Tag Archives: Ban Ki-moon

A Weak UN Ensures a Weak Secretary General

13 Jun

 

 

There are many angles of interpretation relevant to the startling admission by Ban Ki-moon that he succumbed to undisguised diplomatic pressure when removing Saudi Arabia from the ‘shame list’ of countries whose armies are found responsible the maiming and killing of children, earning them dishonorable mentioned in an annex to the annual UN report on violations of children’s rights. The scale and severe nature of such violations, committed in the course of the Yemeni intervention carried out by the Saudi led coalition of countries is beyond serious doubt, detailed in the UN report and strongly endorsed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. These most respected of human rights NGOs reacted with moral outrage that the SG would give way to such unseemly and crude pressure, which has the effect of undermining the precarious stature of the UN making visible for all to see how geopolitical considerations outweigh even these most fundamental of humanitarian concerns, the protection of children in war zones..

 

There is more to this incident than one more demonstration that this particular SG lacks the political will to uphold the integrity and autonomy of the UN. On display, as well, was the crude manner in which the UN Saudi ambassador, Abdullah al-Mouallami, threw around his political weight without enduring any backlash. This diplomat openly is accused of threatening the UN with ‘adverse consequences,’ and also with issuing a warning that UN emergency programs in such distressed areas as Gaza, Syria, and South Sudan would lose their Saudi (and Gulf coaltion) funding. Apparently, rather pathetically, Ban Ki-moon, thought it better to give ground, and so explained removing Saudi Arabia from the shame list until a joint review determined what to do as the lesser of evils. The greater evil the SG suggested would be to lose financial support for vital programs that affect a far greater number of children.

 

The ambassador made clear that this face saving procedure to review the listing was not to be construed as consenting to an objective inquiry, declaring that the removal of Saudi Arabia from the list was ‘unconditional and irreversible.’ Whether the disclosure of these sordid happenings will challenge the Saudi insistence remains to be seen. What is evident, and offers the world a glimmer of encouragement, is that Saudi Arabia, despite its notorious human rights record, takes seriously enough its international reputation as to make such use of strong arm tactics that are as demeaning as the UN report itself. The SG retreat also shows to the world that being a monetary heavyweight can matter in the UN as much as being a P-5 member or geopolitical leader.

 

What Saudi Arabia had achieved by relying on its economic leverage, Israel and the United States manage to gain more subtly by persuasion. Both governments leaned heavily on the SG to ensure that Israel would not be on the shame list in view of its violations of the rights of children in the course of the bloody 2014 Gaza War. In an earlier massive attack started at the end of 2008, the SG dutifully buried a report strongly condemning Israel for deliberately targeting UN facilities where Palestinian civilians were receiving shelter. So it is important to appreciate that Saudi Arabia is not by any means alone in applying extra-legal pressure to avoid losing face by adverse findings. The fact that the U.S. special relationship with Israel includes helping Israel cover up such serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights standards is also an added reason for disappointment.

 

The good news is that governments do their upmost to avoid moral and legal opprobrium as a result of UN initiatives, and this is because it matters. Recall the furious Israeli reaction to the infamous Goldstone Report of 2009 that found Israel guilty of numerous violations of the law of war in the course of its attack on Gaza months earlier, which had the effect of burying the report’s recommendations for further action but did validate the allegations of criminality made in civil society, contributing to the discrediting of Israel’s occupation policies and practices, especially as enacted in Gaza. The bad news is that the leverage of the powerful and rich consistently leads the UN to buckle beneath the weight of backroom influence.

What gives this Saudi event salience is the transparency and effectiveness of the inappropriate behavior, which includes the SG’s unusually candid acknowledgement of what took place, producing a media shout out that encourages a critical assessment of the UN and its leadership. Perhaps, Ban Ki-moon in his final months as SG has decided to tell it like it is, having kept his mouth shut and mostly doing what he was told to do for the nearly ten years that he occupied the highest UN post.

 

There are two ways to view Ban Ki-moon’s handling of Saudi pressure. The first impulse is to condemn the SG for cavalierly disregarding the values of the UN Charter, human rights, and international law. From this perspective, Ban Ki-moon reinforced his overall image throughout his two terms as a weak international civil servant who is blown in whatever the direction of the prevailing wind happens to be. A second line of interpretation is more charitable, suggesting that Ban Ki-moon was confronted by a ‘Sophie’s choice’ dilemma: either to insist on the integrity of the shame list or balance the competing costs, and thus exhibit flexibility by opting to keep the economic assistance flowing to places of dire need.

 

What both interpretations suggest is the subordination of UN operations to geopolitical realities, not only as this incident unfolded, but also more tellingly with respect to the underlying structural characteristics of the UN. The manner of choosing a SG, requiring endorsement by each of the P-5, virtually guarantees the selection of a person of weak character and strong ambition. The fact that there have been some partial exceptions among the eight SGs that have so far served is mainly an indication that the gatekeepers have not always succeeded in doing their job of making sure that a person of unshakable moral character is ever selected. Political astuteness, which is understood to me a realistic willingness to be responsive to geopolitical pressures has been part of the job description all along. We can still hope for another Dag Hammarskjold, U Thant, or Kofi Annan who will somehow get through the gate, imparting dignity once more to the office of Secretary General, but from a structural point of view such a happy outcome must still be viewed essentially as an accident.

 

Closely related is the even more fundamental recognition that the funding supply chains of the UN are tied directly to these geopolitical levers of influence. The UN is kept on a short financial leash so that the leaders of the Organization will not get the wrong idea, and think of themselves as independent political actors owing primary loyalty to the UN Charter and the ideals set forth in its Preamble. It would be a simple matter to impose a tax on international financial transactions or international flights that would generate the revenue needed to fund the entire UN system. This idea has been around for decades, earlier discussed as ‘the Tobin tax,’ named after the Yale Nobel Prize economist, James Tobin, who is credited with first proposing such a tax in 1972. Why it has never happened should not be a mystery. Those who control the UN have no incentive to loosen their grip. Civil society, although supportive of such an initiative, has never been sufficiently motivated to mount the sort of transnational campaign that succeeded in getting the International Criminal Court established despite geopolitical resistance. Absent political will from above or mobilization from below there is no prospect of achieving the degree of financial independence that would allow a SG in the future to react with anger to the sort of demand made effectively by the current Saudi Arabia ambassador.

 

It is evident that the combination of a discretionary veto conferred upon the P-5, which is a legalized exemption of unlimited scope from UN authority, and the leverage provided by the way the Organization is financed, ensures the primacy of geopolitics in the principal operations of the UN. This is what was intended from the beginning of the UN, and this is what has happened all along. It is written into the UN Charter, which provides the constitutional framework and is veto proof against any geopolitically unwanted modification intended to make the UN more responsive to international law rather than to the grand strategies of its dominant members and their closest friends.

 

Despite such disappointments and shortcomings, the UN plays a vital role on the global stage, and its contributions, actual and potential, should not be overlooked. The UN provides a forum available to all states, raising to global visibility the concerns of the weaker governments in a manner that can make a difference. The UN also provides the principal auspices for multilateral diplomacy, as in relation to such lawmaking events as the Paris Climate Change Agreement of a year ago.

 

As an organization of states, the UN fails to address the agendas of the peoples of the world, especially those so marginalized and vulnerable as not to be adequately represented by governments. Proposals for the establishment of a Global Peoples Assembly, parallel to the General Assembly, have been forward over the years, but have not been realized because opposed by the representatives of a state-centric world order that are unwilling to share the formal stage of authority with civil society representatives even as the actualities of globalization have drained power and energy away from states.

