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Arms Control & Disarmament: A Failed Marriage

25 May

 

Arms Control & Disarmament: A Failed Marriage

 

Fatal Complacency

 

The ongoing pandemic makes us obsessively aware of the precariousness of life, and if from the U.S., the mendacious incompetence of our political leadership. Yet, it also makes most of us as obsessively complacent when the

threats seem remote and abstract. This complacency with respect to contagious disease greatly worsened the level of fatalities, as well as the profound social and economic dislocations associated with the still unfolding COVID-19 experience. Such a pandemic was unimaginable until it became too real and omnipresent to be imagined, but only experienced at various degrees of separation. Being obsessed, fearful, and resentful is not the same as being imagined.

 

The linkages between contagious disease and climate change is too evident

to ignore altogether: The falling price of oil, the declining carbon emissions, the global imperative of cooperation, uneven vulnerabilities, andthe relevance of justice and empathy.

 

With respect to nuclear hazards, especially from the weaponry and their possible use, there is a growing disconnect between risk and behavior, a

combination of nuclearism prevailing among the political elites of the nuclear weapons states and public disregard. There is a greater appreciation of the dangers associated with nuclear energy. The disaster at Fukushima, and longer ago at Chernobyl, are grim reminders of risks and potential catastrophe.

 

Yet surrounding nuclear weaponry there is an aura of complacency reinforced by a false sense of self-interest. The complacency arises from the startling fact that no nuclear weapon has been exploded during a combat situation in the 75 years since the horrifying attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Complacency also feeds off the suppressed realization that governments base their ultimate security on threats to annihilate tens of millions of innocent persons and subject our natural habitats to extreme disaster. With regard to nuclear dangers assuming the dreaded will never happen could turn out to be the greatest bio-ethical folly in the entire history of the human species. We forget folk wisdom at our peril: ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Governments need to invest their energies and resources in anticipatory approaches to impending disasters and not entrust the collective fate of humanity to reactive responses when various dark unimaginables happen as they certainly will.

 

In this spirit, I argue for a better understanding the distinction between arms control and disarmament approaches to nuclearism, which helps explain why choosing the disarmament path is vital for the human future. Despite this contention, nuclear disarmament is currently so low on the policy agenda of the nuclear weapons states as to be dismissed as either superfluous or utopian.

 

The Distinction

 It is often argued that arms control is a realistic approach to national security in the nuclear age that can be thought of as satisfying preconditions for negotiating a verified nuclear disarmament agreement when international conditions are right. Arms control measures have the added benefit of reducing risks of an accidental or mistaken use of nuclear weapons and of avoiding wasteful costs associated with arms competition designed to maintain security in relation to adversaries. There are good faith beliefs present in this support for arms control, but this advocacy hides, often unconsciously, an important quite different more complex and confusing parts of a broader story. In addition to reducing risks and miscalculations of intended nuclear war or expensive and dangerous extensions of competition in nuclear armaments, arms control seems to have as its primary goal bringing as much stability as possible to a structure of world order that is presumed to be nuclear armed. It also has a secondary seldom avowed goal of providing an instrument useful in the conduct of foreign policy. It allows some nuclear weapons states to take tactical advantage of their posture of nuclear superiority when confronting one another or of positing nuclear threats, especially against non-nuclear hostile countries in confrontational situations.

 

In contrast, the advocacy of nuclear disarmament believes unconditionally that the only safe and decent course of action is to do everything possible to get safely rid of nuclear weaponry as soon as possible. Nuclear weapons pose threats to human wellbeing and ecological stability in the form of catastrophe and even extinction. Disarmament goals are as a practical matter at odds with the arms control approach for at least three major reasons. First of all, a disarmament process threatens widely accepted ideas about nuclear stability. Instead, it generates uncertainty, especially if not coupled in its latter stages with a global demilitarization. process. The arms control view is that the more stable the overall political environment with respect to the weaponry the safer and more secure the world. The attainment of such stability carries with it a lessened incentive for political leaders to embark upon a denuclearizing disarmament alternative. This reluctance is not primarily, as often alleged, because of destabilizing risks of cheating and fears that any renewal of nuclear arms competition would be more dangerous than is a world order in which the nuclear weapons states exercise prudence and prevent further proliferation of the weaponry, but reflects militarist habits and geopolitical calculations.

 

Secondly, there exists a powerful nuclear establishment joining parts of the governmental bureaucracy with weapons labs and war industry private sector interests. Thirdly, and least acknowledged, is the degree to which foreign policy planners in several nuclear weapons states find and propose roles for these weapons to deter provocations, to solidify alliances, exert geopolitical and tactical leverage, and provide a hedge against future uncertainties.

 

Although such considerations are not unfamiliar in the strategic literature, the link to arms control rarely is explicitly made, or if made, is done so in a rather misleading and superficial manner that presupposes its compatibility with disarmament advocacy. Sometimes, the argument is made that arms control is a confidence-building step toward disarmament or that nuclear disarmament, although not presently attainable, remains the ultimate goal, but the time must be right. The lesson drawn is that in the meantime given existing world conditions, arms control is the most and best that can be hoped for, while nuclear disarmament remains the shared hope of humanity if conditions ever become suitable to move seriously toward the elimination of the weaponry.  Underlying these justifications for relegating the prospects of getting rid of nuclear weaponry to forever horizons—by proclaiming disarmament as the ‘ultimate’ goal—is to signal that it is not really a goal at all except as a way of keeping genuine disarmament advocates appeased and confused.

 

The true story is that the national security establishment, at least in the U.S., and undoubtedly elsewhere, is opposed to nuclear disarmament as a policy option, for two interrelated reasons. First, possession of nuclear weapons gives states international prestige and leverage even if never actively relied upon. Secondly, avoiding disarmament keeps in being a regime of ‘nuclear apartheid’ enabling nuclear weapons states to pose unspeakable threats in crisis situations that are likely quite effective, given the extreme vulnerability of non-nuclear states. Merely having a nuclear weapons arsenal sends an intimidating message to potential adversaries, especially if nuclear weapons are being designed and developed with future combat missions in mind.

 

The ambiguities of arms control are most vividly exposed with respect to the establishment and maintenance of the anti-proliferation regime. The United States claims that it is carrying out a positive world order role by taking responsibility for ‘enforcing’ the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). This form of geopolitical enforcement, that is, without UN authorization or legal prerogative, is directed against certain outlier countries (e.g. Iran, North Korea) that are accused of seeking such weaponry. It is questionable whether such behavior should be treated as arms control. It seems more appropriately viewed as an integral nuclear component of global hegemony.

 

 

The Anti-Proliferation Regime

 There are other features of the anti-Proliferation regime that occasion suspicion.

Double standards pervade the implementation of the NPT. The standards of nonproliferation found in this widely ratified treaty are not applied consistently. If the government evading proliferation controls is a strategic ally (Israel) or if the country crossing the nuclear threshold is too large to challenge (India, Pakistan), the enlargement of the nuclear club will be tolerated, or even encouraged. Yet if a hostile country seeks the weapons for credible deterrence reasons, then it will experience various forms of pressure, and even become subject to sanctions and threats of attack.

Nuclear deployments and threats to use nuclear weapons confer geopolitical advantages and options on the nuclear weapons states, besides giving some security about the threats of being attacked. Qaddafi was undoubtedly correct when he said that Libya would not have been attacked in 2011`had it possessed nuclear weapons, and Iraq in 2003 was likely attacked because it didn’t have a nuclear deterrent. It is instructive that North Korea was not attacked once it crossed the nuclear threshold even in a small, largely symbolic, manner.

This rationale for retaining nuclearism was starkly confirmed by the formal statement issued by the U.S., France, and the UK on July 13, 2017 as to why they totally rejected any connection with the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, emphasizing the positive role of nuclear weaponry in keeping the peace. In view of these considerations, why do NGOs in civil society continue to act as if they are working for nuclear disarmament when they do not reject  the essential elements of an arms control approach?

Above all, despite experience and evidence, ‘the arms control first’ community believes that reducing the size of the arsenal and agreeing not to develop some weapons systems are helpful measures on their own as well lending themselves to being promoted as stepping stones to disarmament negotiations. Additionally, there is the belief that the retention of nuclear weapons is so entrenched that only arms control agreements are feasible, and disarmament a diversionary pipe dream. From this perspective, arms control arrangements are better than nothing even if completely unrelated to achieving nuclear disarmament. Finally, as arms control activism is concentrated in Washington, the only way for political moderates in civil society to get a seat at the table set by government is to shed the utopian image of disarmament advocacy and settle for what is feasible although it means dancing with the devil.

We can ask, then, where does this leave those dedicated to peace, and especially to avoiding any threat or use of a nuclear weapon in the course of a war?  In my view, it is not appropriate to adopt an either/or position of saying no disarmament because unattainable or never arms control because it legitimates nuclear apartheid, and closes its eyes to geopolitical reliance on the leverage gained by wielding the weaponry. It is currently important to challenge public complacency about nuclear weaponry because these weapons have not been used since 1945, and to become attentive to the warnings of impending danger signaled by moving the highly credible, risk-assessing Doomsday Clock of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to within 100 seconds to midnight, or closer to doomsday than it has ever been since established in 1947. In effect, it is delusional to suppose that we can indefinitely co-exist with this infernal weaponry, especially given the lethal blend of demagogues and nationalist passions that dominate the governance structures of the world.

It would also be helpful to call attention to the fact that the NPT in Article VI imposes an unconditional obligation of nuclear weapons states to engage in good faith nuclear disarmament negotiations as part of the agreement reached with other states to forego the nuclear weapons option. The obligatory character of this legal commitment was unanimously affirmed by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion delivered in 1996, and yet by continuing to invest heavily in the continuous modernization of the nuclear weapons arsenal, including the development of new nuclear weapons designed for possible combat use means that this central legal obligation of the NPT regime is being defiantly ignored. There is no disposition on the part of any state to call for the geopolitical enforcement of Article VI, and until this happens the treaty is mainly functions as a disguise for nuclearism and nuclear apartheid.

Even if this Article VI legal commitment did not exist, the idea of resting security on discretionary threats to retaliate by destroying tens of millions of innocent civilians and contaminating the atmosphere of the entire planet quite possibly causing what experts call ‘a nuclear famine’ and widespread disease. Such omnicidal courses of action underline the immorality of resting security on such massive indiscriminate nuclear strikes that would fill the air with contaminating radioactivity. The UN ICAN Treaty, now formally ratified by 37 of the 50 States needed to bring the agreement into force is an important move in the right direction, and far more a helpful signpost than is an uncritical endorsement of this or that arms control proposal. Yet unless the ICAN Treaty is extended in its coverage to the nuclear weapons states it remains in the realm of rhetorical moralism lacking behavioral consequences.

There are arms control measures that can be supported in good conscience, including No First Use Declarations removing ambiguity from threats to use the weapons, and de-alerting measures that gives leaders more time to avoid accidental or unintended uses. Such measures rarely motivate champions of arms control because their advocacy hampers cooperation with geopolitical pragmatists who are running the world. The refusal to embrace No First Use thinking in doctrine and practice is revealing: it suggests that the real interface of compatibility is between arms control and geopolitics rather than as proclaimed, as between arms control and disarmament.

In the end, anyone genuinely devoted to world peace needs to recognize the urgency of taking an unconditional stand against retaining nuclear weapons as an indispensable step toward achieving peace for all peoples on earth and part of the challenge of being ecologically responsible guardians of planetary viability.

 

 

Gangster Geopolitics in the Global Jungle: Annexation Tops Israel’s Macabre Dance Card

16 May

[Prefatory Note: Republication of opinion piece published in Al Jazeera English on May 13, 2020. Link is https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/gangster-geopolitics-israel-annexation-plans-200511154825347.html. The published AJE text has been slightly modified.]

 

 

Gangster Geopolitics in the Global Jungle: Annexation Tops Israel’s Macabre Dance Card

 

 

Annexation Foreplay

 

These are the strangest of times. On this almost everyone will agree.

Lives all over the planet are being torn apart either by COVIS-19 or as a result of its devastating social and economic dislocations. In such a moment, it is hardly surprising that the best and worst of humanity is being showcased.

 

Yet what seems worse beyond even these forebodings is the persistence of gangster geopolitics in its various manifestations.

Intensifying U.S. sanctions in the midst of the health crisis on already

deeply afflicted societies and suffering populations such as Iran and Venezuela is one striking example. This display of the primacy of geopolitics is highlighted by its rejections of numerous high profile

humanitarian appeals for the suspension of sanctions, at least for the duration of the pandemic. Instead of suspension and empathy, we find tone deaf Washington almost gleefully upping its ‘maximum pressure’ policy, perversely grabbing the opportunity to rachet up the pain level.

 

Another dark tale is the macabre Israeli dance around the disruptive lawlessness of the annexation pledge that Netanyahu has promised to implement as early as July, having the assent of his power-sharing rival, Benny Gantz, to proceed without the need to gain the assent of his coalition co-leader. It is not even controversial to insist that any annexation of occupied Palestinian territory directly violates fundamental norms of international law. Maybe because of this, Israel is poised to annex without even attempting to offer legal justifications for overriding the widely endorsed and rigidly interpreted rule that a sovereign state is not allowed to annex foreign territory acquired by force.

 

This instance of annexation additionally involves an extreme repudiation of international humanitarian law as embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It amounts to a unilateral move by Israel to change the status of land in the West Bank from that of occupier, since 1967) to that of its sovereign territorial authority. It also disregards the legal pledge in Oslo II (1995) to transfer to Palestine by stages jurisdiction over Area C in the post-Oslo administrative mapping of the West Bank. And further, such contemplated annexation directly challenges the authority of the UN, which by an overwhelming continuous consensus regards Israel’s presence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza as solely based on force and occupation, making any modification dependent on a prior authoritative expression of Palestinian consent, which is even hard to imagine ever being given. Not only is annexation unlawful, but has the potential to be regionally disruptive, agitating neighbors, especially Jordan, possibly Egypt, and directly challenges the continuing European zombie attachment to a two-state solution.

 

What has generally been overlooked in the extensive commentary on the annexation prospect is that it not only ignores the Palestinian self-determination, it also ‘forgets’ that the UN has unfulfilled promise and responsibility to find a just solution for Palestine that it inherited from the United Kingdom that had been administering the territory between the two world wars. What had been even in the days of the League ‘a sacred trust’ becomes in the era of post-colonial gangster geopolitics ‘wanton disregard.’

