Commentary Magazine


Topic: United Nations

What the Saudis Really Care About

As I noted yesterday, the idea that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could help stabilize the Middle East is fatuous. Yet many world leaders continue to espouse it. In his UN address last month, for instance, President Barack Obama proclaimed that while this conflict is “not the cause of all the region’s problems,” it has been “a major source of instability for far too long,” and resolving it would help lay “a foundation for a broader peace.” In August, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius termed the conflict “one of the issues, perhaps the central one, for the region.”

Given that the events of the past few years would seem to have decisively disproved this theory–nobody would seriously argue, for instance, that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ease the sectarian bloodletting in Syria or Iraq or the feud between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, while the Syrian conflict alone has been far more destabilizing to the region than the Israeli-Palestinian one has–the question is why so many world leaders still cling to it. A good place to look for answers is Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented decision not to address the UN General Assembly last week.

Riyadh billed this decision as a protest against the UN’s position “on Arab and Islamic issues, particularly the issue of Palestine that the UN has not been able to solve in more than 60 years, as well as the Syrian crisis.” If you took that at face value, you’d naturally assume that what upsets Riyadh most is the Israeli-Palestinian issue: The bulk of its statement was devoted to this issue, with Syria seemingly thrown in as an afterthought. The problem is that objectively, this makes no sense: After all, by Riyadh’s own admission, the conflict has gone on for 60 years now, yet it never boycotted the UN before. So why now of all times–precisely when Washington has finally succeeded in restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks after a five-year freeze?

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As I noted yesterday, the idea that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could help stabilize the Middle East is fatuous. Yet many world leaders continue to espouse it. In his UN address last month, for instance, President Barack Obama proclaimed that while this conflict is “not the cause of all the region’s problems,” it has been “a major source of instability for far too long,” and resolving it would help lay “a foundation for a broader peace.” In August, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius termed the conflict “one of the issues, perhaps the central one, for the region.”

Given that the events of the past few years would seem to have decisively disproved this theory–nobody would seriously argue, for instance, that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ease the sectarian bloodletting in Syria or Iraq or the feud between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, while the Syrian conflict alone has been far more destabilizing to the region than the Israeli-Palestinian one has–the question is why so many world leaders still cling to it. A good place to look for answers is Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented decision not to address the UN General Assembly last week.

Riyadh billed this decision as a protest against the UN’s position “on Arab and Islamic issues, particularly the issue of Palestine that the UN has not been able to solve in more than 60 years, as well as the Syrian crisis.” If you took that at face value, you’d naturally assume that what upsets Riyadh most is the Israeli-Palestinian issue: The bulk of its statement was devoted to this issue, with Syria seemingly thrown in as an afterthought. The problem is that objectively, this makes no sense: After all, by Riyadh’s own admission, the conflict has gone on for 60 years now, yet it never boycotted the UN before. So why now of all times–precisely when Washington has finally succeeded in restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks after a five-year freeze?

Regarding Syria, however, the UN did just do something that upset Riyadh greatly: At Russia’s initiative, it passed a resolution on disarming the Assad regime of its chemical weapons that not only killed American plans for imminent airstrikes, but essentially guaranteed Assad immunity from Western intervention for the foreseeable future and legitimized him as a partner, thereby effectively reversing two years of Western demands that he step down. For Saudi Arabia, which has backed Syria’s rebels heavily with both money and arms, this was a major blow.

Indeed, anyone tracking Riyadh’s actions rather than its words can easily see which issues it cares about and which it doesn’t: In contrast to its massive support for the Syrian rebels, or the $5 billion it pledged to Egypt’s military government after July’s coup, its financial support for the Palestinians is meager. UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, gets almost all its funding from the West; Saudi Arabia gave it a mere $12 million last year–less than half the sum provided by Holland alone. Western states are also the Palestinian Authority’s main financial backers; Arab countries not only pledge less to begin with, but serially default on their pledges.

