Tag Archives: UN

Wider Consequences of U.S. Withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council

7 Jul

Interview with Daniel Falcone, June 21, 2018, initially published in TruthOut, July 3, 2018

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Questions on U.S. Withdrawal from UNHRC

 

  1. What are your thoughts on the US pulling out of the UNHRC and how are Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley’s disparaging and overly defensive claims different from what is taking place in the background? They’ve remarked how the UNHRC is “hypocritical and self-serving” and remarked of its “chronic anti-Israel bias.” What is it about the UNHRC that compels the US to disengage?

 

I think the superficial response to this latest de-internationalizing move is the tendency of the Trump Administration to align its policies in conformity with Israeli priorities and preferences, which have long focused on the Human Rights Council (HRC) as a venue hostile to their policies and practices. HRC is the most important actor in the UN System in which geopolitical pressures can be largely neutralized, partly because there is no veto, and partly because it is representative of the frustrations that the world as a whole has felt for decades in response to the dual Israel posture of defying international law while constantly expanding their grip on what was internationally widely understood after the 1967 War as territory set aside for a Palestinian sovereign state. This interactive process has gone on so long as to seem irreversible at this point, making the two-state solution reflective of the international consensus no longer a realistic option, which appears to leave open the path to an Israeli one-state solution that corresponds with the maximal Zionist vision of establishing a Jewish state with sovereignty over the whole of Palestine, which from the Zionist perspective is ‘the promised land’ of Jews by virtue of a biblical entitlement. Such a rationalization completely ignores the normative primacy in the 21stcentury of the right of self-determination to be exercised by the majority resident population and its legitimate representatives. This circumstances helps explain both Palestinian resistance and Israeli reliance on an apartheid matrix of control to shatter opposition to its goals.

 

Rather than an anti-Israeli bias, the UN as a whole, and the HRC in particular, have done too little rather than too much with respect to expressing disapproval of Israel’s policies and practices in Palestine. It should be recalled that after the British gave up their Mandatory status as administrator of Palestine after World War II, the UN was tasked with finding a solution to the tensions between the majority Palestinian population and the Jewish minority (of about 30% in 1947). It came up with a partition plan embodied in General Assembly Resolution 181, which when rejected by the Palestinians produced the Partition War resulting in the removal, mostly by force, of about 750,000 Palestinians from the area set aside for a Jewish state, and the prolonged occupation of 22% of the territory that remained of the Palestine Mandated territory, governed by Jordan until 1967, and subsequently militarily administered by Israel. In other words, the UN has failed to produce a sustainable solution that protects minimal Palestinian rights, much less its fundamental right of self-determination, and has been unable to curb Israeli behavior to conform to the constraints of international humanitarian law. It should be understood that the UN has no comparable unfulfilled responsibility with respect to any other territory in the world, and its attention to Israeli defiance is more of an expression of institutional frustration and futility than it meant to mount a serious challenge to Israeli behavior, including its flagrant violations of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. To the extent Israel is challenged it comes from Palestinian resistance initiatives, as witnessed recently in the lengthy demonstrations and killings associated with the Great Return March, and secondarily, from the intensifying global solidarity movement highlighted by the growing success of the BDS Campaign. It is this success that is much more threatening to Israel than anything that happens at the UN, and helps explain their frantic effort to criminalize and penalize those that are active BDS supporters.

 

 

  1. How can you describe the current reputation of the United States in world affairs? There was talk of the US pulling out preemptively as to avoid a embarrassing condemnation from the UN for the US/Israel treatment of Gaza.

 

The U.S. by design and incompetence has pushed itself increasingly into a sterile ‘America, First’ corner that has increased tensions in several regions of the world, loosened long-term alliance relations, weakened multilateral lawmaking, and raised risks of nuclear and regional warfare. Instead of seeking to overcome the turmoil that is causing massive suffering in the Middle East, the United States has lent material and diplomatic support to genocidal war making directed at Yemen and joined with Israel and Saudi Arabia in pushing toward a regime-changing intervention in Iran with dire potential consequences both for the Iranian people and the region, and possibly the world. The Trump repudiation of the 2015 nuclear agreement reached with Iran and the Paris climate change agreement is to retreat from positive internationalismand its global leadership role exercised since 1945, as well as to disrupt the institutional and treaty frameworks facilitating global trade and investment. This combination of warmongering militarism and exclusionary nationalism is generating a new American foreign policy that might be identified as illiberal internationalism, or maybe more graphically as negative internationalism. It is not only causing dangerous forms of confrontation, it is also acting as a catastrophic distraction from urgent problem-solving imperatives of this period of world history, especially, meeting the challenges of climate change, biodiversity, nuclearism, migration, and extreme poverty.

 

 

  1. Real Clear Politics asserted that, “the international community stokes Gazans’ ruinous belief that Israel belongs to them and fuels their delusive dream of return. On May 18, for example, the U.N. Human Rights Council again improperly intervened in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of Hamas.” This outlet is called “ideologically diverse.” How crucial is Israel’s role in the US pullout?

 

It is difficult to assess the motivational calculus that prompted the U.S. withdrawal from the HRC. It seems over-determined, especially consistent with this pattern during the Trump presidency of withdrawing from otherpositive internationalistarrangements mentioned earlier. Surely, Israeli hostility to the HRC, which I experienced personally while serving as HRC Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine, is a factor, but to what extent, is impossible to say. In some respects, the HRC withdrawal seems parallel to the provocative move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem. In effect, we think we are punishing the world by our refusal to participate in these international arrangements, but in reality we are harming ourselves.

 

 

4.Describe the structure of US geopolitics at the moment and how are allies reacting to this unclear and confusing period? Also, do you see any good press coverage?

 

I think the Trump pattern is so erratic and dangerously destabilizing that it impairs our capacity to acknowledge positive initiatives even if narcissistically or defensively motivated. I find the liberal Democratic criticism of the Korean nuclear accommodation as the prime example, but another is the indistinct effort to normalize relations with Russia, avoiding a second Cold War. As suggested, Trump may be seeking glory for the Korean diplomacy and his fears of Moscow disclosures about his finances might drive his approach to Putin and Russia, but even such dubious and dark motives should not color our judgment of the policy? The mainstream media seems so polarized with respect to the Trump presidency, and thus tends mindlessly to condemn or applaud, with little by way of effort to disentangle the policy from the person.

 

Trump’s crude pushback against European allies has generated confusion. On the one side, there is a European sense that the time has come to cut free from the epoch of Cold War dependence on Washington, and forge security and economic policy more independently in accord with the social democratic spirit of ‘Europe, First.’ At the same time, there is a reluctance to risk breaking up a familiar framework that has brought Europe a long period of relative stability and mostly healthy economic development to Europe. Such considerations create a mood of ambivalence and uncertainty, perhaps thinking that Trump is a temporary aberration from reestablishing a more durable framework versus the idea that Trumpism has given Europe and the separate states an opportunity to achieve a political future more in accord with the values and interests of the region and its member states than its longtime deference to the shifting moods and priorities of Washington. Also, Europe is now facing its own rising forms of right-wing populism, chauvinistic nationalism, and a resulting crisis of confidence in the viability of the European Union under pressures from the refugee influx and the unevenness of economic conditions in northern Europe as distinct from Mediterranean Europe.

 

Finally, the Asian context is different. Trump has sought to focus on revising the economic relationship with China in ways that supposedly help American business and consumers. In this pursuit, it would be helpful to stabilize the Korean peninsula and keep firm the relationship with Japan. So far, this pattern seems to describe the present approach, but given the clumsy impulsiveness of Trump when it comes to abrupt shifts in policy it is hazardous to make predictions as to the future course of American behavior in the Asian context. Maybe, just maybe, the absence of the Israeli dimension, may give Asian policy more flavor of coherence and rationality, yet such a possibility still involves a radical repudiation of the earlier promotion of neoliberal globalization and international liberalism, and a return to mercantilist approaches to economic nationalism.

