Interview: Middle East Turmoil: Israeli Massacre, Palestinian Grievances

3 Apr

The Middle East is Heating Up — Again: An Interview with Richard Falk (with C.J. Polychroniou)

 

[Prefatory Note: This is a somewhat modified text of an interview of two weeks ago conducted by the Greek journalist and author, C.J Polychroniou. Since then several developments have occurred, none more significant than the Return Home Land Day demonstrations of March 30, 2018. The original interview appeared in several online publications. The format is altered to make somewhat more reader friendly.]

 

CJP: Richard, let’s start with Donald Trump’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy there by May of this year. First, is this legal from the standpoint of international law, and, second, what are likely to be the long-term effects of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on the region as a whole?

 

RF: There is no question, Chronis, that Trump’s Jerusalem policy relating to recognition and the move of the American embassy is regionally and religiously provocative and disruptive, underscoring the abandonment by Washington of even the pretense of being a trustworthy intermediary that can be relied upon by both sides to work for a sustainable peace between the two peoples. Some critics of the initiative are saying that the U.S. is free to situate its embassy in Jerusalem, but the whole of Jerusalem isn’t Israel. The status of this holy city remains to be determined and East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located, which for the present is considered to be an ‘occupied territory’ in international humanitarian law.

 

Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, which rests on the central proposition that an occupied territory should not be altered in any way that changes its status and character without the consent of the occupied society. It also is a unilateral rejection of a near unanimous international consensus, endorsed by the United Nations, that the future of Jerusalem should be settled by negotiations between the parties as a part of a broader peacemaking process. Israel had much earlier violated both international law and breached this international consensus by unilaterally annexing an enlarged Jerusalem, and declared that the whole city, within expanded boundaries, would be the ‘undivided, eternal capital’ of Israel. It is notable that the General Assembly on December 21, 2017 approved by an overwhelming majority of 128-8 (35 abstentions) a strong condemnation of the U.S. move on Jerusalem, with even America’s closest allies joining in this vote of censure.

 

It is difficult to predict the long-term consequences of this diplomatic rupture. It depends, above all, on whether the U.S. Government acts convincily to restore its claim to act as a conflict-resolving intermediary. The Trump administration continues to insist that it is working on a peace plan that will require painful compromises by both Palestine and Israel. Of course, given the unconditional alignment of Washington with Netanyahu’s views of Israel and the Palestinian future, as well as the orientation of those entrusted with drafting the plan, it is highly unlikely that even Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, generally accommodationist will be inclined to enter a diplomatic process that is virtually certain to be weighted so heavily in favor of Israel. Yet as many have come to appreciate, nothing is harder to predict than the future of Middle Eastern politics.

At the same time, Jerusalem has an abiding significance for both Islam and Christianity that makes it almost certain for the indefinite future that there will be formidable regional and civilizational resistance to subsuming Jerusalem under Israeli sovereign control.

 

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CJP: Israel appears bent on restricting Iran’s rising influence as a regional power in the Middle East. How far do you think the US can go in assisting Israel to contain Tehran’s strategy for empowering Shia’s?

 

Richard Falk: Israel and Saudi Arabia are both for different reasons determined to confront Iran, and quite possibly, initiate a military encounter with potentially widespread ramifications for the entire region, if not the world. A quick glance at the Syrian conflict suggests how complex and dangerous is this effort to destabilize the Iranian governing process, with the dual objectives of destabilizing the governing process mixed with the more ambitious goal of causing civil strife of sufficient magnitude as to produce a civil war, and ideally from the perspectives of Iran’s adversaries, regime change.

 

The Israeli adherence to this recklessness seems partly motivated by its overall security policy of seeking to weaken any country in the region that is hostile to its presence and has the potential military capability to threaten Israeli security and regional role in a serious manner. Israel has been so far successful in neutralizing each of its credible adversaries in the region (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Syria) with the exception of Iran. In this sense, Iran stands out as the last large unfinished item on Israel’s post-1967 geopolitical agenda. Israel’s real intentions are difficult to pin down, shifting with context and perceived opportunity. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders frequently manipulate the alleged Iranian threat to cause fear among Israelis. Their goal seems to be the mobilization of domestic support for adhering to an aggressive foreign policy. This manipulation panics many Israeli security specialists who express are more alert to the risks of an actual military confrontation with Iran than are political leaders.

 

Saudi motivations are quite different, associated with a fierce regional rivalry that is articulated in terms of a sectarian clash between Shia and Sunni Islam, aggravated by a concern that Iran’s influence increased as a result of the Iraq and Syrian Wars, which both seem to have outcomes favorable to Tehran. The sectarian rationale of the conflict seems intended to disguise the more fundamental explanation, which is that there is a power struggle between these two sovereign states to determine which one will achieve regional ascendancy. The sectarian explanation was also somewhat undermined by the intensity with which the Saudis and other Gulf monarchies used their financial and diplomatic resources to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt despite its strong Sunni identity. From the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 Tehran looked upon the monarchy governing Saudi Arabia as corrupt and decadent in the same manner as it regarded the Shah’s dynastic rule in Iran as politically illegitimate.

 

Your focus on how far the U.S. can go in restricting Iran’s influence is difficult to assess at this point. Trump’s virtual repudiation of the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program seems to express a commitment to join with Israel and Saudi Arabia to engage in coercive diplomacy, consisting of intensifying sanctions, covert operations to encourage internal opposition, and a variety of military threats. Where this will lead, if indeed it goes forward in defiance of the other parties to the agreement and almost all UN members, is anybody’s guess, but it is a highly irresponsible diplomatic gambit that risks a deadly ‘war of choice.’

 

Trump’s regional diplomacy, such as it is, has been most notable for giving even greater emphasis to the ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia than earlier American leaders. Even previously, under Obama, George W. Bush, and prior presidents, the subordination of American strategic interests and national values to this posture of unquestioning support, which is the operational significance of designating these links as special relationships.

 

 

 

CJP: Syria’s civil war not only continues unabated but the country has become a battlefield for the spread of the influence of various powers in the region, including Turkey and Russia. Do you see a way out of this mess?

 

Richard Falk: The Syrian War is among the most complex conflict patterns in the history of warfare. Not only is there an internal struggle for control of the Syrian state that has been waged by not one, but by several insurgent movements that are not even compatible with one another. There is also a regional proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar against Iran, with Turkey playing a confusing role that sometimes seems guided by anti-Damascus goals but at other times is preoccupied with curtailing the Kurdish challenge. The various national struggles of the Kurds for autonomous rights, possibly independent political communities, threatens the territorial integrity of several Middle Eastern states, as well as Syria. In addition to all of this there are major multi-faceted and fluid Russian and American involvements on opposite sides, although not even this opposition is clear cut and consistent. For a time there was an almost collaborative effort to defeat ISIS and obtain a Syrian ceasefire, although the basic involvement has been to put Russia on the side of the Damascus government and the U.S. as aligned with the insurgencies.

 

Because the anti-ISIS dimension of the conflict is at odds with the anti-Damascus dimension, depending on the priority accorded to one rather than the other, alignments are contradictory and shifted over time. Sometimes precedence has been given to achieving regime-change in Damascus by removing Assad from power, and in such contexts, it was acknowledged silently that ISIS was the most effective military challenge on the ground being mounted against the Syrian government. At other times, the counterterrorist campaign against ISIS was given uppermost prominence, and there was even high-level indications that Washington was willing to live with the Assad regime, a position given added credence recently due to the success of the Syrian government in quelling its opposition, making continued opposition futile politically and irresponsible ethically. Whenever pragmatism gained the upper hand, Russia and Iran were accepted as partners in these efforts to defeat and destroy ISIS.

 

All wars eventually come to an end, and I am sure Syria will not be an exception. Yet it difficult at present to project a solution that brings about more than a ceasefire, and even this kind of ending of what has become an orgy of senseless killing is highly elusive, as each of the many parties to the conflict jockeys violently for minor positional advantages to improve its bargaining leverage when the conflict enters some kind of negotiating phase. Although all wars end eventually, internal wars of this kind, especially with such complex regional and international aspects, can simmer for decades with no clear winner or loser as has been the case in the Philippines and Colombia. It seems as if at present the Syrian government believes it is on the verge of victory, and is pressing for an outcome in East Ghouta and Idlib such that it will not be expected to make significant concessions.

 

The best hope, which has been the case for several years, is that the various parties will recognize that the situation is indeed a mess that is causing mass suffering and widespread devastation without producing political gains. Yet translating that recognition into a formula that produces an end to the violence has so far proved futile and frustrating as each party sees the conflict from its partisan perspective of gain and loss.

 

 CJP: With the two-state solution having ceased long ago being a viable alternative, what are the most likely prospects for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations?

 

Richard Falk: The safest response is to anticipate a persistence of the present status quo, which involves continuing Israeli expansionism by way of the settlements and the persistence of the Palestinian ordeal, with some resistance in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and a growing global solidarity movement exerting pressure on Israel in the form of the BDS campaign. There may be some attention given to a variety of proposals to end the conflict by revived diplomacy. The Trump blustery promise of ‘a deal of the century’ has received skeptical attention, but its likely one-sidedness makes it almost certain to be a non-starter, especially as the Israeli government feels insufficient pressure to produce a peaceful solution based on a genuine political compromise and the Palestinian Authority remains unwilling to accept a demilitarized statelet as a token Palestine state, or even to participate in negotiations that are so obviously stacked against it. For public relations reasons, the international consensus clings to the two-state solution even though, as your question suggests, its viability has long been superseded by Israeli expansionist policies intended to fulfill the Zionist goal of making the boundaries of Israel coterminous with the whole of the Jewish biblical conception of the ‘promised land.’

 

There are other outcomes that are possible. Daniel Pipes has been promoting what he dubbed ‘the victory caucus,’ which posits Israel as the victor in the struggle to establish a Jewish state and Palestine the loser. Pipes argues that diplomacy has failed to resolve the conflict after years of effort, and hence that the only alternative is for one side to win and the other to lose if peace is to be established. He encourages Israel to escalate pressure on the Palestinians to make them see the light, accept the reality of a Jewish state, and move on. Such an initiative is distasteful to those who support the Palestinian struggle, and it seems oblivious to the claims of international law and international morality as these are generally understood in the 21st century when colonialism and ethnic nationalism are illegitimate forms of political control and the right of self-determination has become universally accepted as an inalienable right of an oppressed people in the circumstances of the Palestinians.

 

In my view, neither the two-state nor a consensual one-state outcome of the struggle is currently within the realm of political feasibility. We are necessarily speculating about future political scenarios within the domain of ‘political impossibility.’ Yet the impossible sometimes happens. Colonialism was successfully challenged, the Soviet Union collapsed, South Africa renounced apartheid, the Arab Spring erupted. In none of these cases did such occurrences seem possible except in retrospect. After the events, as expected, experts appeared who explained why these impossible developments were, if closely considered, inevitable.

 

In this spirit, I think it useful to acknowledge the limits of rational assessment, and either remain silent, or offer for consideration, a solution that is ‘impossible,’ yet ‘desirable’ from the perspective of humane values, which in this case involves a secure, equitable, and sustainable peace for both peoples that is, above all, sensitive to their equality and to their distinct, yet legitimate, claims to self-determination. I find it unimaginable to realize such a peace within the current structure of the Middle East, which consists of a group of artificial and autocratic states held together by varying mixtures of coercion, corruption, and external military assistance. Israel/Palestine peace cannot unfold in a benevolent manner without a structural return to the Ottoman framework of regional unity and ethnic community, and possibly Islamic caliphate, adapted to post-colonial realities. Such a stateless Middle East would reverse the harm inflicted on the region by the imposition of European territorial states through the infamous Sykes-Picot diplomacy.

 

 CJP: South Africa’s former apartheid system has been employed analytically by many to describe the current status of the state of Israel with regard to it’s treatment towards Palestinians. Indeed, it is from such a comparison that the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement was borne, but to what extent are the two cases compatible? South Africa was pretty much isolated by the early 1980s, but the same cannot be said about Israel today. In fact, Israel has even managed to expand recently it’s network of allies with Greece and the Sunni states. So, what are your thoughts on the comparison between the former South African apartheid regime and Israel and the effectiveness of the strategy of BDS?

 

RF: Your question raises two distinct issues: Is Israel responsibly regarded as an ‘apartheid state’? If so, is Israeli apartheid similar to South African apartheid?

 

Prior to responding to these questions, it seems helpful to clarify the status of the international crime of apartheid as it has evolved in international law, taking particular note of the fact that although the name and core idea is based on the specific condemnation of South African racism, the international crime is detached from this precedent. The essence of the international crime is any form of discriminatory domination by one race over another that relies on ‘inhuman acts’ to sustain its purposes. In this important sense, Israeli forms of domination over the Palestinian people may be quite different than the domination of whites over blacks in South Africa and yet constitute the international crime of apartheid. Treating apartheid as an international crime is based both on the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and on the 2002 Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court that categorizes ‘apartheid’ in Article 7 as one of eleven types of Crime Against Humanity.

 

In a study commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission, Virginia Tilley and I concluded that the policies and practices of Israel toward the Palestinian people as a whole satisfy the requirements of the international crime of apartheid. Our conclusion is based on the view that Israel, to maintain an expanding Jewish state has subjected the Palestinian people to structures of subjugation and victimization that are sustained by excessive violence and other inhuman means. It was our judgment that Jews and Palestinians are distinct ‘races’ as the term is understood in international law. The scope of Israeli apartheid is based on coherent strategies designed to subjugate the Palestinian people whether they are living under occupation, the most obvious case, or as a discriminated minority within Israel or as residents in refugee camps in neighboring countries or living is a global diaspora as involuntary exiles. Each of these domains is connected with the Israeli efforts to ensure not only the prevalence of a Jewish state, but also a secure Jewish majority population that could only be achieved by a process of dispossession, dispersion, and fragmentation, as well as by the denial of any right of return.