 

Perhaps, the most overlooked, yet significant role of the UN is to be a major player in Legitimacy Wars, throwing their weight on one side or the other in the many ongoing struggles around the world. The UN can also issue reports and gather reliable information that disclose ‘inconvenient truths,’ which are influential with world public opinion, and provoke the sort of awkward responses that led to Saudi embarrassment, followed by anger, leading to the even more embarrassing accommodation by a much compromised Ban Ki-moon. At the same time, the incident also called wider attention to the abuse of children in the Yemen intervention than would have followed by its inclusion in a UN report. Political influence and change work in strange ways, and we cannot yet know whether the disgraceful, yet understandable, behavior of the SG will yet persuade the Saudi led coalition to abandon quietly their intervention in Yemen, or at least modify their tactics.

 

What needs to be understood is that symbolic issues with law, morality, and justice have exerted a major impact on the resolution of conflicts since 1945. It is the normative revolution principally brought about through the achievement of the right of self-determination that has changed the map of the world, and indicated that the anti-colonial flow of history has shaped the narrative of recent decades to a greater extent even than the series of startling innovations in the weaponry and tactics of warfare. The UN seems weak when challenged by geopolitics, yet its mark on the history of our time is the clearest demonstration that its presence still matters, and will continue to do so despite the likelihood of future weak SGs and in the face of its deep structural failings to fulfill the promise of the stirring words set forth in the Preamble of the UN Charter.

 

 

 

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Dreaming of the Next UN Secretary General

6 May

 

 

“I solemnly swear to exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience the functions entrusted to me as Secretary-General of the United Nations, to discharge these functions and regulate my conduct with the interests of the United Nations only in view, and not to seek or accept instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any Government or other authority external to the Organisation.”

United Nations Secretary General’s Oath of Office

 

In 2006 Ramesh Thakur, one of the most perceptive and knowledgeable commentators on global issues, wrote a trustworthy account of what it takes to be selected as UN Secretary General, and then to be effective in the job. [Thakur, “In Selecting the New UN Secretary General,” Feb. 3, 2006, Daily Yomiuri] In many ways his assessment, although realistic, confirms the impression that the leadership potential of this titular position as head of the UN is structurally limited and inconsistent with the spirit of the oath of office. The reason for these low expectations, as Thakur points out, is that the “most important” requirement of the job is to be regarded when selected as acceptable to the five permanent members of the Security Council (the so-called P-5), and especially to the United States.

 

It is a tribute to the potential of the position of SG that the P-5 governments are exceedingly careful in vetting potential candidates, and have not yet ever been deeply disappointed by selecting a rogue SG, although once in office an individual may in some instances become somewhat more responsive to the oath of office than to the secondary wishes of his or her geopolitical masters. Such unresponsiveness, especially as it involved the United States, helps explain why Boutros Boutros-Ghali failed to obtain support for a customary second term in office back in 1996.

 

In practice, the selection process is ultra sensitive to this overriding need for a Secretary General to be someone that will be respectful of the geopolitical winds that blow at a given time in world politics regardless of the spirit and letter of the UN Charter. Appreciating this pattern makes it misleading to read the Charter as if it is intended to provide an authoritative framing designed to regulate the behavior of its 193 member states. It should be accepted for better and worse what it is, a constitutional framework of the UN that privileged the winners of World War II, and at the time of its founding opted for a state-centric international body that subordinated international law and the equality of sovereign states to the inequalities associated with international hierarchies of hard and soft power. In effect, the Charter itself embodies this tension between its geopolitical operating logic, as reinforced by the lack of independent funding, and the idealistic mandate of its Preamble, Purposes, and Principles. In effect, the tension can be understood as between the affirmation of juridical equality and the constitutional loophole ensuring geopolitical inequality. The UN was intended from the outset to be an Organization that enforced standards of accountability on the multiplicity of states to the best of its ability while deferring to the discretion of those deemed in 1945 to be most powerful, a status formalized by the vesting of this unrestricted right of veto in the P-5 bolstered by permanent membership in the Security Council.

 

The Charter is astonishingly silent about the qualifications that should guide the selection of a secretary general, but it is clear on the procedure: a recommendation must be made by the Security Council to the General Assembly for its approval. This means that the any one of the P-5 can use their veto to block a candidate. In this context, the veto has not been necessary as the P-5 have managed, even throughout the entire Cold War, to reach agreement on an acceptable candidate for SG by reliance on this method of secret backroom negotiations, which undoubtedly included much wrangling. The first eight secretaries general emerged from these dark shadows of great power bargaining, but this process gave rise to an increasing cascade of complaints from non-P-5 governments and from interested civil society organizations. These players objected to the secrecy and non-transparency of the way in which the SG was chosen.

 

In an accommodating response, the next secretary general is to be selected by a more seemingly democratic procedure: government nominations of multiple candidates, vision statements by the candidates, and give and take dialogues with civil society representatives. [For a helpful overview of the reformed selection process see Arabella Lang, “Selecting a New Secretary General,” UK House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper No. 7544, 3 March 2015] But we should not be misled. The decisive influence in the selection process remains the Security Council, and there the preferred candidate must still win the unanimous approval of the P-5. In the past, this has produced a race to the bottom, essentially a candidate that is not objectionable to any of these governments. As a result past SGs, with a few notable exceptions, have been ‘company men’ who have been careful not to use leverage of the position to shift the balance of world opinion on a geopolitically sensitive issues. What emerges over the year is that the SG is not expected to manifest a globalist orientation or engage in strong advocacy insisting on the universality of international law.

 

At the same time, the nature of the office requires that the occupant be held in reasonably high regard throughout the world and have a background of credible leadership such as to ensure confidence that the administrative and ceremonial demands of the position will be competently discharged. In other words, for the sake of the UN bureaucracy and for the morale of civil society, it has been accepted that a SG should be able to run the organization and grace ceremonial occasions with uplifting rhetoric. These secondary, but still crucial concerns, may explain why several secretaries generals have proved to be more than geopolitical placeholders, most notably Dag Hammarskjöld (1953-1961), U Thant (1961-1971), Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996), and Kofi Annan (1997-2006). Surely, some SGs have been better than others at upholding the dignity and appearance of political independence attached to the position. Kurt Waldheim and Ban Ki-moon have been embarrassments to the Organization because of their failures to project the kind of public leadership that lifts spirits without damaging structures.

 

Against this background, even with the welcome reforms of greater public vetting, transparency, and multiple candidacies, the end result is still likely to be the selection of someone who, above all else, can be expected not to rock the geopolitical boat. Symbolically these reforms seem a step in the right direction, especially if a woman is finally chosen, although the seeming adherence to the principle of regional rotation, which means that the chosen one seems destined to be an East European. This does not augur well for the Organization given the available pool of candidates from that region. If indeed it is to be a woman, then let it be Helen Clark of New Zealand (who has been nominated by her government) or Angela Merkel of Germany or Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile (these latter two seem qualified but are unlikely to be nominated, much less selected), each a proven and principled political leader, as well as being highly experienced in managing organizations. Yet even, as seems unlikely, Clark, Merkel, or Bachelet were to be selected, the best we can hope for is a performance that is graceful and competent but that would be less than what the world needs and what the peoples of the planet deserve. The geopolitical obstacles remain firmly in place and too strong, and even if somehow circumvented, a SG who transcended the demands of geopolitics would likely run the UN into the ground in short order.

 

Such a pronouncement is sad. There is a severe leadership deficit at the global level, and it centers on the absence of mechanisms to uphold the human interest, as distinct from national and geopolitical interests. This is why I must comfort myself by dreaming of rather than hoping that the selection of the next secretary general is a person, ideally a woman, that would think and act globally as representative of the species, and not to uphold the ways and means of the established order. We have witnessed for decades the sorry spectacle of the failure of the UN to tackle the challenges posed by the development of nuclear weaponry or by the dangers associated with global warming. Instead of serving the human interest by achieving nuclear disarmament, the world has ended up with the protection of hierarchical arrangements as embodied in the regime of nuclear nonproliferation, which allows for the development, possession, and possible use of these weapons by the most dangerous countries in the world while enforcing double standards by precluding the acquisition of these weapons by weaker states even when threatened with an overwhelming attack by stronger neighbors.