 

 

  1. Is there a strategy to this exit because of the Republican Party base in your view? How much of this, like Iran perhaps is for electoral politics?

 

Earlier in the Trump presidency seemed the Republican Party seemed divided, and there was more tension between the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress than recently. Especially after the passage of the pro-rich, pro-business tax bill in 2107, the Trump hold on the Republican Party strengthened to the point that an astonishing 89% of Republicans, according to recent polls, now approve of his presidential leadership. This is profoundly worrisome, and at the same time, revealing that any serious Republican departure from the Trump approach to major political issues will be viewed as virtual political suicide by career-minded Republicans.

 

As for Trump himself, his motivations are hard to assess as he proceeds by intuition, demagogic self-confidence, and unparalleled narcissism, which means no accountability, no truthfulness, and no coherence. Intellectuals tend, as they did with Reagan, to underestimate Trump’s capacity to connect with the raw feelings of ‘ordinary’ Americans, especially those feeling left out. This Trump appeal becomes formidable when bolstered by right-wing financial and ideological support.

 

I feel it is not too alarmist or misleading to talk of the present era of American political life as ‘pre-fascist,’ posing the formidable challenge of reversing the political current in the country as rapidly as possible to avoid any transition from pre-fascism to fascism (in some distinctly American form that refuses the language of fascism while implementing its worldview).

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22 Jun

The U.S. Withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council

 

Explicitly focusing on alleged anti-Israel bias the U.S. withdrew from further participation in the UN Human Rights Council. The only internationally credible basis for criticizing the HRC is its regrettable tendency to put some countries with the worst human rights records in leading roles, creating genuine issues of credibility and hypocrisy. Of course, such a criticism would never be made by the U.S. as it could only embarrass Washington to admit that many of its closest allies in the Middle East, and elsewhere have lamentable human rights records, and, if fairly judged, the U.S. has itself reversed roles since the year 2000, itself slipping into the category of the most serious human rights offenders. In this regard, its ‘withdrawal’ can be viewed as a self-imposed ‘suspension’ for falling short when it comes to the promotion and protection of human rights.

 

Undoubtedly, the U.S. was frustrated by its efforts to ‘reform’ the HRC according to its views  of the UN agency should function, and blamed its traditional adversaries, Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, along with Egypt, with blocking its initiative. It also must not have welcome the HRC High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, for describing the separation of children from their immigrant parents at the Mexican border as an ‘unconsciounable’ policy.

 

In evaluating this latest sign of American retreat from its prior role as global leader, there are several considerations that help us understand such a move that situates the United States in the same strange rejectionist corner it now shares with North Korea and Eritrea:

 

            –the fact that the U.S. withdrawal from the HRC occurred immediately after the Israeli border massacre, insulated from Security Council censure and investigation by a U.S. veto, is certainly part of political foreground. This consideration was undoubtedly reinforced by the HRC approval of a fact-finding investigation of Israel’s behavior over prior weeks in responding to the Great Return March border demonstrations met with widespread lethal sniper violence;

 

            –in evaluating the UN connection to Palestine it needs to be recalled that the organized international community has a distinctive responsibility for Palestine that can be traced all the way back to the peace diplomacy after World War I when Britain was given the role of Mandatory, which according to the League of Nations Covenant should be carried out as a ‘sacred trust of civilization.’ This special relationship was extended and deepened when Britain gave up this role after World War II, transferring responsibility for the future of Palestine to the UN. This newly established world organization was given the task of finding a sustainable solution in the face of sharply contested claims between the majority Palestinian population and the Jewish, mainly settler population.

 

This UN role was started beneath and deeply influenced by the long shadow of grief and guilt cast by the Holocaust. The UN, borrowing from the British colonial playbook, proposed a division of Palestine between Jewish and Palestinian political communities, which eventuated in the UN partition plan contained in General Assembly Resolution 181. This plan was developed and adopted without the participation of the majority resident population, 70% non-Jewish at the time, and was opposed by the independent countries in the Arab world. Such a plan seemed oblivious to the evolving anti-colonial mood of the time, failing to take any account of the guiding normative principle of self-determination. The Partition War that followed in 1947 did produce a de factor partition of Palestine more favorable to the Zionist Project than what was proposed, and rejected, in 181. One feature of the original plan was to internationalize the governance of the city of Jerusalem with both peoples given an equal status.

 

This proposed treatment of Jerusalem was never endorsed by Israel, and was formally, if indirectly, repudiated after the 1967 War when Israel declared (in violation of international law) that Jerusalem was the eternal capital of the Jewish people never to be divided or internationalized, and Israel has so administered Jerusalem with this intent operationalized in defiance of the UN. What this sketch of the UN connection with Palestine clearly shows is that from the very beginning of Israeli state-building, the role of the international community was direct and the discharge of its responsibilities was not satisfactory in that it proved incapable of protecting Palestinian moral, legal, and political rights. As a result, the majority of Palestinian people have been effectively excluded from their own country and as a people exist in a fragmented ethnic reality. This series of events constitutes one of the worst geopolitical crimes of the past century. Rather than do too much by way of criticizing the behavior of Israel, the UN has done far too little, not because of a failure of will, but as an expression of the behavioral primacy of geopolitics and naked militarism;

 

            –the revealing stress of Ambassador Haley’s explanation of the U.S. withdrawal from the HRC gives almost total attention to quantitative factors such as the ‘disproportionate’ number of resolutions compared with those given to other human rights offenders, making no attempt whatsoever to refute the substantiveallegations of Israeli wrongdoing. This is not surprising as any attempt to justify Israeli policies and practices toward the Palestinian people would only expose the severity of Israel’s criminality and the acuteness of Palestinian victimization. The U.S. has also long struggled to be rid of so-called Item 7 of the Human Rights Council devoted to human rights violations of Israel associated with the occupation of Palestinian territories, which overlooks the prior main point that the UN is derelict in its failure to produce a just peace for the peoples inhabiting Mandate Palestine.

 

            –withdrawing from international institutional arrangements, especially those positively associated with peace, human rights, and environmental protection has become the hallmark of what be identified as the negative internationalismof the Trump presidency. The most egregious instances, prior to this move with regard to the HRC, involved the repudiation of the Nuclear Program Agreement with Iran (also known as the JCPOA or P5 +1 Agreement) and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Unlike these other instances of negative internationalism this departure from the HRC is likely to hurt the U.S. more than the HRC, reinforcing its myopic willingness to do whatever it takes to please Netanyahu and the lead American Zionist donor to the Trump campaign, Sheldon Adelson. Only the provocative announcement of the planned unilateral move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem last December was as explicitly responsive to Israel’s policy agenda as is this rejection of the HRC, both initiatives stand out as being contrary to a fair rendering of American national interests, and hence a show of deference to Israel’s preferences. Despite this unabashed one-sidedness the Trump presidency still puts itself forward as a peacemaker, and promised to produce ‘the deal of the century’ at the proper moment, even enjoying the backing of Saudi Arabia, which seems to be telling the Palestinians to take what is offered or shut up forever. Knowing the weakness and shallow ambitions of the Palestinian Authority, there is no telling what further catastrophe, this one of a diplomatic character, may further darken the Palestinian future. A diplomatic nakbamight be the worst disaster of all for the Palestinian people and their century-long struggle for elemental rights.

 

 It should also be observed that the U.S. human rights record has been in steady decline, whether the focus is placed on the morally catastrophic present policies of separating families at the Mexican border or on the failure to achieve acceptable progress at home in the area of economic and social rights despite American affluence (as documented in the recent report of Philip Alston, UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty) or in the various violations of human rights committed in the course of the War on Terror, including operation of black sites in foreign countries to carry on torture of terror suspects, or denials of the tenets of international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions) in the administration of Guantanamo and other prison facilities;

 

            –it is also worth noting that Israel’s defiance of internatonal law and international institutions is pervasive, flagrant, and directly related to maintaining an oppressive regime of occupation that is complemented by apartheid structures victimizing Palestinian refugees, residents of Jerusalem, the Palestinian minority in Israel, and imprisoned population of Gaza. Israel refused the authority of the International Court of Justice with respect to the ‘separation wall’ that back in 2004 declared by a near unanimous vote of 14-1 (U.S. as the lone dissent) that building the wall on occupied Palestinian territory was unlawful, that the wall should be dismantled, and Palestinians compensated for harm endured. There are many other instances concerning such issues as settlements, collective punishment, excessive force, prison conditions, and a variety of abuse of children.

