[News] Fragmentary Notes from the United Nations

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Mon Dec 3 14:37:27 EST 2012


http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/03/fragmentary-notes-from-the-united-nations/ 


December 3, 2012
Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth It Is…


  Fragmentary Notes from the United Nations

by VIJAY PRASHAD

The media huddle around a frigid United Nations Plaza. Fox has the best 
parking space. Rarely does one see such a sight before the UN building, 
where, on a sunny day, busloads of tourists from Africa, Asia, Europe 
and Latin America descend. Occasionally a gaggle of American school 
children, but not often. The US pretends that the UN does not exist, or 
if it does, it is not relevant to its children. Few consider the UN 
Charter or read the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. In June, Jimmy 
Carter wrote a /cri de coeur/ in the /New York Times/ (“A Cruel and 
Unusual Record,” June 24). He pointed to the Declaration, which has 
become a standard for human rights activists who fight against 
dictatorship and want to promote the rule of law. “It is disturbing,” 
Carter wrote, “that, instead of strengthening these principles, our 
government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at 
least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition 
against ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’” The pity 
is that most engaged citizens and certainly most journalists would not 
be able to name even five of those thirty articles.

An otherwise curious reporter and I began a conversation about 
Palestine’s UN vote to become a Non-Member Observer State. “Washington 
will veto it,” he said. I tried to explain that the veto does not 
operate in the General Assembly, only in the Security Council, and that 
what he had in mind was what happened last November, not what was to 
take place on November 29, 2012. He was adamant. Another joined us, this 
one from a cable news channel. She was also sure that the US could stop 
anything it wanted in the UN. Fair enough, but wrong.

*Europeans*

France voted for Palestine; the UK and Germany abstained. They would 
normally have stood with the US. After all, the Europeans are part of 
the Quartet, set up to manage the Israel-Palestine “peace process” after 
the Madrid meeting in 2002. The EU is one of the main sources of funds 
for the multilateral and Palestinian Authority institutions. Europe has 
old colonial obligations that it has now transformed into human rights 
investments. But the Europeans have their own theory for action in the 
region. There is great concern among European policy makers about what 
the right-wing calls /Eurabia/, the Muslim population inside Europe. 
Alienation of this population, they suggest, is dangerous, and an 
adverse position toward Palestine – one of the touchstones of global 
Muslim attitude to the Middle East – would cause further disaffection. 
That is why EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said last year that a 
solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is “fundamental to Europe’s 
own security.”

An official from one of the permanent missions of Europe to the UN tells 
me that the EU states believe that a favorable vote in the UN would 
strengthen Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah to the detriment of Hamas. “This recent 
war by Israel on Gaza delivered legitimacy upon Hamas,” she said. “Abbas 
was isolated in the West Bank. It was Hamas, in Gaza, that is seen to 
have resisted and to have survived. It was Hamas that signed the 
ceasefire. If we vote against the seat today,” she said, “it will mean 
Abbas will be further isolated.”

I ask her about rumors of a trip by Abbas to Gaza (now confirmed), and 
about talks at unity between Hamas and Fatah. “Whatever unity takes 
place,” she said, “a weak Abbas isolated in Ramallah or a weak Abbas in 
a unity with Hamas is still a weak Abbas. If he gets the UN vote he will 
be a stronger Abbas in these unity discussions.”

*A Vote for 18%*

Despite immense pressure to eject them, Columbia University in New York 
has been a good home to voices of sanity for the Middle East. It was the 
redoubt of Edward Said, a clinically fierce advocate for the rights of 
the Palestinians, and it is now home to the Edward Said Professor of 
Arab Studies Rashid Khalidi as well as to the political scientist Joseph 
Massad. In October 1998, Said wrote in /al-Ahram/against Yasser Arafat’s 
promise to declare a Palestinian state in May 1999. The demographic and 
geographic realities of a “Palestinian state,” eaten into by Israeli 
settlements and hemmed in by the security barriers of Israeli paranoia, 
would not allow anything close to a state with actual sovereignty to 
become reality. What Arafat’s declaration would do, Said argued, is to 
accept the social conditions of apartheid – to invalidate the tradition 
of liberation and self-determination and to accept the crumbs of 
Bantustan. Those who believed that this was a first step to true 
self-determination, Said cautioned, were thinking illogically. “If by 
declaring that what, in effect, is a theoretical abridgment of true 
statehood is the first step towards the realization of actual statehood, 
then one might as well hope to extract sunlight from a cucumber on the 
basis of the sun having entered the cucumber in the first place.”

