Friday, January 09, 2009

Quartet, Sahara, UN etc

A PS is in order, Cox was finally named rep for Western Sahara in January

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2008, pages 36-37

United Nations Report
Winners and Losers in the Biennial Contest For Security Council’s Rotating Seats
By Ian Williams

IT WAS NO great surprise, nor necessarily a triumph for American diplomacy, that Iran failed in its bid for one of five two-year rotating Security Council seats, the one representing the Asian States. Tokyo beat Tehran by a five-to-one majority, 158-32 votes. (When there are more candidates from a regional group than there are rotating Security Council seats, the voting goes to the 192-member General Assembly, as it did in this case.)

Officially in Europe for voting purposes, Turkey, along with Austria, won the two European seats, beating financially battered Iceland. It will be interesting to observe Turkey’s voting record, since it has been ruled by an Islamist party for the past six years, while its powerful military establishment is closely tied to Israel and the U.S. There is likely to be some tightrope walking on the Council as the Turkish ambassador balances the two positions.

The U.S. and Israel had had the chutzpah to suggest that it would be wrong to have a Security Council member (in this case, Turkey) against whom there were U.N. decisions. This would be a pertinent point if either had complained about, for example, Morocco’s defiance of resolutions on Western Sahara, or Indonesia’s former recalcitrance over East Timor, which did not stop Washington from supporting their Security Council seats. Indeed, the Turkish forces in northern Cyprus would be more of an issue if the local government there were not committed to reunification talks. (Although a member of the EU, Cyprus is in the Asian rather than the West European and Other group—the “other,” to pile on the U.N. illogic, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.)

Because it was a secret ballot, one can presume that it reflects the relative standing of the countries. Iran failed to win over both the Organization of Islamic States and the Non-Aligned Movement. Japan, widely felt to deserve a permanent seat, has played a coyly constructive role. In contrast, Iran’s Shi’i revolution is automatically upsetting to much of the Muslim world, let alone other countries.

Iran’s nuclear program, although perfectly legal until the Security Council called a halt to its processing uranium, does not make economic sense for a country that cannot even refine the oil that is the bedrock of its economy. Nor does it make political sense, except as a means to persuade the U.S. that it must talk to Tehran. The manifest hypocrisy and double standards involved in tacitly condoning Israel’s, India’s and Pakistan’s open nuclear weapon programs are no excuse.
Regardless of Iran’s defeat, Washington had little or no success in getting support for tougher sanctions.

Regardless of Iran’s defeat, Washington had little or no success in getting support for tougher sanctions. Even the talks about them had been postponed, following the alienation of China because of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and the dispute with Russia over Georgia. Eventually the best the U.S. could achieve was a resolution in late September affirming previous resolutions, but with no new penalties attached.

Battered by the economic tsunami, the U.S. only managed to get the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany to a telephone conference in October, but had no more success. Their cause probably was not helped by the International Atomic Energy Authority’s Mohammed ElBaradei, who said the Iranians “do not have even the nuclear material, the raw unenriched uranium to develop one nuclear weapon if they decide to do so. Even if you decide to walk out tomorrow from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and you go into a lot of scenarios, we’re still not going to see Iran tomorrow having nuclear weapons.”
Jumping the Gun?

Speaking of the double standard, Morocco was holding up the appointment of a new U.N. special representative for the Western Sahara. The vacancy was created, of course, following the effective firing, or at least failure to renew his contract, of Dutch diplomat Robert Van Walsum for his outright espousal of the autonomy plan. Even though he admitted it was wrong in principle, Van Walsum had candidly prescribed the complete lack of interest by the international community in forcing Morocco, an ally of Israel and the U.S., to make any concessions to legality.

