Thursday, May 01, 2008

Affairs of States

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2008, pages 13-14

United Nations Report
Affairs of States
By Ian Williams

Some of the thousands of Palestinian children who, along with adults, formed a human chain in Gaza City (above) and along Gaza’s main north-south road to protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its 1.5 million residents, nearly 900,000 of them children (AFP photo/Mahmud Hams).

IN FEBRUARY, the status of several territories came into question in various ways. Kosovo, with the support of the U.S. and most of the West, declared independence. In the very strictest legal sense, Kosovo is part of Serbia, although there is a much better case for saying that any state which attempts mass murder and expulsion of those it claims as citizens has forfeited any claim to sovereignty over them, or loyalty from them. Certainly that is what was accepted after the Pakistani army rampaged through what was then East Pakistan and is now universally accepted (despite an early Chinese veto of U.N. membership) as the sovereign state of Bangladesh.

The Serbs claim Kosovo despite the overwhelming majority of the population being non-Serb. In pursuit of their claims they have committed mass killings and attempted to drive the indigenous population from their homes, and have used religious excuses to do so. Serbs claim that hundreds of years ago, Kosovo was the cradle of their Orthodoxy and that, furthermore, the Albanians who live there moved in later, and what’s more are Muslims, and thus the core of a “Jihadist statelet” in the region.

It does not take too much imagination to see parallels with another occupation a little further east around the Mediterranean. Indeed, there are even parallels to the west, where Morocco claims sovereignty over Western Sahara, despite the wishes of the people there, on the grounds of ancient dynastic suzerainty—and of course let us not forget that an independent Western Sahara would be a homeland for Muslim terrorism.

It is perhaps not surprising that Israel is a close ally of Morocco and that many of its leading politicians, from Ariel Sharon to Binyamin Netanyahu, have expressed solidarity with Serb claims.

Luckily for the Kosovars, the Chetnik/Likud Axis is not quite strong enough to bring the Lobby into operation in Washington, and the U.S. has recognized the new Republic of Kosovo—in contrast to Washington’s denial of both Western Sahara and Palestine’s claims or, indeed, its denunciation of Taiwan for holding a referendum on whether to apply for U.N. membership under that name.

Of course, consistency in the face of lobbying has never been a strong characteristic of U.S. foreign policy, but at the very least President George W. Bush should follow on recognition of Kosovo with recognition of Palestine, as he promised he would at some time in the future.

Sadly, even as a lame duck president, he is unlikely to go that far, which is one reason why Palestine’s claims to statehood have actually boomeranged. For years at the U.N., the delegation incrementally increased the standing of Palestine and its representatives in the U.N., in the process annoying Israel and, of course, the U.S. But then the process reached its apogee and nadir simultaneously when Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority were given control of some of the occupied territories.

As the road map stalled, the territories became worse than Bantustans—for when the South African apartheid regime established the Bantustans it did not send in troops to kidnap their “citizens,” assassinate their leaders, or bomb and shell them.

Palestinian autonomy has been turned into a weapon against Palestinians. The pseudo government of the Authority—starved of independent finance, under continual harassment, helpless to protect its own people against Israeli incursions—is nonetheless held culpable for failing to control and police its own people.

When U.N. Under Secretary-General John Holmes makes the obvious point, also made by every other objective observer, that the Israeli siege of Gaza “collectively penalizes an entire population,” the Israelis condemned him for “encouraging terrorism.”

Referring to the disconnect between the reality of the situation and the negotiations, Holmes pointed out that Israel was “largely in control of what happens in Gaza. Israel continues to have the obligation of an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza and Israel must fulfill those obligations,” and sanely pointed out that this was not the way to foster the peace process.

Apart from the welcome, and recently rather rare, courage of a U.N. Secretariat official, it does raise the question: just how useful is having a notional quasi-state for the Palestinians? The pseudo-state has acted as cover for Israel’s continuing de facto occupation, during which the Jewish State has built its wall and innumerable settlements and their associated infrastructure. The only real road map is the one that shows the apartheid roads the Israelis have built linking the settlements. Even the South Africans did not have segregated roads—that is a modern Israeli accomplishment!