After the current vote, Joseph Massad weighed in at /The Guardian/. 
Massad correctly points out that the UN vote offers the Palestinians at 
most 18% of historic Palestine. “The vote is essentially an update of 
the partition plan of 1947,” Massad argues, “whereby the UN now grants 
Jewish colonists and their descendants 80-90% of Palestine, leaving the 
rest to the native inhabitants, and it risks abrogating the refugees’ 
right of return.” In other words, the Palestinian political project has 
been reduced to possession of a statelet.

Both Said and Massad drive their analysis away from the two-state 
solution toward binationalism – better to create one secular state where 
Palestinians and Israelis can live together. Such a state would abrogate 
Zionism, which is a form of supremacy, and end the apartheid social 
conditions that would otherwise be institutionalized in the two-state 
arrangement.

Logically, this is an impeccable argument. But politics does not conform 
to the unfolding of logic. A one-state solution, a worthy goal, is far 
from the horizon of current possibility, with /no/ political platform 
inside Israel having adopted it. The exhaustion in the neoliberal 
Palestine Authority has reduced its imagination. Hamas and the left 
groups have come to this UN process by default. It is not their 
politics, but they will not oppose it. They will not stand for 18%, nor 
will their constituencies cower before the kind of neoliberal policies 
enacted by Abbas and his/consigliere/, Salam Fayyad. Their theory is 
neither to accept the 18% and build a state on it, nor to believe that 
this is the first step toward a second step. My friends in the 
Palestinian Left say that the UN vote is simply part of the political 
arsenal – building up the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, 
furthering the political isolation of the Zionist argument and of the US 
as enabler of its client state. The political momentum is on the side of 
the Palestinians. It is useful to move in all directions to build on 
that momentum. They recognize the Bantustan argument and acknowledge it. 
But that is not their destination.

*Regionalism*

In the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the US and Israel have only once been 
able to command a majority. In 1975, the UNGA overwhelming voted to 
consider Zionism as a form of Racism. With the fall of the USSR, and 
with US power demonstrated in the wars against Panama and Iraq, US 
President George Bush went to the UN to put a bit of stick about. He 
called for the 1975 resolution to be revoked. In December 1991, 111 
nations voted to repeal the statement, with 25 voting against, thirteen 
abstaining and seventeen failing to show up for the vote (including 
Egypt). Of those who reversed themselves the most significant were the 
former Communist bloc and two stalwarts of the Non-Aligned Movement 
(India and Nigeria). It was the only time the US and Israel had their 
way in the UNGA.

Looking back over the past decade it is remarkable how familiar the 
voting pattern has become on Israel-related resolutions. The US and 
Israel vote to block any censure of Israel, joined by former US 
protectorates in the Pacific, the settler republics of Australia and 
Canada, some former Communist states (Czech Republic, Poland, and 
Romania) and the occasional European state if its ruling party leans 
rightward (Italy under Berlusconi, Denmark under Rasmussen). No 
significant country in the Non-Aligned Movement has joined ranks with 
this bloc.

It was the regional states (Egypt, Qatar and Turkey) that brought Israel 
to the ceasefire table at Cairo, states that have voted overwhelmingly 
to sanction Israel in the UNGA. Hamas has handled this emergent 
regionalism cleverly. Its break with the Syrian regime of Assad could 
have meant that it would have to distance itself from Iran, but that has 
not been the case. Hamas’ Khaled Meshal decamped for Doha, Qatar, where 
he is now based, and the Emir or Qatar visited Gaza in October: again 
signs to Tehran that Hamas, which had relied upon it for/matériel/, was 
drifting to the Gulf Arab bloc. But this is too formal a delineation of 
a real realignment in the region.