There are various reasons why Arabs feel the need to cloak their real concerns behind a façade of verbiage about the Palestinians. The truly puzzling question is why the West hasn’t yet learned to look behind this verbiage to the telltale actions–what Arabs care enough to spend money on, or, as I’ve written before, to put their lives on the line for. But until it does, it will keep right on believing that fatuous claim of Israeli-Palestinian centrality. 

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Should Omar al-Bashir Be Arrested?

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is a war criminal. That he is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Darfur and elsewhere is disputed by few besides Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and blogger Juan Cole. Regardless, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Bashir and ordered his arrest.

Bashir will now put the White House’s embrace of the United Nations to the test. Sudan has announced that it is seeking a U.S. visa for Bashir to come to the United Nations General Assembly later this month. The question now arises: While it seems clear the United States should issue the visa as part of its role as host of the United Nations, many activists are also suggesting that Bashir should be arrested when he steps onto U.S. soil. The ICC has issued a statement “remind[ing] the United States of America of the two outstanding warrants of arrest against Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and the requests for arrest and surrender.”

What should the United States do?

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is a war criminal. That he is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Darfur and elsewhere is disputed by few besides Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and blogger Juan Cole. Regardless, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Bashir and ordered his arrest.

Bashir will now put the White House’s embrace of the United Nations to the test. Sudan has announced that it is seeking a U.S. visa for Bashir to come to the United Nations General Assembly later this month. The question now arises: While it seems clear the United States should issue the visa as part of its role as host of the United Nations, many activists are also suggesting that Bashir should be arrested when he steps onto U.S. soil. The ICC has issued a statement “remind[ing] the United States of America of the two outstanding warrants of arrest against Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and the requests for arrest and surrender.”

What should the United States do?

I tend to agree with Julian Ku—law professor, prolific blogger on issues relating to sovereignty, and a college classmate—in his opinion expressed at Opiniojuris:

If the U.S. arrests Bashir, they are violating at least one, and maybe two, important international legal obligations.  And, as the ICC chamber makes clear, the U.S. has no legal obligation to detain Bashir.  So from a purely legal point of view, this is a no-brainer: the U.S. should grant Bashir a visa, and let him come and go unmolested. In this light, we seem to be back to the “illegal but legitimate” conversation that we were having over a possible U.S. strike into Syria.  Kevin’s post on that comparison makes a similar point. But here is a difficult question for international lawyers.  Arresting Bashir would plainly be illegal, but it would almost certainly be legitimate to most people, like Mia Farrow… Still, is legitimacy enough to act illegally?  And if it is, why wasn’t that standard good enough to justify a US strike into Syria?

Regardless, the Bashir visit should provide the plainest test to those in Obama’s constituency that place the ICC, responsibility to protect, and the sense of the United Nations above other considerations. Bashir should be treated like a pariah and U.S. officials should not make him feel welcome, but neither should they molest him. That might be unfortunate, but so long as the UN remains in New York, it is fact. That Obama’s ICC-embracing constituency will see that their emperor has no clothes is the only silver lining to the situation.

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Brahimi Fiddles While Syria Burns

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, has since August 2012 been both the Arab League and United Nations special envoy to Syria. That United Nations mission costs big bucks, but it has little to show for its budget, beyond a large expense account, frequent flier mileage, and 5-star hotel suite bookings. Certainly, Brahimi’s ministrations have not brought peace any closer to Syria; the death toll has escalated sharply over the past year. Neither the Assad regime nor the Syrian opposition appear to take Brahimi’s finger waving seriously.

So what is Brahimi doing? On July 22, along with Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Brahimi will be discussing… the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is doing so as part of the Elders, a self-professed group of wise men and women who say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence, selectivity, and legitimization of terrorists.

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Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister, has since August 2012 been both the Arab League and United Nations special envoy to Syria. That United Nations mission costs big bucks, but it has little to show for its budget, beyond a large expense account, frequent flier mileage, and 5-star hotel suite bookings. Certainly, Brahimi’s ministrations have not brought peace any closer to Syria; the death toll has escalated sharply over the past year. Neither the Assad regime nor the Syrian opposition appear to take Brahimi’s finger waving seriously.

