Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Do Unto Others..

United Nations Report: From Palestine to Western Sahara, Double Standards and Hypocrisies

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
January/February 2011, Pages 27-28

United Nations Report
From Palestine to Western Sahara, Double Standards and Hypocrisies
By Ian Williams

It's time for the annual sorting out of the sheep from the goats at the United Nations, and even without the benefit of WikiLeaks we can see on whom the U.S. and Israel have been leaning. In the yearly series of votes on Middle Eastern issues the "nay" votes have come from the U.S, Israel and Canada—which is torn between being a province of Israel or the U.S. on this issue—and a slightly variant assortment of Pacific Islands, helped along by the biggest Pacific Island of all, Australia, whose Labor government has mostly maintained the pro-Israel stance of its Conservative predecessor.

But then, Australia abstained on illegal Jerusalem settlements with Canada voting to express "grave concern"—but then again, Canada voted against the main resolution on the two-state solution with Australia abstaining, so maybe they are colluding in some bad cop, not-so-bad cop routine. Perhaps it's time for those Middle Eastern countries who buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Australian mutton to reconsider their purchases and persuade voters Down Under that their government's policy does in fact have a price.

The UK seems to have maintained some principles and supported the resolutions in defiance of Big Brother in Washington, except where the consensual EU position—enabling a few Israel and U.S. acolytes to hold the whole group hostage—led the 50-plus EU states and hangers on to abstain on issues like the Golan Heights.

Interestingly, in this minor epidemic of pandering, not one country spoke to defend Israeli annexations or settlement building. Typically, for example, "Canada remained concerned about the number of resolutions that singled out Israel, as well as the disproportionate focus placed on the Middle East."

Bearing in mind the disproportionate amount of effort Ottawa spends genuflecting to Canada's Israel lobby, this is almost amusing, but the various abstainers and naysayers used such excuses to explain away their betrayal of the principles of international law, when what they really meant was that they did not want to upset the American dog and its wagging Israeli tail.

The U.S. for its part was "disheartened to see unbalanced resolutions that failed to ask for the difficult steps required by both sides." Between the lines, that echoed the call from the Israeli delegate Meron Reuben, who complained that the resolutions' effect was that "instead of working to bring the parties together in meaningful negotiations and preparing the Palestinians to make the tough choices that will be required to reach an agreement, this distinguished forum engages in the same ritual condemnation of Israel, feeding Palestinian notions of victimhood."

"Balance," of course, depends on where the pivot is placed. One suspects that Reuben would not be happy with a Palestinian offer to withdraw its forces from Israeli territory in return for a similar Israeli withdrawal.

Those coded phrases of "difficult steps" and "tough choices" are diplo-speak for the victim paying blackmail to the thief in order to get a tiny portion of the loot back.

Admittedly, one U.S. delegate claimed that Washington was "committed to working with parties to achieve Arab-Israeli peace, including a two-state solution to the conflict. Through good faith negotiations, the Palestinian goal of an independent state along 1967 lines, and a Jewish state with secure borders, could be realized." One wonders how much devil there is in the details of "along 1967 lines," and whether the Obama administration has bothered to parse the phrase with the Israeli government.

Equally disingenuously, "The United States saw no contradiction between support of the Palestinians and support for Israelis. The United States had given an additional $150 million to the Palestinian Authority, for a total of $225 million for the year. In addition, the United States was the single largest donor to UNRWA, with $237.8 million to date in 2010," according to the American diplomat.

Once again balance reared its ugly pivot. Any objective observer would notice some discrepancy between around half a billion for an impoverished and repressed people, weigh it in the balance and find it wanting when compared with the billions of dollars of direct aid and 40 years of veto protection from international action for the high-tech, prosperous military power doing the repressing.

For a more balanced approach one can look at the report of the Human Rights Council's Commission of Inquiry into the Gaza Flotilla which hopes for "swift action" by the government of Israel, because, it concludes, "this will go a long way to reversing the regrettable reputation which that country has for impunity and intransigence in international affairs. It will also assist those who genuinely sympathize with their situation to support them without being stigmatized."