There is not merely a Sunni and a Shia bloc that are asserting each 
other, against each other. The divides are complex, and contradictory. 
At the Cairo ceasefire, Meshal thanked Iran for its logistical help and 
criticized its support of the Assad regime; he thanked Qatar, but his 
silence on the emirates lack of /matériel/ support was important. 
Billboards in Gaza thank both Iran and Qatar. At the website 
/Jadaliyya/, Mouin Rabbani correctly points out that Qatar is more 
opportunistic about its politics than ideological, willing to adopt any 
political formation to insert itself into the politics of the region. 
And Iran’s role vis-à-vis the Palestinians is, as Tehran University’s 
Mohammed Marandi told me, going to be hard to undermine. “While Hamas is 
under enormous pressure to move away from Iran,” he said, “it is clear 
that no one can replace Iran in order to help them maintain an adequate 
deterrence against further Israeli aggression.” If the Gulf Arabs decide 
to supply weapons to the Palestinians, he points out, this will put them 
in a collision course with the US and Israel, and so will strengthen 
Iran’s position.

As the UN vote took place, the NAM members released a statement for a 
Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. Iran is the current chair of the NAM, and 
despite pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program, the government has 
endorsed the Nuclear Free Zone. In 2010, the Non-Proliferation Treaty 
(NPT) review promised to hold a conference for a Middle East Nuclear 
Free Zone in 2012. This conference has now been indefinitely postposed. 
NAM expressed its “regret that Israel by not declaring its intention to 
participate in the Conference continues to undermine its convening.” 
Israel is currently the only country in the region that has not joined 
the NPT and it has refused to renounce possession of nuclear weapons. 
The NAM and the regional powers are going to use this particular 
political line to undermine Israel’s claim of the high ground on 
security matters.

Regional powers engendered the Israeli ceasefire after Egypt and Turkey 
sent their foreign ministers to Gaza during the bombardment. Regional 
powers, in the maw of immense geopolitical cynicism, attempted to form a 
Syrian Contact Group (Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) to deal with 
the bloodbath being conducted by the Assad regime. Regional powers will 
increase their authority through such platforms as the Nuclear Free Zone 
idea. At the last Delhi meeting of the BRICS states, the general tenor 
was to promote regional solutions over the now discredited mode of 
allowing US primacy to dictate the way forward. The US and Israel have 
refused to come to terms with this new reality. History is against them. 
The UN vote underlines this new reality. It does not answer the hunger 
of the Palestinian political project. It simply legitimates it.

*Settlements as Dowry*

The day after the vote, Israel decided to extend its settler-colonial 
project in the moth-eaten West Bank with a pledge to build 30,000 more 
homes for Israeli Jews. This was its response to the vote, and it’s snub 
at the UN. In July, the UN set up a Fact Finding Mission (FFM), led by 
the French jurist Christine Chanet, to study illegal settlement activity 
by Israel. Israel refused to allow the FFM to enter Israel and the 
Occupied Palestinian Territory. A few days before the Israeli bombing of 
Gaza began, the FFM closed its operations, with Judge Chanet bemoaning 
their lack of access.

A few days after the vote, on December 1, eight Israeli soldiers and two 
settlers beat a seventy-year old farmer, Ahmed Miheimeed, who was 
planting seeds on his land just east of Bethlehem. They wanted him to 
get out of the 18%. The story is not going to be reported in the US 
media, just as not one periodical did a serious story on Israel’s 
refusal to let the FFM do its UN-mandated job. A UN vote is symbolic and 
limited. But it is part of a long struggle, a dialectical struggle, one 
that has seen many losses and few victories, and a great deal of simple, 
tragic human suffering.

/*Vijay Prashad’s* most recent book is Arab Spring, Libyan Winter 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1849351120/counterpunchmaga> (AK 
Press). On December 8, in Boston, he will moderate the first ever 
meeting of Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky. For more info, 
http://criticalresistance.org/angela-davis-and-noam-chomsky-in-conversation-for-the-first-time-ever/./


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