The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘UN

Pakistan on the UN Human Development Index

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Pakistani flood victims aboard US Mairne helicopter during humanitarian relief efforts in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Image credit: Flickr user DVIDSHUB

Apologies for the lack of posts, dear readers (yes, both of you), but I’ve been rather busy. Personal update – I’ve moved to Hong Kong and started a new job. I’m now a staff hack for a financial magazine, so my trade is going to be equities, fixed income and currency wars rather than political inequity, fixed dictators and military wars. Never fear, I shall endeavour to update this blog as frequently as I can, which will hopefully not be too infrequently. My first topic since my hiatus is a rather pithy one – the UN Human Development Index.

While I’ve always been highly sceptical about sweeping indices that rank states on opaque definitions based on broad categories (my thoughts on the “Failed States Index” can be found here), I do generally consider UN indices to be a bit more interesting. Don’t ask me why, this isn’t based on any well-researched comparison of the UN versus the think tanks, perhaps I’m just an old-school multilateralist and tend to trust the UN a little more than I should. The UN relies on a number of international agencies for its data, making it incredibly difficult to meaningfully analyse the way the index is created.

But regardless, humour me and let’s consider the latest UN Human Development Index. Let’s at least pretend that its findings can be of some use to us. The report says not to compare rankings to previous reports because different indicators and calculations have been used, which makes it difficult to interpret the report in any meaningful way politically, or in terms of year-by-year development, but perhaps we can make some geopolitical comparisons.

With reference to Pakistan, one trend factor that we can look at is a comparison with other countries in the region. The obvious comparisons are of course to India (119), Bangladesh (129) and Afghanistan (155), and while Pakistan outpaces Afghanistan rather handily, this should not be seen as any kind of victory.

Afghanistan is a war zone without a functioning central government. Say what you want about army offensives, terrorist attacks in major cities and the ineffectiveness of Zardari’s government, Pakistan is not Afghanistan. I am even less an expert on Bangladesh than I am on Pakistan, so it’s difficult to make a real comparison there. However, there’s no doubt that Bangladesh, as an even younger nation than Pakistan, has made great strides.

The most tempting comparison to make is, of course, the traditional rivalry – Pakistan and India – but by no means is it a perfect one. It is notable that despite Pakistan’s geopolitical position with a 10 year long war next door, a damaging domestic insurgency and a less effective central government, it only appears 6 places behind a country often considered to be China’s most direct competitor in rising power status. Moreover, it is notable that Pakistan has a higher life expectancy at birth than India and a higher mean in years of schooling.

India is a much larger, more diverse, more populous and more stable country, much of that owing to factors beyond both its, and Pakistans, control. These factors play both to India’s advantage and its disadvantage, but judging from them, and they are incredibly broad factors, I’d say Pakistan is doing reasonably well given the many outside threats that hold it back.

This is no reason for Pakistan to rest on its laurels though. The country still lags far behind Sri Lanka (91) and is embarrassingly outpaced by impoverished, unstable countries like Equatorial Guinea (117), Timor Leste (120) and the Solomon Islands (123). Pakistan is only one spot above Congo (126).

To be contrarian, and play devil’s advocate to my own post, you can take these with a grain of salt. Numbers tempt us into a web of assumptions but the reality is, given the rather opaque way in which this index was created, it’s hard to draw any meaningful conclusions from a one or two rank difference. One conclusion that I’ve made, based on little hard data but a feeling in my gut, is that Pakistanis have much to celebrate and much to bemoan. The relative successes listed above can perhaps be attributed to the ongoing willpower, resilience and determination of the Pakistani people in the face of many challenges. However, if Pakistan is to realise its potential, it needs to empower its civil government and institutions through a viable democratic process, the eradication of corruption and meaningful infrastructure development. Unfortunately, with the devastating floods, the grinding poverty, the decade-long war next door and the spiralling violence, these things appear to be far easier said than done. We can only pray.

 

 

Written by alexlobov

November 8, 2010 at 2:16 am

Michael Oren loses his way again

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The ongoing stalemate in peace talks has led to another op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the US. As is often the case with Oren’s op-eds, the piece is full of weak arguments, hyperbole and hypocrisy.

The introduction sets the tone for the entire piece:

NEARLY 63 years after the United Nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland — and more than 62 years since Israel’s creation — the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state.

