Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
By Ian Williams
EVEN THOUGH, ON one level, Israeli contempt for the U.N. and international law knows no bounds, we have written before about their desperate deep psychological need for the organization’s approval and to abuse the body’s prestige.
At the end of May, the Israeli Mission chose the U.N. General Assembly Hall as the venue for a daylong “Building Bridges Not Boycotts conference,” which was essentially a rally of pro-Israel organizations on how to stop the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It is somewhat odd that the U.N. would host a rally against efforts to enforce its decisions on the illegality of occupation and settlements, but one has to appreciate the inexorable pressure on officials from the U.S. and other allies.
For example, several years ago, when Israel secured temporary admission to the “West European and Other Group” (WEOG), many of the Europeans were very upset, and only acquiesced because of American pressure. Partly it was principle—not wanting to be associated with Israeli crimes—but it was also professional jealousy, so they insisted that Israel would not actually get nominated for important positions. Hard work and the adoption of pro-Israel positions by conservatives all over Europe bore fruit this year, when Israel secured WEOG’s nomination for chair of the U.N.’s Sixth Committee, the Legal Committee. It then went on to win the position in a secret ballot.
It was well managed. WEOG usually has contested positions, and so it put up stalking horse candidates to make it look like a contest. Clearly the fix was in, however, and so Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon became chairman of the U.N.’s Legal Committee. His opposition to the U.N.’s mandated two-state solution and his support for Israel’s continued occupation of most of the West Bank, not to mention illegal settlements, might make that anomalous anywhere else, but in this political atmosphere King Herod could become director general of UNICEF with the right backing.
To pile it on, forthcoming will be Israel’s bid for a seat in the Security Council. The election will take place in 2018, and contending already for two WEOG seats are Germany and Belgium. Needless to say, Tel Aviv’s message to Germany has been, “Thanks for all the submarines and the cash. But how dare you stand against Israel with your record!” The Germans are not, so far, going quietly into that good night. After all, they (and many other countries) think they deserve a permanent seat there, and residual guilt will not hold up against realpolitik in the country that invented it. In fact, WEOG often breaks out of the cozy rotation system for U.N. offices and has contested elections, and Israel’s behavior is not such as to inspire European sentimentality on the issue!
But once again, the odd scofflaw complementarity works. Security Council members often have included countries like Indonesia, occupying East Timor, and Morocco, occupying Western Sahara. In one sense, it is only fair to let Israel share in the breathtaking hypocrisy.
Perhaps that ability was rarely so well shown as with the Middle East Quartet. While the Quartet has been much improved since former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was squeezed out from the special representative sinecure that his grateful chums in Washington had secured for him, on the other hand it still has all the marks of its origins—which were an attempt to defang Russia, the EU and the U.N. on the Palestinian question by binding them into a consensus with the U.S., which is of course bound in that strange masochistic relationship with Israel.
However, considering how toothless Russia, the U.N. and the EU had become on the question, one did wonder why all the effort and showmanship was necessary. A critical part of the equation is the Israeli and American need to buffer and neutralize the clear statements of international and binding resolutions of the United Nations that are explicitly accepted and supported by all but one and a half nations in the world. And even the U.S. and Israel nominally accept them—they just do not accept their enforcement.
The U.S., as a founder of the United Nations, knows that the resolutions are binding but finds it politically inexpedient, for domestic reasons, to try to enforce them on the U.S. So the effort is to browbeat the Palestinians into voluntarily abandoning their rights in bilateral negotiations with Israel in an unbalanced settlement that would then be ratified by the U.N.
So far, there is enough of a residual sense of legality and anti-colonial solidarity in the U.N. to ensure that it would not ratify a settlement without the assent of the Palestinians. In a sense, the Palestinians are lucky they don’t have a fully recognized and functioning state, because if they did someone would have arranged a coup and a complaisant regime to put its seal on the surrender.
Nevertheless, the basic pattern remains. The Quartet allegedly monitors progress on the famous Road Map that got lost in the glove compartment almost immediately, while the Israelis do their own thing and continually complain about the Palestinians’ inability to respond positively, indeed rhapsodically, to land grabs, demolitions, killings and imprisonment.
History has many examples of heavily armed bullies vilifying those they persecute, but Israel and its supporters are surely unique in complaining about the ingratitude of the Palestinians for their treatment. Long overdue, a certain tone of exasperation is appearing in the statements of the various Quartet components.
