Israel, the West and shameless hypocrisy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2018

UK British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson [Financial Times/Flickr]

The current crisis between Britain and Russia offers yet another example of the shameless hypocrisy of the West when dealing with Israel and almost any other country. Why bring Israel into the attempted murder of two people on the streets of Britain in which Russia, not Israel is implicated? I do so because of the sudden regard for international law that has resurfaced in Western political circles.

Speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russia of using military-grade nerve agent and stated that the two were clear, “that the use of such agent is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a flagrant breach of international law.” A day earlier, he claimed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had been in breach of international law for the past 10 years because it had been stockpiling nerve agent during that period. Conservative Party chairman Brendan Lewis, speaking on Peston on Sunday, also referred to Russia’s action as being in breach of international law.

Johnson was backed by the EU’s Foreign Ministers who adopted a statement of support for Britain. “Any such use [of nerve agent] is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order,” they said.

Shortly after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the US, France, Germany and Britain issued a joint statement condemning the attack, which took place in the small English city of Salisbury: “It is an assault on UK sovereignty, and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law.”

Accusations that Russia has been in breach of international law have in the past related to its action against the Ukraine and what the West sees as its occupation of Crimea, which Russia disputes. In March 2017, the US Mission in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that, “The United States remains deeply concerned about ongoing Russian violations of international law and defiance of OSCE principles and commitments in Crimea.”

The statement further accused the Russian occupation authorities of “continuing to commit serious abuses against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and all others who oppose Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.”

When the late Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in 1990, the international community only allowed that occupation to stand for seven months. The Iraqi dictator had annexed Kuwait, declaring it to be his country’s 19th province. However, a coalition of forces from 35 countries was formed to free Kuwait, which ejected the Iraqis in early 1991. No one then talked of the Kuwaiti resistance against Iraq’s occupation as “terrorism”.

Both Iraq and Russia faced sanctions for what the international community regarded as illegal acts in Kuwait and Ukraine respectively. There is talk now about further sanctions against Russia following the attack in Salisbury. There are even calls for the English football team to boycott the FIFA World Cup, due to take place in Russia this summer. Responding to a question in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson told fellow MPs that if Russia is implicated then he thought it would be “difficult to see how UK representation at the World Cup can go ahead in the normal way.”

Some in the West are questioning how Russia can continue to hold a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which allows it to wield a veto whenever it chooses. This, it is argued, means it can vote down any resolution that criticises Moscow or its allies, or even considers imposing sanctions on, say, the Syrian government for its actions.

Here, then, is the hypocrisy of the West, which seems hell-bent on singling Israel out for exceptional protection from criticism or meaningful sanctions despite its 50-year long illegal occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land, and its 70-year ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Just like Russia and Iraq, Israel has annexed illegally-occupied land, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The US has been severely critical of Russia for its use of the veto when it comes to Syria and Iran. In 2015, the then US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, claimed that Russian vetoes were “putting the UN Security Council’s legitimacy at risk.” Her successor Nikki Hayley even threatened that if Russia continues to use its veto then the US may have to take unilateral action against Iran. This was after Russia vetoed a resolution that had been watered down from a condemnation of Iran for violating an arms embargo on Houthi leaders in Yemen to “noting with particular concern”.The particular hypocrisy of the US lies in its own use of the veto power on 43 occasions in support of Israel, the last of which was against criticism of its own action in recognising Jerusalem as capital of the Zionist state in December last year. This does not include the number of times that the threat of the US using its veto resulted in resolutions not even making it to a Security Council vote, including an attempt by the PLO to secure recognition of Palestine as a state in 2014.

Britain’s hypocrisy can be demonstrated in its support for sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and its support for sanctions against Russia but its absolute refusal to consider sanctioning Israel for any matter, including its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UK has actually worked to oppose any boycott or sanction against a state that stands accused of Apartheid by an ESCWA report which was sanctioned by the UN but was then taken down under pressure from the US and Israel.

Prominent members of the British government and long-established members of Conservative Friends of Israel work overtime to shield Israel. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, to his utter disgrace, labelled the peaceful and moral Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), designed to pressure Israel to comply with international law, as “anti-Semitic”. Gove has even called for Britain to move its Embassy to Jerusalem in a move that would be against international laws and conventions.

Britain has now indicated that it might not send members of the Royal family to the World Cup in Russia but has announced that Prince William — second in line to the throne — will make an official visit to Israel this year despite its continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, its illegal annexation of Jerusalem, its Apartheid Wall and its illegal siege on Gaza which has been said to constitute collective punishment and is thus a war crime.

