Monthly Archives: September 2011

Where Do We Go from Here? Five things that Palestine could do to push forward the quest for statehood.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/09/30/palestinian_statehood_un_where_do_we_go?page=full

In a perfunctory meeting on Wednesday morning, Sept. 28, as expected, and per its usual procedure for dealing with would-be new United Nations members since the late 1960s, the Security Council referred the Palestinian application to one of its standing committees. The committee — which meets and votes in secret and requires unanimity to refer the matter back to the Security Council — is scheduled to begin considering the application on Friday morning. The membership process usually takes weeks, but can take only days (as with the most recent U.N. member, South Sudan) or years (as in the case of Kuwait). Neither the committee nor the Security Council is under any specific obligation to act on the request in a limited time frame, so the process theoretically could drag on indefinitely.

Because the required nine-vote Security Council majority is by no means yet ensured, and because the United States is publicly committed to vetoing a Security Council vote if one ever takes place anyway, full U.N. membership is effectively barred for the Palestinians under the present circumstances. Therefore, the application will have to serve as leverage to achieve something else if it is to produce anything meaningful. So what options does this leave the Palestinians? Let’s take a look at five, moving from the least to the most confrontational:

1) Declare moral and political victory and move on.

The Palestinians have made their moral and legal case for statehood in President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech and their formal application. And if the established international peace process should decisively fail, they do have other options, no matter how risky. The Security Council referral to the committee buys everyone time to look for compromises, particularly given that the Palestinian membership bid cannot succeed. If they choose not to press the issue in the Security Council, the Palestinians could seek advantages in other venues, as follows.

2) Work with the Quartet on more advantageous language for renewed negotiations. It is highly significant that the Middle East Quartet — the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the U.N. Secretariat — issued a statement in conjunction with Abbas’s address and the Palestinian application. The statement showed that the Quartet has not resolved the differences that emerged in its ranks this year, particularly over whether Palestinians should be required to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” But it reasserted the importance and viability of the established processes.

Working with the Palestinians and the Israelis separately, the Quartet could issue a statement laying out the framework for new negotiations, timetables, and even clearer terms of reference that might provide the Palestinians with a significant diplomatic achievement — even if the renewal of direct talks with a reasonable prospect of success has to wait until political circumstances in the United States, in Israel, and among the Palestinians become more favorable.

3) Pursue a General Assembly resolution in cooperation with the EU.

The Palestinians are well positioned to win almost any of a number of possible resolutions they could bring before the General Assembly, but they can do this in either a cooperative or a confrontational manner with Western states. They could work with the European Union, which is badly and uncomfortably divided on the issue, to craft language that Europeans could unite behind and that would protect them from the most serious American and Israeli retaliation, as well as provide them significant diplomatic advances. Many important EU member states, particularly France and Spain, are supportive of Palestinian nonmember U.N. observer status, but others are concerned that this would provide Palestinians’ with access to the International Criminal Court and other law enforcement mechanisms to pursue charges against Israel. Some Europeans have been working on a new legal status for Palestine that would be an upgrade from the PLO observer mission but would protect Israel from potentially facing such charges.

4) Pursue a General Assembly resolution independently.

Palestinians could independently pursue nonmember observer-state status, and they would no doubt have a majority to secure that. But this could precipitate a crisis not only with the United States — which has threatened to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) — but probably with some important European countries as well, the two main reliable external donors to the PA’s annual budget. A crisis in relations with the Americans would also greatly complicate the resumption of negotiations, which Abbas and other Palestinian leaders acknowledge will be essential for the actual realization of an independent Palestine.

The least aggressive independent action the Palestinians could pursue in the General Assembly would be a resolution acknowledging their right to statehood, but not securing nonmember state status. The most aggressive would be a resolution under the “Uniting for Peace” formula laid down in General Assembly Resolution 377A (1950), which was designed to overcome differences among Security Council permanent members on urgent matters. This would have to be tabled following a U.S. veto in the Security Council and would authorize member states to take coercive measures “to maintain or restore international peace and security.” This might be interpreted as authorizing sanctions and other coercive measures against Israel. However, numerous countries have had sanctions and boycotts against Israel and, indeed, the Palestinians for decades without the authorization of Resolution 377. More importantly, a 377 resolution would not address or enhance the question of Palestinian statehood or U.N. membership, and in that sense is completely off topic.

5) Try to force a vote in the Security Council.

The Palestinians are trying to secure commitments for a nine-vote majority and could try to force a vote on their application in the Security Council, even though they know this will ultimately be vetoed by the United States. Palestinians believe they have recently won over Gabon and Nigeria, meaning that, in addition to Brazil, China, India, Lebanon, Russia, and South Africa, they have eight commitments to vote yes. The rest of the members are likely to vote no or abstain. The Palestinians are focusing their efforts on Colombia and Bosnia, both of which will be difficult to convince. Alone among South American countries, Columbia does not recognize Palestine, and it has an important security relationship with Israel. Bosnia, which is a confederation of three ethnic communities, is divided on the matter, with Muslim Bosniaks and Croats supporting Palestinian membership but Serbs opposing it because of a potential similar application by Kosovo.

If Palestinians cannot secure a nine-vote majority, then there is virtually no rationale for pressing their case in the Security Council. But if they can, some Palestinians and their allies argue that they could achieve a “moral victory” by forcing the United States to use its veto to block Palestinian membership. Such a moral victory, however, could come at a tremendous cost — loss of U.S. and other Western aid, a souring of relations with the United States, and unspecified harsh retaliationthreatened by numerous Israeli leaders, including potentially withholding Palestinian tax revenues that make up the bulk of the PA’s annual budget.