This, like the entire article, tries to oversimplify an incredibly complex issue and then make the Palestinians out to be some sort of irrational, anti-semitic barbarians. Oren is talking about a “Jewish nature of the state” when clearly defining Jewishness is a problem in itself, let alone boiling the nature of a state down to an ethno-religious identity.

Back in 1948, opposition to the legitimacy of a Jewish state ignited a war. Today it threatens peace.

Sure, it threatens peace as much as Israeli intransigence over the demands of the Palestinians. That’s what negotiation is. As for 1948, really Mr. Oren? Was 1948 really so simple? If Israel had established a Christian state, a secular state or a Rastafarian state, I’m pretty sure the Arab reaction would have been much the same. When you establish a state on land occupied partly by those who have inhabited it for the last thousand or so years, they being outside your ruling class, and partly by a massive population of recent migrants, war kind of tends to happen.

Such a step by the Palestinian Authority would be a confidence-building measure,” Mr. Netanyahu explained, noting that Israel was not demanding recognition as a prerequisite for direct talks. It would “open a new horizon of hope as well as trust among broad parts of the Israeli public.”

I’m pretty sure Israel wouldn’t fight so hard for a “confidence-building measure”. Building confidence takes a great deal more than that.

So what is the purpose of this new obsession then? Well Oren will actually tell you:

Indeed, Israel never sought similar acknowledgment in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu is merely making a tactical demand that will block any chance for the peace they claim he does not really want.

The problem is, Oren then fails to actually refute this. And I don’t mean robustly, I mean at all. Oren goes on to claim that Israel “recognizes the existence of a Palestinian people with an inalienable right to self-determination in its homeland”, which sounds nice but the reality of it is very different. This is because Israel doesn’t actually recognise a Palestinian homeland. How else would you explain its policy to settle Palestine’s “inaliable homeland” with hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers?

Oren’s position gets even more tenuous:

So why won’t the Palestinians reciprocate? After all, the Jewish right to statehood is a tenet of international law. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in the land then known as Palestine and, in 1922, the League of Nations cited the “historical connection of the Jewish people” to that country as “the grounds for reconstituting their national home.” In 1947, the United Nations authorized the establishment of “an independent Jewish state,” and recently, while addressing the General Assembly, President Obama proclaimed Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people.” Why, then, can’t the Palestinians simply say “Israel is the Jewish state”?

Oren’s reference to “international law” seems to contain very little actual law. We can discount immediately a random speech by Obama, which could only have been intended as complete buffer. Citing the now extremely defunct League of Nations policy as a “tenet of international law” is tenuous at best. The Balfour Declaration too was a British policy statement, and though the British mandate over Palestine was accepted by the League of Nations in 1922, one would then also have to consider the McMahon-Hussein correspondence and the Churchill White Paper, which both repudiate much of the Balfour Declaration. Besides, Palestine had zero representation in the League of Nations.

Moreover, Mr. Oren’s extremely selective use of international law is galling. What about the whole host of UN Security Council resolutions that Israel routinely ignores? Not to mention the recent UN HRC fact finding missions into both Cast Lead and the flotilla incident? The hypocrisy is maddening.

The rest of the op-ed then collapses into fear mongering about “a two-stage solution leading, as many Palestinians hope, to Israel’s dissolution” and Palestinians failing to accept “that the millions of them residing in Arab countries would be resettled within a future Palestinian state and not within Israel”. Why should they accept this? They have no hope of being “resettled” in Israel regardless of its identity, and why should they want to be resettled in Palestine? Should we forcibly resettle the Jewish diaspora in Israel? This is ridiculous beyond words.

Israelis need to know that further concessions would not render us more vulnerable to terrorism and susceptible to unending demands. Though recognition of Israel as the Jewish state would not shield us from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

And equally the Palestinians need to know that Israel is serious about peace, that it is willing to accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist and immediately halt the illegal settlement of occupied land within that future state. Though a halt to that settlement would not shield Palestine from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Israelis are not suicidally inclined towards an inevitable one-state solution. That’s how easy it is to turn this ridiculous argument on its head.

Mr. Oren concludes his op-ed with a paragraph that neatly sums up the tone and content of the rest of it, namely unabashed propaganda without meaning, logic or sense.

