Sunday, May 17, 2015

AIPAC, Graham, Netanyahu and the Utter uselessness of the Quarter

WRMEA, May, 2015, pp. 20-21

United Nations Report

Three New Amigos: Graham, Netanyahu And Blair

By Ian Williams

Tony Blair
International Quartet special envoy Tony Blair at a July 15, 2014 press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Still criticized in Britain for his role in helping George W. Bush launch the 2003 war on Iraq, Blair more recently has been attacked for focusing more on his own economic interests than in bringing peace to Palestine and Israel. (ILIA YEFIMOVICH/GETTY IMAGES)

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra famously said. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently put in a bid for more campaign funding from Sheldon Adelson and his friends. At the AIPAC annual conference and on Fox, the senator threatened to reopen the tedious tactic of threatening Washington’s payment of its $654 million in dues to the U.N. Once a hardy perennial on the Hill, the issue had gone away since the relatively benign relations between the world body and Israel seemed to have dulled the edge of Washington’s constant grating chorus.
Despite their professed disdain for the U.N., Israeli diplomats and politicians clearly wallow in the reflected glory of every minor committee membership the state has achieved since it became a de facto member of the West European and Other Group.
As on those earlier occasions, it is pro-Israel activists rather than Israel itself trying to score donations and points by bashing the U.N. This time it is not just Palestine, but the Iranian issue that has them exercised. Graham knows that there are major donations to be had from deranged Likud supporters like Adelson.
“All the money that goes in to support the State Department comes through my committee,” Graham, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, told Fox, adding, “I’m gonna put the United Nations on notice.” He warned that he would slash U.S. funding to the U.N. if that body decided to lift sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear agreement. “Twenty-two percent of the funding for the United Nations comes from the American taxpayer and I’m in charge of that account,” Graham stated.
“If they go to the U.N. Security Council, and the U.N. Security Council lifts all sanctions before we ever get a chance to look at this deal, absolutely I would suspend funding the United Nations, because I don’t think your money should go to an organization that irresponsible,” he affirmed. “I’m not going to allow the United Nations to be used as a way to get around the United States Congress for a deal that affects the very existence of Israel and our own national security,” he vowed.
Since there is no way the Council could consider lifting sanctions on Iran without the support and vote of the U.S. delegation, which has a veto there, the senator really is talking about using his assumed legislative prerogatives to thwart an agreement by his own country’s president and diplomats. It is an act similar to that of the 47 Republican senators who wrote Tehran on behalf of Israel threatening not to honor any agreement with Iran, which is hardly surprising since Graham was one of the signatories.
The tentacles of Likud-USA, as AIPAC has become, are everywhere. Bereft of direct influence over President Barack Obama and the State Department, they are using their bully power everywhere else. Binyamin Netanyahu’s election rally in front of an adoring Congress might have helped him win back home with the voters—but it was much less effective with the White House.
When Netanyahu gauchely topped his Washington performance with his election eve speech to hard-line settlers explicitly denouncing recognition of any Palestinian state, he made it even more difficult to win over the White House. What little diplomatic credibility the U.S. has had globally on the issue was that it was pulling Israel along toward the stated goal of a two-state solution, as enshrined in all previous declarations from Oslo onwards.
However, Netanyahu’s promise should not have come as much of a surprise to most observers. Anyone who looked at Netanyahu and Likud could see the unconvincing hollowness of their protestations of support for a Palestinian state. They had put so many conditions on recognition that it clearly said “Bukra fil mishmish” (when pigs fly) to any recognition. However, it suited American leaders and their diplomatic hangers-on to overlook all this and pretend that Israeli leaders sincerely wanted peace. Otherwise they would have to confront their Israeli “ally” publicly, with all the fraught consequences for domestic politics that would entail.
In order to win re-election, Netanyahu went farther than usual in dropping the pretense of cooperation in peace talks. An already exasperated President Obama deliberately delayed telephoning him to congratulate him on his victory, and when he did, reminded the Israeli leader of U.S. policy on the two-state solution and the U.S. view of settlement building.
Similarly, at the United Nations, U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq read a prepared statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying, “It’s incumbent on the new Israeli government, once formed, to create the conditions for a negotiated final peace agreement with the active engagement of the international community that will end the Israeli occupation and realize the creation of a viable Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. This includes the cessation of illegal settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territory. The secretary-general firmly believes this is also the best and only way forward for Israel to remain a democratic state.”
It was not exactly casting down the gauntlet, but in diplomatic terms, and coming from the low-key Korean secretary-general, it was quite a strong rebuke.