For the moment, the Security Council has bought everyone time by referring the matter to the committee and has averted but not foreclosed a universally damaging confrontation. The various compromise tracks are very much in the Palestinians’ interests, and there are promising signs they understand this. In defiance of all expectations, while the Israeli cabinet was unable to agree on any unified response to the Quartet’s statement, by contrast, following a meeting of its executive committee, PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo welcomed the statement, though he also reiterated the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze.

If they play their cards right, Palestinian leaders will have made the moral case for their statehood, demonstrated that they do have options outside the established peace process, and secured new diplomatic leverage and political capital at home. But if they mishandle diplomacy in the coming weeks and months, they could face a very dangerous crisis in relations with the West, and especially with the United States, which they can ill afford.

The Palestinian Statehood Bid – What Comes Next? (with Prof. Saliba Sarsar)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/saliba-sarsar/the-palestinian-statehood_b_984890.html

President Barack Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all played mainly to their domestic political bases at the United Nations General Assembly meeting last week. Despite the drama, nothing in the basic discourse has changed, no party shifted its bottom-line positions, and none of it brought us any closer to peace or improved the situation on the ground.

Abbas gave a rousing speech articulating the Palestinian narrative and case for independence, but didn’t offer any outreach to the Israeli public. Netanyahu gave a defiant speech, including denouncing the UN as a “house of lies” aimed mainly at securing his leadership of the Israeli right. And Obama — who offered empathy to Israel and the Jewish narrative but none to the Palestinians — was essentially defending himself from a relentless attack from the Republican right on his Israel policies.

All three leaders emerged from the UN meeting politically strengthened, but the prospects for peace were not. Netanyahu marshaled Israel’s international assets to nip the Palestinian bid for full UN membership in the bud. The application will no doubt be referred to the 15-member Membership Committee, which meets and votes in secret and which requires unanimity to refer the application back to the Security Council for a possible vote. Past precedent shows this process can take years. Even if Palestinians decide to push for a vote in the Security Council, and can secure an at-present uncertain nine-vote majority, the Obama administration is publicly committed to vetoing their membership.

Caught between the rock of Israeli occupation and the hard place of (at least thus far) failed diplomacy, the Palestinian leadership sought recourse at the UN, knowing full well they were risking a damaging confrontation with the United States over a potential veto. By submitting a formal application for full UN membership, Abbas may appear to have taken a confrontational approach, but in fact the Palestinians have left an important opportunity for compromise open by not demanding any immediate vote or action.

That opportunity is best represented by the statement of the Middle East Quartet issued to coincide with the Abbas and Netanyahu speeches. It is clear that the Quartet has not resolved its differences which have emerged over the past year, particularly the question of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state,” but this body remains the most promising venue for creating a new framework, and even terms of reference, for future negotiations when political realities adjust to allow for their resumption with a reasonable prospect of success.

While the resumption of such negotiations will depend a great deal on improvements in internal Palestinian and Israeli political conditions, and especially on the resolution and outcome of the US presidential election, it is imperative that the prospects for a genuine two-state solution are preserved, and even enhanced. To achieve peace, Israelis and Palestinians must move beyond binary worldviews that cast each other simply as enemies in order to appreciate the complexity and interdependence of their relationship, not only now but into the future.

This means, first and foremost, preserving, protecting and enhancing the gains made on the ground in the occupied West Bank by the Palestinian institution-building program led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Many members of Congress from both parties and Republican presidential candidates have been irresponsibly calling for a cut in US funding to the Palestinian Authority and any international organizations that accord upgraded status to the Palestinians.

Nothing could be more shortsighted than threats by grandstanding members of Congress to cut US aid to the PA, the single biggest source of external funding for the Palestinians, which would undermine the legitimacy of the moderate, secular, nationalist leadership in Ramallah and ultimately threaten the viability of both negotiations and negotiators.

It would jeopardize the important cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces that has greatly reduced violence and restore law and order in some key areas of the West Bank. It could undermine, perhaps fatally, the credibility not just of individual political leaders but the whole Palestinian national strategy that seeks the establishment of an independent state living alongside Israel in peace, security and mutual dignity. And it would play directly into the hands of rejectionists forces like Hamas and the extreme settler movement that cling to a zero-sum mentality that seek a total victory of one party at the expense of the other.

It is evident that the status quo is untenable, the conflict has no military solution, and a negotiated agreement is the only alternative to continued conflict. The Israeli occupation must end and, in turn, Israel must become an accepted member of the community of nations in the Middle East. No Israeli, we hope, wants to occupy another people and no Palestinian, we believe, wants to be occupied. The few benefits the Israelis accrue from occupation (e.g., arable land, settlements, water resources) can be better secured through long-term arrangements with friendly neighboring countries, including a State of Palestine. Real “strategic depth” doesn’t come from belligerent occupation. It comes from an end of conflict.

Even though the presidential campaign is underway, Obama and his team should not shrink from urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to do the right thing and resume negotiations within a specific time frame and with clear terms of reference, which becomes the basis of a just and lasting peace. The Quartet statement was a welcome indication that serious diplomacy continues and a reasonable framework for resumed negotiations can be developed in the coming weeks, even if the actual resumption of talks may have to wait for a more propitious political environment on all sides.

Abbas and Netanyahu have returned to their countries with stronger political positions and therefore more leverage and leeway to take bold moves that help lay the political groundwork for the resumption of talks aimed at a fair compromise.

Regardless of what transpires at the UN with respect to Palestine’s membership, it must become the impetus towards increased commitment on the part of the international community to finally fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and the yearning of Israelis for peace and security. The parties cannot accomplish this on their own.

Now is the time for leaders on all sides to rise above politics and use their strengthened positions to begin the difficult, and probably prolonged, process for creating a more positive political environment that can eventually produce successful negotiations. Above all, the gains that have been secured on the ground through the Palestinian institution-building program and Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation — which are real and not theoretical — must not be squandered, but protected and enhanced.