The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.

There are many ‘cores’ to the conflict, be they territory, security, national self-determination, dignity or oppression, but no one serious “refuses to recognize the Jews as a people”. The fact that some Jews are “indigenous to the region” is a matter of irrelevance and as for “the right to self-government”, the only way that Jews are going to lose the right to govern Israel is if they absorb a massive demographic shift of Palestinians under an inevitable one state solution.

And therein lies the irrational, paradoxical quality of the debate today. Mr. Oren’s op-ed reflects a fear that Israel will lose its Jewish character, but the most surefire way that that can happen is by not fast-tracking a two state solution by halting settlements and negotiating seriously. Every day the two-state solution grows further out of reach, until the inevitable point when Israel will be the only political entity between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. On that day, Israel will be faced with a choice: give the Palestinians a right to vote or create a state of true apartheid character. I strongly suggest that, instead of writing hyperbolic op-eds in the New York Times, Mr. Oren devote himself to getting his country out of that inevitable mess.

Written by alexlobov

October 15, 2010 at 1:19 am

Updates: Aftermath of flotilla attack during the second day

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Israeli forces approach one of six ships bound for Gaza yesterday. Photograph: Pool/Reuters Hat-tip: Guardian

For anyone not yet up to speed, a flotilla of vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza with the aim of lifting the blockade imposed by Israel was intercepted and attacked by Israeli commandos yesterday which resulted in 9-19 deaths (depending on which reports you believe, Israel still has not released an official list of names of those killed). To get up to speed on developments yesterday check out my first and second posts.

More news has come today, kicking off with a marathon UN Security Council meeting called by Turkey with the aim of eliciting an official response from the Council. The bulk of the meeting went on behind closed doors but reportedly it constituted mostly a back-and-forth between the Turkish and American representatives, the latter refusing to allow the Security Council to officially single out Israel for condemnation.

Turkey proposed a statement that would condemn Israel for violating international law, demand a United Nations investigation and demand that Israel prosecute those responsible for the raid and pay compensation to the victims. It also called for the end of the blockade.

The Obama administration refused to endorse a statement that singled out Israel, and proposed a broader condemnation of the violence that would include the assault of the Israeli commandos as they landed on the deck of the ship. [NYT]

Reportedly the Israeli army will be transferring the humanitarian aid found on the boat to Gaza.

Here’s a very interesting piece of news from the excellently-run Al Jazeera English liveblog:

11:37am: His wording is far from conclusive, but the Jerusalem Post seems to think Israel’s deputy defence minister, Manan Vilna’i, hinted that Israel sabotaged some of the ships in the Gaza flotilla.

When asked during an Israel Radio interview whether it might not have been possible to stop the ships in a more sophisticated manner, Vilna’i responded, “Every possibility was considered. The fact is that there were ten less ships in the flotilla than were originally planned.”

Hosni Mubarak has opened the Rafah border and, according to this Arabic source, there are no restrictions on who is allowed to enter and exit. Would be interesting to see some reports on traffic there. Also, the EU and Russia have released a joint statement condemning Israel’s use of force and calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. (Hat-tip: AJE liveblog again on both).

The MV Rachel Corrie, another ship that was supposed to be part of the original flotilla but the  departure of which was delayed due to mechanical malfunction has reportedly set off for Gaza and is due to arrive within 48 hours. In a response that can now only be viewed as ominous, the Israeli Navy has stated that it is ‘ready’ to receive her. The ship is a joint Irish/Malaysian vessel.

As far as the mainstream media’s reporting has been, I would like to direct you to WashPo’s fairly extreme piece by Scott Wilson on the Free Gaza Movement. What the hell kind of lead paragraph is this:

Once viewed only as a political nuisance by Israel’s government, the group behind the Gaza aid flotilla has grown since its inception four years ago into a broad international movement that now includes Islamist organizations that Israeli intelligence agencies say pose a security threat to the Jewish state.

Clearly WashPo has missed the memo. Most of the mainstream media is treating this event with a lot more caution. I normally consider the FP a fairly reliable weathervane. I certainly wouldn’t consider it a liberal newspaper and yet it has included condemnation of the attack from Stephen Walt, Mark Lynch and its own editor-in-chief Blake Hounsell, all essentially calling for the blockade to be lifted.