 

South African apartheid was very different in its operation as compared to Israeli apartheid. For one thing, white South Africa was a minority demographic in the country and critically dependent on black labor. For another, the South African concept of law, citizenship, and democracy was delineated along racial lines, while Israel claims to be an inclusive democracy, although is more accurately understood to be an ethnocracy. Despite these fundamental differences, the core reality of ‘inhuman acts’ and ‘discriminatory structures of domination’ are present, although distinctly enacted, in both national settings.

 

Finally, it should be understood that such allegations of Israeli apartheid are made on the basis of academic study, and while they may be persuasive morally and politically, it is also true that until a valid tribunal passes judgment on such allegations, the legal status of the allegations remains unresolved, and is of course feverishly contested by Israel and its supporters.

 

CJP: Overall, what are the prospects for restored stability and a positive future for the countries in the Middle East?

 

RF: Without the intervention of unanticipated developments, the prospects are poor. On one level, the extreme turmoil in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and neighboring Libya are likely to continue and could spread to additional states. On a second level, the regional rivalries between Iran and a Saudi led coalition on the one side and Israel on the other, seem likely to intensify. On a third level, there is no plausible scenario for establishing a sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. On a fourth level, with the reassertion of Russian engagement and the U.S. pursuit of a strategic agenda related to Israel, oil, political Islam, Iran, and nuclear nonproliferation, the region has as in the Cold War become a site of dangerous geopolitical maneuver and confrontation. On a fifth level, perhaps less serious than the others, is the sort of intra-regional tensions that have given rise to the Gulf Crisis centered upon the relations of Qatar to other Gulf countries, and to the role of Turkey as partner and antagonist, especially in relation to the continuing search of the Kurdish peoples for self-determination. Finally, on a sixth level, there is almost certain to be new expressions of internal strife and various extremisms that strike against the West, inviting retaliation, which will probably be accompanied by further migratory flows that aggravate relations between the Middle East and Europe.

 

The drastic and prolonged victimization of the Middle East also exhibits the failure of the West to understand, much less address, the root causes of conflict and chaos that have produced mass suffering and material deprivations throughout the region. These root causes can be traced back at least a century to the imposition of European style states on the region, reflecting colonial ambitions, in the aftermath of World War I and by way of a colonial pledge to the world Zionist movement to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then inhabited by a Jewish minority not larger than 6%. The other principal root cause related to the abundance of oil in several parts of the Middle East, which created rentier mentalities in development contexts and provided strong strategic motivations for intervention and control by global political actors.

 

In the end, this complexity joining the historical past to the tormented past creates a dismal set of prospects for the future of the Middle East. At this point, only paradoxical, although unrealistic, hopes for prudence and moderation can make the portrayal of the situation less gloomy than the evidence and trajectory suggest.

 

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After the Interview: A Postscript on the Land Day Massacre (‘Great March of Return’)

 

The precise statistics remain inconclusive, although there exists general agreement that more than 15 Palestinians were killed by live ammunition fired by Israeli snipers stationed at the border with Gaza, another estimated 750 Palestinians were injured by ammo and rubber bullets resulting in an estimated total of 1,500 injuries, including from tear gas dropped on the largely unarmed demonstration. Whether the Israeli behavior should be viewed as ‘excessive force’ or ‘collective punishment,’ or both, is a matter for debate, but there is no question that the killings and firepower were in direct conflict with Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power as specified in the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel’s ‘disengagement’ in 2005 did not end the occupation from the perspective of international humanitarian law, but rather rearranged its management, with control and deployments being concentrated on the borders rather than throughout Gaza, and reinforced by periodic massive military incursions causing large numbers of civilian casualties and widespread devastation.

 

This latest interaction returned the Palestinian litany of grievances to the front pages of the world’s media often accompanied by gruesome pictures, but also revealed two kinds of gaps: between the Western and non-Western media and between the mainstream media response and that of civil society. The mainstream media worries that this is a public relations setback for Israel and urges restraint on both sides. In contrast, the activist segment of civil society condemns the Israeli tactics as constituting a massacre, and calls for an arms embargo. This distinction at the level of response is revealing, with the mainstream and almost every Western government pinning their public hopes on reviving negotiations aiming at a political solution based on the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestine. Engaged civil society has lost all faith in diplomacy under current conditions, believes only escalating nonviolent pressure can change the political climate sufficiently to make negotiations sufficiently promising to undertake, and then only if the two-state mantra is abandoned once and for all.

 

 

 

 

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The Banality of Evil: Diverting the Palestinian Struggle

28 Mar

The Banality of Evil: Language Entrapment or Political Malevolence?

 

It seems a language game is being played. Or is it better understood as a political maneuver suffused with bad intentions?

 

Governments and international institutions with the wonders of modern information-gathering technology at their disposal continue to endorse the ‘two-state solution’ while civil society observers on all sides of the conflict mostly realize that as matters now stand Israel is adamant in its refusal to allow an independent Palestinian state to emerge and feels no pressure from the Trump White House to feel otherwise. Regardless of feelings, with an estimated 700,000 Israeli settlers living in unlawful settlements, the obstacles to creating the sort of Palestinian sovereign state that was supposed to emerge from Oslo diplomacy, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet Roadmap has long ago evaporated into thin air with hardly a whimper of outrage, or even disappointment, from even the Palestinian official representatives at the UN or the PLO directorate in Ramallah.

 

Daniel Pipes, always at the service of Zionist ambitions, has been beating the drums for an iron-fisted end game that resolves the conflict with the clarity of an acknowledged Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat. As for the two-state solution, it is ironic that Pipes words ring truer than those that emanate from the capitals of the world, Speaking plainly, Pipes says “(t)he two-state solution, an absurdity at present (it means asking Israel to strengthen its mortal enemy) will make good sense after a Palestinian defeat.” One can only imagine the paltry reality of what Israeli ‘good sense’ will produce after a Palestinian surrender! But the question that interests me here is why Pipes can be clear eyed about a reality that the UN and inter-governmental discourse are unwilling to admit. Trump, forever the outlier, is so far forthright enough to refuse to endorse the two-state solution, thus breaking, at least implicitly, with the inter-governmental/UN consensus that other recent American presidents have all pledged to their utmost to implement. Of course, Trump’s defection is best explained as his docile readiness to take his marching orders from domestic Zionist maximalists who helped bankroll his campaign for the presidency.

 

On a recent visit to Israel for a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, reaffirmed the zombie international consensus as if was an alive political option, declaring that the new German government remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such an assertion can be better understood if decoded—the German government has no intention of exerting any pressure on Israel to reach a political compromise, and he seems to be urging the Palestinian leadership to adopt a similar line.

 

At the UN the harshest criticisms of Israel continue to be its tendency to hamper progress toward a two-state solution, which would be notable if anyone in the know believed it to be a viable political option. For instance, in the important Security Council censure of Israeli settlement behavior (SC 2334. 23 December 2016) the Preamble wrote these words of explanation: “Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.” “Dangerously imperiling,” as if the solution was not long since defunct. On what planet are these governmental representatives living? Or do these governments know better, but have secondary reasons for pretending differently?

 

In operative paragraph 3 of the General Assembly resolution (21 Deember 2017, A/ES-10/L.22) overwhelmingly condemning (128-9, with 35 abstentions) the provocative Trump move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to so relocate the American embassy, a similarly misleading assertion is made: the GA “Reiterates its call for reversal of the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.” I would be rude enough to say, ‘wake up, world,’ the two-state solution is not in the peace picture any longer, and maybe never really was.

 

The new call for peace that has real potential political traction, and is increasingly endorsed throughout civil society is ‘End Apartheid,” superseding the earlier effort to achieve by direct action an outcome that could be converted into a de facto Palestinian state: ‘End the Occupation.” For several reasons, this emphasis on withdrawal from occupied Palestine was always insufficiently responsive to the full reality of Palestinian suffering and struggle. It failed to emphasize the long-term plight of Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles, and omitted mention of the discriminatory and in many ways worsening daily reality of the Palestinian minority in Israel.

 

In some respects the most dismaying statement of all along these lines was issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in their rebuke of Trump’s Jerusalem initiative that was just now disseminated with the evident approval of the Palestinian National Council:  “The IPU noted that the resolution undermines the legal and political status of a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine and any hopes for a two-state solution. The IPU stressed that it would continue to pursue its efforts to promote dialogue and peace between the two parties, Israel and Palestine, and in the Middle East region. What is distressing about such a statement is that it seems to suppose that Israel is in the slightest degree interested in participating in a dialogue on the conditions of peace if that means walking a path leading to the emergence of a Palestinian state. The minimum requirement for dialogue is some degree of mutuality, which has not existed on the Israeli side for some years, and to pretend that it does is a way of sidestepping the real challenge—do nothing but watch while Israel moves ahead with its unilateral end game or join the struggle to prevent a culminating Palestinian tragedy by moving out of the diplomatic shadows and into the political arena of coercive politics.

This is not the time for dialogue and displays of good will. That time has long passed. Now is the time for engagement, for pressure, for boycott, and for sanctions. When governments are serious about pursuing elusive goals, whether these are benevolent or not, they choose sanctions, coercive diplomacy, and leave the military option on the table. I am only too glad to leave the military option off the table, while insisting upon a post-diplomatic posture of militant nonviolence. The Palestinian people have suffered long enough! They should not be further enticed to rely on tactics of futility. Not only is silence in the face of evil and suffering unacceptable, so is passivity, and even more, false consciousness.

Finally, we should ponder why the civil society focus on the BDS Campaign is so much more attuned to the Palestinian ordeal than is this nonsesnsical inter-governmental and UN two-state discourse. My reference to Hannah Arendt’s influential, if controversial, treatment of the Eichmann trial, was not lacking in forethought. Governments, and the UN as a global network of governments, is not inclined to confront seriously the suffering of others unless vital national interests and geopolitical priorities of its principal members so decree. Here, considering that Israel has become a regional powerhouse, backed unconditionally by the United States, conditionally by the West as a whole, and now opportunistically even by most Arab governments, the geopolitical realities favor an international posture of hands, given deceptive twists by moralizing rhetoric, occasional slaps on the Israeli wrist, and a garland of illusions in the ritual form of pledging a meaningless allegiance to the continuing vitality of the two-state solution. We need to muster clarity of will to declare that affirming the two-state solution under present conditions is proof that the banality of evil lives on in our time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation

24 Mar

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation- On the Politics of Language

 

Controlling the Discourse

 

Israel has been brilliant over the years in shaping and misdirecting the public discourse on the future of Palestine. Among its earliest achievement along these lines was the crucial propaganda victory by having the 1948 War known internationally as the ‘War of Independence.’ Such a designation erases the Palestinians from political consciousness, and distorts the deeper human and political consequences of the war. Language matters, especially in vital circumstances where there are winners and losers, a reality that applies above all to a war of displacement.

 

It took decades for the Palestinians to elevate their experience of the 1948 war to even the consciousness of those on an international level who supported the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination. Even now more than 50 years after the war, the ‘Nakba’ by which the 1948 war is known to Palestinians remains internationally obscure. The word signifies ‘catastrophe,’ which is associated principally with the dispossession of at least 700,000 non-Jewish residents of Palestine, what became the state of Israel after 1948, and subsequently, with the denial by Israel of any right of return for those Palestinians who abandoned their homes and villages out of fear or as a result of Israeli coercion. This double process of dispossession and erasure was reinforced powerfully by the bulldozing and utter destruction of 400-600 Palestinian villages in the new state of Israel.

 

Even those who have this revisionist awareness rarely convey a sense of the Nakba as a process, not just a calamitous event. For those Palestinians dispossessed of home, property, community, employment, and dignity, their life, that of their families, and that of subsequent generations has been generally ‘a living hell’ as a consequence of either enduring the misery and humiliation of long-term residence in refugee camps or experiencing the various vulnerabilities and rootlessness of involuntary and permanent exile. In other words, the tragedy of the Nakba began and did not end with the traumas of dispossession, but rather continued in the ordeals that followed, which must be considered as inseparable from the originating catastrophe.

 

 

The UN Partition Resolution

 

For many reflective Palestinians, the decades since 1948 have intensified the ordeal that followed from the struggle for control of territory and elemental rights that followed from GA Resolution 181 adopted by a vote of 33-13 (with ten abstentions, one absent), in November 29, 1947. The Israeli mastery of the public international discourse was expressed by dramatizing the Zionist acceptance (as represented by the Jewish Agency for Palestine) of the proposed partition of historic Palestine while the Palestinians, their Arab neighbors, as well as India and Pakistan, rejected it declaring above all that partition without the consent of the inhabitants of Palestine was a flagrant violation of the UN Charter promise of the right of self-determination, entailing peoples choosing their own political destiny.

 

This clash of attitudes was then interpreted in the West as demonstrating the reasonableness of the Zionist approach to the complexities associated with two contradictory claims of right regarding self-determination and territorial sovereignty. The Zionist/Israeli spin claimed a readiness to resolve the conflict by way of political compromise while contrasting and denigrating the Palestinian approach to the future of the country as exclusivist and rejectionist, even as genocidal, implying an alleged Arab resolve to throw Jews into the sea, a contention that naturally agitated an extremely sensitive post-Holocaust Western liberal political consciousness. A more objective rendering of the opposed viewpoints of the two sides supports a set of conclusions almost totally the opposite of what has been sold to the world by an Israeli narrative of the UN partition initiative and its aftermath that despite these contrary considerations remains dominant.

