Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Unparalleled access

This morning I received an email from Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee's Director of Government and International Affairs, demanding that I 'stand up to the threat of a nuclear Iran' by donating to the AJC.

A nuclear-armed Iran under radical Islamic rule would pose an unimaginably greater threat to the region and to world peace. AJC will continue to pursue every legislative and diplomatic avenue to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability.

It is not important, or credible, that as Aslı Bâli wrote a fortnight ago,

Iran’s nuclear program has been the subject of a stepped-up inspections regime, with the IAEA spending more inspection man-hours in Iran in the last nine years than in any other country in its history...The Agency has made 39 reports to its Board of Governors concerning the Iranian nuclear program, the most recent in November 2012. While the reports reflect concerns that the Agency has not fully verified Iran’s past and current activities, each report confirms that there is no evidence that Iran has diverted nuclear materials to military purposes.

Nor that Iran has never threatened Israel or any other country.

He is apparently unconcerned that Israel, which is not even party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), has an active, explicitly military, nuclear program and possesses up to 400 nuclear weapons. It is no secret that Israel has been planning an attack on Iran for years. 

Bâli also points out that although Iran has scrupulously complied with its obligations under the NPT, it is in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions.

the succession of seven Security Council resolutions -- 1696 (July 2006), 1737 (December 2006), 1747 (March 2007), 1803 (March 2008), 1835 (September 2008), 1929 (June 2010) and 1984 (June 2011) -- now constitute the legal framework for the Iranian nuclear program, superceding Iran’s obligations under the NPT.

Which I think raises interesting questions about International Law beyond the fundamental principle that the US and those it considers friendly can flout treaty obligations, covenants, declarations, SC resolutions, ICJ findings and the UN Charter with impunity while the people of those deemed unfriendly must endure sanctions and attacks as punishment, notwithstanding their compliance.

Isaacson is pleased that

Current sanctions have cut Iran's petroleum exports in half and crippled its economy. Iran’s currency has plummeted.

Unfortunately, 'Iran's defiant leaders have failed to respond'. So

To stop their reckless quest, AJC is leveraging its unparalleled access to world leaders to press for still more punishing economic and political measures. Our impact has been widely acknowledged in the halls of power.

For literally two decades, AJC has pressed the U.S. and world governments to unite against the Iranian threat. In recent weeks – following our advocacy campaign for European Union sanctions – AJC mobilized advocates across the country to urge support for a new U.S. package of intensified Iran sanctions proposed in Congress. Our voice was heard: the Iran sanctions amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act was adopted and the full measure sent to President Obama for his signature...Our thoughtful, principled global advocacy has earned respect and attention at the highest levels in capitals around the world.

You might almost form the impression that Isaacson was boasting of the AJC's influence. But that couldn't possibly be, because the very same AJC unequivocally rejects 'the ugliest anti-Semitic stereotypes' conjured up by 'identification of a rich and powerful “Israel lobby”, as Zionist poodle Thomas Friedman rashly did last year. 

Saturday 15 December 2012

Our children

Just weeks after humiliating himself with his notorious quip that 'no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens' while unleashing just such a deluge himself, President Obama is grieving the fatal shooting of some 20 children and 7 adults at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut, allegedly at the hands of one Adam Lanza, described by the Newtown Patch as 'developmentally disabled'. The president is heartbroken

...for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.

After all, 'As a country, we have been through this too many times...these children are our children.' [my emphasis]

Nor is it just 'our' American children he mourns, although only their deaths bring tears to his eyes. He also empathises with the parents of the children traumatised by the ceaseless torrent of Qassam rockets in

...the border town of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms, and I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids.

They too have 'their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.' Unlike Palestinian kids, Pakistani kids, Afghan kids... who don't have lives ahead of them; who unfortunately found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time; who he can shoot and not cry; whose parents don't grieve and above all, don't have the right 'to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this'. That would be terrorism.

Monday 3 December 2012

Assurances to the contrary

On reading Joseph Massad's take on the UN General Assembly resolution conferring non member observer state status on the Palestinian Authority, it occurs to me that in my post 'Raining on the parade', I may have read too much into the wording of point 2, the operative decision, and not enough into points 1 and 5, which reaffirm the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and urge negotiations, respectively. 

Massad writes,

Yesterday, the general assembly voted to admit Palestine as a state with observer status. Despite assurances to the contrary, the new state is likely to undermine the status of the PLO at the UN.

On reflection, I was too hasty to accept the 'assurances to the contrary', specifically,
    without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people
The first article of the resolution, which I gather provides the frame for the balance of the resolution,

Reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 [my emphasis]

The plain meaning of this, which I fear I missed at the time is that the Palestinian people as a whole are only entitled to exercise their rights within the occupied territory. Since the Palestinian people incorporates not just the denizens of the West Bank and Gaza, but also the refugees, it seems that what the General Assembly is saying here is that their right of return will not be 'to their homes' as provided in UNGA Resolution 194, but to the State of Palestine. This is in accord with abu Mazen's recent declaration, 'I want to see Safed. It's my right to see it, but not to live there', widely, and I believe correctly, interpreted as relinquishing the right of return, protestations that 'the remarks were his personal stance, rather than a change of policy' to the contrary notwithstanding. 