Abbas at the UN: The speech Yasser Arafat never gave

http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=315757

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ moving speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Friday was certainly the high point of his career. His address will be forever remembered because Abbas was able to do what no Palestinian leader has ever done in the past: make the moral case for Palestinian independence in a clear, coherent, reasonable manner at the highest international forum.

Most importantly, Abbas’ message was internationally receivable. Only the most recalcitrant supporters of the Israeli occupation could fail to have been moved by his words. Many in the room, including some jaded individuals, were left in tears.

This was the speech the late President Yasser Arafat never gave, missing two key opportunities to do so. In his first address to the General Assembly in 1974, Arafat appeared as a belligerent revolutionary speaking about holding a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other. His comments were well-received among many Arabs and others in the Third World, but they played right into the hands of those who sought to depict him as a violent terrorist. Arafat’s speech at the Oslo Agreements signing ceremony at the White House in 1993 was rambling, semi-coherent and downright boring.

Abbas’ speech on Friday did for the Palestinian cause what Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver did for Zionism and Israeli statehood in a powerful UN speech in 1947. This was especially true of his closing remarks, in which Silver said that the Jewish people were “no less deserving” of statehood than others. Abbas’ speech also echoed the 1993 White House speech of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in which he said the conflict must end, emphasizing the word “enough.”

The most important part of Abbas’ speech was his blunt question to the international community about the Israeli occupation, now more than 40 years old. “Is this acceptable?” Abbas asked. In another crucial passage, he observed that “in the absence of absolute justice, we decided to adopt the path of relative justice—justice that is possible and could correct part of the grave historical injustice committed against our people.” The only important element that could have strengthened Abbas’ speech was a concerted outreach to the Israeli public, but this was not his goal or mission at that moment.

Even most Israeli journalists noted the rapturous reception the speech received from the representatives of the international community and what this implied about the level of global support for Palestinian independence. By contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address was insulting and offensive, describing the United Nations itself as a “house of lies.” Netanyahu said that he was committed to a two-state solution, but time and again made the case for continuing the occupation.

To many Israelis and Americans, the Palestinian move at the UN looks very confrontational. However, it actually leaves the window for a compromise wide open. The Palestinians have submitted their application for full UN membership to the Security Council, but they are not pressing for an immediate vote that could prompt a US veto.

In a move that was extremely significant, the Middle East Quartet issued a statement in conjunction with Abbas’ speech showing that it had not resolved its differences over the Palestinian issue. Nevertheless, it placed the Palestinian UN bid back in the context of the established peace process. What happens in the coming weeks will depend greatly on whether the Quartet can develop language that lays down the basis for future negotiations, when political circumstances allow for them to resume with a reasonable prospect of success.

Alternatively, the European Union, which is uncomfortably divided over the statehood issue, may develop language for a General Assembly resolution that it can unite behind. Such a measure could provide the Palestinians with significant diplomatic gains, without provoking a confrontation with Israel and the United States.

Now the most important task is to protect and enhance the successes developed by the institution-building program of the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli military confirms that security cooperation with the Palestinian security services remains “strong,” and international donors have reaffirmed that Palestinians are ready for independence.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the US Congress are chomping at the bit to cut or eliminate American aid to the Palestinian Authority, which represents the single biggest source of external funding for the Palestinians. Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in turn, is threatening to withhold Palestinian tax revenues that make up the bulk of the annual Palestinian Authority budget.

Everyone has been playing to their domestic constituencies, and both Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s political positions have been strengthened by their performances. Even US President Barack Obama’s address was more of a campaign speech than anything else, offering empathy to Israel but none to the Palestinians.

Now is the time to move beyond the theatrics at the UN and return to what is achievable. This means continuing to build the basis of a Palestinian state through international support and providing funding for institution-building. It also means serious work by all parties to lay the groundwork for successful negotiations, so that domestic political dynamics in the key societies involved can be aligned with their stated policies of seeking a genuine two-state solution.

Abbas at the UN: The speech Yasser Arafat never gave

http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=315757

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ moving speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Friday was certainly the high point of his career. His address will be forever remembered because Abbas was able to do what no Palestinian leader has ever done in the past: make the moral case for Palestinian independence in a clear, coherent, reasonable manner at the highest international forum.

Most importantly, Abbas’ message was internationally receivable. Only the most recalcitrant supporters of the Israeli occupation could fail to have been moved by his words. Many in the room, including some jaded individuals, were left in tears.

This was the speech the late President Yasser Arafat never gave, missing two key opportunities to do so. In his first address to the General Assembly in 1974, Arafat appeared as a belligerent revolutionary speaking about holding a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other. His comments were well-received among many Arabs and others in the Third World, but they played right into the hands of those who sought to depict him as a violent terrorist. Arafat’s speech at the Oslo Agreements signing ceremony at the White House in 1993 was rambling, semi-coherent and downright boring.

Abbas’ speech on Friday did for the Palestinian cause what Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver did for Zionism and Israeli statehood in a powerful UN speech in 1947. This was especially true of his closing remarks, in which Silver said that the Jewish people were “no less deserving” of statehood than others. Abbas’ speech also echoed the 1993 White House speech of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in which he said the conflict must end, emphasizing the word “enough.”

The most important part of Abbas’ speech was his blunt question to the international community about the Israeli occupation, now more than 40 years old. “Is this acceptable?” Abbas asked. In another crucial passage, he observed that “in the absence of absolute justice, we decided to adopt the path of relative justice—justice that is possible and could correct part of the grave historical injustice committed against our people.” The only important element that could have strengthened Abbas’ speech was a concerted outreach to the Israeli public, but this was not his goal or mission at that moment.

Even most Israeli journalists noted the rapturous reception the speech received from the representatives of the international community and what this implied about the level of global support for Palestinian independence. By contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address was insulting and offensive, describing the United Nations itself as a “house of lies.” Netanyahu said that he was committed to a two-state solution, but time and again made the case for continuing the occupation.

