Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday 22 January 2007

A mighty effort

Writing about US Secretary of State Rice’s Middle East junket the other day, I quoted the NY Times quoting her on ‘how quickly we can accelerate the road map and how we begin to talk about the political horizon that everybody is interested in.’

Well it seems Thom Shanker has twigged what she’s really on about. In his news analysis yesterday, ‘Perhaps Thinking of Legacy, Bush Has Rice on the Move’, he writes parenthetically,

(Ms. Rice, a scholar of Soviet affairs, is no doubt aware of the Brezhnev-era joke in which a Kremlin party leader intones, “Comrades, global Communism is on the horizon,” to which a reply is whispered from the back of the hall, “Doesn’t the horizon always move away exactly as fast as you move toward it?”)

Obviously, there’s no need to be a scholar of Soviet affairs to note this peculiar phenomenon of the infinitely receding horizon, but it’s refreshing that the newspaper of record notes it in this context, for the horizon is really quite an apt metaphor for the ‘Middle East Peace Proccess’. Notwithstanding this useful insight, however, it wouldn’t do to be too hasty to judge Mr Shanker’s clueyness. A couple of paragraphs earlier, he wrote,

The Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister promised to join her for three-way talks within a month, with a meeting in Washington in advance by the so-called quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — that has been trying to promote Middle East peace.

So we have a situation where a country of some 7 million, occupies territory with a population of some 3-4 million over a period of four decades in defiance of binding UN Security Council resolutions, underwritten with billions of dollars per year from the US, and yet the US itself, in league with Europe, Russia, and the entire ‘international community’, has failed, although exerting its best efforts since the promulgation of the Road Map in 2003, to secure the cooperation of its client?

This Quartet is a funny mob. Since all the member of the EU and the US and Russia are all members of the UN, you’d kind of think the UN alone could carry the ball on this one. But of course the UN has no power to compel a member state to do or not to do anything unless it meets two conditions. It needs a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, and it needs member states to contribute troops. Meeting the first condition is usually a problem when it comes to Israel because the US routinely deploys its veto to preclude it.

But there was at least one occasion when it failed, or forgot, to do so. UNSC Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously on 22 November 1967, some five months after the June 1967 war in which Israel occupied Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Almost everybody reads the operative clause, ‘Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires …Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’, as intending that the Israeli military was to withdraw from all those territories. The usual interpretation for the wording ‘from territories’ rather than ‘from the territories’ or ‘from all territories’, is that the Security Council members wanted to allow for minor adjustments to the 1949 ceasefire lines, the Green Line, in establishing final borders. And that is the explanation that Lord Caradon, one of the drafters, gives. Furthermore, in the discussion, the Indian representative was quite explicit that the intention was for the Israeli troops with withdraw from all of the territories, and nine other members explicitly supported this position, with only Israel itself, then represented on the Council, objecting. You might think that the prefatory clause, ‘Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ would clinch the matter. But there are those who disagree.

According to Ted Lapkin, the Director of Policy Analysis at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), for example, ‘By withdrawing from the Sinai in 1979 – which constituted 90% of the 1967 occupied territories, Israel complied with the stipulated requirements of 242.’

Anyway, that was a fluke. According to Carter’s new book, ‘The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel.’ Among those vetoes that ‘have brought international discredit on the United States’ was his own veto of draft resolution S/13911 on 30 April 1980.

The point is that the UN can’t enforce ‘international law’, ‘human rights’, or anything, even with a Security Council resolution, without the US’s full cooperation. Indeed, even without the specific institution of the Security Council, which alone can make binding resolutions, with its five veto wielding permanent nuclear powers, the UN would be a far cry from the kind of unifying force for peace that liberal mythology makes it out to be. It is not a warm and cuddly meeting of human beings from all corners of the globe. It does not represent the people all over the world, but the very states that govern them. In plainer language, that preside over their exploitation and oppression on behalf of each country’s ruling minority. So it would be foolish to expect too much.

Even at its most earnest, the UN fails to rise above its fundamental cynicism. Take the Millennium Development Goals, ‘Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day’. I won’t be the first to point out that 2015 is a long time to go hungry – longer still when they first said it in 2000. Or to ask why the baseline is set at 1990 for a project that begins in 2000? And what about the other half? How long is it ok for them to live on such a paltry sum and ‘suffer from hunger’? On Thursday, Reuters reported, ‘The steadily rising Iraq war price tag will reach about $8.4 billion a month this year’. Per month. Just for Iraq. That would feed a lot of people. One could go on about the incompetence, inefficiency, waste, empire building, and featherbedding that goes on in UN agencies alongside some dedicated and profoundly frustrated people.