So what is Brahimi doing? On July 22, along with Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Brahimi will be discussing… the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is doing so as part of the Elders, a self-professed group of wise men and women who say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence, selectivity, and legitimization of terrorists.

How sad it is that such a wise man—when tasked with the life-and-death mission of ending bloodshed in Syria—would instead choose to use his time to address the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the international obsession with Israel more than Brahimi’s fiddling while Syria burns.

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Samantha Power’s First Test

Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

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Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

When questions of morality arise, UN officials often hide behind procedure. Perhaps it is worthwhile asking Power what damage such traditions and procedures have inflicted on the United Nations, and both how and whether she will seek to reverse them. Not only UN effectiveness, but also American interests are at stake. If Power is not able to compel the UN to reform its myriad organizations, senators might ask whether Power would advocate diminishing funding for the UN by the budgets in question. If not, it might seem Power sees the UN much like her “Atrocities Prevention Board” and seeks more to posture than truly tackle human rights abuses.

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Richard Falk Thinks He’s the Victim

When UN rapporteur Richard Falk blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on Israel and on America’s “global domination project,” it renewed a longstanding debate. Was Falk the worst possible person for the United Nations to put in charge of a special investigating office dedicated solely to Israel’s supposed crimes? Or was Falk, as a conspiracy theorist with a penchant for blaming all the world’s ills on Israel, in fact the perfect representative of the UN in the Middle East?

It certainly depends on how you view whatever is left of the UN’s credibility. One group that does not want to give up quite yet on the UN is UN Watch, an NGO that holds the world body accountable to its own stated values. The organization blasted Falk’s remarks, and Falk responded by trying to force the closure of UN Watch. The U.S. on Friday said enough was enough, and called for Falk’s resignation. Naturally, though Falk has been trying to put his critics out of a job, he is painting himself as the victim. The Times of Israel reports:

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When UN rapporteur Richard Falk blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on Israel and on America’s “global domination project,” it renewed a longstanding debate. Was Falk the worst possible person for the United Nations to put in charge of a special investigating office dedicated solely to Israel’s supposed crimes? Or was Falk, as a conspiracy theorist with a penchant for blaming all the world’s ills on Israel, in fact the perfect representative of the UN in the Middle East?

It certainly depends on how you view whatever is left of the UN’s credibility. One group that does not want to give up quite yet on the UN is UN Watch, an NGO that holds the world body accountable to its own stated values. The organization blasted Falk’s remarks, and Falk responded by trying to force the closure of UN Watch. The U.S. on Friday said enough was enough, and called for Falk’s resignation. Naturally, though Falk has been trying to put his critics out of a job, he is painting himself as the victim. The Times of Israel reports:

A United Nations special investigator said his reputation was being smeared and he wouldn’t resign, despite calls for his ouster over provocative remarks on terrorism, the United States and Israeli policy.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, told reporters Tuesday in Geneva that he was only doing his job and “it’s important to distinguish criticism from this kind of smear campaign.”

Considering his obsession with anti-Israel propaganda and that his UN mandate excludes criticism of the Palestinians to focus solely on Israel, Falk’s entire job description could be considered a “smear campaign.” It is quite literally what he does for a living.

Falk has signaled his appreciation for 9/11 conspiracy theories, compared Israel to Nazi Germany, and two years ago republished a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon on his personal blog. He even ran afoul of the Palestinian Authority for criticizing them for going too easy on Israel. Being too anti-Israel for Mahmoud Abbas should be a sign that Falk perhaps can’t be expected to present an evenhanded view of the facts. But that, as he told the Forward, misunderstands his mission. As he explained when denied entry to Israel to conduct a report:

“My role is less presenting the facts than interpreting their legal significance,” said Falk. “That doesn’t depend on me having access. It would be humanly helpful to, but it wouldn’t alter my basic analysis or conclusion.”