 

With climate change, the search for a solution involved broadening the diplomatic format to include all 193 member states, but with an end result that what was agreed upon was essentially an aggregation of national interests as well as voluntary, with what was agreed upon falling far below what the scientific consensus has determined to be necessary for the health and wellbeing of future generations.

 

In more flagrant disregard of the Charter itself, and signifying Western as well as P-5 hegemony, has been the reluctance of the Organization or its principal officer ever to challenge the United States and its friends when in the face of flagrant disregard of the UN Charter provisions limiting the use of force to instances of self-defense against a prior armed attack (e.g. Vietnam, after 1965, Iraq, after 2003).

 

What the world urgently needs at the UN is an unshackled guardian of the global public good who articulates human interests as these arose in international life, and had the institutional capabilities to take effective action. At present, we depend on a religious leader such as Pope Francis to fill this normative vacuum, and occasionally political figures such as Gandhi, Franklin Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King rise above their national identities to represent the human interest, but such figures lack any institutional capacity to carry their words into deeds. At present, we can only dream that such a figure would be selected as the next secretary general, but we should be aware that dreams often disclose deep aspirations and can offer necessary guidance, and thus should not be ignored.

 

The carnage around the world, as well as the massive migrations of desperate persons, underscores the growing need for a strong United Nations led by a person who above all is dedicated to the promotion of global and human interests, and has the will and mandate to disregard geopolitical pressures. Of course, this now a private pipedream that is politically irrelevant unless it becomes embodied in a global movement for peace, justice, ecological stewardship, and the survival of the species. We have experienced the integrative wonders of neoliberal globalization, with their attendant ravaging of human wellbeing and our natural surroundings. We have also seen the dawn of moral globalization in the rise of international human rights and the call for a global rule of law, but as yet there is not visible on the horizon an organized political undertaking capable of bringing into history these faint gropings toward humane governance of planetary proportions. We still sit around expecting the next SG to continue arranging the deck chairs on a sinking vessel. I feel we are entitled to hope that the ninth UN SG will have the awareness and courage to upset these settled expectations of business as usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Ban Ki-moon

12 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The post that follows is a modified version of an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on 6 February 2016. Its focus on the metaphor of ‘shooting the messenger’ has usually been reserved for critics of Israel, and it is only when high officials depart from their scripted roles as faithful servants of the established order that their behavior results in demeaning rebukes. Israel and its most ardent defenders have been repeatedly guilty of shooting the messenger, thereby diverting attention from the damaging message by defaming the agent who delivered the message. It is a tactic that works, partly because the media finds character assassination more marketable than substantive commentary of a controversial nature. In my case, being frequently a messenger due to my UN role for six years, the nastier side of the attack tactics was to describe me (and others) as ‘a self-hating Jew’ or ‘anti-Semite.’ I tried to stay on message, largely ignoring the attacks, especially within the UN itself, but media coverage was preoccupied with an assessment of the personal vendetta that was difficult to ignore altogether without seemingly to acquiesce in the allegations. I should add that my tormenters extended beyond Mr. Ban Ki-moon and included others on the UN Watch mailing list including Susan Rice, then U.S. Ambassador at the UN, and high officials from other white settler countries, including Canada and Australia. Even the supposedly liberal Samantha Power, although previously a friendly acquaintance, joined the party, calling me biased and ill-suited for the position in statements to the press. She based her attack on the harshness of my criticisms leveled at Israel in my reports that highlighted the mismatch between their policies and practices as the Occupying Power in Palestine with the standards, duties, and principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions.]

 

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ban-ki-moon-benjamin-netanyahu 

Dear Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations:

 

Having read of the vicious attacks on you for venturing some moderate, incontestable criticisms of Israel’s behavior, I understand well the discomfort you clearly feel. Not since the Richard Goldstone chaired the group that released the report detailing apparent Israeli war crimes during its massive attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 have Israel’s big political guns responded with such unwarranted fury, magnified as usual by ultra-Zionist media commentary. Netanyahu has the audacity to claim that your acknowledgement that it is not unnatural for the Palestinians oppressed for half century to resist and resort to extremism is tantamount to the encouragement of terrorism, what he described as giving a “tailwind to terrorism.”

 

The fact your intention was quite the opposite hardly matters. Or your repeated denunciation of terrorism will be disregarded by these irresponsible critics whose sole objective is take attention away from the issues raised. Israel and its keenest supporters have found that there is no better way to do this than by defaming their critics, branding them as soft on terrorism or even as anti-Semites. And it makes no difference, whatsoever, that you have leaned over backwards during years as Secretary General, almost falling to the ground, to deflect even the most justifiable criticisms of Israel during your time as leader of the UN.

 

It is hardly surprising that you should respond to these attacks directed at you by way of a New York Times opinion piece that chides Israeli officials and Zionist zealots for ‘shooting the messenger’ and instead of heeding the message.[Ban Ki-moon, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel.” NY Times, Feb. 1, 2016] What both intrigues and appalls me is that while I was Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine during the period 2008-2014 you chose to attack me personally in public on several occasions, joining with U.S. and Israel diplomats calling for my dismissal and doing the utmost to undermine my credibility while I was working in this unpaid UN position under difficult conditions. At the time I was doing my best to bear witness to some of the same truths about Israel’s unlawful and immoral behavior that recently got you in similar hot water. My UN mandate was to report upon the reality of Israeli violations of international law while sustaining their apartheid regime of oppressive control over the Palestinian people. The Palestinians need and deserve such a voice as provided by the UN to make governments of the world more aware of their responsibility to take steps that will bring this unprecedented ordeal endured by the Palestinian people to an end. In carrying out these duties it is my hope that future UN Special Rapporteurs receive the support that they need from future Secretary Generals.

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In my case, hurt and offended by being so unfairly attacked by you, the highest UN official, I was encouraged by some highly placed officials in the UN Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva to seek some kind of explanation from you or your office, and hopefully even an apology. You never criticized my reports on Palestine or objected to my criticisms of Israel’s policies and practices, but rather focused your venomous remarks on some comments attributed to my views as expressed on my personal blog that were concerned with the 9/11 attacks and the Boston marathon bombings.

 

It was obvious to me from the content of your attack that you relied on a letter written by Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, Israel’s faithful watchdog NGO in Geneva, that gave my rather carefully qualified blog comments deliberately inflammatory twists, but like you seemed wary of engaging in any debate about the substance of my criticisms of Israel’s polices and practices in my reports. I called your office, and was referred to your affable aide de camp. He seemed immediately apologetic even before I was even able to register my complaint and explain to him my actual position on these controversial issues. After listening to what I had to say, he obliquely accepted my concerns by admitting that ‘we didn’t do due diligence,’ by which he evidently meant that the SG and his advisors relied on Neuer’s letter rather than reading what I actually wrote on the blog, which was nuanced and moderate in tone and content. This UN official volunteered a further explanation to the effect that “we were under great pressure at the time from the U.S. Congress, and this was an opportunity to show that we were not anti-Israeli.” He ended the conversation with a promise to talk with you, and get back to me. I am sad to say, this never happened.

 

This incident occurred while you were campaigning successfully for a second term as SG, and apparently wanted to reassure Washington that you would not rock the boat if reelected. I venture to say that if you had back then voiced such strong criticisms of Israel’s settlement policy or indicated a similar empathetic understanding of Palestinian resistance, you would never have received Washington’s blessings for a second term as Secretary General. I understand that your reticence back then was prudential, even a sensible, although dispiriting, concession to the realities of UN leadership. What I have trouble to this day understanding is your willingness, in old Soviet style, to defame by name a lowly UN holding a position as appointed volunteer, so as to beef up your credentials as a team player when it came to Israel. You even relied through a spokesperson at a news briefing on my status as someone outside the UN civil service to explain why you lacked the authority to dismiss me. Without contacting me in advance for an explanation or afterwards for an apology seems to me to exhibit an extreme version of bureaucratic immorality.