 

 

Israelis Insist Annexation is About ‘Security’

 

For all these reasons it is not surprising that even Israeli heavyweights, including former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as retired IDF security officers are sounding an alarm. Some militant Zionists oppose annexation at this point because it will expose the delusion that Israel is a democracy as well as a State of the Jewish people as worries mount that absorbing Palestinians in the West Bank will in due course threaten Jewish ethnic hegemony. Of course, none of this Israeli/Zionist ‘second thoughts debate’ objects to annexation because it violates international law, sidesteps and undermines UN or EU authority, and ignores Palestinian inalienable rights. All the objections to annexation from within Israel or among Zionist militants are couched by exclusive reference to a variety of concerns about alleged negative impacts on Israeli security. In particular, these critics from within Israel’s national security establishment are worried about disturbing Arab neighbors and further alienating world public opinion, especially in Europe, and to some extent worry about the reactions of ‘liberal Zionists,’ and thus weakening solidarity bonds of overseas Jews with Israel in the U.S. and Europe.

 

The pro-annexation side of the Israeli policy debate also mentions security considerations, especially with respect to the Jordan Valley and the settlements, but much less so. Unlike the critics, the more ardent proponents of annexation are land claimants. They invoke a Jewish biblical entitlement to Judea and Samaria (known internationally as the ‘West Bank’). This entitlement is reinforced by referencing Jewish deep cultural traditions and centuries of historical connections between a small Jewish presence as being continuous and this land being treated as a self-created sacred guardianship. As with Israeli critics of annexation, supporters feel no need to explain, or even notice, the disregard of Palestinian grievances and rights. Annexationist don’t dare put forward an argument that the Jewish claims are more deserving of recognition than are the competing national claims of Palestinians, undoubtedly because their case is so weak in terms of uncontested modern ideas of law, as well as the ethics of territorial entitlement.

 

As has been case throughout the Zionist narrative, Palestinian grievances, aspirations, and even the existence of a Palestinian people is not part of the Zionist imaginary except as political obstacles and demographic impediments. At the same time, all long Zionism has been tactically opportunistic about disclosing the full extent of its project, instead acting in public as if what it could gain under a given set of circumstances was all that it wanted and expected at some future point to acquire. When one considers the evolution of the main drift of Zionism since its inception, the longer-term aspiration of marginalizing Palestinians in a single dominant Jewish state that encompassed the whole of Israel’s ‘promised land’ has never been forsaken. In this sense the UN partition plan while accepted as a solution at the time by the Zionist leadership, is better interpreted as a stepping stone to recovering as much of the promised land as possible. In the course of the last hundred years, from a Zionist perspective utopia became reality, while for the Palestinians reality became dystopia.

 

 

The Macabre Dance

 

How the prelude to annexation is being addressed by Israel and the United States is as dismaying as is the underlying erasure of the Palestinians, except possibly as a restive population to be kept fragmented and as disunited as possible so that their resistance and

objections can be efficiently muted. Israel has already privileged annexation in the Gantz/Netanyahu unity government, making a proposal for annexation to be submitted to the Knesset any time after July 1st. The only precondition accepted by agreement establishing the Netanyahu/Gantz unity government was conforming the contours of the annexation to the territorial allocations embodied in the notoriously one-sided Trump/Kushner ‘From Peace to Prosperity’ proposal, which seems reasonable to treat as tantamount to an outright stamp of approval by the U.S. Government. Even without the disclosure of the Trump peace plan, U.S. approval was hardly ever in doubt. It follows from Trump’s endorsement of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights in occupied Syrian territory a few months ago.

 

As could be expected, Trump’s America is creating no friction, not even whispering to Netanyahu at least to offer legal justifications or explain away the negative effects of annexation on Palestinian peace prospects. Instead, the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has given a green light to West Bank annexation even before Israel formalized its claim, declaring provocatively that annexation is a matter for the Israelis to determine on their own (as if neither Palestinians nor international law had any relevance). He added that the U.S. will convey its opinions privately to the government of Israel.

 

Perhaps, this is a wily move by Washington. In effect, leaving it to Israel to handle any regional or UN blowback resulting from carrying out this controversial annexation. If an international pushback of any consequence occurs, the Israeli government would have to take responsibility for handling the outcry. In this sense, perhaps the Trump administration is learning the game, by this time seeking to avoid, or at least deflect, the angry reactions directed at the U.S. in the UN and elsewhere after announcing in December 2017 its intention to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

 

Gangster Geopoliticss

 

In the undisclosed background, the calloussness of the annexation initiative seems designed to neuter the UN and blunt international criticism of Israel. It is expected that annexation will be greeted by strong rhetoric of denunciation from several European leaders and possibly candidate Biden, but unaccompanied by any serious push for an international campaign to reverse this taking of Palestinian land. On the basis of past experience, it seems likely that after a few days of media coverage concerns will subside, and the world will move on. Even the Palestinians discouraged by years of fruitless waiting, seem to be suffering, at least temporarily, from a combination of resistance fatigue and ineffectual solidarity initiatives. Such an assessment, is best understood as one more sign that Israel/U.S. relations are being managed in accord with ‘gangster geopolitics,’ and without paying heed to international law or UN authority. Such a pejorative label intends to condemn any annexation such as this one that sweeps law and morality aside while political space is forcibly cleared for land theft.

 

While gangster geopolitics may be extinguishing the last remnant of Palestinian hopes for political compromise and a diplomacy based on a genuine commitment to equity and equality, there are voices of resistance struggling to be heard. I highlight my dissent to annexation by describing this critical response as ‘gangsta geopolitics’ borrowing from pop culture’s ‘gangsta rap’ that fights back from the streets of the world on behalf of the people suffering from racist

police tactics. Of course, this is a metaphor, yet it illuminates an incredible pattern of official behavior that is hard to believe is acknowledged in Israeli public discourse.

 

First, there is the defiant nature of the Israeli annexation claim. Secondly, there is the single qualification that Israel must obtain

a geopolitical stamp of approval from the U.S. Government before going forward with annexation. Thirdly, that the U.S. Government seems to throw the ball back to Israel by saying the decision to annex is Israel’s to make, yet it will give Israel’s the benefit of its private opinion on the matter, presumably on the tactics of timing and presentation, without any consideration of matters of principle.

 

There is a ghostly melody accompanying this macabre dance. Israel tames its unilateralism by a gesture of geopolitical deference, and by this posturing, acts as if the approval of the United States matters as

something more than a political show of support. The U.S. doesn’t question the Israeli logic, yet it doesn’t want to accept responsibility

for a public show of approval, leaving Israel free to act as it wishes although withholding, at least for now, any expression of approval or disapproval with respect to annexation.

 

This leaves unattended the awkward gap between the

Israeli unity government agreement with its requirement to obtain U.S. approval and Pompeo’s demurrer. Whether this will cause any problems as the July date approaches is unlikely, especially as Israel will present annexation as a partial implementation of the Trump proposals. I suspect that the U.S. private message will be one of discreet approval, which Netanyahu will undoubtedly treat as satisfying the agreement with Gantz.

 

What stands out here is the arrogance of the politics of annexation. Not only are the rules and procedures of the world public order cast aside, but the internal discourse on the transfer of rights is carried on as if the people most affected are irrelevant, a kind of ‘internal Orientalism.’ Let’s hope that we who resort to gangsta rap to put these developments in the perspective they deserve, can do more at the time when the annexation move is formalized than gnash our teeth in frustration while observing this lamentable spectacle unfold.

 

 

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Sanctions on Iran, and the Maladies of World Order

12 May

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Sanctions on Iran, and the Maladies of World Order

 

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of my responses to three recent interviews with the Iranian journalist, Javad Herian-Nia, and published previously in Iran over the course of the last month. The text of my responses has been modified by subsequent developments and further reflections on my part.]

 

1-What will be effects of coronavirus on the current world order?

At this point, in the middle of the pandemic, any response is highly speculative. When speculating it seems helpful to distinguish between what we regard as probable outcomes as distinct from what would be desirable effects beneficial for humanity and sensitive to ecological concerns.

With respect to probable effects, I am aware of two broad sets of influential perspectives emerging, which admittedly somewhat confuse what is likely to happen with what we wish would happen. As near as I can tell from listening to preliminary American post-pandemic conjectures, private and public sector leaders are preoccupied with taking steps to restore the pre-pandemic dynamics, especially with regard to the economy, without substantial modifications beyond the recognition that governments should invest more resources in preparing national health systems for the lingering persistence and possible recurrence of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as other outbreaks of contagious disease.

 

It is important to appreciate that previously in this century there were several lethal epidemics (SARS, Ebola, avian flu), although this COVID-19 experience has a far greater human and societal impact for two main reasons: first, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 to be a ‘pandemic,’ which automatically focuses attention on the severity of the challenge; and secondly, the crisis has seriously afflicted countries in the West, which heightens world media and public attention, and ensures more effort to assess the experience from a world order perspective. This latter observation is particularly true for the United States, and possibly China, as both have become ‘global states,’ that is, States with an array of major political, economic, and social engagements that creates ‘presences’ far beyond national boundaries. The reality of ‘global states’ in the post-colonial era has not yet attracted the notice it deserves as altering the structure of state-centric world order.

 

What restoring pre-pandemic world order will mean is not entirely clear, and is somewhat contested, as to what were its essential features prior to this deeply dislocating experience. Most obviously, restoration would mean facilitating the rapid revival of transnational trade and capital flows, a renewed effort to reduce economic tensions that were rising to the level of ‘trade wars’ before the onset of the pandemic. Such a preferred model of a restored world overlooks the likely resistance of ultra-nationalist and protectionist trends in major States that include a deliberate retreat from neoliberal globalization. Such nationalistic repositioning was reinforced by negative reactions in many Western countries to the influx of refugees from combat zones and migrants seeking to raise their living standards above subsistence levels. The lockdowns during the health crisis also provided pretexts for relying on surveillance technologies, and generally led to greater social tolerance for authoritarian policies and practices, governance habits quite likely to persist after the pandemic phase of the disease has subsided, which has been the historical pattern of past pandemics so well depicted in Frank M. Snowden’s Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (2019).

 

These obstacles to reviving the ‘old normal’ will also be challenged by the widespread belief that many of the jobs lost during the pandemic will not become available to workers in a post-pandemic atmosphere as economies will take advantage of automation due to developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. Particularly in capitalist countries, past economic crises have been occasions for a streamlining of the labor force on the basis of more rigorous standards of worker efficiency. In so doing, profits margins are regained, even increased, while jobs are lost and high unemployment, especially at middle income levels, haunts the recovery process. There is little reason to doubt that this pattern will be repeated in the present circumstances, which included such drastic socio-economic dislocations, and more likely with take on more extreme characteristics.

 

A more prescriptive effort to restore the old world order based on stability and economic growth places emphasis on recreating the conditions that produced what is again embraced as past success worth reviving. Henry Kissinger, writing in the conservative Wall Street Journal, recommended an imitation of the strategies relied upon by the U.S. Government after the end of World War II, especially assertive American global leadership, a mobilization of resources to restore market vitality in the countries of the West. Such an approach would involve a new Atlanticism for countries in Europe  most adversely affected by the pandemic, and a strengthened health system as integral to future national, global, and regional security. This kind of assessment blends the probable with the desirable, but it also swims against the pre-pandemic tide of ultra-nationalism that placed stress on transactional bargains rather than inter-governmental cooperative problem-solving, which acknowledges global interests as a main component of national interests, given the realities of digital globalization, or the complexities of interconnectedness. Insofar as directed at Washington, any serious prospect of strong American global leadership along Kissingerian lines depends on replacing Trump with someone more responsive to the global scale challenges facing humanity and more capable in managing the public relations global diplomacy.

From my perspective, a desirable post-pandemic approach would definitely seek ‘a new normal’ that modify world order as we knew it. Primary attention would be given to meeting the pre-pandemic challenges of global inequality, climate change, extreme poverty, migration and asylum, and the myriad other policy concerns that were not being adequately addressed by the procedures of state-centric world order. The various failures of global leadership by the United States and the predatory excesses of post-Cold War capitalism make adjustments in light of eco-stability, human rights, and economic and social justice vital. Such a reorientation of international political behavior would also require the repudiation of militarist geopolitics and the abandonment of coercive diplomacy (including punitive sanctions), and their replacement by behavior exhibiting respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations, and greater reliance on procedures for peaceful conflict resolution. Such a reorientation would achieve a better balance in foreign policy between the sovereign rights of States and the global responsibility of the UN System to secure compliance with individual and collective rights, as well as encouraging ecological stewardship and climate justice. Such a visionary approach will strike many observers as utopian, but from another perspective such advocacy can be regarded as embodying a necessary ethical, security, and ecological response framework to the realities and threats, and opportunities, of the contemporary world, which if not addressed in a timely and equitable fashion will result in a tragic destiny for future generations.

2-Current world order is mostly based on neoliberalism and to some extent on political realist policymaking. What are the deficiencies of these approaches as revealed by coronavirus?

I would add a structural element to your way of summarizing current world order. It is the statist character of world order that has evolved over time from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that ended the Religious Wars in Europe, and gave rise to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state as the main building block of world order. This state-centric system of world order, originally a European regional arrangement, became gradually universalized as the dialectic between colonialism and anti-colonialism in the non-Western world unfolded in the twentieth century. This process established a strong consensus among governments that only States were eligible to become fully accredited participants in formal international politics. This criterion regulating status and participation in international political life also explains limiting membership in the United Nations to entities that qualify as States under international law, although there has been advocates of more inclusive participation, which would include regional actors and representative civil society actors. Colonialism imposed statist networks in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa with little attention to the antecedent experience of empire and colonial rule, thereby overlooking the reality of ethnic and traditional contours of natural political communities for the affected peoples. This has led these regions to endure continuous strife in the post-colonial world that has so far only been overcome by imposing authoritarian rule that achieves order by repressing resisting elements in the society, often supplemented by gross corruption at the apex of the governance pyramid.

 

A further aspect of this kind of Westphalian world order is the role of geopolitics, which here refers to the discretionary behavior of leading States that refuse to accept restraints on their freedom of maneuver externally, and reject any kind of accountability with regard to abuses occurring within their own country, thereby absolutizing territorial sovereignty. The global legalization of such rogue behavior is embedded in the UN Charter, most openly expressed by vesting a right of veto in the five permanent members of the Security Council, the only organ within the UN System with the authority to reach binding decisions. In effect, the UN Charter rather shockingly acknowledges the uncontrollability of the five political actors, although these are the states that most endanger international peace and security. Turkey has for a decade been challenging this kind of hegemonic arrangement by calling for global reform along constitutional lines, adopting the slogan ‘the world is greater than five’ to highlight its campaign to diminish the influence of geopolitics within the workings of the UN System.

