Tag Archives: UN

In Time of Pandemic Praise for the UN

3 Apr

 

IN TIIME OF PANDEMIC PRAISE FOR THE UN:

The UN Secretary General Promotes Global and Human interests

(Diirector General of WHO Guides Us)

 

Points of Departure

In recent years, the UN has seemed weak, almost irrelevant to many of the most disturbing global developments. It failed to stop genocide in Rwanda (1994) and Myanmar (2017-19), it has failed over several decades to end Israeli apartheid that is victimizing the Palestinian people and find peace for Israelis and Palestinians, it authorized a limited humanitarian protective use of force in Libya that immediately turned into an unauthorized and unlawful regime-changing intervention by NATO in Libya that brought ongoing chaos to the country, it has unacceptably stayed on the sidelines throughout Syrian and Yemeni ordeals as strife, massive civilian displacement, intervention, along with repeated crimes against humanity, were making a mockery of international humanitarian law, and it watched while disastrous fires burned out of control in the Amazon rainforest and Australia.

 

The UN is not an autonomous organization, and cannot be faulted for its failures, but its members can. The UN is essentially a political club run for the almost exclusive benefit of its member sovereign states, themselves largely controlled by its most powerful members. This control is exercised by way of funding, voting procedures, and informal modes of exerting influence within the Organization. The UN Charter provides a constitutional framework, which if it could engender compliance, would produce major, desirable, and fundamental global reforms, but the Charter says one thing, while international relations continue to operate according to the logic of militarism and geopolitics.  As well, there are some internal tensions written into the Charter, which contains unworkable procedures for taking account of changes in international life, including amending the text. This has given the UN a partially frozen image responsive to the realities of 1945, but increasing out of sync with the world of today.

 

During the Cold War the inability of the UN to fulfill its promises with respect to peace and security were largely explained by reference to paralyzing encounters between ‘the free world’ and ‘the Soviet bloc.’ Yet, after the collapse of the Soviet Union when a new consensus emerged among Permanent Members of the Security (P-5) not much changed. Many governments showed that they wanted to uphold sovereignty rights rather than be held internationally accountable according to standards set by human rights treaties or by reference to international law. The United States, in particular, insisted on freedom of geopolitical maneuver for itself and its allies, while pushing hard for accountability when dealing with adversaries. It became clear that a weak UN was consistent with the political priorities of almost all of its members, some sovereignty-oriented, a few geopolitically-oriented. At the same multilateralism, based on mutual benefit and global bargains gave the UN a useful role in facilitating global cooperation for the first fifty or so years of it existence, yet surprisingly not in the last 25 years up to the present.

 

These structural explanations of UN weakness were reinforced by cyclical political changes in the governing style of many important states. The rise of ultra-nationalist reactions to the failures of neoliberal globalization as post-Cold War and post-industrial capitalism revealed its predatory characteristics if not somewhat tamed by countervailing forces accentuated the state-centric framework of international relations that was implicitly hostile to any sources of authority external to the national political order. The kind of political leaders that were elected in dominant countries (U.S., UK, Brazil, India, Japan) exemplified this inward autocratic turn that was particularly opposed to global governance that accorded prominence to the United Nations. It reinforced autocratic trends in middle power democracies (Philippines, Turkey), as well as the embrace of ultra-nationalism by important non-democratic autocracies (Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt).

 

 

The UN Speaks for the Peoples of the World

 

Against such a background, it might come as a surprise that the UN has played an important role since a crisis awareness unfolded as the COVID-19 challenge became global in scope and severe in depth. The first sign of UN significance was the extent to which governments, the media, and the public looked to and depended upon the World Health Organization (WHO) for information and guidance. Although the WHO was not one of the political organs whose work is generally regarded as indicative of the success or failure of the UN as a world organization, it was ‘a specialized agency’ within the UN System that long had gathered and disseminated information about health issues, and performing vital roles for countries that lacked sophisticated national health services of their own.

 

What the COVID-19 experience made clear was the importance of information to virtually every person and governmental body on the planet, and the degree to which the WHO and its Director General were quickly established as a valued source of reliable and trustworthy information. The geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China, as well as a variety of conspiracy theories explaining the outbreak of the disease cloud our understanding of origins and nature of threat, and what to do about it. This sense of confusion is heightened by lots of huckstering claims being made on behalf of exotic products that purport to strengthen immune systems and resistance to the disease, as well as calls to adopt untested preventive tactics and unconventional treatments. Given such considerations, establishing public trust and informational reliability become paramount goals, and WHO and Tedros Adhanan Grebreyerus, its Director General, have risen to the occasion, gaining media credibility and worldwide respect.

 

The dramatic highpoint of WHO came on March 11th when this expert UN body officially declared that the Coronavirus disease causing a worldwide health crisis was a pandemic. Such a declaration was quickly adopted by governments, media, and publics around the world, escalating preventive efforts in the form of lockdowns, travel restrictions, self-isolation, and social distancing overnight. It was a tribute to the quasi-authoritative status on such matters that WHO achieved along with the recognition that no other comparable source of guidance or pronouncement existed in the world. What is more, the WHO determination came after a persuasive show of reluctance to alarm the world prematurely by invoking the incendiary word ‘pandemic.’ In retrospect, it is obvious that pandemic is to health what genocide is to human rights. Where the language of pandemic is appropriate, it is crucial to have such conditions authoritatively identified, and where conditions do not warrant arousing global alarm it is as important to refrain from inflammatory language. Also, relevant is that despite the diversity of perspectives in the world, no serious effort has been made to challenge the WHO’s pronouncement. This is an impressive defiance of the ultra-nationalist mood that has previously dominated policymaking in the last five or so years, and exhibited distrust and disrespect for the UN and its pronouncements.

 

A second reason that the UN has achieved an enhanced reputation during this period is that the voice of António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, has seemed to articulate proposals that transcend statist and geopolitical orientations, and take their cue from ideas about the wellbeing of humanity, as well as in support of global interests, rather than put manifest nationalistic approaches involving exclusions, walls, and militarized boundaries. So far national and geopolitical leaders have responded to the Guterres call for the suspension of economic sanctions or even more radically, for ‘a global ceasefire’ with silence. Geopolitical actors, especially the U.S. are unwlling to acknowledge the inappropriateness of maintaining sanctions and coercive diplomacy during the pandemic, but neither are such governments likely to criticize the Secretary General openly for speaking out, although arguably his reselection for a second term may have been placed in doubt. In this sense, Guterres has given renewed credibility to the idea that the head of the UN is the world’s leading moral authority figure, a position previously probably most widely accorded to Pope Francis, but with less global outreach as speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church.

 

What this pandemic has already made clear to many persons is the need for a normative global discourse when it comes to health, which as suggested here, means trust, reliability, and comprehensive and useful information, as well as moral leadership that is not being provided by either states or geopolitical actors. The UN stepped forward to fill this discursive gap in a manner that has already had an impact. Of course, whether a health crisis of pandemic proportions is a stepping stone to normative globalism on other issues can be hoped for, but is far from assured. In fact, there are reasons to be skeptical. Despite the magnitude of the pandemic crisis, the most geopolitical tinged organ of the UN, the Security Council, has not even spoken out to date, much less responsibly performed its cardinal role as guardian of the peace and security of the peoples of the world. If global governance reflected rationality and humane values, rather than hegemonic and nationalistic values, this Coronavirus authoritative discourse at the UN should be directly transferable to climate change, the overall ecological agenda, and fashioning a humane response to migrations flows. Such UN learning and adaptations outside the health domain seems doubtful at this point as doing so would amount to mounting successful challenges to the geopolitical discourse that has controlled the UN since its inception.

 

 If for Health, Why Not Climate Cnage, Biodiversity, Migration?

It had been previously evident that global cooperation was needed to address climate change and related ecological issues, and the UN did provide auspices for the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, which has lagged subsequently, being a casualty of ultra-nationalist dismissal of global policy priorities and Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from further participation in the agreement, the leading per capita source of carbon emissions. There is no doubt that the pandemic has demonstrated the pragmatic benefits of a cooperative approach, as opposed to reliance on competitive national interest approaches to addressing problems causing serious harm and threats of truly global scope. The same benefits of cooperation evident in relation to a pandemic exist with respect to climate change and biodiversity, and to some extent more dramatically, as the dangers of such scientifically established trends are more knowable and menacing, while becoming less reversible than are singular events such as an outbreak of the COVID-19 disease.

 

Despite this, health is more amenable to a global approach than climate change or biodiversity even though the latter concerns possess a global reach that is beyond reasonable doubt. Perhaps the most salient difference relates to time/space characteristics. The pandemic is here and now, with people dying the world over on a daily basis digitally portrayed in real time, while the impacts of climate change and biodiversity, although certainly having present impacts, are perceived as being largely situated in the future or in mostly geographically remote and limited locales, thus remaining abstract and without mobilizing capability to aarouse the general public, and for this reason tend to become controversial, scorned and rejected by those whose material interests or religious outlook might suffer from timely adjustment. Perhaps, even more explanatory than reference to the interests at stake, is the related issue of the psychological relevance of concreteness. A Coronavirus infection threatens with lethal immediacy the body of every individual inhabiting the planet, and by now most persons know someone who has suffered from the disease. COVID-19 is not a matter of a dispersed threat such as arises from global warming or the seemingly remote threat that arises from the destruction of rainforests or a lessening of biodiversity. Finally, the authority of the UN with respect to health does not encroach upon traditional spheres of territorial sovereignty as is the case with peace and security and with the regulation of private and public sector activity that does harm to the environment. Even the Paris Agreement did not attempt to regulate military causes of carbon dissemination or impose remedies for non-compliance with national pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

 

Concluding Observations

In conclusion, there is much to learn from the pandemic even at this early stage, and possibly, as time passes a more impressive learning curve will become evident in reaction to the spread and prolonged character of this health crisis. There is little doubt that many governments will learn the lessons of the last war, and be better prepared with respect to the availability of adequate medical facilities to address future large-scale epidemics, including pandemics. And maybe, if civil society activism is alert to the opportunity, some spillover effects will occur leading to a renewed readiness of governments to cooperate for the sake of promoting global interests and protecting global public goods, and in the process reinvigorating the UN as a necessary site of authority, information, cooperation, and institutional legitimacy. It is also quite possible that the UN will be quickly remarginalized as private sector and governmental energies are focused on economy recovery in forms that benefit big constellations of capital and finance.

 

One additional cautionary observation seems appropriate. What the WHO and the SG of the UN have so far done during the health crisis, while worthy of headlines, posed no direct challenge to sovereignty or geopolitics. It is discursive with no behavioral or direct policy claims, although investing the crisis with the stature of a pandemic did have distinct, and perhaps profound effects, on national responses and public awareness. The grounds for low expectations is strengthened by the failure of the Security Council to step forward with initiatives or even commentary. The Security Council’s discursive silence is rather startling under the circumstances, failing even to encourage recourse to global mechanisms fostering regional and global cooperative responses. The fact that this most statist dimension of the UN had nothing to offer in the face of a global emergency of unprecedented globality and severity offer a guide to what the UN can and cannot do. Such a failure is less that of the UN as an institutional matrix than it is of the nature of geopolitically managed global governance, which has used the Security Council as a subsidiary instrument of control. Furthermore, health has an apolitical essence that is associated with the widespread belief in the sacredness of life, and thus offers resistance to the kind of cost/benefit thinking that is much weaker when the concerns are about economic activity or the sovereignty and security priorities of militarized states.     

Facing the Global Crisis

16 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a somewhat amplified version of an interview with C. J. Polychroniou, journalist and professor of political economy at West Chester University, which was published on January 7, 2020 in the online journal, Global Policy. As the interview was conducted in December 2019, it fails to address the various disruptive consequences of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, including the violation of Iraqi sovereignty, Baghdad being the site of the drone attack, as well as the risks of war arising from an escalating tit-for-tat cycle of actions and reactions. Given growing tensions between the interconnectedness of the world and the state-centric character of international law, including contradictions between totalizing and disregarding territorial sovereignty, state-centric world order is being increasingly marginalized by geopolitical behavior that both generates and suppresses transnational political violence. A normative crisis with structural implications exists, and is not even being widely appreciated much less adequately addressed. The continuing disregard of this crisis adds to grave risks of aa catastrophic future for humanity, with severe spillover to the natural surroundings shared with non-human species.]