To many Israelis and Americans, the Palestinian move at the UN looks very confrontational. However, it actually leaves the window for a compromise wide open. The Palestinians have submitted their application for full UN membership to the Security Council, but they are not pressing for an immediate vote that could prompt a US veto.

In a move that was extremely significant, the Middle East Quartet issued a statement in conjunction with Abbas’ speech showing that it had not resolved its differences over the Palestinian issue. Nevertheless, it placed the Palestinian UN bid back in the context of the established peace process. What happens in the coming weeks will depend greatly on whether the Quartet can develop language that lays down the basis for future negotiations, when political circumstances allow for them to resume with a reasonable prospect of success.

Alternatively, the European Union, which is uncomfortably divided over the statehood issue, may develop language for a General Assembly resolution that it can unite behind. Such a measure could provide the Palestinians with significant diplomatic gains, without provoking a confrontation with Israel and the United States.

Now the most important task is to protect and enhance the successes developed by the institution-building program of the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli military confirms that security cooperation with the Palestinian security services remains “strong,” and international donors have reaffirmed that Palestinians are ready for independence.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the US Congress are chomping at the bit to cut or eliminate American aid to the Palestinian Authority, which represents the single biggest source of external funding for the Palestinians. Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in turn, is threatening to withhold Palestinian tax revenues that make up the bulk of the annual Palestinian Authority budget.

Everyone has been playing to their domestic constituencies, and both Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s political positions have been strengthened by their performances. Even US President Barack Obama’s address was more of a campaign speech than anything else, offering empathy to Israel but none to the Palestinians.

Now is the time to move beyond the theatrics at the UN and return to what is achievable. This means continuing to build the basis of a Palestinian state through international support and providing funding for institution-building. It also means serious work by all parties to lay the groundwork for successful negotiations, so that domestic political dynamics in the key societies involved can be aligned with their stated policies of seeking a genuine two-state solution.

Obama at the UN on Israel-Palestine: Good Politics, Poor Diplomacy

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/obama-at-the-un-on-israel-palestine-good-politics-poor-diplomacy/245482/

If you’d wanted to gauge how strained relations between the Obama administration and the Palestinian leadership have become, all you’d need do is watch the shaking heads of the Palestinian representatives at the United Nations General Assembly during the U.S. President’s speech there on Wednesday.

Obama reiterated the American commitment to a two-state solution and the creation of an independent Palestine, both established U.S. policy. Rhetorically, however, his speech recognized most of the core elements of the Israeli narrative but virtually none of the Palestinian one.

Obama spoke about Israel being surrounded by enemies and powerful states that threaten its destruction. He expressed sympathy for Israelis being attacked by rockets and suicide bombers, and neighboring children being “taught to hate them.” He invoked the Jewish narrative of exile, oppression, and the Holocaust.

All of which is fine, of course. But what was missing was virtually any acknowledgment of the Palestinian narrative, except for the right to statehood. He made no mention of the occupation, the settlements, the 1967 borders, the refugees, Jerusalem, or any other aspect of the Palestinian narrative or concerns.

Unfortunately, that he made such a deeply unbalanced speech was little surprise. It comes
in the middle of a crisis in relations between the Obama administration and the Palestinian leadership, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, that is being intensified by the Palestinian insistence on seeking some form of recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN.

American opposition to the statehood bid is driven in part by a desire to protect the U.S.-brokered, bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process, although it has effectively broken down in recent years. It’s also based on reasonable observations that such negotiations are ultimately the only way to fully resolve the conflict. No other party is seriously vying with the United States for the role of broker. Moreover, Israel would be deeply wary of any other way forward, given that it only really trusts the Americans.

The Obama administration isn’t on particularly warm terms with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu either. Many in the administration regarded his last visit to Washington as a series of affronts, perhaps the most serious of which was Netanyahu’s public lecturing of the U.S. president in a speech to Congress that seemed to make common cause with the same Republicans who are seeking to unseat the President in November. But the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel remains, essentially independent of political relations between the two governments, as Obama’s nods to Israel’s concerns in his speech reflect.

Indeed, Obama’s UN address was at least as much driven by domestic political considerations as by frustration with Palestinian leaders, Israeli leaders, or the stalled peace process. Republicans are ruthlessly harassing him from his right on this issue. Texas Governor Rick Perry, currently the highest-polling GOP candidate for the presidential nomination, recently accused him of “appeasement” of the Palestinians, despite his tough stance on their UN initiative. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wasted no time in denouncing the President’s UN speech for not threatening, as she has, to defund the Palestinian Authority, the relevant U.S. commitments to the UN, and international agencies that work with the Palestinians, should they persist with the UN bid.

Though Obama can claim credit for the elimination of Osama bin Laden and the ouster of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, Republicans sense an opportunity to harass him from his right on Israel and to try to diminish his Jewish donor base, if not the reliably Democratic Jewish vote.

It’s not unusual in international relations that politics trumps policy. But this is happening, to an unusually and very dangerously high degree, among the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Americans at the moment.

Abbas’ UN bid is, to a large extent, likely driven by considerations about his own legacy as well as by the ability of the secular, nationalist leadership in Ramallah to hold off political challenges from Hamas. A great deal of the Israeli intransigence is driven by an open competition between Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for leadership of the Israeli right (this political stand-off may also be the single biggest factor explaining Israel’s bizarre refusal to apologize to Turkey over last year’s deadly flotilla incident). A politically empowered minority is driving Israel’s most self-defeating policies, above all the expansion of profoundly provocative settlements.

And then there are the Americans. The election season is inhibiting the administration from any bold new moves to restart talks, redefine the terms of negotiations, or pressure Israel to make the necessary steps towards a meaningful compromise.