 

In light of this experience, I felt at the time that you were joining with others in shooting a messenger, and invoked the metaphor, who was seeking to convey some inconvenient truths about Israel’s behavior. These truths are rather similar to your own recent comments about the denial of Palestinian rights, especially with respect to the right of self-determination. The folk wisdom of ‘what goes around comes around’ seems to fit your plight. You who expediently took shots at the messenger are now taking umbrage when the tactic is directed at you. This response is reasonable in this instance but awkwardly inconsistent with your own past behavior. You say, “..when heartfelt concerns about shortsighted or morally damaging policies emanate from so many sources, including Israel’s closest friends, it cannot be sustainable to keep lashing out at every well-intentioned critic.” True, of course, but why only now? And only you?

 

Actually, although your critical stress on settlements and resistance is welcome and significant, your overall stance still falls far short of adopting a helpful way forward. You continue to insist misleadingly that compromises are called for by both sides in pursuing the goal of reaching a sustainable peace based on the establishment of Palestinian state. I find puzzling the assertion in your article that “..I am so concerned that we are reaching a point of no return for the two-state solution.” In your statement of 26 January to the Security Council you urge Palestinian unity as necessary so that the Palestinians “can instead focus their energies on establishing a stable state as part of a negotiated two-state solution.” Have you forgotten that every step taken by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to establish unity has been opposed by anger, reinforced by punitive pushback on Israel’s part, a response endorsed by the United States? And wasn’t that ‘point of no return’ reached some time ago, and certainly after what the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, proclaimed as ‘the last chance’ negotiations broke down in the Spring of 2014 after a year of trading allegations and achieving not a single positive result? And how, Mr. Ban, is a two-state solution to be achieved over the opposition and resolve of more than 600,000 Israeli settlers, with more expansion underway and even more promised?

 

You acknowledge being “disturbed by statements from senior members of the Israeli’s government that the aim [of a Palestinian state] should be abandoned altogether.” What you fail to say is that these ‘senior members’ include Israel’s elected prime minister, its president, its current ambassador to the UN. In light of this unified opposition to a two-state approach by Israel’s highest governmental leaders, how can you encourage reliance on this discredited diplomatic path that has resulted in an ongoing process of severe territorial encroachment on occupied Palestine and subjection to a regime of intensified suffering for the Palestinian people? Clinging to the two-state mantra is not neutral. Delay benefits Israel, harms Palestine. There is every reason to believe that this pattern will continue as long as Israel is not seriously challenged diplomatically and by Palestinian resistance, as well as by the sorts of growing pressures mounted by the international solidarity movement and the BDS campaign.

 

More widely, and important to understand, shooting the messenger is part of a broader Israel strategy to minimize attention given to substantive criticisms of their behavior. You are merely the latest victim, and one of the most highly placed. The intensity of defamation seems to be roughly proportional to the perceived impact of your criticism. In this sense, Mr. Secretary General, you have scored highly, especially due to your reminder to the Security Council that the UN will “continue to uphold the right of Palestinians to self-determination.” This is not the language Israel’s leaders hoped to hear coming from your lips, and hardly consistent with earlier your record of steadfast support for Israel that included condemning even the Second Freedom Flotilla that sought to deliver humanitarian assistance to Gaza. To be meaningful beyond a ritual affirmation, self-determination must be understood, given present realities, as something more and other than another delusionary embrace of a diplomatically negotiated two-state solution. At the very least, you might have urged the Security Council to consider the applicability of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) norm to relieving the anguish of Gazan captivity, a timely move considering that Netanyahu has been warning of yet another massive attack, promising that it will be even more lethal than the earlier one-sided massacres.

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You also tell the Security Council that “incitement has no place, and that questioning Israel’s right to exist cannot be tolerated.” Fair enough, but challenging Israel’s postures, policies, and practices should be placed high on the UN agenda of unfinished business if what you propose on behalf of the Palestinian people is ever to have the slightest chance of being achieved. We need all to realize what else should not be tolerated: while the Palestinian flag flies outside UN Headquarters, the Palestinian people have lived for almost 70 years under the daily brutalities of occupation, refugee camps, Gazan captivity, and involuntary exile. Can you bring yourself to call this ordeal ‘intolerable’? Then at least you could leave your UN post with a feeling that when your career was no longer in jeopardy you spoke truth to power.

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard Falk

UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council for Occupied Palestine (2008-2014)

Professor of International Law

Palestinian Open Letter to UNSG Ban Ki-moon on Gaza

7 Aug

[Prefatory Note: Below is the text of an Open Letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon alleging his inappropriate responses to the carnage and massacres taking place in Gaza, and by his behavior undermining respect for and the authority of the United Nations and international law. Given such a performance, the challenge posed to the highest ranking UN official is to revise his past comments on the Israeli attack or to resign his office. The peoples of the world, and not just the Palestinians, have a paramount interest in holding morally, legally, and politically accountable the UN and those who lead and represent the organization in response to such breaches of the peace and acts of aggression in accordance with law and justice, and never more so than when such unlawful behavior is directly responsible for a grave humanitarian catastrophe of the kind that has befallen the civilian population of Gaza since July 8. Instead of supporting Israel spurious claim of acting in self-defense, Mr. Ban Ki-moon should have been using his office to insist on an immediate ceasefire accompanied by the unconditional lifting of the blockade imposed on Gaza since mid-2007 that has constituted the essence of the collective punishment of the 1.8 million people encaged in the Gaza Strip without even a sanctuary for children, women, the disabled, the elderly, non-militants to escape from the combat zone by crossing the border or finding safety within Gaza itself. The shelling of UN facilities being used to shelter those desperately seeking safety exemplifies Israeli criminal conduct during this savage military operation. Please read the text below, prepared by Badil (an NGO devoted to Palestinian refugee rights that enjoys a world reputation for the quality of its work and the dedication of its staff) and endorsed by a large number of Palestinian civil society actors; please disseminate this text as widely as possible, and call independently for a response by the Secretary General, as well as further action if a response is not forthcoming.]

 

Open letter to Mr. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon: stand for law and Justice or resign!

 

5 August 2014

For humanity and the little remained credibility of international law:

Un Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, stand for law and Justice or resign!

  1. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

We, the under signed Palestinian human rights and community-based organizations are extremely disappointed by your performance, notably by your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel’s violations of IHL, which amount to war crimes. Until today, you have taken no explicit and tangible measures to address the recent Israeli attacks in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) since 13 June. Moreover, your statements have been either misleading, because they endorse and further Israeli false versions of facts, or contrary to the provisions established by international law and to the interests of its defenders, or because your words justify Israel’s violations and crimes.

You have undeniably assumed a biased position toward the current attack on Gaza and Israeli violations in the West Bank by failing to clearly condemn Israeli unlawful actions in the OPT, while, on the other hand, not hesitating to accuse – sometimes mistakenly – Palestinian combatant in Gaza of violations of international law. This bias can be noted in the following excerpts:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the killing today of at least 10 Palestinian civilians in shelling outside of an UNRWA school in Rafah providing shelter to thousands of civilians.  The attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, UN staff and UN premises, among other civilian facilities.

Such statement, by failing to name the perpetrator (Israel), is not only biased, but also offensive to UNRWA, itself a UN agency, as well as to other UN agencies and international organizations the struggle to provide relief and protection to Palestinians in Gaza. UNRWA, which has lost nine staff in Gaza since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, hosts around 270,000 internally displaced (25% of Gaza’s population) in its shelters. UNRWA’s preliminary analysis on a previous attack against one of its schools has indicated that it had been hit by Israeli artillery, constituting an indiscriminate attack and likely a war crime.