In conducting an investigation on Israel, actually going to Israel would not change his “basic analysis or conclusion.” That is how Falk has always seen his responsibility: not to get the story right, but to write up a paranoid screed blaming Israel for everything under the sun from wherever he happens to be at the time. Why would he need to enter Israel, when he already knows what he’s going to say?

It’s that kind of honesty from Falk that has been both refreshing and maddening. Refreshing, because at least no one has to spend time or energy arguing over his motives, and maddening, because the United Nations cannot espouse moral influence on the many very pressing human-rights crises around the world while vesting Falk with the authority to act in its name.

As long as Falk remains at his post, the UN’s reports on Israel will lack even a hint of legitimacy. After all, even Falk acknowledges that we already know what they are going to say.

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Arms Trade Treaty: Toothless and Harmless

Remember the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact–a crowning achievement of the Coolidge administration–which purported to ban the use of war to settle international disputes? Clearly the United Nations doesn’t, because its General Assembly has just approved a treaty just as well-intentioned–and as toothless.

The Arms Trade Treaty is designed to stop the sale of conventional arms to human-rights abusers. It would certainly be nice if, say, Iran and Russia were prohibited from shipping arms to Bashar Assad–to take just one example of many from the immoral, or more accurately, amoral international arms market. But it is hard to see what the Arms Trade Treaty will do to accomplish this end, since, as the New York Times notes, “implementation is years away and there is no specific enforcement mechanism.”

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Remember the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact–a crowning achievement of the Coolidge administration–which purported to ban the use of war to settle international disputes? Clearly the United Nations doesn’t, because its General Assembly has just approved a treaty just as well-intentioned–and as toothless.

The Arms Trade Treaty is designed to stop the sale of conventional arms to human-rights abusers. It would certainly be nice if, say, Iran and Russia were prohibited from shipping arms to Bashar Assad–to take just one example of many from the immoral, or more accurately, amoral international arms market. But it is hard to see what the Arms Trade Treaty will do to accomplish this end, since, as the New York Times notes, “implementation is years away and there is no specific enforcement mechanism.”

Advocates of the treaty hope that the force of moral suasion will dissuade states from shipping arms to unsavory customers. I hope they’re right, but count me as skeptical: Dictatorial regimes in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and elsewhere are not likely to be affected by angry editorials. And even more liberal states such as France are likely to sell arms to dubious customers simply to make money and enhance their influence. No wonder even such notorious arms sellers as Russia and China did not come out against the treaty; they voted to abstain instead, although Syria, North Korea and Iran did vote against it.

Given just how toothless the Arms Trade Treaty is, it is puzzling to see so much opposition to ratification in the U.S. Senate. Fifty senators have already come out against the treaty based on somewhat far-fetched arguments from the National Rifle Association that this will somehow imperil the gun ownership rights of ordinary Americans. I can understand opposing the treaty on the grounds of ineffectuality–but it hardly poses a threat to any state, much less the United States.

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A Falkland Islands Coda

Spurred on by James Kirchick’s superb piece on why the Falkland Islands matter, and by my on-going visit to the UN, it’s worth pointing out how the Falklands illustrate one more thing: how the autocracies, in hanging together at the UN, all too often organize around their shared hatred of Israel.

The Argentine line, set out by Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, is that the referendum was “neither organized nor approved by the United Nations. . . . Argentina is not trying to change their identity or their life style, but the territory they live on is not theirs. . . . [The] Islanders are not part of the sovereignty dispute since the sovereignty claims are over the territory and not them.” Under this doctrine, most African and Asian nations are not legitimately independent either, since the UN did not organize their referenda. The theory that people can be separated from the land they live on would give Britain a claim to the land of Kenya, or Germany a claim to Namibia. It’s an approach that, as Argentina knows all too well, the UN would certainly never apply to the West Bank.