Obama’s UN speech may well have been good politics, but it wasn’t especially good policy. It will almost certainly be widely misread in the convulsing Arab world as evidence that the U.S. remains part of the problem — rather than the key to the solution — of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The speech did nothing to help broker a compromise at the UN, which all parties badly need, including the United States, and would be in everybody’s best interests. It won’t help dissuade the Palestinians from pursuing an aggressive course at the UN, no matter how risky or unwise that might be. And it won’t do anything to help restart negotiations.

It’s understandable that the President is exasperated with both parties and deeply uncomfortable at the prospect of having to cast a veto in the Security Council against Palestinian statehood. Obama made those sentiments extremely clear today. It may have been an accurate reflection of the mood in the administration and in Congress, and it might even help Obama get reelected. But it didn’t do U.S. policy goals any favors.

Could a U.N. Upgrade Help the Palestinians Prosecute Israeli Officials?

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2011/09/could_a_un_upgrade_help_the_palestinians_prosecute_israeli_officials.html

Would a Palestinian state recognized by the United Nations have the right to bring legal action against Israel and Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court or the U.N.’s own International Court of Justice?

This question, which is far more complicated than it seems, turns out to be at the heart of conflict over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to secure recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. In a May 16 New York Times op-ed, President Abbas said he was hoping that U.N. membership would “pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.” Palestinians clearly hope this would be the case, and it’s clear that Israel, the United States, and some European states are worried about that too.

As of this writing, Abbas says he’s going to submit an application for full U.N. membership to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after his speech on Friday. But Abbas knows that the required nine-vote Security Council majority is significantly in doubt, and that even if it can be secured the United States is publicly committed to vetoing any such resolution. Therefore, the most Palestinians can accomplish is for the U.N. General Assembly to vote to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state. No plans for a General Assembly resolution have been announced—presumably because the Palestinians are still pushing hard for the more ambitious Security Council victory—but there is little doubt the Palestinians could win a majority for one.

It is this nonmember observer status that could cause a showdown over the Palestinians’ right to petition international legal bodies. At the U.N. itself, nonmember status would not do much to change the Palestinians’ rights and prerogatives, but it could theoretically provide them access to a number of international law enforcement agencies and mechanisms, most notably the International Criminal Court, which was created by a treaty among many nations.

Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, president of the ICC Assembly of State Parties, told the Wall Street Journal that a Palestinian observer state could join the ICC and try to initiate proceedings against Israel under the Statute of Rome. Because Israel is itself not a party to the ICC, Israeli officials cannot be prosecuted on the basis of their Israeli nationality. And so far the Palestinians have not had success bringing criminal action against Israelis for their acts in the Palestinian territories, because the legal status of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip—is internationally undetermined. The ICC essentially ignored a 2009 effort by the Palestinian Authority to get the ICC to take action against Israel regarding the war in Gaza.

However, if the General Assembly were to recognize an observer Palestinian state in its 1967 borders, not only could Palestine become a party to the ICC, it could claim to be the legal sovereign in the occupied territories and seek charges for Israeli actions in those territories on that basis.

At the ICC, Israel would not only be vulnerable to charges regarding unlawful military actions against persons and property, but also for settlement activity, which the Statute of Rome defines as a war crime. It is also potentially vulnerable to charges under the “crime of apartheid,” which is defined as “inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” That would certainly seem to apply to the social, legal, and political system enforced by Israel in the occupied territories, although the question of intending maintenance of it might be an out for the Israelis on this issue.

The European Union finds itself badly and uncomfortably divided into three camps on the question of nonmember U.N. observer status for Palestine: those opposed, those supporting, and those ambivalent about such an upgrade. The Europeans have been negotiating among themselves to try to find a formula they could unite behind and also provide some diplomatic benefits acceptable to the Palestinians.

European countries worried about Palestinian access to the ICC blocked a Spanish-French proposal for nonmember observer status for Palestine, and there has even been discussion among Europeans about creating a new legal status for the Palestinians that would provide an upgrade in status but block potential access to the ICC and other international legal enforcement agencies.

Even if the Palestinians got nonmember state status at the U.N., which is the maximum they could achieve under the present circumstances, and were able to become party to the ICC, there are serious doubts about their practical ability to bring charges against Israel or Israeli officials. Any request for such charges would be more a diplomatic and political question than a legal one, and both the ICC and prosecutors would be subject to significant domestic and international political pressures that make it hard to imagine such a scenario actually unfolding.

The recent history of the ICC suggests that diplomatic and political realities are more important than ICC membership in prompting such indictments. The Goldstone Report on the Gaza War, for example, accused both Israel and Hamas of serious war crimes, but this was not acted on by the ICC. Opposition came not only from traditional defenders of Israel like the United States and France, but also from Russia and China, who were worried about the potential precedent regarding the behavior of military forces acting against guerrillas or insurgents in heavily populated areas.

By contrast, neither Sudan nor Libya were parties to the ICC, and the areas in which their militaries were operating were, at the time, within the sovereign territory of their governments. This did not prevent the U.N. Security Council from authorizing investigations that led to the indictments of Sudanese President Omar Bashir and Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and some of his sons.

Both of these examples strongly suggest that the international diplomatic and political climate is much more important to securing ICC indictments than membership in that organization. And the indictment of Bashir has not been acted on. He even attended the independence ceremony of the new Republic of South Sudan, standing in the presence of U.N. Secretary General Ban and many other world leaders. These precedents suggest that whatever technical advantages the Palestinians might gain from a U.N. upgrade, they will still face significant hurdles to legal action. Under the present international political and diplomatic climate, it’s quite difficult to imagine any international law enforcement agency such as the ICC actually bringing charges against Israel.