An Opportunity Not to Be Missed

This is an opportune juncture for the secretary-general to withdraw from the hollow charade of the Middle East Quartet, the U.S./Russia/EU and U.N. body that epitomizes all the problems of a committee. The “consensus” of the Quartet is of course dominated by the U.S. When it was set up, it was almost a breakthrough that the U.S. and Israel allowed the United Nations any role at all in the “peace process.”
The U.S. has had the strictly limited virtue of consistency over the years, emphasizing the importance of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and thereby seeking to exclude international law and the whole body of U.N. resolutions as a basis for peace. Somehow, however, the U.N. is now bound by this Quartet consensus and, with no decision or discussion among U.N. members, U.N. officials in Gaza and the West Bank were barred, for example, from talking to Hamas. The U.N. secretary-general became the Quartet spokesperson, charged with reading their increasingly anodyne statements marking the complete lack of progress in negotiations and steadfastly refusing to put the blame where it belonged, on the settlement builders and occupiers. Instead of the U.N. position being taken to the Quartet, Washington’s view of consensus has taken over U.N. policy!
It would be unfair to say that the Quartet served absolutely no purpose. It did provide a job and networking opportunities for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom George W. Bush wanted to reward for his loyalty in helping engineer the Iraq invasion disaster. By all accounts, Blair has used his time well—securing contracts from unsavory potentates all over the world and being much favored by Israeli interests.
With a new regime in Washington that does not feel overmuch gratitude for Blair’s part in turning the Fertile Crescent into a sectarian inferno and increasing press scrutiny of the former prime minister’s entrepreneurial activities, Blair’s position is under severe challenge. American officials are briefing that he has “no credibility at all,” while the Palestinians call him “useless, useless, useless.” So, in a sense, Blair is a unifying factor for the Quartet and the Palestinians. They all regard him as a waste of space.
Blair became special envoy to the Middle East Quartet the same day he resigned as prime minister, replacing James Wolfensohn, the World Bank official who had the integrity to resign when he found his every effort to restart the Palestinian economy blocked by the Israelis, who could count on automatic diplomatic cover from the U.S. There was certainly a stark contrast in their approaches. Blair has been careful not to criticize Israel, whose supporters have bankrolled his career almost from the beginning.
Blair won’t be missed at the Quartet, and his departure is the right time to put the stake through the heart of this shambling cadaver of an organization. The U.N. has already charted the real road map, with the full force of international law: Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories, allow refugees to return or compensate them. Under international law, the settlements that Netanyahu is expanding even as Blair shakes his hand are illegal, a point reinforced by Security Council resolutions and a decision of the International Court of Justice.
It is indeed time that the U.N. separated from the man who would not listen to it on Iraq.

Talk Also Cheap in Western Sahara

Interminable peace talks with no progress are also a reminder of Western Sahara, where the Moroccan attempts to cover their own non-cooperation stoked a minor diplomatic flurry in March. Just as no country recognizes the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem, no one accepts the legality of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. So Morocco hosted a conference of an alleged NGO in the territory in the occupied city of Dakhla, and wasted no opportunity to emphasize U.N. connections.
To some extent it backfired, since claiming that a U.N. adviser speaking at the forum implied United Nations support for the lavishly funded event prompted the U.N. to disavow the conference and state the official position. The U.N. statement said:
“The secretary-general was invited to this Forum, but informed its president that he could not attend. He did not delegate Mr. Philippe Douste-Blazy or anyone else to represent him or the United Nations. Mr. Douste-Blazy, who serves as a special adviser to the secretary-general on innovative financing, is attending exclusively in his private capacity.
“While Dakhla is described in Forum materials as a city in Morocco, the definitive status of Western Sahara is the object of a negotiating process being conducted under the auspices of the secretary-general in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions.”
This was a gentle but firm put-down of Morocco, which has shown all the assiduity of Israel in abiding by U.N. decisions. It is now more than 40 years since Morocco was told to pull out of the territory and to cooperate in holding a referendum on its future.
It is a telling reminder of the weaknesses of the U.N. that after all these decades, the Moroccans and the Israelis continue to occupy territory in defiance of U.N. resolutions. But it is also a reminder of the strength of the organization that after all this time no country recognizes the legitimacy of their occupations. There is hope yet.  