 

As your question suggests, neoliberalism and political realism have played influential roles in giving shape to international life, but in both cases, at considerable cost from the perspective of human wellbeing, justice, and ecological stability. As earlier indicated, neoliberalism privileges the efficiency of capital over the wellbeing of people, accentuating ecological harm on one side, and inducing extremes of inequality on the other side (26 individuals control more than half of the world’s wealth). The effect of this ideological shaping of behavior is to accentuate poverty, alienation, class conflict, while inclining governance at the level of the State toward autocratic, and often corrupt, leadership. Political realism, although coming in many forms, is imbued with the essential idea of promoting national interests, narrowly and selfishly conceived as excluding both global concerns and values related to peace and justice, as well as deference to international ethical and legal norms. Realists are in agreement that such a calculation of national interests in only reliable basis for the formation of foreign policy, reflecting an understanding that history is made by wars, giving pride of place to military capabilities. In this sense, prevailing forms of realism have become unrealistic to varying degrees spanning the political spectrum from the hard right to the internationalist liberal center. In our times we need to develop strong mechanisms of global problem-solving and robust methods of conflict resolution to meet such challenges as global warming, migration pressures, declining biodiversity, ecocide, and genocide. Political realism as diversely practiced remains anchored in seventeenth century conditions where autonomous territorial communities didn’t require or acknowledge any framework of restraint external to their realm of territorial authority, and changes did result mainly from militarism. Under twenty-first century conditions such realism has become dangerously out of touch with the severe and accumulating existential threats of the twenty-first century, as well as the mixed record of militarily driven foreign policies of geopolitical actors. The United States despite having the greatest war machine of all history has endured a disappointing record of political defeat in armed conflict since 1945. The European colonial powers and the Soviet Union did not fare any better when relying on military superiority. China after some border confrontations with neighboring countries, has pioneered new modes of imperial expansion not dependent on projecting military power overseas, except to some extent in island controversies in South Asian waters.

 

3- Although Corona has drawn the attention of countries to the realist approach and the principle of “self-help”, on the other hand, it has led to the inefficiency of the realist approach to security, which is based on “state security” and prioritizes It defines “the security of the ruling elite” and sees the issue of security as purely military. On the other hand, the outbreak of the virus has shown that militaristic economies do not provide public security(human security), and that governments should pay more attention to “human security” in the post-Coronavirus world,  which confirms that the overlapping of “state security” and “human security” is greater than ever. What do you think about this?

 

I would again call attention to my distinction between probable and desirable outcomes once the crisis atmosphere subsides. There is no doubt in my mind that a human security approach to ‘security’ would be a desirable way to incorporate the lessons of the COVID-19 ordeal. Yet I believe this to be a highly improbable outcome other than some strengthening of national preparedness for facing future epidemiological challenges, and possibly endowing the WHO with an early warning responsibility and additional capabilities. Even this focus is less a matter of upholding human security than it is a realization that governmental legitimacy depends on keeping the economy functioning to the extent possible when struck by epidemics. Efforts to minimize the impacts of disabling health challenges, which unlike climate change have an immediate concrete life-threatening and economic dislocating potential impact on every person on the planet, make the case for effective warning and mitigating capabilities irrefutable. Health disasters of the COVID-19 scale are current, and cannot be long evaded by politicians, at least after the bodies begin to pile up. Although the complacency of some governments in the West with regard to ignoring warnings and waiting too long to impose societal constraints suggests that many politicians seek to defer rational responses as much as possible.

 

Nevertheless, it is more important than ever for public intellectuals to insist upon a human security framework both to challenge the war system, including its enormous unproductive diversion of energies and resources, and to endow a human rights culture with political potency so as to ensure that state/society relations develop ethical standards implemented by the rule of law.

We live at a time when what seems necessary seems politically out of reach, which suggests that we should reach further, and admit that struggle for a better future is worthwhile because good surprises, as well as bad ones (for instance, the pandemic) can happen. In a sense, to meet the threats confronting the world we need to realize that our basic condition is radical uncertainty about what the future will bring. A fatalistic passivity that waits for the apocalypse to end it all is no more reasonable than is irresponsible reassurances that there is nothing to worry about because on the average people are living longer and better.

An important reflection on the reaction to the pandemic was the willingness of political elites of major countries to abandon austerity economics and free trillions to ensure the recovery of major private sector business operations like airlines and fossil fuel companies. In other words, complaints recently directed at progressive agendas, such as were advanced by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that had been greeted derisively with the dismissive ‘how will you pay for this (universal health care, eliminating student debt)?’ would be less easy to reject by appeals to fiscal discipline. This could make a big difference in future political campaigns if such a lesson of the pandemic is learned and vigorously invoked by progressive movements for change. There is as little reason to follow the guidance of Wall Street billionaires and hedge fund stewards of capital as there is to heed the belligerent guidance of Beltway thinktank gurus or Pentagon pleas for yet more funding.

 

4-If we accept that the post-Corona world order will be different from the existing one, will the changes be structural and fundamental ones? Which new meanings will be experienced as fundamental changes?

 

 

I think it is impossible to identify at this point what will be the post-Corona effects on global structures and the fundamental characteristics of world order. I believe that there is unlikely to be any significant effects on world order without prior seismic-scale challenges to the established order coming from political movements in major countries of the world. Neither the U.S. nor China, the former asserting itself via an outmoded reliance on military capabilities and the forcible penetration of foreign political spaces and the latter expanding its influence mainly by way of positive economic inducements, seem inclined to alter world order in ways that are structural and fundamental, but this perception might be mistaken. The U.S. seems somewhat open to a movement from below for drastic change aspiring for power, and shifting the policy focus of government closer to a human security agenda. The Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination arguably came close to gaining enough influence to mount such an effort, and it has pledged to continue pursing these goals by further augmenting its influence as a social and political movement. China has become a formidable global state by relying on ‘soft power,’ expansion of trade, economic growth, foreign economic assistance, and non-coercive diplomatic activism at the UN and elsewhere, although its success is starting to encounter a variety of pushbacks. Hard power geopolitics heavily depends on military capabilities for leverage and as a policy instrument, while soft power avoids political violence to the extent possible, without rejecting it on principle, conserving its resources for more productive applications, including global cooperation and human security. At the same time, with respect to internal politics, the U.S. ‘soft’ authoritarianism is more amenable to reformist changes and more adaptable to certain aspects of human security than is China ‘hard‘ variant of authoritarianism. From this perspective, the main energy for human security in the West is likely to come, if at all, from movements of people whereas in China and other deeply rooted authoritarian systems such energy for change would almost certainly have to start with some fracturing within governing elites.

 

 

Interview Questions from Javad Heiran-Nia (April 26, 2020) on

Humanitarian Aspects of Sanctions as Applied to Iran

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  1. US officials have always stated that Iran’s humanitarian goods are exempted from sanctions. However, due to the sanctions and the change in the label of some of Iran’s sanctions on the nuclear issue and the placement of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction by the United States, their trade has been disrupted and foreign parties are reluctant to export humanitarian goods to Iran. How effective do you think changing the label of sanctions has been?

 

I believe it is hard to assess the connections between the relabeling of humanitarian supplies (food, medicine, medical equipment) in ways that lead them to be treated as encompassed by ‘sanctions’ that are being maintained despite pressures on state and society resulting from emergency challenges in Iran arising from the high level of cases (more than 80,000) and deaths (over 5,000) resulting from the Coronavirus Pandemic. In effect, this relabeling or reclassification is a means to deny humanitarian relief to Iran at a time that finds the national health system on the verge of being overwhelmed. It is a cruel practice that should be abandoned.

 

 

  1. In an recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Iranian sanctions planner “Richard Nephew” said complex rules were in place and that companies violating sanctions would face serious penalties. However, are companies interested in humanitarian trade with Iran?

 

The reality is that banks and many corporations are reluctant to engage in trade involving humanitarian exceptions to the sanctions regime because the commercial

gains of doing are relatively minor. Incentives to do so are generally far outweighed by a fear that the U.S. Government might respond in ways that could be costly to the wide spectrum of more profitable operations of an international company. The official tone of Treasury Department regulatory oversight seems deliberately intended to discourage humanitarian economic activities despite its mixed message of claiming that humanitarian goods sent to Iran are not subject to sanctions and suppliers will not be penalized: “Compliance with all of the conditions of a general license is required to qualify for the authorization.  Without perfect compliance, a U.S. person would be conducting a prohibited transaction. Even an innocent or accidental transgression may subject a U.S. person to civil penalties such as fines.”

 

 

  1. Medical equipment companies find easier ways to make a profit, especially when the world is facing a pervasive disease. On the other hand, the transfer of humanitarian aid does not bring much benefit to most international banks, shipping companies and insurance companies, which they want to ignore the risk of sanctions. What is your opinion on this and how effective do you think sanctions are in disrupting the treatment of coronavirus in Iran?

 

It is difficult for an outsider to evaluate the effect of imposing bureaucratic burdens and potential penalties on doing business with Iran that consists of the sale of medical equipment.

I cannot say whether the shortages of ventilators and other equipment in Iraanian hospitals can be attributed to the indirect impact of sanctions, but it seems to follow from the ‘maximum pressure’ approach that Pompeo and Trump have reaffirmed in the midst of the pandemic, receiving criticism from more liberal media outlets, human rights organizations, and several of the more progressive members of Congress. In sum, Pompeo/Trump seek to condition sanctions relief on Iran’s willingness to surrender its political goals by altering its foreign policy in the Middle East, which is a clear interference with the sovereignty of Iran. In the background, it should be appreciated that sanctions even absent the pandemic are a form of economic warfare inconsistent with the spirit and substance of contemporary international law that outlaws aggression in all its forms. If world order was more shaped by law, and less by geopolitics, sanctions would be imposed on the U.S., and humanitarian relief would be sought by Washington to cope with the demands of the pandemic.

 

 

Interview Qs from Javad Nia-Herian (March 15, 2020)

 

 

  1. What are the most important reasons for the rise of right-wing politics and extreme nationalists in Europe and America?

Many speculations exist as to why these unexpected developments have occurred over the course of recent years. There is no doubt that a core explanation is the widespread alienation arising from the effects of neoliberal globalization, which has distributed the benefits of economic activity and technological innovation unfairly, making the very rich even richer while leaving the great majority of people in society worse off. Such a pattern seems systemic as it happening in so many countries, although the mix of reasons vary depending on national circumstances. A second set of explanations arises from the refugee and migrant flows that have arisen in the course of the long civil strife in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, which are perceived to challenge the social and ethnic cohesion of many European societies. Closely related to ‘conflict migrants’ are ‘climate refugees’ who seek to achieve a tolerable life by moving to more affluent countries, which reinforce resistance in these countries based on labor pressures to retain jobs and keep wages at higher levels, as well as concerns about breaching civilizational identity. Against this background, an increasing segment of the public in Europe and North America is ready to support leaders that promise to protect the interests of the territorial citizenry and blame economic globalization for lost jobs and income inequalities due to its policies of privileging the flow and efficiency of capital over protecting the wellbeing of people. In this sense, large portions of the public in these societies seem responsive to explanations of their distress by leaders with highly nationalistic viewpoints, and seem ready to give up democratic values by supporting autocratic and chauvinistic leaders that violate human rights. This pattern is not only visible in the West, but also in other parts of the world, including India, Brazil, Philippines.

 

  1. One of the most important issues related to the developments in the Middle East was the announcement of the US withdrawal from the region. But in practice this has not happened. Do you think the US really intends to pull its troops out of the region? And if so, why?

 

It does seem that military disengagement from the region was a genuine policy objective of Trump at the beginning of his presidency and a main campaign promise in 2016, but there is friction coming from the main forces that have controlled American foreign policy ever since 1945, what I call ‘the three pillars’: Wall St., Pentagon, and a bit later, Israel, more or less in this order. How this friction will affect the timing and rate of withdrawal probably depends on many factors, including the further unfolding of the current overarching health crisis, and whether signals of confrontation or accommodation come from Iran. Israel’s opposition to American military disengagement in the region is also influential. It is difficult to predict at this point, but unless there are unexpected regional flareups military disengagement should proceed if Trump remains president, and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections may hasten the process. The redeployment of American troops from three bases in Iraq after recent rocket attacks, while not an instance of withdrawal, did seem to move in the direction of disengagement. Ironically, Biden’s election as president is likely to produce a revival of ‘liberal internationalism’ as the marker of U.S. global leadership, and could be accompanied by an increased military engagement in the Middle East/

 

  1. One of the major problems facing the US now and in the future is China. Various Western security documents, including a statement from the Munich Security Conference with China, have been cited as a threat. How will America be able to contain China? Will the containment policy work?

The future of U.S./China relations is the most challenging geopolitical issue of our time. It matches two global states from distinct civilizational outlooks. The U.S. and China are both what I call ‘global states,’ whose contours and even presence, cannot be assessed by territorial borders. Both have a global non-territorial reach that no other political actor possesses, but there the similarity ends. The U.S. depends primarily on its military capabilities to punish and coerce those states that it regards as hostile to its global ambitions. Iran (and Venezuela) is the current leading example, as victimized by ‘the maximum pressure’ approach based on threats and punitive sanctions. In contrast, China has brilliantly extended its influence and increased its prosperity by reliance mainly on non-military instruments of expansion, including trade, investment, and foreign assistance. The two global states exemplify an encounter between hard and soft power foreign policies, giving rise to a unique rivalry in the history of international relations.

 

This rivalry does pose risks of a new cold war or even war in the sense of armed combat, especially in relation to the disputed sovereignty of South Asian seas. When an ascending power threatens the previously dominant political actor, as China is now threatening to overtake the U.S., there are many instances in history, where war has resulted, most frequently by the leading state seeking to defeat the challenger while it still seems to have the upper hand. Of course, the prospect of a war fought with nuclear weapons leads to greater caution on the part of leaders than in the past, but it does not give us confidence that current leaders will act prudently and rationally under pressure in a crisis, or if perceiving a threat. The risks of stumbling into war by miscalculation are considerable, given how unwanted wars started in the past.

 

I am not sure whether ‘containment’ is relevant to fashioning a Western response to the Chinese challenge. Containment was a doctrine developed to deter military expansion, initially of the Soviet Union. It was in a geopolitical context in which two hard power leading states were in competition, economically and ideologically throughout the world. Containing a soft power global state such as China is already taking the form of trade wars and efforts to curtail Chinese penetration of foreign markets. To an alarming extent, this kind of confrontation has accelerated during the Trump presidency, fueled by the adoption of a nationalistic and transactional policy agenda, blame game tactics in the midst of the pandemic that display a willingness by Trump to raise international risks of conflict for the sake of avoiding responsibility for not handling the COVID-19 experience in a responsible manner.

  1. The outbreak of the Coronavirus points out that there are threats that are more easily resolved through cooperation among countries. Will the international community learn from the damage caused by the spread of the virus, and will we see increased international cooperation to address global threats?