 

Facing the Global Crisis

 Q1. I want to start this interview on the state of global affairs near the end of the second decade of the 21st century by moving from the abstract to the concrete. To begin with, it’s regarded as axiomatic that the postwar international liberal order is fracturing and that we are at the same time in the midst of a geopolitical transition where the most prominent characteristic seems to be the decline of the United States as a global superpower. With that in mind, can you offer us a panoramic perspective on the contemporary state of global affairs? What do you consider to be the primary changes under way, and the emerging challenges and threats to global peace and stability?

 Response: There are many crosscutting tendencies now evident at the global level. At the very time when globalizing challenges are intensifying, the mechanisms available for regional and global cooperation are becoming dangerously less effective. The failure to address climate change, so clearly in the global public interest, is emblematic of a dysfunctional world order system. This failure can be further delineated by reference to two distinct, yet interrelated developments. The first characterized by a vacuum in global leadership, which reflects both the overall decline of the United States as well as its explicit renunciation of such a role by the Trump presidency. Trump proudly proclaims that his political agenda is exclusively dedicated to the promotion of American national interests, declaring defiantly he was elected president of the United States, and not of the world. The second broader development is the rise of autocrats in almost every important sovereign state, whether by popular will or through imposed rule, resulting in the affirmation of ultra-nationalist approaches to foreign policy, given ideological intensity by chauvinistic and ethnic hostility toward migrants and internal minorities. This kind of exclusionary statism contributes to the emergence of what might be called ‘global Trumpism’ further obstructing global problem-solving, shared solutions to common problems, and global expressions of empathy for human suffering. A discernable effect of these two dimensions of world order is to diminish the relevance and authority of the United Nations and of international law, as well as exhibiting a decline in respect for standards of international human rights and a disturbing indifference to global warming and other global scale challenges, including toward maintaining biodiversity and upholding the stability of major global rainforests.

 

Overall, what has been emerging globally is a reinvigoration of the seventeenth century Westphalian regional system of sovereign states that arose in Europe after more than a century of devastating religious wars, but under vastly different conditions of connectivity that now pose dire threats to maintaining minimum world order and to the wellbeing of peoples throughout the world. Among these differences are the dependence upon responsible internal behavior by governing processes at all levels of social interaction in an era of growing ecological interdependence. The tolerance of fires in the Amazon rainforest by the Brazilian government, supposedly for the sake of economic growth, by indulging the interests of agrobusiness and logging, endangers a vital global source of biodiversity as well as depletes essential carbon capturing capabilities of this vast forest area, yet there is no way under existing international norms to challenge Brazil’s sovereign prerogative to set its own policy agenda, however irresponsible with respect to its own ecological future, as well as that of its region and the world.  

 

At the same time, there has emerged doctrine and technology that defies territorial constraints, and gives rise to contradictory pressures that subvert the traditional capabilities of states to uphold national security on the basis of territorial defense. On the one side, transnational extremism and criminality exposes the symbolic and material vulnerability of the most militarily powerful states as the United States discovered on 9/11 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were allegedly attacked by a small group of unarmed individuals. Added to this are threats to all people from hacking and surveillance technologies that are not subject to territorial regulation. Responses by way of retaliatory strikes or covert operations directed at the supposed extraterritorial source of these attacks and threats, according to a global mandate associated with counterterrorist warfare and transnational law enforcement generate new patterns of lawlessness in the conduct of international relations. Technological and doctrinal innovations associated with the use of precision guided missiles, cyberspace, and pilotless drones, as well as satellite surveillance are producing new conceptions and experiences of boundaryless war zones. The world is becoming a battlefield for both geopolitical actors and a variety of non-state actors in a series of unresolved transnational struggles and undertakings. Additionally, there are opening new uncertain frontiers for 21st century warfare involving cyber assaults of various kinds, evidently already tested and used by the U.S. and Israel in their efforts to destabilize Iran, as well as new initiatives by a few states to militarize space in ways that seem capable of threatening any society on the face of the planet with instant and total devastation. One salient feature of these developments is the unacknowledged significance of neither adversary being a Westphalian sovereign state as generally understood by international relations theory and practice, while ‘political realism,’ which remains largely unchallenged, is more and more out of touch with these political realities subverting statst world order.

 

Under analogous pressures, the world economy is also fragmenting and seeking a reterritorialization of trade and investment, not only behaviorally but doctrinally. Trump’s transactional mode of operations challenges the rule-governed global system established after World War II, which relied on the Bretton Woods institutions and the World Trade Organization. The economic dimensions of resurgent nationalism also give rise to trade tensions, with real prospects of major trade wars, reminding expert observers of the ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ atmosphere in the early 1930s that gave rise to the Great Depression. Underneath this reterritorialized approach to political economy seems to be what amounts to a mostly silent revolt against neoliberal globalization, and its encouragement of transnational trade and investments based on market-based opportunities, as guided by the transnational efficiency of capital and openness of national markets rather than the wellbeing of people, including environmental protection. A major source of dissatisfaction with traditional politics in democratic societies seems associated with increasing economic inequality, causing stagnation, or worse, of middle and lower class living standards, while producing incredible accumulations of wealth at the very apex of society. These trends have unleashed an enraged populist assault on establishment institutions, including traditional political parties, being blamed for enriching upper elites while suppressing the wellbeing of almost entire societies, with an astonishing 99% being left behind. In the American setting, the left/right expression of this new classism is reflected in the Trump proto-fascist base and the Sanders mobilization among youth and disaffected constituencies.

 

In this downward global spiral, additional negative factors are associated with poor management of ending the Cold War, and the accompanying collapse of the Soviet Union. I would point to three principal negative impacts: (1) the failure of the United States as triumphant global leader to seize the opportunity during the 1990s to move the world toward greater peace, justice, and prosperity by strengthening the UN, by reallocating resources from defense to civilian infrastructure, and by initiating denuclearization and demilitarizing policies regionally and worldwide; (2) the degree to which the Soviet collapse led to a world economic order without ideological choices for political actors (‘there is no alternative’ mentality). This pushed the logic of capitalism toward the kind of inhumane extremes that had existed in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. As long as socialism was associated with Soviet leadership it offered an ideological alternative to alienated segments of society, which created strong political incentives in the West to exhibit ethical concerns for human wellbeing, and social protection frameworks moderating the cruelty of minimally regulated market forces; in effect, for its own sake capitalism needed the rivalry with socialism to maintain an ethically acceptable ideological composure; (3) the sudden withdrawal of Soviet balancing influence in several regions of the world, especially the Middle East, led to order-maintaining cycles of oppressive patterns of governance, U.S. regime changing interventions, and political turmoil and prolonged strife causing massive suffering, famine, and devastation.

 

This combination of domestic authoritarianism, transnational conflict configuratons, and state-centric foreign policy is inclining the world toward ecological catastrophe and geopolitical uncertainty, even chaos. This pattern is accentuated by world economic orientations that are oblivious to human and global interests, while slanting national interests toward the ultra-rich. In effect, the political future for formerly leading democratic states is now more accurately described as a mixture of autocracy and plutocracy with fascist overtones of the strong leader and the stereotyping of ‘the other’ as an enemy to be excluded or destroyed.

 

One symptom of these implosive developments is to call attention to the altered role of the United States in this overall conjuncture of historical forces. On the one side, is the reality of U.S. decline, accentuated by the behavior of Trump since 2016 and the rise of China, which reflects the impact of this impulsive and anti-globalist leader and national mood, but also exhibits some longer deeper trends that transcend his demagogic impact. The most important of these is the failure to learn from the reduced effectiveness of military force with respect to the pursuit of foreign policy goals, given changes in the nature of political power and international status, especially in relations between the West and non-West. Costly interventions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq have all ended in political failure, despite U.S. military and battlefield dominance and a strong political commitment to the mission. The U.S. reaction has been to reframe tactics rather than to appreciate the enhanced capabilities in the post-colonial world of militarily vulnerable countries to mobilize prolonged and eventually effective resistance to interventions from the West. Such reframing has led to the repetition of failed interventions in new contexts. In this narrow regard, Trump’s seeming repudiation of regime-changing wars was and is more realistic than the Pentagon’s tendency to return to the drawing counterinsurgency and counterterrorist drawing boards to figure out how to do the job better next time.

 

Yet Trump’s militarism is evident in other forms, including seeking to extend military frontiers to outer space, by boasts about investing in producing the most powerful military machine in human history, and by the reckless war-mongering diplomacy toward Iran. In this respect, the U.S. not only is increasing risks of global catastrophe, but also inadvertently helping its international rivals to gain relative economic and diplomatic advantages. A crucial explanation of America’s likely continuing decline results from two refusals: first, a recognition of the neutralization of military power among major states by the mutually destructive character of warfare and secondly, an appreciation of the nature of asymmetric conflicts resulting from the rising capabilities of national resistance frustrating, and generally defeating, what had once been relatively routine and cost-effective colonial and imperial operations.

 

Another source of decline is that the kind of confrontations that existed during the Cold War no longer seems to exert nearly as much influence on security dimensions of world order as previously. Most European states feel less need for the American nuclear umbrella and the safety afforded by close alliance relations, which translates into reduced U.S. influence. This shift can be observed by the degree to which most states currently entrust their defensive security needs to national capabilities, somewhat marginalizing alliances that had been formally identified with U.S. leadership. In this regard, the bipolar and unipolar conceptions of world order have been superseded by both multipolarity and statism in the dynamic restructuring of world order since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China.

 

The profile of American decline, with respect to the international policy agenda could be rather abruptly altered, if not reversed, by an internationalist post-Trump foreign policy. This would be particularly evident, in all likelihood, with respect to reaffirming cooperative efforts regarding climate change, reviving the 2015 Paris Agreement, and calling for a more obligatory approach to international regulatory arrangements. Of course, a revived American bid for global leadership would be further exhibited by certain foreign policy moves such as seeking balance in addressing Israel/Palestine relations, lifting economic sanctions from such countries as Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, renewing adherence to the JCPOA (Nuclear Agreement) with Iran, and urgent calls for strengthening the role and relevance of the United Nations and respect for a global rule of law reconfigured to take account of the transnational features of the digital age with its connectivities and networks joining non-state actors.

 

In a sense, the assessment and contours of American decline, reflective of so many factors, will become clearer after the 2020 elections. If Trump prevails, the decline thesis will be confirmed. If a centrist Democrat, say Biden, prevails, it will likely create a sense of relief internationally, along with a temporary suspension of doubt about the reality of U.S. decline, but will not end the credibility of the longer run decline hypothesis as a Democratic Party president, such as Biden, will not challenge the Pentagon budget or the militarism that underpins American policy for the past 75 years. If, as now seems highly unlikely, the Democrats nominate a progressive candidate, say Sanders or Warren, and (s)he is able to gain enough support in Congress, the trends pointing to further decline might not only be suspended, but possibly reversed. Addressing inequality arising from the plutocratic allocation of benefits resulting from neoliberal globalization and undoing the excessive reliance on military approaches to foreign policy are the only two paths leading to a sustainable renewal of American global leadership and prospects for a benevolent national future.     

 

 

 

Q2. Do you detect any similarities between the current global geopolitical condition and that of the era of imperial rivalries prior to the outbreak of World War I?

 Response: The imperial rivalries, at the root of the stumble into major warfare, were much more overt in the period preceding World War I than is the case today. Now imperial strategies are more disguised by soft power expansionism as is the case with China or geopolitical security arrangements and normative claims as is the American approach, but the possibility of an unwanted escalation in areas of strategic interaction are present, especially in areas surrounding China. Confrontations and crises can be anticipated in coming years, and without skillful diplomacy a war could result that could be more destructive and transformative of world order than was World War I.