In a September interview with Al-Hurra television, Condoleezza Rice announced the appointment of Christopher Ross, which was odd in itself. Normally it would have been somewhat presumptuous for an official of a member state to announce a U.N. appointment, since the secretary-general is supposed to make both the decision and the announcement. This was even more puzzling since, a month later, there was still no announcement. Sources in the U.N. said that Morocco was holding up the appointment, firstly because it had wanted Von Walsum retained, and then because it had wanted Warren Christopher and was doubtful about Ross, a retired U.S. ambassador who had survived the gentle purges of “Arabists” within the State Department over the years. An Arabic speaker, one of his former positions was U.S. ambassador to Algeria.

With a parallel seepage of principles and creepage of language to what it uses regarding the Israeli settlements, the State Department has moved from “serious and credible” to “the only realistic solution” to describe Morocco’s defiance of U.N. resolutions on a referendum of its autonomy plan. Like Israel, Morocco sees every concession by Washington as the platform for yet another incremental escalation of condoned illegality—and the State Department, so solicitous of American dignity in other areas, goes along with it.
Quartet Shows Some Gums

Moving right along on the double standard front, the Quartet met as the olive harvest began in the West Bank and as illegal Israeli settlers, untrammeled and indeed protected by the Israel Defense Forces ramped up their brownshirt tactics against Palestinian harvesters, and as the Israeli government continued to flout its obligations under international law—not to mention its promises to the Quartet, to Washington and to the Palestinians—by expanding settlements.

So it is not surprising that the Quartet’s statement was expressed in the arcane polysyllables that George Orwell, in Politics and the English Language, identified as designed to obscure the lack of content. Waffled its closing statement: “The Quartet recognized that a meaningful and results-oriented process is underway and called upon the parties to continue to make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008. It noted the significance of this process and the importance of confidentiality in order to preserve its integrity.”

In short, very little has happened.

After soufflĂ©ing further in a similar vein, the statement began to show some gums, if not teeth. “The Quartet expressed deep concern about increasing settlement activity, which has a damaging impact on the negotiating environment and is an impediment to economic recovery, and called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001. In this regard, the Quartet reiterated that the parties must avoid actions that undermine confidence and could prejudice the outcome of the negotiations. Quartet Principals condemned the recent rise in settler violence against Palestinian civilians, urging the enforcement of the rule of law without discrimination or exception.”

This was a commendable toughening of language about blatant Israeli disregard for its own promises, but it still fell into the trap of comparing Israeli government actions with Palestinian groups’ and individuals’ behavior: “The Quartet also condemned acts of terrorism against Israelis, including any rocket attacks emanating from the Palestinian territories, and stressed the need for further Palestinian efforts to fight terrorism and dismantle the infrastructure of terror, as well as foster an atmosphere of tolerance.”

Even so, in using the phrase about “the enforcement of the rule of law” the Quartet perhaps is inching out of the trap, since so far it has accepted the Israeli point that not a stone can fly in the territories without the PA being responsible, while Israel has no responsibility even for the acts of its own thuggish soldiery, let alone for civilian militias.

In Iraq, the U.N. has become essential sub-text. After disdaining and disclaiming the organization in the run up to the invasion, the Bush administration afterwards discovered that its only path to legality—and the only way Iraqi oil could be sold—was to return to the United Nations.

One may wonder, with some justification in the face of international scofflaws, about the power of the U.N., but it is worth noting that the laws the latter scoff are set by the organization—and continue to have considerable moral force, as the lack of recognition of the occupations of the Palestinian territories and of Western Sahara demonstrates. It works in Iraq as well.

By the end of the year, the U.N. resolution authorizing the U.S. “military assistance” to the Iraqi government expires. Washington is faced with the dubious choice of putting its operations in Iraq up for discussion by Russia, China and other of its fellow Security Council members, risking their veto, or wringing a bilateral agreement from the Iraqi government before the deadline.

As the news demonstrates, it has decided that Baghdad will be easier to blackmail than Beijing or Moscow, hence Washington’s wrestling with Iraqi nationalist sentiments to produce a bilateral agreement on the status of forces. The Baghdad government has to balance its dependence on U.S. forces to remain in power against the clear sentiments of its people that the troops should leave. But it is thanks to the U.N. that the U.S. cannot just have its own way.

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