That is also an oblique message to the U.S., Canada, Australia and the assorted Pacific atolls who uncritically support Israel, when, the fact-finding mission concludes, "the conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel toward the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted a grave violation of human rights law and international humanitarian law."

The mission based its findings in part on the autopsy reports on the slain Turks—and, lest it be forgotten, one American, who showed clear signs of being shot dead at close range when already wounded and incapacitated. The problem is disproportionate violence from the Israeli military, not disproportionate attention from the United Nations.
Double Standards

There is indeed a point to be made about double standards, however. The Western Sahara issue remains bogged down in the sand, with France vigorously backing Morocco, and London and Washington in varying degrees going along with it. At the U.N. Decolonization Committee in New York, pro-Moroccan petitioners expressed their concern about the Polisario Front's lack of commitment to human rights. They rather had their case spoiled, however, by the Moroccan police assault on 20,000 encamped protesters near Layoune, the territory's capital. Former American diplomat Christopher Ross, the U.N.'s special representative, hosted talks in New York which ended in their customarily inconclusive way.

Although the local partners are different, the Palestinian and Western Sahara issues are essentially similar. There is a body of international law and resolutions which clearly state that the occupying power should stop occupying and allow self-determination in the territories in question. In the case of Western Sahara, the U.N. set up under Security Council mandate an operation to hold a referendum of the Sahrawi population and Morocco refused to allow it to go ahead, even though it had originally agreed.

Indeed, one could almost suspect that Israel's inspiration for its separation wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice, was the great Sand Berm that Morocco built across Western Sahara.

There might well be arguments about the democratic credentials of Polisario, as indeed there are about Moroccan behavior in its own territory and the occupied territory. But the core of the issue is the referendum that Rabat refuses to allow. All else is, as they say, commentary—although the French-initiated refusal to countenance a human rights monitoring component of MINURSO, the U.N. mission, is as eloquent as it is shameful for France as it is for the U.S. and UK for their connivance.

In the end, neither Morocco nor Israel is going to move without significant external pressure—which, as we know all too well, has not been forthcoming. Indeed, many of those countries so vigorous in defense of international law and U.N. resolutions against Israel are tacitly supporting Morocco, and thus giving moral support to cries of double standards by Israel supporters. Perhaps fortunately, since Israel and Morocco enjoy a long-standing relationship apart from the kingdom's occasional pan-Arab posturing, Israel's supporters do not exploit the analogy more.

Another indication that supporting Palestine in votes is not necessarily a qualification for saintliness is the vote on "Vilification of Religions," which for once the West is right to oppose. Previously about "Defamation" of religions, and conceived to pander to Islamist sentiments at home, this resolution ignores freedom of speech and thought, and also a basic point of theology. Drafted by, of course, Morocco, it calls for "adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from vilification of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general."

Where human rights advocates have problems is that many of the countries that fail to guarantee human rights to individuals are pushing for legal protections for abstractions—i.e., religions. Jews, Muslims and Christians each have different interpretations of their prophets. Is a Muslim in a European country "defaming" Christianity by denying the divinity of Christ? Are Jews and Christians "defaming" Islam by denying the role of the Prophet? Indeed are Protestants defaming Catholicism by refusing to accept the infallibility of the pope? These are dangerous questions, not easily answered by either legislation or U.N. resolutions.

Existing laws and resolutions already offer protection to people who hold those beliefs, no matter how absurd they might appear to others who do not share them, but the form of the "Vilification" resolution certainly does more to fan the flames of the very real Islamophobia in the West by implying Islamic intolerance. The committee vote of 76 countries in favor, 64 against and 42 abstentions is narrowing—with, of course, hypocrisy all around. China, Russia and North Korea all voted for it, presumably with their fingers crossed behind their backs, while Israel, on the way to being a rabbinocracy, voted against. Canada and other Western countries voted against, even though they have laws on their books against blasphemy—which, of course, tend to be devoted to protecting Christianity rather than Islam, which allows Islamic countries to score points.

Looking at this round up of hypocrisy and double standards returns one to the basic and much ignored principle of human affairs: "Do unto others as you would have them to do you." It should be in the U.N. Charter.

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