So if the mainstream is not exactly lining up behind Israel, what does that mean for the defenders of this monstrosity. I direct you to the following tweet by Middle East expert (though she can’t see it from her house) Sarah Palin:

Assume u WON’T get straight scoop on Israeli flotilla incident via mainstream media;PLEASE read Krauthammer,Horowitz,et al 2learn other side

Palin has long been a shrill critic of her perceived unfair treatment at the hands of the supposedly pro-liberal mainstream, but what this shows is the increasing radicalisation of the pro-Israel-at-all-costs lobby and the increasingly ridiculous sounding hasbara that is being thrown up to defend the atrocities committed by the State. Witness this tweet from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:

Participants on the armada of hate had ties with global Jihad and Al Qaeda and used live weapons against our troops

Apparently tying any Muslim you don’t like to al Qaeda and ‘global Jihad’ hasn’t really worked since the whole thing about how Saddam Hussein didn’t quite have anything to do with 9/11, but clearly Mr. Ayalon and his Islamophobic friends missed that memo. I also like how the activists on the Turkish-flagged vessel used “live weapons” (as opposed to, presumably, dead weapons) against “our troops” (ie. elite commandos who stormed their boat in international waters). Wow? It doesn’t take an undergraduate degree to sort the BS out of that one.

Speaking of the legality of the raid, I’m going to paste this in its entirety, thanks to Mondoweiss and Craig Murray, ex UK Ambassador and one time Foreign Office specialist on maritime law:

“A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.

Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

Meanwhile, Blake Hounsell for FP:

It already has the makings of a huge international fracas that will make the Goldstone Report look like small potatoes by comparison.

and

There’s a huge unwillingness on the Israeli right to face reality — that Israel is fast losing friends and allies in the world, and that this government in Jerusalem has only accelerated the shift. It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.

While I’m still skeptical of how much damage exactly boycott campaigns will actually have and whether the ‘friends and allies’ are actually going to be lost (all I’m seeing so far are spirited statements, as usual), I think that Hounsell makes a good general point: the tide does appear to be turning, as evidenced by how increasingly shrill and crazy Israel’s defenders currently sound.

I’m going link some great pieces by Stephen Walt and Arabist at the bottom of this post to save me having to essentially paste them in its entirety (especially Arabist, his post was that good) but here are my thoughts.

If we are to accept the Israeli narrative of events – that the activists on the Flotilla attacked Israeli troops with sticks, knives and deckchairs, thus provoking them to respond and unfortunately kill some of them – as the truth, the argument still has massive, gaping holes.

First of all, the boat was in international waters and Israel had no legal right to storm the boat with commandos, some of the best soldiers in an army considered already to be one of the best in the world. Since the boat was raided by soldiers, the occupants of the boat surely had the right to defend their vessel. The fact that they supposedly did so with a ragtag assortment of improvised weapons and were shot at with automatic weapons as a means of self-defense makes about as much sense as napalming a mosquito. This is pretty much the antithesis of proportionality and anyone who buys this is clearly deluded. Moreover, “the most moral army in the world” and certainly one of its best would surely have been able to manage a situation involving sticks and knives a little better than in such a way that resulted in at least 9 fatalities. Oh yeah, shal I remid you again? Commandos vs. Civilians. Proportional? No. This. Does. Not. Hold. Water.

Also, to those pundits that suggest that Israel’s main mistake was to board the boat in international waters and not in “Israeli territorial waters” appear to be missing the point. The boat was headed for Gaza, not Israel. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 (and still claims political kudos for doing so). Yes, Gaza is not recognised a state but that doesn’t make Israel’s siege of Gaza legal, nor does it just hand jurisdiction over Gaza’s territorial waters to Israel as a sort of parting gift. It is obviously not that clear cut.