The Palestinian people of course also include some 1.5 million Israeli citizens, who will also enjoy the right to self determination in the State of Palestine, just as then Foreign Minsiter Tzipi Livni promised in December 2008, 

Once a Palestinian state is established, I can come to the Palestinian citizens, whom we call Israeli Arabs, and say to them 'you are citizens with equal rights, but the national solution for you is elsewhere'.

Beyond this, in clause 5, the GeneralAssembly enunciated adherence to 'the Quartet road map', along with 'the principle of land for peace', among the guidelines within which negotiations 'for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinian and Israeli sides that resolves all outstanding core issues, namely the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water'.

The Roadmap demands that the 

Palestinian leadership issues unequivocal statement reiterating Israel's right to exist in peace and security

Such a statement alone would suffice to cement the Palestinian State's acquiescence in the Palestinian people's permanent exile from at least the 78% of their homeland comprising 'Israel proper'. But it wasn't good enough for Israel, whose response to The Roadmap demanded the absolute end of all resistance and disarming of all Palestinians before they would even consider adherence to The Roadmap's modest provisions applying to Israel. They insisted that 'declared references must be made to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state'.

You wouldn't expect anything that actually makes sense to emerge from the George W Bush White House. But to suggest 'an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue' is just a sick joke. There can be a just and fair solution, or there can be an agreed and realistic 'solution', but certainly not both if the right of return means anything at all. And true to form, Israel insisted on 'the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel'.

So I'm convinced that the General Assembly has no intention of acknowledging the majority of the Palestinian people who are outside the PA's jurisdiction, even through the imperfect, compromised and moribund PLO. In future, I'll try not to be so gullible.

As for the parades, it seems that the report in the Independent I sourced that information from may have been exaggerating. Haggai Matar reports,

In spite of the headlines, the international media attention, and the flow of pictures showing celebrating Palestinians waving flags – the UN resolution sparked little excitement or joy in the streets of Ramallah, which is still surrounded by walls and settlements on all sides. If anything, it was an evening of sadness and despair.

By 22:00, when the live video from the General Assembly came up, there were few more than 300 people gathered near the screen. By 22:30 the event reached its peak, with about 1,000 people – leaving the small square about half empty. About half were police, journalists, foreigners, and young men who were said to be Fatah Youth, called up in a hurry when officials realized how grim things were looking

In the Telegraph, Robert Tait reports 

In the cramped, ramshackle streets of Al Am’ari refugee camp – home to around 6,000 Palestinians displaced in the 1948 war that ushered in the state of Israel – the mood was as grim as the setting, despite the historic vote at the United Nations.

Nor was I alone in noticing the dark cloud surrounding Abbas's silver lining, such as it is.

The Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah wrote on the al Jazeera site, 

The emptiness of the UN vote could not have been more clearly illustrated than by what has happened - or not happened - since.

On Thursday, the UN General Assembly voted to admit "Palestine" as a non-member state. On Friday, Israel announced its intention to build thousands more settler housing units on the territory of this supposed state. What now will be the international response in the wake of the UN vote?

Other than ritual condemnations, will there be real, specific action - including sanctions - by the 138 countries that voted for "Palestine" to force Israel to halt, and begin to reverse its illegal colonisation of the 1967 occupied territories? Sadly, that is unlikely, an indication that the UN vote was nothing more than a hollow gesture and a substitute for effective action to halt Israel's crimes.

Tait quotes a Ramallah waiter,

“I don’t expect anything from this. This is a state in theory, not in practice,” he said.

“Israel doesn’t pay any attention to international public opinion and the UN can pass all the resolutions it likes but Israel just says no.

Is Israel going to leave the [West Bank] settlements now? Am I going to be able to go to the Al-Aqsa mosque (in Jerusalem) to pray? I don’t think so.”

In Ha'aretz, Abeer Ayyoub wrote,

...I couldn't see anything but the darkness falling over my land...

It's no surprise that most of the people who are going with the step are pro-Fatah; it seems that most of them agree with anything Abu Mazen says by default. I always wonder how a Palestinian can be a refugee and adopt the 1967 borders state at the same time. How can you admit that you don’t have the right to live in your own home?

I was talking to my classmate on Skype when he told me that he’s praying that all the countries will vote against the bid; I was surprised it wasn’t just me who was praying. Abu Ramzi told me that he can’t think of Palestine as anything but the territory from the sea to the river and that having 22% of historical Palestine doesn’t mean anything but a loss to him.

...the Palestinians got their non-member status at the UN by securing the votes of the majority. Let Palestinians who want to enjoy the 22% of their lands enjoy it. No matter what, I’ll always have the 100% inside; where Christians, Jews and Muslims will co-exist in peace, like they always did. I’ll celebrate with the five million refugees when they go back to their homes one day.