Moreover, by condemning the storage of weapons in UNRWA schools without offering a complete details and a proper account on international law, your statements endorse Israeli excuses to unlawfully, indiscriminately target such civilian objects.

In addition, by condemning

the reported violation by Hamas of the mutually agreed humanitarian ceasefire which commenced this morning. He is shocked and profoundly disappointed by these developments,

the Secretary-General reveals a reckless endorsement of Israeli version of facts, blaming Hamas for violating the cease-fire, even though admitting that “[t]he Secretary-General notes that the UN has no independent means to verify exactly what happened”, and, still, demanding “the immediate and unconditional release of the [falsely allegedly] captured soldier”.

The following statement further illustrates the Secretary-General’s ignorance of facts on the ground:

The Secretary-General has learned with concern that leaflets are reportedly being dropped by the Israeli Defence Forces in the northern Gaza Strip this evening, warning tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes and evacuate to Gaza City.

If true [our emphasis], this would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days.

The drop of leaflets had been a known practice since the beginning of the Israeli operation in Gaza, contributing to a scenario of more than 480,000 internally displaced.

In the same statement,

The Secretary-General strongly urge[d] all sides to avoid any further escalation at this time[, noting] that all sides must meet all obligations under international humanitarian law, both towards civilians ahead of impending attacks, as well as maintaining proportionality in any kind of military response,

Revealing an undue equalization of the two sides of the conflict and failing to address the greater impact of violations committed by Israel,  which has killed at least 1,814 the vast majority of whom are civilians, during its operation in Gaza.

  1. Secretary-General,

When you make no distinction between oppressors and victims, in all your statements,

When you name Palestinian combatants as perpetrators of violations and war crimes while you ignore naming Israel, as you used to do in referring to specific actions,

When you avoid codifying Israeli actions amount to war crimes, while you insist on prescribing Palestinian reactions as grave breaches of IHL,

When you always advocate unlawfully the Israel right to self-defense, while having not pointed out the Palestinians legitimate and legal right to resist occupation, colonization and institutionalized discrimination,

When you adopt and advocate Israeli false stories, while not mentioning Palestinians’ narrative,

When you disregard facts on grounds clearly resulting from Israeli attacks, while you seek the immediate and unconditional release of a falsely captured soldier who was in the battle field,

You do not maintain peace and security; nor do you ensure human rights.

By reviewing yours statements, it becomes evident you have not been fulfilling your mandate. In contrary, your statements have not only allowed the continuance of Israel’s killing our people, but also, encouraged States to continue providing Israel with impunity. As you cannot say the truth,we advise you to either drastically change your positioning – not only in words, but also in your efforts to, through the UN, effectively end the current conflict – or to resign. For us, if you continue playing this role, you prove what our people feel, that you are a partner in, or at least an enabler of, the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israel against our, families, children, women, elders – against our people.

—————-
Signatures
—————-

Individuals:
 • Richard Falk Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
 • Luisa Morgantini Former Vice President of the European Parliament
 • Ahmad Muhaisen – President of The association for twining French cities and Palestinian refugee camps
 • Breyten Breytenbach Poet, writer, painter and activist
 • John Pilger is a journalist, film-maker and author

Palestinian and international human rights and civil society organizations:
 • BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights – Bethlehem
 • Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) – Biet Sahour
• The Alternative Information Centre (AIC) – Biet Sahour
• ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association – Ramallah
• Palestinian Non-Governmental Network (Umbrella for 133 organizations)
• Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions
• General Union of Palestine Workers
• General Union for Health Services Workers
• General Union for Public Services Workers
• General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers
• General Union for Agricultural Workers
• Union of Women’s Work Committees
• Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions National Committee (BNC). The Committee includes the following organizations: Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), Palestinian National Institute for NGOs, Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition, Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS), Federation of Independent Trade Unions, General Union of Palestinian Workers, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, General Union of Palestinian Women, Union of Palestinian Farmers, General Union of Palestinian Teachers, General Union of Palestinian Writers, Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), Union of Professional Associations, General Union of Palestinian Peasants, Union of Public Employees in Palestine-Civil Sector, Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW), National Committee for Grassroots Resistance, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba, Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, Coalition for Jerusalem, Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations, Palestinian Economic Monitor, Union of Youth Activity Centers-Palestine Refugee Camps, Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Initiative.
• The Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine (JAI) – Biet Sahour
• Baladna- association for Arab Youth – Haifa
• Hamleh – Arab center for media development – Haifa
• Al Zahra’ Society for Women Empowerment – Sakhnin
• Assiwar- The Feminist Arab Movement in Support of Victims of Sexual Assault – Haifa
• Association for the defense for the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel – Nazareth
• Alsebat association for heritage Preservation – Nazareth 
• The Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) – Beit Sahour
• Yabous Cultural Center – Jerusalem
• The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music – Jerusalem
• Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel
• Gaza BDS Working Group
• University Teachers’ Association in Palestine
• Medical Democratic Assembly
• Pal-Cinema (Palestine Cinema Forum)
• Youth Herak Movement
• Union of Women’s Struggle Committees
• Union of Synergies—Women Unit
• Union of Palestinian Women Committees
• Women’s Studies Society
• Working Woman’s Society
• One Democratic State Group
• Youth Against Israeli Settlements – Hebron
• Health Work Committees – Biet Sahour
• Land Research Center (LCR) – Hebron
• Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies – Ramallah
• Popular Struggling Coordination Committee (PSCC) – Ramallah
• Lajee Center, Aida Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• The EJ-YMCA Rehabilitation Program and the Beit Sahour YMCA – Beit Sahour
• Ibrahim Al Khalil Society – Hebron
• The Palestinian Prisoners Society – Bethlehem
• The Palestinian Center of Youth Action for Community Development (LAYLAC) – Dhiesheh Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• Palestinian Grassroots Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign (Stop the Wall) – Ramallah
• Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People – Biet Sahour
• Amaan Center for social health, Counseling and Development – Hebron
• Popular Committee for Refugees, Qalqeliah
• Popular Committee for Refugees, Salfit
• Social Youth Center, Aqbat Jaber Refugee Camp – Jericho
• Social Youth Center, Aida Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• Social Youth Center, Al Arroub Refugee Camp – Hebron
• Al Arroub Popular committee – Al Arroub Refugee Camp – Hebron
• Progressive Youth Union – Al Arroub Refugee Center – Hebron
• The Phoenix Center – Al Arroub Refugee Camp – Hebron
• Al Fawwar Social Center – Al Fawwar Refugee camp – Hebron
• Social Youth Center, Far’a Refugee Camp – Nablus
• Shu’fat Child Center – Shu’fat Refugees Camp – Jerusalem
• Shoruq Association, Dhiesheh Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• Al Awda Center for Youth and children Rehabilitation – Tulkarem
• Ansar Center, Al Walajeh – Bethlehem
• Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights “Hurryyat”
• The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee – Bethlehem
• Bethlehem Farmers Society – Bethlehem
• Ibda’a for the Development of Children Capacity, Dhiesheh Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• The popular committee – Dhiesheh Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• The women Centre – Dhiesheh Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• The popular committee – Al Azza Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• Al Phoenix Center – Dhiesheh Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
• Al Walaja Women Center – Al Walaja – – Bethlehem
• Not to Forget – Jenin Refugees Camp – Jenin
• Environmental Education Center – Beit Jala
• The National Charitable Society – Al Khader
• The Right of Return Committees in Bethlehem – Bethlehem
• Al Walaja Popular Committee – – Bethlehem
• Al Walaja Sports Club – Al Walaja – – Bethlehem
• Al Walaja Agriculture society – Al Walaja – – Bethlehem
• The Palestinian anti-Wall and Settlements committees – Ramallah
• MA’AN Development Center – Ramallah
• The Association of Palestinian prisoners and x-prisoners – Bethlehem
• Susya Popular Committee – Hebron
• Dair Abu Misha’al Popular committee – Ramallah
• Al Tawasul Forum Society – Gaza Strip
• The International Solidarity Movement.
• The Refugees Rights Center –‘Aidoon – Lebanon
• Association Najdeh – Lebanon
• Ajyal Association – Lebanon
• The Refugees Rights Center –‘Aidoon – Syria
• Union of Arab Jurists – Jordan
• The National Institution of Social Care & Vocational Training – Jordan
• Australians for Palestine – Australia
• Women for Palestine – Australia
• Collective urgence Palestine – Switzerland
• Palestina Rossa – Italy
• Fronte Palestina – Italy
• The Association of Humanitarian Lawyers
• International Educational Development, Inc
• International Lawyers – Switzerland
• Tamkeen-Arab group – Switzerland
• The BDS campaign in France – France
• The association for twining French cities and Palestinian refugees camp – France
• The International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD)
• International society for Human Rights
• Czech Friends of Palestine
• Initiative for a just peace in the Middle East – Czech Republic
• Nord-Sud XXI
• International Association Against Torture
• The Palestine Solidarity Allegiance South Africa
• Palestine Legal Action Network
• Russell Tribunal on Palestine
• Campaign BDS France,
• 14 Friends of Palestine (Marin, CA)
• Canada Palestine Association
• Voice of Palestine
• People for Peace, London, CA
• United States Palestinian Community Network
• Labor for Palestine NY
• Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network
• US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
• Palestine Human Rights Campaign Auckland
• Al-Awda NY
• Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
• Jews Against genocide
• Palestine Solidarity Alliance, South Africa
• Assopace
• Boycott! Boycott From Within
• Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign – Vancouver
• BDS Switzerland