Oh yeah, and the blockade. Need I remind you people how cruel and barbaric it is? No I don’t, because Stephen Walt will (if Glenn Greenwald didn’t in the post I linked last time). One final note to those supposedly hyper-realist defenders of Israel’s rights as a state: stop glorifying the State. There is no good reason why I, as an Australian (or any self-respecting national of any other country), should take Israel’s security any more seriously than the security of the people of Gaza. Right now, the biggest threat to their ‘security’ is not Hamas (as is often claimed by the Zionist lobby) but an Israeli blockade that is causing death by starvation and lack of medical attention, that is robbing the Gazans of the right to rebuild their shattered economy destroyed by air raids and Operation Cast Lead, and that is conducting a crude campaign of national humiliation and collective punishment. Oh, but the activists on the boat constituted a ‘threat to Israeli security’.  Time to wake up.

And here’s that piece of gold by Arabist, read it.

Updates: Aftermath of Flotilla attack

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Palestinians carry a mock coffin draped with a Turkish flag during a protest at Gaza's seaport May 31, 2010, against Israel's interception of Gaza-bound ships. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

UPDATE: Third post with fresh news, analysis and choice links.

First of all, if you haven’t already, check out my previous post on this with the preliminary round-up of events.

I’m not going to continue posting the repeated commentary from the leaders of the international community because they all mostly repeat the same thing ad naseum. For those interested, there is a good roundup in this AFP story and the Al Jazeera & Guardian liveblogs will keep you abreast. Maan has a handy list of the nine (and counting) countries that have summoned Israeli ambassadors for an explanation.

Relevant news is coming thick & fast and it’s difficult to keep up with all of it so I will attempt to post what I think is most important.

Steve Hynd pointed his Twitter followers to UNSC Resolution 1860 that called for a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and also called for humanitarian aid, something that Israel has not been able to adequately provide. All reports from Israeli spokesmen that aid is being delivered on a daily basis are basically nothing but propaganda, aid is being delivered but it’s estimated to be 1/4 of what Gazans actually need to survive.

Speaking of the UN Security Council, Reuters is reporting that a meeting is being convened to discuss the issue.

It is being reported that the French equivalent of AIPAC, Le Crif, has condemned the Israeli attack (French) on the flotilla. I’m not sure how stridently pro-Israel-at-all-costs these people are but that strikes me as interesting. Also, Netanyahu has reportedly cancelled his scheduled visit to the US to begin indirect proximity talks and is flying back to Israel immediately to deal with the fall out.

For those interested in what the US has to say about this, first comments are non-commital as expected:

“The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” a White House spokesman said. [AFP]

Over in Britain, much is being made of Nick Clegg’s previously fairly public opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The question is, will Clegg be gagged by his coalition partners? Reports of protests at 10 Downing Street are already coming. David Milliband, without directly condemning Israel over the Gaza blockade, has voiced his opposition in not so many words.

India’s The Hindu, one of the few newspapers covering this in any detail in India, reports that Syria and Lebanon released a joint statement warning that Israel’s attack on the flotilla could be considered an act of war.

One thing that has been interesting to me throughout this debacle is the reaction of the much-maligned mainstream media. Criticisms over timeliness of reports and their wording notwithstanding, I’ll be looking at some of the personal tweets of celebrity journalists to gauge what’s considered legitimate feeling in the MSM camp. One example, Nick Kristof who has almost 1,000,000 followers on Twitter had this to say:

I didn’t RT early reports of Israeli military assault on #Gaza flotilla, ’cause I thought “Israel wldn’t be that stupid.”

From the Israeli side, most of the claims have been that the activists on board tried to ‘lynch’ and ‘stab’ the commandos who boarded the ship. Haaretz has a piece here. Here’s a quote from the IDF’s website:

During the boarding of the Marmara ship, demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. According to reports, two weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces first employed riot dispersal means, followed by live fire.

According to initial reports, these events resulted in over ten deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injuries. In addition, five naval personnel were injured, some from gunfire and some from various other weapons. Two of the soldiers were seriously wounded and the remainder sustained moderate injuries. All of the injured parties, Israelis and foreigners, are currently being evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in Israel.

It is not clear yet how much of this is hasbara, propaganda and the like and how threatening the people on board were but Glenn Greenwald has an excellent sum-up of the situation at Salon.com. Here are some choice quotes which I will leave you with:

The flotilla attacked by Israel last night was carrying materials such as cement, water purifiers, and other building materials, much of which Israel refuses to let pass into Gaza.  At the end of 2009, a U.N. report found that “insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory,” and also “blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.”