And finally, in Massad's view,

By recognising a diminished Palestinian state, the vote effectively abandons the UN understanding of the "Jewish state" as one that has no right to discriminate against or ethnically cleanse non-Jews. The new arrangement confers the blessing of this international forum on the Israeli understanding of what a "Jewish state" entails– namely, the actually existing legal discrimination and ethnic cleansing practised by Israel –as acceptable. That this occurred on 29 November, the date of the partition plan, reiterates this date as one of continuing defeats for the Palestinians who continue to suffer from Israel's colonial laws, and repeats UN guilt in denying Palestinians their rights not to suffer dispossession and racism. The Palestinians, however, whose majority is not represented by the PA, will no more heed this new partition plan than they did the last one and will continue to resist Israeli colonialism until it comes to an end and until Israel becomes a state for all its citizens with equal rights to all regardless of national, religious, or ethnic background.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Then and now

Welcome to Betar Checkpoint
This checkpoint is for the passage of Israelis only.
It is forbidden to pass and/or drive a person through this checkpoint, who is not Israeli!!

"Israeli" - a resident of Israel, a person who lives in the area and is a citizen of Israel, or a person entitled to make aliyah to Israel according to the Law of return, 1950, as valid in Israel

(PHOTO CREDIT: Dudy Tzfati via Roy, TRANSLATION CREDIT: Dudy Tzfati)

Saturday 1 December 2012

Raining on the parade

With Palestinians in their thousands dancing in the streets of Ramallah and Gaza and even Beirut, what better time could there be to rain on the parade?

First, the silver lining. According to Professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law and author of Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law, Francis A. Boyle,

This can be the start of a 'Legal Intifadah' by Palestine against Israel:
  1. Palestine can join the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court and file a Complaint with the ICC against the illegal settlements and settlers, who are committing war crimes;
  2. Palestine can join the Statute for the International Court of Justice, sue Israel at the World Court, and break the illegal siege of Gaza;
  3. Palestine can join the Law of the Sea Convention and get its fair share of the enormous gas fields lying off the coast of Gaza, thus becoming economically self-sufficient;
  4. Palestine can become a High Contracting Party to the Four Geneva Conventions [this deals with the laws of war];
  5. Palestine can join the International Civil Aviation Organization and gain sovereign, legal control over its own airspace;
  6. Palestine can join the International Telecommunications Union and gain sovereign legal control over its own airwaves, phone lines, bandwidths.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, we've already seen Belgium rescind its universal jurisdiction legislation and the UK watering theirs down precisely to insulate Israeli war crimes suspects from arrest.  

World Court decisions only apply with the explicit consent of the parties, as we learned in 1984, when it found against the US for mining Nicaraguan harbours. Furthermore, the only avenue for enforcing ICJ findings is through the UN Security Council. And guess who wields a veto there. The Security Council has never authorised enforcement of a World Court decision under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. 

Under Article XIV of Annex I to the 'Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreementon the West Bank and the Gaza Strip' (Oslo 2), ' Zone L will be open for fishing, recreation and economic activities' and nothing in the text precludes gas extraction. As the map shows, most of the Gaza Marine Field lies within Zone L.  (In case you're interested – I was - here's a link to Map 8, referred to in the Annex.) Anyway, Israel is not a party to the UN Law of the Sea Convention and has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for it with impunity.   

So if Israel has not complied with its own agreement and isn't even subject to the relevant treaty, why would anyone expect them to suddenly change their tune just because the notoriously antisemitic UN General Assembly recognises Palestine as a non member 'state'? After all, Israel is currently in dispute with Lebanon, a full UN member state, over access to Mediterranean petroleum deposits. In any case, I don't envisage The International Communitysending a fleet into the Mediterranean to enforce Palestinian mineral rights.

In much the same vein, will Palestine's membership of the ICAO preclude Israeli drones from buzzing over Gaza? Will the Palestinian Air Force be able to shoot them down without fear of Israeli reprisals?

All in all, should the State of Palestine enter into the conventions Boyle suggests, the principal beneficiaries are likely to be international lawyers who can spend the next several decades litigating in toothless international courts while Israel does as it pleases. What's with these professors of International Law, anyway? 

One of the curious things you find in reports of this achievement is words to the effect of, 'the U.N.’s highest policy-making body Thursday voted overwhelmingly to elevate Palestine from an “observer” to a “non-member state”', as Thalif Dean of IPS wrote yesterday.  Or 'The resolution lifts the Palestinian Authority's UN observer status from "entity" to "non-member state"', in the words of Michael Brissenden.

In reality, as I read it, there is another bright spot. 'The General Assembly...',
    Decides to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice;. [my emphasis]
In other words, they are treating 'Palestine'. the new non member state, as a separate entity from the PLO, which is still regarded 'as the representative of the Palestinian people'. So it may not be strictly accurate to write, like Bron Tau, 'The United Nations voted Thursday to upgrade the Palestinian status from "nonmember observer entity" to "nonmember observer state."'

Every report I've read systematically conflates 'Palestine' with 'the Palestinians', erasing the absolutely crucial distinction between the 4.3 million Palestinians resident in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the more than 7 million living elsewhere (3 million+ registered with UNRWA in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, over 1.5 million in 'Israel proper', and 2.5 million elsewhere). Even the prominent Middle East expert, Juan Cole, falls into, 'The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to accord Palestine the status of “Observer State” on Thursday...Continental Western Europe and Scandinavia were almost unanimous in supporting the Palestinians'. And so does the resolution itself. Not that the unelected quisling Palestinian National Authority (PA) has any claim to represent the interests of those in the occupied territories, but they can't even offer a pretence of representing the majority of Palestinians.