 

There is also the possibility of hegemonic rivalry producing a major war in the Middle East, as between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States on one side and Iran and Russia on the other side. The Syrian War prefigured on a national scale such hegemonic rivalry that could now recur on a regional scale. A more optimistic interpretation of developments in the Middle East is to suggest that the stability of the Cold War era might soon reemerge in light of Russian reengagement, which could restore the balance imposed earlier, and seems preferable to the turmoil and confrontations of the last 25 years. It would be prudent to take note of the World War I context to remind political leaders that they risk unwanted sequences of events if promoting aggressive challenges to the established order in regional or global settings. Yet the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in early January 2020 came close to setting off a chain reaction of escalating violent incidents that could have ended in a major war between Iran and the United States of intensity and indefinite scope.

 

Of course, triggering conditions prior to World War I were concentrated in Europe, whereas now it could be argued that the most dangerous situations are either geographically concentrated in the Middle East or in a variety of regional circumstances where coercive diplomacy could trigger an unintended war either  on the Korean Peninsula or in relation to China where interests and ambitions collide in the Western Pacific and South China Sea.

 

Graham Allison has written a widely discussed book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap?(2017), which argues that throughout history when the dominance of a state is challenged by a rising power a major war has frequently resulted to establish geopolitical ranking. Of course, circumstances have changed drastically since the time of Thucydides, due to the possession of nuclear weapons on both sides, a fact that is likely to encourage geopolitical caution as risks of mutual catastrophe are quite evident. At the same time complacency is not warranted as governments have not changed their reliance on threats and bluffs to achieve their goals, and the possibility of miscalculation is present as antagonisms climb escalation ladders.

 

More broadly, the existence of nuclear weapons, their deployment, and doctrines leading to their use in certain situations create conditions that are very different than what existed in Europe more than a century ago. Yet there is one rather frightening similarity. Threat diplomacy tends to produce conflict spirals that can produce wars based on misperception and miscalculation, as well as accident, rogue behavior, and pathological leadership. In other words, the world as now  constituted, as occurred in 1914, stumble into an unwanted war, and this time with casualties, devastation, and unanticipated side effects occurring on a far greater scale.

 

Finally, there were no serious ecological issues confronting the world in 1914 as there are at present. Any war fought with nuclear weapons can alter the weather for up to ten years in disastrous ways. There is the fear validated by careful scholarly study that ‘a nuclear famine’ could be produced by stagnant clouds of smoke that would deprive the earth of the sunlight needed for agriculture for a period of years. In other words, the consequences of a major war are so much more serious that its avoidance should be a top priority of any responsible leader. Yet, with so many irresponsible leaders, typified by Donald Trump, the rationality of caution and that would seem to prevent large scale war may not be sufficient to avoid its occurrence. Also, the mobilization of resources and the focus of attention on an ongoing war, or even its threat, would be so occupying as almost certainly to preclude efforts, however urgent, to address global warming and other ecological challenges.

 

Q3. Given that the historical conditions and factors that gave rise to Cold War policies and institutions have vanished, what purpose does NATO serve today?

 

Response: Although the conditions that explained the formation and persistence of NATO were overcome by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and of the Soviet Union a few years later, NATO remained useful to some of its members for several reasons. For the United States, it kept the U.S. engaged in Europe, and sustained its role as alliance leader. For the major European powers, it represented a security guaranty in the event of a revived Russian threat, and lessened internal pressures to develop expensive European military capabilities that did not depend on American participation. The Kosovo War in 1999 displayed a European consensus to transform NATO into an intra-European peace force, while the Libyan War of 2011 displayed a misleading willingness to manipulate the UN into authorizing NATO to engage in a regime-changing out of area military intervention that not only weakened the legitimacy of the post-Cold War UN and harmed Libya, but also understandably eroded trust in UN procedures on the part of Russia and China that had been persuaded not to oppose a decision at the Security Council for a strictly limited humanitarian intervention but not for NATO sponsored regime change.

 

The NATO alliance should be disbanded in the interest of world peace and stability. Its only real function since 1989 has been to further the geopolitical goals of the United States, and to a lesser extent, France and the UK. The persistence of NATO after its Cold War rationalization was undercut exemplifies the refusal of the West to make the structural adjustments that could have expressed an intention to make a transition from a pre-war environment of strategic confrontation that characterized the Cold War to a post-war atmosphere of dealignment and demilitarization. Had such a transition occurred, or even been attempted, we would now most likely be living in more positive historical circumstances with attention to the real economic, political, and ecological challenges to human wellbeing now and in the future being addressed. We would not need the awakening alarms being set off by a 16 year old Swedish girl!   

 

Q4. Trump’s foreign policy towards the Middle East is unabashedly pro-Israel, while also supportive of Erdogan’s grand vision for Turkey and the Arab world. Can you explain for us this apparent anomaly?

 

Response: It may be intellectually satisfying to give a coherent spin to Trump’s seemingly antagonistic policies in the Middle East, but I feel it conveys a false sense of plan and strategy beyond the play of personality and ad hoc circumstance. The most that can be claimed it that there is a kind of hierarchy in arranging American foreign policies priorities, yet overall, lacking any sense of regional grand strategy. At the top of the Trump policy pyramid seem to be upholding the two ‘special relationships’ with Israel, first, and Saudi Arabia, second. Turkey is somewhat supported because of the seeming personal rapport between Erdogan and Trump, and partly also for reasons of continuity of alignment and economic trade relations. Iran is a perfect regional enemy for the United States, which helps us understand why it have been demonized and subjected to crippling sanctions and war threats for the past 40 years. Iran is antagonistic to Saudi ambitions to assert its regional hegemony and to Israel because of its pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist stance, and not a trading partner or strategic ally with the United States ever since the revolutionary overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Besides, Iran as the leading Shi’a state in the region is a sectarian foil for the Gulf/Egyptian Sunni affinities. Besides, Trump’s insistence on repudiating Obama’s initiatives in the region led to the American withdrawal from the Nuclear Program Agreement negotiated in 2015 (JCPOA, that is, Joint Comprehensive Program of Action), has led to the collapse of an agreement that seemed a breakthrough for peace at the time. This anti-Iran agenda is being carried forward at considerable risk and expense, as well as producing mass hardship for the Iranian people over a period of many decades.

 

Although Trump campaigned on a pledge of disengagement from senseless regime-changing interventions of the past in the Middle East, especially the attack on and occupation of Iraq since 2003, it has been a difficult policy to implement, especially in relation to Iran, and to some extent Syria. This seems to reflect\ American deep state resistance to all demilitarizing moves in the Middle East for strategic reasons, as well as Trump’s quixotic and ambivalent style of diplomacy.

 

As far as Turkey is concerned, there seems to be some continuity in Erdogan’s foreign policy, which is to support the Palestinian national struggle and to favor democratizing movements from below, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, but to avoid entanglements of the sort that led to a major foreign policy failure in Syria after 2011, and recently, an announced willingness to support the Libyan government against insurgency. Also Turkey has under Erdogan’s leadership supported major institutional reform at the UN by questioning the hold of the permanent members of the Security Council on UN decision-making, typified by the slogan ‘the world is greater than five.’).

 

  Q5. Do you see China as emerging any time in the near future as a global superpower?

 Response: I think China is already a global superpower in some fundamental respects, although not a global leader in the manner of the United States in the period between 1945-2016. Whether it has the political will to play a geopolitical role beyond its East and South Asian nearby regions is difficult to predict. The top Chinese officials seem to sense a dangerous vacuum and inviting opportunity resulting from the withdrawal of the United States from its leadership position. At the same time, the Chinese themselves seem aware of their lack of experience beyond the Asian context outside of the economic sector, are preoccupied with domestic challenges, and are aware that Chinese is not a global language nor the renminbi a global currency. For these reasons, I expect China to stay largely passive, or at most defensive, when it comes to the global geopolitical agenda, and use its considerable leverage to promote multipolarity and restraint in most international venues.

 

At the same time, China’s superpower status can be affirmed in two different fundamental respects: as the only credible adversary of the United States in a major war and as a soft power giant when it comes to spreading its influence beyond its territorial limits by a variety of non-military means, most spectacularly by its Road and Belt Initiative, the largest investment in an integrative undertaking in the world. If soft power status is the best measure of influence in a post-political world order, then China may have already achieved global leadership if history is at the dawn of a new period in which the role of military power and conquest as the principal agent of change is morphing toward obsolescence. Arguably the most telling symptom of American decline is its gross over-investment in military capabilities despite enduring a series of political setbacks in situations where it dominated the battlefield, which when coupled with the failure to address the decaying domestic infrastructure and refusing to fill the gaps of social protection. Perhaps, the Vietnam War is the clearest instance of total military superiority resulting in the loss of a war, but there are other notable instances (Afghanistan, Iraq).

 

 

Q6. If you were asked to provide a radical vision of the world order in the 21st cedntury, what would it look like?

 

Response:This is a difficult assignment. I would offer two sets of response, but with a realization of the radical uncertainty associated with any conjectures about the future of world order. My responses depend on some separation between considerations of policy and of structure. I respond on the basis of my tentative diagnosis of the present reality as posing the first bio-ethical-ecological crisis in world history.

 

With respect to policy, I would emphasize the systemic nature of distinctive present challenges, global in scale and scope. The most severe of these challenges relate to the advent of nuclear weapons, and the related geopolitical policy consensus that has opted for a nonproliferation regime rather than a denuclearizing disarmament alternative. Such a regime contradicts the fundamental principle of world order based on the equality of states, large or small, when it comes to rights and duties under international law. It does, however, reflect adherence to the fundamental norm of geopolitics that is itself embedded in the UN Charter, which acknowledges inequality with respect to rights and duties, evident in other spheres of international life, including accountability for international crimes, as acknowledged by the demeaning phrase, ‘victors’ justice.’

 

To address the challenges to world order that threaten the peoples of the world does not require overcoming political inequality altogether, but it does require attaining two goals that involve radical changes in political behavior: 1) respect for and adherence to international law and the UN Charter by all states, especially the most powerful, which would at least entail national self-discipline and the elimination of the right of veto at the UN, but not necessarily permanent membership in the Security Council; 2) the strengthening of the autonomy of the United Nations in relation to the peace and security agenda by creating an independent funding arrangement based on imposing taxes on transnational travel, military expenditures, and luxury items. The objectives would be to move toward a global organization that was dedicated to the global and human interest as well as to the promotion of national  interests as is now the case, which would depend on vesting implementing authority in the UN Secretary General as well as the acceptance of a degree of demilitarization by current geopolitical actors, with the proclamation of shared goals of making national security unambiguously defensive, and globally regulated in accord with international law.

 

In effect, the policy priorities to be served by such a radical reordering of global relations, shifting authority and power from its present geopolitical nexus to a multiplicity of hubs of influence that sought global justice and ecological sustainability, and were more institutionally situated in global networks and arrangements. In the scheme depicted above it would mean a rather dramatic shift from geopolitical autonomy to a more law-governed world order with the establishment of effective mechanisms to serve the whole of humanity rather than being focused on the wellbeing of its distinct territorial parts. In the process, accompanying social democratic arrangements for trade, investment, and development would need to be adjusted to serve the attainment of basic economic and social rights as implemented by monitoring and regulatory transnational procedures that were also sensitive to ecological sustainability.

 

It hard to imagine such policy and structural modifications taking place without a renewed confidence in democratic, ethically grounded, and generally progressive styles of governance at the national level, protective of vulnerable people, accountable to future generations, as well as acting without total deference to short-term electoral cycles. In other words, the behavioral tendencies and values that are now dominating most political arenas by dangerously myopic approaches to policy and structures of accountability would have to be transformed on the basis of ecological consciousness, respect for human rights and international law, and an international institutional structure oriented around the protection of human and global interests in addition to national rights.