It hardly seemed possible for Israel — after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade — to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes.  But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that.  If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it’s hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

Marc Lynch has some sobering words about the attitude towards Gaza by successive US administrations:

This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas.  The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide.   Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?

One thing I like about both these pieces is that they maintain the focus on Gaza, Cast Lead and the crippling blockade. If it’s one thing I want you to take away from all this: do not forget to place these events in context. Israel has successively tightened the noose around an impoverished, humiliated and starving population begging for humanitarian aid. This alone constitutes a crime against humanity if there ever was one. The events on the Freedom Flotilla may be another nail in Israel’s coffin when it comes to Global PR but they should rightly point to what caused the boats to set sail in the first place: Israel’s barbaric blockade and the international community’s constant blind eye. Remember these things so that those that died on that boat didn’t die in vain.

Written by alexlobov

June 1, 2010 at 12:46 am

The new set of Sanctions against Iran

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Ahmadinejad's "Armpit of Evil", thanks Guardian for the pic

I’ve been facing a combination of writer’s block, laziness and slow news days cropping up precisely on the days that I do have time to blog, a dangerous cocktail that helps explain my general lack of postage on this blog. I realise that the new set of Iran sanctions has already been heavily discussed, for those that haven’t heard

I’m not going to say a great deal on this issue except that I don’t particularly like it. I don’t remember when sanctions have ever been effective in getting a Government to do what people want them to do, they usually only serve to isolate and entrench despotic governments further (Saddam). In addition, while the specific set of sanctions hasn’t been finalised yet, there already has been a reasonable amount of opposition to specific measures that have been mooted.

Talking about the political implications, as The Majlis has mentioned, it seems that the Iranian regime is ready for these sanctions and looking to confront them head on. The amount of baiting that has been going on has been ramped up a great deal, especially with the announcement of building a further ten nuclear plants by the regime. How they intend to finance this with the Iranian economy in the doldrums that it’s in is of no consequence, the rhetoric here is what seems to be important. The Majlis also discusses the effect on the current rift in the Iranian political establishment. It seems to me that the conservative wing of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is further entrenching itself in a position where the nuclear program is its baby and its baby alone. Reformists like Rafsanjani will not oppose the program either because they realise it would be political suicide after how much pro-nuclear propaganda has been effected on the population.

It seems that Obama’s unclench-your-fist rhetoric has failed and he’s now erring on the side of sanctions to preserve his own political capital. This spells bad news. Even if Russia and China do support the sanctions, no good will come of them. Sanctions will further serve to entrench the regime’s position against the West as “the Great Satan” and further entrench the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad axis in power, helping it out of its current political quandry. I may not have any helpful suggestions on the matter, but I don’t like sanctions.

Written by alexlobov

December 5, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Gilad Shalit, and Obama uses Israel as attack dog to scare Chinese

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photo credit: politicaltheatrics.net

Been a while since I last blogged, exams got the better of me and being in Sydney chilling has been counterproductive to blogging, but I’m back!

Despite discussions stalling somewhat and it now being said that a deal is more likely to take place after Eid al-Adha (Eid Mubarak to Muslims, by the way!) there have been reports of progress on the negotiations over the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Ismail Haniyeh even cancelled his Hajj! According to Haaretz, Israel is none too thrilled about certain prisoners that Hamas wants released:

Hamas is demanding, among other the prisoners, the release of Ibrahim Hamad, head of the group’s military wing in the Ramallah area, Abdallah Barghouti, a bomb engineer, and Abbas a-Sayad, the Hamas head in Tul Karm who planned the 2002 massacre during Passover in Netanya’s Park Hotel. These three prisoners are considered responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israelis.

Other names mentioned in the Arab media are Hassan Salame, who was involved in planning the suicide bus bombings in the mid ’90s, and Jamal Abu al-Hijla, head of Hamas in Jenin, who was convicted of taking part in planning and funding several suicide attacks during the second intifada.

Israel’s trepidation at having these prisoners freed is understandable, and the fact is, that political pressure from within Israel to have Shalit freed has been strong but not overwhelming so you can expect Israeli’s to hold out a while longer to get a better deal, politically especially (apparently having key suicide bombing planners freed can be harmful to one’s political standing). Most people are watching the fate of one Marwan Barghouti, considered a key possible successor to the increasingly beleaguered and probably-resigning Abu Mazen. You can expect Barghouti to be freed, Obama has been putting pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions that would bolster Fatah in the lead-up to PA elections and Abbas’ increasingly likely resignation.

