Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How to get the road map on track

Full text of the Guardian Comment is Free piece

How to get the road map on track

The new UN report makes it devastatingly clear that only the UN can stand up for international law and justice between Israel and Palestine.
Ian Williams

June 13, 2007 11:30 AM

The road map has been turned into an origami dead duck.

On the front pages of today's carbon-rich edition of the Guardian are details of a leaked report from the UN's recently resigned special representative for the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto. His cogent and well-substantiated report, intended for internal consumption, in effect told the UN to put up or shut up over the peace process.

But despite the UN's weaknesses, the pandering to Washington and Israel, and the apparent indisposition of the current secretary general to take any independent stand at all, the UN is essential to the peace process.

Around the time of the Oslo accords, the realists of the PLO realised that, far more than any amount of "armed struggle", their best defence was international law and the UN. After all, no one, even now, recognises the occupation of East Timor and Western Sahara even though there have been times when they were, if not quite dead, about as lively as the Monty Python parrot on the international agenda.

Once the Arabs and the Palestinians could swallow the injustice, but undoubted legality, of the 1948 resolution that partitioned Palestine, they looked to the United Nations as the embodiment of international law and they had some reasons for hoping for success. After all, less than a fistful of (bribed) banana republics had ever set up a mission in West Jerusalem, or recognised it as Israel's capital. Even the US, despite unremitting pressure from the lobby in Congress, still has not moved its mission to Israel from Tel Aviv. Until the UN, that is the nations of the world, decides differently, Jerusalem is UN territory.

And under 242 and subsequent resolutions, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights are also occupied territory, and Israel is bound by the Geneva conventions in its behaviour there. Which is why the settlements are illegal.

Since then, under the various peace plans, while demanding that the Palestinians deliver every jot and tittle of their commitments, the Israelis have persistently ignored theirs, by building and "strengthening" settlements, and by building the wall through the Occupied Territories in defiance of the judgment of the international court of justice.

The US's position as interlocutor was hopelessly compromised, even though the Palestinian leadership has clung to the forlorn hope that somehow, someday, it will exercise restraint on the Israelis. The Israelis wanted nothing to do with the UN, and in the old days, the Russians could be relied upon to stand for some semblance of Palestinian rights. Indeed, when the Quartet was set up, even the European Union was balanced in its approach and recognised the need to respect international law.

None of that is true any more. The Russians are tougher about Orthodox communion with Serbia than about any residual anti-imperialist solidarity with the Palestinians. Under British influence, the EU has become an echo chamber for Washington, mesmerised by the word "terrorism."

Everyone wants to get Washington off their backs. That leaves the UN. For two years Kofi Annan tried to walk a tightrope. He balanced between encouraging the Israelis to come into the UN fold both because he thought it was the right thing to do, and because it drew the fangs of one of the most important partners in the rabid anti-UN claques on the Hill. Engaging the US was an understandable goal for the secretary general - it is difficult to run a world organisation if the biggest power in the world is not cooperating.

Annan tried keep Israel and Washington happy, but he also realised that international law and UN decisions had to be respected. And even he pandered, as de Soto points out, forbidding his own special representative to contact Hamas, or Damascus, although there was not a single UN body had agreed on such a policy.

Now the Quartet has become an international fig leaf for Israeli non-compliance with international law, implicitly condoning Israel's refusal to hand over tax revenues, its strangulation of the faltering Palestinian economy, its settlement expansion, its roadblocks and armed attacks against Palestinian power stations and infrastructure. The parties to the Quartet are now condoning Israeli behaviour that before 9/11 they were condemning in the security council.

De Soto, quite correctly called on the secretary general to stand up for the UN charter, for international law, and for the decisions of his own organisation. Instead, or rather because, he, and likeminded people have been frozen out, and UN staff say that Ban Ki Moon sees Israel as South Korea and the Palestinians as North Korea.

The secretary general should reappraise that view soon. The only viable two-state solution, as accepted by most of the Arabs, and a significant proportion of Israelis, depends upon acceptance of 242, and the 1967 boundaries. There can be haggling - after the acceptance, but without the United Nations, in the sense of the whole world community, Israel will never have recognised borders, and therefore cannot ever hope to have secure boundaries, or peace.

If the secretary general of the United Nations cannot stand up against the US, for the "unique" legitimacy which is the organisation's only weapon, then it does not bode well for its peacemaking efforts anywhere in the world.

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