The incentivizing of global cooperation may become the silver lining of the COVID-19 challenge. It has become obvious to even the most nationalist viewpoints that we help ourselves by helping others, and hurt ourselves by hurting others. Only by cooperating in good faith can constructive responses to the spread of this virus be achieved. What is true in relation to the Coronavirus Pandemic is also true for other issues of global scope: extreme poverty, climate change, global migration, biodiversity, militarism and nuclear weaponry. In these latter instances, the benefits of cooperation are less obvious, especially for the rich and powerful.

For thiss reason, extending the experience in relation to health policy to other policy domains may not be so easy. The transfer to these other areas is rendered difficult, or impossible, if the benefits of cooperation are uneven, less immediate, and more abstract. Also, governmental resistance is likely to occur whenever there are special interests embedded in bureaucratic structures and the private sector. This resistance arises, in part, from continuing to regard international relations as a zero-sum, win/lose contest rather than an arena in which seeking win/win outcomes bring the more enduring gains for all.

  1. What will be the economic impacts of the Coronavirus on the world economy? How will this affect the upcoming US presidential election?

It is too soon to tell what the economic impacts will be, but it seems as if these impacts will be severe and long lasting, both for the world economy and all national economies, especially hitting hard the economically most vulnerable parts of the population, which usually include the disfavored minorities. There will be variations from state to state depending on their resources, the discipline of different societies, and the skill of government officials. It appears at present as though the world economy will experience a collapse comparable to the situation that produced the Great Depression of the 1930s, and contributed to the rise of Fascism and the onset of World War II. This current Coronavirus challenge is unfolding in unprecedented ways, and our assessments must be tentative and frequently updated as it proceeds on uncharted territory.

 

The same cautionary attitude shapes my response to the effects on the November elections in the United States. As of now, the pandemic would seem to hurt Trump’s chances of reelection because the leader at the time of downturn is held responsible by many voters for results. If the economy is doing well, the incumbent president reaps the benefits, whether deservedly on not, while if it is doing badly, existing leaders are held responsible whether or not at fault. In addition, this interpretation is reinforced by the fact that many Americans, including some Republicans, felt that Trump handled the challenge badly, especially at its crucial early stages, belittling the seriousness of the spread of such a lethal disease, and thereby postponing self-isolating steps to slow the spread of the disease. This negligent slowness of response increased the number of cases and fatalities. But there are many unknowns between now and the elections. If the situation does not improve, or worsens, it is easy to imagine a situation where the elections are postponed in accord with the state of emergency, while if the situation unexpectedly improves, Trump might easily win reelection, especially if opposed by such a weak candidate as Joe Biden.

  1. What do you know about the most important international developments in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East over the past year?

Such a question is so broad that it is difficult to answer briefly, but I will try. Without doubt, as my earlier responses suggest, the Coronavirus Pandemic overshadows all other recent developments both by the magnitude of its health challenges and by the gravity of its non-health impacts. Other international developments of note are the continuing ordeal of vulnerable minorities, including the Rohingya in Myanmar, Kashmiris in India, and the Palestinian people, who additionally are likely to be the least protected against the ravages wrought by the virus. In addition, the struggles in several Middle East countries exhibit continuing chaos, massive displacement, and ongoing violence. Syria, Yemen, and Libya continue to experience chaos and strife without any serious capacity to restore peace and normalcy. As well, in the same Middle East region there has been a second wave of popular challenges to the established order in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Algeria, as well as nearby Sudan that suggest that the conditions that led to the Arab Spring a decade earlier continues to produce social unrest and political protest. A final set of developments can be associated with the disappointing failures to move forward with respect to the threats associated with climate change despite fires of savage intensity in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and across huge tracts of land in Australia. These threats highlighted the urgency of a cooperative approach to issues of ecological balance, while the behavior of important states seemed to produce a regressive, head-in-the-sand trend toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist foreign policies and transactional geopolitics, thoroughly dysfunctional from a global problem-solving perspective. The relative impotence of the UN, due to the geopolitical impasse between the U.S. and China, aggravated by Trump’s ‘America First’ orientation, missed a rare opportunity to build renewed confidence in the UN as an actor capable to some extent of upholding human interests of the planet as a whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 U.S. Policy Toward Israel/Palestine in a Deglobalizing World: A Pre-Pandemic Perspective

7 May

[Prefatory Note: The text below is drawn from my presentation at the TRT World Forum, 21-22 October 2019. The conference theme was ‘Globalisation in Retreat: Risks and Opportunities.’ What strikes me now is how different the world seems only six months later due to the surreal impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic on all aspects of perception and assessment, the totality of dislocating developments, and the heightening of an existential appreciation of the precariousness of individual and collective experience and of the radical uncertainty cloudinour expectations of the future. Surely my paper would read radically differently if rewritten in ways that took fuller account of intervening developments (the Trump/Kushner Plan) as well as the pandemic]

 

 U.S. Policy Toward Israel/Palestine in a Deglobalizing World

 

Points of Departure

 This paper considers some impacts of the retreat from globalization on the evolution of Israel/Palestine relations, giving special attention to the regressive character U.S. policy toward the unresolved conflict. This retreat is a complex ongoing phenomenon, generating both risks and opportunities, which are changing through time, and the present character of these threats and opportunities will be explored here. A central feature of world order in the course of this retreat from globalization is the rise of ultra-nationalist political leadership in many important countries that has resulted in a generalized withdrawal of support from cooperative responses to global problem-solving, relying instead on transactional bargains between governments as shaped by geopolitical disparities rather than by deference to considerations of international law, diplomatic compromise, and global justice.

 

Despite these recent negative developments, the politics, culture, and economics of globalization should not be romanticized (Falk, 1999), or more specifically not viewed as achieving positive results in relation to the century of struggle by the Palestinian people to address their legitimate grievances. Above all, the Palestinians have endured the denial of their inalienable right of national self-determination and been victimized by the imposition  of apartheid structures of control on the Palestinian people as a whole, that is, whether living under occupation or otherwise. (Falk & Tilley, 2017). The Palestinian people have been victimized by the primacy of geopolitics for more than a century, ever since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which has illustrated the limits of normative (legal and moral) globalization. The retreat from globalization seems to have accentuated the disregard of international law and the authority of the United Nations, highlighted in relation to Israel/Palestine by the release of the Trump/Kushner plan with the absurd claim to offer ‘the deal of the century.’(U.S. Government, 2020). Such a trend if allowed to continue does amount to a severe setback for Palestinian legitimate aspirations, but such a bleak prospect is being challenged by parallel developments.

 

Whether this retreat from globalization is cyclical, soon to be reversed, or a longer-term linear trend is difficult to discern at this time. Its trajectory is highly contingent on the impingement from unforeseeable political, economic, and ecological developments. It may depend on the outcome of such currently unpredictable developments as to whether the Democratic candidate selected to oppose Donald Trump will go on to win the November 2020 elections, and whether the COVID-19 virus can be contained without producing a global economic collapse. As well, it is important to interpret the depth and breadth of this retreat. It certainly reflects a populist reaction of angry frustration against various forms of inequality that led many people to feel disadvantaged by ‘neoliberal globalization,’ and a turn toward demagogic leaders who denounce such developments and point fingers at the imagined culprits, real and imagined. It has also given rise to an affirmation of nationalism as the most existentially relevant political and ideological alternative to globalism. This economistic mood of grassroots alienation also reflects hostile attitudes and disruptive adjustments that pertain to such historically conditioned challenges as global migration flows and trade tensions. Also relevant for achieving an understanding of these recent developments is whether the apparent re-bonding of peoples on the basis of nationalist, and even racist and civilizational conceptions of the outer limits of political community, is integral to the retreat or just a temporary shift in focus away from the global.

 

We need to keep in mind that despite these evident patterns of retreat, the world in many respects continues to be more interconnected and networked than at any time in human history, and these dynamics are continuing, perhaps even accelerating as technology advances, a largely unacknowledged new interconnections in this digitally driven form of ‘globalization-from-below.’ (Slaughter, 2004, 2019) As well, on ecological and health frontiers, climate change and the global spread of lethal disease, remind us that we cannot hope to address effectively the challenges of the contemporary world without strengthening mechanisms of global cooperation. The behavior of the United States Government in leading the retreat, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Nuclear Program Agreement with Iran (JCPOA, 2015) help us to appreciate how dysfunctional from a world order standpoint is a generalized retreat from globalization, and more concretely, what the loss of U.S. leadership in many global policy domains has meant. Such an endorsement of globalization should not, for instance, be understood as the approval of neoliberal globalization as it unfolded after the end of the Cold War. Indeed, this largely under regulated market driven approach to economic globalization greatly contributed to various types of inequality and alienation that led many peoples throughout the world to be receptive to the appeals advanced in favor of ultra-nationalism. In other words, the ultra-nationalism of the present should not be separated from a variety of disappointments brought about by predatory capitalism (Falk, 1999).

 

U.S. Retreat and Israel/Palestine

The reality of retreat bears crucially on the particular conflict between Israel and Palestine as reflected in the shift of the U.S. approach from its earlier pre-Trump role as partisan intermediary to its hyperbolic identity during the Trump presidency as super-partisan deal maker. Such a shift is fully in keeping with the broader pattern of retreat from globalization, but it has some additional distinguishing features. Above all, the personality and style of Trump, as reinforced by the influence of extreme Zionists donors and Evangelical Christians who constitute powerful elements of his political base. Translated into foreign policy this has meant that undisguised pro-Israeli unilateralism has replaced the earlier American diplomatic public stance of peacemaker, which uneasily coincided with the undisguised ‘special relationship’ with Israel. This special relationship meant concretely unconditional support in all security domains, although tempered by occasional murmurs of disapproval as by calling Israel’s periodic moves to accelerate the expansion of its unlawful settlements as ‘unhelpful.’ By way of contrast, in relation to the settlement movement, which struck an Israeli dagger into the heart of the two-states approach, the presidency of George W. Bush and continued under Barack Obama, Trump’s Secretary of State, agreed to close his eyes on their unlawfulness, but only in the context of an agree peace arrangement. Mike Pompeo, abandons altogether the view that the establishment of settlements violates international law without the precondition of reaching an overall agreement(Pompeo, 2020). Beyond this, even before the release of the Trump/Kushner plan, U.S. foreign policy toward Israel after Trump assumed the presidency in early 2017 exhibited a blatant form of one-sided unilateralism with regard to previously unresolved issues: appointing as his principal advisors on Israel and Middle East policy only Zionist extremists (Kushner, Friedman, Greenblatt), moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that were widely assumed to be occupied Syrian territory, cutting U.S. funding for UN humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, and openly embracing Netanyahu’s racist leadership of Israel while turning his back on his Palestinian counterparts and their concerns.

 

Such a pattern of unilateralism is illustrative of the retreat hypothesis because it so directly undercuts not only the earlier somewhat more internationalist American approach, but also so bluntly departs from the global consensus at the UN that favored a negotiated solution that upheld Israel as a legitimate state but based its vision of peace on an agreed establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state that would then be accepted as a full member of the UN. A major component of this consensus was the view that diplomacy would be relied upon to resolve the future of Jerusalem, settlements, the treatment of Palestinian refugees, the fixing of borders, and the overall arrangement of security guarantees. On all counts, Israel has recently moved with the apparent approval of Washington to resolve these issues on its own by completing its expansionist agenda. This coordinated Israel/U.S. provocative postures was dramatized by the movement of the American Embassy to Jerusalem in early 2019, an initiative overwhelmingly condemned to no avail by the UN General Assembly (UNGA Res., 2019). The Jerusalem provocation, in particular, was a direct assault on the earlier global consensus and strong Islamic that had insisted that such issues, and especially the status of Jerusalem, be settled by compromises achieved in a negotiating process so as to give both sides the sense of win/win outcomes.

 

In important respects, what this Trump turn represented beyond its affinity with other expressions of anti-globalization, was an assessment that the Oslo diplomacy had been tried and failed, and that it was an opportune time to make a shift toward a more muscular, less consensual, geopolitics.

 

Daniel Pipes, long a Zionist proponent best articulated this approach on his website, Middle East Forum, months before its adoption is slightly less crude form by Trump/Kushner (Pipes, 2017). Pipes insisted that diplomacy had been tried in good faith as the means to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict, but had failed, and it was time to try a different approach. In his view, conflicts of this sort that prove difficult to resolve by diplomacy are shown by history to be ended only through the victory of one side that then dictates the terms of peace, with the losing side being compelled to surrender its political objectives. Without a glimmer of surprise, it was Pipes’ view that objective analysis identified Israel as the winner, Palestine the loser.  Yet despite this, the conflict dragged on because the Palestinian leadership with its head in the clouds refused to accept this reality. The task of Israel, with U.S. backing, was to intensify coercion until Palestine sees the light and surrenders, and a new normal can be established. Trump/Kushner use a twisted language of ‘peace’ rather than the transparency ofa ‘victory’ to set forth their conception of the end-game in the long struggle. The substance of the plan legitimizes Israel’s territorial and security ambitions and offers the Palestinians what is called ‘a state,’ but is in fact ‘a statelet’ that is nothing more than ‘a Bantustan,’ a shorthand reference to South African way of setting up totally subordinates political entities subject to the rigors of its apartheid structures of control. To encourage the Palestinians to swallow the Kool Aid of the deal of the century, the Palestinians are threatened with unnamed dire consequences if they reject, and enticed with sugar-coated offers of economic development assistance if they accept.

 

It is too early to gauge whether Palestine’s immediate rejection of the Trump/Kushner/Netanyahu victory approach will prevail. This undoubtedly depends on whether such an outcome is endorsed by the Israeli and American election results in 2020, especially the latter. If Netanyahu and Trump both win, then the Palestinian Authority will likely  experience coercive pressures to give up their political ambitions, and opt for a more normalized economic and social life as the best result they can hope for. What is striking from the perspective of the globalization hypothesis is the willingness of the U.S. to depart so unconditionally from the global consensus to support Israel in a manner that seems not only anti-internationalist, but also in all likelihood works against its broader and longer term strategic national interests in the Middle East, which cannot count on the indefinite repression of fiercely pro-Palestinian sentiments among Arab populations. As such, this path to ‘peace’ compounds the retreat from globalization with a costly challenge to stability in the region. This imprudent posture is domestically driven by narrowly parochial interests as epitomized by AIPAC lobbying leverage and Zionist donor pressures on the American political process (Mearcheimer & Walt, 2003). Although these features of the American political scene antedated Trump, his presidency has accentuated their relevance.