 

After an understandable initial Palestinian reflex to repel Jewish intruders intent on occupying and dividing their homeland of centuries, it has been the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who have been proposing a comprensive compromise and it is the Israelis who, by and large, subscribe to the view that the Jewish ‘promised land’ incorporates the West Bank and the unified city of Jerusalem, and any dilution of these goals would be a fundamental betrayal of the Zionist project to restore fully a mythic ‘biblical Israel’ in the form of a sovereign state. The more ideological Israelis, including Menachem Begin, (commander of the Zvai Leumi Irgun, 6th prime minister of Israel, 1977-83) were outspoken critics of partition in 1947, anticipating correctly that it would produce violence, and believing that Israel would only achieve its security and complete the Zionist Project by engaging in military operations with the object of territorial expansion. David Ben-Gurion, the master Zionist tactician and the first and foremost Israeli leader, shared Begin’s skepticism about partition, but favored it for pragmatic reasons as a step toward the fulfillment of the Zionist Project, but not the end of it. Partition was provisional, to be followed by seeking to complete the Zionist agenda, which is precisely what unfolded ever since 1947.

 

Partition was a familiar British colonial tactic that complemented their ‘divide and rule’ strategy of occupation was proposed for Palestine as early as 1937 in the report of the Peel Commission, but in view of the desire for Arab cooperation in World War II, the UK uncharacteristically backed away from their advocacy of partition for Palestine. In a later white paper the British declared partition to be ‘impractical’ as applied to Palestine, and somewhat surprisingly abstained from the vote on GA Res. 181.

 

Prolonging the Palestinian Ordeal

 At least since the PLO decision in 1988 to accept Israel as a legitimate state and offer normalization of relations if Israel followed the prescriptive provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 242, that is, withdrawing to the 1967 green line borders and agreeing on arrangements for an effective resolution of the refugee issue. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 added regional inducements to the PLO offer of political compromise, and this too was met by Israeli silence and a lackluster response in the West. The Oslo diplomacy was a one-sided failure. It never produced proposals on the disputed issues in ways that contained any reasonable prospect of bringing the conflict to a sustainable end while allowing Israel valuable time to keep expanding their network of unlawful settlements, a form of creeping annexation that served, as well, to make the two-state mantra more and more of a cruel chimera, useful to pacify international public opinion that sought a sustainable peace for both peoples and an end to the conflict..

 

More objectively considered, these dual reactions to the partition solution can be deconstructed. The Zionist movement at every stage took what it could get, and then went about creating conditions on the ground and diplomatically for getting more, by expanding their political demands and expectations, or as sometimes observed, ‘shifting the goalposts.’ Reliance on such ‘salami tactics’ can be traced back at least as far as the Balfour Declaration when Zionists accepted the terminology of ’national home’ despite their aspirations from the outset to establish a Jewish state that disregarded Palestinian moral, legal, and political rights. Recent archival research has made it increasingly clear that the real Zionist goal all along was the imagined Israel of biblical tradition, ‘the promised land’ that deemed to encompass all of the city of Jerusalem, as well as the area known internationally as ‘the West Bank’ and in Israel as ‘Judea and Samaria.’

 

And with respect to the Palestinian response, initially ardently supported by the entire Arab world, as well as most countries with majority Muslim populations, rejection of the UN approach was based on the extent to which partition bisected Palestine without any process of consent by, or even consultation with, the majority resident population. It was an arrogant effort by the UN, then under Western control, to dictate a solution that was not sensitive to Palestinian concerns or in keeping with the spirit or letter of its own Charter. To treat Palestinian rejection of GA Res. 181 as indicative of anti-Semitism or even rejectionism is to accept an explanation of the disastrous legacy of partition that conforms to the Israeli narrative that misses the real dynamic at work that has kept the conflict alive all these decades. To this day Israel continues to create conditions that diminish Palestinian prospects while subtly depicting the Zionist Project as in reasonable pursuit of previously undisclosed ambitions with greater clarity.

 

This leads to the central question that also includes reasons why the Israelis did also not want partition, but felt correctly that its provisional and temporary acceptance was a way of gaining more political space both for maneuvering and for showing the world its reasonable face that included a commitment to peace. In contract, the Palestinians felt shut out and humiliated by the way the future of their society was treated by the UN and the West, and yet didn’t want to alienate the international community, especially Washington. This kind of attitude meant lending credence to the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles, and acting as if the ‘peace process’ had something to do with ‘peace.’ This accommodationist mode of diplomacy practiced by the Palestinian Authority over the course of the last 25 years while Israel annexed and Judaized East Jerusalem and penetrated more and deeply into the West Bank created the impression in many circles, including Palestinian and others, that the Palestinian Authority was not nearly rejectionist enough, and either naively playing a losing hand or completely failing to understand the real Zionist game plan.

 

 

‘The Partition War’

 

To circle back to the contention that language is itself a site of struggle, it become desirable, even now, more than 70 years later, to call the 1948 War by a name that reveals more clearly its essential and flawed character, and this name is The Partition War. Only by such a linguistic move can we begin to understand the extent to which the international community, as embodied in the UN, was guilty of original sin with respect to the Palestinian people, and their natural rights, as well as their legal entitlements and reasonable political expectations. Endorsing the partition of Palestine was what I would describe as a ‘geopolitical crime.’

 

 

The UN: Instrumental or Normative?

21 Mar

The UN: Instrumental or Normative?

 

[Prefatory Note: A greatly modified version of this post was published in Middle East Eye on March 12, 2018, under the title, “The UN: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”]

 

 A Renewed Crisis of Confidence

 

During the Cold War, the UN frequently disappointed even its most ardent followers because it seemed paralyzed by the rivalry between East and West whenever a political crisis threatened world peace. Giving the veto power to the five permanent members of the Security Council almost assured that when ideological and geopolitical views clashed, which was virtually all the time, during the first 40 years after 1945, the UN would watch unfolding war-threatening events and violent encounters between ideological adversaries from the sidelines.

 

Then in 1989-1991 the Cold War abruptly ended, and the UN seemed to function for a short while as a Western-led alliance, dramatized by the Security Council support for the First Iraq War that restored Kuwaiti sovereignty in 1992 after Iraq’s aggression the prior year with a show of high technology American military power. Such a use of the UN was hailed at the time by the U.S. Government as signaling the birth of ‘a new world order’ based on the implementation of the UN Charter, and making use of the Security Council as the bastion of world order, which was at last made possible by the Soviet collapse and its acceptance of a Westernized spin on global policy issues. Yet this image of the convergence of the geopolitical agenda and the UN Charter was soon criticized as ‘hegemonic’ and began to be questioned by Russia and China. Even an independent minded UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, let it be known that the unconditional mandate given to allied powers in the Gulf War was not in keeping with the role envisioned for the UN as keeping a watchful eye on any use of force that the Security Council had authorized. The Secretary General at the time, Perez de Cuellar went further, suggesting the Iraq was ready to withdraw from Kuwait prior to being attacked if only given an assurance that it would not in any event , which was never given, suggesting that even this supposed triumph of UN peace diplomacy was a sham, disguising a geopolitical war of choice.

 

The misleading plea at the Security Council in 2011 for a strictly limited humanitarian intervention in Libya under the auspices of NATO to protect the people of Benghazi from an onslaught was used as a blatant pretext to achieve regime change in Libya by an all out military attack. It succeeded in ridding the country of Qaddafi, replacing his brutal dictatorship with an undeliverable promise to instill a democratic political order. Instead of order what NATO brought to Libya, with Obama’s White House ‘leading from behind,’ was prolonged chaos and strife, and a set of actions that far the initial, quite ambivalent (five absentions, including Russia, China, and Germany) Security Council mandate, the West eventually paid a heavy price, and the UN an even heavier one. The Libyan deception undermined the trust of Russia and China, and others, in the good faith of the West, incapacitating the UN in future crisis situations where it might have played a constructive humanitarian role, most notably Syria, and also Yemen.

 

Arguably, the tragic ordeal of Syria epitomizes the inability of the UN to uphold even the most minimal interests of humanity, saving civilians from deliberate slaughter and atrocity. Even when ceasefires were belatedly agreed upon, they were almost immediately ignored, making a sad mockery of UN authority, and leaving for the world public to witness a gory spectacle of the most inhumane warfare that went on and on without the will or capacity of the UN to do anything about it. For this reason it is not surprising that the UN is currently belittled and widely seen as irrelevant to the deeper challenges facing the world, whether in combat zones, climate change, human rights, or even threats of nuclear conflagration.

 

Such a dismissive view of the UN is understandable, in view of these recent developments, but it is clearly mistaken, and even dangerously wrong. The world needs, more even than in 1945 when governments established the UN as a global problem-solving mechanism with the overriding objective of avoiding future major wars, an objective given urgent poignancy by the atomic bombings of Japanese cities. The UN despite failing badly in the context of war/peace has reinvented itself, providing a variety of vital services to the world community, especially valuable for the less developed, smaller, and poorer countries. The UN retains the potential to do more, really much more, but in the end the UN role and contributions are dependent upon the political will of its five permanent members, the so-called p-5, which amount to requiring a geopolitical consensus, which in the current world setting seems almost as elusive as during the Cold War, although for somewhat different reasons.  

 

 

 

Four Ways of Looking at the UN

 

Since its origins there have been four main attitudes toward the UN. When considered together these four overlapping viewpoints help explain why the UN remains controversial in achievement even after more than 70 years of existence. The fact that the Organization is still there, and it is notable that every sovereign state, without exception, values the benefits of membership even if the target of censure or sanctions. This should tell us something about the degree to which governments value participation in the UN and the services that it provides. These four attitudes are not distinct, and do overlap to varying degrees, yet each captures an aspect of the overall debate that has swirled about appraisals of the UN ever since its founding.

 

First, there are the idealists who want to believe the stirring pledge of the Preamble to the UN Charter “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Such persons believe that a new era of law-based global security was launched when the UN was established in 1945, thinking that the Organization would be ready and able to prevent the recurrence of major war as even leading governments had become scared of future warfare, and it was shown during the anti-Fascist war that ideological and geopolitical adversaries could cooperate when their interests converged. These idealists, although disappointed over the years, continue to hope that at some point the leaders of the big states will strengthen the capabilities of the UN so that it can fulfill this original lofty aspiration of securing a peaceful and just world order and stand ready to meet whatever global challenges arise in the future. In some helpful sense we can think of these UN idealists as ‘incurable optimists,’ given the accumulated experience since 1945.

 

Then there are the realists who dominate governments and think tanks, and were worried in the immediate aftermath of World War II that the idealists would lead the world astray by raising expectations of great power restraint and cooperation beyond reason and the lessons of history. The realists believe that international history was, and always will be a narrative of military power and powerlessness, with war, war making, and coercive diplomacy a permanent part of the global setting regardless of drastc changes in technology and global power balances. For realists the UN can be of occaisonal use to its dominant members in shaping global policy, provided its limitations are properly understood. The UN offers world leaders a talk shop in a complex world and discussion can sometimes be helpful in swaying international public opinion in the direction being advocated by a government or even in uncovering common ground. Realists adopt an essentially instrumental and marginalizing view of the UN, in effect believing that major political action on security and economic matters will always be shaped in venues under the discretionary control of sovereign states represented by governments that make security policy with blinders that ignore, or at lest minimize, non-military approaches to conflict resolutions. In essence, realists embrace a tragic sense of life, and can be regarded as ‘incurable pessimists,’ who however catastrophic the costs, continue to rely on war and threats to keep the peace.

 

A third set of attitudes is that of cynics who regard the UN as a hypocritical and dangerous distraction from serious global problem-solving. The UN has neither power nor authority to take action to keep the peace except in the rare instances when major players agree on what to do. In effect, the UN was always irrelevant and worthless from the perspective of shaping a peaceful and just world, and to believe otherwise is to be naïve about the workings of world politics in a state-centric system. From this cynical perspective the UN is a wasteful and misleading public relations stunt that diverts energy and clear thought from prudent present behavior, and even more so, from the kind of radical political action that would be needed to make the world secure and just. The UN cynics are essentially the gadflies who remind the public that it is foolish, or worse, to invest hope in the UN on the big challenges facing humanity.

 

Finally, there are the opponents, who oppose the whole idea of the UN as a world organization, and fear that it poses a threat to the primacy of national sovereignty and the pursuit of national interests and grand strategy. Opponents are hostile to the UN, often susceptible to conspiracy theories warning that there are social forces plotting to turn the UN into a world government, which they consider a prelude to global tyranny. The paranoia of the opponents is the furthest removed from reality among these four viewpoints, but remains influential as shaping populist attitudes toward the UN and internationalism generally in the present era where democratic forms of governance are giving way to a variety of autocracies that have in common a refusal to meet global challenges by reliance on the UN or other cooperative mechanisms, including even in the domain of trade, investment, and environmental protection. Trump’s ‘America First’ chant is emblematic of this outlook, which exerts political pressures, using funding as leverage, on the UN to serve the national interests of its leading members. It is illustrative of this atmosphere that the UN is being attacked as an Israel-bashing organization rather than being criticized for its failure to respond to well-grounded Palestinian grievances. These opponents are not reality-based, but rather are faith-based, and can be considered as ‘rejectionists’ when it comes to respect for the authority of the UN, or for that matter, of international law in general.