Palestinians and their supporters, therefore, have ample reason to call out the international community for its hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to dealing with Israel, whose illegal actions and breaches of international law have accompanied its whole 70-year existence. Remember this fact the next time that a Western politician defends Israel’s breaches of international law as “acts of self-defence”. It is the only country in the world to which the permanent members of the UN Security Council and others in the West grant such exceptional immunity.

 

El Cuarteto de Oriente Medio aún incluye a Estados Unidos, por lo que puede seguir formando parte del proceso de paz

Publicado por primera vez por el monitor de Oriente el 13/2/2018

Debido a la decisión del presidente estadounidense, Donald Trump, de reconocer a Jerusalén como la capital de Israel y su decisión subsecuente de cortar la financiación americana al UNRWA y a la Autoridad Palestina, el gobierno palestino en Ramala ha anunciado formalmente que Washington no puede seguir actuando como parte del proceso de paz. Mahmoud Abbas se pronunció poco después del anuncio de Trump en diciembre, declarando que los palestinos se habían comprometido con los asesores del presidente para llegar al “acuerdo del siglo”, pero, en su lugar, “recibimos un tremendo golpe.” Concluyó que “Estados Unidos ha elegido perder su papel como mediador… Ya no aceptaremos que forme parte del proceso de paz.”

Llegado a ese punto, el presidente de la Autoridad Palestina (AP) sugirió que la ONU debería asumir el papel de mediador. Sin embargo, la AP lleva buscando desde entonces una alternativa a EE.UU., cuya función se base en reunir a un grupo mayor de países influyentes para supervisar las negociaciones entre palestinos e israelíes.

Israel no se ha pronunciado al respecto, disfrutando de la completa imparcialidad estadounidense a su favor, ya sea por parte de los asesores de Trump, Jason Greenblatt y Jared Kushner, el embajador de EE.UU. a Israel, David Friedman, o la embajadora de EE.UU. en la ONU, Nikki Haley.

Durante su última visita a Israel, el vicepresidente estadounidense, Mike Pence, fue recibido como un héroe cuando se comprometió a desplazar la embajada de EE.UU. de Tel Aviv a Jerusalén antes del fin de 2019. Los palestinos se negaron a recibirle. Trump lo consideró una falta de respeto hacia Pence y hacia los Estados Unidos, y amenazó a la AP con más recortes en la ayuda americana a menos que volvieran a la mesa de negociaciones.

El siguiente recurso del pueblo palestino para buscar un mediador de las conversaciones de paz era la Unión Europea. Abbas visitó hace poco las instalaciones de la Unión Europea (EU) en Bruselas y habló con Federica Mogherini, alta representante de asuntos exteriores y política de seguridad. Si es que Abbas pensaba que la UE estaba dispuesta a asumir un papel significativo en el proceso de paz, acabó decepcionado. Mogherini reiteró las eternas posturas de la UE: “Primero de todo, quiero asegurar al presidente Abbas y a su delegación que la Unión Europea está firmemente comprometida con la solución de dos Estados, con Jerusalén como la capital compartida de ambos… basándose en los Acuerdos de Oslo y en el consenso internacional incorporado en las resoluciones relevantes del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU.”

Mogherini también reafirmó la oposición de la UE respecto a la “actividad de asentamientos, que consideramos ilegal bajo el derecho internacional.” Le recordó a Abbas que la UE “ya ha invertido bastante en el proyecto de construcción del Estado palestino”, y prometió que el apoyo financiero de la UE continuará, “también para la UNRWA.” No respondió a la petición de Abbas de que la UE reconozca en bloque al Estado de Palestina.

Unos días después, en una conferencia de prensa previa a una reunión extraordinaria del Grupo Internacional de Donantes para Palestina en la sede de la UE, Mogherini declaró ante los periodistas que cualquier marco de negociación debía involucrar a “todas las partes”, enviando un mensaje firme de que Estados Unidos no puede quedar excluido: “Nada sin Estados Unidos, y nada sólo con los Estados Unidos.”

Esto ha supuesto un golpe contra el gobierno palestino, que tenía la esperanza de que los estadounidenses se quedaran a un lado del proceso de paz.

A los palestinos les quedan pocas alternativas. Los intentos de Francia de conseguir un papel más importante en el proceso de paz resultaron en la Conferencia de París, que se celebró bajo unas condiciones mucho más favorables a finales del gobierno de Obama, pero se convirtió en un desastre. La conferencia salió adelante, pero no consiguió mucho.

China  presentó su propuesta de paz con 4 puntos el pasado agosto:

  • Seguir adelante con la solución de dos Estados, basada en las fronteras de 1967, con Jerusalén este como a capital del nuevo Estado palestino.
  • Defender “el concepto de seguridad común, integral, cooperativa y sostenible”, acabando de inmediato con la construcción de asentamientos israelíes, tomando medidas para evitar la violencia contra civiles y pidiendo una reanudación temprana de las conversaciones de paz.
  • Coordinar los esfuerzos internacionales para crear “medidas promotoras de la paz que impliquen una participación conjunta.”
  • Promover la paz mediante el desarrollo y la cooperación entre Palestina e Israel.