This lies at the heart of the problem. As Joseph Massad wrote in 2010,

...By transforming the PLO, which represented all Palestinians in the Diaspora and in Israel and the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, into the Palestinian Authority (PA) which could only hope to represent Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, constituting one third of the Palestinian people, the Oslo agreements engineered a major demographic reduction of the Palestinian people...

The insidious part of this process is how the PA, conscious of this transformation, continues to speak of the "Palestinian people," which had been reduced through the Oslo accords to those West Bank and Gaza Palestinians it now claims to represent.

The UN recognition of 'Palestine' further entrenches this dangerous conceit. That's why I was surprised to read of Palestinian refugees celebrating in Beirut, and unsurprised to find nothing about such celebration in Nazareth, Haifa or Beersheba.

At the same time, the resolution is absolutely explicit that what it's all about is the Two State Solution™, which solves nothing for the majority of Palestinians who don't live in 'Palestine', as now defined, and little for those who do. 

What the General Assembly actually resolved on the 'International Day of solidarity with the Palestinian People', after recalling this, stressing that, taking other things into consideration and reaffirming lots of stuff, was that it
  1. Reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967;
  2. Decides to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice;
  3. Expresses the hope that the Security Council will consider favourably the application submitted on 23 September 2011 by the State of Palestine for admission to full membership in the United Nations;
  4. Affirms its determination to contribute to the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the attainment of a peaceful settlement in the Middle East that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and fulfils the vision of two States: an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel on the basis of the pre-1967 borders;
  5. Expresses the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process based on the relevant United Nations resolutions, the terms of reference of the Madrid Conference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet road map to a permanent two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinian and Israeli sides that resolves all outstanding core issues, namely the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water;
  6. Urges all States, the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination, independence and freedom;
  7. Requests the Secretary-General to take the necessary measures to implement the present resolution and to report to the Assembly within three months on progress made in this regard.
One of the problems with this formulation, beyond the fundamental problems with partition I described in 'How many states?', is the construal of 'self-determination' as simply ostensible political independence. Is it conceivable that the Palestinian people as a whole, or even just those living in the West Bank and Gaza, might 'freely determine theirpolitical status'  by deciding that they prefer to exercise the full rights of citizens in the country that has, after all, ruled them for the past 45 years? Or perhaps they have other ideas of their own?

Another is the 'urgent need' for a return to The Peace Process, which has brought the occupied Palestinians more and more Jewish 'settlements', house demolitions, roadblocks, extrajudicial executions..., while Israel remains utterly intransigent on their 'preconditions' regarding 'outstanding core issues, namely the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water'. I hasten to add that this intransigence is not just an artifact of the execrable Likud government, but reflects publicopinion pretty faithfully. 

It would also seem that the General Assembly's vision is somewhat impaired when they write of 'an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine'. A glance at a map, even with my compromised eyesight, reveals that 30 km of hostile territory separates the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. One hears talk of 'transportational contiguity', but even in the implausible scenario that a corridor between the enclaves could be secured from interruption at Israel's whim, about half of Israelis would not countenance a tunnel, more than half, a bridge, and only 8% think it's important at all. Notwithstanding their explicit undertakings in the Oslo Accords and the Agreement on Movement and Access, Israel has never been that keen on 'the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved'. 

We may gain some insight into the kind of thing the UN General Assembly has in mind when they speak of contiguity and viability by examining a map of their 1947 partition plan, discussed a little more below.

You often hear mention of Israel's 'pre-1967 borders', but it's alarming that the UN General Assembly believes these exist, as Israel has always made a point of refusing to define any borders. Ironically, in their article opposing the resolution, 'The Legal Fiction ofPalestinian Statehood', Brooke Goldstein and Benjamin Ryberg Breitbart opine, 

Further, as it exists today, the Palestinian entity fails to meet the qualifications specified in Article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention, widely viewed as constituting the definition of a sovereign state in international law. Per Article 1 of the Convention, a state possesses a "permanent population," "defined territory," "government," and "capacity to enter into relations with the other states."

Obviously, the reason the State of Palestine has no defined territory is precisely because of Israel's insistence on keeping its options open, which actually raises doubts about whether Israel itself qualifies as a 'state' in terms of Montevideo. Another little irony in their analysis, if I can dignify it as such, is the assertion that 'the move constitutes a breach of the PA's obligations under the Oslo Accords', which technically expired in 1998 and Israel has violated in almost every particular.

The reference to 'the principle of land for peace' is particularly noisome, when

The only land that has ever been on offer, if it really was on offer at all, is land acquired by military conquest in June 1967. The principal import of the famous UNSC Resolution 242 is not creation of a Palestinian state, a matter that it never even mentions, but to emphasise ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’. So the land that Israel would be relinquishing, if it were ever really going to relinquish land at all, is land that was never rightfully Israel’s in the first place. It was territory acquired by war. Not really very much of a sacrifice. And lest we forget, the entity euphemistically known as ‘Israel proper’ which resides within the 3 April 1949 armistice line with Jordan commonly referred to as Israel’s ‘border’, incorporates a considerable amount of territory also acquired by war in 1948-49. But that probably doesn’t matter, because after all, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 273 (III) decided on 11 May 1949 that Israel is a peace-loving State’. (I hasten to add that Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank for the next 18 years was also illegitimate and at the expense of the Palestinians who were supposed to get that land and more under the UN’s ill conceived December 1947 partition resolution (181). Ill conceived though it may have been, 181 did quite sensibly provide for international control of . Both Israel and Jordan grabbed bits of the proposed ‘corpus separatum’.)
Beyond one side of the equation of ‘land for peace’ being a bit bogus, as the land doesn’t really belong to Israel, is the other subtext. The suggestion is that since the Israelis are offering to give land, it’s the Palestinians who have to deliver the peace. That, in turn relies on the presumption that it’s the Palestinians who insist on violence and that Israel is the passive victim. Israel is willing to make painful sacrifices of its land if only those vicious Palestinians would leave them in peace. In reality, of course, it is the Palestinians who are the colonised people and on the receiving end of most of the violence. Palestinian violence, while demonstrably counterproductive, is wholly reactive. Amazing how they can pack all that into an innocuous little phrase, but then the Israeli hasbara ‘propaganda’ machine are no amateurs.