 

In conclusion, by purporting to punish the Human Rights Council, the Trump presidency, representing the U.S. Government, is much more punishing itself, as well as the peoples of the world. We all benefit from a robust and legitimated institutional framework for the promotion and protection of vital human rights. The claim of an anti-Israeli bias in the HRC, or UN, is bogus, the daily violation of the most basis rights of the Palestinian people is a tragic reality. This is all we need to know.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a Conversation

4 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified text of an interview conversation with Khourosh Ziabari, initially published on the website of the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence on February 4, 2018, <info@odvv.org>] </info@odvv.org>

 

 

Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a conversation

 

Khourosh Ziabari: Humanitarian crisis in Gaza has entered its 11th year as the crippling siege by Israel is making the living conditions of Palestinians more complicated with time. The blockade in what is popularly referred to as the world’s “largest open-air prison” means growing unemployment, people having intermittent access to pure water, the economy is almost dysfunctional and poor infrastructure and lack of funding make the two-million population vulnerable to heavy rains and extreme weather. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories believes Israel is not doing enough to make the living conditions of Gaza Palestinians better, and the United States is also failing to play a constructive role.

 

Richard Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, who has published and co-edited some 40 books on human rights, international humanitarian law and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an interview with the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Prof Falk shared his views on the recent controversy surrounding President Trump’s proposal to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the ongoing humanitarian emergency in the Palestinian territories.

 

Q: In a piece recently published on Foreign Policy Journal, you talked of Palestine as being a hugely discriminated against nation, which in the recent decades has undergone major hardships due to the inability or reluctance of the United Nations to take steps to balance the needs of the Palestinian people against the political leverage of Israel and its allies. The improvement of the living conditions of the Palestinians depends on a logical and justifiable way out being found to end the conflict. Is the international community really unable to come up with a sustainable and all-encompassing solution?

 

A: The failure of the international community with respect to the Palestinian people and their legitimate grievances is due to several special circumstances; most importantly, the underlying determination of the Zionist movement to control most of Palestine as delimited by the British mandate. In this respect, assertions by Israeli leaders of their desire for a political compromise should never been accepted at face value, and are patently insincere, public relations gestures seeking to influence international public opinion, and convey the false impression that Israel is seeking a political compromise with Palestine.

 

Secondly, this Zionist ambition is now strongly supported by the United States despite not being clearly articulated by the government of Israel. This obscurity, essentially a deception, allows the international community to act as if a peace process is capable of producing a solution for the conflict even though Israel’s actions on the ground point ever more clearly toward an imposed unilateral outcome, which essentially is a unilateral insistence that the conflict has been resolved in favor of Israel.

 

Thirdly, the ‘special relationship’ between Israel and the U.S. translates into a geopolitical protection arrangement encompassing security issues and even extending to insulating Israel from censure at the UN, especially by the Security Council, and making sanctions impossible to impose. In such a setting, the Israelis are able to pursue their goals, while ignoring Palestinian grievances, which results in tragedy and suffering for the Palestinian people. Given the balance of forces, there is no end in sight that might end the conflict in a fair way.

 

Q: President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plan to move the U.S. embassy to this city met a big resistance at the United Nations, both on the General Assembly and Security Council levels. Why do you think the international community and even the major U.S. allies didn’t say yes to this proposal?

 

A: Trump’s initiative on Jerusalem ruptured whatever fragile basis existed for seeking a diplomatic solution for relations between Israel and Palestine. There had been a clear understanding, respected by prior American leaders, that the disposition of Jerusalem was a matter that was to be settled only through negotiations between the parties. This understanding was broken by the Trump initiative for no apparent reasons beyond pleasing Netanyahu and some wealthy Zionist donors in the U.S. Beyond this, for Trump to side with Israel on such a sensitive issue, which deeply matters symbolically and substantively, not only for Palestinians, but for Muslims everywhere, and even for Christians, damaged beyond repair the credibility of the United States to act an acceptable intermediary in any future peace process.

 

American credibility was at a low level anyway, but this latest step relating to Jerusalem, removed, at least for the foreseeable future, any doubt about the American partisan approach, and more dramatically, made it evident that diplomacy based on the two-state solution had reached a point of no return.

 

In one respect, the Trump move on Jerusalem lifted the scales from the eyes of the world. It should have been clear for some years that the size of the settlement phenomenon and the influence of the settlers, now numbering about 800,000, had made it impractical to contemplate the establishment of a genuinely independent and viable Palestinian state. As well, the U.S. had long ceased to be an honest broker in the diplomatic settings that were described by reference to ‘the peace process,’ and probably never was partisan from the outset of the international search for an outcome that was a genuine political compromise. If there is to be an effective diplomacy with respect to the relations between the two peoples, it must, in any event, be preceded by dismantling the apartheid structures that were developed by Israel over the decades to subjugate the Palestinian people as a whole and the United States must be replaced by a credible third party intermediary. Israel feels no pressure to accept such changes, and so there is no current alternative to exerting pressure on this untenable status quo through support for militant nonviolent forms of Palestinian resistance and the global solidarity movement, with a special recognition of the contributions of the BDS campaign. It may be relevant to note that the BDS Campaign has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.

 

Q: In the recent years, many resolutions and statements have been issued in condemnation of the expansion of Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied following the Six-Day War in 1967 by the UN General Assembly and its affiliated human rights bodies. Even the UNSC Resolution 2334 (2016) declares Israel’s settlement activity a “flagrant violation” of international law. Is the publication of statements and condemning a state, while the state itself doesn’t recognize the demands and considers them invalid, a viable solution? If the international community is convinced that Israel should stop the illegal settlements, then how is it possible to make it happen?

 

A: The continued expansion of the settlements despite their flagrant violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention is both an expression of Israel’s contempt for international law and for world public opinion. It also reveals the impotence of the UN to do anything effective to impose its will that is any more consequential than the issuance of complaints. When geopolitical realities shield the behavior of a state from international pressures, the UN is helpless to implement its resolutions, and international law is put to one side. The UN is an organization of states, and limited in its capacity to shape behavior, especially by the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As such, the UN was never expected to have the constitutional capacity to overcome the strongly held views and commitments of the five states given permanent membership and the right of veto in the Security Council in the UN Charter. The Security Council is the only organ of the UN System with clear authority to reach and implement decisions, as distinct from advisory opinions and recommendations. The Israel/Palestine conflict is an extreme version of the Faustian Bargain struck between the geopolitical power structure and global justice, which was written into the UN Charter and the constitutional framework of the UN, as well as exhibited in UN practice over the years.

 

Q: News reports and figures show that the living standards and the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip are getting worse as time goes by. The unemployment rate has climbed to 46%. Research organizations and local media say 65% of the population is grappling with poverty and the food insecurity rate is roughly 50%. How do you think the perturbing humanitarian crisis in Gaza can be alleviated?

 

A: It is difficult to comprehend accurately the Israeli approach to Gaza as its motivations are very different from its stated justifications. Israeli policy often appears cruel and vindictive, with security rationales sounding more like pretexts than explanations. Excessive force has been repeatedly used by Israel in Gaza, and little effort to achieve some kind of tolerable stability has been made.