EXASPERATED QUARTET MEMBERS
Ban Ki-moon’s exasperation was evident in his statement on the Quartet’s report in July, but he at least upheld the U.N.’s legitimacy and cited the Quartet’s pledge “to actively support an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).” He also reiterated that “a negotiated two-state outcome that meets Israeli security needs and creates a sovereign Palestinian state, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues is the only way to achieve an enduring peace.”
And we can see how chastened Israel was after the Quartet had wagged three and half fingers at it. Ban immediately had to criticize Israel’s announcement of 560 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, as well as moves to build 240 housing units in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. “This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” which of course have included demands by the current Israeli U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon.
A frustrated Ban in his statement reiterated “that settlements are illegal under international law and urges the Government of Israel to halt and reverse such decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement.” He was “deeply disappointed that this announcement comes only four days after the Middle East Quartet called on Israel to cease its policy of settlement construction and expansion.”
But at least Ban is not out on a limb: even Russia was upset by Israel’s indecorous finger to the Quartet, saying, "Moscow is seriously worried over new settlement projects in occupied Palestinian territories." The Foreign Ministry added that "Such settlements are illegal under the international law and are not recognized by the international community."
The plans "run counter to the report of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators that was made public on July 1," the Russian statement complained, "Along with inadmissibility of violence and incitement to violence, the report strongly recommends to stop construction and expansion of settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.”
So what will be done about it? As we go to press, the current U.S. president is haggling about how big the next arms aid deal for Israel will be, and the two contenders for his position will be seeing by how much they can inflate it. Rule of Law, anyone? ◙
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Rudyard Kipling never mentioned the possibility that others would follow the Danes to demand ransom.
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
First the US bullied the UN into dropping Israel from a well-merited pillorying, then the French did the same for Morocco - and now the Saudis do it in their own right
- specifically invoking Israel's "Get off the list free" card. And the P5 are so complicit that they leave the UN Secretary General swinging in the wind, bringing the UN, and themselves into disrepute.
I would be very happy if the UK invoked the ethical dimensions of foreign policy, but somehow, bearing in mind British contractors profitable part in the war crimes, I doubt it. The ethical dimension will disappear across the event horizon of a Black Hole in the basement of Cameron's No 10 Downing St.
Written By: Ian Williams
Published: July 11, 2016 Last modified: July 11, 2016
In a press briefing at the UN many years ago Douglas Hurd pointed out that British foreign policy was “the same as it has been since the days of Pitt the Younger,” to ensure that “no combination of powers in Europe would be in a position to threaten us.” This was in the now forgotten context of Margaret Thatcher fighting the Germans. That was of course before successive British governments chose to adopt German-style anally retentive austerity policies.
It puts the “Special Relationship” in a different light, since American commentary has concentrated on how Brexit threatens Britain’s role as Washington’s standing fifth column in the EU. It is a role we should happily forfeit. Poodles are cosseted creatures, but as Tony Blair discovered over Iraq, it’s not always wise to jump yapping after everystick the master throws.
Ironically, Israeli commentators also lament the potential loss of a post-Brexit Britain’s role in shielding settlements from EU sanctions, which shows how things have changed. In the robust days before Blair sacked Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary, British policy did indeed have an ethical dimension that included condemning Israeli breaches of international law even when it upset the Americans.
So, if what’s left of the UK after Brexit is freed from its obligations to carry out the garbage for the US and Israel, how does it affect Britain’s role at the UN? Interestingly, when Boris Yeltsin did to the Soviet Union what Boris Johnson now seems to have done to the EU, there was no formal decision that Russia would take over USSR’s permanent seat. Sir David Hannay, Britain’s permanent representative quipped that the Russian Ambassador slipped into the Council Chamber at midnight and changed the name plate while everyone else was celebrating the New Year.
It was clear that Russia, which inherited the Soviet nukes, was the successor state and its stature ensured its permanent membership status so there were supercilious sniggers, but no challenges. But could a dis-United Kingdom take that for granted? Until now, not only has the UK benefitted from occasional US gratitude and indulgence on the Council, it has, like France, also usually been able to speak for the European Union, which gives its word considerably more clout than Britain alone, let alone Britain as ventriloquist dummy for Washington.
In fact, that is unfair, since the British Foreign Office has often been far more articulate and astute than the US delegation, whose State Department professionals are often over-ridden by politicians owing their knowledge of foreign affairs to whatever was written on the back of the lobbyists’ cheques. Many of the crucial Iraq resolutions were only made possible with British diplomatic expertise and draftsmanship until, of course, Tony Blair wanted a war whether his foreign office did or not, with or without a UN resolution.