 

There is no plausible political path visible to such a future at present, although there is a growing sense of panic, especially among youth, as recently epitomized by the charismatic impact and impressive insight of Greta Thunberg. What is altogether missing from the present setting are credible sources of revolutionary energy guided by such a vision of a necessary and desirable future, which would entail the rejection of autocratic governance of sovereign states and of apartheid geopolitical regimes (as with nuclear weapons, accountability to international criminal law, and double standards). In effect, a drastic shift from a zero-sum world of destructive rivalry, exploitation, intervention, and political egoism to a win/win world based on the emergence of a sense of global community and ecological unity accompanied by the mechanisms and structures to convert policy directives into behavioral conformity.

 

Contra Israeli Apartheid

1 Dec

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a modified version of remarks made at the opening plenary session of the “1st Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid: Dimensions, Repercussions and the Means to Combat It,” 29-30 November 2019, Istanbul. The conference was held under the joint auspices of the Global Organization against Racial Discrimination & Segregation and the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World, with opening statements by the respective presidents of the two organizations, Rima Khalaf (who was the director of ESCWA at the time the apartheid study, “Israeli Practices toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was commissioned by ESCWA in 2016, and written by Professor Virginia Tilley and myself) and by Ali Kurt. The conference was loosely structured around the theme of updating our report since its release on March 15, 2017. The Conference Program is appended at the end of my remarks. The undertaking of the conference was also to launch a new NGO as named above, and formally established in Geneva, headed by Rima Khalaf, and devoted to opposing racism worldwide, with priority given to opposing Israel/Palestine apartheid.]

 

Contra Israeli Apartheid

 

Introductory Observations

Our experience with the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) as authorts of the Report owes so much to the courage, dedication, and vision of Rima Khalaf, and this conference is itself a testimonial to the leadership she exhibited. She had the audacity to treat the UN as if it were what it was meant to be– an independent body representing the peoples of the world that seeks truth, respects law, and promotes peace and justice. In the age of Trump to act honorably in this manner is obviously ‘politically incorrect,’ that is, daring to act in the most admirable possible way from the perspective of human interests.

 

The firestorm that greeted the release of our report, what might be described as a ‘HalleyStorm’ exceeded the hostile pushback we expected after the report was formally released by ESCWA. I thought such an academic study would go largely unnoticed except by the most ardent Zionist watchdogs, especially since the text was preceded by a very visible disclaimer distancing the UN and ESCWA from our analysis and recommendations. By overreacting our high-profile attackers at the UN seemed to miscalculate, or maybe putting it better, contented themselves with scoring points in the short game, while giving away many more points in the long game that will ultimately determine the outcome of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights.

 

The attention given at UN Headquarters in New York City by the defamatory attacks launched by Ambassadors Halley & Danon greatly increased interest in our report, especially in civil society circles. What has happened in the two plus years since the ESCWA release in March 2017 has been to normalize the use of ‘apartheid’ to describe the Israeli/Palestine relationship, and governing structure, particularly in civil society circles. More than this, the apartheid discourse has influentially eroded, if not altogether superseded, the emphasis on ‘ending occupation’ as the clarion call of those seeking a sustainable and just peace for Israel and Palestine. In illuminating contrast, the report exerted little influence on the inter-governmental or formal UN discourse, which continued the zombie practice of dwelling on the occupation and placing hopes and bets on the two-state solution. I think there exists a growing consensus among pro-Palestinian activists that ending Israel apartheid as doctrine and practice now constitutes the one and only path to a sustainable peace. Of course, total ethnic cleansing or genocide is an outcome too distasteful to contemplate, leading to what should be termed an ‘unjust peace’ or ‘imposed peace’ and certainly not ‘a peaceful solution.’ Unfortunately, it has historical resonance whenever the context is one of settler colonialism. Resistance encountered in several settler colonial settings including the United States, Canada, and Australia resulted in the suppression, marginalization, and dispossession of the native people, and on occasion by genocidal means.

 

Conceptually and existentially our report revealed the links between allegations and findings relating to apartheid as a criminalized form of racism in international criminal law to a sinister politics of fragmentation and dispersal by which Israel has victimized and subjugated the Palestinian people in a variety of ways. What made this linkage of fragmentation and apartheid so important was that it was an inclusive way of understanding the scope of the distinctiveness of Israeli apartheid, embracing refugees, exiles, minority, and occupied Palestine in a single indivisible framework of victimization by way of racist domination of one ethnicity over another. This meant that if apartheid, as thus understood, were to be credibly dismantled, it would have to give equal status to Palestinians formerly marginalized or ignored by the long prevailing peace formula of expectations arising from an emphasis on the ‘land for peace’ slogan. In this manner our study privileges ‘people’ as distinguished from ‘territory’ as the core of the challenge of finding that elusive path leading to sustainable and just peace, as distinguished from the geopolitically manipulated Oslo peace process, which could never have achieved, even if an agreement had somehow emerged, more than a ceasefire disguised by being proclaimed by the negotiating parties as a permanent solution, or even worse, as ‘the deal of the century.’

 

We understand our task at this conference to be partly one of updating our ESCWA study in light of what has transpired since March 15, 2017 and partly to draw some interpretative perspectives and policy implications that derive from the study but were not contained in it. We have submitted separate updating papers that summarize our understanding of the changes relevant to the apartheid discourse as applied to Israel. In the papers we express somewhat differing understandings on some secondary issues, although in complete agreement on the core issue of the evidence support. Yet more significant is our shared acceptance of the basic apartheid framework as indispensable for useful analysis and policy formation, which is joined to our belief that dismantling apartheid, as we have conceptualized it, is the one and only gateway to sustainable peace between these two peoples. Underneath this conviction is my somewhat counterintuitive  view that Israeli Jews would also be beneficiaries of the ending apartheid in Israel just as the white South Africans were 25 years ago.

 

 

Problematics of Ethnocracy and Partition: Decoding the Zionist Project

Although not part of the original study, understanding the development of the dominant tendencies in the Zionist movement is crucial for the changing character of the relationship between Zionism and the relevance of the right of self-determination to the particular circumstances in Palestine. Of central relevance is the specific nature of Zionist opportunism when it comes to shaping policy. It changes through time, and is most basically expressed by grasping at what is available at each stage, without considering what was sought at prior stages or treating an acceptance of what was being offered in the present as the end of the road. From seeming to settle for a homeland, rather than a state in the Balfour/League formulations to the reluctant acceptance of the partition approach foisted on Palestine after World War II, to the current posture of, in effect, calling for Palestinian surrender in their own homeland, Zionism has kept raising its expectations ever closer to its underlying ambitions and its interpretation of the relevant balances of power and influence internally, regionally, and globally.

 

In many ways, and less often articulated, the Palestinian national movement for understandable reasons has taken what seems an opposite approach to that of the Zionist Project and later Israeli leadership. Palestinians quite reasonably rejected as unacceptable what was being offered to them at every stage of the conflict, which had they accepted it would have been seen as a political defeat. And somewhat ironically, the White House handshake between Rabin and Arafat symbolizing the mutual acceptance of the Oslo framework to resolve the conflict, which was portrayed at the time as a dramatic breakthrough leading to peace, turned out to be a disastrous tactical move by the Palestinian leadership. Oslo diplomacy allowed Israeli propagandists to portrays the Palestinian leadership as rejectionist as it seemed to be insisting on demands that were non-negotiable when what it was actually doing was trying to do was to avoid further encroachments on Palestinian land and rights, which were being continually diminished on the ground and by way of partisan brokered diplomacy. As Israelis consistently looked ahead on the basis of ever higher expectations, Palestinians looked backward in time ready to settle at a later stage for what they had rejected as a previous stage. Illustratively, when partition gave Palestinians 45% of the territory it seemed like and was treated as a totally unacceptable external fracturing of the unity of Palestine as a territorial polity and a disregard of the most elemental rights of its majority population, but later on the Palestinian leadership seemed ready to accept even 22% of Mandate Palestine as the boundaries of their greatly shrunken state. By then Israel, in contrast, was insisting on the total control of Jerusalem, a variety of security infringements on Palestinian sovereignty, including border control and permanent Palestinian demilitarization, as well, of course, as retention of the unlawful settlement blocs established on territory occupied in 1967. The Palestine Papers, document disclosing later secret direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, involve a portrayal of this clash between Palestinian expectations then lowered even below the 22% threshold as Israeli actions and demands were no longer content with a mere 78% of the land, positing demands in various devastating ways on the Palestinian territorial remnant, including even diverting the water aquifers of the West Bank. It is worth noting that what Israel seemed to be demanding in its pre-Trump diplomacy was the Gazaization of any future Palestine entity, that is, Gaza after the Sharon disengagement plan was put into operation in 2005 that did involve the withdrawal of IDF occupation force, really their redeployment and even the dismantling of Israel settlements.

 

In addition to Zionist opportunism and this distorted picture of Palestinian rejectionism in relation to respective diplomatic postures, there are two other features of Zionist practice that have undermined the Palestinian pursuit of basic rights. First, the hegemonic political discourse used at any given time is calibrated by Israel to fit changing external circumstances of constraint and opportunity. In recent times, without Trump, and possibly lacking Saudi approval, for instance, it is doubtful that Israel would have moved to annex the Golan Heights or engaged in actions to treat the settlements as incorporated into Israel as a matter of law, although both moves were undoubtedly featured on the actual long-range Zionist agenda even if not  realizable under present conditions. Secondly, the disclosed changing Israeli policy agenda at each stage in the evolution of the struggle never corresponded with the actual, and relatively fixed, agenda. Perhaps, very recently this dual agenda is no longer part of the Zionist tactical approach as the Netanyahu/Kushner victory scenario is being quietly and misleadingly promoted as a. strategic endgame for the struggle. This coming into the open is coupled with an insidious suggestion that Israel tighten even further the apartheid screws to compel a Palestinian surrender, or as phrased by its advocates, the unfinished Zionist business being to convince the Palestinian leadership of the reality of their ‘lost cause.’

 

The apartheid discourse seems useful in demonstrating that this kind of Israeli endgame will not finish the struggle but merely prolong it, at most, generating yet another ceasefire that is almost certain to be followed by yet another intifada, or some other expression of resurgent Palestinian resistance. The world might is currently ignoring the significance of the sustained and innovative resistance under the most difficult circumstances of the Great March of Return. Palestinians and their supporters understand this dramatic form of resistance for what it is, a decisive repudiation of ‘the lost cause’ endgame, which is itself the more discreet form of describing the victory scenario. This scenario has been given its most forthright formulation by the Zionist extremist, Daniel Pipes, which can be viewed in all its crass ugliness on the pages of his website vehicle, Middle East Forum. The essential argument put forth by Pipes is that diplomacy has been tried and failed, and now is the time to end the conflict by its coercive resolution, which means making clear that Israel has won and Palestine has lost. All that remains to be done is to make the Palestinians see this reality, and since they stubbornly refuse to do, apply force and various types of soft power aggression until they finally give into the pain, and accept their defeat by a formal acknowledgement of surrender.

 

I believe this context makes the apartheid diagnosis and prescription more important than ever, first to grasp the full existential scope of the Palestinian ordeal, and then to envision that despite everything that has transpired, peaceful coexistence on the basis of realizing a regime of ethnic equality remains a possibility, and indeed it is the only positive alternative to permanent conflict or further ethnic cleansing.

 

We know that the present arrangement of forces, regionally and geopolitically will not last forever. It currently appears extremely favorable to Israel, but if the next phase of Arab awakening brings to power leaders more receptive to the views and values of their own people, the Arab politics of accommodation and appeasement would likely be quickly repudiated, and replaced overnight by a more confrontational approach. And even the current hyper-partisan support of the United States is not assured. If the Republicans are defeated in 2020 presidential elections, the policy toward Israel is likely to revert to its earlier posture of partisanship rather than its present absurd hyper-partisanship. This means, in more concrete terms, a revival of mainstream ‘liberal Zionist’ advocacy of a two-state solution and a diplomacy based on a supposed need for mutual political compromise. It was the approach most clearly articulated and promoted in the American presidencies of Clinton and Obama. Of course, without changes within Israel this revival of liberal Zionism as the basis of American foreign policy will not reverse or diminish Israeli expectations or end the Palestinian ordeal. For this reason, whether Trumpism persists or is replaced by a more moderate presidency, the responsibility for a sustainable peace will depend on the growth and deepening of global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle in all societal settings, which include governments, the UN, and above all, civil society.

