Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Obama, International Law, Morocco & Israel

Obama Allowing Netanyahu Government To Be Hoist by Its Own Petard

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pages 18-19

United Nations Report

Obama Allowing Netanyahu Government To Be Hoist by Its Own Petard

By Ian Williams

EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana arrives to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 11, 2009. That day Solana also urged Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to commit to the concept of a Palestinian state. (AFP photo/Abbas Momani)

European Union Foreign Minister Javier Solana recently upset the Israelis by declaring: “After a fixed deadline, a U.N. Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution. This should include all the parameters of borders, refugees, and Jerusalem and security arrangements. It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the U.N., and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimize the end of claims.”

One wonders whether he would have said so without a wink and a nod from Washington. It is, after all, a highly plausible end game to the current Obama strategy—and, indeed, all the more so since the latter is completely, and one presumes deliberately, silent about the United Nations.

For years, the beginning, middle and end of Israeli strategy was to keep the U.N. out of it. Israel was not interested in the implementation of U.N. Resolutions, whether on the right to return or 242 and the other resolutions on the occupied territories.

Then came the Quartet, which brought in the U.S., Russia, the EU and the U.N. However, this was not so much about bringing in the United Nations as about cocooning all its inconvenient resolutions in a cordon sanitaire of diplomacy. The U.N. found itself not only subscribed, by proxy, to American positions—such as the boycott of Hamas—which had no mandate whatsoever from its membership or previous resolutions, but hamstrung from reaffirming its own membership-mandated positions, even as successive Israeli prime ministers twisted the road map into an origami Möbius strip, going round infinitely without ever reaching an end.

Even under President Bill Clinton, the formula was to let the Palestinians and the Israelis negotiate “freely” in the full expectation that the Palestinians would negotiate away most of their impeccably legal positions based upon U.N. resolutions. As I said at the time, it was like putting a Sumo wrestler in the ring together with a toddler and calling for a fair fight.

Fortunately the PLO representatives in New York had a clearer vision. They constantly reaffirmed the U.N. resolutions, convening emergency General Assemblies, a meeting of the signatories to the Geneva Conventions and, of course, the successful referral of Israel’s separation wall to the International Court of Justice.

Arab opponents have attacked Obama for being soft on Israel, despite this administration being tougher than any since Bush-Baker turned the thumbscrews on Likud almost two decades ago. They are missing the point. Most notably, Obama and his team have had little or no domestic opposition to their policy—precisely because it has not invoked international law and the United Nations. Looking at the contempt with which Congress (and Israel) has treated the U.N. and international law on the issue, any evocation of it by Obama’s team would have been more likely to help create a focus of resistance to his policies than induce support for them.

Had the administration made grandiloquent statements of principles that were not accepted in Washington and in the U.S., those statements would have remained empty ones, thwarted by the Lobby in a Congress which has never accepted that U.N. resolutions apply to either the U.S. or Israel.

Instead, everything the Obama team has asked of Netanyahu—acceptance of a two-state solution and a freeze on settlements—is based on a prior commitment by Israel to the Quartet. Those commitments were supported by AIPAC and by most pro-Israel legislators, who so far have wisely chosen not to eat their own words.

It is an achievement all the more remarkable given Obama’s tussles with Capitol Hill over the economy, defense spending, climate change and healthcare, and suggests the Achilles heel of single-issue foreign interest lobbies. Their legislators could try to hold the White House hostage over pressing issues to get a more pro-Likud stance—but they would be committing electoral suicide if they were revealed as thwarting economic recovery on behalf of a foreign power.

The last thing the Lobby in its various manifestations wants is to highlight that the U.S. is sending $3 billion a year of hard-pressed taxpayers’ money to an ungrateful foreign government that is giving the bird to American policy.

More importantly, there has been a shift in view among American Jews and their organizations. Likudnik American Jews who vociferously oppose the road map and Obama are more likely to be found in West Bank settlements waving Uzis, or raving on about Obama’s birth certificate, than having the ear of Democratic Party leaders.

And like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, they are crying before they have been pricked. The White House has been very measured, restating its position firmly and frequently, but it has not yet had to make any threats. Simply holding firm on settlements has been enough to cause bewilderment and panic in the Israeli government, whose politicians are accustomed to enthusiastic acquiescence for whatever circumlocutions they use to disguise their contempt for restrictions on their land theft.