 

If we ask who has gotten the better of the implicit argument between these four ways of perceiving the UN, it is hard to avoid giving the prize to the realists. In a way this is not surprising. As realists dominate all public and private institutions, their dominant tendency is to treat the UN as a site of struggle that can be most useful in all out efforts to mobilize support for a controversial policy—for instance, sanctions against North Korea or Iran. Yet the most effective realists do not wish to appear as cynics or rejectionists, and so often hide their instrumental moves behind idealistic rhetoric. The realists are able to impose their view of the UN role on the operations of the Organization, but at the same time, realists are at a loss as to the nature of ‘the real,’ and thus seem oblivious to the need for a stronger UN to address global challenges, including climate change, nuclear crises, humanitarian catastrophes, and natural disasters.

 

In contrast, the cynics want to pierce illusions, not only of the idealists, but also of the realists, especially when their voices seek to cloak power moves in the sweeter language of human rights, democracy, and peace. Idealists also struggle to gain relevance by claiming that their views are more realistic than those of the realists, pointing to the looming urgencies of nuclear war and climate change. And, of course, opponents see these differences about the UN role as a dangerous smokescreen hiding the never ending plot to hijack the UN to establish a world government or to serve the nefarious interests of global adversaries.

 

 

What the UN Contributes

 

These perspectives, while illuminating general attitudes, are too crude to tell the whole story of what the UN can and cannot accomplish First of all, there is the question of organizational complexity. The UN is composed of many institutions with very different agendas and budgets, many of which are either technical or removed from the everyday scrutiny of diplomats and experts. Most people when they think of the UN are mainly concerned with what the Security Council does with respect to the main war/peace issues of the day, maybe a bit attentive to action taken by the General Assembly, especially if it collides with geopolitical priorities, and sometimes responsive to what the UN Secretary General says or does.

 

There is only interest, for instance, in the Human Rights Council in Geneva when it reinforces or thwarts some kind of foreign policy consensus of big powers or issues a report critical of Israel. In the early 1970s countries from the Global South wanted to reform trade and investment patterns, mounting a campaign in the General Assembly, which led them to be slapped down by the West that wanted above all to insulate the operations of the world economy from any reforms that would diminish their advantageous positions in global trading and investment contexts.

 

The UN is exceedingly valuable, especially for poorer countries, as a source of information and guidance on crucial matters of health, food policy, environment, human rights, protection of children and refugees, and preservation of cultural heritage. Its specialized agencies provide reliable policy guidance and offer governments help in promoting economic development, and set humane policy targets for the world in the form of Sustainable Development Goals. In effect, the UN quietly performs a wide array of service functions that enable governments to pursue their national policies in a more effective and humane manner, and operates within a normative setting that is best characterized as ‘global humanism.’

 

Perhaps even more significantly, the UN has greater authority than any political actor in determining whether certain claims by states or peoples are legitimate or not. UN responses to the legitimacy of a national struggle is an important expression of soft power that often contributes to shaping the political outcome of conflicts. In effect, the UN is influential in the waging of Legitimacy Wars that are fought on the symbolic battlefields of such principal UN organs as the Security Council and General Assembly. Contrary to what realists profess, most international conflicts since 1945 have been resolved in favor of the side that prevails in a Legitimacy War rather than the winner of hard power struggles on the battlefield. The UN played a crucial role in supporting the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles, as well as setting forth normative standards supportive of the Right to Development and Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources, and also in promoting public order of the oceans and Antarctica. Despite its shortcomings in directly upholding peace and promoting justice, the UN remains, on balance, a vital presence in international life even with respect to conflict and peacekeeping, its potential to do much more remains as great as the day it was established.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The UN has been disappointing in implementing its Charter in relation to the P-5, and has not overcome the double standards that apply to upholding international law. The weak are held potentially accountable, while the strong enjoy impunity almost without exception. Nevertheless, the UN is indispensable as a soft power actor that helps the weaker side prevail in Legitimacy Wars. The UN seems helpless to stop the carnage in Syria or Yemen yet it can identify wrongdoing and frequently mobilize public opinion on behalf of the victims of abusive behavior. We can hope for more, but we should not overlook, or fail to appreciate, the significant positive accomplishments of the UN over the years.

 

If we seek a stronger more effective UN, the path is clear. Make the Organization more detached from geopolitics, abolish the veto, establish independent funding by a global tax, and elect a Secretary General without P-5 vetting. There was a golden opportunity to do this in the decade of the 1990s was never acted upon. American global leadership failed, being focused on a triumphalist reading of the end of the Cold War, and directed its attention to maximizing neoliberal globalization and liberal forms of democratic governance around the world, believing that states so organized do not wage war against one another. This refusal to adopt a normative approach based on shared values, goals, and challenges has marginalized the UN that continues to be dominated by the instrumental tactics of its main members.

 

 

The Gulf Crisis Reassessed

12 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The dysfunctionality of the Gulf Crisis, pitting a coalition of four countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt against tiny Qatar, is emblematic of the descent into multi-dimensional chaos, conflict, and coercion that afflicts much of the Middle East. Qatar may be tiny, but it is wealthy and has chosen for itself a somewhat independent path, and for this reason has experienced the wrath of the more reactionary forces operative in the region and world. At the center of the dysfunction is the manipulation of the political discourse on terrorism, pointing accusing fingers without any regard for evidence or fabrication.

 My text below seeks to put forward a dispassionate and objective analysis from the perspective of international law and diplomatic protocol of the so-called ’13 Demands’ (appended as an annex) directed at Qatar by the coalition almost a year ago. Despite having its own internal problems and challenges, Qatar has provided a relatively open political space compared to the rest of the region, encouraging media and educational diversity, giving asylum to political exiles and refugees, and showing sympathy, although inconsistently, for the aspirations of the Arab masses. This makes the Gulf Crisis a further setback for those seeking regional empowerment, sustainable development, and social, political, economic, cultural, and climate justice for the region as a whole. The intrusion of Trumpian geopolitics, especially the escalating confrontation with Iran, aggravates the disorders and dangers posed by the conflict patterns and irresponsible allegations with regard to terrorism now playing out in the region. I believe that by reflecting on the unreasonableness of the 13 Demands of the coalition it is possible to understand better the maladies affecting the entire region.]

 

 

A Normative Evaluation of the Gulf Crisis

 

The Gulf Crisis erupted on June 5 2017 when a Saudi Arabian led coalition of

four countries broke diplomatic relations with Qatar and Saudi Arabia closed its sole land border to Saudi Arabia and refused to allow their national air spaces to be used by flights from or to Qatar.[1] The imposition of a blockade is generally regarded as an act of war in contemporary international law, which is also a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition of recourse to international force except in cases of self-defense against a prior armed attack. (UN Charter, Article 2(4), 51) These unilateral moves were then given a more concrete form on June 22 in the shape of ’13 Demands’ that instructed Qatar to comply within ten days, or face indefinite isolation. There followed failed attempts by Kuwait to mediate. From the start the leadership of Qatar expressed its immediate willingness for dialogue as the correct way to resolve the Gulf Crisis; as well, the United States and several principal countries in Europe urged a diplomatic resolution of the dispute as being in the interest of the Gulf region and the Middle East generally.

 

In this paper the 13 Demands of the Saudi coalition (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt) are considered from the perspective of international law (including the UN Charter), the protocols of international diplomacy, and the framework of cooperation associated with the GCC framework. The paper analyzes these normative dimensions of international relations with special attention to the specific context associated with Qatar and the Coalition. This analysis is supplemented by a consideration of whether there are grounds for making some adjustments in Qatari policy based on its affinities with other states that are member of the GCC, including a large number of shared policy goals. From the outset, it seemed as if all sides in the conflict, at least outwardly, favored a prompt resolution of the crisis, but how this could be achieved given the sovereignty concerns of Qatar remains elusive 8 months later. The formidable obstacles to normalization are evident from the nature of the 13 demands of the Coalition and Qatar’s unshakable resolve to defend its independence and uphold its sovereign rights.

 

Attention is also given as to whether Coalition grievances have some policy merit if treated as a matter of ‘reasonableness’ within the GCC framework even if the 13 demands do not make the case that Qatar should change its behavior because its policies have been violating international law. Are there ways for the government of Qatar to alter its policies to satisfy the Coalition without sacrificing its fundamental identity as a fully sovereign state and member of the United Nations in good standing? In this regard, the internal values and expectations of the GCC with respect to the degree to which diversity of public order internal to the state is permissible and the extent to which domestic and foreign policy of a GCC member state needs to avoid causing impacts on the security of other GCC members are relevant considerations.

 

 

The 2014 Gulf Crisis

 

It seems important to realize that tensions between GCC members and Qatar have been present since the time of the GCC’s formation, but for reasons of internal cohesion these disagreements were for years kept below the surface. However, as these underlying tensions greatly intensified after the Arab Spring of 2011 it became increasingly difficult to maintain confidentiality as to policy differences. These differences climaxed as a result of the regional growth of influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was regarded as a serious threat by the Coalition states while being viewed rather more favorably by Qatar. It was hardly a secret that this rise of the Brotherhood was perceived as a hostile and potentially dangerous development by several GCC countries, and especially UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as Bahrain.

 

In this regard, Qatar’s sympathy for the Arab uprisings and its relatively positive relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood struck a raw nerve in relations within the GCC, raising serious questions about the workability of the GCC as a collaborative alliance in the future. This discord broke into the open in March 2014 when Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in an obviously coordinated move. In response, Qatar sought dialogue and reconciliation, and decided to leave its ambassadors in place rather than engage in reciprocal withdrawal. The Emir, Sheik Tamim, took a diplomatic initiative by seeking reconciliation in the course of several meetings with King Abdullah in Riyadh.

 

The Qatar position in response was articulated at the time by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Khaled bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, who stressed early in the 2014 crisis that Qatar would not compromise with respect to its insistence on ‘independence’ for itself and other GCC members and in relation to showing support for peoples in the region seeking ‘self-determination, justice, and freedom.’ [Interview, Al-Arabiya, 5 March 2014] Such a position, especially after the MB did better than expected in elections, especially in Egypt, sharpened the tensions, with the Saudi-led Gulf monarchies being determined to do all in their power to promote counter-revolution in the region to the extent of criminalizing the MB as a terrorist organization. Qatar’s refusal to go along with such aggressive moves prompted the rupture in relations, but only temporarily.

 

With the encouragement of the non-aligned GCC members, Kuwait and Oman, there took place a GCC Summit in November 2014 that agreed to the Riyadh Supplemental Agreement that reaffirmed the GCC norms of non-interference and avoidance of behavior that poses a threat to the political stability of other members. GCC diplomatic relations were restored, and this first Gulf Crisis unrealistically viewed as having been resolved. The GCC was widely praised for surmounting its internal differences, and recognizing the strength of its fraternal bonds. Some optimistic commentators viewed this closing of ranks as a sign that the GCC had attained ‘maturity,’ but in retrospect the conflict was not overcome or compromised, but swept under the rug for the moment. The Riyadh Supplemental Agreement, although not a public document, apparently contains contradictory principles that allow both sides to find support for their positions. The Coalition can take heart from the commitment of participating governments not to adopt policies and engage in behavior that threatens other GCC members. Qatar can feel vindicated by the recognition and affirmation of the sovereign rights of GCC members.

 

Despite the formal resolution of the 2014 crisis it was evident even at the time that UAE, in particular, continued to be deeply opposed to what it regarded as Qatar’s positive relations with and public support for the MB. It was this rift as filtered through later developments, especially the sectarian and regional geopolitical opposition of the Coalition to Iran even in the face of difference of policy nuance among Coaltion member. The Coalition is not monolithic.. Nevertheless, certain tendencies are evident. Post-2014 Iran replaced the MB as the main adversary of the Coalition, while Qatar for entirely different reasons found itself in an economic and political position that demanded a level of cooperation with Iran, centered on the world’s largest natural gas field being shared by the two countries.

 

 

 

The Onset of the 2017 Crisis

 

While the American president, Donald Trump, was in Saudi Arabia for a formal state visit in May 2017, there were strong accusations directed at Qatar as funder and supporter of terrorism, not doing its part in the struggle against terrorism in the Middle East, views that were blandly endorsed by Trump without any plausible grounding in evidence. Following Trump’s departure, the Coalition hostile to Qatar was formed with the same GCC alignment of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE as antagonists and Kuwait and Oman as non-aligned. A major difference from 2014 was that the GCC initiative this time included the participation of Sisi’s Egypt, the new leader who had in 2013 overthrown the MB elected government and

who received major economic assistance from GCC governments.

 

On 6 June 2017 the anti-Qatar coalition announced intention to confront Qatar because of alleged support of terrorism throughout the Middle East. This declaration included the announcement that diplomatic relations would be suspended and Qatar’s land border with Saudi Arabia would be closed, air space blocked; in addition, 19,000 Qatari individuals given two weeks to leave Coalition countries, and 11,300 Coalitional nationals living in Qatar were ordered to return home or face serious penalties, an unusual example of ‘forced repatriation.’ Unlike 2014, Qatar withdrew its ambassadors from the three coalition members plus Egypt.

 

These actions met with strong Qatari objections, although coupled with an offer of dialogue and advocacy of a political solution. Qatar’s initiative did not lead to a favorable response from the Coalition membership. In fact, the Gulf Crisis was actually aggravated when the Coalition tabled its 13 Demands with an ultimatum demanding compliance within ten days.

 

It should be pointed out that this unilateralism by the Coalition, especially on the part of countries with many shared interests, common undertakings, and overlapping relationships, is directly opposed to the letter and spirit of Article 2(3) of the United Nations Charter: “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” Here, the Coalition made no effort whatsoever to resolve the crisis peacefully, either by way of a call for diplomacy prior to taking coercive steps or through agreeing to mediation in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. Instead, these Coalition’s coercive moves caused harm to both the public interest of the state of Qatar and to private citizens of Qatar whose professional and personal lives were disrupted in serious ways that constituted violations of international human rights standards.