 

Even if we achieve a civil society consensus on this apartheid analysis, it will not be enough to produce change. We need also to act on the basis that ending Israeli apartheid is the one and only path to peace. In the present setting, it is also evident that neither diplomacy nor the UN will endorse the apartheid analysis unless pushed very hard from below, and even many segments of the Palestinian leadership and movement are reluctant to do so. In this sense, work remains on the level of ideas organization as it is crucial to achieve a higher degree of doctrinal and organizational unity than presently exists.

 

For action, with the notable exception of South Africa and a few other governments, this burden of action principally falls on civil society at this stage. We can hope that with an expanding movement of people more governments and the UN may be gradually led to join the effort. What the South African precedent tells us is that what seemed impossible until it happened, became possible all of a sudden because sufficient pressure had been brought to bear over time by robust resistance within and militant solidarity efforts without. Over time this combination of pressures exerted sufficient pressures on the Afrikaner leadership to bring about its tactical transformation. There was no change of heart, but a recognition that the cost of maintaining apartheid were too high, and that many of the white privileges of apartheid could be retained by negotiating the replacement of political and legal apartheid by a multi-racial constitutional order. It goes without saying that Israel is not South Africa, and that Palestinians remain disunited with respect to representation and lack the sort of inspirational leadership that proved to be so valuable in the South African anti-apartheid movement. At the same time, we should never forget that the anti-colonial flow of history remains the dominant international trend of our time, and may yet bring the Israeli elite to their senses. A genuine post-apartheid peace will benefit Jews and Palestinians alike—this is the affirmation of peace and justice that follows from the negation of apartheid.

 

On the basis of present analysis and past experience we know what needs to be done, and so now the main challenge needs to be met in the doing, with a vigilant eye toward ever changing circumstances of struggle, constraints as well as opportunities.

 

Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

1st Global Conference on Dimensions, Repercussions of Israeli Apartheid And the Means to Combat it

Istanbul, 29-30 November 2019

DAY 1: Friday 29 November 2019

3:00-3:45 (p.m.) Opening Session

4:00-6:00 Plenary session I: The Israeli Apartheid Regime and its Impact on our Understanding of the Conflict and the Paths to its Resolution.
Chair: Dr. Nadim Rouhana

  1. Israeli policies and practices and the question of apartheid (Apartheid Report launch).

Professor Richard Falk

  1. Implications of the apartheid paradigm: rethinking the conflict, its origins and its resolution. Professor Virginia Tilley
  2. Denial of Palestinian refugees’ and exiles’ the right to return: the most overtly racist policy. Professor Joseph Massad

Open discussion

1

Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

DAY 2: Saturday 30 November 2019

09:00-11:00 Plenary session II: Dimensions, tools and repercussions of Israeli Apartheid

Chair: Dr. Kamel Hawwash, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, UK

  1. Palestinian citizens of Israel: institutionalized discrimination and the struggle for equality. Dr. Muhannad Mustafa, General Manager of Mada Al-Carmel
  2. Israeli Apartheid in the earlier years (1948-1966): its objectives and tools, and the Palestinian Struggle to survive it. Prof Adel Manna, Palestinian history Professor
  3. Palestinians in the territories occupied since 1967 in the face of direct military occupation and racial discrimination. Prof. Zekeriya Kursun
  4. Palestinians in Jerusalem and the overt displacement policies. Prof Rasem Khamaisi, CPS Center for Planning and Studies
  5. Policies of impoverishment and economic dependency for control and domination in Palestine. Mohammed Samhouri

Open discussion

11:00-11:30 BREAK

11:30 – 13:30 Plenary session III: Consequences of Apartheid and Implications for the region and the World

Chair: Dr. Elias Khoury

  1. Repercussions of Israeli apartheid on the value system in Palestine/Israel, and the region. EliaZureik,ProfessorEmeritusofSociologyatQueen’sUniversityinOntario, Canada
  2. Research and knowledge gaps on Israeli Apartheid. Haider Eid, Associate Professor at al-Aqsa University, Gaza, (will join through skype or send a recorded speech)
  3. Israel’s new Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People, and its implications on the peace treaties and agreements signed by Israel with Jordan, Egypt, and the PLO. Dr. Anis Kassim
  4. Racial discrimination and segregation in Palestine, from the perspective of international human rights law. Av. Suleyman Arslan – Lawyer, Turkey
  5. Apartheid is a Crime, Victims and Witnesses in Palestine. Mats Svensson

Open discussion

 

2

Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

13:30-3:00

Lunch break

3:00-5:30 Plenary session IV: Strategies and Paths for the Struggle Against Israeli Apartheid

Chair: Prof Refik Korkusuz, Dean of Humanities Faculty, Turkey

  1. Apartheid, occupation, and settler colonialism: Palestinian strategies for liberation and attaining justice. Ali Abu Nimah, co-founder and executive director of The Electronic Intifada
  2. Countering Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Receb Songul
  3. Role of civil society organizations and youth movements around the world in combating the Israeli apartheid regime. Marie Crawley, Chair of the Ireland Palestine Alliance, Sadaka
  4. Role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in dismantling the Israeli apartheid regime. Hani Al-Masri, director general of Masarat, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies.
  5. BDS and the role of advocacy in the struggle to combat apartheid. Tisetso Magama, BDS SA Board Member.
  6. Dismantling the Israeli Apartheid Regime as a precondition for justice, equality, and peace for all. Haneen Zoabi, former Arab member of the Israeli Knesset.

Open discussion

5:30-6:30 Concluding Session and Press Conference

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

 

3

 

Declining Protection of Human Rights: Why?

31 Oct

The Future of Human Rights: Regressive Trends and Restorative Prospects

 

Points of Departure

 

Reviewing the global situation, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaed Raad Al Hussein of Jordan, opened a 2018 conference devoted to the 25th anniversary of the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights and Development held in Vienna, on a decidedly pessimistic note. Instead of doing the usual on such occasions, that is, celebrating the progress made since the earlier event, Prince Zaed emphasized the disturbing evidence of regression with respect to a broad range of issues bearing on the protection of human rights embedded in international treaty instruments as evidenced by the practice of states. He insisted that without fundamental changes in patterns of governance by sovereign states and in the operation of the world economy it would be naïve to expect an improved international atmosphere for human rights.

 

In the background of these remarks was the realization that we live in a state-centric world, which means that there is a significant degree of correlation between the quality of national governance and the presence of a political will on the part of leaders of sovereign states that is dedicated to the realization of human rights. In this regard the most important factor contributing to the declining protection of human rights is the disturbing global trend since the year 2000 away from liberal democracies and toward illiberal democracies. The essence of illiberalism is a resurgent nationalism that devalues international sources of authority such as international law and the UN, and exhibits an unconditional reliance on sovereign rights to act autonomously unless their internal public order system challenges geopolitical strategic priorities (as is currently the case with Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba). At this time, there are almost no important countries that have not embraced this hyper-nationalism of illiberal democracy, which is generally abetted by an autocratic governing style that is impatient with constraints associated with constitutionalism and the rule of law.

 

The more human rights form of liberalism is especially concerned with patterns of governing, avoiding the abuse of citizens by oppressive mechanisms and facilitating participation in the governing process by way of political parties and rights of free expression. This liberal perspective tends to overlook the relevance of economic dimensions, including the impact of the market and the establishment of social protection mechanisms to overcome poverty and to meet needs of individuals relating to health, education, and housing. The collapse of the Soviet Union was interpreted in the West as demonstrating the superiority of capitalism and the failure of socialism, which also had the effect of removing socialism as a political alternative in many countries, which contributed to the rise of unrestrained capitalism internationally and nationally, definitely weakening the performance records of governments with respect  to economic and social rights quite independently of the trend toward illiberal democratic leadership. The efforts by the United Nations to put forward Sustainable Development Goals associated with economic and social challenges substitutes a voluntary process of governmental policymaking for the obligatory commitments of international human rights law, and seems to lack the kind of political traction needed for reaching the ambitious goals set for attainment by 2030.

 

Ever since 1945 the leader of international liberalism was the United States, which gave human rights considerable visibility in the Cold War Era. The liberal West regarded human rights as essentially reduced in scope to civil and political rights while the socialist East proclaimed their support of economic and social rights as providing the material pre-conditons of human dignity for all. Human rights in these two forms were a competitive ideological focus for these geopolitical rivals, strongly reinforced in the West by the emergence of transnationally organized NGOs dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, but overwhelmingly associating human rights with civil and political rights, and not according serious attention to economic, social, and cultural rights. This civil society activism led many observers to conclude that human rights only concerned political and civil rights, a view never accepted in the global South, which tended to privilege economic, social, and cultural rights. In truth, the U.S., much more than its more social democratic European allies, never accepted the view that ‘human rights’ extended to the material needs of people, and always viewed such help ambivalently, as given by governments at their discretionrather than as a matter of obligation. This meant that even the provision of food or health care was voluntary, and not a matter of right. With the style and substance of Trump’s leadership, it has become clear that the international human rights of vulnerable people do not inform public policy unless market manipulations operate to raise wages, reduce unemployment, and improve living standards. Human rights, as rooted in international sources of legal and moral authority, are rendered irrelevant by such an orientation, and are viewed as obstacles to the efficient promotion of investment and trade, which according to such thinking, operate best when governed by market forces rather than by moral sentiments and legal norms.

 

During the Cold War there was some political motivations for achieving progress with respect to human rights, especially after Jimmy Carter in 1976 made human rights an essential feature of American foreign policy. In the following years, the ideological rivalry with the Soviet Bloc led both sides to claim that their version of human rights was superior to that of their adversary. In essence, the Western claim was that the freedom of the individual was being protected, while in the Soviet bloc the claim was that the collective wellbeing of society was upheld. The practical influence of human rights reached its climax in the anti-apartheid campaign that combined pressure exerted inter-governmentally and by way of the UN with influences of transnational grassroots activism, especially via sanctions and boycotts, given expression in a robust BDS set of initiatives. With illiberal democracies now running the international show, the sun has set temporarily for the human rights movement, and is further threatened by ongoing and unmet challenges throughout the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threats and Challenges to Human Rights

 

Against this background, a number of threats can be mentioned as intensifying the trend toward the decline of human rights as a framework relevant to the behavior of states internally (state/society relations) and internationally (state to state relations). Basically, the current atmosphere highlighting the legitimacy of ultra-nationalism from a geopolitical standpoint translates at the level of policy into a reciprocal posture of ‘see no evil, hear no evil,’ and thus shields from accountability those that ‘do evil’ to their own people and to others. Rather than provide full expositions of the most salient developments adverse to the implementation of human rights, threat will be enumerated and identified:

 

  • Exclusionary nationalism: hostility to those seeking asylum due to forced departures from combat zones or economic/ecological disaster areas leading to a global migration crisis expected to worsen in coming years; illiberal responses include walls, detention centers, mistreatments, family separations, arbitrary and cruel deportation procedures and policies. Discriminatory attitudes toward immigrants, especially severe if racist criteria of exclusion relied upon.
  • Autocratic political leadership: autocrats are intolerant of dissent and oppositional activity, which leads to interferences with freedom of expression, control of media and criminalization of oppositional journalism, interferences with academic freedom, endorsement of excessive force and police brutality, suppression of minorities, violence against dissenters.
  • Remnants of Colonialism: international failures to implement the right of self-determination, including dismantling of oppressive structures, in relation to several outstanding unresolved conflicts associated with European colonialism, including Palestine, Kashmir, Western Sahara. These failures produce prolonged suffering for entire peoples who are systematically oppressed.
  • Counterterrorism: reliance on torture, denial of POW status to terrorist suspects, non-compliance with international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions), drone warfare on battlefields without boundaries. Modern states find themselves vulnerable to terrorist tactics, and often suspend their compliance with human rights standards to secure information or to express a vindictive hatred of such adversaries.
  • Capitalism: deference to market forces, capital over people, with gross inequality and poverty resulting, and economic and social rights completely marginalized as normative limits on public policy.
  • Climate Change: the failure to take prudent steps to control greenhouse gas emissions in conformity to the consensus among climate scientists encroaches upon and threatens the right to life and the right to health, among other rights, and completely rejects the efforts to achieve an international order capable of and dedicated to the realization of human rights for all, an encompassing obligation set forth in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Technological Innovation: the expected accelerated reliance on robots and automation threatens the livelihoods of millions throughout the world, and undermines prospects for decent work; the meta-data surveillance by state and market forces subverts privacy and threatens fundamental freedoms; genetic engineering poses additional threats to human dignity that are not yet fully appreciated or even understood.