Sometimes you read about ‘the international community’. I find it easy to fall into assuming that this means something more substantive than just what the UN decides. For example, a couple of years ago, prominent Australian ‘public intellectual’ Robert Manne broke his silence on the Palestine issue to assert, among other things, ‘In 1947 the international community decided to establish a Jewish state in a part of the British mandatory territory, Palestine. That decision seems to me to have been both just and, as important, irrevocable.’

By ‘the international community’ here he is of course referring specifically to UN General Assembly’s partition Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, whose substance was to create not only a Jewish state but also an Arab state within the area of Mandatory Palestine. So the creation of the state of Israel, in the absence of an independent Palestinian state in the area stipulated by the UN General Assembly, was not in accord with the decision of ‘the international community’.

Another aspect of 1947’s ‘international community, is that the states comprising the international community that voted in favour of this decision included such beacons of democracy as Somoza’s Nicaragua, Morinigo’s military dictatorship in Paraguay, and the Stalinist regimes of the USSR and Eastern Europe. It is worth noting that the states represented at the UN in 1947 included just 57 countries, mainly European and Western Hemisphere countries. Not one country of Sub-Saharan Africa, other than the Union of South Africa, which was on the verge of formalising apartheid as state policy, even existed at the time. Among this peculiarly skewed collection of nation states, 13 voted against Resolution 181, 10 abstained and one, Siam, was absent for the vote. That means that some 58% of ‘the international community’ as constituted at the time actually supported partition.

It is also worth noting that there was an alternative proposal on the table at the same time that would have created a ‘federal independent state of Palestine’ with proportional representation of all ‘elements’ of the population and safeguarding ‘the rights of religious establishments of all nationalities in Palestine’. Consideration of this proposal was quashed, somewhat cynically in my view, by rulings from the chair, one Dr Aranha.

At the time of this resolution, we did not have the wealth of experience we now enjoy of the effects of partition, although the horrors surrounding the partition of India some three months earlier might have provided some insight. While the rejected proposal leaves much to be desired, it seems clear that it would have been infinitely preferable to partition and might, if enforced rigorously, have precluded some of the excesses carried out by the Jewish state.

A year and a half later, after the ethnic cleansing of nearly 800,000 indigenous Palestinians and the capture of considerably more territory than Resolution 181 had awarded, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 273 ‘Decides to admit Israel to membership in the United Nations’.

In doing so, it expressly recalled, ‘its resolutions of 29 November 1947 [the partition resolution 181] and 11 December 1948 [Resolution 194 on the return of the refugees] and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representatives of the Government of Israel before the Ad Hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions’. It’s going to require some more research to uncover those ‘declarations and explanations’, but by the end of 1952, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban was arguing, ‘If we are to be faithful craftsmen in the greatest of all arts - construction of world peace - we must continually perfect our instruments and sometimes not hesitate to change them.’ The refugees, he argued, were a result of the war, so it wasn’t Israel’s fault or responsibility, and anyway, they had absorbed so many refugees from other countries, and blah blah blah.

So obviously the UN is not going to do anything to achieve peace in Palestine, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, for the reasons I mentioned – it can’t.

As for the EU, a lot of people have held out great hopes. Some imagine that the EU can serve as a force to counterbalance the sole superpower. Well, when they jumped on the bandwagon and cut off the PA after the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza voted wrong last January, consigning hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to even deeper poverty, they surely put paid to any such residual illusions. Still with Britain and France on board the Road Map, along with Russia and the US, only China could veto a Security Council resolution. I’ve never heard a suggestion that this was any kind of possibility. So the Quartet was actually in a position to place the nearest thing the UN has to compulsive power into motion. There could have been a resolution under Chapter 7 calling on the Israelis to get out forthwith or else. It won’t have surprised anyone that this is not what transpired.

As a matter of fact, considering the level of the US subsidy to the Israeli occupation, you’d think that all it would take to end the occupation would be a threat to withhold that money.

In reality, Israel started out by expressing its reservations about the Road Map, which effectively reduced it to a meaningless scrap, and nobody objected. It insisted that it would take no action whatsoever until ‘the Palestinians held up their end’. The Israelis insisted that the powerless quisling Palestine Authority not only achieve a ceasefire with the armed groups that were not under their control, but fully disarm them. In other words, the Israelis would not move one ‘illegal outpost’ caravan until after the Palestinian civil war. So the Quartet is yet to reach the first milestone along the Road Map they were due to complete two years ago.

All things considered, I think we’d have to conclude that The Quartet has not really been exercising much effort to ‘promote Middle East peace’.

But then, this all assumes that the key to ‘Middle East peace’ is partition. That’s a funny kind of assumption that I intend to address another time.

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