In that sense, Netanyahu’s coalition, not least with the odious Avigdor Lieberman, has been a godsend to Obama. In times past, Labor knew how to sound sincere even as it continued the bipartisan policy of settlement expansion. The open breach of Israeli road map commitments, the humanitarian and political disaster of Operation Cast Lead, and the inhumanity of the evictions in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood have even further reduced international and American domestic support for the Likud-led coalition.

Israel’s ruling coalition is ideological and theological in its make-up—faith-based, in fact. That gives some confidence that it will star in its own downfall. While its members see it as self-evident that Jews should be allowed to settle anywhere in the West Bank, seizing other people’s land to so, they take it as axiomatic that Palestinians should not be allowed to return to their ancestral homes. It is not an axiom that the rest of the world shares.

The Israeli electorate has been accustomed to taking U.S. support for granted regardless of what its elected governments do. There has been some realization that things have changed, as demonstrated by the huge contrast between the tepid support for Obama in Israel and his overwhelming support among American Jews. However, it seems as if the news that they have little or no American support at any level has not percolated down to the Israeli voters. Fortunately, Obama can count upon Lieberman, Netanyahu and company to extend their provocation to the point where the White House will have overwhelming support for getting tougher.

So far, the Obama administration has carefully refrained from doing anything that could in any way be construed as coercive or would in any way allow Netanyahu to rally the pro-Israel American faithful.

A good point to send a signal would be the “charitable” tax exemptions for deranged Zionist organizations funding the settlements (see p. 10). In Britain, many years ago, the Charity Commissioners refused to accept the Jewish National Fund as a tax-exempt entity—settling Jews was not a charitable objective. It appears to be one such organization that masterminded the “purchase” of the houses in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem from which 50 Palestinians, whose families were originally driven from West Jerusalem, were expelled to make way for settlers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quite rightly condemned this provocative and inhumane act. The European Union denounced it as being against international law.

Surely, forbearance notwithstanding, it’s time for a little more activity. The White House should have words with the IRS, which runs 501(c)(3) “charitable” organizations, to scrutinize the philanthropic status of bodies that thwart international law. After all, it is a perilous business to send funds to finance terrorist organizations, so why should those who fund such unsavory and illegal practices in the occupied territories be exempt from taxes?

We can leave the three billion until later, but this would surely send a message of serious intent.

Western Sahara: Another Intractable Problem

While there has been some talk of the U.S. proposing, and implicitly imposing, a solution on the Middle East, there is of course another intractable problem on which the U.N. and international law has an unequivocal position defied by one state. Yes, Morocco still occupies Western Sahara, and Christopher Cox, the former American diplomat who was belatedly appointed U.N. special representative, is supposed to be presenting a peace plan drawn up by the Obama administration. Recent estimates are that Morocco has been spending $12 million a day on its occupation—between 3-5 percent of its GDP and up to 20 percent of the state budget.

Most peace plans presented recently have been designed to abrogate the Sahrawis legal rights, clearly laid down by the International Court of Justice and successive U.N. resolutions, to an “act of self-determination”: a referendum. For more than three decades Morocco has thwarted this, precisely because it knows it would lose. The Polisario is more optimistic this time. Morocco resisted Cox’s appointment for many months since it suspected him of not being biddable enough—and it could in the past invoke discreet Israeli support for its stand. The latter factor may have lost its importance at the moment. Having Bibi Netanyahu as a character witness may not be the advantage it once was.

In a recent article before the Vienna talks between Morocco and Polisario, Polisario representative Mohammed Khadad said, “the people of Western Sahara have been clear that we are willing to work with the Moroccan monarchy and will act without recrimination in relation to Moroccans now living in Western Sahara.” The second part is eminently good political sense, but the first part is intriguing. It could be a response to a suggestion made by this writer.

Morocco’s nebulous claim, dismissed by the World Court, was that the tribes of the former Spanish colony owed fealty to the Moroccan ruling family. The parties could take a tip from the British Queen, whose head appears on the stamps and coins of the several dozen Commonwealth countries of which she is still head of state, but over which the British government has no control whatsoever. Offering King Mohamed VI of Morocco the position of Mohamed Iof Western Sahara—i.e., a constitutional monarch—could salve the wounded dynastic pride of the Moroccan leader, while stanching the bleeding of the economy for poverty-stricken Moroccans who have to sustain the huge army of occupation in the South.

The result would have to be endorsed by the United Nations to take legal effect, but if the U.S. is serious about it, Western Sahara could join East Timor on the list of cleared-up items on the Security Council’s backed up agenda—paving the way, perhaps, for the implementation of 242.

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations and has a blog at <www.deadlinepundit.blogspot.com>.

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