In those earlier days, British representatives paid heed to international law and the effect of its decisions but their standards seem to be slipping. British silence as Ban Ki Moon was recently undermined by French support for Morocco flouting of UN decisions on Western Sahara or Saudi attempts to edit human rights reports, suggests that London is now prepared to see the UN fail rather than express inexpedient principle.
On balance, there is unlikely to be a direct challenge to Britain’s permanent council seat. It has been suggested that Britain and France’s permanent seats be replaced by an EU seat – but that is even more questionable now than before. In any case an EU seat would be useless. Consensus of all its members is almost impossible and instead of a veto, an EU seat on the Council would have a perpetual abstention.
So probably even a truncated UK could stay on the Council. However, it is gradually shrinking towards Taiwan’s position where its nominal veto power is not supported by the real world. Indeed, if Brexit happens, the rump UK influence will be overshadowed by a France that represents the EU and does not have the shadow of an American puppet master looming over it.
So what role could the UK have? Briefly under Robin Cook, as I remember, Britain’s UN mission remembered that Commonwealth thing, and invited their representatives to a Commonwealth reception. But in fact it was the New Zealanders, Canadians and Australians, before they went Blairite and Thatcherite, who seemed to take the relationship more seriously. In fact, if it were not for the complacency that a permanent seat engenders, it would make good sense to cultivate the Commonwealth missions, many of whom are small, understaffed and underappreciated and British advice could be well received if tendered in the proper spirits. And then Robin Cook had that thing about an ethical dimension for foreign policy. It’s time to redouble our support for international law, untrammeled by inconvenient alliances.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2016, pp. 44-45
United Nations Report
There’s More Than One Way to Skin the Security Council Cat
By Ian Williams
THE GOLDEN DAYS HAVE never glistened quite as brightly as we think, but if there were a Golden Age of Arab Unity it was perhaps half a century ago, when an American-born Lebanese Christian, Clovis Maksoud, was an ambassador for the Arab League, first in India, then later in the U.S. and at the U.N. In those days, Arab Unity meant more than a vow ofomerta between governments to cover each thuggish dictator’s rear—certainly to Maksoud, who was a true, but pragmatic believer.
He died in May, in Washington, where he had long headed American University’s Center for the Global South, and where he could call upon his long experience, powerful intellect, and deep reservoirs of respect across the world.
His pragmatism showed in several ways at the U.N. One was when he deployed the rhetorical skills he had honed in the Oxford Union and “Maksoudized,” as it was known—fondly, one might add. Superb and soaring, polysyllabic and poetical, his speeches mesmerized audiences—but left them scratching their heads as they wondered what he had actually said. When I asked him about it while he was at the U.N., he smiled and explained, “I represent the Arab League—it is almost impossible to say anything concrete that will not upset at least one of the members.”
As Arab League ambassador to the U.N., Clovis Maksoud has also left a lasting legacy that is equally mixed in its effects. He crafted the deal that synchronized the Asian and African groups’ cycles to ensure that there would always be an Arab representative on the Security Council.
It is not in the Charter, but by longstanding agreement, temporary seats are apportioned on the basis of geographical regions: Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the West European and Other Group. Eastern Europe was essentially the Warsaw Pact countries, which have now almost all joined the European Union and NATO, or are trying to, but they maintain the fiction—claiming, for example, that it is their group’s “turn” to have a secretary-general. West European and Other was sufficiently elastic to include Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and thus allowed itself to be bullied into accepting Israel as a member.
In the U.N.’s version of geography, the Arab world is split between Asia and Africa, each of which has five temporary seats rotated on a two-year cycle. More often than not—as with so many U.N. positions—the fix is in. The diplomats at the U.N. courteously sort out a rota to avoid unseemly contests and surprises. One can tell decades ahead which member state will be “elected.” It is the same system that eviscerates the Human Rights Council by putting some of the most egregious offenders on it. At least the Human Rights Council made a pretense for a while of fielding more candidates than seats—even if they all knew which were the real candidates and which were for show.
The deal Ambassador Maksoud made was that every two years, Asia would reserve a seat for an Arab League member and in the alternate biennium one of the North African Arab states would rotate around. This was the cozy arrangement that returned dubiously Arab countries like Djibouti to the Council and regularly seats Security Council members who are in flagrant violation of the Council’s own resolutions. That is not an exclusively Arab problem, of course, but it lends neither prestige nor potency to the U.N. as an institution and the Security Council as its highest embodiment of the international community in matters of war and peace.