Aunque no se ha hablado mucho sobre el potencial de la propuesta desde el año pasado, China intensificó sus esfuerzos por jugar un papel importante en el proceso de paz tras la decisión de Trump sobre Jerusalén. Sin embargo, en respuesta a una pregunta sobre el posible futuro rol de China en una conferencia de prensa el 21 de diciembre, la portavoz del ministerio de Exteriores, Hua Chunying, declaró: “La postura de China respecto al problema palestino es consistente. Respaldamos y promovemos activamente el proceso de paz en Oriente Medio. Apoyamos la causa justa del pueblo palestino para recuperar sus derechos nacionales legítimos… Estamos dispuestos a seguir ofreciendo ayuda constructiva para promover el proceso de paz israelí-palestino.”

China organizó un simposio el pasado diciembre en el que reunieron a representantes del pueblo palestino y el Estado israelí en un intento por resolver el estancamiento. La sesión culminó con la creación de un documento de posición no vinculante conocido como la “Iniciativa de Pekín”, sobre la que Hilk Bar, vicepresidente de la Kneset y de la Unión Sionista, dijo en una declaración conclusiva que pretendía demostrar que “es posible y necesario salir del punto muerto político y animar a los dos gobiernos a volver a la mesa de negociaciones.” Un alto cargo de la delegación palestina añadió: “Tenemos que buscar otro enfoque para el proceso de paz… Debe incluir a las superpotencias y a China; quizá uno de estos países podría jugar un papel importante.”

Los intentos de Rusia, otro miembro del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU, de asumir un papel líder en el proceso de paz se remontan a muchos años atrás, pero no han tenido éxito.

Hace poco, los palestinos han favorecido un acuerdo que recuerda al P5+1 que desarrolló el Acuerdo Nuclear de Irán, que se concluyó en 2015. El P5+1 se refiere a los 5 miembros permanente del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU junto a Alemania. Un acuerdo similar podría seguir involucrando a los Estados Unidos, pero sin que monopolicen el marco de las negociaciones.

Un posible punto de partida podría ser el Cuarteto, conocido formalmente como el Cuarteto de Oriente Medio, formado por EE.UU., Rusia, la UE y la ONU. Describe su mandato como “de ayuda para las negociaciones de paz en Oriente Medio y apoyo al desarrollo económico y la construcción de instituciones en Palestina, preparando el eventual Estado.”

A primera vista, el Cuarteto, con una mejora de su equipo, podría ser la respuesta a la demanda palestina de disminuir el papel de Estados Unidos, en lugar de excluir por completo a Washington. Eso podría ayudar a cumplir con la insistencia de Israel de que EE.UU. ha de ser una parte importante de cualquier negociación futura.

El Centro Saban para la Política de Oriente Medio en Brookings evaluó el desempeño del Cuarteto en 2012 en su documento “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem.” Concluyó que, excepto por ciertos logros iniciales hasta 2003, el Cuarteto no ha proporcionado ningún beneficio tangible, a excepción de “asegurar la involucración americana en el proceso de paz.”

Los palestinos podrían solicitar que se añadan ciertos países al grupo para que otorguen prominencia al papel que juegan. Podrían ser Japón, Egipto y China; quizá Reino Unido ahora que abandonará la UE. Dicho de otra forma, podría desarrollarse un formato Q4+, probablemente bajo un liderazgo de la ONU.

La ventaja de este acuerdo, que sería difícil organizar, es que su estructura básica ya existe. Es probable que los palestinos estuvieran de acuerdo con esta formación, pero, casi sin duda, EE.UU. e Israel la rechazarían. Sin embargo, esto demostraría la flexibilidad de Palestina y confirmaría el rechazo general de Estados Unidos e Israel.

Es necesario un marco alternativo para las negociaciones para resolver el conflicto, diferente a los 25 años de conversaciones fútiles dirigidas por los estadounidenses, cuya imparcialidad a favor de Israel está garantizada. Cuanto más tiempo exista el vacío que genera el rechazo palestino a la participación de EE.UU., más tiempo permanecerá el estatus quo, permitiendo a Israel seguir adelante con su proyecto colonial. Merece la pena considerar un Cuarteto renovado.

The Middle East Quartet still includes the US, so can it still play a role in the peace process?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/2/2018

President Donald Trump address to Congress in Washington, US on 30 January 2018 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]

 

Since US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent decision to cut American funding to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has announced formally and repeatedly that Washington cannot continue in its traditional role as the sole sponsor of the peace process. Speaking shortly after Trump’s announcement in December, Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians have been engaged with the President’s advisors to achieve the “deal of the century” but “instead we got the slap of our times”. He concluded that, “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator… We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.”