 

Israel has rejected a series of proposals for long-term ceasefires put forward by Hamas during the past decade. Israel has periodically attacked Gaza, inflicting heavy damage on a helpless and impoverished civilian society in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014 while the international community condemned these excessive uses of force. Now that the economic squeeze is pushing Gaza once again toward the brink of a humanitarian disaster the ordeal of the nearly two million Palestinians entrapped and utterly vulnerable. The situation in Gaza is once again a matter of grave concern, with humanitarian alarms being sounded by those with knowledge of the precarious health and subsistence crisis facing the population.

 

It is unclear what Israel actually wants to have happen in Gaza. Unlike the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza is not part of the Zionist territorial game plan, and is not considered part of biblical Israel. To the extent that Israel is pursuing a one-state solution imposed on the Palestinians, Gaza would be likely excluded as adding its population to that of Israel would risk exploding ‘the demographic bomb’ that has for so long worried Israelis because of endangering the artificially generated Jewish majority population, and supposed ‘democratic’ control of this ethnocratic polity.

 

The Zionist project has long resorted to extreme measures to achieve and then sustain the democratic pretension of its governing process, initially dispossessing as many as 700,000 Palestinians from the territory that became Israel in 1948. This coerced dispossession during combat was combined with a post-conflict refusal to allow those who left their homes and villages during wartime any right of return. Such ethnic cleansing was reinforce by completely destroying hundreds of Palestinian villages with bulldozers. This pattern of controlling the population ratio between Jews and non-Jews has been a persistent issue ever since the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 when the Jewish population of Palestine was about 5%. In the early period, the Zionist effort was focused on overcoming the Jewish demographic minority status by stimulating and subsidizing Jewish immigration. Yet even after the surge in immigration prompted by the rise of Nazism and European anti-Semitism, the Jewish population of Palestine was only about 30% at the start of the 1947-48 War.

 

Israel would probably like to have Gaza disappear. If that is not going to happen, then the second best solution is to entrust Jordan or Egypt with administrative control, security responsibility, and sovereign authority. So far neither Arab government wants to assume control over Gaza. With these considerations in mind, Israel seems determined to maintain instense pressure on Gaza, allowing the population to hover around the subsistence threshold, and to signal Israeli aggressiveness to the rest of the region, asserting a military presence from time to time that seems both punitive and designed to remind Gazans that resistance on their part would be met with overwhelming lethal force causing devastation and heavy casualties, including imposing a condition of enduring despair on the civilian population.

 

 

 

Why the United Nations Matters (even for the Palestinians)

18 Jan

 

There are many reasons for persons with very different worldviews to feel disillusioned by, if not angry at, the United Nations. These negative feelings arise usually because the UN stands idly by the sidelines while terrible national and human tragedies unfold as the world media visually narrates horrific events in real time. At other times the hostile feelings toward the UN arise because the Organization is seen as a plaything of geopolitics, as bowing to crude leverage wielded by major funding governments, and in the process violating the letter and spirit of the UN Charter. Such behavior undermines the UN’s constitutional foundations and casts doubt on the central claim that the Organization is dedicated to the cause of war prevention.

 

No people have more reason to be disappointed with the UN, international law, and the precepts of international morality than do the people of Palestine. From the moment the UN was established up until the present moment, the Palestinians have been victimized either by the use of the UN to pursue geopolitical goals or by the inability of the UN to implement its own decisions and assessments that are responsive to Palestinian grievances or supportive of Palestinian aspirations.

 

Obviously, there is present a world order puzzle that needs solving. Many believe, especially here in the United States, that it is Israel that is the victim of UN bashing and bias, being singled out at the UN for continuous censure and criticism, and it is the Palestinians that have over the years received aid and comfort in the halls of the UN for their contentions, however inflammatory. For our dualistic Western minds, incapable of reconciling opposites, something must be wrong. It seems impossible for both the Palestinians and Israelis to be both victimized at the UN.

 

Yet this is precisely the case. The Palestinians are victimized because the UN doesn’t mean what is says, at least not on the plane of action. The UN gives the Palestinians the pabulum of words, while refraining from the reality of deeds, which over time gives rise to resentment and cynicism summarized by the sentiment: ‘what good are words, if nothing happens, and the situation on the ground even deteriorates.

 

At the same time, partly in reaction to this sense of impotence when it comes to imposing its views effectively on behavior, the UN slaps, sometimes strongly, the defiant Israelis. And the Israelis, never above playing the anti-Semitic card, keep telling the world that they are singled out for bashing even though their wrongs are far less bad than that of others. Of course, never far in the background is the weight of geopolitics, with the United States wielding a punitive stick on Israel’s behalf.

 

History needs to be taken into account in sifting through the complexities of argument and counter-argument carried on now for decades about the performance of the UN in relation to Palestinians and Israelis. With respect to the geopolitical explanation of Palestinian disillusionment, the UN already in 1946 accepted the responsibility to supersede the United Kingdom, which had been administering Palestine on behalf of the international community since the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I., in working out a solution on behalf of the two peoples. Yet instead of consulting the resident population of Palestine on its wishes with respect to the implementation of the right of self-determination, the UN on its own initiative proposed an Orientalizing solution that gave Israel 55% of Palestine despite less than 33% of the population being Jewish. This demographic disparity existed despite several decades of Jewish immigration spurred by energetic Zionist efforts around the world as well as by the British, eager for strategic reasons of their own to carry out the Balfour pledge of 1917. Jewish immigration was also greatly encouraged by the rise of Nazism, which intensified the search for a sanctuary that could protect Jews, especially those fleeing Hitler’s Germany.

 

Then to compound this imposition of a settler colonialist outcome, repugnant from the outset to the majority Arab population, the UN proceeded in 1948 to accept Israel as a member of the UN without first making obligatory provision to ensure an equitable future for the Palestinian people. This flawed UN response to the end of the British mandate has been compounded by years of Israeli expansionism, especially since 1967. Such an internationally tilted outcome reflected intense liberal guilt toward Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust combined with the skill and tactics of the Zionist movement in influencing the Jewish diaspora as well as government policy in Europe and North America. It was an early demonstration of geopolitics triumphing over international law and global justice within the UN. It should not be forgotten that the UN was established in ways that gave leading states a geopolitical comfort zone, more familiarly known as ‘the veto,’ a blunt instrument for opting out of responsibilities, and useful to protect friends and batter enemies.

 

Turning to the impotence of the UN when it comes to its resolutions and decisions that encounter geopolitical resistance, the pattern has been evident all along. After the outcome of the 1967 War, the international community by way of the UN acquiesced with hardly a whimper to the extension of Israeli territorial claims from 55% to 78% of mandate Palestine. Ever since, this enlargement of Israeli territorial expectations has formed the basis for the two-state consensus, and was even accepted by the Palestinians as the realistic territorial baseline for a compromise solution.

 

Beyond this central issue of territorial allocation, the UN General Assembly affirmed the right of return of Palestinians forced to leave their homes in the 1947-48 War in General Assembly Resolution 194, and a second wave dispossessed in the 1967 War. The resolution has been pointedly rejected by Israel without any adverse consequences.

 

In similar fashion, the expansion and annexation of Jerusalem has been strongly condemned, most canonically, by the UN Security Council in Resolution 478 (1980), a unanimous vote except for the U.S. abstention. Finally, despite this, and the periodic Security Council denunciations of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestine territory, Israel has continued year upon year to build and increase the settler population. Against this background, it is to be expected that the Palestinians feel that having their rights affirmed at the UN is a worthless exercise, if not a feeble way to obscure UN impotence, given that the Palestinian ordeal has worsened year after year, decade after decade.

 

And yet despite all this the Jerusalem resolution of last December (passed by a vote of 128-9 with 35 abstentions and 21 absences) repudiating the Trump initiative is significant, partly because symbols are of great, if indirect, importance in international life. Symbolic victories at the UN do on occasion have subtle, yet real, behavioral impacts. The UN for all its weaknesses has long been the primary source for authoritative determinations of the legitimacy and illegitimacy of internationally recognized claims and grievances. This resolution is illustrative, supported by every important country in the world including the closest allies of the United States, with the symbolic and unequivocal rejection of the Trump diplomatic gesture of recognition being clear and consequential.