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Spurred on by James Kirchick’s superb piece on why the Falkland Islands matter, and by my on-going visit to the UN, it’s worth pointing out how the Falklands illustrate one more thing: how the autocracies, in hanging together at the UN, all too often organize around their shared hatred of Israel.

The Argentine line, set out by Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, is that the referendum was “neither organized nor approved by the United Nations. . . . Argentina is not trying to change their identity or their life style, but the territory they live on is not theirs. . . . [The] Islanders are not part of the sovereignty dispute since the sovereignty claims are over the territory and not them.” Under this doctrine, most African and Asian nations are not legitimately independent either, since the UN did not organize their referenda. The theory that people can be separated from the land they live on would give Britain a claim to the land of Kenya, or Germany a claim to Namibia. It’s an approach that, as Argentina knows all too well, the UN would certainly never apply to the West Bank.

What Argentina wants–relying on two UN General Assembly Resolutions–is to throw the Falklands question into the largely moribund UN Special Committee on Decolonization. Amusingly, UN Resolution 1514 of 1960, which Argentina claims supports its case, clearly rejects Argentina’s thesis that peoples and territory can be separated by noting that that “all peoples have the right to self-determination and in virtue of that right can freely determine their political condition.” General Assembly resolutions are in any case only an expression of international opinion, and are binding on no one. Argentina’s enthusiasm for the Special Committee is not a case of a misapplied principle: it’s all about the membership of the committee and Argentina’s search for a biased referee.

As Colum Lynch noted in February, thanks to regional blocs that routinely put up wildly inappropriate candidates for UN positions, the UN has a job for everyone. That includes Syrian envoy Bashar Jaafari, who was re-elected rapporteur of the committee, and who joins Ecuador (an Argentine ally), Cuba (ditto), and Sierra Leone on the committee’s leadership. There are no Western nations on the committee, and the U.S. refuses to participate in it because of its irremediable bias. So how did Ambassador Castro make her appeal for UN intervention?

By asserting that “Self-determination is a fundamental principle contemplated by the international law that’s not granted to any settlers of a certain territory, but only to the original natives that were or currently are being subjugated to a certain colonial power….” You get only one guess as to which nation the UN code word “certain colonial power” refers: Israel, of course. So in this ludicrous analogy, Argentina is to the Palestinians as the Islanders are to Israel. What’s the point of saying something this silly?

Well, as Jonathan noted in January, Argentina is falling–whether for reasons of political sympathy, shared nuclear ambitions, or a mutual desire to escape their economic difficulties–ever more into Iran’s orbit. And one way you can signal that, and even advance it, is to complain about Israel. The appearance of terms like “a certain colonial power,” in other words, is a reliable indicator not just that the UN is up to its old game of slandering the Middle East’s only democracy, but that the autocratic powers are gathering and signaling to each other for nefarious purposes of their own.

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On the Rhetoric of the United Nations and the United States

Sitting in the back of the room as the UN’s member states negotiate the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a disorientating experience. That’s partly because it’s not a negotiation as Americans understand the term: it’s a series of more or less unconnected national interventions on particular points of interest, while the actual drafting happens out of sight. It’s also because Iran and North Korea are treated with at least as much formal respect as the United States and South Korea. Before last summer’s ATT negotiations, I had naively expected that the North Korean diplomats, for example, would be just a touch embarrassed to be representing their regime, and that as a result they would try to fade into background. On the contrary–it’s the U.S. that intervenes as little as possible, while the totalitarians speak up loud, proud, and often.

But it’s mostly because of the sleep-inducing effect of UN-style rhetoric, which only a few nations have failed to master. Phrases like “colonial and alien domination” (meaning, of course, Israel and the United States), “right of resistance” (meaning Palestinian and Islamist terrorism), “balanced and objective criteria” (meaning that nothing should inconvenience human rights abusers), “open and inclusive negotiations” (meaning that the conference has to work entirely in plenary, because Iran and the other dictatorships do not want anything happening out of their sight), and the “disproportionate effect of armed violence on women, children, the elderly, and the disabled” (meaning that the speaker is very eager to sound progressive, either because they are Norway or because they are speaking on behalf of a Third World autocracy) roll off tongue after tongue.