At that point, the PA President suggested that the UN should take over as mediator. However, since then, the PA has been searching for an alternative to the US sponsorship which has been based on bringing together a wider group of influential countries to oversee negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Israel has been silent on the matter, enjoying the complete US bias in its favour, whether from Trump’s advisors Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman or the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley.

During his recent visit to Israel, US Vice President Mike Pence received a hero’s welcome as he committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The Palestinians refused to meet him. Trump saw this as an act of disrespect to Pence and the US, and threatened the PA with further cuts in American aid unless they returned to the negotiating table.

The next port of call for the Palestinians for a sponsor of the peace talks was the European Union. Abbas visited the EU headquarters in Brussels recently an

Palestinian men carry food aid given by UNRWA in Gaza City, Gaza on 15 January 2018 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

d held talks with Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. If Abbas thought that the EU was ready to take a sole or significant role in the peace process, he was disappointed. Mogherini reiterated longstanding EU positions: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states… based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law.” She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “Including to UNRWA.” She did not respond to Abbas’s call for the EU as a bloc to recognise the State of Palestine.

In a press conference a few days later, before an extraordinary meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine at the EU headquarters, Mogherini told reporters that any framework for negotiations must involve “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”

This must have come as a blow to the Palestinian leadership, which had hoped that the Americans could be sidelined from the peace process.

There are few alternatives for the Palestinians to pursue. France’s attempts to secure a greater role in the peace process resulted in the Paris Conference which took place in much more favourable conditions at the end of the Obama Administration, but it tuned into a damp squib. The conference went ahead but little came out of it, and it has had no follow-up to speak of.

The Chinese, put forward their 4-point peace proposal last August:

  • Advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state.
  • Upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli settlement building, taking immediate measures to prevent violence against civilians, and calling for an early resumption of peace talks.
  • Coordinating international efforts to put forward “peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date.”
  • Promoting peace through development and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel.

While little has been heard of the proposal’s potential since last year, the Chinese stepped up their efforts to play a greater role in the peace process following Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. However, responding to a question about China’s possible future role at a regular press briefing on 21 December, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “China’s position on the Palestine issue is consistent. We support and actively promote the Middle East peace process. We support the just cause of the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate national rights… We are willing to continue offering constructive assistance to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

The Chinese hosted a symposium last December bringing together Palestinians and Israelis in a bid to break the impasse. The session culminated with the production of a non-binding position paper known as the “Beijing Initiative”, which Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Zionist Union MK Hilk Bar said in a closing statement was intended to prove that “it is possible and necessary to break the political deadlock and encourage the two leaderships to return to the negotiating table.” A leading member of the Palestinian delegation added: “We have to search for another approach to the peace process… It must include the superpowers and China, maybe one of these parties who can play a major role.”

Attempts by Russia, another UN Security Council member to take a leading role in the peace process, go back many years but have not succeeded.

Palestinians have recently favoured an arrangement that mirrors the P5+1 which developed the Iran Nuclear Deal Agreement, which was concluded in 2015. The P5+1 refers to the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. A similar arrangement could still see the US involved but not monopolising the framework for negotiations.

A possible starting point here could be the Quartet, known formally as the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”

On the face of it, the Quartet, with an upgrade of its senior team, could be the readymade answer to the Palestinian demand for a downgrading of the US role rather than Washington being excluded altogether. That may go some way towards meeting Israel’s insistence that the US has to be an important player in any future set of negotiations.

The Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at Brookings evaluated the Quartet’s performance in 2012 in its paper “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem“. It concluded that, but for some early successes up to 2003, the Quartet has not provided any tangible benefits, except “ensuring American engagement in the peace process.”

The Palestinians could request that certain countries are added to the group to provide their role with some prominence. These could include Japan, Egypt and China, and perhaps Britain as it leaves the EU. In other words a Q4+ format could be developed, possibly under UN leadership.

The advantage of the above arrangement, which will be challenging to bring together, is that the basic structure already exists. It is likely that the Palestinians would agree to such a grouping, leaving the US and Israel almost certainly rejecting it. However, this would show Palestinian flexibility and confirm US and Israel rejectionism.

There is a need for an alternative framework for negotiations to resolve the conflict other than the 25 years of futile talks led by the Americans whose bias towards Israel is guaranteed and blatant. The longer the void left by the Palestinian rejection of a role for the US exists, the longer that the status quo will continue, allowing Israel to march ahead with its colonial project. A revamped Quartet plus-plus is well worth serious consideration.