 

The Jerusalem resolution seems likely to produce a series of consequences: it greatly weakens, if not terminates, the central role that the United States has played as the only recognized third party mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, thereby creating an opportunity for the EU and individual European states to fill the diplomatic vacuum that seems to have formed; besides this, demonstrations around the world opposing the U.S. recognition initiative are translating support throughout the world for the Palestinian global solidarity movement that is likely to be expressed in several ways, especially by way of a more robust Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign. And at least for the moment, the Palestinian Authority, and its leadership, has moved away from adopting a quasi-collaborative stance in its relations with Israel, insisting that Trump’s move caused a damaging rupture. In effect, if diplomacy is to go forward in the future, it will have to proceed under new auspices, possibly Europe, maybe even China or the UN. Such radical expectations, while expressing a welcome refusal to be coopted by the Tel Aviv/Washington charade carried on for so long within the Oslo framework, is totally unrealistic in the near term. Israel would much rather be a pariah state than to submit its fate to Chinese or UN diplomacy, or for that matter, any intermediary that would seem fair to the Palestinians rather than partisan as in the past in favor of Israel. For so long Israel has

been coddled by American leaders that it became a hardened expectation with little wiggle room as Barack Obama found out early in his presidency when he dared to take baby steps in search of a middle ground.

 

It is worth recalling the anti-apartheid campaign against the South African racist regime that achieved prominence in the decades after 1945. The UN played a crucial role by its authoritative condemnation of apartheid as a crime against humanity and by its indirect encouragement of nonviolent resistance to South Africa racism throughout the world. This anti-apartheid experience is an instructive precedent, raising hope for the eventual success of the Palestinian national struggle, although the South African leadership had been far less creative and effective than the Israelis in insulating their governing process from external pressures.

 

What is analyzed with reference to Palestine and the Jerusalem resolution can be understood as a template for a general appreciation of both what the UN can and cannot do. The UN has this central role to play in either confirming or dismissing symbolic claims associated with the grievances and rights of subjugated peoples in the world. It is for this reason that governments fight so hard to have their policies accepted at the UN, or at least not criticized, censured, or punished, none more so than the government of Israel. Israel’s vicious attacks on the UN should be understood as disclosing the Israeli appreciation that, despite everything, the UN is a crucial site of struggle in the contemporary world order. Its findings of legitimacy and illegitimacy, especially if they resonate with feelings of justice around the world, impact strongly on civil society and often exert a strong influence on international public opinion and media coverage.

 

At the same time even if there is intense support for a symbolic outcome, it will rarely be self-enforcing, and it will be almost impossible to enforce at all absent a rare supportive geopolitical consensus. For instance, with respect to imposing sanctions on North Korea given its provocative nuclear program and accompanying diplomacy, it has been possible for all 15 members of the Security Council to agree sometimes on a common course of action, although as worried by Trump’s blustering belligerence that increases the danger of a universally unwanted and feared war. The geopolitical divergencies that were present at the UN were temporarily overcome by compromises. In this instance, the shared goal of avoiding a war on the Korean Peninsula encouraged governments to find some common ground.

 

The role of the UN in the Middle East has been particularly lamentable, First, the legacies of colonialism have left artificial political communities throughout the region. The Middle East also suffered from the geopolitical ambitions of the U.S., including its Cold War containment policy, strategic priorities accorded Gulf oil reserves and the security of Israel, and since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, its resolve to limit the spread of Islamic influence and political extremism. In effect, when the geopolitical stakes are high and associated with the policy priorities of dominant states, then the UN becomes marginalized, playing only trivial roles as in the long international civil wars that have caused such massive suffering in Syria and Yemen.

 

The conclusion to be reached is to view the UN realistically, affirming its central role with regard to symbols of legitimacy and its relative impotence if geopolitical forces are mobilized against any UN calls for action. Sometimes, arguably, the UN can be too effective, as when geopolitical forces turn a blind eye to issues of sovereignty and justice in a weaker country. This happened when in 2011 the Security Council was hoodwinked into endorsing a NATO regime-changing intervention in Libya undertaken in the name of freedom and democracy, but resulting in chaos, violent strife, and ethnic tensions.

 

The prospects for a stronger UN presence in international life involve tethering geopolitics by taking steps that now seem politically impractical: abolishing the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council, making resolutions of the General Assembly binding if supported by ¾ of UN members, basing UN funding on an independent tax base tied to international civil aviation or transnational financial transactions, and removing the selection of the Secretary General from the filter of P-5 approval. These steps have been long advocated by those seeking a more effective UN, but have been blocked by states that do not want to diminish their international status or their geopolitical leverage.

 

Until the international system experiences a shock or intense stress, it is hard to imagine such steps being taken. In fact, given Trump’s regressive approach to global policy and thinly disguised hostility to the UN, it is more likely that the UN will be even more constrained in the near future as to what it can do to make the world more peaceful, prosperous, sustainable, and just. The diplomatic rebuff of the U.S. after its irresponsible Jerusalem unilateralism, including the failure of its bullying tactics, has undoubtedly made the Trump presidency realize that the UN will not be a venue in which to push its regressive version of ultra-nationalist militarism.

 

Despite understandable degrees of disillusionment, people of good will dedicated to UN ideals should not give up on the Organization or its potentiality, but work harder to make the UN come closer to fulfilling its original promise, needed now more than ever. Justice for the Palestinian people, however long deferred, remains the defining moral prism by which to assess the shifting balance between achieving global justice and bowing to the whims of geopolitics at the UN and elsewhere.

Trump, the UN, and the Future of Jerusalem

31 Dec

 

Trump, the UN, and the Future of Jerusalem

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is the modified text of an interview on behalf of the Tasnim News Agency in Iran as conducted by Mohammed Hassani. It tries to assess the wider implications of the UN reaction to Trump’s December 6th decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to follow this by relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.]

 

Q1: As you know, nearly 130 countries recently voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the US decision to recognize Jerusalem (al-Quds) as the capital of the Israeli regime. What message does the vote signal to the world’ public opinion?

The main message of this overwhelming rejection of the Trump recognition of al-Quds as the capital of Israel by the UN General Assembly is to disclose that the Palestinian national movement continues to enjoy strong support from each and every important country in the world, thereby rejecting the current Israeli approach, supported by the United States, to impose unilaterally a solution of the long struggle over land and rights on the Palestinian people. Such a solution would foreclose both a sovereign Palestine, deny the Palestinian people the most fundamental of all rights, that of self-determination, and preclude any fair and just arrangement of shared sovereignty between the two people.

A secondary message was the consensus in the General Assembly that on this issue of Jerusalem matters of global justice take precedence over geopolitical maneuvers. There can also be read into the vote the growing erosion of global leadership that had been exercised by Washington since the end of World War II. This erosion reflects the rise of China, and its advocacy, along with that of Russia, and maybe also even leading countries in Europe, of a multipolar approach to the formation and implementation of global policy with respect to security issues, environmental policies, and economic governance. The fact that America’s closest allies, including France, United Kingdom, and Japan voted for the resolution condemning the effort of the U.S. Government to legitimize the establishment of Jerusalem (al-Quds) as Israel’s capital is also of considerable significance. What remains to be seen is how the future of Jerusalem will unfold in light of these dramatic developments. There are currently visible two tendencies—first, the handful of negative votes by tiny island countries and a few minor and dependent Central American countries to follow the lead of the U.S. and move their embassy to Jerusalem; secondly, the counter-initiative of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, given concrete expression by the Turkish decision to establish its embassy for Palestine in East Jerusalem.

What remains to be seen is whether the Trump presidency softens its stand on these issues or doubles or even triples down by defiantly moving its embassy to Jerusalem, withholding economic assistance from countries that voted for the resolution, and reducing its financial contributions to the UN in a vindictive display of hostility at the various actors viewed as responsible for humiliating the U.S. Government, thereby pleasing those pro-Israeli forces that insist that the UN is primarily a venue for Israel-bashing.