 

With respect to the U.S. approach to Israel/Palestine it might not have assumed such an extreme form without the specificity of the Trump election. In other words, retreat from globalization would likely have been present whoever was the Republican nominee in 2016 and even likely, in the event that Hillary Clinton had been elected. Yet the anticipated retreat would have taken place in those circumstances of new American political leadership without breaking the continuity of approach to Israel and the conflict in the radical manner adopted by Trump. The American retreat might have emphasized anti-migrant, economic nationalism, and confrontation with Russia to a greater extent, and possibly less drastic withdrawals from globalist engagements in the security domain. That is even with American leaders other than Trump accepting the politics of retreat, it seems rather likely that policy toward Israel and Palestine would have displayed only minor changes from the Bush/Obama years, probably becoming even more reluctant to  criticize Israel on settlement expansion than was Obama’s willingness to break with his own practice by allowing the 2016 criticism of Israel by the Security Council to reach a decision, abstaining rather than as on prior occasions, using its veto to shield Israel from formal censure even if it stood alone in doing so. It is never possible to be very confident about ‘what if’ conjectures, but nevertheless it seems highly unlikely that had a different president been voted into office in 2016 the approach to Palestinian grievances would have abandoned diplomacy and opted so openly for coercion and unilateralism. (Falk, 2017)

  

What likely would have occurred with the Republican alternatives to Trump in 2016 but not so if Clinton had won is a retreat from what might be called ‘normative globalization,’ which is the most obvious common anti-globalization stance being taken across the globe. What this normative dimension of retreat entails is a general lessening of confidence in and respect for the UN and international law, and a declining reliance on global approaches to problem-solving, whether the subject-matter is trade relations, human rights, migrant flow, or climate change.

 

In such a transactional atmosphere, problem-solving with respect to international conflict resolution relies heavily on coercive diplomacy among states and the geopolitical priorities of dominant states. The effect could be to sharpen geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China, U.S. and Russia, and possibly give rise to a new Cold War, with regional military confrontations and dangerous escalation dangers. In this set of circumstances, the emergence of autocratic and ultra-nationalist leadership would lead to more pragmatic relationships reflecting geopolitical priorities rather than normative affinities based on shared values and world order commitments.

 

Risks Associated with Trump’s Version of Retreat from Globalization

Superficially, and in the short run, Israel has been a beneficiary of this U.S. shift in diplomatic posture, but there are secondary effects and contingencies that may yet turn out to be favorable to the Palestinian struggle. More concretely, this means that the United States no longer seeks to act in general accord with the international consensus that has been shaped over the decades at the UN and elsewhere, which although reflecting a pro-Israel bias, endorsed the view that this conflict could only be resolved by some sort of negotiated accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians that set the terms and established a process for achieving a sustainable peace.

 

Of course, this shift in U.S. policy reflected several converging factors that resulted in the Trump presidency of which a retreat from the UN consensus and rule-governed global diplomacy was only one element. Other factors included the influence exerted by Zionist donors in American domestic politics and by Trump family members, the softening of the attitudes of Arab governments toward Israel, the reduced Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and the heightening of tensions with Iran. Yet the retreat from globalization is of the greatest importance as explaining the disregard of the international consensus exhibited at the UN that had somewhat constrained earlier U.S. policy, yet these limits should not be overstated as they did not prevent the continuous erosion of Palestinian rights and expectations as measured by the rules and principles of international law. That is, despite U.S. global leadership, and endorsement of globalization, in relation to Israel/Palestine an incremental coercive diplomacy that favored Israel was what led to a steady deterioration of the Palestinian position. In this respect the super-partisanship of the Trump presidency removed the pretenses and inconsistencies of normative globalization that had not materially helped the Palestinian side, while covering up the one-sided support of Israel’s political zero-sum agenda. Does this greater clarity give Palestinians new opportunities as well as pose more severe challenges?

 

The United States has for more than 25 years claimed the role of indispensable intermediary in working toward a negotiated peace arrangement between Israel and Palestine. Such a role reflected its global leadership status that was without challenge after the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, as well as Israel’s insistence that if negotiations were ever to occur, they had to be conducted within a framework presided over by the United States. The U.S. status as global leader also corresponded with a renewed emphasis on the Middle East (and East Asia) given the altered historical circumstance. This meant replacing Europe as the strategic site of geopolitical struggle in a globalizing world. The importance of the Middle East for the United States reflected four interrelated concerns: access to the regional oil reserves at affordable prices; ensuring Israeli security; containing the spread of political Islam in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution (1979); avoiding any further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.

 

Given these realities there existed a strong diplomatic incentive on the part of the United States to find a solution to the Palestinian struggle that would alleviate pro-Palestinian pressures without appearing to weaken the ideological and strategic special relationship between the United States and Israel. After years of frustration on the diplomatic terrain, the Oslo Framework of Principles, agreed upon in 1993, seemed to provide a credible path to compromise and peace, consisting of the regional normalization of Israel as a legitimate state within agreed borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the joint capital of the two states, the satisfaction of Israeli security concerns, some kind of compensation as a substitute for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees, and the legalization of most of Israel unlawful encroachments (separation wall, settlements, road network, security zones) on formerly occupied Palestine. This peace dynamic, although sharply favorable to Israel, was viewed as the most realistic political compromise that could be achieved. Its adoption by the most affected parties also silenced  most opposition in international arenas. This new dynamic was celebrated as a major breakthrough, launched with theatrical fanfare by the dramatic handshake on the White House lawn. The famous 1993 picture of the Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin, shaking hands with the PLO leader, Yasir Arafat, and a smiling U.S. President, Bill Clinton standing in between, was the iconic climax of choosing this delusionary path to peace. These delusions were challenged two years later by the assassination of Rabin, and even more by the rightward drift of Israeli politics and the growing influence of the settler movement, but the diplomacy dragged on and on, and even the Palestinians seemed lulled to inaction as the diplomacy continued wending its way through a labyrinth without an exit.  

 

What is most relevant to the focus adopted here is that this diplomatic approach under U.S. auspices was superficially respectful toward the international consensus on how to address the conflict—that is, by diplomacy that was framed as negotiations between the parties, and was understood to seek compromises on the main issues in contention (territory, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, security).  This outlook, supported by bipartisanship in the United States, meaning overwhelming Congressional support and a continuity of approach whether the president was a Democrat or Republican. This Oslo peace process seemed consistent with American foreign policy of ‘liberal internationalism’ that persisted throughout the Cold War, and endured until 9/11 occurred, and being finally discarded by Trump. The Trump orientation may be described as militarist geopolitics and ultra-nationalist illiberalism. As applied to Israel/Palestine this means the Pipes victory scenario presented as diktat with scant interest in enticing Palestinian acceptance. As such, with irony, this most pro-Israeli of all American presidents has ironically fractured Jewish support for Israel, alienating not only progressive Jews but also many liberal Zionists who believed in a negotiated two-state peace agreement (Bishara, 2020).

 

However, to gain a proper attitude toward the Trump stance, it is necessary to avoid an unjustified embrace of this prior American peace diplomacy. it is crucial to identify the weaknesses of an approach that claimed fairness to the Palestinians while strongly slanting the process and its intended outcome toward Israel. As with Pipes, yet skillfully disguised as a compromise, Oslo diplomacy when deconstructed reveals a weaker version of an Israeli victory scenario (Baake & Omer, 20–). By failing to mention a Palestinian right of self-determination or affirm the equality of the two sides, the Oslo framework of principles set in motion a one-sided diplomacy that gave weight to power disparities, a bias further reinforced by having an overtly partisan intermediary. This imbalance was further accentuated by the insistence that Palestinian negotiators swallow all objections to Israeli violations of international law until the so-called ‘final status’ negotiations at the last stage of the process. Palestinians were told that objecting in the present context would jeopardize the negotiations. Israel never ceased building and expanding its network of unlawful settlements and further encroaching on the Palestinian territorial remnant by securitizing the settlements, including connections to Israel, which truly undercut the credibility of negotiations. Beyond this, what were called ‘negotiations’ were basically occasions for Israel to put forward self-serving proposals for conflict resolution on a take it or leave it basis, realizing Israeli goals and neglecting Palestinian priorities, and undoubtedly expecting the Palestinian side to reject. In this period, the two sides also sought agreement in direct secret negotiations that were similarly, yet more explicitly, weighted in Israel’s favor, and indicated that despite the willingness of the PLO to give Israel most of what it wanted by way of keeping its settlements and meeting its security concerns the their Israeli counterparts showed little interest (Palestine Papers, 2—). Even if the two sides somehow had signed such a one-sided peace agreement it might not have produced anything more substantial than a pause in the struggle, in effect, one more periodic ceasefire, and quite likely rejected by both the Israeli and Palestinian publics. Succeeding generations of Palestinians would not be likely to accept the validity such permanent subjugation in what purports to be a post-colonial world order. The wild fires of the ethics of nationalism and the politics of self-determination would almost certainly have doomed an arrangement that left Palestinians languishing in an entity called a state, but lacking in the most elemental aspect of sovereignty, control over its own security.   

 

Even on the Israeli side, the Oslo slant may not have satisfied the implicit Zionist agenda of recovering the whole of the promised land, the biblical entitlement on which Israel’s claims rest, but was temporarily and tactically acceptable as it improved overall prospects to reach such a goal. This helps explain Israeli contentment despite a diplomatic process that seemed a bridge to nowhere, and never acknowledged Jewish biblical entitlement. For Israel the Oslo process was a bridge to somewhere, allowing the country to accumulate many facts on the ground, while further structuring the kind of apartheid state needed to check Palestinian resistance, thereby ensuring the stability of an ethnically based hegemonic social, economic, and political order. For Palestine, Oslo diplomacy proved to be a political disaster despite its initial gift wrapping, as the noose of victimization tightened to the point that Palestinians became virtual strangers, or even captives, in their own homeland, slowly recognizing that when the wrappings were removed the package within was an empty box. Such a dual process of Israel’s gain and Palestine’s loss occurred while the globalization fever remained high, and this one-sided dynamic achieved its momentum years before deglobalization trends became evident.

 

When Trump arrived on the political scene in 2017, the de facto reality of an Israeli one-state solution coexisted with defunct governmental and UN continued adherence to a de jure vision of a two-state outcome. What Trump sought by dropping the pretense of negotiating the future for Israel and Palestine was a changed formula for ending the struggle over the sequel to the British Mandate. Even Trump did not overtly affirm the major Zionist premise of biblical entitlement, using the accepted international terminology of ‘the West Bank’ rather than the promised land language of ‘Judea and Samaria.’ The Trump/Kushner approach legitimized facts on the ground as of 2020, suspending all scrutiny of the lawlessness by which the facts were accumulated. Kushner expressed this outlook clearly in an interview the day after the White House finally released its peace plan: “I’m not looking at the world as it existed in 1967. I’m looking at the world as it exists in 2020.” As well, Trump/Kushner’s deal avoided an explicit endorsement of the analysis of Pipes based on using force to induce the Palestinian leadership to surrender its political goals and accept Israel’s victory in the long struggle between these two peoples to control the identity of the homeland in what had been a Palestinian entity during the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate.

 

The other distinctive feature of the Trump approach was the explicit disregard of Palestinian rights under international law. The American Secretary of State in language rather parallel to the sentiments expressed by Kushner articulated the view that it was time to abandon the earlier U.S. official stance of regarding Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as unlawful. In Mike Pompeo’s words of explanation, “..arguments about who is right and wrong in international law will not bring peace.” On behalf of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi articulated anger and frustration in a tone of understandable exasperation: “We cannot express horror and shock because this is a pattern, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific..total disregard of international law, what is right and just, and for peace.” Although Ashrawi’s words resonate with attitudes toward international law pre-Trump and pre-retreat, the discontinuity is not as great as liberal internationalists contend (ICJ, 2004). All through the post-1967 period of occupation, while the settlement process and related encroachments on Palestinian rights and aspirations occurred, the Palestinians were counseled to withhold their international law objections so that the peace process might go forward, and the Israelis were lightly scolded as their expansionist dreams became building projects. In this spirit violating international law was ‘unhelpful,’ but if sustained, could gain legal acceptance as they did in 2004 when the Bush/Sharon exchange of letters (Bush/Sharon, 2004) declared that the settlement blocs would become part of Israel’s sovereign territory in any future peace arrangement.

 

Rhetoric matters, and this overt show of disregard for international law is an integral aspect of this broader retreat from globalization.  Respect for and confidence in international law and procedures is a vital precondition for encouraging globally cooperative approaches to problems that affect the world as a whole. The proudest achievements of liberal internationalism along these lines were based on lawmaking treaties governing such disparate matters as the public order of the oceans, the development of Antarctica, and some aspects of military competition in the nuclear age. With the rise of ultra-nationalism and the decline of global leadership by the United States, world order is again reliant on the pre-1945 state-centric style of geopolitical rivalry, but facing the severe diverse challenges of global scope that threaten the world with catastrophe in the 2020s and beyond.

 

The main risks attributable to this interplay between the retreat from globalization and the super-partisanship of American policy toward Israel/Palestine can be summarized as follows:

–stabilizing Israel’s apartheid state, while denying the Palestinian people basic human rights, particularly, the right of self-determination;

–weakening respect for international law, the UN, and the authority of diplomatic resolution of international disputes;

–expressing the transition in the American global and regional leadership roles from a liberal internationalist perspective to that of rogue superpower;

–lending support to an outcome of the long struggle based on power rather than law or ethic, thereby establishing a very unfortunate precedent for conflict resolution in the 21st century.

 

 

Opportunities Resulting from the New Realities of Retreat and U.S. Hyper-Partisanship

At first glance, the situation following the release of the Trump/Kushner seems totally discouraging. It affirms the form and substance of Israel’s right-wing leadership, whether Likud or Blue/White, and reflects the dominant Zionist agenda reflecting ‘biblical entitlement’ to the whole of the promised land, either by direct or indirect sovereign control. As such it rejects a political compromise. It seems to confront Palestinians with the unhappy alternatives of political surrender or forcible resistance. Paths promising a political compromise, sovereign equality, and resting on international diplomacy seem indefinitely closed. Beyond this, the important Arab governments are silently siding with Israel, and Palestinians are without any realistic prospect of unified leadership. Given the recognition of this situation, it is difficult not to succumb to despair.

 

And yet, the Palestinians show no sign of regarding their struggle as ‘a lost cause.’ Resistance activity remains robust, and no element of the Palestinian leadership seems ready to sign on to the U.S. proposals, despite the temptations afforded by the offers of economic relief, which must be difficult to dismiss given the desperate plight of the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the diminishing sense of national territory in the West Bank, given Israeli accelerating encroachments and Washington bright green light given expansionist ambitions and cruel, coercive tactics.

 

Such an unfavorable context is reinforced by the retreat from globalization. This retreat as complemented by ultra-nationalism has resulted in reduced respect for the authority of the UN, as well as weakened pressures for a genuine two-state compromise at the UN, which is itself supplemented by less willingness to challenge Israeli defiance of international humanitarian law. The utter disregard of Israeli continual reliance on excessive violence at the Gaza border is emblematic of both disregard by the media, UN, and EU for Palestinian rights and Israeli lawlessness.