 

 

’13 Demands’ of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE

 

The explicit focus of the 2017 crisis shifted its main attention to the campaign against terrorism, with a background allegation that Qatar had been funding and supporting terrorism in the Arab world for many years, and was thus an outlier in the GCC context. There were two dubious major assumptions accompanying the Coalition demands: (1) that the MB is correctly identified as a ‘terrorist organization;’ (2) that the members of the GCC Coalition, despite their own extensive funding of radical madrassas throughout the Muslim world, were less guilty than Qatar, of nurturing the terrorist threat in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East. In this respect, playing ‘the terrorist card’ by the Coalition obscured the extent to which the real explanation of the crisis had little to do with suppressing terrorism and much to do with confronting Iran, and thus disciplining Qatar in reaction to its disproportionate influence in the region, and controlling the terrorist discourse in a manner that corresponded with their strategy of considering as ‘terrorist’ any political movement that challenged in any way the legitimacy of Islamic dynastic rule. It is highly relevant that Qatar also is governed by dynastic monarchy, but in a manner that is far more consonant with international law than are its Coalition neighbors. Qatar is also more tolerant of diversity and dissent internally than other Coaltion members, but faces serious human rights challenges with respect to its non-Qatari residents who comprise the majority of the population.

 

The 13 Demands are set forth in a document released on June 6, 2017, giving a formal character to the Coalition’s disregard of international law and diplomatic protocol in its undertaking to control Qatar’s domestic and foreign policy. These demands can be examined from the perspective of international law and international human rights standards. It should be observed that the 13 demands are not presented in a reasoned way or with any attempt to be reconciled with either international law or diplomatic relations between sovereign states, especially here, where the relations are especially close given the juridical and practical collaborative activities of members of the GCC. As earlier comments make clear, there were clear tensions associated with Qatar’s perceived support for the MB, especially in Egypt, and its relative openness on issues of freedom of expression, which included criticism of Coalition countries.

 

What follows is brief commentary from the perspectives of international law and international diplomacy on each of the 13 demands:

 

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iranand close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.

This primary demand may be the most important political item on the list of 13, but it has no foundation in international law. Qatar as a sovereign state has complete freedom to establish whatever relationship it chooses to have with Iran.

From a diplomatic perspective this ‘demand’ can be interpreted as a request from the closely aligned states that constitute the Coalition, but if so construed, it is an occasion for discussion, and policy coordination, not coercive threats and actions.

As for the obligations associated with sanctions, there is no legal reason for Qatar to implement U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran. Qatar does have a limited obligation to uphold UN sanctions, but the Coalition has no standing, except possibly within a UN setting, to raise such an issue.

 

  1. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.

Formulating this request in the form of a ‘demand’ seems an inappropriate intrusion on a matter within the sovereign discretion of Qatar. As with the first demand, the call for severance of ties with the MB and Hezbollah are of great importance to the Coalition, but this is a political matter to be discussed either within the GCC or some other forum. For the Islamic State and al-Qaida there is little disagreement about there character as a ‘terrorist organization,’ but for the MB and Hezbollah the assessment is more contested, and thus a demand that they be “formally declared” as a terrorist organization is inappropriate from perspectives of international law and international diplomacy.

 

  1. Shut down al-Jazeeraand its affiliate stations.

Such a demand is in flagrant violation of the right of freedom of expression as embodied in authoritative international law treaties and part of customary international law relating to human rights. In effect, Qatar is put under pressure to commit such a violation. It is especially objectionable as al-Jazeera and its affiliates conform to high standards of journalistic professionalism, and do not open their media outlets to hostile propaganda or hate speech. Demand (3) contravenes Articles 18 & 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

  1. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

The same legal rationale applies as set forth in response to Demand (3). Further, here there is an attempted interference with Qatar’s support for high quality media elsewhere that is a public good, giving the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere exposure to alternative viewpoints on the main public issues of the day.

 

  1. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presencein Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.

This demand attempt to intervene in the internal security arrangements of Qatar, and as such challenges its sovereign rights on a matter of prime national concern. It is an attempted violation of the central norms of peaceful relations, as set forth in the influential Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relation and Co-Operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, GA Resolution 2625, 1970, especially principles b-e, stressing sovereignty and non-intervention.

If Turkey was somehow posing an existential threat to Coalition countries, then a diplomatic appeal to a fellow GCC member might be a reasonable initiative. As matters now stand Turkey has a diplomatic presence in all Coalition members, except Egypt where relations are kept at the level of Charges d’Affiares. There is some friction between Turkey and the UAE on various issues, and so tensions exist, including in relation to resolving the Gulf Crisis. On its face, Demand (5) is entirely unreasonable from both the perspective of international law and normal diplomacy.

 

  1. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terroristsby Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.

This may be the most extraordinarily inappropriate demand of all for two reasons. First, it removes from Qatar’s discretion the designation of “individuals, groups or organisations” that are deemed to be “terrorists.” This is an unacceptable intrusion on Qatar’s sovereign rights. And by including the United States it moves the source of Coalition grievance outside the framework of both the GCC and the Coalition. Egypt is also not a member of the GCC but at least a member of the Coalition.

It seems obvious that the effort here is to brand as terrorists those individuals and organizations associated with the MB and Hezbollah as directly targeted in Demand (2).

 

  1. Hand over “terrorist figures”and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.

Demand (7) suffers from the same deficiencies as (6) plus the added indignity of such vague and inflammatory designations as “‘terrorist figures’ and ‘wanted individuals.’” Such a demand could be formulated in acceptable diplomatic language as pertaining to those who had been convicted of crimes by courts in Coalition, and were subject to extradition following formal requests made to the Government of Qatar. Extradition would not be available if the person requested was convicted of ‘political crimes’ or if the trial process was not in accord with international standards, or if no extradition treaty or practice exists.

 

  1. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.

 

Again as in Demand (7), the demanded action is a clear interference with core sovereign rights pertaining to the grant and withdrawal of citizenship of the State of Qatar, and as such an attempted violation of the norm prohibiting intervention. It seeks such a crude disregard of Qatari sovereignty as to constitute a grave diplomatic insult, which is a breach of protocol, especially inappropriate for countries supposedly collaborating on the basis of shared interests and common values within the GCC framework.

 

  1. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.

As with Demand (8) to make such a demand public is to breach diplomatic protocol, as well as to express in this context of threat and insult issues that are within the sphere of Qatar’s internal security policies and practices. If the context were different, it might be that Coalition could make confidential requests to Doha institutions and officials for cooperation with respect to specific individuals deemed dangerous to one or more GCC member states, and even to Egypt. It might also be observed that reliable reports by the BBC and elsewhere that the UAE was holding a Qatari prince captive as a possible replacement for the Emir of Qatar. Such reports make this demand particularly objectionable and hypocritical.

 

  1. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policiesin recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.

Demand (10) is on its face vague and unacceptable from the perspectives of international law and diplomacy. It is formulated as if “Qatar’s policies in recent yIears” can be assumed to be wrong and unlawful to such an extent as to justify a demand for “reparations and compensation.” This is not only an unlawful demand, it is irresponsibly asserted in a manner that any government would find to be insulting and totally unacceptable.

  1. Consent to monthly audits for the first yearafter agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

As with the prior demand, Demand (11) seems such a departure from the canons of public diplomacy as to be inserted as a deliberate provocation on a fundamental matter of Qatar sovereign rights. In effect, Demand (11) is seeking a humiliating public surrender of Qatar’s sovereignty, and a basic repudiation of the most fundamental standard of international diplomacy—the equality of sovereign states. Under no conditions, short of terms imposed on a defeated government after a war can such a requirement of “monthly audits” for a period of ten years be deemed reasonable or acceptable.

 

  1. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.

Unlike other demands, especially Demands (9)-(11), Demand (12) on its face seems relatively unobjectionable, and can be understood as a mere call for greater collaboration. It can also be read as unacceptably putting Qatar in a subordinate position of ‘aligning itself’ on policy matters with Coalition and unspecified other “Arab countries” rather than seeking policy coordination on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect. To the extent that it uses coercive language, it is diplomatically unacceptable.

 

  1. Agree to all the demands within 10 days Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

Such an ultimatum is an unlawful challenge to the sovereign rights of Qatar and a serious breach of diplomatic protocol in relations between sovereign states, accentuated by common membership in the GCC. There is no rationale or justification given for this kind of hegemonic language or attempted control of Qatar’s lawful and discretionary policies and practices. Although rendered invalid by its language if not accepted within ten days, its renewed assertion by the Coalition makes Demand (13) incoherent, and of ambiguous relevance to efforts to resolve the Gulf Crisis.

 

Conclusion:

The analysis and appraisal of the 13 Demands from the perspective of international law and diplomatic protocol reaches the conclusion that not one of the demands is reasonable, in accord with respect for the sovereignty of Qatar, and respectful of the proper canons of diplomacy governing relations among sovereign states that are based on equality and mutual respect. In summary, the 13 Demands are incompatible with the principles set forth in GA Res. 2625, referenced above, that sets forth the principles for lawful and friendly relations among sovereign states, as well as with Article 2 of the UN Charter. Take as a whole, the demands seem so incompatible with respect for Qatar as a sovereign state as to appear intended to isolate the country or even create an atmosphere that prepared the way for regime-changing coup. Such a scenario, even if not executed, is incompatible with international law and the norms of friendly relations among states, especially, as here, among aligned states.

It might be useful at some point to make public use of this point-by- point analysis of the 13 Demands to underscore Qatar’s strong and unassailable position in refusing to accede to these demands. The fact that the Coalition has recently affirmed their insistence that Qatar accept the 13 Demands as the precondition for resolving the Gulf Crisis suggests the importance of a convincing set of explanations for Qatar’s refusal to respond favorable to the 13 Demands either singly or collectively.

This seeming effort to compel Qatar to except external pressures, including a demand of compliance with U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran sets a precedent that could work against the sovereignty of other GCC members in the future. The diplomatic posture with respect to Qatar seems t0 assert a collective right of GCC members to intervene in internal affairs of another member to a far greater extent that present supernational actors have ever in the past claimed.

It seems doubtful that the 13 Demands have any constructive role to play in a diplomacy of reconciliation among Gulf countries. Indeed, it would seem that a necessary first step toward the initiation of a diplomacy of reconciliation would be for the Coalition to abandon any further reference to the 13 Demands as possessing any relevance whatsoever in shaping future relations between Qatar and the GCC and Coalition.

*****************************************************************

 

Annex: The 13 Demands

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iranand close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeeraand its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presencein Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terroristsby Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures”and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policiesin recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11. Consent to monthly audits for the first yearafter agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13. Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Gulf countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia, were the UAE and Bahrain; the fourth member of the Coalition was Egypt. This group of four is referred to as ‘the Coalition’ in this text.

A Debate on Peacemaking: Ending Occupation or Apartheid

9 Mar

A Debate on Peacemaking: Ending Occupation or Apartheid

 

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of an exchange of views prompted by my talk at a United Methodist Church in Culver City (Los Angeles) published by Tikkun’s online magazine, March 6, 2018. The core disagreement is whether to retain the emphasis on ending occupation as still the best, and some say, the only path to peace, and my view that a sustainable peace can only be obtained by a process of eliminating the apartheid structure by which Israel currently subjugates the Palestinian people as a whole (that is, including those living as a minority in pre-1967 Israel or in refugee camps spread across neighboring countries or as involuntary exiles in the Palestinian global diaspora). I regard this difference of views as of analytical, political, and normative importance, but as always, defer to authoritative Palestinian views as to the attainment of peace and self-determination.]

 

 

 

Ending the Occupation is the Path to Peace

By Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen, Feb. 27, 2017, Revised & submitted to Tikkun

Peace has alluded the parties in Israel-Palestine for decades. Israel, the stronger party economically, militarily, and diplomatically, has effectively prevented peace from emerging. That sad fact has not changed, even though Palestinian nationalism is stronger than ever and the Palestinian cause is gaining international recognition. In frustration, some Palestinian solidarity advocates are pursuing desperate but futile paths.

An example was promulgated by Richard Falk in a public speech in Los Angeles on February 7, 2018, while discussing his well-researched U.N. report on Israeli apartheid. Falk said that to end the occupation is not good enough; the proper goal should be to end the structure of apartheid.

The Falk-Tilley Report

“Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley was published by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in 2017. The report examines the lives of Palestinians who live under four legal domains, and shows that each constitutes apartheid, a crime against humanity, according to the 1973 United Nations Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In summarizing the report in The Nation, Falk wrote (https://www.thenation.com/article/the-inside-story-on-our-un-report-calling-israel-an-apartheid-state/), “that Israel has deliberately fragmented the Palestinian people in relation to these four demographic domains, relying on systematic discrimination, including ‘inhuman acts,’ to maintain its control, while continuing to expand territorially at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

In discussing the report in the above cited speech, Falk went beyond the report’s conclusion that Israel has imposed apartheid on the Palestinian people to discus how, in light of the report’s conclusion, peace must be pursued. He said that the Palestinian side could not fairly negotiate with Israel [when] it was under apartheid. He said that the path to peace starts with ending the structure of apartheid.