And the General Assembly has elevated this grotesque caricature to a matter of principle.

Interestingly, one of the things the General Assembly recalled was 'its resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947', which for all its legion faults offered the 'Arab state' some 45% of Mandatory Palestine, more than double the derisory 22% encompassed in 'the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967'.  

Among those who think it's a good idea for Israel to continue to exist with a Jewish majority, you'd think there was little to object to in the resolution. After all, as then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pointed out in 2007, 'If the two-state solution collapsed, he said, Israel would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished. The Jewish organisations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents," he said.' 

But then, it is mildly critical of Israel, it refers to an occupation, makes no explicit allowance for retention of 'facts on the ground', does not endorse Israel's right to defend itself or deny Palestine's and doesn't demand that the State of Palestine 'recognise Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state'.

Ultimately, it's hard to disagree with US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, 'The Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed'.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Map reading

Versions of this graphic have been circulating for years, but now it seems to have gone viral on Facebook. Does that make it a 'meme'? Whatever it is, it turns up on my newsfeed every day or two as if it were some astonishing new revelation, and largely from people who ought to know better.

I hate it.

Palestinians have never enjoyed political control over any part of Palestine as this unfortunate graphic suggests. Not under Ottoman rule or the British Mandate ('1946'); not under the abortive and downright bizarre UN partition plan ('1947'); definitely not under Jordanian and Egyptian rule ('1967'); and absolutely not under Israeli occupation ('2010'). Furthermore, the graphic is consistent with the Oslo conceit that 'Palestinian' means those in 'Palestine', excluding, as always, the Israeli and diaspora Palestinians.

The first panel purports to depict 'Palestinian land' and 'Jewish land'. Since all the land in 1946 was under the control of the British Mandatory authorities, the only thing it could be showing is land ownership. That's inconsistent with the other three panels which clearly intend to show some form of political control.

The second panel depicts the outlines of the partition plan the UN General Assembly proposed in Resolution181, coincidentally, 65 years ago tomorrow. This is actually the most useful panel insofar as it shows just how outlandish the configuration of the Jewish state and the Arab state were to have been, with the Arab state intersecting the Jewish state at two points. What it doesn't show, of course, is that
  • UNGAR181 is just a request to the Security Council to implement its recommendations.
  • There was an alternative and much more sensible proposal for a binational state under consideration at the time.
  • The plan allocated some 55% of the land area to the Jewish state, even though only about 30% of the total population was Jewish.
  • About 45% of the population of the Jewish state would have been non Jews.
  • Of the 57 countries then comprising The International Community, 33 voted in favour and 13 against, while 10 abstained and one was absent.
  • The indigenous Palestinian population were never even consulted about how they felt about giving part of their land to European colonists.
  • The plan was never implemented.
The Jewish partition is labelled 'Israel' and the Arab partition 'Palestine', although obviously, there was no 'Israel' in 1947 and there is still no Palestine. In the interests of pedantry, I note that the legend identifies the white area as 'Israel [sic] land' in this and the next two panels.

In the third panel, labelled '1967', shows the traditional outlines of what has come to be known euphemistically as 'Israel proper', that is, within the armistice lines drawn in 1949. If it purports to depict the situation prior to 6 June, then the areas labelled 'Palestine', i.e. the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively and were in no sense under Palestinian control. If after, then those areas were occupied by Israel and should probably be shown in white. Whoever compiled the graphic plainly intends to insinuate that these are the areas that were allegedly to be allocated to the future Palestinian state under the Oslo accords 27 years later. It's not just anachronistic. It also invites the viewer to buy into the idea that these are the areas over which Palestine was someday supposed to be entitled to exercise control. In other words, it assumes a two state 'solution', with all that that entails.

The last map shows the enclaves of 'Area A' in the West Bank that Oslo allocated to the administration of the Palestine Authority (PA) that have gradually been isolated from one another by Jewish only 'bypass roads' and other Israeli incursions. The nature of PA administration is to act as a surrogate for direct Israeli military control. By heading the graphic 'Palestinian loss of land' suggests that the areas marked 'Palestine' are actually controlled by the quisling PA.

At the same time, it depicts the Gaza Strip as mostly 'Palestinian land', with white patches showing the Israeli settlements that were abandoned five years earlier.