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Sitting in the back of the room as the UN’s member states negotiate the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a disorientating experience. That’s partly because it’s not a negotiation as Americans understand the term: it’s a series of more or less unconnected national interventions on particular points of interest, while the actual drafting happens out of sight. It’s also because Iran and North Korea are treated with at least as much formal respect as the United States and South Korea. Before last summer’s ATT negotiations, I had naively expected that the North Korean diplomats, for example, would be just a touch embarrassed to be representing their regime, and that as a result they would try to fade into background. On the contrary–it’s the U.S. that intervenes as little as possible, while the totalitarians speak up loud, proud, and often.

But it’s mostly because of the sleep-inducing effect of UN-style rhetoric, which only a few nations have failed to master. Phrases like “colonial and alien domination” (meaning, of course, Israel and the United States), “right of resistance” (meaning Palestinian and Islamist terrorism), “balanced and objective criteria” (meaning that nothing should inconvenience human rights abusers), “open and inclusive negotiations” (meaning that the conference has to work entirely in plenary, because Iran and the other dictatorships do not want anything happening out of their sight), and the “disproportionate effect of armed violence on women, children, the elderly, and the disabled” (meaning that the speaker is very eager to sound progressive, either because they are Norway or because they are speaking on behalf of a Third World autocracy) roll off tongue after tongue.

It’s disconcerting that the dictatorial nations are among the most effective dispellers of this nearly impenetrable fog of code words. UN press releases are surprisingly good at capturing the substance of what is said, but they cannot capture discordant tones. That is because every speaker gets a summary of about the same length, which diminishes the impact of the longer and more dictatorial rants. (Syria clearly does the best crazy act–if act it is–in the room, though Algeria also has much to be proud of in this regard.) But it also diminishes the impact of plain speaking, even when it’s hypocritical. When Venezuela spoke yesterday morning, for example, it disconcertingly pointed out that the draft ATT would prevent a nation under massive foreign attack from importing arms if there was a likelihood that the victim nation would commit any human rights violations in the course of defending itself. It was the sharpest point made in the debate, and Liechtenstein’s response–which echoed David Bosco’s foolish argument that I summarized on Monday–only made the democracies look even more woolly-headed.

Curiously, the other nation that does not use the UN style is the United States. When the U.S. delegation–normally, Assistant Secretary of State Tom Countryman–speaks, it is short and to the point. There are no code words, and while Countryman is far from discourteous, U.S. statements conspicuously lack the flowers and genuflections of many other delegations. The U.S. approach conveys the attitude that the purpose of negotiations is actually to negotiate something, and that the purpose of speech is to say something that will move the negotiations forward. It’s the mentality of a very competent engineer, or of a nation with the presentational style of Jack Webb: just the facts, ma’am. True, the U.S. doesn’t use code words partly because at the UN those code words stand for ideas of which it profoundly disapproves. But it’s more than that.

At bottom, I’m convinced, the U.S. still retains something of its founding ambivalence toward the stylistic formalities of professional diplomacy, which is as much about concealing meaning as revealing it. American diplomacy, like America itself, is exceptional and individualistic, unwilling to adopt the conventions that others find simple and convenient. That is who we are, and it is a good thing–but only up to a point, because the engineer’s mentality can all too easily lead to the belief that everything can be fixed through negotiations, if only you try hard enough. The example of our nuclear negotiations with Iran should be enough to dispel that belief, but national myths die very hard. We are far too slow to recognize that for many nations, the point of negotiations is to spend a pleasant few weeks in New York, to be ranked as an equal to the U.S., to waste time, or just to show up.