That is an idealistic goal, but it is impossible. The only path to end apartheid is through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Falk did not suggest how to end apartheid without negotiations. South Africa provides a counter example—the ANC and the government negotiated while the blacks, who the ANC represented, were still under apartheid [clarify the reference to ending apartheid in SA; it was the signal sent by the release of Mandela from prison that indicated the readiness of the SA elite to give up racist political rule, while receiving reassurances as to rights, including property rights]

When questioned, Falk said that just ending the occupation is not good enough because we (civil society) cannot allow Israel to fragment the Palestinian people.[as Israel divided the Palestinians to impose a structure of subjugation, it must reverse this reality to establish a lasting peace] To understand what Falk meant, we turn to the Falk-Tilley report that examines the condition of the Palestinian people in four demographic groups, each living under a different legal domain: The domains are:

  1. [Israeli] civil law with special restrictions [discrimination] applies to (~1.8 million) Palestinian Israelis.
  2. Permanent residency laws apply to (~320 thousand) Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.
  3. Military law applies to (~4.5 million) Palestinian living under belligerent occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including those living in refugee camps in those areas.
  4. [Israeli] policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living outside of Israel control applies to (~3 million) Palestinians mostly in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and others in the world-wide diaspora.

Falk seems to worry that ending the occupation will focus solely on Palestinians living under direct occupation (domain 3), while abandoning the majority of the Palestinians people living under other domains. [‘seems to worry’ it is a near certainty that Israel will deem its security and promised land requirements as limiting its ‘concessions’ to w/drawal from parts of the WB]

The Way Forward

By advocating that position, Falk is rejecting the stated positions of almost all major Palestinian political organizations which is to end the occupation and seek a Palestinian state alongside Israel. These include the PLO (the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people), the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Israeli Joint List (representing 87% of Palestinian Israelis in the Knesset), and likely even Hamas (https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/1,7340,L-3972646,00.html) if supported by a consensus of the Palestinian people (https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/1,7340,L-3972646,00.html). Falk is abandoning the international consensus to end the occupation which includes almost every state in the United Nations and international organizations including the Arab league, the United Nations, and the European Union. Even after Trump’s Jerusalem decision, the United States is still part of this international consensus.

While the international consensus has not stopped Israel from deepening its apartheid control over the Palestinian people, it has stopped Israel from annexing large sections of the West Bank. More important, the international consensus, through government sanctions, will surely be the agent that eventually pressures Israel to make peace.

Falk did not specify or even hint at what is required to end the structure of apartheid. Maybe because it is fairly obvious. For Palestinian Israelis (domain 1), it means ending the de jure and de facto discrimination. For Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (domain 2), it means citizenship. For Palestinians under direct occupation (domain 3), it means ending the occupation. And for diaspora Palestinians, mostly refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan (domain 4), it means the right of return.

The most straightforward of the above is ending the occupation. We suggest that ending the occupation is key to bringing relief to the groups of Palestinians not under direct occupation. [not at all clear, probably the reverse is true]

When the occupation eventually ends, it will be via a formal, bilateral agreement between Israel and the PLO that creates a Palestinian state alongside Israel (2SS). The agreement will be based on the 1967 Green line likely modified by land-swaps. It will specify the pace and extent of the withdrawal of the Israeli army and police, and the future of the Israeli settlements and settlers that will end up in the Palestinian state.

Proponents of a single democratic or bi-nation state (1SS) suggest the occupation would end with an agreement that specifies the characteristics of the unitary government and the pace and character of a transition from separate to unified security and other civic services.

If we thought any of these 1SS were possible, we would work hard to make it happen because they will promote Jewish-Arab cooperation. But considering the strong nationalism of Israelis and Palestinians, the lack of any significant political support for a single democratic state among Palestinians (except in the far diaspora), and the fierce opposition of Israelis (likely even with a guaranteed Jewish homeland rule), a 1SS seems less likely to emerge than a viable Palestinian state.

Michael Lerner proposed (https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/still-immoral-still-stupid-lets-end-50-years-of-israels-occupation-of-the-west-bank-one-personone-vote) a type of 1SS he calls the One Person/One Vote strategy (1P/1V). He sees it as a temporary transition from the present intransigent Israel to a 2SS. 1P/1V is similar to the Scottish situation in which Scots are voting citizens of the United Kingdom, up to the time they vote for separation. This has been discussed in the Israel-Palestine context by Tony Klug (https://read.dukeupress.edu/tikkun/article-abstract/32/2/41/129722/It-s-the-Occupation-Stupid-If-that-is-the-answer). Lerner’s version is based on a constitution that that guarantees the 1P/1V state will be a homeland for any Jew who is under anti-Semitic threat.

1P/1V would require a Knesset vote to grant citizenship to Palestinians in the occupied territory, and that seems impossible given the political positions of the several parties. The Jewish parties, from Meretz on the left to Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu on the right, are Zionist and committed to a Jewish state; the Joint List Arab coalition opposes anything that would promote the occupation of annexation. [what is ‘impossible’ now is not a guide to what is ‘necessary’ for real peace to result; without a fundamental recalculation of Israeli mainstream interests, there will only be frustration]

The 2001 Israel-PLO Taba summit (http://www.pij.org/details.php?id=32) is instructive in anticipating that an end of occupation agreement will include all aspects of the Israel-Palestine issue, including:

  • Creation of a Palestinian state that will end the structure of apartheid for Palestinians living under direct occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • Right of return for Palestinian refugees (who constitute the bulk of the Palestinian diaspora) to the Palestinian state or generous monetary compensation, with a modest to symbolic qualifying for return to their original land now in Israel.
  • Citizenship for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem by incorporating much of East Jerusalem into the Palestinian state.

Such an end of occupation agreement would end apartheid for all Palestinians except Palestinian Israelis. [true, if implemented]

Palestinian Israelis will still have their lives constrained by tens of laws that discriminate against them—what Falk calls apartheid. But the Palestinian Israelis are not abandoned. The Joint List (the united Palestinian political parties that were supported by about 87% of the Palestinian Israeli electorate in the last election) support a 2SS as the first step to a more egalitarian Israeli society. They believe that once there is peace, Palestinian Israelis will no longer be seen as a potential fifth column that is sympathetic to the enemy. They believe that peace will create a different environment in Israel where reforms will be easier to enact. [yes, if real peace, no if a peace that is one-sided in Israel’s favor, including settlers and Jerusalem]

We understand that eliminating the 50 plus Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian Israelis will take many years. That said, we note that Palestinian Israelis, even under discrimination, are integrating themselves into Israeli’s academic, medical, commercial, technical, and entertainment life, and anticipate that as integration expands, repealing discrimination laws will be easier. [adapting to second-class status is not an assurance that deep discrimination will ever happen]

Can it Happen?

Some might say that assuming that an agreement will be as comprehensive as outlined here is unrealistic. They would say that Palestinian leaders will capitulate to Israeli dictates under pressure from the United States. But the history of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations is that Palestinian leaders have not agreed to sub-standard agreements. Two examples are the 2000 Camp David and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas talks. In neither case, or any other, has a Palestinian leader sold-out the Palestinian people.

Others might say that Israel will act unilaterally, withdrawing its army and police with no coordination with the Palestinians. This is what happened during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza when Israel removed its settlers and army and essentially threw the keys on the ground. [not really; borders hardened, incursions frequent]

But Israel will not unilateral withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem without making arrangements for its 550,000 settlers. Even if Israel annexes the land between the 1967 Green Line and the separation wall, it must still make arrangements for 100,000 settlers living east of the wall, many of whom may want to remain living in the biblical West Bank. [legalizing the settlements is incompatible with real peace; settlements unlawful, and their persistence must not intrude on a Palestinian state]

Another factor is that even though many Israelis blame the post disengagement unrest with Gaza completely on Hamas, there are key Israelis who understand that it was withdrawing from Gaza without coordination, opened the door for Hamas’ takeover. [written from a very Israeli point of view; the corruption & collaboration of Fatah is closer to the explanation of the rise of Hamas  

We think Richard Falk created a strawman when he said that ending the occupation is not enough. In fact, ending the occupation goes a long way to ending the structure of apartheid. By saying ending the occupation is not enough, Falk is destroying the international political movement that unifies world-wide opinion to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians by ending the occupation and promoting a Palestinian state alongside Israel. [we can debate who has created ‘a strawman’; I believe the kind of ss2 that the authors propose is as remote from present credibility as is the kind of integrated dismantling of apartheid that I believe to be the necessary and desirable prelude to a sustainable peace] [I welcome this exchange of views as it helps clarifies the obstacles to real peace and how to overcome them]

 

Author bios:

Jeff Warner is the Action Coordinator for LA Jews for Peace; he visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of four humanitarian missions, most recently the 2017 Jewish Center for Nonviolence 9-day mission to Bethlehem and Hebron.

Yossi Khen is an Israeli-born, long-time citizen of the United States. He was a Refusenik in the 1970s to avoid serving in the occupied territories and has consistently worked for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, first in Israel and for almost 35 years in the United States.

 

 

Response to “Ending the Occupation is the Path to Peace” by Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen” (5 March 2018)

 

Richard Falk

 

Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen have written a sharp critique of a talk that I gave at a United Methodist Church in Los Angeles on February 7, 2018, sponsored by several groups including the LA Branch of The Jewish Voice for Peace. They object most strongly to my insistence that the only path to peace between Israel and Palestine involved ‘ending apartheid’ as imposed upon the Palestinian people as a whole. It particularly disturbed Warner and Khen that an acceptance of my line of advocacy meant abandoning the international consensus to the effect that the only key to peace remains ending the occupation as the essential feature of any realistic prospect of peace, consisting of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

 

Let me say at the outset of my response that debate and discussion of these fundamental issues of peacemaking is constructive, even vital, considering that the Palestinian search for some kind of just and sustainable peace has been stymied for decades, and in fact has lost ground due to settlement expansion, construction of the separation wall, the consolidation of Israeli control over Jerusalem, adverse shifts in regional politics, and the advent of Trump and Trumpism. Despite these developments, Warner and Khen continue to believe that the international two-state consensus on peace diplomacy remains the only realistic approach, offering cogent criticisms of my support for an alternative understanding of a peaceful future based on ending apartheid.

 

As I read their critique, it does not challenge the allegations of apartheid contained in our controversial ESCWA Report to the effect that the policies and practices of Israel toward the Palestinian people appear to be a criminal violation of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) and an instance of a Crime Against Humanity as delimited in the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court. Their main contention is rather that my views are politically impossible to implement, and for this reason alone, are irrelevant, and hence, an irresponsible from any serious effort to end the conflict.

 

Warner/Khen believe it fanciful to think that Israel would ever dismantle its apartheid regime prior to engaging in a comprehensive diplomatic process that established peace between these long embattled peoples. In their view, if I understand them correctly, the gradual elimination of apartheid by Israel will occur, if at all, in the aftermath of a carefully coordinated process of ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine in a manner that raises Israeli confidence in their future security as well as their trust in the good faith of Palestine in following through on their acceptance of Israeli sovereignty and legitimacy. Their criticism of my approach also suggests that I misinterpret the way in which apartheid was ended in South Africa, not as a precondition preceding diplomacy, but as the core of what was being negotiated between the two sides.

 

 

 

 

Acknowledging Political Impossibility

 

On the issues of ‘political impossibility’ I essentially agree with Warner and Khen, but I would also suggest that their analysis applies as strongly to ending the occupation, a position that they endorse as the best way forward. Ever since 1967, despite the existence of UN Security Council Resolution 242, Israel has given every indication of a deeply embedded refusal to follow the central imperative of withdrawal from the territories occupied. It is hardly news that the settlement phenomenon initiated almost at soon as the occupation began 51 years ago sent a clear message of Israel’s intention to pursue expansionist territorial and security goals that could not be convincingly reconciled with 242. Beyond this, the West Bank and Jerusalem were treated in Zionist ideology as forming an essential part of the promised land, a biblical mandate as to the enlarged scope of Israel that took precedence over contemporary international law for many Israelis and in Zionist thought, and was reflected in the internal discourse in Israel that invariably refers to the West Bank as ‘Judea and Samaria.’ Israel’s political will to withdraw even partially has never been really tested, despite some intimations to the contrary in the course of the peace diplomacy associated with the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles.

 

My point is this—that political impossibility applies across the board when it comes to peacemaking between Israel and Palestine. But additional to this, I believe that even should conditions drastically change in the future, ending the occupation would not produce peace, but would be much more likely to initiate a new cycle of Palestinian frustration and disappointment. With such a mood, renewed violence and oppositional politics would return, producing a total disillusionment on both sides as to achieving peace. I believe that peace cannot come to either Israelis or Palestinians without dismantling the existing structures of subjugation, and repudiating their ideological infrastructure, that currently affect, and afflict, those Palestinians living in refugee camps, as a minority in Israel, and enduring involuntary exile, as well as those who have endured an oppressive occupation since 1967.

 

Here, I do have an analytical disagreement with Warner and Khen, assuming that I have understood their position correctly. I read them as arguing that the best way to eliminate the discriminatory structures affecting those Palestinians not living under occupation is to first end the occupation, and then work and hope for a gradual softening of other forms of Israeli control. In their words, “[w]e suggest that ending the occupation is key to bringing relief to the groups of Palestinians not under direct occupation.” Their underlying belief seems to be that as peace between the two peoples becomes more firmly grounded it will dissipate Israeli fears, and create an atmosphere more conducive to creating conditions of equality and peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians. I find this line of reasoning to be unconvincing for two major reasons: first, any peace diplomacy that achieves an Israeli withdrawal (even if partial) will almost certainly be accompanied by an unconditional Israeli demand that the Palestinians explicitly pledge to give up any further claims as to grievances or rights, that the peace agreement is the absolute end of the conflict, and no subsequent or unresolved grievances will be admissible; secondly, if Israel retains its identity, as would certainly be the case, of being ‘a Jewish state’ it would, in effect, reaffirm the basis for discriminatory laws designed to ensure a permanent Jewish majority population and a dualist regime that grants Jews an unrestricted ‘right of return’ while denying the Palestinians any such right.