 

Yet these developments, as paradoxical as it may sound, also have the potential to improve Palestinian prospects. There are two broad explanations. First, the earlier posture in international society had not been helpful to the Palestinian struggle for basic rights. As earlier suggested, Israel acted to undermine the core element in what was regarded as the international consensus, namely, the establishment of a viable sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. By allowing the settlement movement to go forward with subsidized government assistance and encouragement the Israeli government signaled its intention to never let go of control over ‘the promised land.’ Even if forced by geopolitical pressures to accept some kind of demilitarized Palestinian state, the obstacles involved in reversing the settlement dynamic in the West Bank and Jerusalem became more formidable with each passing month. Almost as tellingly, the internal Israeli reference points of ‘Judea and Samaria’ of the West Bank along with the unification and formal annexation of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people underscored the Zionist sense of biblical entitlement as the non-negotiable foundation of its claim rather than the mixture of legal, moral, and political considerations that formed the vision of both the consensus at the UN and the outlook project by ‘liberal Zionists’ in the Jewish diaspora (Khalidi, Brokers, 200-).

 

Secondly, the combinaton of releasing the Trump/Kushner plan and its embrace not only by Netanyahu, and the Likud Party, but by Gantz and Blue and White, clarifies two aspect of the overall situation that had been previously somewhat obscure: (1) present prospects of any form of political compromise to resolve the conflict by diplomacy between the parties are dead for the foreseeable future; (2) advancing the Palestinian struggle at this stage depends on sustaining the legitimacy war that uses all means available to react against Israeli lawlessness and immorality, including international judicial tribunals and the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly (Falk, 2017), continuing various forms of Palestinian resistance to demonstrate that the struggle lives on within Palestinian society, and building momentum in global civil society by soft power means, currently most effectively expressed by the BDS Campaign.

 

In effect, the Palestinian struggle has shifted its center of gravity from its intergovernmental axes to that of the resistance and solidarity. In other words, the role of governments and international institutions, once dominant, is now discredited and subordinated. At some later stage of the conflict, if a balance more favorable to the protection of Palestinian rights is achieved or there is some kind of change of outlook in the United States and/or Israel, then there might again emerge a greater willingness to allow a diplomatic framework to help fashion a mutually acceptable political compromise, but with a major difference. The new diplomacy to have any chance of success in producing a sustainable peace arrangement, must proceed on the basis of the formal and existential equality of the parties, either relying on direct inter-governmental negotiations or by selecting a credibly neutral mediating framework.

 

This alternative more positive framework for conflict resolution not only depends on delegitimation, resistance, and solidarity, it also depends critically on a prior Israeli decision to dismantle the apartheid features of its state structures that now subordinate and victimize the Palestine people as a whole (including refugees, exiles, minority in pre-1967 Israel) on the basis of racial criteria (Falk & Tilley, 2017). Considering the similarities and dissimilarities with the South African experience is also illuminating. The changed balance achieved with respect to South African apartheid was largely achieved by resistance and solidarity initiatives, although unlike the Israel/Palestine conflict, aided by a globalized anti-apartheid campaign. It was a soft power triumph in the end, although that the threat and reality of armed struggle was never eliminated. In the end, the white leadership made a calculated decision that their interest would be better served by accepting what a decade earlier seemed a utopian impossibility—that is, a transition to a multiracial constitutional democracy, which the demographics made clear, would means that the long victimized African majority would control the political destiny of the country. The bargain, a kind of ‘genuine deal of the century’ was a tribute to the skills of Nelson Mandela and the leadership of de Klierk, that made the white minority take their chances based on guarantees of their economic and social rights. Mandela has been criticized for allowing the white to retain their privileged economic position and social status, but without such flexibility, any transition to post-apartheid South Africa would have been violent and bloody.

 

Although Israeli Zionists have genuine demographic concerns given the relative size and fertility rates of the two peoples, their prospects in a secular constitutional democracy for a large share of control over the institutions of governance would remain much more favorable to Jews, provided Jews would not abandon such a post-apartheid state and Palestinians would uphold the rights of the Jews if they were to gain control over the governing process. Undoubtedly, the situation would reflect the context, including geopolitical factors and the motivations, wisdom, and skills of the leadership on both sides.

 

What seems clear, whether the retreat from globalization deepens or is reversed, is that the preconditions of ending Israeli apartheid and accepting commitments to the substance and spirit of equality on both sides is essential to overcoming the present approach premised on a victory scenario combined with the spirit and substance of inequality, which will add to Palestinian suffering without achieving Israeli peace and security. In these circumstances, unlikely to be altered in the near future, the present pattern of control and encroachment will continue.

 

A Concluding Comment

The preceding analysis leads to the conclusion that the retreat from globalization is one factor in altering the nature of the Palestinian struggle, but may not in the end affect the outcome. In the immediate setting, it seems like a major setback for the Palestinians as the Israelis have unambiguous geopolitical support for their most extravagant claims, and there is no meaning countervailing power at either the regional or global levels. Yet in the post-colonial period, a long subjugated people do not give up their dreams of political independence and their grievances of rights denied, especially in the Palestinian as long endorsed by the UN and international public opinion. One development favoring the Palestinians, and evidently worrying the Israelis, is the increasing acceptance of the view that Israel maintains an apartheid structure of control over the Palestinian people and that the Israel needs to be perceived as the last remaining significant settler colonial state. This chance of discourse has been countered by branding activists and critics as ‘anti-Semites’ although their opposition to Israel is nonviolent and unrelated to hostility to Jews as a people, but to the Israeli state as depriving the majority resident population of its rights of self-determination and its overall human rights.

 

Each struggle has its own features, and this is particularly true in the case of Israel/Palestine. A crucial such distinguishing feature is that Israel managed to impose its political will on Palestine with the help of British colonial support, yet able to come to independence as a powerful manifestation of anti-colonial struggle by coercing not only the Palestinians, but making life untenable for the British (Kaplan, 2019). Of course, the last stage of the struggle to establish Israel in the face of Palestinian and Arab opposition were a series of developments in Europe favorable to the Zionist project, especially the moral sympathy arising from Nazi genocidal behavior and the liberal guilt of Europe and North America arising from their failure to challenge German murderous racism. These factors led to the premature legitimation of Israel in 1948, reaching its climax by admission to the United Nations without first resolving Palestinian grievances in a satisfactory manner. Such an attempt might not have succeeded in any event as the Palestinian side refused the idea of partitioning its homeland, and the Zionist side, although outwardly ready to strike a pragmatic bargain never gave up its vision of restoring sovereignty over the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

 

Finally, the retreat from globalization is too new and contingent, to serve as a basis for anticipating the future as it impacts on the Israel/Palestine struggle. As suggested, present realities suggest that the situation seems to favor Israeli ambitions, but some factors could strengthen the Palestinian position overnight, such as the rejection of Trump in the 2020 American elections, the true unification of Palestinian leadership, or the shift toward democratic populism in the Arab world as foreshadowed by the 2011 uprisings. In the event of a restored spirit of globalization an early undertaking might be renewed attention to Palestinian grievances, and a resolve to take action to complete the policy agenda of decolonization and racial equality that dominated the last decades of the prior century .   

 

 

References

 

Abunimah, A.(2014) The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Chicago,Il: Haymarket Books.

 

Bauck, P. & Omer, M. (eds) (2013)  The Oslo Accords: A Critical Assessment 1993-2013. Cairo, Egypt, American University in Cairo Press

 

Bishara, M. (2020) “U.S. and Israel Vote: Two ‘Racist’ Incumbents and Two Proud Jews,” https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/israel-vote-racist-incumbents-proud-jews-200302062307608.html

 

 

“Exchange of Letters between PM Sharon and President Bush” (2004) <mfa.gov.il>

 

 

Falk, R.A. (1999) Predatory Globalization: A Critique. Cambridge, UK, Polity Press

 Falk, R. A. (2014) Humanitarian Intervention and Legitimacy Wars: Seeking Peace and Justice in the 21st Century. London, UK: Routledge

 

Falk. R.A. & Tilley, V.Q. 2017. “Israeli Practices and the Question of Apartheid.” Beiirut, Lebanon, Economic and Social Council for West Asia (ESCWA

 

Falk, R.A. (2017)  Palestine Horizon: Toward a Just Peace. London,UK: Pluto Press.

 

Falk, R. Blog on Security Council 2016 decision on settlements

 

“Legal Consequences of Constructing a Wall on Occupied Palestinian Territory,” International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion, 8 July 2004

 

Kaplan, A. (2018) Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. )

 

Kattan, V. (2003) From Coexistence to Conquest: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1871-1949. London, UK: Pluto Press.

 

Khalidi, R. (2013) Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Undermined Peace in the Middle East. Boston, MA: Beacon Press

 

Mearsheimer, J & S. Walt (2002) The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

 

Olson, P. (2011) Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland. Seal Press.

 

Pipes, D. (2018) “Achieving Peace Through Israeli Victory.” <www.danielpipes.org>

 

Said, E. W. (2000) The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After. New York: Pantheon.

 

Slaughter, A-M. (2004) The New World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

 

Slaughter, A-M. (2017) The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

 

Swisher, C.E. (2011) The Palestine Papers The End of the Road. Chatham, UK: Hesperus Press.

 

UN General Assembly, Res. ES-10/L.22.  (2017) On Moving American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

 

(2016)“Israel Settlements Without Legal Validity,” UN Security Council Res. 2334,

 

(2020) “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” Washington, D.C.: White House.

     

  

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

3 May

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

More than earlier crises of my lifetime, including the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminates as never before, how precarious and uncertain is the future wellbeing, and possibly survival, of the human species. The concreteness, immediacy, and haunting uncertainties of the pandemic is quite terrifying on its own, but its heuristic pedagogy seems applicable to a range of potentially catastrophic threats of global scope, most obviously climate change, biodiversity, nuclear weaponry. What we should now be able to realize even while asleep is that when the under-preparedness of governance and political leadership is based on ignoring a scientific consensus is combined with radical uncertainty and myopic nationalism the stage is set for planetary and species disaster, and not only personal grief and national emergency. These signature traits of the 21st century heighten our fears and feelings of utter helplessness that gives way to a dizzying disorientation of beliefs and expectations, a fertile breeding ground for political extremism, scapegoating, and the darkest flights of fancy.

As much as the horrifying spectacle of hospitals without beds for critically ill patients and too many dead bodies to find room in city morgues or funeral homes is this sense that the lethality of COVID-19 could have been significantly mitigated if political leaders of important countries had heeded two types of advance warnings from reliable sources. There was a foreboding prediction during the past five years by epidemiologists and other health experts that conditions existed around the world that made a viral pandemic a near certainty in coming years. It was just a matter of time. For governments of affluent countries to ignore such warnings from respected experts, and in a few cases even reduce the funding of their national health systems in recent years, as the U.S. and UK are reported to have done, should be regarded as a Crime Against Humanity, malign behavior worse than gross negligence or administrative incompetence.

In addition, there were a series of authoritative disclosures of the actual COVID-19 outbreak weeks before many governments undertook suitable preparations with regard to testing kits, masks, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Instead of rational and prudent preparations, the views of qualified experts either never reached the ears of leaders and their advisors or were thrown by leaders into the nearest waste basket as alarmist rubbish, at best distractions from the only real job of peacetime government—promoting markets and pro-rich growth. Politicians like Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, Johnson, and others did even worse, actively denying, denigrating, and dismissing concerns until the spread of the disease became undeniable with several national health systems in leading countries reacting in emergency modes on the brink of been overwhelmed. If prudent and rational, this grave peril would never have happened, especially in countries with adequate health infrastructures.

 

The most elementary lesson from the pandemic so far is that adoption of the Precautionary Principle should become mandatory for organs of government and political officials at every level of social organization from the municipality to the UN, and especially at the level of governments of sovereign states. The wellbeing, security, and defense of national populations is widely assumed to be the prime duty of political leaders in a still state-centric system of world order. Such vigilance by leaders should be treated as more important than living up to the oath of office, and the failure to do so regarded as a flagrant violation of public trust, warranting a punitive removal from office. Basically, the Precautionary Principle decrees that expert warnings about impending public dangers should shape governance policies, even when available evidence does not produce conclusive results as to the extent and imminence of the risk. The precautionary approach insists on paying the costs of anticipatory prudence as over against reliance on reactive crisis management, especially under circumstances that pose substantial risks of severe future harm. The Precautionary Principle, informally long practiced and advocated with respect to health, was first internationally articulated and proposed with respect to expert warning about potentially catastrophic future environmental damage if corrective steps are not taken.  The recent focus of precautionary thought and advocacy has been seeking that proper account be taken  of the dire warnings derived from global warning projections. An influential formulation of the Precautionary Principle is set forth in Principle 15 of the Final Declaration of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

The concreteness of COVID-19 disease, as immediate, life-threatening, personal, planetary, and undeniable contrasts with other threats that are presently less visible, often more distant, and not as vividly or convincingly intruding on the security of everyday life. Yet the pattern is the same: prudent anticipation is cheaper, safer, more effective, and humane than are reactive measures, especially in view of the disproportionate vulnerability of marginalized ethnic minorities, prisons and retirement homes, and impoverished communities and crowded urban settings. In this sense, a difficult part of the post-pandemic challenge is not only to renovate the health system so as to be adequately prepared, but to transfer this elementary knowledge about dealing with global health threats to other policy domains while acknowledging the diversity of risks and distinctive types of likely harm. An existing scientific consensus projects with reasonable assurance the high probability of increasingly more dangerous levels of future global warming and of diminishing biodiversity if the dissemination of greenhouse gasses is not drastically reduced. Society lacks comparable capabilities to make such high confidence predictions with respect to the advent of nuclear war or the danger of a large meteor striking the earth. In other words, fidelity to the Precautionary Principle depends on intelligent calibration to particularities of risk that pertain to each issue of concern, but with a similar resolve to apply prudently the anticipatory knowledge available.

In this fundamental sense, what is true for COVID-19 is also true for climate change and biodiversity, and likely even more so. Current levels of information suggest that even a dysfunctional delayed response will in due course contain the pandemic although with a needlessly large number of fatalities, as well as high degrees of economic and social dislocation. Yet despite the massive scale of disruption, a pandemic is expected to subside, although accompanied by some new risks of recurrence, permitting at least a prudently regulated return to normalcy. In contrast, once global warming crosses unknowable thresholds or biodiversity declines beyond a certain point, there may be no turning back, the ecological balance could become beyond the reach of alteration by human action or could only be achieved by very austere or expensive downward adjustments in standards of living and life style. This would incur much human suffering and political unrest along the way, especially if the adjustment process favors the rich and powerful, and victimizes the poor and vulnerable, which seems inevitable at this point given the way policy is formed and life circumstances structured.