 

 

 

 

Expectations for the Future

 

The most haunting questions concern whether these pressures adverse to compliance with and implementation of human rights are likely to diminish or even be reversed in the years ahead. A number of key factors to consider will be identified here as questions, but as with the case of adverse trends, the issues will not be fully discussed.

 

  • Can Liberal Democracy be Restored and Enhanced? It would seem that prospects for restoring and enhancing liberal democracy vary from country to country, and reflect particular conditions involving the procedures for selecting leaders and the strength of legislative or parliamentary institutions and judicial independence, the resilience of the constitutional order, the gravity of perceived security threats, role of money, impact of special interest lobbies, corporatized media. Enhancement of liberalism would involve two broad sets of developments—the inclusion of economic and social rights as internationally protected human rights and the recognition that climate change and declining biodiversity have major impacts on fundamental human rights.

 

  • Can the Global Migration Crisis be Resolved or Mitigated at its Source? It appears that migration pressures will be resisted by countries that feel threatened by large-scale entry of immigrants, especially if their arrival is massive and without legal documentation. The only solution in a state-centric system of world order is by addressing as many of the conditions giving rise to departure and displacement through economic assistance and a global approach to conflict resolution and economic/ecological crises.

 

  • Can American or Equivalent Responsible Global Leadership be Restored or Enhanced? The 2020 US elections may overcome the current global leadership vacuum if a more internationally oriented American president is elected, especially if the new leader values international law, the UN, and human rights, and is sensitive to the importance of international cooperative given ecological imperatives. It is also possible that other configurations of responsible global leadership will emerge. China, Russia, the EU each could help restore current leadership responsive to global challenges either by their individual initiative or in a collaborative relationship. Trump self-consciously relinquished the non-militarist sides of America’s prior leadership role, proclaiming that he was elected president of the United States, not the world. The future of international human rights depends on benevolent global leadership.

 

 

  • Will the deepening Ecological Crisis give rise to more Effective Global Governance? In effect, will the increasing evidence of deteriorating ecological stability resulting from global warming, diminished biodiversity, and other signs of disharmony between human activity and the natural surrounding act as a wakeup call for the elites and publics of the world, inducing an atmosphere of urgency that includes vesting greater authority in international institutions and an international framework of environmental regulation? So far, the reactions have been dominated by short-termism accompanied by denialism and escapism, with the default option being technological innovation when the situation impinges to an extent that can no longer be denied. As a consequence human rights are weakened, especially in relation to the right to life and health.

 

  • Will the Prominence of Post-Human Scenarios hasten the Recognition of a Bio-Ethical Crisis? We are increasingly confronted by end-of-the-world scenarios based on the occurrence of a variety of apocalyptic events or assessments that the planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable. Will this reality of bio-eco-ethical-spiritual crisis lead to the formulation of new radical thought and political movement responsive to the challenges, reflecting the recognition that present modes of problem-solving and policy-making are not capable of providing adequate responses?

 

 

  • Can Capitalism be Reformed Sufficiently to be Reconciled with Humane Global Governance? To address the adverse trends it will be necessary, at minimum, to evolve a more regulated world economy that is sensitive to ethical and ecological considerations. This requires limits on profitability, consumerism, and environmental disregard, including on release of greenhouse gasses. It may be that some fusion of capitalism and socialism would be alone capable of preserving the autonomies of the private sectors with the responsibilities to uphold human rights, including rights of the unborn. This could happen as the extreme inequalities of income and wealth create a public mood seeking a more equitable and sustainable brand of economic development more in accord with the norms contained in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

 

  • Does a Positive Future for Humanity Depend on a Politics of Impossibility? The present world situation suggests two points of attention: a series of dystopian trends as offset by the realization that only utopian solutions can bring relief and nurture hope. Politics as the art of the possible seems very inadequate as response to the challenges facing a human rights culture except to lengthen the interval available for adjustments, but this will fall short both of what is needed and what is desirable. To meet needs and satisfy desires depends then on the emergence and embrace of ‘a politics of impossibility.’ It is important to recognize that what seems impossible happens—for instance, the collapse of worldwide European colonialism, the transformation of the South African apartheid regime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the attainment of gay rights in many settings. The impossible happens when enough people insist through thought, action, and faith that it must happen. Change of this fundamental sort comes from below in unpredicted surges, which themselves constitute responses to populist discontent and struggle.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The main objective of this essay is to sketch the profound challenges to human rights that arise from a series of interrelated and overlapping developments, and to give some sense that to restore and enhance human rights is a difficult undertaking that now seems almost impossible given the ultra-nationalist outlook of the governments of most leading states. Yet the future is uncertain, and will be influenced by what peoples variously situated choose to do or refrain from doing. Under these conditions of menace and uncertainty there is every reason to struggle for what is necessary and desirable even if it seems presently impossible of attainment.

 

Dark Clouds and the Human Condition: Youth to the Rescue!

25 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The post below of my remarks at the opening session of the Maker Majlis Conference, College of Islamic Studies, Hamed Bin Khalif University (HBKU) on 22 Sept 2019. The theme of the three-day conference was on the role of youth in furthering the UN process associated with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs (as further clarified by 169 targets), ambitiously set to be achieved by 2030. The massive Global Climate Strike on 20 September seemed to have similar intentions to conference, that is, how to explain and  overcome the absence of political will on the part of the governments of the world, none more lacking in this respect than the U.S. Government, with respect to the ecological agenda of the world, with particular consideration of climate change threats and harms. This civil society challenge from below, transnationally and inspired and organized by youth, offers us all glimmers of hope. As seemed appropriate, I stressed the amazing role of GretaThunberg. The day after I spoke, Greta Thunberg summarized her assault on the criminal passivity of status quo forces of the adult world with a confrontational challenge delivered to assembled dignitaries at the United Nations Headquarters in New York: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and you can do is talk about money and fairy tales of eternal growth. How dare you.”]

 

Dark Clouds and the Human Condition: Youth to the Rescue!

 

 Excellencies, Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:

 I feel privileged to participate in this desperately timely event, and at the same time somewhat intimidated by the challenge it presents. My quandary arises because so much has been said about these topics, and yet so little has been done. Words of concern without commensurate action are producing despair and cynicism, and a healthy dose of anger. This Maker Majlis event seems imaginatively conceived and designed to counter such negative feelings, especially among youth. In summary, these is a spreading mood of acute anxiety among youth everywhere that the world is at once burning up and melting away, and that their future is being destroyed while the adult world looks on passively or even looks away. The level of official response is treated by many young activists as a degrading dismissal of their most urgent concerns. It is as if the challenges seen by them as catastrophic threats are being mostly ignored by the older generations, often treated as unwarranted expressions of hysteria and alarmism. It seems that many members of the political class fear that being responsible about carbon emissions would cut into corporate profits and reduce military budgets. Such leaders dismiss urgent calls for global policy reform as politically unacceptable and ecologically unnecessary. They seem to be saying to themselves and to us ‘When and if the time of true urgency arrives, technology will solve whatever problems arise. In the meantime, there is no need to worry about the world your grandchildren will inherit.’

 

I commend the convenors for their brilliant sense of timing, focusing on the role of youth in relation to the attainment of the 17 UN SDGs just a couple of days after the greatest youth global show of transnational activism in all of human history—the Global Climate Strike on Friday: over 4 million participants, 143 countries, and demonstrations in hundreds of cities. It was a memorable occasion of peaceful and dedicated protest by the young and old alike. Almost unbelievably, it had been almost single handedly stimulated by the remarkable charismatic commitment of a 16 year old girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg. Only a year ago Greta started to stay away from school on Fridays, and instead stood before the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, vowing to continue this vigil until the legislators heeded her demand and took bold action to reduce the carbon imprint of Sweden. These developments remind us that the future belongs to the young, but to their regret and our despair, the present still belongs to the supposed grownups. It is we who are being challenged as never before to become responsible in our lives and work. We must be persuaded to give up the pursuit of short-term advantages in markets and government, a deadly form of short-termism that involve a refusal to accept some responsibility for the sake of the future. In this regard, I do not share the spirit of resignation expressed by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, when he responded to Greta Thunberg’s appeal for decisive action by acknowledging that his generation was “not winning the battle against climate change” and hence, “it is up to youth to rescue the planet.” I oppose such an attitude. In my view, it is up to all of us. It is late, but not too late. Despite its dramatic show of concern by way of the Global Climate Strike the youth of the world can not hope to achieve transformative change on it own. They need us almost as much as we need them. What the young people around the world are doing so impressively will hopefully have many beneficial repercussions. I fervently hope that their impact will be catalytic,  awakening the rest of us so that in the future we might walk together in defiant unison until our leaders join this march of renewal to a healthy and sustainable future, and act accordingly so that we can believe their words because we witness their acts.

 

The fact that this week in New York City there will be the first ever Climate Action Summit under UN auspices is one overdue sign of an awakening. In fairness to Mr. Gutteres, I take note of his more helpful response a few days ago, calling on all of us, from the striking young to the world leaders gathering in the city to take part in the Climate Action Summit to recognize that we are being tested by an ecological emergency. We do not know where this encouraging burst of belated activism and concern will lead. It is reasonable to fear that drowsiness, sleep, scapegoating, and escapism will soon again be descriptive of what the media report and what the public mood manifests. There exists this great danger that complacency will renew its grip on our moral and political imagination. We must all do our best to resist such a manipulations and temptations. We should remind ourselves that a consensus among climate change scientists sends us this truly alarming message: the peoples of the earth have at most a twelve year window after which there is no assured road back to ecological sustainability. I am stressing climate change because it is the mega-challenge whose worsening undermines attempts to make progress with respect to every one of the seventeen SDRs.

 

There is no doubt that the constructive preoccupations of this moment will be very, very difficult for a civil society protest surge to maintain. It can only hope to do so only by building a transnational movement that lasts and grows. A cautionary lesson is the sorry spectacle of attempts to achieve sensible gun control in the United States. Only a couple of years ago there existed hope that the struggle led by young people to overcome the insanity of making assault weapons of war available in the U.S. virtually to anyone with the nerve to seek their possession. Tragic killings in American schools, mosques, places of worship, elsewhere have periodically in recent years aroused a strong immediate mass reaction of shock and anger that is reinforced by a generally supportive media, but this sense of societal outrage evaporates almost before the sun rises the next morning. And while reformist energies disappear, the pernicious gun lobbies display their adeptness at playing ‘the long game.’ These special interests that profit from gun manufacture and sales have the money and organization, and most importantly (and disgracefully) they have most politicians at their disposal. In light of this, it is hardly surprising that nothing tangible happens with regard to regulation. Once again, mourning the victims and condemning the killers acts as a substitute for taking appropriate action to prevent repetition of these horrifying incidents. Assault weapons and military scale ammunition clips not only remain available over the counter or at gun shows, but are being sold in record numbers, while the social concern fades away, only to reemerge for another brief interval in response to the next mass shooting incident.