 

What I am arguing is that given the political impossibility of any path to peace at the present time, it is desirable to opt for a solution that is at least capable of removing fundamental grievances. In this regard, ending the occupation does not even pretend to do this. It basically ignores the plight of those millions of Palestinians who are not living under occupation, and thus almost certainly sows the seeds of future conflict. Ending apartheid is, of course, not a guaranteed solution, but at least it purports to address the entire agenda of Palestinian grievances, and is premised on the resolve to reach political outcomes that give expression to the formal and existential equality of the two peoples.

 

Warner and Khen criticize me for supposing that Israel would ever agree to eliminating apartheid structures as a precondition to peace, and point to the fact that the even ANC in South Africa was forced to negotiate the dismantling of apartheid in the course of their peace diplomacy. I admit to being unclear on this point in my oral presentation. I agree that ending Israeli apartheid, unless undertaken unilaterally, would almost certainly, require extensive negotiations and a phased plan of implementation. To the extent that I implied that ending apartheid was a precondition for credible peace negotiations, I acknowledge that such a formulation is misleading. Nevertheless, I would assert that the question of ending apartheid must be understood by both parties to be at the center of any future credible diplomatic effort that seeks a sustainable peace, likely constituting the most challenging aspect of such a peacemaking process as undertaken by Israelis and Palestinians.

 

By unexpectedly releasing Nelson Mandela in 1990, the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement led by the ANC, the white governing elite of South Africa sent a clear signal of their readiness to negotiate the end of legalized racism. This is instructive, suggesting that Israel must also signal its change of heart toward the subjugation of the Palestinian people before a real ‘peace process’ can go forward. In this sense, returning to the Warner/Khen criticism, it is the signal of Israel’s altered outlook on peace, not the dissolution of apartheid, which should be regarded as a precondition for an authentic peace process.

 

A final question seems to be whether ‘ending apartheid’ is more ‘politically impossible’ than ‘ending occupation.’ I believe the honest answer is that we cannot know. Given this circumstance of radical uncertainty my view is that it is preferable to be committed to a path to peace that both ends the conflict and embodies relevant precepts of international law and morality. As should be obvious, I believe ending the occupation would be, at best, nothing more than a somewhat more politically acceptable and inevitably temporary reframing of subjugation and victimization, while ending apartheid would be a decisive move toward adopting a law-based solution to the conflict responsive to contemporary standards of international human rights and consistent with the expectations of global justice.

 

 

Debating Solutions

 

Warner and Khen suggest their own view of political prospects and preferences by their strong endorsement of a two-state solution, and corresponding rejection of a one-state solution. In effect, Zionism can live, in theory at least, with an independent Palestinian sovereign state as a neighbor, but would lose its ideological birthright as a biblically entitled state beholden to the Jewish people, if it accepted to become a single binational state based on the equality of Jews and non-Jews. I appreciate the coherence of their position, but feel that it inscribes an inherently unjust solution based on an unwarranted deference to the underlying Zionist project. The claim to be a Jewish state, however justly and understandably motivated by the Jewish experience, was flawed from the outset due to its disregard of the rights and wellbeing of the majority non-Jewish population residing in Palestine up to the time of the Partition War in 1947-48.

 

What kind of polity can we expect to emerge if Israel were to dismantle the apartheid structures that now oppress the Palestinian people? It is here that Warner and Khen assume that the outcome would be a single, secular, binational state, and are critical of my failure to offer a clear idea of what such a post-apartheid Palestine and Israel would be.

 

While we are in the domain of the impossible, it seems more useful to imagine the unimaginable than to project what seems obvious. In this regard, I would not prejudge the political sequel to a process that effectively dismantled Israeli apartheid structures of control. Such a context would be so different than what seems presently plausible that we should indulge visions of the desirable rather than be confined to what seems from the outlook of the moment to be most plausible, which is a single secular state that reestablished Palestine as a state with the borders possessed before the British mandate, although possibly with a new, neutral name.

 

What if we are daring enough to envision and propose ‘a stateless Middle East’ that involved a reversal of the Sykes/Picot imposition of Westphalian territorial states on the region a hundred years ago to satisfy the anachronistic colonial ambitions of Britain and France? Instead of European style states with arbitrary and artificial boundaries held together by a strongman, the new political framework of the region would be constructed of political communities that better reflect natural ethnic, religious, and historical affinities, resembling in some ways the Ottoman system of governance based on the millet system, in other ways, the idea of ethnic self-determination as envisioned by Woodrow Wilson, and in still other ways the unified Arab nation that the British misled Arab leaders to believe would be allowed to happen in exchange for their support in opposing the Ottoman Empire in World .

 

The Ottoman political framework was discarded after World War I, Wilson’s vision overridden by European colonial maneuvers, and the wartime pledge to the Arabs cynically broken. As a result the peoples of the region have endured conflict, corruption, chaos, and coercion over the course of the last century, and have been a site of geopolitical rivalry and neoliberal exploitation since 1945. I realize that it must be strain credulity to place any hope whatsoever in a political process that yielded a stateless Middle East.

 

In contrast, I would suggest that only the articulation of utopian aspirations offer the only constructive refusal to accept the strictures imposed on creative thought when speculating about the future of the politically impossible. That is, we are trapped in the vortex of the impossible, but to yield to its logic is to give up the quest for true peace altogether.

 

Book Launch: Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, edited by Stefan Andersson

2 Mar

Book Launch: Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, edited by Stefan Andersson, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

 

 

Why the Legal and Political Debate on the Vietnam War Still Matters

 

 

[Prefatory Note: There has been recently a revival of interest in the Vietnam War, perhaps most notably as a result of the quite extraordinary Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s ten-part, eighteen hour documentary film as aired on PBS, which although somewhat ideologically slanted toward an American audience has much illuminating footage, especially bearing on various Vietnamese perceptions of the war experience. I would also call attention to a series of articles by Matthew Stevenson describing his recent visit to Vietnam, which combines acute journalistic observation with impressive commentary on the war experience and the problematics of contemporary Vietnam. Stevenson’s valuable contributions are being serially published in Counterpunch, so far two of a promised eight.

 

I visited Vietnam in November of 2017 for ten days, and met with some Vietnamese officials I had known during the war, as well as with journalists and friends, seeking, especially, to understand whether the present generally harsh criticisms of suppression of dissent and authoritarian governance were justified, and came to mixed conclusions.

 

On human rights my suspicions of Western bias seemed entirely vindicated, that is, by reducing the effective scope of international human rights criteria to civil and political rights, and completely ignoring successes or failures in social and economic rights. Vietnam is illustrative of this pattern of claiming the high moral ground for the West in the post-colonial era by pointing to their human rights failings, completely overlooking Vietnam’s remarkable achievements of poverty reduction resulting from the pursuit of a needs based development strategy up to this point. With tens of millions of Americans and Europeans enduring varying degrees of material deprivation relating to food, health care, shelter, and jobs, their boastfulness about human rights has an increasingly hollow, even macabre, sound. Indeed, given the wealth of these societies and the scandalous disparities between rich and poor, it would be more reasonable to single out these countries for censure as notable laggards when it comes to human rights provided that economic and social rights are included in the mix. I am not minimizing the importance of civil and political rights, but for the majority of the population these rights pale in day to day significance if compared to failings in the domain of economic and social rights.

 

These comments introduce an online launch my own book, Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, published by Cambridge University Press at the end of 2017. In fact, it is not really my book, but as much or more the work of my friend and colleague, Stefan Andersson who edited the text, supervised the production process, arranged for the blurbs, and above all, overcame my own lethargy. I add the newly written preface that I contributed to this collection of my past writings. After the post the back cover containing blurbs is shamelessly included to induce readers to rush to order the book from Amazon or your bookseller of choice.

 

The preface essentially expresses my view that the wrong lessons have been learned by the United States from its failure in Vietnam, and thus the cycle of regressive violence continues to torment vulnerable peoples in the non-Western world. This geopolitical and normative learning disability is at its core an effort to particularize the Vietnam experience, and allowing policy planners and think tank analysts to propose a series of tactical adjustments that will ensure that future Vietnams result in successful outcomes. Such a (mis) reading of Vietnam has contributed to the more recent counterinsurgency failures as in Afghanistan and Iraq, confirming the my central assessment that the real lessons of post-colonial world order are resisted because their proper interpretation would substantially discredit American reliance on global militarism as the foundation of its grand strategy around the world. Perhaps, most troubling to me, especially in light of this commentary on the evasion of international law throughout the Vietnam War, is the new more drastic set of evasions of international law that have followed ‘the war on terror’ initiated in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

 

In any event, my book, as well as the current flurry of interest in Vietnam, seeks to encourage citizens pilgrims throughout the world to remember Vietnam as a culmination of the anti-colonial wars and as the basis for a revisionist view of the agency of hard power in the 21st century. I ask indulgence for my miserable attempt to add a photo of the cover below, which is an injustice to the talented Canadian artist, Julianne Allmand. who created it under the title, ‘Sticky Fire.’ I am painfully aware that I could have done far better as a photographer had I entered the digital age twenty years earlier.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harmful Legacy of Lawlessness in Vietnam

 

More than 40 years after the defeat of the United States in Vietnam the central lessons of that war remain unlearned. Even worse, the mistakes made and crimes committed in Vietnam have been repeated at great human, material, and strategic cost in several subsequent national settings. The central unlearned lesson in Vietnam is that the collapse of the European colonial order fundamentally changed the effective balance of power in a variety of North/South conflict situations that reduce the agency of military superiority in a variety of ways.[1]

What makes this change elusive is that it reflected developments that fall outside the policy parameters influential in the leadership circles of most governments for a cluster of reasons. Most fundamentally, governmental geopolitical calculations relating to world order continue to be based on attributing a decisive causal influence to relative military capabilities, an understanding at the core of ‘realist’ thinking and behavior. Within this paradigm military superiority is regarded as the main driver of conflict resolution, and the winners in wars are thought to reflect the advantages of hard power differentials. The efficiency and rewards of military conquest in the colonial era vindicated this kind of realist thinking. Europe with its dominant military technology was able to control the political life and exploit the resources of populous countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America with a minimum of expenditure and casualties, encountering manageable resistance, while reaping the rewards of empire. The outcomes of World War I and II further vindicated the wider orbit of the realist way of thinking and acting, with military superiority based on technological innovation, quantitative measures, and doctrinal adaptation to new circumstances of conflict receiving most of the credit for achieving political victories.

The Vietnam War was a dramatic and radical challenge to the realist consensus on how the world works, continuing a pattern already evident in nationalist victories in several earlier colonial wars, which were won against earlier expectations by anti-colonial forces. Despite these illuminating results of colonial wars after World War II the American defeat in Vietnam came as a shock. The candid acknowledgement of this defeat has been twisted out of recognition to this day by the interpretive spins placed upon the Vietnam experience by the American political establishment. The main motive of such partisan thinking was to avoid discrediting reliance on military power in the conduct of American foreign policy and to overcome political reluctance in the American public to fund high levels of military spending. Until the deceptive military victory in the First Gulf War of 1991, the policy community in the United States bemoaned what it described as ‘the Vietnam Syndrome,’ which was a shorthand designation for the supposedly unfortunate antipathy among the American citizenry to uses of hard power by the United States to uphold American geopolitical primacy throughout the world.

The quick and decisive desert victory against the imprudently exposed Iraqi armed forces massed on the desert frontier compelled Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, which it had recently conquered and annexed. This result of war making was construed to vindicate and thus restore realist confidence in American war making as a crucial instrument of world order. On closer examination, this enthusiasm for war generated by the almost costless victory in the desert terrain of the First Gulf War involved a category mistake on the part of American leaders, or so it seems. It confused the continuing relevance of military capabilities in conventional war encounters between sovereign states with the declining utility of military supremacy in wars of intervention or counterinsurgency wars, that is, violent conflicts between a foreign adversary and a national resistance movement. It should have been clear to expert commentators that the Vietnam War was an example of a massive foreign intervention being defeated by a skillfully mobilized and efficiently led national movement, and in this respect totally different from First Gulf War with respect to terrain of battle and what was at stake politically for the two sides.

Comprehending why the United States mishandled not only the war in Vietnam but misconstrued its result, is associated with earlier unlearned lessons that involved a misinterpretation of the lost colonial wars, most relevantly, the French defeat in the Indochina War despite the long and deep French presence. In retrospect it was evident to all that the French had failed to grasp the extraordinary resolve that informed the nationalist motivations of the Vietnamese and more than compensated for their military weaknesses, empowering Vietnamese society to endure severe and prolonged suffering to achieve eventual political independence and national sovereignty, and the accompanying collective sense of national pride. Under the inspirational leadership of Gandhi, India achieved independence and recovered sovereignty through a militant nonviolent struggle that by heroic perseverance overcame the grim and unscrupulous determination of 10 Downing Street to retain ‘the jewel’ in the crown of the British Empire whatever the costs of doing so might turn out to be. Whether articulated as the rise of ‘soft power’ or explained by reference to the imbalance between imperial commitments and nationalist perseverance and local knowledge, the story line is the same. The intervening foreign or alien power has lower stakes in such struggles than does an indigenous population effectively mobilized as a movement of national resistance. Colonial powers were slow to recognize that moral and political resistance to their presence was growing more formidable as the ideology of nationalism spread around the world. Resistance become more credible, and withstood a series of prodigious colonial efforts to retain control over colonized peoples, but as these struggles proceeded the former colonial overlords were at varying stages forced to recalculate their interests, and mostly decided that it was better to give up their colonial claims and withdraw militarily than further commit to what had become a lost cause.