 

Palestinian Refugees and IDPs: Background

Ongoing Nakba Education Center

Mobilization and Intervention

 

 

© 2010 BADIL. All rights reserved. 
Developed by hawsib. Hosted at myvhosting.

 

 

UN Alliance of Civilizations, Istanbul Partners Forum, May 31-June 1, 2012

5 Jun


           

               

 

 

 

 

                   The UN Alliance of Civilization (AOC) was initiated by Kofi Annan in 2005 while he was Secretary General of the UN with the joint sponsorship of Turkey and Spain, with its principal center of operations in Istanbul. It was formed under the dark skies that existed after the 9/11 attacks, and seeks to provide an alternative narrative to that of inter-civilizational war, that starkly negative scenario of Islam versus the West associated with the inflammatory views of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington that continues to provide fuel for Islamophobia that burns ever more brightly in Europe and North America. It was several years since I had heard as many references to Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis as I did during the discussions and presentations at the Istanbul Forum, which was opened by speeches made by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, and Ban Ki Moon, the current UN Secretary General.

 

            The primary rationale for the AOC is to provide a ‘platform’ for inter-civilizational dialogue that explores differences among civilizations, but seeks to promote mutual undertstanding and respect, even affection and celebration. The label platform has become recently popular in international circles to convey the sense of a venue that has minimal restrictions as to participation, agenda, and ideological presuppositions. It is open to all perspectives that accept some presumed core values, and tempers disagreements by insisting upon an atmosphere of civility, and by generally avoiding controversial topics of current events. In this regard both Erdogan and Ban Ki Moon affirmed the broad idealistic goals of the AOC, but also made explicit in strong language their condemnation of the Syrian government for its role in recent atrocities committed against civilian communities, with especial reference to the shocking impact of the Houla Massacre that had occurred several days prior to these meetings.

 

            In Turkey the AOC is taken seriously as a new dimension of continuing thought and reflection as is evident both by the establishment of a dedicated academic program at Bahçeshir University and a separate degree granting graduate institute within a new field of academic specialization identified as ‘alliance of civilizations.’ Its first cohort of students played an active part in the discussion periods during the Forum. The AOC is under the administrative leadership of Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal, whose title is UN High Representative for Alliance of Civilizations. It holds periodic meetings on various themes in different parts of the world. I took part in the opening session of the Forum on a panel that included the philosophical founding father of the AOC, Professor Mehmet Aydin, former Minister of State, Rashi Gannushi, the head of the an-Nahda Movement that has emerged victorious in Tunishian elections, and Princess Rym Ali of Jordan, the founder of the Jordan Media Institute. The panel was supposed to address the relevance of global politics, and relied on a Q & A format presided over by the widely admired TV moderator for Al Jazeera, Riz Khan. The session was lively, avoiding the often tedious presentation of a sequence of papers, and led to thoughtful questions posed by members of a disparate audience that included the various constituencies that are brought together by the AOC: governments, international institutions, NGOs, students, and representatives of civil society. Due to the format that I had not known in advance, I had prepared some remarks that were never presented at the session, but I did have the opportunity to make some of these points in responding to questions put to me either by Riz Khan or members of the audience.

 

            It is a fair question to wonder whether sponsoring such events is worth the expense and effort. Skeptics say there is already too much ‘empty talk.’ My tentative response is affirmative. I find that the quality of such global conversations and associated secondary influences to be an essential dimension of a significant 21st century learning experience, not only or even primarily as a result of what speakers from such varied backgrounds have to say, but for the wider audience in attendance and those reached and influenced through media coverage. It is a step in the direction of creating what I described during the discussion period as an emergent ‘cosmopolitan pedagogy’ that is sensitive to divergent cultural styles and understandings. At its best such pedagogy supplements knowledge with wisdom, rationality with ethics and spirituality, and couples concerns about economic development with attentiveness to injustices and environmental hazards. It is through sustaining a creative tension between the particular and the general, the diverse and the universal, as well as between the controversial and the agreed upon that a cosmopolitan pedagogy responsive to the complexities, fragilities, and interactive dynamics of the early 21st century will come gradually into being. I found the discussions at the Istanbul Forum to be valuable contributions to a process of reconstituting cultural cognition for this moment in history.

 

My prepared remarks are published here online for the first time, and were formulated before I had the benefit of the discussions at the Forum, and I hope are of some slight interest:

 

            “I am grateful for this opportunity to participate in this Istanbul Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations.

 

            “As several others have undoubtedly already had occasion to mention the mission of the Alliance as one of promoting understanding among civilizations by way of an open dialogue that stresses differences, I wish to emphasize the commonalities associated with this undertaking. More than ever before in human history there is the need for peoples throughout the world to find leaders who will facilitate cooperation supportive of the shared needs of the planet. The world is faced with a series of problems of global scope that cannot be successfully addressed by governments acting alone or even by coming to agreements about cooperative arrangements based on their mutual national interests. As the failure to act responsibly from a global perspective in relation to nuclear weaponry or climate change illustrates, the peoples of the world remain beholden to the severe limitations of state-centric world order in seeking to shape a global policy that serves the human interest, which is long-term survival and an equitable distributions of burdens.  The risks associated with the possession and deployment of nuclear weaponry and those caused by the inability to fashion a timely response to climate change depend on global policy formed to benefit the whole of humanity, now and in the future, and not just the parts as represented by the governments of sovereign states. Even a global state such as the United States acts selfishly whenever confronted by challenges that threaten its military dominance, diplomatic prestige, and its economic growth

 

            What is particularly appealing about the AOC orientation is the replacement of states by civilizations as the primary units of analysis when thinking about world politics. Such a perspective frees us from the narrowness, egoism, and shortsightedness of nationalist thinking and tribal identities. It also underscores the crucial potential roles of religion and culture in developing an approach to global challenges on the basis of shared and universally endorsed values that draw their inspiration from the East as well as the West. Central to this endeavor is the focus so well expressed by Jacques Derrida on what it might mean for humanity “to live together well” on this planet, a deceptively simple observation that makes a double assertion with profound implications: however we choose as a species to behave, we are destined to live together, which is the inescapable message of globalization, but the more demanding second part of the assertion is the implied encouragement to live together benevolently, that is, in peace, justice, and contentment as attainable ideals. Unfortunately, except as abstractions, we remain mostly in the dark as to how, as a practical matter it could become possible to live, if not well, at least better together: working to achieve real peace, real justice, and real harmony, which presupposes, above all sympathy for and hospitality toward ‘the other’ in all the shapes and forms that human experience presents, and especially, with respect to those others that suffer and are being victimized in various ways by existing societal arrangements. Actually, we have some sense of what such a better world would look like, but we do not have much understanding of how to make the transition from where we are to where we would like to be, and maybe the unstated purpose of the AOC is to bring discussions of such a transition into the domain of public reason, and thus less subject to dismissal as ‘utopian’ wishful thinking. In passing I would note that utopian thought in this period of planetary emergency deserves also to be taken seriously and may provide the world with an emancipatory potential.