The other major news is that during Obama’s visit to China, he put some pressure on the Chinese to do something about the whole Iran nuclear thing, which they have normally stayed clear out of (their policy of political non-involvement in the affairs of trading partners). The scare tactic used was the threat of Israel bombing Iran unilaterally (thus implying tacit US support) and the damage that would do to Iran as an energy source for China. The other scare tactic was the implication that other states could go nuclear, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, implying that Japan was another possibility (something China would not view kindly). [Thanks WashPo] [Check out a condensed report from Political Theatrics here.)

Antony Loewenstein is getting into a bit of a tizzy about it, suggesting that these talks imply Obama will certainly acquiesce to Israel bombing Iran, I disagree. While the jury is still out on how far Israel will go to defend against the ‘existential threat’ and how far the US will go in trying to stop them, I don’t think these statements to the Chinese should all be taken seriously. They are scare tactics and meant as such, Obama needs the Chinese to either support (or at least not veto) resolutions against Iran in the UN and given their mostly self-interested political philosophies, he needs to frighten them into submission. I mean a nuclear Egypt? Never happen. But bringing up a nuclear Japan is pretty damn scary, as is linking bombing Iran with energy security.

So here we have Obama clearly using Israel as an attack dog, or rather hinting at the possibility of it breaking its chains. Remember the Suez War in 56 when the British and French used Israel as an attack dog? Yeah, that didn’t end well for them.

Goldstone speaks, goes on the defensive

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You would have been under a rock if you hadn’t noticed the veritable storm of controversy surrounding the Goldstone Report since its release. Justice Goldstone himself has not been under said rock, and he’s also noticed the fairly rhetorical manner in which his report is being attacked. His first and foremost challenge to critics: read the bloody thing! The man has a point, the Obama administration has denounced the report in strong words, and assisted Israel with its diplomatic offensive to have the report ignored. Most are assuming that the US will use its veto on the Security Council to make sure the report is not accepted (if Russia or China, both of which have come out in opposition to the report, don’t get there first, though admittedly Russia did back it in the UNHRC).

Lebanon’s Daily Star has a good round-up of the choice quotes from the al-Jazeera interview Justice Goldstone gave:

“I have yet to hear from the [Barack] Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are,” South African former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone told Al-Jazeera television.

“I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are,” added the jurist…

“I’ve no doubt, many of the critics – the overwhelming majority of critics – have not read the report,” he said, adding that the criticism had become personal. [Daily Star]

You can view the full interview here.

One other thing that struck me about the interview was Goldstone’s continued preambles of “As a Jew…”, it strikes me because it gives an idea of how deeply personal the attacks have been. I’m sure Justice Goldstone and his family have suffered a great deal in these past few weeks, what with their commitment to Israel and Jewishness questioned, as well as their very humanity and ethnic identity denied. I think the criticism from some members of the Zionist lobby has been a fairly nasty piece of work indeed.

Goldstone also wrote a piece that appeared in Jerusalem Post and Guardian’s comment-is-free, in it we have the same entreatments to read the report rather than go into personal attacks, also an interesting bit of rebuttal from him regarding the dismissal of the UNHRC’s recommendation to have the report looked at on the basis that its members have questionable human rights records themselves:

Israel and its courts have always recognised that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.

Indeed, the Human Rights record of its members should not be used to mask the question at hand, if Israel committed war crimes in Gaza then it should be properly investigated and brought to justice for doing so. Questioning the human rights records of members such as Angola, Nigeria and Egypt as a reason to have the Council’s recommendation ignored does more to harm Israel’s reputation. Israel, claiming to be a bastion of democracy and law, should be striving to exceed such expectations, not compare itself to countries with Human Rights records severely blighted already.

All-in-all I find Goldstone’s defense to be adequate, well-reasoned and somewhat alarming. It is not too much to ask that if the report be criticised, then it should be properly read and the sections of the report with which issue is taken to be pointed out. Stonewalling it without even addressing it is not a constructive thing to do.

Written by alexlobov

October 23, 2009 at 12:15 pm

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