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations who blogs at <>.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Elections Can Be Won

Elections Can Be Won

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: May 15, 2015 Last modified: May 13, 2015

While progressive Brits donned sackcloth and ashes at the prospect of another five years of David Cameron, there were some signs of rationality across the Atlantic. The same week, in New York, Dina Richardson, the candidate for the Working Families Party won a seat on the State Assembly from the Democrats – on a platform that included refusing to take any election donations from the real estate interests who tend to buy candidates and elections in the city.
In Alberta, the National Democratic Party had a landslide victory in the provincial elections. Alberta is Canada’s oil-rich equivalent of Texas. Based on ranching and oil, the province has been consistently conservative in its voting and has been a power base for Stephen Harper, the Conservative Prime Minister who has so successfully sullied Canada’s international reputation and has been busily trying to undo Canada’s welfare state.
The victory of the charismatic new NDP premier Rachel Notley confounds the pundit drive to the centre. It is true that the NDP, the party which dragged Canada into the civilised world with its single payer health service, has been influenced by the siren calls of the centre, but it has to a large extent resisted them.
After all, the Liberals were already there in the centre, so instead of a New Labour-style stampede to the right, the NDP had to find the sweet spot between attracting a majority and distinguishing itself from the Liberals. The Alberta result suggests it was successful. It was elected with calls for abolishing Alberta’s regressive flat tax and by challenging the various neoliberal economic shibboleths that have swept the industrialised world.
Many commentators compared the effect to Bernie Sanders winning Texas. Which leads gently to the self-avowed Socialist Senator announcing his bid in the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. The former first lady is being treated as the heir apparent for the nomination with, so far, little opposition from traditionally ambitious Democrats. For the right wing, the hatred for her is all-consuming. If you read their commentary, you would assume that she was on the verge of socialism. Such rumours are even less well-founded than those about Ed Milliband’s Bolshevism.
She is, in fact ,a comfortably corporate conservative, like her husband. While his manoeuvres looked like weak wobbles and she looks tough and decisive, for both of them the technique is the same. Getting votes from ordinary people by “feeling their pain” while inflicting that pain themselves on behalf of all the corporate donors.
So Hillary is presenting herself as deeply concerned with ordinary “middle class” voters as the Americans put it. But in reality, like Bill before, the campaign is shaking down corporate donors – who do not give money without expectations of adequate returns.
Hillary is raking in cash as fast as the bankers can write her cheques, and not releasing their names, even as she calls for a constitutional amendment to reduce the power of money in politics.
Bernie Sanders takes the Democratic whip in the Senate where he represents Vermont. But there is nothing in the rules to stop him running in a primary as the Democratic candidate – indeed, he could run for Republican primary! While the mainstream depicts him as the wild leftist, his reasonable analysis actually appeals to many ordinary Americans.
He is under attack on the left for not trying to break the two party tyranny in American politics but by standing in the Democratic primary, he can put forward his unabashed democratic socialist views much more effectively. Clinton is already trying to throw sops to the left of the Democrats because in the primary at least, she knows that is where she is vulnerable to attack. Then she would veer comfortably right in the general election in office. For the Clintons, like Tony Blair, the purpose of politics is to get them in office, no matter the cost to others.
Looking at this in the context of the line-up of yesterday’s men calling for a return to the centre for the Labour Party, one can see how much more adroit are the tactics of the Clintons, who at least pretend to cater to their core voters, compared with New Labour arrogance that lost us Scotland and the election. The Labour Party might do well to emulate Sanders and Notley not Blair and Peter Mandelson if it wants to return to power.