When Ambassador Maksoud crafted the deal, his concern was that there be an Arab voice on issues like Palestine that united them, and that there was at least vestigial respect for the notion of Arab Unity. But, of course, that fell apart after the original Egypt-Israel deal and never recovered. It has now become a diplomatic career opportunity for salespeople of unelected oligarchs.
THE SECURITY COUNCIL ADVANTAGE
The point of being on the Security Council was more than adequately demonstrated earlier this year, when Western Sahara appeared yet again on the agenda. The imbroglio has dire potential beyond the Polisario (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro) and Morocco.
Quietly but effectively, the issue has eroded the always parlous authority of both the secretary-general and the Security Council that have, with all their failings, done a lot to keep the peace since 1945. In March Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the camps in Tindouf and, clearly upset by what he saw, called for the referendum on self-determination and referred to the Moroccan presence across much of Western Sahara as an “occupation.”
He had a similar epiphany when he visited Gaza early in his mandate and saw for himself the reality behind the clinically cleansed language of U.N. resolutions. When Ban made his statements Morocco went into unprecedented paroxysms of undiplomatic denunciation, claiming—totally falsely—that the U.N. and the international community accepted its annexation.
In a breathtaking abuse of language, Morocco accused the U.N. secretary-general of “semantic slippage” for using the term “occupation” and, along with even more incoherent indignation, noted with “utter dismay the verbal slippages, faits accomplis and unjustified complacency” of the secretary-general. It ordered the U.N. staff out of the territory it controlled. The kingdom staged mass “spontaneous” demonstrations against the secretary-general in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
There were clear U.N. resolutions and decisions, not just about the territory’s status but about the U.N. staff. It was an unprecedented challenge to the Security Council’s authority. Remember, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was put on trial for such temerity.
The International Court of Justice had ruled that the Sahrawis are entitled to exercise their right to self-determination, and dismissed Moroccan claims to the land and the fealty of its people. The General Assembly had called for the “occupation” to be ended, and the Security Council had from the beginning asked the Moroccans to withdraw. Security Council Resolution 690, passed in 1991, established MINURSO, the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, to implement settlement proposals that Morocco had accepted in 1988.
Rabat had paid lip service to the referendum while it tried to pack the electoral rolls with its settlers, but when it became clear that the eligible voters wanted Morocco out, the kingdom insisted that the referendum must exclude any question of independence. Almost as revealingly, Morocco and France have fought successfully to ensure that MINURSO remains the only peacekeeping operation without a human rights monitoring component.
When Morocco ordered U.N. staff to leave, Ban sought the support of the Security Council—but did not get it, due to opposition from France, Egypt and Japan. After days of backroom wrangling, the most the Council could deliver was an anodyne appeal for the mission to continue.
Persuaded by his staff that the U.N. term was a “non-self-governing” territory rather than an “occupied” one, Ban, even though upset by the Moroccan tirades, explained that his use of the term was his personal emotional reaction to the plight of the refugees. He did not back down from the clear decisions of the U.N. over the years, but modified his entirely accurate statement for the exigencies of diplomacy.
He and his advisers were appalled by the lack of active support from major Security Council members which, in effect, handed Morocco a proxy veto via France and its African allies. If only to uphold the authority of the institution, the Council should have had much stronger resolution about Morocco’s behavior.
A COMPROMISED SYSTEM
Morocco and its friends have thoroughly compromised the U.N. system on the Saharan issue. U.N. officials have been bribed and browbeaten not to challenge the Moroccan version with anything as upsetting as the truth. Interestingly. the MINURSO website begins its list of U.N. resolutions in 1991, when it was set up, not in 1975, when the Security Council asked Morocco to get out!
Rabat has consistently refused to hold the referendum that the Mission was sent to prepare for. The king, like his father before, knows he would lose it. And, once again shamelessly backed by France, Morocco’s successful opposition to permit a human rights component in MINURSO is a telling indication of how he intends to keep it.
In May, the Security Council sent a delegation to talk to Arab League countries in Cairo, where many of them grandstanded, demanding (rightly) that the Council should enforce its resolutions on Middle East peace and settlements. They seem to be missing the point that France’s attempts to jump start the peace process at the eastern end of the Maghreb are compromised by its own behavior on the western end. Perhaps summing it up, it was reported that, at a recent gathering, a former French ambassador to the U.N. reprimanded his British former colleague for being a puppet of the U.S.—for which he got the deserved riposte, “Better than being the King of Morocco’s puppet!” ◙