Palestine and Kosovo: “virtual statehood” vs. de facto statehood

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/palestine_between_fact_and_fiction

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ announcement that he intends to seek full United Nations membership from the Security Council raises a wide range of interesting, and in some ways alarming, scenarios for the coming weeks. However, the move is unlikely to ultimately bring Palestinians any closer to actual independence.

Abbas knows that if such a vote ever takes place at the Security Council, the United States is committed to vetoing it. There is even some question whether the Palestinians can achieve a nine-vote majority in favor of a state, with Israel’s UN ambassador citing Portugal as a key swing vote that might prevent such a majority.

Either way, Palestinians cannot win full UN membership at this stage, no matter how much they want or deserve it. Indeed, there are numerous procedural methods in which this request can get bogged down in the UN apparatus for weeks, months, even indefinitely.

If Palestinians want to pursue a UN-based strategy, this means they will ultimately have to turn to the General Assembly. The most they could secure from that body is an upgrade from observer status for the Palestine Liberation Organization to that of a non-member observer state. That wouldn’t much change Palestinian rights and prerogatives in the General Assembly, but theoretically it could mean access to the International Criminal Court and other international legal enforcement mechanisms to seek charges against Israel.

As a practical matter, however, this may prove much more difficult than it sounds. Even if a non-member Palestinian “state” were able to accede to the Statute of Rome and join the Assembly of Parties at the ICC, the decision of a prosecutor to act on any Palestinian request to pursue charges against Israeli officials would essentially be a political matter, subject to intensive domestic and international pressures.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine multilateral international law-enforcement agencies actually bringing charges against Israelis under present or foreseeable political and diplomatic circumstances.

What Palestinians are pursuing, then, is a kind of virtual “statehood.” However, on the ground the Israeli occupation will remain in place and could well intensify. Indeed, the daily lives of Palestinians may deteriorate due to various forms of Israeli and American retaliation.

Abbas himself has always recognized that actual Palestinian statehood will require an agreement with Israel. No international party is trying to replace the United States as the broker for such talks. A crisis in relations with Washington resulting from a Security Council veto or a non-member state vote at the General Assembly without prior understanding with the European Union or the Middle East Quartet is, therefore, unlikely to bring Palestinians closer to independence.

The international status of a Palestinian non-member state at the UN would be a mirror image of the de facto independent Republic of Kosovo. Kosovo is, in every meaningful way, a sovereign state that controls its own territory, makes its own decisions, is recognized by most of the great powers of the world, and participates in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. However, due to Russian and, to some extent, Chinese objections, it is not a member state of the United Nations and will not become one in the foreseeable future. It is also not recognized by its most important neighbor, Serbia, which considers Kosovo to be a UN-administered part of Serbian territory.

Kosovo, therefore, is for all practical purposes an independent state, but one that is severely restricted when it comes to recognition and participation at the multilateral and diplomatic register.

Abbas’ plan for Palestine will produce the inverse result. There will be a Palestinian state that enjoys significant recognition and the latitude to participate diplomatically at the UN, and quite possibly in other significant multilateral forums; however, it will, otherwise, enjoy little real sovereignty. Kosovo has de facto independence without many of the trappings of sovereignty. What Palestinians are demanding is, in effect, the box in which independence came, minus the content.

The Palestinians are not in a position to emulate the Kosovars, who secured de facto statehood in spite of failing to secure important recognitions, and braved the vociferous objections of Serbia and some permanent Security Council members. Even proponents of a Palestinian UN gambit must acknowledge that their statehood will, for now, be virtual at best.

More importantly, the risks in realizing an independent Palestinian state are enormous. Israeli retaliation aside, for Palestinians to provoke a crisis in relations with Washington and perhaps forego what a second-term American administration might do after the next election, if President Barack Obama wins, in exchange for a symbolic victory now, may mean paying a high cost for very limited gains.

It is still not too late for a compromise to be achieved. This would be in the interests of all parties, not least the Palestinians. As the example of Kosovo demonstrates, there is a huge gap between international recognition and genuine independence.

A compromise at the UN must be found

On September 19, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas formally told
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that he would be
submitting an application for full UN membership for the state of
Palestine after his speech to the General Assembly on September 23.
This reiterates the plan outlined by Abbas in a speech to the
Palestinian people last week.

It is not absolutely certain that such a resolution would win the
required nine-vote majority in the Security Council, but even if it
did, the United States is publicly committed to vetoing it. So the
Palestinians cannot, at this stage, win full UN membership under any
circumstances.

This means that the Palestinians, if they are to pursue a UN-based
strategy to its logical conclusion, will have to turn to the General
Assembly for something less: UN nonmember observer-state status. The
Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has been a nonmember
observer at the UN since 1974, with several upgrades in rights and
privileges since then.

Nonmember state status for Palestine, as opposed to the PLO’s
“political entity” observer mission, would not greatly alter the
procedural tools available to the Palestinians in that body.

But many Palestinians might regard it as an important symbolic
victory, an international recognition of their right to statehood and
another step towards eventual full UN membership and independence.

Invoking A Powerful Historical Precedent

There are two specific aspects to UN nonmember state status that
appeal to some Palestinians.

First, is the powerful historical precedent it invokes. There is
presently only one nonmember state at the UN, the Holy See, but the
Vatican has no interest in becoming a full UN member state for a
variety of reasons.

However, historically, there have been 16 UN nonmember states and,
accounting for the unification of Germany and Vietnam, all 16 are now
full UN members. This history alone helps to explain a large part of
the appeal such a status holds for Palestinian leaders.

Second, some Palestinians hope that a nonmember UN observer state of
Palestine would be able to access international law enforcement
agencies and mechanisms to pursue charges against Israel.

Specifically, some Palestinians are hoping their nonmember state could
become party to the International Criminal Court, potentially making
Israel and Israeli officials liable for war crimes under the Statute.
These not only include unlawful acts of violence against persons or
property, but also settlement activity and “the crime of apartheid.”