Years ago, only semi-facetiously, I had told friends on the West Bank that they should put up white flags, tell Israel “You’ve won: it’s all yours. Now give us our passports.” I hazarded at the time that they would not be able to see the IDF for the dust of withdrawing tanks.

There is no humor there for Israeli politicians who now regularly cite the nightmare scenario of a unitary state with either a Palestinian majority, or an overt and undisguisable apartheid state which would get little or no international support.

That is why the suggestion from Jordan’s former ambassador to the U.N., the redoubtable Adnan Abou Odeh, deserves serious consideration. The author of the most viable solution for a shared Jerusalem many years ago (see “Two Capitals in an Undivided Jerusalem” in the Spring 1992 issue of Foreign Affairs), he explained recently to columnist Rami Khouri, “Demography is our only available indigenous pressure source. We should tell Israel to take all the Palestinians along with the land, because the two cannot be separated. ‘Take me with the land’ should be our message to Israel, which would naturally lead to a single bi-national state of Jews and Palestinians. Israel does not want this, but we have to force it to choose between a two-state solution and a single bi-national state.”

Abou Odeh’s chosen method is to renounce Palestinian pretensions to statehood: “You have to eliminate the tool that Israel has been using to buy time, squeeze out Palestinians, annex more territory and cement its control of occupied lands. You have to remove the PA instrument that has played the role of sustaining the illusion of a Palestinian state, which is clearly not emerging. President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership should think seriously of unilaterally dismantling the PA.”

John V. Whitbeck takes a similar riff on statehood. In a follow-up letter to his article “If Kosovo, Why Not Palestine?” (see p. 12), he pointed out that Palestine has declared its independence and is recognized by dozens of countries—but not the U.S., the EU, and Israel. “The intelligent and legally appropriate thing to do now would be to reaffirm that declaration,” Whitbeck wrote, “but ONLY with the clear and compelling consequence of the ‘threat’ of demanding equal rights and democracy instead if the U.S. and the EU continue to refuse to recognize the State of Palestine.”
The Farce of “Free” Negotiations

That could indeed end the farce of so-called “free” negotiations, where, for example, Ehud Olmert and Condoleezza Rice can agree to take Jerusalem off the agenda in February without consulting Abbas. Ever since President Bill Clinton wrote the script for the farce of free negotiations between Palestine and Israel, it has been clear that the end of the script was for a Palestinian authority to negotiate the clear international rights of the Palestinians.

Ironically, support for the Palestinians’ legal rights has been steadily eroded while the PA has been in existence. For example, it is not quite the USS Liberty, but the sound of silence from the U.N. and from Canada over the death of Canadian Forces Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener shows once again that Israel can, literally, get away with murder.

The Canadian military board of inquiry concluded that the major and three other U.N. peacekeepers were killed in Qana, Lebanon in 2006 by a “smart” 500 kilogram Israeli bomb. But as the board points out, this was not the usual “collateral damage.” Israel has never confessed to either of the two possible explanations—either complete incompetence or murderous malice that saw it drop 14 bombs and 19 artillery rounds at the clearly marked U.N. observation post despite repeated calls both locally and even from U.N. headquarters to Israel to stop. Ottawa, which in recent years has sadly neglected its own good record of support for international legitimacy in favor of Israel, is as silent about the martyrdom of its own soldier as it is about the repression of the Palestinians.

It is, of course, not alone. In February it was revealed that the British government had fought in the courts to cut out a sentence on the Iraq weapons dossier that was being made public (see “How Labor Used the Law to Keep Criticism of Israel Secret” in this issue’s “Other Voices”). Some honest British civil servant had penciled in the margin that Israel was in violation of U.N. resolutions on nuclear weapons, and the government felt that its publication would damage bilateral relations between Israel and the UK.

It is symptomatic of how half of Europe has reversed its stand on Israeli excesses in the territories. There have been fewer and fewer prepared to question imperial Israel’s new diplomatic outfit. But it does appear that the actions in Gaza are going too far even for the newly sympathetic EU. Israeli diplomats are reporting back that the Europeans are close to breaking the boycott of the Hamas authorities in Gaza in response to Israeli-induced conditions there.

Insha’llah, as they say.

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