What's really sad about the graphic is that it could have been a useful resource if labelled accurately. The last panel, in particular, shows the probable contours of the future Palestinian state that always exists just over the horizon and that will, if it should ever eventuate, satisfy demands for a two state 'solution' once and for all. The interminable 'negotiations' towards this end will resume as soon as the intransigent PA abandons unreasonable 'preconditions' not that Israel withdraw to the Green Line depicted in the '1967' panel, but simply stop gobbling up more and more of the West Bank while the negotiations proceed. It goes without saying that Israeli preconditions - which preclude any discussion of the entitlement of those expelled in 1948 and their descendants to return; of Palestinian sovereignty over any part of the greatly expanded and officially annexed area of greater Jerusalem or 'the large settlement blocs'; of Palestinian control of their borders, airspace, electromagnetic spectrum or aquifers; or of any military force to defend 'Palestine' from their friendly neighbour – offer no impediment to negotiation.

Friday 23 November 2012

Self defence

Responding to a question from Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News at a Bangkok press conference on 18 November. President Obama said,

...there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.

In his call to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 21 November, he

...reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security.
The President made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians...reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself.
The President said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.
The President said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other US-Israel missile defense programs.

Furthermore, according to Ha'aretz's Barak Ravid, 'A senior diplomatic source said that if Israel identifies preparations for an attack from the Gaza Strip, it reserves the right to self-defense and will act to thwart it.'

The blogosphere has rightly lampooned the man who regularly orders missiles to rain down on Pakistan and Yemen for his unfortunate remark about what 'no country on earth would tolerate'.

But seriously, Gaza is not a country and all its residents are stateless, principally refugees of the 1948 Nakba and their descendants. So, unlike Israel, they clearly have no right to defend themselves. They have no right to arm themselves in a vain attempt to deter Israeli attacks. Unlike Israel, about whose security needs Obama is so solicitous, they will not receive funding for missile defence; they cannot import the latest high tech or low tech military gadgetry; they will not even be allowed to smuggle weapons. And if they detect Israeli preparations to attack them, as well they might, since Israel makes no attempt to disguise its intentions, nobody, least of all Obama, will countenance an attempt to thwart them.

The people of Gaza are not just stateless, they are Arabs, terrorists by definition. If they harm Israeli troops in combat, it is terrorism. If Israeli ordnance dismembers an infant, it's unfortunate collateral damage at best.

Even the most blatant, unrepentant hypocrite would blush to enunciate such transparently racist double standards. But as I never seem to tire of repeating, embarrassing a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is like embarrassing a dog with accusations that he licks his own balls.

Holding my breath

When Israel entered into the 'Agreement of Understanding For a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip' at 2100 local time on 21 November, just about 30 hours ago, it undertook 'Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire'. [Full text appended below for reference] 

Searching high and low has revealed no mention in the media of any progress towards this objective so far. Maybe the media are just a bit sluggish. Maybe they're waiting for some announcement to report. Maybe the parties have decided to wait until morning, their time, to commence 'dealing with' implementing these crucial undertakings.

What's certain is that there can be no peace while Israel persists in caging Gaza's 1 644 293 people in their 365 sq km concentration camp and enforcing the siege. We can only hope that in the coming hours and days, we will see free movement of Gaza Strip residents to the West Bank and the rest of the world; unrestrained passage of imports and exports; the end of the naval blockade that prevents access to Gaza's Mediterranean gas reserves and fisheries; dismantling of the remote-controlled, watchtower-mounted machine guns; free access to the agricultural and other land in Israel's 'buffer zone', which extends up to 1500 metres into the narrow enclave, 12km across at its widest point; and opening of Gaza's airport and sea port.

I'm not holding my breath.

1: (no title given for this section)
  1. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.
  2. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
  3. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
  4. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.

2: Implementation mechanisms:
  1. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.
  2. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
  3. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.

Taking aim

On 15 November, the BBC reported Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asserting during a news conference,

There is no moral symmetry between Israel and the terrorists in Gaza. Hamas deliberately targets our children and they deliberately place their rockets next to their children. Now despite this reality - and it's a difficult reality - Israel will continue to do everything its power to avoid civilian casualties.

In the context of Israel's 2006 attack on Lebanon and the December 2008-January 2009 'Operation Cast Lead', I've already articulated my views on the issue of targeting noncombatants and using them as human shields. I have nothing new to say about the latter, but the time has come to examine the fate of civilians in Israel's latest assault on the densely packed Gaza Strip, 'Operation Pillar of Cloud (or Defence)'.

When it comes to counting casualties, everybody has an axe to grind. High numbers of casualties and high proportions of noncombatant casualties are evidence of the enemy's iniquity and provide perfect grist for the propaganda mill. So for the purpose of this analysis, I'm just going to take each 'side' at its word about their own casualties.

According to the Israeli Ministry ofForeign Affairs website, in the course of Operation Pillar of Cloud, between 14 and 21 November, there were a total of 245 Israeli casualties: '6 killed (4 civilians and 2 soldiers), 8 in critical condition, 9 in moderate condition and 222 lightly injured (figures of wounded include 20 soldiers)'. 