However, although theoretically it is possible for a non-UN-member
“state” of Palestine to accede to the Statute, actually pursuing
indictments and prosecutions against Israeli officials will be more of
a political and diplomatic process than a legal one.

It is difficult to imagine a multilateral, diplomatic international
law-enforcement body filing charges against Israel under the current
international climate.

The history of the Goldstone Report into the Gaza War found opposition
to acting under its findings coming not only from traditional
defenders of Israel such as the United States and France, but also
Russia and China, who were concerned about the potential precedent it
might set concerning the actions of large armies in heavily populated
insurgent areas.

Possible Backlash

There are two ways in which the Palestinians could seek such status in
the General Assembly.

The first would be to reach an understanding with the European Union
– uncomfortably split between members which are supportive, opposed
to, and ambivalent about such an upgrade for the Middle East Quartet.

The second would be to do it in a confrontational manner, which could
provoke a serious backlash from Israel, the United States and possibly
even some European states.

A confrontational approach could well result in the cutting off of aid
from the United States — the single biggest individual donor to the
Palestinian Authority (PA) annually — and a wide range of potential
Israeli retaliations, including the withholding of Palestinian tax
revenues which make up the bulk of the PA’s budget.

Moreover, a crisis in relations with the United States is extremely
unlikely to promote the realization of a genuinely independent,
sovereign state of Palestine.

That can only be achieved through negotiations with Israel and no
party is competing with the Americans to serve as the broker for such
talks.

Therefore, what the Palestinians would gain through a confrontational
General Assembly vote, which they could no doubt win, would be
largely, if not entirely, symbolic, but with very real, painful costs.

Indeed, the Palestinians might be setting themselves up as the mirror
image of the Republic of Kosovo, which has de facto independence but
no UN membership and limited international recognition, primarily due
to Russian and Serbian opposition.

Palestine could end up with enhanced status at the UN and widespread
international recognition, but no actual sovereignty and with de facto
independence at least as difficult to achieve as ever.

Potentially A Pyrrhic Victory

Palestinian leaders argue convincingly that they have little
confidence in the willingness of the present Israeli government of
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to enter into serious negotiations
leading to their independence, and that the bilateral negotiating
process brokered by the United States has essentially broken down, at
least for the time being. So it is understandable that they are
looking for an alternative.

But the practical consequences of a confrontational approach at the
UN, which alienates much of the West — especially the United States
– and provokes Israeli retaliation, could prove a Pyrrhic victory.

Worse still, if the United States, Israel and others overreact by
cutting off funds to the PA and leaving the Palestinians destitute and
in despair, this could provoke an outpouring of anger and even
violence that would turn into a security and political nightmare for
Israel and the PA alike.

In both of these instances, the “cure” would be worse than the
disease, and measures designed to make matters better or make an
important point could actually render the existing political situation
far more difficult.

Since the Palestinian leadership has taken no formal action yet, the
window for a compromise is not yet closed. It is strongly in the
interests of all parties to find one.

A new Arab political narrative: have Muslim extremists been transformed by the Libyan uprising?

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/jihadists_reformed_or_reborn

One of the most extraordinary stories coming out of the unfolding Arab uprisings is that of Abdelhakim Belhaj, a key figure in the military forces supporting the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) and leader of the so-called Tripoli Military Council (TMC). Belhaj is reported to have led some 600 men—many of whom supposedly, like him, gained military experience during the Afghan war—in the crucial assault on Moammar al-Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli.

Belhaj reportedly accompanied NTC President Mustafa Abdel Jalil to key meetings in France and Qatar to help organize foreign support during the uprising. He also oversaw Abdel Jalil’s chaotic and rapturous entry into the Libyan capital as the leader of the de facto new Libyan government. Belhaj is therefore, in every way, a key figure in the NTC military alliance, if not its political leadership.

What is remarkable is that Belhaj’s history suggests that he has been not only an Islamist, but a Salafist-Jihadist with ties to the Afghan mujahideen, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an extreme Muslim organization fighting to overthrow Qaddafi.

In 2004, when the West was cooperating with Qaddafi following the invasion of Iraq, Belhaj was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, at the behest of Western intelligence services and subjected to “special rendition” to Libya followed by a lengthy incarceration and torture. He was released last year as part of a “de-radicalization” program overseen by Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam. Belhaj is not the only member of the LIFG to have emerged as part of the NTC coalition. Others include Ismail al-Salabi, Abdelhakim al-Hasidi and Ali Salabi.

Qaddafi always claimed that the core of the uprising against him was “al Qaeda,” and although the LIFG was never a member of any formal al Qaeda coalition, it clearly was on the extreme Salafist-Jihadist, “takfiri” end of the Islamist spectrum. In the West, opponents of the limited military intervention, from both the left and the right, are claiming that al Qaeda now rules in Tripoli and that the West has been “conned” into supporting the worst kind of Muslim radicals.

Belhaj for his part claims to be a transformed man, a Libyan patriot and a loyal member of a large and diverse coalition. Thus far, most of what he and his fellow former LIFG colleagues have said and done seems to lend credence to those claims.

This raises a fascinating and novel narrative in the Arab uprisings: Former extremists and Salafist-Jihadists are maybe being transformed into religiously conservative but patriotic members of broad coalitions that are nationalistic and willing to engage in compromises and power-sharing arrangements. Indeed, so far they appear to be not only loyal members of the NTC, but have also generally subordinated themselves to its political leadership. Belhaj seems either to be accepting the authority of a broader political leadership or making his own decisions that seem to reflect a genuinely transformed worldview.

All is not sweetness and light, however. There are worrying reports that attempts to discipline Belhaj’s Tripoli Military Council by NTC chair Mahmoud Jibril were rejected by the TMC spokesman, Anees al-Sharif, who said, “We will not accept Jibril’s authority over us.” But one should not overestimate the impact of inevitable moments of friction within a diverse coalition in which lines of authority are still being drawn.