Q2: Prior to the UN vote on Jerusalem, US President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution. It seems that his warning has been ineffective. What do you think?

Yes, the ineffectiveness of such an unprecedented overt threat at the UN, abetted by back channel pressures, is definitely a sign that U.S. soft power leadership in the world is experiencing a sharp decline if measured against its reality in the years after World War II, and extending throughout the Cold War Era. More generally, the failure of Haley’s threats to influence the vote of a single country of stature in the world is also indicative of a parallel decline of geopolitical capabilities to control global policy at least on the key issue of the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly in the context of Jerusalem, which has a strong symbolic significance for many countries. What is unclear is whether this vote exhibits a broader trend among states to pursue foreign policies that exhibit their sovereign independence and distinct views of global policy, rather than as in the past, displaying a strong tendency to defer to the views of a globally dominant state(s). In this context, the radical character of Trump’s presidency may be having the effect of fracturing hegemonic structures of control in contemporary world order that were in any event faced with accumulating skepticism since the end of the Cold War, and the breakdown of the bipolar structure that had shaped much of global policy between 1945 and 1992. What Trump has done is to intensify pre-existing pressures for global restructuring, a dynamic also reinforced by the rejectionist approach taken by the United States on other key issues of global concern, including climate change, the Iran Nuclear Program (5 + 1) Agreement, global migration, ad international trade. The Trump slogan of ‘America, First’ has to be coupled with ‘World, Last,’ to grasp the extent to which the United States invites by its own initiatives a reaction against its outlier policies at odds with strong countervailing views of the international community of states as to desirable forms of global cooperation for the public good. At the very historical moment when the future of humanity depends on unprecedented action on behalf of human, habitat, and global wellbeing, the leading political actor not only withdraws from the effort, but does its best to obstruct constructive behavior. It is as if the United States Government has become a deadly virus attacking the fabric of the global body politic.

 

 

Q3: In a speech at the White House on December 6, Trump said his administration would also begin a years-long process of moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to the holy city of Jerusalem. Do you see any chance that Trump would press ahead with his plan to relocate the embassy given the widespread international opposition? 

 

My guess at this point is that the U.S. Government will definitely implement its decision to relocate the embassy, but will probably do so in a gradual manner that does not provoke a major subsequent reaction, especially if implementation is entrusted to the State Department. Of course, any steps taken to relocate the American Embassy in Jerusalem will be correctly perceived as a defiant and provocative rejection of the conclusions set forth in the GA Resolution. In this sense, the quality and impact of reactions will depend on the political will of the Palestinian Authority, the OIC, the UN, and world public opinion. At stake, is whether the United States further produces an adverse international reaction to its behavior and whether governments seek to engage further on the issue to preserve the rights of the Palestinian people with respect to Jerusalem. The future interaction with respect to Jerusalem will be very revealing as to both the responsiveness of the United States to the rejection of its approach to the recognition of the Israeli capital at this time and as to the energy of those that supported the resolution to take further steps in the direction of achieving compliance. There is little doubt that a test of wills is likely to emerge in the months ahead that will reveal whether the Jerusalem resolution was a mere gesture or a tipping point.

 

The fact that the al-Quds resolution was itself based on The Uniting for Peace Resolution (GA Res. 377 A (V), 1950) gives its text a special status, both as the outcome of a rare Emergency Session of the General Assembly and as a truly responsible reaction on behalf of peace and security to an irresponsible use of the veto in the Security Council to block its decision of condemnation backed by a 14-1 vote, that is, all other members. This status gives the General Assembly response on Jerusalem an authoritativeness that should extend far beyond its normal recommendatory capabilities, but as earlier indicated there are few guidelines as to how such an initiative will be implemented if defied.

At stake is the larger issue of whether this path taken to circumvent a P-5 veto in the Security Council might produce a shift in UN authority to the more representative General Assembly.

 

In any event, it may well be that whatever course of action ensues will exert an important influence on how well the UN in the future can serve the human and global interest, as well as take account of distinct and aggregate national interests as opportunities present themselves. The Trump phenomenon gives a pointedness to fundamental issues of world order viability, especially a capacity to address challenges of global scope in the course of the first biopolitical moment, confronting humanity as such with a prospect of its own mortality.

UN Under Siege: Geopolitics in the Time of Trump

1 Jul

[Prefatory Note: This post is a modified and enlarged version of a talk I gave in Geneva a week ago. The audience was a blend of students of all ages from around the world, with almost none from Europe and North America, and several NGO representatives with lots of UN experience.]

 

 Why the peoples of the world need the UN: multilateralism, international law, human rights, and ecological sustainability

 

[ISMUN (International Youth & Student Movement for the United Nations), Summer School, June 28, 2017, Geneva]

 

 A Point of Departure

 

When Donald Trump withdrew American participation from the Paris Climate Change Agreement in early June of this year a bright red line was crossed. Most obviously, there were a series of adverse substantive consequences associated with weakening an agreement that was promising to provide critical interim protection against severe harms to human wellbeing and its natural habitat threatened by further global warning. U.S. withdrawal from Paris was also a rather vicious symbolic slap at multilateralism under UN auspices. We should recall that the agreement was rightly hailed at the time as the greatest success ever achieved by way of a multilateral approach to international problem solving. The Paris Agreement was indeed a remarkable achievement, inducing 195 governments representing virtually every sovereign state on the planet to sign up for compliance with a common agreed plan to address many of the challenges of climate change in the years ahead. To reach such an outcome also reflected a high degree of sensitivity to the varied circumstances of countries, rich and poor, developed and developing, vulnerable and less vulnerable.

 

The Paris withdrawal also exhibited in an extreme form the new nationalistic posture adopted by the United States in relation to the UN System, and a major retreat from the leadership role at the UN that the U.S. had assumed (for better and worse) ever since the Organization was established in 1945. Instead of fulfilling this traditional role as the generally respected cheerleader and predominantly influential leader of most multilateral lawmaking undertakings at the UN and elsewhere the U.S. Government has instead apparently decided under Trump to become obstructer-in chief. This Trump/US assault on the UN approach to cooperation among sovereign states and global problem solving and lawmaking is particularly troubling. This manifestation of the new American approach in the policy domain of climate change is particularly disturbing. To have any prospect of meeting the climate change challenge requires the widest and deepest international cooperation, and is absolutely vital for the future of human and ecological wellbeing. Such a dramatic disruptive act by the United States strikes a severe blow to the capabilities and legitimacy of the UN at a historical moment when this global organization has never been more potentially useful.

 

The credibility and severity of the threat is magnified by an evident American-led campaign to exert financial pressure to bend the Organization to the will of major funders. When the United States behaves in this manner it indirectly gives permission to other political actors to follow suit, and exerts immense pressure on the UN Secretariat and Secretary General to give ground. Saudi Arabia has used such leverage to embarrass the UN in relation to both its human rights record at home and its responsibility for war crimes against civilians, including children, in Yemen. Israel has also been the beneficiary of such delegitimizing pressures, with the UN giving ground by softening criticism, inhibiting censure, shelving damaging reports. Such backtracking by the United Nations weakens any claim to be guided in its policies and practices by international law and international morality. The weaponization of UN funding politics should awaken public opinion to the importance of finally establishing an independent funding base for the UN by way of some variant of a Tobin Tax imposed on financial transactions or international air travel. If it is desirable to encourage the UN to conduct its operations in accordance with the UN Charter and international law, UN funding should be removed from the control of governments at the earliest possible time.

 

It needs to be acknowledged and understood that this unfortunate shift in the U.S. role at the UN preceded the Trump presidency, involving a gradual American retreat from political internationalism, which reflected the outlook of an increasingly sovereignty-oriented U.S. Congress. Even an environmentally minded Barack Obama was led at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit to insist that national commitments to reduce carbon emissions be placed on a voluntary rather than obligatory basis, which was regarded at the time as a major setback in the effort to safeguard the future from the perils of global warming. The Copenhagen approach was also a negative development with respect to international law, substituting volunteerism for obligation in this major effort to protect human and global interests. We need to appreciate that international law in its more imperative forms already suffers from the weakness of international enforcement mechanisms. Putting compliance on a voluntary basis dilutes the ethos of good faith that guides responsible governments when giving their assent to obligatory instruments of international law.

