Sunday, May 17, 2015
AIPAC, Graham, Netanyahu and the Utter uselessness of the Quarter
WRMEA, May, 2015, pp. 20-21
“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.
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.
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 <www.deadlinepundit.blogspot.com>.