics, from the Oslo flawed diplomatic framework to the Trump ‘deal of the century’ or as Kushner has rephrased it, ‘peace to prosperity.’ Or more transparently phrased, it is ‘the victory caucus’ that Daniel Pipes and the Middle East Forum that he presides over has promoted so successfully in recent months, in effect, advocating a final betrayal of the rights of the Palestinian people, an approach that has evidently found a receptive audience in both the U.S. Congress/White House and the Israeli Knesset.

 

This geopolitical strategy is a thinly disguised attempt to satisfy Israel’s expectations as to borders, refugees, settlements, water, and Jerusalem while repudiating Palestinian rights under international law, including their most fundamental right of self-determination, supposedly a legal entitlement of all peoples in the post-colonial era.

The question that remains is ‘how much longer can the Zionist Project swim against the strong historical current of anti-colonialism?’

 

The answer in my view depends on whether the global solidarity movement, together with Palestinian resistance, can reach a tipping point that leads Israeli leadership to reconsider its ‘security’ and its future. Such a point was reached in South Africa, admittedly under quite different conditions, but with an analogous sense that the Afrikaner leadership would never give up control without being defeated in a bloody struggle for power.    

What Comes After Bahrain?

6 Jul

Is there an ‘After’ After the Kushner show in Bahrain?

 

 

[Prefatory Note: The interview below was published by Tasmin New Agency on July 2, 2019, conducted by Mohammad Hassani. The text below has been somewhat modified.]

Q1: Bahrain hosted the so-called “Peace to Prosperity” conference to discuss what the US has described as the economic part of President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, a plan which aims to consign the Palestinian cause to oblivion. The Palestinian leadership boycotted the meeting on June 25 and 26 in Manama, leading critics to question the credibility of the event. In your opinion, what goals are the US and Israel pursuing by holding the conference? Would they reach their goals?

 

The ‘workshop’ in Bahrain should never have been evaluated without considering the overall approach taken by the Trump presidency to Israel and Palestine. The relationship to Israel pre-Trump had been one of leaning toward Israel while purporting to be ‘an honest broker,’ a thinly disguised partisanship. Since Trump became president the U.S. has dispensed with thin disguise, and become the avowed

partner of Israel and adversary of Palestinian goals. It manifested this shift in several concrete unprovoked policy shifts that were deliberately punitive toward the Palestinians. Such behavior was a strange prelude to a proclaimed ‘diplomatic’ initiative hyperbolically called ‘the deal of the century.’ Washington’s behavior clearly signaled an end to diplomacy based on agreement and consent of the parties, substituting coercion on behalf of the favored party and seeking submission by its adversary.

 

From such a perspective it should be understood that the purpose of ‘Peace to Prosperity’ is neither peace nor prosperity, but securing an Israeli ‘victory’ and a Palestinian surrender with respect to the political agenda of achieving basic national rights, especially the right of self-determination. Thus, the Manama meeting is a success to the extent it made the proposed bargain of economic normalization in exchange for political defeat seem of material benefit to the governments of the region and had some attraction for the Palestinian Authority and segments of the Palestinian people. The reactions to the event seem very subdued suggesting that the Kushner/Trump initiative has had very little, if any, political impact so far. The secondary objective is one of public relations, being able to blame the anticipated failure to achieve ‘the deal of the century’ on the Palestinians. I fear the Western mainstream media will lend some support to this outrageous claim, which confuses the rejection of American ultimatum, preceded by a series of pro-Israel policy moves (Jerusalem, settlements, UNRWA funding, closing the PLO information office Washington, endorsing Golan and West Bank annexations) hostile to the Palestinians as signaling this Trump shift from pro-Israeli partisanship of the Obama era to pro-Israeli coercive diplomacy currently practices by Washington.

 

Against this background, it is disingenuous for Israeli apologists such as Dershowitz and others to urge the Palestinians to listen with an open mind to what the Trump ‘peace initiative’ is proposing. To lend legitimacy to such coercive diplomacy would be a sign of weakness and an expression of illegitimacy by representatives of the Palestinian people. It would have been seen as an expression of Palestinian hopelessness. Instead, if their refusal to participate in such a macabre charade is linked to the resistance struggle in Gaza embodied in the Great March of Return, it is a moment for those of us in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to lend greater support to nonviolent initiatives, including the BDS campaign.

Q2: Some analysts say that the Trump administration’s focus on an economic plan, led by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, is a strategic mistake that could stymie the peace negotiations even before they begin. What is your assessment of the US approach to the conflict and the future of the plan? Is it practical at all?

 

The Trump/Kushner ‘plan’ is not looking toward genuine diplomatic negotiations. It is trying to impose a one-sided Israeli victory, and treat the conflict as resolved. This overlooks the robustness of Palestinian resistance, dramatized by the Great March of Return in Gaza, and by the growing global solidarity movement, as featuring the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) Campaign. It should be appreciated that such a campaign managed over time delegitimized South Africa’s apartheid regime to such an extent that it collapsed. Such a soft power Palestinian victory can still be expected if this combination of resistance, solidarity, and patience persist in a manner that imposes sufficient costs on Israel for its reliance on an apartheid structure to achieve its ‘security’ at the expense of Palestinian basic rights. The hope of most activists is that Israeli leaders and citizens will recalculate their interests so as to accept a political compromise based on the equality of rights of the two peoples coexisting with mutual respect in historic Palestine. Remember that all of the anti-colonial victories of the 20th century were achieved by the weakerside militarily and geopolitically.

Q3: Israeli occupation forces have killed 84 Palestinians during the first half of 2019, including eight women and 19 children, according to local media reports. On Friday, Israeli forces once again opened fire on Palestinians taking part in the peaceful “Great March of Return” protests, along the separation fence between the besieged Gaza Strip and occupied territories. According to media reports, more than 270 people, including 52 children, have been killed since the demonstrations began in March 2018. Most of the dead and the thousands wounded were unarmed civilians against whom Israel was using excessive force. Why has the international community, particularly the Western mainstream media, made a muted response to the Tel Aviv regime’s crimes against Palestinians so far?

Israel reliance on excessive force and collective punishment to deal with the Great March of Return, and its grievances and lawful demands, should be treated as violations of international humanitarian law of a severity that amounts to crimes against humanity. It is a shocking reflection of media bias that it accords massive attention to human rights violations in Turkey of a relatively lesser character, while ignoring and even rationalizing much more serious violations by Israel. Although Western liberals have counseled Palestinians to rely on nonviolence in their opposition to Israel, such reliance as in the Great March has been consistently met with brutal force by Israel and by virtual silence in the world media, by the governments of the world, and even by the United Nations. It is a case of geopolitics eclipsing moral and legal accountability exposing the lack of political

will to protect the innocent and vulnerable from abuse by the vindictive and militarily powerful.

 

The growing movement of global solidarity as reinforced by Palestinian acts of resistance to apartheid structures of oppression is the sole basis for a peaceful future for both peoples, Palestinians and Israeli Jews.