Thursday, June 18, 2015
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE watching the great powers at work to demonstrate just how ephemeral “eternal” principles are, and how expedient their implementation. It is reported that Washington is trying to persuade the French, in particular, to back-pedal on their attempt to lay down the accepted principles of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This would essentially emphasize the illegality of settlement activity and the applicability of the 1967 boundaries as enshrined in numerous repeated U.N. resolutions over the years and accepted by every country in the world except Israel.
But for once, the Obama administration is not doing this simply as a favor to Israel. It is a different kind of pandering: Washington is discreetly asking the other countries to hold back so that the White House can concentrate on the Iranian deal and get it through Congress in the teeth of Israeli lobby opposition. It is demeaning, of course, but over the decades not uncommon for American diplomats to plead for forbearance with foreign colleagues so that they can cope with geopolitically illiterate American legislators.
In this case there is an extra twist, in that the U.S. is hinting that once the Iran deal is done, it can get around to dealing with Binyamin Netanyahu’s recalcitrance, with the further hint that Israel cannot take the American veto at the U.N. for granted.
That raises the question of why President Barack Obama could not say that before the Israeli election. Netanyahu has gratuitously interfered in domestic American politics all his political career, and in particular over the Iran issue. If Obama and Secretary of State Kerry had forcefully announced to the world that should Netanyahu persist in disavowing agreed terms for peace and refused to stop settlement, there would be no guarantee of a U.S. veto in the Security Council, it might well have cost him the election. Israeli voters see no downside in Netanyahu’s chutzpah,and clearly a majority of them agree with his hard-line stance—as long as he can get away with it.
In a chain of connections, the Marshall Islands is one of the few countries that frequently supports the U.S. on Israel. Of course, it has to! It was one of the former U.N. strategic trust territories in the Pacific taken from Japan and administered by the U.S., and Washington only agreed to its “independence” if it relinquished its right to its own defense and consulted with the U.S. on foreign affairs.
Even at the time, that raised eyebrows, since these are some of the crucial indicators of sovereignty. Nonetheless, the General Assembly accepted the new micro states as full members, and they have consistently voted with the U.S. on Middle Eastern issues. Among the few sources of revenue were annual grants from Congress, so no wonder the islanders were so interested in Middle Eastern affairs. One other revenue source was fees from the islands’ sideline as a flag of convenience, where American shipowners could escape domestic labor and safety regulations.
But at the end of April unforeseen consequences cropped up when Iran arrested an American ship that was flagged out of the Marshall Islands. Some Israeli commentators immediately tried to get the U.S. Navy to fulfill its defense obligations under international law—for them, of course, it is always a good day to attack Iran. Interestingly, the Marshall Islands would have recourse to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea since it is a signatory—unlike the U.S., Israel and Iran! Quite why the U.S. should risk World War III for a shipping company that expatriated its ships to avoid U.S. taxation and regulation is a question that remains unanswered.
While Arab states and others—such as France—are quick, and correct, to call attention to how U.S.-drafted Security Council resolutions bend over backward to cover for a certain state on the eastern end of the Mediterranean, they remain resolutely silent over France’s cover for another state at the opposite end of the Mediterranean that flouts previous resolutions and international law.
Morocco’s continuing occupation of the Western Sahara, with its own separation wall, the Berm, snaking across the desert, continues to get a free pass in Resolution 2218 passed April 28 in New York.
The name of the U.N. operation that the resolution extends for yet another year says it all. MINURSO, in full, is the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, and it was set up in 1991 with a timetable of one year. Almost a quarter of a century has passed, with Morocco still impeding any attempt to implement the “self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations” that the resolution breezily refers to in its preamble, even as its substance robs it of meaning.
Back in 1991, Johannes Mantz, the first head of the mission, promised the U.N. press corps that the operation would be open within a year, since a Spanish census 18 years before had identified the voting roll and even the infants had now come of age. There is now an entirely new generation of Sahrawis born and come of voting age.
Many of these are young, unemployed and disaffected, and the secretary-general’s report gives evidence of unrest and demonstrations on both sides of the Berm, in Polisario- and Moroccan-controlled territories alike. After decades in which the world seemed happy to let the Sahrawis wallow in their misery as long as there was no spillover, there are now increasing worries at the possibilities of destabilization in the region. The possibilities for smuggling and cross-border crime are now joined by apprehension at the prospects of extremist recruitment of unemployed youth with few if any prospects and facing rampant injustice exacerbated by the “benign neglect” of the world community.
The African Union, whose membership includes the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), has taken a renewed interest in the issue and has been pushing for a referendum. After all, one of the founding principles of the Union was that the old colonial boundaries had to be respected, not so much because of their own inherent value but rather because the belligerent consequences of trying to redraw them would be so bloody. Morocco did not join the Union because of SADR’s membership—and objected in April when the Union tried to get the SADR delegate to speak on non-proliferation in Africa.
A veritable chorus of forked tongues speaks on the issue, with words getting new and Orwellian meanings. The U.N. reports praise Morocco for its progress on human rights in the territory, while Morocco and France, with active U.S. and British support and Russian connivance, fought to ensure that the resolution did not mandate an active human rights monitoring mission called for by the African Union.
The West often castigates Africa for its allegedly lackadaisical attitude to human rights violations. But in this case the great powers actively fought to keep MINURSO the only U.N. peacekeeping mission without a human rights component, and for the even more singular honor of being the Mission for the Referendum on self-determination on the Western Sahara that is not allowed to carry out a referendum or mention that Rabat has repeatedly announced that it will not allow self-determination.
Polisario has raised Morocco’s sale of off-shore oil rights to foreign oil companies and had thechutzpah to justify it by reference to the 2002 letter on the matter from Hans Corell, who was then U.N. undersecretary-general for legal affairs. As he has repeatedly said since then in several articles, the legal opinion he gave was that selling the oil contracts was in flagrant breach of the Geneva conventions on Occupied Territories—and that the companies accepting the contracts were in breach of international law.
While even the U.S. does not insist on praising Israel for its cooperation when it so clearly does not cooperate, the April U.N. resolution praises Morocco for its progress in the teeth of its flamboyant defiance.
Principles can be so tedious for politicians. ❑