 

            The task set for this panel is to emphasize the relevance of global politics to the work of AOC. This is a difficult and speculative task although it is probably better undertaken here in Istanbul than anywhere else in the world. The Turkish political leadership over the course of the last decade has been impressively sensitive to the originality of this young century, and its relevance for the conduct of diplomacy and foreign policy. The essence of this sensitivity has been to give substantive implementation to an awareness that the state is a part of more inclusive configurations of influence and belief—region, civilization, religion—and not on its own.  That without a world government the state remains the most influential representative of the whole—species, world. In effect, the pursuit of national interests, detached from an appreciation of such wider interests as global interests, civilizational identity, and the human interest is not only a betrayal of core values but increasingly dysfunctional for the ends served by the state itself. In the end, this is a fundamental adjustment that calls for vision, ethics, and a practical understanding of how problems can be best solved in a manner that is also mindful of future generations. Fitting together the parts with the whole has always been a challenge to the political and moral imagination of statesmen, but the bearing of problems of global scope and the need for longer time horizons puts a premium on developing responsive modes of thought, policy, and action. It is in this respect that Turkey’s foreign policy based on principled pragmatism has seemed to be a breakthrough in an era where hard power diplomacy has so often failed and the urgencies generated by interdependence tend to be downplayed even as they are acknowledged.

 

            Against this background I think we need as soon as possible to make a conceptual leap of faith. For several centuries world order has been shaped by a preoccupation with borders and walls, along with the related idea of territorial sovereignty. Political community has been established within defended borders, and what is not bounded effectively is open for occupation or shared use. Of course, the colonial period gave a Eurocentric twist to this more general idea, but since the collapse of colonialism this state-centric manner of distributing authority and establishing order has been accepted throughout the world. It is expressed in international law by the ideas of equality among sovereign states, by sovereign authority within the state and freedom beyond its borders as exercised in such global commons as the oceans and space. It is from this perspective that we speak of ‘the freedom of the high seas.’ The United Nations was organized on the basis of the legitimacy of this state-centric imagery, and its Charter reflects this orientation toward world order, although privileging some states in the procedures of the Security Council.

 

            Identity for persons and peoples followed from this basic spatially conceived mapping of the world, giving rise to nationalism and patriotism.  Nationalist ideology and citizenship became in the modern world the exclusive means for individuals and groups to be accorded protection and membership in a state, making statelessness an acute form of vulnerability, an existence without rights. Of course, this conceptual mapping was a crude approximation of reality that overlooked many features of the manner in which this system operated: citizens were frequently helplessly vulnerable to the violence and abuse by their own state; minorities were targets of discrimination; hegemonic and imperial geopolitics encroached upon the territorial sovereignty of weaker states.

 

            Two fundamental developments altered the descriptive accuracy and ethical acceptability of this image of world order. First, the destructiveness of World War II highlighted by the use of atomic bombs against Japanese cities undermined the idea that war could be rationally reconciled with sovereign control over the technologies of warmaking. Secondly, the rise of human rights in the aftermath of the disclosure of the Holocaust challenged the normative idea that states were unrestricted( that is, sovereign) in their internal behavior except as restrained by the rule of law and institutions of constitutional governance. Expressed more vividly we can say that Hiroshima and Auschwitz gave rise to a new concern with limits to complement the earlier focus on borders. This shift has now acquired an ecological dimension through the fears associated with climate change, and the failures to regulate sufficiently the discharge of greenhouse gasses. What has become evident in each of these domains is that problem-solving capabilities of a world of borders cannot address adequately the issues posed by a world of limits, whether these limits refer to political violence, sovereign authority, and the regulation of the global commons, including the world economy.

 

            In other words, the degree to which states, and their perspectives, continue to dominate the formation of global policy has become increasingly anachronistic. It is epitomized by the construction of walls and barriers to keep unwanted people in or out, even sea walls are being proposed and some actually constructed to overcome rising sea levels associated with global warming and the prospect of maritime migrants fleeing from places that are uninhabitable due to heat or flooding. Some states are indulging the illusion that they can escape the downsides of interdependence by establishing for their citizenry the kind of security established by affluent ‘gated communities.’ Similarly, the response of the United States to the 9/11 attacks was to territorialize its quest for restored global primacy by attacking Afghanistan, and then Iraq, in what should have been understood to be an essentially non-territorial conflict of global scope that gave rise to transnational policing and information gathering, but also to self-scrutiny as to whether such extremism, while adopting criminal tactics, might not have been prompted by legitimate grievances.  Such war making after 9/11 was the source of major confusions as a result of the deliberate intertwining of a worldwide counterterrorism campaign with the pursuit of global state-building, the global domination project of the American foreign policy establishment.

 

            In these contexts, and others, we are living in a world of limits but continue to act as if we can address its challenges by acting as if the world of borders remains sufficient. Of course, in many respects our lives and destinies continue to be controlled by these spatial allocations of authority, but the state is stymied when it comes to solving the most basic challenges of the day, whether it be grasping the impacts of drone technology and cyberwar or handling the transnational ramifications of excessive sovereign debt. Issues of scarcity relative to food, water, and energy are also emerging to pose questions about the future viability of our collective lives on the planet, and the need to think now and urgently about how to address limits in a manner that respects the dignity of persons and peoples, and also adopts a precautionary approach to sustainability and survival risks. The preoccupation with borders in what is becoming daily a more borderless world will give rise to waves of despair as problems that could be solved if limits were agreed upon and institutionalized continue to be ignored, or at best, marginalized in the search for the right solutions for global problems.

 

            In conclusion, we can discern the relevance of the AOC theme of civilizational discourse. Only by enlisting the wisdom, core values, and visions of civilizations, including with special appreciation those associated with indigenous peoples, have we any hope of making the necessary transition from borders to limits in our consciousness and governmental logic. It is within the world’s cultures and religions that the sense of limits is inscribed in the deepest recesses of memory and pedagogy, establishing the imperative that human endeavor is doomed unless respectful of limits, either as generated by divine authority or through the enveloping power of nature. Human tragedy, as ancient peoples well understood, is to ignore or live beyond such limits. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris, which conveyed a deep awareness that tragedy befell those who exceeded limits, however powerful and autonomous they might seem.

 

            To learn from others is particularly crucial for the West, which has not heeded these cultural warnings, and especially the United States, that continues to project its military power and neoliberal dogma on a global scale. It means heeding this message of limits whether articulated by native peoples or by the sages of the East. I close with some words uttered long ago by Rabindranath Tagore in his 1913 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech: “It is the East in me which gave to the West. For is not the East the mother of spiritual Humanity and does not the West, do not the children of the West amidst their games and plays when they get hurt, when they get finished and tired, turn their face to the serene mother, the East? Do they not expect their food to come from her, and their rest for the night when they are tired? And are they to be disappointed?” This early utterance of such inspirational sentiments was far too generous to the colonizing East and too hopeful about prospects for inter-civilizational harmony, but at the same time prophetic in reminding the children of the Enlightenment in the West that the spiritual accomplishments of the East should not be overlooked. Of course, spirituality is embedded in all civilizations, and it is more a matter of recovering those suppressed spiritualities of the West that succumbed to a spell of secular absolutism while crafting the modern world by means of its technological prowess that proved so useful in war and economic development.