 

Beyond this, the Obama presidency boasted of its unconditional defense of Israel at the UN, regardless of the merits of criticism, and even in contexts where the U.S. was willing to voice muted criticisms directed at Israel but only in discreet language conveyed in bilateral diplomatic channels. The UN was off-limits for critical commentary on Israel’s behavior despite the long history of unfulfilled UN responsibilities toward the Palestinian people.

 

 

 

 

Why the UN is especially needed now

 

It should be obvious to all of us that the UN is now even more needed than when it was established in 1945. At least on the surface the UN enjoyed the ardent support of every important government and their publics at the end of World War II. These sentiments reflected the widely shared mood of the global public that maintaining world peace and security required the establishment of global institutions devoted to war prevention. There existed post-1945 a somewhat morbid atmosphere of foreboding with respect to the dawn of the nuclear age that took had taken the dire form of atomic bombs dropped on two Japanese cities. The concerns arising from these unforgettable events strongly reinforced and underlay the war prevention emphasis of the UN Charter, and were culturally expressed by such major works of the imagination as Hiroshima, Mon Amour and On the Beach.

 

This grim mood also lent an aura of poignancy to the memorable opening words of the Charter Preamble—“We the peoples of the United Nations are determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” It was evident that when the UN was established the overriding global preoccupation of public opinion and of governments was to avoid any recurrence of major international warfare, especially in light of the possession of nuclear weapons. Of course, such an impression partly reflected the absence of adequate representation at the UN and other international venues of voices articulating non-Western priorities. From the beginning the non-Western members of the UN were far more focused on anti-colonialism, development priorities, and the reform of a rigged world economy than on war prevention.

 

It is worth pondering why the formal legitimating call establishing the UN, as set forth in the Preamble, was phrased as coming from ‘the peoples’ and not from the ‘governments.’ In fact, governments were not even explicitly mentioned in this foundational document. Yet as a practical matter, despite this language in the Preamble, the UN as a political actor has always been almost exclusively an Organization reflecting the will of ‘we the governments,’ and in many cases ‘we the Permanent Members of the Security Council.’ Iddn some situations the ‘we’ over time and in situations of global crises has been reduced to the government of the United States, sometimes joined by its European allies. In other words, the geopolitical dimension of UN operations has had the effect of moving the actions of the Organization on war/peace agenda items away from international law and the framework set forth in the UN Charter. It has instead given decisive authority to the most powerful members of the UN with the intended effect of concentrating UN authority in the Security Council, whose operations are more subject to geopolitical discipline in the form of the veto than to the mindfulness toward international law.

 

An understanding of this circumstance underscores the aspirational importance of constraining geopolitics and enhancing the role of international law. Respect for international law in framing UN policy must be increased if there is to be any hope that the UN will eventually fulfill the ambitions and expectations of its strongest supporters in civil society. As matters now stand these supporters are often caught between being seen as blind idealists that are enthusiastic about whatever the UN does or dismissive cynics who dismiss the UN as a great power charade that is a waste of time and money. Both of these outlooks seems unwarranted, inducing either an uncritical passivity toward the UN or exhibiting a lack of appreciation of the contributions being daily made by the UN and what could be done to make these contributions more robust.

 

 

The UN and a Populist Reform of World Order

 

Two important questions that all of us, and especially young people should be asking: how can the UN System be made more responsive to the needs and wishes of people and less dependent on the warped agendas of many governments? And how can the Organization be made more responsive to international law and less of a vehicle for geopolitical ambitions? To make the relevance of positive global populism more concrete we can ask: ‘Would the establishment of an assembly of civil society organizations or a global parliament along the lines of the European Parliament be helpful from the perspective of world peace and global justice?’ What follows are several daunting questions concerning the feasibility of such a proposal: “Can the political will be mobilized that would be needed to make realizable such a UN reform?” “Even if a UN Peoples Parliament were established would it be allowed to exert significant influence?” We should remember that some past successful undertakings, such as the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), seemed utopian when proposed, and thus we should not be easily dissuaded if a project seems worthwhile. But we should also be aware that the ICC once established and operating has been chasing the mice while ignoring the tigers, which gives rise to another version of this clash between sentimentalists overjoyed that the institution exists at all and realists who believe that the ICC has surrendered to geopolitical forces, thereby betraying its overriding mission of administering justice as called for by non-compliant behavior.

 

For several years in the 1980s I participated annually in a large public event held in Perugia, Italy under the banner of ‘A United Nations of the Peoples.’ It made me wonder at the time whether the world was not being divided up into three distinct identies: ‘the Geopolitical Person’ who was increasingly dominating world politics, including the UN, ‘the Davos Person’ who at the World Economic Forum was mounting strong pressures on all governments to privilege the interests of market forces, essentially banks and corporations, above that of their own citizens, and ‘the Perugia Person’ who was on the sidelines whispering words to the grassroots community conveying the needs and aspirations of ordinary people, and by so doing, highlighting problems of poverty, peace, environment, biodiversity, health, and justice. In one sense, my analysis is an argument for a concerted public and grassroots transnational effort to magnify the Perugia whisper until it becomes a stentorian voice that is heard and heeded within the halls and conference rooms of the UN in Geneva and New York. Is such a call for positive global populism desirable, and if so, are there practical steps to be taken to make it happen? Will states feeling UN pressure reopen the withdrawal option, and weaken the Organization from the governmental end?

 

 

Reviving War Prevention

 

As it turned out the onset of the Cold War made it exceedingly difficult for the UN to be effective as a war prevention institution almost from the day it was established, although over the years it made many quiet contributions to peace when political conditions made this possible. The effort to prevent a third world war fought with nuclear weapons was mainly left up to the rival governments of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, relying on geopolitical arrangements that on occasions of confrontation sent periodic chills of fear down the collective spine of humanity, especially in Europe and North America. Global security was conceptualized around the abstract idea of deterrence, which was most simply understood as the prevention of a major war by the exchange of mutual threats of devastating retaliatory strikes with weaponry of mass destruction by these two superpowers with capabilities that were sufficiently resistant to preemptive first strikes to keep the capacity for retaliation entirely credible. This fundamental doctrine of deterrence was called ‘Mutual Assured Destruction,’ and more familiarly known by the ironically apt acronym ‘MAD.’ It amounted to a paradoxical permanent mobilization for war with the overriding goal of preventing the outbreak of war, which did strike the peace community as rationality gone mad, really mad. MAD was tied to a destabilizing ongoing arms race justified by a security rationale. Each superpower both sought to gain the upper hand and above all acted to make sure that its rival did not acquire ways of destroying its retaliatory credibility. This unstable and permanent war footing, always susceptible to accident and miscalculation, lasted throughout the Cold War, dominating the security policy of leading UN members, and as a side effect marginalized the UN Security Council in the peace and security domain. The intense ideological antagonisms between the Atlantic Alliance and the Soviet Bloc generated a series of geopolitical standoffs that made it almost impossible for the Permanent Members of the Security Council to reach agreement about who was responsible and what to do whenever international conflicts turned violent.