 

We Americans should be ashamed for allowing this to happen with respect to gun control, and we must be resolute in our commitment not let this happen in our pursuit of a better, more sustainable, future for all of humanity. There will be no second chances, ‘no Planet B.’ The cost of such shortsighted failure is far too high, whether the issue is one of soul with respect to gun control or one of survival in relation to global warming. Our civilization is at risk of collapse, and the species faces extinction dangers for the first time in human history.

 

The focus of Maker Majlis on the SDGs is a logical beginning. It is a road to somewhere. The 17 goals are concrete and well-chosen. Their attainment would bring relief to many and a needed sense of accomplishment to the world at large. Merely by their formulation and adoption, these SDGs exhibit an impressive level of consensus that enjoys at least the nominal support of the governments of the world. Yet we all know that such a consensus is not nearly enough to get the job done. A rhetoric of agreement will not do much to alter behavior unless accompanied by the energy, passions, and anger of Greta Thunberg, and the millions of young (and older) people throughout the world who are inspired enough by her activist struggle of all. out effort to reduce the carbon footprint of modern industrial society and its consumerist life style. The SDR agenda is broader and deeper than mobilizing a response to global warming, yet as of now it lacks the animating passion and motivating fear that is needed if the scale and scope of change is to correspond to the magnitude of the challenges confronting our world. Thunberg made this point tellingly when she recently addressed an organ of the EU, insisting that an 80% reduction of carbon emissions was a necessity to keep us safe and healthy in the future even though the Paris Agreement, rightly celebrated at the time as a diplomatic breakthrough, aimed only at 40% reductions. In a similar spirit of talking truthfully to those who should know and do better, she reminded a Congressional hearing in Washington that the U.S. Government should be humiliated to know that it is the only country in the entire world to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, thereby renouncing its pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

 

In putting forward such assessments, Greta Thunberg made a couple of crucial points that bears on the whole issue of global reform as put forward by the SDGs. She reminds us that reformist efforts are worth supporting as steps in the right direction, yet are from enough to overcome the underlying challenges. To address climate change challenges prudently more than reform are definitely needed. It is thus crucial to understand that the SDG agenda offer neither complete solutions nor should these goals be dismissed as nothing more than pious wishes. The pursuit of the SDGs should be strongly encouraged, supported, and strengthened in every available venue where opinions are formed and policies generated. Such a responsible resolve will help stimulate the political energy from popular forces that is needed if our objective is to achieve ambitious positive results, thus raising confidence that it will be possible to do even more.

 

At the same time, the SDGs should be understood as a reformist project that falls short of the kind of transformative steps that must be taken if the prevailing ethos of capitalism and nationalism are to become vehicles, rather than obstacles, to the sort of safe and benign future we should be seeking for all of humanity.

 

Although climate change and global warming are the tip of the apocalyptic iceberg there are a host of other global issues that pose high risks of planetary disaster. These deserve our attention and also depend on the activism of popular movements if their claims and grievances are to find a place on the global policy agenda. Governments including those in world leadership roles have had the opportunity over the last seventy years to find solutions on their own to many of these dangerous problems. They have failed to do so, and mostly have not even tried. These fundamental world order unmet concerns include war, nuclearism, global migration, famine, extreme poverty, ultra-nationalism, and others. Never has humanity as a whole, as distinct from particular societies, nations, even civilizations been subject to converging crises of this magnitude. These crises are recently beginning to confront us with dire scenarios of the extinction of the human species, along with an acceleration of the ongoing mass extinction of a great variety of non-human species, imperiling biodiversity so vital for ecological stability. This extinction threat reflects the multiple impacts of global warming on the natural habitats of animals and plants, causing disharmonies also between the way we live and our natural surroundings.

 

We live at a time when respected scholars produce gloomy books exhibiting their personal anxieties about the future, offering readers book with such scary titles as The Uninhabitable Earth [David Wallace-Wells], Falter: How the Human Game is About to Play Out [Bill McKibben], or The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink [Jeffrey St. Clair & Joshua Frank]. Youth may be the canaries of our time, warning us of imminent disaster, but we are all, not just the young, subject to the risks of succumbing to this dark destiny. Among Greta Thunberg’s many electrifying insights is the observation that unless we feel panic we are not in touch with the reality of our world.

 

In my own language, humanity is faced with a bio-ethical-ecological-spiritual crisis of unprecedented gravity and complexity. This brings me to another motif of our Majlis gathering here in Qatar—the importance of religion and faith. For most of you, the principal expression of these sentiments is conveyed by the spiritual traditions, beliefs, and practices of Islam. In this regard, the emphasis on Islam has been rightly foregrounded in our program. For those of us who live mainly in other civilizational and religious spaces, the underlying message is the same although we must each adapt it creatively in relation to our own faith and spiritual traditions, as well as to our distinctive national and civilizational circumstances. Depending on sensibility and belief this may happen within the frame of an organized religion or quite independently. The concept paper for Maker-Majlis correctly criticizes the SDG approach in these words: “It is precisely this part [that is, the religious part] which is missing from the SDGs.” There is conveyed in many UN documents this false sense that the SDGs and global awakening can occur without the motivating energies supplied by religion and faith. This is one of the most dangerous delusions of secular modernity.

 

In some sense, even Greta Thunberg at first glance seems to be a victim of this mentality, calling herself but ‘a messenger’ for science and scientists. Her words: “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists. I want you to unite behind science and I want you to take real action.” She elaborated on another occasion, “..if the politicians listen to the scientists I could return to my classes..” Of course, taking ‘real action’ is an engagement in political change prompted by values affirming the right to life and a hope that not only is the planet worth saving but it can be saved. While late, it is not yet too late, although a tipping point of no return may be closer than we would like or realize, or can reliably know. I regard these sentiments of deference to science as deriving from her deeply held inner beliefs in the sacredness of life, as expressive of what is more accurately interpreted as a religious sensibility. The action that results from Thunberg’s intense inner convictions, especially if they go against the grain of social convention, is inherently faith-based. Whether this is acknowledged as ‘religion’ is of no special importance. I regard Greta Thunberg as having the character and commitment of a religiously grounded public personality, what we might romanticize by calling her, maybe prematurely, the Joan of Arc of the Ecological Age. The apparent fact that she does not grasp her engagement as ‘religious’ merely means that her understanding of religion and faith are overly identified with institutionalized religion.

 

Thunberg along with many others of all ages and faiths fully comprehend that transformative change is needed and will not occur without a mighty push from below, that is, by people, that will no longer give their consent to business as usual. This means that to wait patiently for the leaders of society, whether they are situated in the public or private sector, to do what is right and what is urgently needed is to wait too long, and is becoming a fool’s errand. Being patient and passive has been relied upon for decades and found fatally wanting. Despite the evidence and warnings, relying on a top down approach for solutions to these deep world order problems seems more than ever before a bridge to futility, and eventually to disaster.

 

Greta Thunberg’s words are again luminous in conveying her understanding of what needs to be done: “..we can’t change the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.” A more sophisticated rendering of this perspective has been formulated by Jeremy Lent, a specialist in problem-solving theory, in an article whose title conveys its message-“As society unravels, the future is up for grabs” [openDemocracy, 17 Sept 2019] Lent’s opening sentence makes his insistence on radical, as opposed to incremental approaches to problem-solving very evident: “Now is the time for radically new ideas to transform society before it is too late.” He elaborates this central thought as follows: “One thing is clear: the visionary ideas that will determine the shape of our future will not be based on incremental thinking within the confines of our current system.” To make the changes that are needed for sustainability as well as for the sake of achieving an ecologically satisfying and spiritually enhanced quality of life for the peoples of the world, we must look above all to the aroused human passions being shaped by ethical values and the inner truths of religion and spirituality. We cannot afford to wait around any longer with the vain expectation that the elites of the world will suddenly do the right thing and put the global house in order. As Lent puts it, maybe too dogmatically, “The simple lesson is that our global leaders have no intention to make even the feeblest steps toward changing the underlying drivers of society.” By ‘drivers of society’ Lent means obsessive profit-seeking as tied to compulsive consumerism. If this is the case, as it seems to be, it may be the most disturbing sign that our species has lost its way. The hubris of Donald Trump, the leader of my country, is one example among many of this failure of leadership at the top. Trump perversely seizes every opportunity to demean internationalism and environmentalism. He has actually gone so far as to dismiss global warming concerns as a species of ‘fake news’ or even ‘a hoax.’

 

I promise all of you that this will be the last time I quote or even refer to Greta Thunberg, but she made an irresistibly relevant interpretation of the civil rights successes of Martin Luther King and the extraordinary American achievement of landing Neil Armstrong safely on the moon back in 1960. She recalled that setting such seemingly out-of-reach goals remain inspiring for people everywhere. Invoking the insight of John F. Kennedy she said, these goals were inspirational “..not because they were easy but because they are hard.” Such a reflection fits with Lent’s rejection of incrementalism that I referred to earlier. Transformation is always hard.

 

My own effort along these lines is to suggest that we as members of societies and of the human species can no longer meet the challenges of the day by conceiving of politics in the standard way as ‘the art of the possible.’ Instead, to have any hope for a brighter future we have to affirm what I call ‘a politics of impossibility.’ To avoid discouragement we need also to be aware that the impossible has happened frequently in the recent past, and is not just another a dream-laden pathway to frustration and defeat. In my lifetime, the collapse of European colonialism underscored by Gandhi’s incredible nonviolent challenge to the British Empire in India, the peaceful dismantling of the South African apartheid regime, the fall of the Soviet internal empire, and even the Arab uprisings of a decade ago were examples of the impossible becoming historical occurrences before our eyes. When the impossible happens, experts who were initially caught by surprise, regain their composure and even dare write scholarly explanations after the fact on why what happened was inevitable.

 

At the same time, as earlier suggested, it is a disastrous mistake to sit around waiting for the impossible to save us from a tragic future. We need to struggle with all our strength for what we believe is right and necessary to give the impossible a fair chance of happening. Beyond this, such struggles are self-vindicating, and do not depend for their value on reaching results. As Gandhi tried to teach the world, the means used to gain desired ends should be their own fulfillment, and remain indistinguishable from the desired end being sought. That is where youth as a catalyst and religion as a source of commitment come to the fore in this historically charged moment.

 

How, then finally, does this outlook shape our attitude toward the program and vision of the SDGs. For me, the SDG effort frames a globally positive and comprehensive agenda. It also should be understood as a transnational process for taking action that seeks the implementation of positive policies. It is encouraging that this process seems more receptive to civil society participation and citizen engagement than has been characteristic of so many past UN undertakings.

 

Even so, the SDR approach needs to be viewed in relation to its shortcomings as well as its promise. We must ask ourselves and each other whether it is possible to achieve these suitably ambitious goals without changing the nature of neoliberal globalization to accord with human rights and a sustainable future. Further, are the SDGs reachable and realistic unless coupled with a challenge of the waste of valuable resources that results from excessive investment in weapons of death nurtured by outmoded militarist views of security, further inflated by the lucrative arms sales market, and artificially inflamed relations among and within states. The current form of economic globalization and militarism are embedded in the top down approach. Only by way of a bottom up approach powered by the mass mobilization of people and the reliance on faith driven action can we have any credible belief in prospects for arresting the current drift toward a catastrophic future.

 

And finally, advocating such a posture of resistance involves a correspondingly radical understanding of citizenship and political participation. From my perspective, ‘world citizens,’ although escaping from the traps of regressive nationalism imply that it is possible to act effectively by assuming that humanity is presently an existing unity, and as if the UN has generated and provided an institutional foundation for an existential global community. I have advocated an alternative way of thinking of citizenship by adopting a terminology centered on the idea of ‘citizen pilgrim,’ that is, of a person with a trusting faith in the unseen yet desired end of human endeavors. Such a person engages in struggle and conceives of his or her life as a spiritual journey or pilgrimage toward a better future. St. Paul points in this direction in his ‘Letter to the Hebrews,’ with a reference to seeking a ‘heavenly’ future as the goal of life. It is only such citizen pilgrims that will have the heart and soul for the struggle needed to create the kind of ‘community of belief’ that can support a UN, which is more than an aggregate of national interests. The UN will serve humanity as a whole only when it is able to establish a venue that is genuinely dedicated to the pursuit of human and global interests. It is this blend of politics and religion that can give us hope that the dark clouds hanging menacingly over us at present can be lifted. When this happens the pursuit of SDGs would become embedded as high priorities for political leaders and will inform and raise the expectations of people throughout the world. Only at that point can a mobilized youth in good conscience consider returning to the classroom with feeling that their future is being protected!