We can also interpret this historical turn as reflecting the disparities between the political will of a people fighting for self-determination and a foreign government linked to private sector interests that are trying to retain the benefits of control over a distant country for the sake of resources, prestige, settler pressures, geopolitical rivalry, or a combination of these factors. From the end of World War II onwards, this imbalance of political wills seems to offer the best predictor of the outcome of colonial wars or military interventions in counterinsurgency struggles. In this regard, the French defeat in Indochina should have delivered a cautionary message to the Americans. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the French themselves didn’t learn much from their Indochina defeat, going on to wage and lose an even more damaging colonial war in Algeria eight years later. The noted French journalist, Bernard Fall tried hard to warn the Americans of the great difficulty of achieving a reversal of the French experience in its Indochina War.[2] The French had higher than normal stakes in Indochina. It was to a significant extent ‘a settler colonial’ state, meaning that the French human and cultural presence had sunk deep roots that raised the stakes of withdrawal for France, an experience repeated on a larger scale in Algeria, but producing the same outcome but only after inflicting massive suffering on the native population. The American intervention in Vietnam was primarily motivated by the ideological rivalry of the Cold War, and did not have the high level of material and human interests that led the French to fight so hard to crush the Vietnamese and Algerian challenges to their colonial rule.

The ‘settler colonial’ situation of Algeria, and even more so, South Africa and Israel, complicate the overall analysis. In the event of settler control of the colonial state, the issue of foreign or alien rule becomes blurred, and the question of the identity of ‘the nation’ is itself contested in ways that are very different from the situation of a colonial administration governing on behalf of a European home country or metropole without any pretension of belonging to the occupied nation as if it was one’s own. Each situation has its own originality. For Jews in Israel who claim a biblical and ancestral mandate, and lacking a default homeland option in a distinct territory possess an intense political will to preserve their control of Palestine. The indigenous Arab population of Palestine also has a near absolute will to resist dispossession from their native lands, and are unwelcome elsewhere in the region, having experienced vulnerability to changes in local circumstances and discrimination in neighboring Arab countries. For this reason, as reinforced by the special relationship of Israel with the United States, the Palestinians are waging an uphill battle in which their supposedly inalienable rights of self-determination have been for decades squeezed almost beyond recognition.[3]

Against this background, American reasoning about the Vietnam War displayed what later would be called ‘the arrogance of power,’ that is, the blind faith in the efficacy of its hard power superiority in conflict situations, whether nuclear, conventional, or counterinsurgent.[4] The United States emerged from World War II as the dominant geopolitical actor in the world, having turned the tide of battle against Germany and Japan, as well as developing and using its monopoly over the ultimate weapon against Japan at the end the Pacific war by dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities. If Germany and Japan could not resist the American juggernaut, who could expect a country that Lyndon Johnson and Henry Kissinger called ‘a fourth rate Asian power’ to resist and repel the American military machine? In the end, it was the greater Vietnamese will to persevere and their cultural resilience that overcame American firepower, as well as the unsurpassed anti-colonial legitimacy of the Vietnamese struggle, which contributed to the rise of a robust worldwide anti-war movement of solidarity, including within the United States. By the mid-1960s it had become increasingly evident that the side that won the legitimacy war would prevail politically even if compelled to endure devastating losses on the battlefield and throughout the country.[5]

The most serious blind spot of the realist paradigm is its inability to take account of its weaknesses with respect to legitimacy as a dimension of political life. This became manifest in the Vietnam setting. The American claims with respect to its presence in Vietnam were essentially ideological and geopolitical, the importance of avoiding the spread of Communism and thus containing the expansionist challenge being allegedly mounted by the Soviet Union and China. In opposition to such reasoning were the historically more influential claims in support of nationalism and the right of self-determination, especially in contexts involving struggles of a colonized people against their colonial masters. Vietnamese legitimacy claims with respect to the United States were further validated by the flagrant disregard of international law constraints and the impact of this disregard on world public opinion, which contributed to mounting American domestic opposition to continuing the war.[6]

This collection of essays written in support of the relevance of international law to the shaping of American foreign policy during the Vietnam Era remains instructive as the 21st century unfolds. The United States has continued to pursue a dubious diplomacy punctuated by military interventions in distant countries, fighting a series of losing counterinsurgency wars after Vietnam, remaining unresponsive to the constraints on recourse to war and war fighting embodied in international law and the UN Charter. The realist consensus, regarding law and morality as dispensable and marginal impediments to sustaining geopolitical effectiveness in world politics, continues to govern the policymaking entourage that shapes war/peace decisions, and has produced a string of costly defeats (especially, Afghanistan and Iraq) as well as badly damaged America’s reputation as a global leader, which in the end depends far more on its legitimacy credentials than on its battlefield prowess, but suffers most when it both loses on the battlefield and should lose if law and morality are taken into account. It is the contention of these essays that adherence to international law is vital for world peace and in the national interest of all countries on all occasions, and this includes the United States.

So-called ‘American exceptionalism’ operates as a free pass in Washington to disregard the rules applicable to other sovereign states, but as the recent history of international conflicts reveal, it does no favors to the United States or its people, although it may further the careers of diplomats and enhance the profits of special interests. Further, it seems evident that the continuing exercise of discretion to ignore legal constraints on the use of international force will be accompanied by repeated disappointments in the conduct of foreign policy for this most mighty country in all of world history and will also continue to erode its legitimacy credentials.

 

The 9/11 attacks gave the United States a chance to start over, undertaking a response to mega-terrorism within the framework of the rule of law that would have been a great contribution to building up the global rule of law and charting a new path toward sustainable global governance. Instead, a ‘war on terror’ was immediately launched that amounted to a declaration of permanent warfare, undermining the authority of international law and the UN, and perversely leading to the spread and intensification of terrorist activities. The defaming scandals of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and ‘enhanced interrogation’ together with the failure to prosecute those responsible for authorizing and perpetrating ‘torture’ during the presidency of George W. Bush confirm the deeply entrenched refusal of the U.S. Government to self-enforce minimum standards of international criminal accountability, and its obvious endorsement of a flawed international criminal law regime that currently rests on the major premise of geopolitical impunity as interpreted by way of American exceptionalism. The emergence of ISIS, as had been prefigured in Afghanistan by the rise of Al Qaeda and occasioned by American occupation policies in Iraq, is the ultimate blowback experience betokening an erroneous hard power opportunism in Washington misleadingly chosen as the best approach to national and global security.

The essays in the volume also explore the failure to abide by the experience after World War II, which included imposing criminal accountability on those surviving German and Japanese military and political leaders responsible for the commission of state crime centering on the recourse to and prosecution of aggressive warfare, as well as the mass atrocities epitomized by the death camps. By now it is confirmed that the Nuremberg and Tokyo Judgments although respectful of defendants’ rights and substantively justified were in a larger sense ‘victors’ justice’ by exempting the crimes of the winners from legal scrutiny.[7] The principles of law applied to the losers at Nuremberg and Tokyo were never intended to be applied to the winners, or to those who would after 1945 control the geopolitical dimensions of world politics and dominate its various episodes of warfare.[8] Criminal accountability in relation to warfare was cynically applied to the losers and those in subordinate positions of state power throughout the world, and still is.

Into this normative vacuum stepped the rising activism of civil society, and this became initially disclosed as part of the rising opposition to the Vietnam War. The great British philosopher and political activist, Bertrand Russell, convened a tribunal of conscience composed of moral and cultural authority figures with international stature to gather the best evidence available of American criminality in the ongoing Vietnam War. This bold initative filled the institutional vacuum created by the lack of political will among governments or at the UN to carry forward the Nuremberg impulse with respect to accountability of individuals.[9] In effect, the project of imposing criminal accountability on the strong has become an exclusive undertaking of global civil society, although with some collaboration from moderate governments that do not enjoy the status of being geopolitical actors. It was this transnational collaboration between governments and civil society actors that generated the momentum leading to the unexpected establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, but as yet this new institution has given little indication that it possesses the capacity and even the mandate to extend the logic of accountability to geopolitical actors, above all the United States and its closest friends.

Reviewing the international law debates that took place during the Vietnam War remains critically relevant to any reform of American foreign policy relating to these war/peace issues. As in Vietnam, adherence to international law would have been consistently beneficial normatively (upholding law, protecting the vulnerable, avoiding casualties), geopolitically (respecting support for the ethos of self-determination and human rights as evidenced by the flow of history since 1945), and ideologically (recognizing that ‘terrorism’ is a law enforcement issue, not an occasion for war making; realizing that nationalist ideology does not translate into neighbors becoming ‘falling dominos’).

The lesson that most needed to be learned in the Vietnam Era, and remains unlearned 40 years after the ending of war, is the practical and principled desirability of adherence to international law in war/peace situations. Systemic violations of international law lead to geopolitical disappointment, human suffering, societal devastation, and a nihilistic atmosphere of international lawlessness. In contrast, habits and policies of adherence to international law, especially with respect to war/peace issues and matters of national and global security, privileges an emphasis on diplomacy, international cooperation, law enforcement, UN authority, as well as generates the self-confidence of political communities to be respectful of prudent restraint and develop greater reliance in pursuit of national goals on international procedures, norms, and institutions. Such a shift away from lawlessness is, of course, by no means a guaranty of peace and justice, but it provides the crucial foundation for creating better prospects for human wellbeing in the 21st Century.

In my preoccupation during the years between 1963 and 1975 I became obsessed with the Vietnam War, and how I might act as a scholar and citizen to bring this imprudent, unlawful, and immoral war to an end. My writing in this period reflects a process of deepening engagement, and an evolving shift of focus and orientation. In my initial articles on the war I was seeking to demonstrate the unlawfulness of the underlying intervention in Vietnam, with a special emphasis on the American expansion of the war from a struggle for control of the state in what was then treated as ‘South Vietnam’ to a conflict that included then ‘North Vietnam,’ which altered the nature of the war from an internal war in the South to a war between the two political communities that comprised Vietnam after the French defeat in 1954, and persisted until the American defeat in 1975. In the early selections represented here, the international law arguments were underpinned by a realist assessment that rested on the informed belief that this was an ill-considered commitment of U.S. military forces for the sake of a very dubious conception of national interests, which centered on an imprudent opposition to the anti-colonial and pro-nationalist flow of history.

My attitudes toward the war, while never losing the central conviction that the United States was engaged in Vietnam in a manner that violated the most fundamental norms of international law, shifted in the direction of viewing the tactical conduct of the war as increasingly raising questions of international criminal accountability. This shift is reflected in the later selections from my writing that emphasize the relevance of the Nuremberg Principles to the American involvement in Vietnam.[10] I became convinced that a one-sided war in which high technology weaponry was deployed against a totally vulnerable peasant society was an intrinsically criminal enterprise, and additionally almost inevitably gave rise to battlefield atrocities as mythified through treating the My Lai massacre as a singular event.[11] I was also struck by the degree to which the geopolitical status of the United States marginalized the United Nations and limited the relevance of international law to a domestic debate within the United States between the government and its critics in Congress and throughout American society.

One enduring effect of this debate was to give the American anti-war movement the confidence to challenge government policy despite the inhibitions of the Cold War that made any seeming sympathy for the Communist side in the Vietnamese struggle grounds for suspicion and media hostility, particularly in the early years of the war. It is only toward the end of the Vietnam War when the government lost the trust of a large portion of the citizenry and split the foreign policy establishment, as well as becoming clear that the sacrifice of young American lives was not going to end in a military victory, that the prudential arguments against continuing the war began to outweigh the ideological case for its prosecution. This development also had the effect of pushing public opinion in an anti-war direction.[12]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] In the midst of the Vietnam War I edited a four volume series on the relevance of international law to the policies guiding decision makers and policy advocates on both sides of the debate that raged throughout the war.

[2] See Bernard Fall, Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1961).

[3] For a range of views see Jeremy R. Hammond, Obstacle to Peace: The U.S. Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Worldview Publications, forthcoming 2015); Rashid Khalidi, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013); Peter Bauck & Mohammed Omer, eds., The Oslo Accords, 1993-2013 (Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2013); For the U.S. /Israeli spin on the peace process see Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2004).

[4] J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power (New York: Random House, 1966).

 

[5] As argued in Richard Falk, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope (Washington, D.C.: Just World Books, 2014).

 

[6] In the Name of America (New York: Clergy & Laity Concerned About Vietnam, 1968).

[7] An important early account along these lines in the Japanese context is Richard H. Minear, Victors’ Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971).

[8] Justice Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor, did argue to the tribunal in Nuremberg that the legitimacy of the judgment against the German defendants depended upon the victors in the future accepting the same framework of accountability, but such words fell on deaf ears in the capitals of the world powers.

[9]The proceedings of the Russell Tribunal can be found in John Duffett, ed., Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal, Stockholm-Copenhagen (New York: Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 1968).

[10] These issues were fully explored in Richard Falk, Gabriel Kolko, and Robert Jay Lifton, eds., Crimes of War: A legal, political-documentary, and psychological inquiry into the responsibility of leaders, citizens, and soldiers (New York: Random House, 1971).

 

[11] For the initial expose see Seymour M. Hersh, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and its Aftermath (New York: Random House, 1970). See also Kendrick Oliver, The My Lai Massacre in American history and memory, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006).

 

[12] The release of the Pentagon Papers was a milestone along the path that led from a pro-war consensus to a rising tide of opposition. See interpretation by Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (New York: Penguin Books, 2002).