The second obvious ‘teaching moment’ that has emerged during the health crisis is the globality of the challenge as contrasted with the statist fragmentation of the divisive response structures. Imposing geopolitically motivated sanctions on a state that weakens its societal capability to contain the spread and treatment of the virus virtually ensures that contagion will cross borders in greater numbers, and give rise to prolonging the pandemic and increasing the number of infections elsewhere, including quite possibly in the sanctioning countries. The sanctions currently weakening the coping capabilities of such countries such as Iran and Venezuela create a lose/lose series of antagonistic relationships between the targeted states and the rest of the world, and should be also considered as ‘geopolitical crimes’ or Crimes Against Humanity rather than as discretionary aspects of normal diplomacy. As well, maintaining such sanctions during the pandemic works against operationalizing the insight of global solidarity—‘we are all in this together’—rather than thinking of a riven world in neo-fascist terms of ‘friends and enemies.’

The Trump presidency, oblivious to the pragmatic argument of mutuality against maintaining sanctions during the COVID-19 pandemic is even more tone deaf when it comes to humanitarian normative arguments based on law and morality resting on the unacceptability and unlawfulness of international uses of force that have a primary impact on civilian populations. It is helpful to recall the notorious remark of Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, when asked by Leslie Stahl in the course of a ’60 Minutes’ interview whether an estimated 500,000 deaths of children attributed to the punitive sanctions imposed on Iraq after the First Gulf War five years earlier in 1991 were worth such a high human cost of innocent young live. Stahl’s question to Albright, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” And Albright’s memorable response: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.” Although Albright later expressed remorse about her own phraseology, suggesting that she should have put the blame on Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein for withholding food from civilians rather than admitting that the deaths resulted from the sanctions. Actually, her spontaneous response was more truthful than her later attempt to shift blame for their inhumane impacts. Why would sanctions be maintained if not felt to be worthwhile from a geopolitical perspective? Beyond this, evidence shows that the Iraqi government behaved responsibly, establishing a food rationing arrangement that made every effort to protect Iraqi civilians from starvation. Trump, and his lead foreign policy spokesperson, Mike Pompeo seem to go further than Albright’s insensitive remark, by intensifying sanctions during the pandemic, grotesquely seeking to exploit the added vulnerability of these targeted societies while meeting the demands of the health crisis.

Trump defies globality in a further scandalous manner by blaming China for the COVID-19 outbreak, again opting for antagonistic tensions rather than affirming human solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. Trump also chose the time of this pandemic to defame and defund the WHO because of its supposed complicity with China’s failure to disclose sooner the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. There is no reasonable evidence supporting such inflammatory charges against China or the WHO, and even if the allegations were to some extent accurate, it would not justify antagonizing China or weakening the WHO capabilities at a time when it is playing a crucial role in providing information and guidance to the many countries in the global South that do not have sufficient national health capabilities to depend on national or even regional capabilities. It should be beyond argument that a pandemic threat of this magnitude and lethality needs to be addressed by counseling maximum cooperation among states and through bolstering the resources and capabilities of global coordinating mechanisms. Instead of defaming and defunding the WHO at this time, the responsible approach would be to express gratitude for its existence by pledges of greater funding support. To repeat, such a litany that is true for COVID-19 is as true or truer for other serious present and impending problems of global scope and potentially severe magnitude. The so-called retreat from globalization that partly results from some negative structural consequences of neoliberalism, which has given rise to resurgent nationalisms, seems understandable with respect to the relation of states to the world economy. Nevertheless, it is a disaster if this enhanced statism is extended, as seems to be the case, to ecological and ethical contexts that give substance to nationalist standpoints. Interconnectedness and widely diverse material circumstances are manageable under contemporary conditions only if the behavior of sovereign states accord far greater weight than now to policy coordination and collaboration by way of internationalism, as well as exhibit concrete appreciation of the practical and principled benefits of honoring the imperatives of empathy, hospitality, and human solidarity.

Decades ago, the American poet, Robert Frost, put his prophetic gift to work on what has now become a planetary truism for those who ponder the future of the human experience. In a poem, ‘One Step Backward Taken’ these words of Frost shine:

“I felt my standpoint shaken

In the universal crisis.”

Although I was conscious of the degree to which modern history featured a series of surprises that eluded experts, I was nevertheless surprised by the ferocity and rapid planetization of the Coronavirus assault on human health, and lifechanging, and likely permanent, ramifications for economic and social normalcy. It was not only a revelation of the precariousness of our individual and collective existence, but a stark reminder of the relevance of a sphere of life not previously given the societal and global attention and resources that were warranted. One question that will not be answered for some years is whether the aftermath of the pandemic will generate ‘a new world order,’ and if so, will it be an improvement on what existed before COVID-19. From past experiences, there is little reason to be hopeful unless a revolutionary movement below unexpectedly, effectively, and creatively challenges the established order.

The rhetoric of new world order was initially fashionable as a call for global reform at the dawn of the post-colonial age with its calls in the 1970s for ‘a new international economic order’ and ‘a new international information order,’ emanating from expectations that fairness was attainable if sufficient pressure from what was then known as ‘the Third World’ was mounted. These hopes were crushed by the political and economic forces aligned with capitalist geopolitics in the North dominating the existing world order at the time.

Almost twenty years later came George H. W. Bush’s mobilization of a response to Iraq’s conquest, occupation, and annexation of Kuwait in 1990 by suggesting that ‘a new world order’ was in the making by which he meant that the UN could function to prevent ‘aggression’ in the post-Cold War atmosphere as was originally intended when the UN was established in 1945. After Kuwaiti sovereignty was restored in the First Gulf War, the U.S. Government rushed to shrink expectations about a UN-centric world security system, fearing the responsibilities of being designated as the global peacekeeper. In the words of a leading Washington official at the time this idea of a new world order reliant on the UN ‘was put back on the shelf,’ that is, it was an idea that had served its purpose with respect to Kuwait but should not be counted upon to provide guidance for the future, especially tying American foreign policy and geopolitical discretion to a prior UN authorizations. In an unpublicized talk at Princeton James Baker, the influential U.S. Secretary of State at the time, gave a different spin. In essence Baker said, “Bush was wrong to associate the new world order with the centrality of the UN with regard to peace and security. He should have identified the new world order with the triumph of the American way of life in the Cold War, accompanied by glowing references to market economies and constitutionalism, which provided the contours of what became known during the 1990s as ‘the Washington consensus’ or ‘neoliberal globalization.’

We now can ask whether today’s politicians will think differently about the prospects for a new world order after the pandemic comes under control, and the crisis mood dissipates even if doesn’t fully disappear? It seems more likely that two clashing tendencies will dominate the pandemic aftermath. The first tendency will seek to restore the pre-pandemic dynamic of economic and political order, with modifications limited to augmenting the health sector, and taking advantage of the earlier dislocations to replace workers with machines. The second worrisome tendency is for political leaders to take advantage of the emergency prerogatives of government during the pandemic to institutionalize technologies of surveillance and control, while hardening their borders against immigrants and asylum seekers.

If actualized, neither of these two tendencies will give greater weight to global cooperation, human solidarity, UN authority, empathy, hospitality, and adherence to the Precautionary Principles in dealing with menacing threats clearly visible on the horizon of near future expectations. This further intensification of an already overly politically fragmented world order may be dramatic enough to lead critics to call attention to its defects by again applying the label of ‘new world order.’

If a benign new order built on the principles of stability and justice mentioned above, it will depend on pressures from a transnational movement rooted in civil society, and probably first arising in the Asian context, where several regional government displayed their superior problem-solving skills in the course of containing the COVID-19 challenge. Such a scenario could be endorsed, and even led, by China, the country more than any other with the stature and political imagination to take over global leadership from the United States, which has by its own will and dysfunctional behavior forfeited its prior role, at least temporarily. Of course, it is possible that a post-Trump America will heed Kissinger’s plea for a resumption of U.S. global leadership in ways that take inspiration from its successful restoration of a generally peaceful phase of world order after World War II. Or alternatively, possibly join with China in establishing a collaborative geopolitical framework to address more holistically and cooperatively the currently unsatisfactory responses to ecological, social, and economic global challenges. If this scenario emerges in either form, the label of new world order may yet come to be regarded as a sign of progress and hope, yet its realization will not happen without transnational activism of unprecedented depth and perseverance.

Only then can we recover a standpoint that upholds expectations for a humane and functional response to the universal crisis, which then would allow us to speak hopefully and responsibly about a new world order.

 

 

Triple Jeopardy: Refugees/Migrants/Palestinian Prisoners

25 Apr

Triple Jeopardy: Refugees/Migrants/Palestinian Prisoners

 

[Prefatory Note: This post was published in a somewhat altered form in Transcend MediaService on April 20, 2020 under the title “Triple Jeopardy and the Plight of Palestinian Prisoners.]

 

Double Jeopardy for Refugees/Migrants

Recently reflecting on the plight of refugees fleeing war zones in the Middle East and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Central America I was struck by the analogy to ‘double jeopardy.’ As widely understood, double jeopardy is a procedural rule of criminal law that prohibits prosecution by a state of an individual more than once for the same crime. It is deservedly treated as a human right that protects persons from being harassed after judicial acquittal by repeated allegations of the same alleged crime. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) in Article 14(7) defines double jeopardy: “No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offense for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.” (There are exceptions for acquittals tainted by fraud, confessions by the accused, and the wording of the rule should be corrected for its gender bias implying that it is only ‘men’ who could be victimized by vindictive re-prosecution).

 

For some years, the images of violent border security associated with keeping masses of needy refugees or migrants from crossing international boundaries to reach more peaceful or affluent countries in Europe or North America is what prompted me to sense an analogy to the kind of ordeal that exists when someone wins an acquittal after a long, emotionally and economically costly trial, and is then confronted by a new indictment for essentially the  same supposed criminal offense. In a well-administered democracy, the double jeopardy rule is taken for granted, and prevents such injustices from happening. But what of the world of refugees and migrants?

 

What made the double jeopardy comparison apt for me were these haunting images of doubling down on punishment of those who were not only innocent, but already victimized by circumstances beyond their control, and then again punished for acts that deserve empathy and accommodation, not punishment, if humanitarian values were extended to  refugees/migrants. My existential premise, borne out by some experience, is that persons almost never leave their place of birth and family residence without overwhelming provocation, and are especially hesitant to use their small saving and meager borrowings to embark on a voyage to a distant land with a different language and culture. Most of us, even if dissatisfied with conditions in our native land or our personal circumstances will still not voluntarily depart from the familiarities of family and friends, and of language, traditions, and nationality. Only circumstances of grave danger such as presented by ravaged combat zones or resulting from grinding poverty found in societies that confront residents and entire communities with gray horizons of hopelessness that offer neither safety nor security, can induce most persons to so uproot themselves. In other words, the motivation underlying the emotional reality of the overwhelming majority of refugees and migrants is one of desperation, of grasping at straws and escaping doom. Of course, the small nomadic elites of adventurers, exiles, and expatriates are examples of persons leaving their home countries not from necessity, but in pursuit of the exotic and the paradisiac.

 

This sad depiction of the decision to flee to safety or to search for economic security is then generally accompanied by a treacherous and harrowing journey that often drains the traveler of his or her small savings. Many trips end with death and illness for many in the group, or perilous trips across stormy seas or barren deserts, only to be confronted by a coercive ‘no’ in the form of barbed wire, walls, detention centers, and even live ammunition if and when the destination is reached. To be placed in detention centers with long waits may be the best that can be hoped for by such forsaken souls, often including young children, that experience the depths of insecurity in their homeland, and also along the way that reaches a negative climax when and if the national goal is ever reached.

 

I am not suggesting that this refugee/migrant experience is double jeopardy in a legal sense, but it seems to possess the same ingredients of the unjust repetition of indictment and prosecution, itself punitive, that is prohibited as a part of civilized behavior in a society responsive to the rule of law, and protective of human rights. It is a kind of morally grounded, culturally and spiritually debasing, and often life-threatening duplication of criminal prosecution without any account being taken of human dignity and fundamental innocence of those being victimized, or the ordeal of struggling against a criminal allegation.

 

And yet, moral outrage or a call for compassion does not acknowledge the complexity of the issues raised. Unlike the individuals accused of the same crime a second time, the refugee/migrant does not, as such, pose real threats to the countries that are being expected to act as benign hosts or to extend hospitality to strangers in need. This is notto say that a country does not have the right to deny entry to those with criminal records or contagious diseases, provided due process is accorded, and similarly have authority to insist that those who enter do legally.

 

We live in a state-centric world where international boundaries define the outer limits of community, which has not changed fundamentally no matter how much we hear cosmopolitan sermonizing and ecologically persuasive calls for planetary identity. In such a framework, the citizenry of a country feel threatened in various ways by the influx of large numbers of strangers, especially if their racial and cultural characteristics clash with that of the country asked to show hospitality or grant asylum. The reality of this resistance is producing extremisms of scapegoating and xenophobia, which make moderates search for compromises in the form of requiring lawful entry, quotas, job training, and language and civilizational educational resources. Given the scale of the challenge, and the unlikely emergence of greater receptivity, the main line of an effective and humane response structure should be a large investment in overcoming the conditions in foreign countries that give rise to massive displacement and large numbers of persons desperate to find more sustainable life conditions. Overcoming double jeopardy in these settings depends on a self-interested globalization of responsibility for achieving peace and security, as well as lifting the curse of poverty, and this requires the drastic reform of the way the benefits of neoliberal globalization are distributed much more equitably than in the past.       

 

 

Triple Jeopardy for Palestinian Prisoners at a Time of Pandemic

 

This metaphor for layers of unjust suffering initially occurred to me while preparing a ZOOM presentation on the abuse of Palestinian prisoners in the context of the health dangers associated with the COVID-19 challenge. Such dangers were present for Palestinians under pre-pandemic conditions, but greatly aggravated by Israeli failures to mitigate the additional and aggravated risks that come from keeping around 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in overcrowded prisons where some of the guards and security personnel were reported as testing positive for the virus yet continued to interact with prisoners without prescribed personal protective gear (PPE), and where insufficient hospital and medical capabilities existed in the event that the disease started to spread. This overall sub-par situation was further accentuated in relation to an. estimated 172 child prisoners, many elderly and disabled prisoners, and almost all inmates incarcerated for nonviolent security offenses that should never have been criminalized because of falling within the scope of a right of resistance possessed by persons living under an apartheid regime, which is itself a serious violation of international criminal law. The right to resist Israeli apartheid, at least within the limits of international law regulating violence by reference to choice of targets and other considerations. Israel has not accepted WHO guidelines or a variety of humanitarian appeals by respected NGOs to release at least ‘low-risk’ prisoners as well as those with ‘underlying conditions,’ children, and the elderly.