 

I would end by mentioning one way in which Islam offers the world some valuable guidance in doing this indispensable work of citizen pilgrims. The Islamic idea of umma prefigures a post-Westphalian, non-European notion of non-territorial community that joins peoples of various ethnicities in a single community of faith. Such a non-territorial sense of global community, despite the universalizing language of the UN Charter, does not currently inform the important undertakings of the UN, which continue to be dominated by the fragmented interest of individual Member states. Until it does overcome the hegemony of national interests, I fear that the UN will talk grandly, but at its best only act incrementally, that is, without a unity of vision and purpose so urgently needed to make the future safe and sustainable. Islam has done more to explore the benefits of non-territorial community of belief than any of the active political actors currently dominating the world stage, or for that matter, the other great world religions. Without a global community the UN will not be able to serve humanity in an historically resonant manner. It will continue to be unable to transcend the confrontations of nationalist and geopolitical agendas and buffer itself against the clash of rival ideologies. A sense of global community is the keystone for a new world order that serves humanity by its dedication to the realization of human and global interests. Such a UN does not now exist. If the young and old act together this kind of UN can be nurtured. In the meantime, we should resist the temptation to pretend that this UN of the peoples already exists, but we should never forget that we have it within our potential collective power to make it happen, and by doing, to make the sort of difference that youth are rightfully demanding.

R2P and the Palestinian Ordeal: Humiliating the UN

23 May

[Prefatory Note: The posted text below will be one of the contributions in the forthcoming virtual roundtable The Responsibility to Protect and Palestine, orchestrated and editedby Coralie Pison Hindawi (AUB), that will appear soon on the Beirut Forum website, http://www.thebeirutforum.com/. The roundtable will feature additional essays by Ghassan Abu-Sittah (AUB), Irene Gendzier (Boston emeritus), Siba Grovogui (Cornell), David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford), Ilan Pappe (Exeter), Vijay Prashad (Tricontinental Institute), Mazin Qumsiyeh (Betlehem) and Chiara Redaelli (Harvard). The fact that Gaza has not even been discussed at the UN, despite the prolonged, intense victimization of its vulnerable and impoverished civilian population is one more indication of the primacy of geopolitics and the marginalization of international law and morality. Only civil society activism can keep the torch of justice burning in this global climate.]

 

 

R2P and the Palestinian Ordeal: Humuiliating the UN

 

The Emergence of R2P

At the UN World Summit in 2005 the norm of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was formally endorsed by the participating governments with considerable fanfare. The gathering of diplomatic representatives of sovereign states also declared their intention to implement this assertion of collective responsibility on behalf of international society, as institutionally embodied in the UN. The following strong language was officially used: “In paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (A/RES/60/1) Heads of State and Government affirmed their responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and accepted a collective responsibility to encourage and help each other uphold this commitment.”

The impetus, and even some of the language of R2P, derived from the analysis and recommendations of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) [See Report of the commission, ‘The Responsibility to Protect’] in response to widespread calls for creating a post-colonial normative framework to address situations such as existed in Kosovo prior to the NATO War of 1999, which rested on a humanitarian rationale but lacked UN authorization. The central idea of R2P as set forth in the ICISS Report was the rendering of protection to a people suffering severe harm due to ‘internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure.” It was not directly tied to the underlying presence of the four crimes listed in Outcome Document as triggering possible application of R2P. There is confusion resulting from two parallel framings associated with the R2P norm. The first framing relates to R2P as a response to the occurrence of the four specified crimes. The second framing is more general relating to severe civilian harm resulting from a breakdown and rupture of the internal social order. With respect to the invocation of R2P forcoerciveintervention, the UN understanding seems to be a required Security Council decision, which means the applicability of the veto and that this engages both geopolitical factors and principled objections to overriding of territorial sovereignty.

 

 

Applicability of R2P to Palestinian National Struggle

Without doubt, it would seem that the Palestinian ordeal was a perfect fit for the application of the emergent international norm associated with R2P. It is well established by now that the Palestinian people as a whole have been victimized over many years by an apartheid regime imposed by Israel for the purpose of maintaining a Jewish State, which is one instance of a crime against humanity enumerated in Article 7 of the Rome Statute that provides the constitutional framework governing the operations of the International Criminal Court. The coercive dispossession during the 1948 War of more than 700,000 Arabs who had been living in Palestine often for generations, as combined with Israel’s denial of any right of return for Palestinian who fled or were forced out, possess all the elements of the crime of ethnic cleansing. The persistent collective punishment imposed on the civilian population of Gaza not only flagrantly violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and in addition is treated by international criminal law as either a crime against humanity or a war crime. In effect, it would seem that Israel has persistently and flagrantly committed three of the four crimes specified in the Outcome Document as triggers for the application of R2P.

Beyond this, however, it is made clear that the primary obligation imposed on member states of the UN is to prevent the commission of these crimes on their own sovereign territory. Other states are expected according to the Outcome Document to help states fulfill this “responsibility to protect their own populations.” In other words, Israel was responsible as a state to prevent Palestinian victimization by adopting policies and practices that were consistent with prohibitions on crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. Not only did Israel fail to do this for prolonged periods, but they affirmed a willingness to rely on such international crimes to sustain their overriding commitment to impose at all costs a Jewish state on a predominantly non-Jewish society, at least if national identity is assessed demographically. Such intentions were boldly asserted in the Basic Law of the Jewish Nation-State (2018), which reserved the right of self-determination in historic Palestine exclusivelyto the Jewish people. It is the priority of the Zionist project that explains why such international crimes of fragmentation and control are a necessary and central feature of Israeli governance. These structural and ideological dimensions  establish the basis for favoring reliance on R2P as essential to overcome the suffering and victimization of the Palestinian people. 

The logic of Israeli international crime and the relevance of R2P is compelling from objective legal, moral, and political perspectives. It rests on the existential primacy of nationalism, as reflecting the preferences of the demographic majority, as the foundation of the right of self-determination over the last century. In the case of Palestine, when the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, the Jewish population of Palestine was estimated to be between 5-8%, which increased as a result of Jewish immigration to around 30% at the time of the partition resolution (GA Res. 181) in 1947. In an era of decolonization it was no longer acceptable to achieve minority control via a settler colonial strategy, and it only became practical in Israel’s case by relying on elaborate oppressive structures to control national resistance as reinforced by solidarity initiatives of a decolonizing non-Western world. The Zionist movement also pledged a commitment to establish ‘democracy’ in Israel in addition to establishing a Jewish state, which meant that the Palestinian demographic presence must be kept permanently as small as possible. Such a combination of ethnic and political goals led to a continuous process of ethnic cleansing, as supplemented by a refusal to repatriate Palestinian refugees and allow the return of exiles. To meet the challenge of Palestinian resistance led to an almost inevitable reliance by Israel on the establishment of an apartheid regime alone able to ensure the security and ambitions of a Jewish state. [For clarification and amplification see UN ESCWA Report, “Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,”March 15, 2017] Such a reliance on such racially delimited structures had the same objective as South African apartheid, that of keeping one ethnicity or race in control of territorial sovereignty by subjugating another race, although the nature of the apartheid structures and the socio-economic settings of the two countries was very different.

It seems self-evident that from legalistic and ethical perspectives R2P should have been invoked and applied to alleviate and terminate Palestinian victimization resulting from Israeli reliance on policies and practices that are the precise crimes that are supposed to engage this responsibility to accord international protection. This assessment is bolstered by the Israeli refusals to take measures on their own to govern the country in a manner consistent with international law. How, then, do we interpret the silence surrounding R2P when it comes to its application with respect to Israel?

 

The Primacy of Geopolitics at the UN: Legalistically and Politically 

The primary explanation is political and geopolitical. From a political perspective the political consensus underlying the endorsement of R2P never anticipated that the norm would be applied in its coercive modes without the approval, or at least the acquiescence, of the five permanent members of the Security Council. In effect the norm was subject to a geopolitical veto, which was a crucial self-limitation, at least if conceived as an extension of UN responsibility to internal state/society issues. Less abstractly, it was apparent that any attempt to invoke R2P with respect to Israel would be blocked by the United States, in all likelihood, supported by France and the United Kingdom, and even possibly by China and Russia. The Western powers would block R2P because of their ‘special relationships’ with Israel while China and Russia would be wary of any attempt to create a precedent validating forcible intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states. These two states learned a lesson when they allowed the application of R2P in Libya in 2011 by abstaining from the Security Council initiative (SC Res. 1973) of Western countries to mount an emergency humanitarian undertaking to protect through a no-fly zone the civilian population of Benghazi against approaching Libyan armies. The military operation mounted by NATO supposedly to implement the resolution almost immediately became a regime-changing intervention of greatly expanded scope. The intervention reached its climax with the brutal execution of the head of the Libyan state, Muammar Qaddafi. The two sides of R2P diplomacy become evident by comparing the cases of Palestine and Libya. With respect to Palestine invocation of the norm is precluded by geopolitics, while with respect to Libya the use of force was legitimized by a R2P justification, which was then undermined by an ultra virus expansion of the scope of UNSC authorization required to reach Western geopolitical goals. In both instances, the hypothesis of the primacy of geopolitics is sustained. 

 

A Concluding Comment

It should be evident that despite the universalist language, the application of R2P was deliberately limited to extremely rare instances where a geopolitical consensus existed, and additionally, to situations where the capabilities needed to address the challenge of effective protection was available to the UN. If the intention was to find a way to address the kind of situation that led NATO to act outside the UN framework to protect the people of Kosovo in 1999, the R2P approach is little short of delusional. Russia, and likely China, would certainly have vetoed the invocation of R2P in a situation that contained the political implications of Kosovo even if there had been no Libyan disillusioning experience with respect to authorizing humanitarian claims to apply R2P. The primacy of geopolitics poses three sets of obstacles to the use of R2P as a means of protecting people from the four categories of specified criminality in Summit Outcome Document: (1) the legalistic right of veto available to the five permanent members of the Security Council; (2) the politically amorphous pattern of alignments that are given precedence over impulses to apply and enforce international criminal law; (3) the world order reluctance by several leading states to encroach upon the internal territorial supremacy of sovereign states.

For these reasons, it is evident that short of unforeseeable changes in the global setting, R2P is unlikely to be invoked, and if invoked, almost certain to be blocked in application with respect to the criminal victimization of the Palestinian people. This is a sad demonstration of the unwillingness and inability of the UN to accept existential responsibility for the protection of peoples being severely victimized by the specified crimes in situations where the territorial sovereign government is itself the culprit or supportive of the alleged criminality. As international experience since 2005 shows, R2P as a UN innovation functions primarily as a geopolitical instrument, and does not in any way overcome the kind of Kosovo challenge that it was designed to address or to create a normative alternative to ‘humanitarian intervention’ in the post-colonial world.

If there is a lesson for the Palestinian struggle it is this. Do not look for relief to any future application of R2P, or for that matter, to inter-governmental diplomacy or the UN. The only path to ending current patterns of criminal victimization is by a combination of Palestinian national resistance and global solidarity initiatives. One such initiative is the BDS Campaign that would reach a tipping point if and when geopolitical factors and Israeli national self-interest are recalculated due to pressures from within and without Israel/Palestine. At such a point substituting a democratic form of peaceful coexistence for current apartheid structures would be then perceived as a matter of self-interest as became the case in South Africa after the Afrikaaner governing elite concluded that the white population would be better off in a constitutional multi-racila democracy than by living with sanctions and illegitimacy as an apartheid state.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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).