A Shameless Secretary General versus Freedom Flotilla 2

2 Jun


             It is expected that at the end of June, Freedom Flotilla 2 will set sail for Gaza carrying various forms of humanitarian aid, including medical, educaional, and construction materials. This second flotilla will consist of 15 ships, including the Mavi Marmara sailing from Istanbul, but also vessels departing from several European countries, and carrying as many as 1500 humanitarian activists as passengers. If these plans are carried out, as seems likely, it means that the second flotilla will be about double the size of the first that was so violently and unlawfully intercepted by Israeli commandos in international waters on May 31, 2010, resulting in nine deaths on the Turkish lead ship.

 

            Since that shocking incident of a year ago the Arab Spring is transforming the regional atmosphere, but it has not ended the blockade of Gaza, or the suffering inflicted on the Gazan population over the four-year period of coerced confinement. Such imprisonment of an occupied people has been punctuated by periodic violence, including the sustained all out Israeli attack for three weeks at the end of 2008 during which even women, children, and the disabled were not allowed to leave the deadly killing fields of Gaza. It is an extraordinary narrative of Israeli cruelty and deafening international silence, a silence broken only by the brave civil society initiatives in recent years that brought both invaluable symbolic relief in the form of empathy and human solidarity, as well as token amounts of substantive assistance in the form of much needed food and medicine. It is true that the new Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing a few days ago (but not fully or unconditionally), allowing several hundred Gazans to leave or return to Gaza on a daily basis. At best, this opening even if sustained provides only partial relief. Rafah is not currently equipped to handle goods, and is available only to people and so the blockade of imports and exports continues in force, and may even be intensified as Israel vents its anger over the Fatah/Hamas unity agreement.

 

            As the Greek coordinator of Freedom Flotilla 2, Vangelis Pisias, has expressed the motivation of this new effort to break the blockade: “We will not allow Israel to set up open prisons and concentration camps.”  Connecting  this Gazan ordeal to the wider regional struggles,” Pisias added, “Palestine is in our heart and could be the symbol of a new era in the region.” Such sentiments reinforce the renewal of Palestinian militancy as exhibited in the recent Nabka and Naksa demonstrations.

 

            A highly credible assessment of the Israeli 2010 attack on Freedom Flotilla 1 by a fact finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that the Israelis had violated international law in several respects: by using excessive force, by wrongfully attacking humanitarian vessels in international waters, and by an unacceptable claim to be enforcing a blockade that was itself unlawful. Such views have been widely endorsed by a variety of respected sources throughout the international community, although the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to evaluate the same incident has not yet made public its report, and apparently its conclusions will be unacceptably muted by the need to accommodate its Israeli member.

 

            In light of these surrounding circumstances, including the failure of Israel to live up to its announced promise after the attack in 2010 to lift the blockade, it shocks our moral and legal sensibilities that the UN Secretary General should be using the authority of his office to urge member governments to prevent ships from joining Freedom Flotilla 2. Ban Ki-moon shamelessly does not even balance such a call, purportedly to avoid the recurrence of violence, by at least sending an equivalent message to Israel insisting that the blockade end and demanding that no force be used by Israel in response to humanitarian initiatives of the sort being planned. Instead of protecting those who would act on behalf of unlawful Palestinian victimization, the UN Secretary General disgraces the office, by taking a one-sided stand in support of one of the most flagrant and long lasting instances of injustice that has been allowed to persist in the world. True, his spokesperson tries to soften the impact of such a message by vacuously stating that “the situation in the Gaza Strip must be changed, and Israel must conduct real measures to end the siege.” We must ask why were these thoughts not expressed by the Secretary General himself and directly to Israel? Public relations is part of his job, but it is not a cover for crassly taking the wrong side in the controversy over whether or not Freedom Flotilla 2 is a legitimate humanitarian initiative courageously undertaken by civil society without the slightest credible threat to Israeli security and in the face of Israeli warnings of dire consequences.

 

            Appropriately, and not unexpectedly, the Turkish Government refuses to bow to such abusive pressures even when backed by the UN at its highest level. Ahmet Davutoglu, the widely respected Turkish Foreign Minister, has said repeatedly in recent weeks when asked about Freedom Flotilla 2, that no democratic government should ever claim the authority to exercise control over the peaceful initiatives of civil society, as represented by NGOs. Davutoglu has been quoted as saying “[N]obody should expect from Turkey…to forget that nine civilians were killed last year..Therefore we are sending a clear message to all those concerned. The same tragedy should not be repeated again.” Underscoring the unresolved essential issue he asked rhetorically, “[D]o we think that one member state is beyond international law?” Noting that Israel has still not offered an apology to Turkey or compensation to the families of those killed, Davutoglu makes clear that until such reasonable preconditions for diplomatic normalization are met, Israel should not be accepted “to be a partner in the region.”

 

             In the background of this sordid effort to interfere with Freedom Flotilla 2 is the geopolitical muscle of the United States that blindly (and dumbly) backs Israel no matter how outrageous or criminal its behavior. And undoubtedly, this geopolitical pressure helps explain this attempted interference by the UN with a brave and needed humanitarian initiative that deserves to be strongly supported by the UN rather than condemned. Despite the near universal verbal objections of world leaders, including even Ban Ki-moon, to the Israeli blockade, no meaningful action has been yet taken by either governments or the UN. Israel’s undisguised defiance of the requirements of belligerent occupation of Gaza as set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the First Additional Protocol appended thereto in 1977, is an unacknowledged scandal of gigantic proportions.

 

            Liberating Palestine from oppressive occupation and refugee regimes should become a unifying priority for peoples and leaders during this second stage of the Arab Spring. Nothing could do more to manifest the external as well as the internal turn to democracy, constitutional governance, and human rights than displays of solidarity by new and newly reformist governments in Arab countries with this unendurably long Palestinian struggle for justice and sustainable peace. It would also offer the world a contrast with the subservience to Israel recently on display in Washington, highlighted by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address an adoring U.S. Congress, a rarity in the country’s treatment of foreign leaders. Its impact was heightened by the pandering speech given by President Obama to AIPAC, the notorious Israeli lobbying organization, at about the same time. It is unprecedented in the history of diplomacy that a leading sovereign state would so jeopardize its own global reputation and sacrifice its values to avoid offending a small allied partner. It is in the American interest, as well as in the interest of the peoples of the Arab world, particularly the Palestinians, to end the conflict.

 

             The United States Government has long discredited itself as an intermediary in the conflict. Its partisanship, driven mainly by domestic politics, represents a costly sacrifice of its own interests, but is also objectionable as lending support to intolerable Israeli policies of apartheid occupation and colonialist expansionism. It is time to shift the locus of diplomatic responsibility for resolving the conflict from Washington to the far more geopolitically trustworthy auspices of Brazil, Turkey, Nordic countries, even possibly Russia or China, and to encourage a more active regional role. If the encouraging recent Fatah/Hamas unity arrangements hold up and move forward, Palestinian representation will be regarded as increasingly credible, and hopefully will actively incorporate elements of the refugee communities in the bordering countries into their diplomacy. It is time for the world to realize, and the Palestinians to highlight, that the conflict is not just about territory (‘land for peace’), or even to ensure an adequate Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, it is most fundamentally about people. Insisting on respect for the moral, legal, and political rights of Palestinian refugees is the litmus test of a people-centered approach to the conflict, and our concern for the future of these long entrapped refugees should not be allowed to drift off into peripheral space, as has happened in the past.