 

Taking these considerations into account the ‘triple jeopardy’ framing seems justified to underscore the layers of injustice endured by Palestinian prisoners at this time. As the Palestinian writer, Ramzy Baroud, writes, “..all of Palestine has been in a state of ‘lockdown’ since the late 1940s when Israel became a state and the Palestinian homeland was erased by Zionist colonialists with the support of Western benefactors.” To drive the point home, Baroud adds, “In Palestine, we don’t call our imprisonment a lockdown, but a ‘military occupation’ and apartheid.” [See Baroud, “A Palestinian Guide to Surviving a Quarantine: On Faith, Humour, and ‘Dutch Candy,’” Middle East Monitor, April 5, 2020]. In effect, Baroud is insisting that all Palestinians are enduring an unjust ‘imprisonment’ that has lasted for more than 71 years with no signs of abatement, and is itself a punishment of individuals of a certain ethnicity for the ‘crime’ of existing.

 

On this basis, the criminalization of resistance, including nonviolent and symbolic forms, extending even to poem and poets (for example, Dareen Tatour, and her crime, the poem “Resist, my people, resist them”), has resulted in harsh confinement in Israeli prisons, including reliance on such legally dubious mechanisms as ‘administrative detention’ (imprisoning without charges or any due process for extended periods) and the unlawful transfer of prisoners from detention in Occupied Palestine to prisons in Israel [behind the green line], andd out of reach of family members). In effect, the imprisoning of any Palestinian in Israeli jails is Double Jeopardy because it puts Palestinians already punishment by lockdown, displacement, and dispossession behind bars because they dared to assert their right of resistance.

 

The allegation of Triple Jeopardy arises from the failure to suspend or mitigate prison condition in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic, and the related failure to take responsible steps to protect those so confined from contracting a highly contagious and potentially lethal disease. A virtual death sentence hangs over every single Palestinian prisoner for as long as the pandemic lasts, and poses especially acute risks with respect to particularly vulnerable categories of Palestinians living in prisons.

 

 

 Toward Solutions?

 It is not possible to set forth detailed proposals to overcome double and triple jeopardy as depicted. I will only indicate the vectors that point in a direction sensitive to practical and normative aspects of the challenge.

 For Double Jeopardy: seek to accommodate an ethos of hospitality and empathy with a major commitment at the UN and by national governments to take steps to remove the conditions of mass desperation prompting large numbers to leave their homelands, an undertaking ideally funded by a globally administered tax on luxury goods, financial transactions, fossil fuels, and transnational air travel.

 For Triple Jeopardy: release all Palestinian political prisoners immediately, with a sense of urgency, and commit to ending apartheid as the essential step toward a sustainable and just peace based on the equality of rights of Jews and Palestinians.

 

 

 

 

World Order and Covid-19 Pandemic

19 Apr

[PREFATORY NOTE: THE POST BELOW IS A SLIGHTLY MODIFIED TEXT OF AN INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY DANIEL FALCONE, AND PUBLISHED ON APRIL. 17, 2020 IN COUTERPUNCH.]

World Order and the Sars-Co2-Virus

 Daniel Falcone: Carlos Delclós, a sociologist based in Barcelona has highlighted the need for bottom up responses for social solidarity in Spain when compared to the unity declarations put forth by the monarchy. Further, journalist Ben Ehrenreich cites that while there are severe problems with the government, remnants of a democratic spirit and mutual aid keep optimism and hope alive within their system of universalized healthcare. Can you comment on the greater European response to pandemic?

 

Richard Falk: I am aware of the greater strength and role of cooperative movements in European countries, a residue of the socialist movements of the prior century, that give rise to more spontaneous approaches on local levels to immediate threats to well-being, exhibiting both less trust and less dependence on governmental undertakings.

 

Furthermore, European health systems are more evolved, fewer people left out, and more sense of public responsibility, although some deficiencies also emerged. Italy and Spain lacked sufficient governmental capabilities to cope humanely with the challenge of a pandemic, although the epicenter was initially in Lombardy, the richest part of the country.

 

Given the urbanization and social complexity accompanying modernity, the need for intelligent, imaginative, and humane governance is a necessity in times of societal crisis, and its absence magnifies suffering.

 

Daniel Falcone: The World Bank is reporting that Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a drastic economic downturn and the first in more than a couple of decades. Can you explain the unfolding in this region, which is fairly under reported by western democracies?

 

Richard FalkSub-Saharan Africa is still heavily dependent on the exports of resources rather than on the provision of services and high-end manufacturing, and as a result is exceedingly vulnerable to changes in the adverse terms of trade that arise whenever “deglobalization” trends are present. It would seem that the rise of ultra-nationalism, as highlighted by “Trumpist” economic nationalism, have negative impacts on sub-Saharan African development prospects.

 

 

Daniel Falcone: Recently, I spoke with John Feffer of Foreign Policy in Focus and he explained how the pandemic has impacted globalization in regards to a “slowbalization.” He has commented on additional dimensions of this elsewhere. Could you elaborate on the anti-globalization and ultra-nationalist worldview wave that autocrats around the world are riding currently? This looks as dangerous as the pandemic.

 

Richard Falk: There is no little doubt a rise of autocrats, elected and non-elected, in what seemed entrenched democracies (U.S., UK, India, Brazil), in faux democracies (Russia, Hungary, Egypt), and monarchies (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco). This authoritarian surge, which came initially as a surprise to most of us, superseded expectations associated with the end of the Cold War that were triumphantly interpreted as an ideological victory for the West and its values, and especially for the American political economy.

George H.W. Bush, president at the time of the Soviet collapse, proclaimed ‘a new world order’ in which the geopolitical hegemony of the U.S. now was unopposed, and would no longer be challenged in global arenas. This meant that the UN could function as intended on the basis of consensus in a world without ideological rivalry, which allowed the UN to sponsor the Iraq War of 1992 designed to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty by compelling Iraq to abandon conquest and annexation.

 

Then Bill Clinton came along promoting a foreign policy based on a doctrine of ‘enlargement,’ shorthand for predicting and promoting the spread of democracies. It was accompanied by the optimistic belief that an era of peace and prosperity would follow the further spread of democratically governed states. It was widely believed that democracies do not go to war against one another and capitalism is the best engine of growth the world has ever known. From such perspectives the post-Cold War world was envisioned as becoming increasingly both peaceful and prosperous.

Such a worldview was supportive of regime-changing interventions, especially in the Middle East, to get rid of the more strategically troublesome remnants of autocratic regimes and reflected the prevailing enthusiasm about the growth potential of neoliberal globalization, an approach long championed by the neoconservative movement.

 

To become operational such a policy outlook needed both the 9/11 attacks to re-securitize American foreign policy and the neoconservative presidency of George W. Bush. The decisive test of this proactive outlook occurred in the Iraq War of 2003. Expressing this jubilant mood, Bush II introduced a government report on national security in 2002 with an assertion of faith in the singularity and superiority of the American form of governance that went largely unchallenged at the time. He contended that market-oriented constitutionalism (as exemplified by the USA) had demonstrated to the world that its form of democracy (elections plus capitalism) was the only legitimate way to organize the political life of a sovereign state in the new century.

 

So, the haunting question remains, ‘what went wrong’? The most obvious explanation rests on the alienating impacts of neoliberal globalization that seemed to heap its rewards on the very, very rich while leading to stagnation or worse for the multitudes.

 

This structural explanation of the rise of autocracy is certainly a large part of the story as predatory capitalism in this period gave rise to gross inequality on all levels of social order, symbolized by the 26 richest individuals controlling more than half of the world’s wealth. Another part of this story, less frequently acknowledged, is that the socialist alternative to capitalism was successfully discredited by falsely representing the Soviet political and economic failure as a decisive and sufficient test case of the viability of a socialist alternative.

 

This ideological supremacy of neoliberal capitalism facilitated two regressive developments: first, leading neoliberal globalization to privilege capital over people, or put differently, to choose economic efficiency over human well-being. Secondly, creating a political consciousness that fed the illusion that there were no tenable alternatives to the existing mode of political economy, completely ignoring the kind of autocratic state capitalism that flourished so remarkably in China in an ideological atmosphere that presented itself as fulfilling the hopes and dreams of socialism, experiencing a remarkable modernizing facelift under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping that had did not rest its claims on the virtues of democracy.

 

For most of the world, the Chinese phenomenon, while mesmerizing, was seen as not generalizable beyond China, or at least not beyond Asia. In such a setting there was a very unhealthy political situation—the dominant practices and policies of neoliberal globalization were not delivering material benefits to most people living in democratic societies, and the excesses of this stage of capitalism were left unchallenged, and hence unmitigated, by socialist challenges that had since Marx led the most adept masters of capital to seek accommodation with the laboring classes and create an image of an ethical capitalism that was inclusive of the great majority of people in their respective national societies.

 

With that humanistic imperative of ideological rivalry pushed aside, the path was cleared for the emergence of demagogues, and those who found scapegoats to blame for the widespread distress among the public, especially foreigners. This new kind of political appeal produces a blind kind of trust in the leader, however misleading the diagnosis, and feeds a nationalist frenzy at the very time that the world needs recognition of a cooperative global order to address such challenges as climate change. It is not without irony, that the U.S., which had long lectured the world on the many virtues of democracy, should voluntarily succumb to the autocratic ‘charms’ of Donald Trump.

 

It is notable to take account of the existence of some dissenters from ‘slowbalization,’ the most prominent is Richard Haass, former government official and currently President of the Council of Foreign Relations. He anticipates a recovery process that involves an ‘acceleration’ of pre-pandemic trends, including a concerted effort to restore the neoliberal world order with especial emphasis on its orientation toward limitless growth based on technological innovation and capital efficiency, but revamped in the precarious context of continuing American decline, which includes an absence of the kind leadership required to address global problems through multilateralism.

 

In the background of the Haass view of the post-pandemic world is an intensifying geopolitical rivalry producing conflict and increasing dangers of strategic warfare, presumably featuring a standoff between the U.S. and China.

Henry Kissinger, a stalwart of the triumphalist outlook that followed the Soviet collapse, is more hopeful than Haass, projecting the period after the pandemic subsides as a call for the reassertion of robust American leadership on the global policy stage. He believes that the openness of trade and the transnational mobility of people depend on the renewal of confidence in the neoliberal world order that proved so successful after World War II, and was constructed on the basis of Enlightenment values emphasizing the fusion of political stability, confidence in science and technology, and market-driven economic growth

 

In the background of the restoration of the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ is the ecological illiteracy of supposing that maximizing economic growth via globalization, or otherwise, can proceed without respect for the limits on carrying capacity of the earth. Frank Snowden, the widely respected expert on epidemiology in an illuminating interview (Il Manifesto, Global Edition, April 11, 2020) suggesting that COVID-19 virus and earlier flu epidemics (SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian flu) can all be traced to zoonotic transfers of the virus from animals to humans, expressing spillovers that he argues are bound to occur when animal habitats are encroached upon by spreading urbanization and industrialization.

 

A more reconstructive post-pandemic approach would strive for ‘a new normal,’ which combined the health imperative of sensible preparedness and universal coverage with an ecological sophistication that sought to mitigate inequalities among peoples and societies by addressing poverty as a health issue, including the recognition that diseases are more lethal in relation to vulnerable peoples, who suffer as victims and victimize others by becoming agents of contagion.

Daniel Falcone: After the dust settles from the pandemic, if it does, can you attempt a forecast of how global powers will align or realign?

Dealignment’ is more likely than ‘realignment.’ I am assuming here that either that the nationalist retreat from neoliberal globalization will continue or there will be strong moves, hard to forecast, in the direction of regional and global cooperation in key sectors of policy, with international institutions given important coordinating roles. In either alternative alliance, diplomacy seems not likely to reemerge in any manner comparable to what it was in the prior century. Trump has already significantly weakened the Western alliance structure, and except for the forays of “coercive diplomacy” contra Iran (in concert with Saudi Arabia, Israel), seems to have adopted a unilateralist foreign policy course supplemented by transactional bilateralism in which the interaction seeks win/lose outcomes based on hard power disparities.

 

Reverting to Haass and Kisssinger, it is worth noting that the pessimistic assessments of Haass are explicitly linked to his anticipation of the post-pandemic world order as resembling what happened in the decades after World War I, that is, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and a second world war. Kissinger, although habitually associated with a fatalistic view of the international scene, somehow strikes more hopeful notes by advocating and somewhat anticipating a post-pandemic recovery that resembles the dynamics of world order following World War II with the U.S. playing its former leadership role by recognizing the opportunities and needs for a more cooperative approach to global problems.

 

Daniel Falcone: Are there any chances for United States reform at a local or even an institutional level that can offset the political capital maintained by autocrats both here and around the world? Are we in fact, a “failed state?”

You raise an interesting question. A response must start with the disappointing observation that the 2020 election is between Trump and Biden, a familiar political figure who shaped his career around the bipartisan Cold War consensus of militarism, neoliberalism, and pro-Israeli absolutism. This orientation is what I have called elsewhere ‘the three pillars of American foreign policy’ that only Sanders dared challenge (and paid the price) as one sees what was done to his frontrunner status by the guardians of the established order. Sanders’ response that he lost the primary campaign, but his movement will go on fighting, is suggestive of the gap between the establishment world of political parties and his movement consisting of various societal domains of people that seems openly hostile to the bipartisan consensus, the deep state, and the special interest lobbies that continue to dominate not only the governing process, but also the electoral process

What is worth noticing is that even Trump despite his bombastic claims during the 2016 presidential campaign has as president paid his dues to the bipartisanship in foreign policy with his enlarged military budget, tax cuts for the richest and rollback of regulatory interferences with predatory capitalism, and the greenest light ever given to Israeli expansionism and one-statism. His only halfhearted departure from bipartisanship has been the downplaying of Euro-American alliance geopolitics.

Possibly, the autocratic edge of American politics would be dulled by a Biden presidency by more moderate judicial appointments and some effort to address gross inequalities, student debt, infrastructure, and an improved health system that encompasses the whole society. Yet, it would seem absurd to expect more from Biden, given that his principal message is ideational, a promise to restore national unity by reaching out so far as to include so-called ‘moderate’ Romney Republicans, who have never struck me as moderate except in comparison to their alt-right Republican leadership of the Trump era.

Biden’s unity message is also code language for restoring the bipartisan consensus in an overt form that would counter some of the ultra-nationalist retreat from globalization. In foreign policy we could expect a shift in tone from ‘America First’ to ‘NATO First’ as a way of differentiating his approach from that of Trump and of reaffirming faith in the Western alliance as once again the centerpiece of American foreign policy. It would be foolhardy to expect Biden after a centrist lifetime political career to pursue a progressive social and ecological agenda, yet without such an agenda we can be thankful to Biden for ending the reign of Trump while renewing our severe worries about the social and ecological shortcomings of the American governance experience given 21st century urgencies.