Meanwhile, according to the PalestineCentre for Human Rights, there were a total of 1156 Palestinian casualties: 'Palestinian Deaths Rise to 156, Including 103 Civilians, and 1,000 Others, Including 971 Civilians, Wounded'

The absolute numbers are significant in and of themselves and it's therefore worth noting that in carefully targeting some 1500 'terrorist sites', Israel managed to inflict 1074 civilian casualties. Israeli sources claim that 1344 rockets were launched from Gaza, 429 of which were successfully intercepted by Iron Dome batteries. And these caused a total of 223 noncombatant casualties.

So one way of looking at it is that the vicious Hamas terrorists, who deliberately aimed mainly primitive, unguided rockets, at civilians, achieved a hit rate of 16.6%. In contrast, exercising the greatest care to avoid hitting noncombatants with their sophisticated, precision weapons, Israeli forces hit civilians 71.6% of the time.

Examined proportionally, 91% of the Israeli casualties were civilians, while 93% of the Palestinians killed and injured were noncombatants.

At the end of August, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the total population of Israel at 7 928 500, while the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the population of the Gaza Strip for an unstated date in 2012 at 1 644 293. So the casualty rate among Israelis was 31 per million (0.003%) and among the population of Gaza the rate was 703 per million (0.07%).

Judging by the numbers, then, the notoriously competent and well equipped IDF, guided by their cherished principle of 'Purity of arms', are awfully bad shots. Either that or Bibi is full of shit.

Saturday 17 November 2012

A balancing act

With 'Operation Pillar of Cloud' underway, can 'Operation Pillar of Fire' be far behind?

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:21-22.

The blogosphere is already full of incisive accounts and analysis of the bourgeois media's fabled balanced reportage, including Lenin, MediaLens, Asa Winstanley, Ali Abunimah, Maureen Clare Murphy, as well as of the cynical domestic political machinations that seem to have dictated the timing of the onslaught.

So I intend to take another slant on the question of balance.

In an article on the ABC's Drum yesterday, Alison Pert, who 'lectures in international law and the use of force at the University of Sydney' undertook to unravel 'this murky area of international law' regarding the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari. On the one hand,

the International Court of Justice, when considering the legality of the security barrier that Israel was (and is) building around the occupied territories,...clearly stated, albeit controversially, that the right of self-defence in international law is only open to a state defending itself against an attack from another state. It pointed out that the occupied territories, of which Gaza is a part, are exactly that - territory occupied by Israel and not another state.

Consequently Israel cannot use self-defence against attacks from the Gaza strip as a legal argument to justify its actions.

But on the other,

Israel argues that it has the right in international law to defend itself against terrorism: since 2001 some 13,000 rockets have landed in Israel, killing over a thousand Israelis and wounding thousands more, and a million more citizens live under the constant threat of rocket attack.

Parenthetically, it seems that numeracy is not a skill required of international law lecturers, because in reality, between 2001 and 15 November 2012, 7882 rockets fired from Gaza landed in Israel. But who wants to split hairs? If you add in the 4890 mortar shells, it comes to nearly 13 000. That said, it's hard to see how the 61 Israelis killed over the period suddenly became 'over a thousand' or the 1719 injured became 'thousands more'.

Not that it is of any conceivable interest, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territories (OCHAOPT) casualties database, between 1 January 2001 and 21 July 2012, 2998 in Gaza were killed and 4399 injured by Israeli fire, primarily by missiles, artillery and tank shells. I still haven't found a source that might reveal how many projectiles Israel actually lobbed into one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, but then, why would anybody want to know that?

The figures for Israeli casualties don't disaggregate civilian from combatant casualties, but the OCHA figures are explicitly related to 'Protection of civilians'. But that hardly matters because it transpires that the reason the International Court of Justice opinion Pert refers to is considered controversial is, for one thing, that the International Committee of the Red Cross has issued Interpretive guidanceon the notion of direct participation in hostilities underinternational humanitarian law by Dr Nils Melzer (also author of Targeted Killing in International Law (Oxford University Press, 2008)), which recommends

Civilians lose protection against direct attack for the duration of each specific act amounting to direct participation in hostilities .

In order to qualify as direct participation in hostilities, a specific act must meet the following cumulative criteria:
1. The act must be likely to adversely affect the military operations or military capacity of a party to an armed conflict or, alternatively, to inflict death, injury, or destruction on persons or objects protected against direct attack (threshold of harm), and
2. there must be a direct causal link between the act and the harm likely to result either from that act, or from a coordinated military operation of which that act constitutes an integral part (direct causation), and
3. the act must be specifically designed to directly cause the required threshold of harm in support of a party to the conflict and to the detriment of another (belligerent nexus).

...individuals whose continuous function involves the preparation, execution, or command of acts or operations amounting to direct participation in hostilities are assuming a continuous combat function. [my emphasis]

Now you might think that on the basis of these recommendations, Palestinians would be justified in targeting, say, Benny Gantz, Israel's Chief of General Staff, ensconced in HaKirya, in the heart of Tel Aviv, or indeed, 'Defence' Minister, Ehud Barak. But no. According to the ICRC, 'Continuous combat function requires lasting integration into an organized armed group acting as the armed forces of a non-State party to an armed conflict.' [my emphasis] Gotcha!


The Israeli Supreme Court agrees with the "unlawful combatant" view of terrorists, and the US appears to take the same approach in relation to the killing of Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda figures.

Pert concludes that because Israel and the ICRC's expert on justifying 'targeted assassination' disagree with the ICJ opinion, 'With the law so unclear in this area, perhaps it tilts in Israel's favour on this occasion.'