 

The world has avoided such a catastrophic war up to this point by a combination of prudent statecraft and good fortune. There were several close calls that make it apparent that it is grotesquely reckless to normalize the present role of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nine current nuclear weapons states. When the path to nuclear disarmament was abandoned, the leading global states resorted to a Plan B, a nonproliferation regime tethered to the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 (NPT), negotiated under UN auspices. It was advertised as essentially a holding operation designed to give the nuclear weapons states ample time to negotiate, as they were obligated to do, a reliable supposedly disarming treaty regime. With the hindsight of almost five decades, it has become evident that the commitment to nuclear disarmament embedded in Article VI of the NPT was never implemented, and quite likely was not meant to be. Accordingly, 123 non-nuclear states have taken a new initiative to propose a denuclearizing Plan C within the confines of the UN, a step opposed by 36 members, with an additional 16 abstentions. As with the NPT, the UN is again providing the venue and encouragement for the negotiation of a draft treaty to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons (2017 BAN Treaty; Convention to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons), leading eventually to the elimination of all nuclear weapons. This initiative enjoys the support of most non-nuclear governments, but will not pose a serious challenge to nuclearism until public opinion is effectively mounted. As yet the BAN approach is not supported by any of the nuclear weapons states nor by those governments that base their security on holding a nuclear umbrella over their country.

 

Beyond this overriding concern with nuclear weapons, the Perugia Person should be using the UN to raise questions about globally unregulated arms sales and rampant militarism as practiced with post-modern weaponry and tactics, what might be regarded as a Plan D framework. In this vein, the UN and its civil society supporters could begin to explore the potentialities of a nonviolent geopolitics appropriate for a post-colonial, post-Cold War world order in which the global policy agenda finally takes seriously several biopolitical challenges with respect to which traditional instruments of ‘hard power’ are totally irrelevant, or worse. If we wish the UN to fulfill its potential it is essential that the negativity of right-wing populism be countered by affirmative visions generated by a rising progressive populism. Such progressive populists, rather far removed from traditional left politics, need to keep in mind the biblical admonition: “a people without a vision perishes.”

 

 

Serving the Human Interest

 

Overall, there has been a failure of the UN to live up to the expectations and hopes of its founders when it came to enhancing the quality of international peace and security. At the same time, the UN has vindicated its existence in numerous other unexpected ways that have made its role in human affairs now widely regarded as indispensable, but still far below what was and is possible, necessary, and desirable. The UN validated its existence early on by offering the governments of the world a crucial platform for articulating their grievances and expressing their differences. The UN became the primary arena for inter-governmental communication. The UN, especially by way of its family of specialized agencies that have evolved over the decades has done much excellent unheralded work at the margins of world politics. These activities have made vital daily, often unheralded, contributions to the global common good in such diverse areas as human rights, economic and social development, wellbeing of children, environmental protection, preservation of cultural heritage, promotion of health, assistance to refugees, and the development of international law, including international criminal law. The UN also has provided the best available venue for cooperative problem solving associated with complex issues of global scale that reflect the uneven circumstances of sovereign states. This flexible dynamic of practices within and outside the UN provides the fabric of everyday ‘multilateralism,’ that is, the reliance on collective mechanisms for policy and law formation by representatives of sovereign states that in countless ways contribute to problem solving and life enhancement in social settings ranging from the very local to the planetary.

 

 

A strong confirmation of the value of the UN arises from the fact that every government, regardless of ideology or relative wealth and power, has up to now regarded it as beneficial to become a member and remain in the UN. True, Indonesia briefly withdrew in 1965 to announce the formation of a parallel organization of ‘newly emerging forces,’ but within a year at its request was allowed to resume its membership without even passing again through the normal admission process. Within international society, the greatest sign of a recognition of diplomatic stature has become the election of a country to be a term member of the Security Council for a period of two years. This record of universal participation is truly extraordinary, especially when compared with the disappointing record of the League of Nations. There have been no sustained withdrawals from the Organization as a whole and when the former European colonies obtained political independence they shared a uniform ambition to join the UN as soon as possible and exert some influence on global policy, especially with respect to trade, investment, and development. These efforts by the enlarged Third World membership reached their peak in the late 1960s and 1970s. A vibrant Non-Aligned Movement pursued its policy goals within the UN, its energies concentrated on the effort to create a New International Economic Order that would level the playing field internationally for trade and investment. This radical reform effort was centered in General Assembly activism, and prompted a formidable backlash led by the most industrialized states. The backlash took many forms including the formation of the Trilateral Commission as a strong undertaking led by American economic elites determined to hold the line on behalf of capitalist values, procedures, practices, and above all, privileges. Membership in the UN nevertheless continues to be regarded as not only advantageous for the legitimacy it confers on states, but because it offers weaker and less experienced countries invaluable rights of participation in the full range of UN activities, including access to knowledge and technology required for successful transitions to modernity.

 

 

Global Populism as a Threat to the UN

 

Yet despite all of these achievements and contributions the UN is again under sharp attack these days, especially by its most powerful member, the United States. Donald Trump and several other autocratic leaders around the world uniformly belittle the UN role in world affairs because they regard the sovereign state to be the ultimate source of political authority and deeply resent external criticisms of their own domestic behavior. These leaders are currently promoting ultra-nationalist agendas that are chauvinistic, anti-immigrant, hostile to international law, and are especially hostile to all forms of individual accountability and state responsibility for human rights violations.

 

This is not only a problem associated with the emergence of right-wing populist leaders enjoying domestic support. It is also a feature of dynastic autocracy, most prominently associated with the kind of regional geopolitics being promoted by Saudi Arabia, seeking hegemony over the Arabian Gulf, crushing democratizing forces even if Islamic in outlook, and waging war against any political tendency perceived to be increasing Iranian influence anywhere in the region. With respect to the UN, Saudi Arabia in particular has been following the lead of the United States, hinting at withholding financial contributions, and even bluffing possible withdrawal from the Organization, if Saudi policies should become subject of critical UN scrutiny, no matter how flagrantly these policies violate international human rights standards and the norms of international humanitarian law. Israel should also be grouped with states that push back against any and all efforts to hold them accountable. This search for total impunity with respect to UN activity gains traction to the extent endorsed by leading states.

 

 

A characteristic illustration of the detrimental global effects of this recent wave of populist nationalism revolves around the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Although Paris fell significantly short of what the scientific consensus insists as necessary if global warming is to be properly limited, it still represented what a broad consensus of informed persons regarded as a crucial step in the right direction, and a serious show of commitment to the momentous task of transforming the carbon world economy into a sustainable and benign energy system in a timely manner. For this greatest of UN multilateralist achievements to be repudiated by the U.S. Government because Trump contends that it is a bad deal for America is dramatic evidence that the UN is under assault, and what may be worse, seems increasingly leaderless and ready to submit.

 

This disappointment and concern is greatly magnified by the intimations that Washington intends to withhold funds from the UN, as well as threatens to boycott and defund activities and organs that reach conclusions that do not correspond with U.S. foreign policy, especially when it comes to Israel. A prime target of this Trump demolition brigade is the work of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that is under intense attack because it is alleged to devote disproportionate attention to the wrongs and crimes of Israel. Such criticism besides sidestepping the question as to whether Israel is generally guilty as charged, also overlooks the fact that the British dumped the Palestine problem into the lap of the UN after World War II, making the fledgling Organization responsible for the transition from colonial subjugation to political independence. Such a direct responsibility was not imposed on the UN with respect to the decolonization any other national territory, and it has never been able to carry it out its assigned task in a manner consistent with the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people. From a truly objective point of view, the UN has not devoted too much attention to Israel, and the Palestinian struggle, but too little. It has not gotten the basic job done, resulting in prolonged, massive, and intense Palestinian suffering with no end in sight.

 

In other words at the very time that the peoples of the world need a stronger UN to uphold the challenges of the present era, the Organization is under an unprecedented attack from ‘the Geopolitical Person.’ It is now time for ‘the Perugia Person’ to step forth with a strong sense of urgency and entitlement. Affirming this ‘necessary utopianism’ will give us confidence that the challenges of the present can be surmounted through the mobilization of people acting in collaboration with governments dedicated to upholding global public interests in tandem with their own national interests. For these revolutionary energies to be released within the confines of the UN will only happen in response to a new surge of grassroots transnational activism. Such a surge could foreground the hopes, dreams, and demands of people around the world, and especially the youth who have the most at stake. It has been both my pleasure and my honor to have this opportunity to meet with you today.