Whether or not Belhaj and his colleagues have really been transformed as they claim and seem to have been, or whether they are simply strategically positioning themselves and are still guided by their old ideology, remains to be determined. But if their metamorphosis is real, this may presage a new and important Arab political narrative whereby extreme Islamists can become part of diverse nationalist coalitions.

As Omar Ashour of the University of Exeter has pointed out, this renunciation of violence would echo that of Egypt’s Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, reflecting a willingness of hitherto extremist groups to join political systems that are more pluralistic than such groups’ previous ideologies would have allowed. There is reason to hope that this development is part of a pattern whereby once violent jihadists are participating in national transformations by embracing political competition rather than a violent imposition of their worldview.

A decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Arab uprising—with their demands for democracy, elections and pluralistic systems—along with other factors, may at long last be dealing a death blow to al Qaeda-style violent Islamism. This offers former Jihadists a transformed ideology and perspective, and a new model for political engagement.

If the emerging narrative of the transformation of Abdelhakim Belhaj proves accurate, it will be among the more encouraging outcomes of this period of Arab uprisings, reflecting how these have contributed to tempering some of the most extreme forms of Muslim radicalism.

Last-minute deal could avert a collision course at the UN

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/last-minute-deal-could-avert-a-collision-course-at-the-un?pageCount=0#full

The insistence by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he will
present a request for full UN membership for Palestine in its 1967
borders to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the General Assembly
meeting later this week – although telegraphed months in advance – has
sent shock waves through international relations, and Israeli and US
domestic politics as well.

Mr Abbas could have announced that he had already submitted this
letter and that it is a fait accompli. Instead, he gave world leaders
another week to act. So far Israel, the United States, the European
Union and the Middle East Quartet have provided him with virtually
nothing he can present to the Palestinian public as a plausible
alternative.

Renewed negotiations, a new framework for talks or a statement clearly
outlining the contours of a two-state solution might have sufficed.
None of these have been forthcoming, but the window of opportunity is
still open.

There are genuine reasons of state for this Palestinian move, no
matter how risky and even potentially disastrous it might prove.

Palestinians simply cannot live with a status quo involving continued
occupation and expanding settlement with virtually no prospects of a
serious resumption of bilateral talks with Israel. The negotiating
process brokered by the United States looks incapable of overcoming
the impasse between the two sides and the sense that something drastic
is required to communicate the level of Palestinian desperation is
widely shared.

There are also domestic political considerations. The secular,
nationalist Palestinian leadership in Ramallah knows that if this
deadlock continues indefinitely, at some point Palestinian society
will conclude their strategy of achieving Palestinian independence
through negotiations with Israel, diplomacy and institution-building
has permanently failed. They will then look for an alternative, and an
Islamist one is already ruling in Gaza.
But the potential damage to the Palestinian national interest and
project can hardly be overstated. The Republican-controlled US House
of Representatives has made its willingness to slash or even eliminate
US aid, the single biggest external source of PA revenue, crystal
clear.

Israel too has threatened unspecified “harsh measures” in response. If
the Palestinians are gambling that the US and Israel will ultimately
conclude they need the Palestinian Authority as much as it needs their
cooperation, they may be in for a nasty surprise.

As Mr Abbas himself has repeatedly acknowledged, a negotiated
agreement is the only choice for the creation of a Palestinian state.
And there is no alternative broker other than the United States. A
crisis in relations with the Americans by provoking a veto in the
Security Council is unlikely to enhance the prospects for genuine,
rather than virtual, Palestinian statehood.

If Palestinians are confident that Arab states will make up any
shortfall from a cut in western aid or Israel withholding Palestinian
tax revenues, they may face another serious disappointment. In The New
York Times, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al Faisal said that his
country had “earmarked $2.5 billion [Dh9.2 billion]” for the
Palestinians since 2009. That may be true, but no such figure has
actually been delivered. Palestinians can expect generous pledges from
Arab states, but must doubt the extent to which they will be
fulfilled. And aid, if it is provided, would certainly come with
significant political strings attached.

The United States and Israel are plainly not going to provide the
Palestinians with any real alternative. The European Union, however-
which collectively gives more than twice what the US does to the PA
annually – finds itself uncomfortably divided among three camps: those
inclined to support, those which oppose and those that are ambivalent
about the Palestinian UN bid.

In its own interests, the EU has been working to find an alternative
formula in the General Assembly that it can unite behind and also
provide Palestinians with a significant upgrade in status. The major
stumbling block has been that upgrading Palestine to a non-member
observer state in the UN might give it access to the International
Criminal Court and other forums in which it could pursue charges
against Israel, which is unacceptable to some key European powers.

There has even been serious consideration of creating a new legal
status for Palestine that would make it a non-member state, or
something extremely close, but without access to these international
legal enforcement bodies. The Middle East Quartet has also been
working on a compromise to avoid a universally damaging confrontation.

It is still possible for Palestinians to make both their point and
advance their international status without a crisis in relations with
both the United States and much of Europe. Moreover a Palestinian bid
for full membership could be bogged down in the UN apparatus for
months or even indefinitely. A reasonable compromise is in everyone’s
interests.

Most important is the day-after scenario that will follow whatever
takes place at the UN this week. The worst thing that Israel, the US
Congress and others could do is cut funding to the PA, leaving
Palestinians on the ground tangibly worse off than they were before.

Frustration and despair could provoke an outburst of anger and even
violence, turning a difficult diplomatic mess into an unmanageable
political and security nightmare for Israel and the PA alike.

Any such move designed to “punish” the Palestinians is also likely to
backfire on Israel and the United States. Cooler heads should prevail
at the UN, but what is more important is to prevent an irrational
overreaction that takes a bad situation and makes it potentially
catastrophic.