She is of course in good company. AsaKasher, respected professor of philosophy and linguistics at Tel Aviv University, believes that even 'a terrorist's neighbour' is not entitled to the protection traditionally accorded to noncombatants where there is any prospect of danger to 'a citizen in uniform'. 

On Wednesday, Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson of the US Department of State, issued a press statement.

We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

And just yesterday, Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said,

The Government condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and calls on Hamas to cease these immediately.

Australia supports Israel’s right to defend itself against these indiscriminate attacks. Such attacks on Israel’s civilian population are utterly unacceptable.

Were it not so frightening, it would be hilarious that venal politicians, philosophers, experts in International Law™ and the responsible, objective media parade around taking so dispassionate a stance as to defend 'Israel’s right to defend itself' and condemn 'Hamas's avowed purpose to destroy Israel' while keeping shtum on Palestinians' right to defend themselves and Israel's absolutely explicit commitment to eradicate Hamas. But what's really terrifying is that anybody takes them seriously.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Experts agree!

They've done it again!

I got another email from Justin Ruben yesterday. This time, wants to recruit 108,000 of the 7 million members to post their experts' deconstruction of Romney's lies via twttter and facebook. They reckon then 'we can reach up to 40 million Americans'!

How can they do it?

Well, the average social media user has 126 Twitter followers and 245 Facebook friends.2 So if 108,000 MoveOn members (just 1.5% of us) take part in the MoveOn Truth Squad tomorrow night, we can reach up to 40 million Americans.

It's true that 1.5% of MoveOn's claimed 7 million members comes to about 108,000. And it's true that if 108,000 manage to get through to their 126 followers and 245 friends, that would come to a little over 40 million people.

So what's the problem? For one thing, it rests on the improbable assumption that not even one of those twitter followers of any of those 108,000 members is the same as any of their own Facebook friends. Impressionistically, I'd guess that the overlap is nearer 100% than the 0% required for this scheme to work as advertised. Beyond that, you'd also need to assume that not one of the followers and friends of one of the 108,000 was also a follower or friend of any of the other 107,999. And how likely is that?

You may wonder what the significance is of getting the facts out to 40 million people.

40 million Americans will tune into the first presidential debate TOMORROW NIGHT (Wednesday), but how many of them hear the truth is partly up to us.

So in addition to the bizarre assumptions MoveOn has already demanded of its members, they want us to further assume that each and every one of the 40 million we tweet the facts to will happen to be one of the 40 million watching the debate! Going way out on a limb here, I'm prepared to suggest that many of the MoveOn members' networks would in fact have watched the debate. But I'd also suggest that a large proportion of their friends and followers have already decided who to vote for and wouldn't be swayed one way or the other to learn that Romney has distorted something or other again.

The fundamental assumption underlying the entire project, of course is that Romney and only Romney needs his facts checked. It apparently goes without saying that Barrack Obama, the Leader of the Free World, would never attempt to deceive anyone, by, for example, promising to close Guantánamo Bay, or to pass the Employee Free Choice Act through Congress.

Unlike, Because the moral of the story seems to be either that MoveOn isn't aware of these issues or that they don't think the members are. In either case, does that make them the ones you'd trust to do your fact checking for you?

The icing on the cake is, 'Experts agree: Mitt Romney really needs to win this debate.' According to Rasmussen, earlier today, US time, the candidates were nearly neck and neck – with 49% favouring Obama and 47% for Romney. And ScottRasmussen himself, presumably one of the 'experts', does not, in fact, agree.

The last time a presidential debate changed the race was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan outperformed Jimmy Carter. More recent history shows the debates having only a modest impact...In 2008,...The debate did little for either man. Four years earlier, there was a similar reaction to the debates between President George W. Bush and John Kerry. When Bush had a bad night, the only thing that changed was Bush supporters decided (after the fact) that debates didn't matter all that much. In the past couple of elections, the numbers have shifted three points between late September polling and the actual results on Election Day...Only in the absence of other news could a slight change in the race coming out of the debates be decisive.

It is actually deplorable that MoveOn's assertion that 'experts agree' is at best partially true, and that's without checking the level of consensus among other psephologists. But the point is that, again, MoveOn either doesn't understand that 'Nine out of ten doctors can't be wrong' is not evidence or expects its members to fall for it. I might just mention in passing that, in much the same vein, Justin has kindly provided some footnotes. You might have noticed one in the first passage I quoted. They are all to items on their own site!

Anyway, why is it so important to to work so hard to get Obama reelected? There's not much difference between the candidates on most issues. Certainly on the fundamental issues – bailouts for the corporations, tax cuts for the rich, foreclosures and sackings for the rest of us, profitable business for the health insurance and big pharma industries, not to mention Big Oil, no matter how many must die...there is no daylight visible between them. One area where they do disagree, however, is on abortion. Obama supporters are concerned that Romney could appoint anti-life justices (who oppose the right to choose) to the Supreme Court, leading to reversal of Roe v. Wade. Curiously, Obama's two appointments, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have both taken anti-life positions. Sotomayor held in a 2002 decision that 'the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds.' And Kagan urged Clinton in 1997 to support banning 'late-term abortion'. 

But maybe next time he'll get it right?