No one believes in American exceptionalism more than I do, but inherent in exceptionalism, after all, is recognizing that the other guy may have an utterly different reason for sitting down at the table than you do. Right now, we have the worst of both worlds: an administration that doesn’t believe in exceptionalism, and a diplomacy that too often embodies exceptionalism’s most unreflective and self-absorbed aspects. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here at the United Nations listening to Syria rant about the need to control the supply of arms to terrorists.

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Multilateralism and the Arms Trade Treaty

The negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which I am observing at the U.N., offers a wonderful environment in which to observe the various species of hypocrisy. But like any zoo, you pretty well know what’s in the cage. Iran will be smoothly menacing, Syria will spit venom, and every developing nation will demand “implementation assistance,” i.e. more foreign aid. In the U.N., the dangers and the silliness are somewhat mitigated by their predictability.

Not so in the press, as David Bosco illustrated. Writing in the “Multilaterialist” blog for Foreign Policy, Bosco offers what he appears to regard as a novel argument about the ATT. His thesis goes like this: Britain is very much in favor of the ATT. It is also in favor of providing military support to the Syrian rebels. But the ATT would purportedly impose strict human rights conditions on arms transfers, and since the rebels have been accused of human rights violations, aiding them would breach the ATT. Thus, Bosco triumphantly concludes, the ATT needs an independent review process to prevent Britain from aiding the rebels.

In the four years I have been following the ATT, this is the single most morally and practically confused piece I have read on this subject. It may well be true that, as Michael Rubin argued earlier this month, that it is unwise to arm the Syrian rebels because they are increasingly dominated by Islamist radicals. And you don’t even have to cite human rights concerns under the ATT to make the legal case for arming the rebels look doubtful at best. As I have pointed out in a paper on the ATT for the Heritage Foundation, the treaty will oblige all nations party to it to avoid circumventing the import control systems of other UN member states–and Syria is a UN member state.

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The negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which I am observing at the U.N., offers a wonderful environment in which to observe the various species of hypocrisy. But like any zoo, you pretty well know what’s in the cage. Iran will be smoothly menacing, Syria will spit venom, and every developing nation will demand “implementation assistance,” i.e. more foreign aid. In the U.N., the dangers and the silliness are somewhat mitigated by their predictability.

Not so in the press, as David Bosco illustrated. Writing in the “Multilaterialist” blog for Foreign Policy, Bosco offers what he appears to regard as a novel argument about the ATT. His thesis goes like this: Britain is very much in favor of the ATT. It is also in favor of providing military support to the Syrian rebels. But the ATT would purportedly impose strict human rights conditions on arms transfers, and since the rebels have been accused of human rights violations, aiding them would breach the ATT. Thus, Bosco triumphantly concludes, the ATT needs an independent review process to prevent Britain from aiding the rebels.

In the four years I have been following the ATT, this is the single most morally and practically confused piece I have read on this subject. It may well be true that, as Michael Rubin argued earlier this month, that it is unwise to arm the Syrian rebels because they are increasingly dominated by Islamist radicals. And you don’t even have to cite human rights concerns under the ATT to make the legal case for arming the rebels look doubtful at best. As I have pointed out in a paper on the ATT for the Heritage Foundation, the treaty will oblige all nations party to it to avoid circumventing the import control systems of other UN member states–and Syria is a UN member state.

But any sort of supranational review process run through the UN would be guaranteed to alienate the U.S., every other major power, and indeed most of the UN’s member states (even though it would certainly be biased in favor of the non-democratic majority). The mere fact that it is now being put forward as a supposedly serious suggestion–and this is not the first time that a treaty proponent has had a bright idea of this sort–illustrates one of the most dangerous things about the ATT: when it doesn’t work, its advocates are just going to escalate their demands. Ideas that are now regarded as laughable, ridiculous, and not to be contemplated–as this one is–will in a few years be a core demand of the NGOs, and in a decade creeping their way onto the U.N. agenda.

More than that, though, it should be obvious that Iran is not going to pay the slightest attention to any prohibitions on arming the Assad regime (or, indeed, of arming any group of terrorists or any despot who serves Iran’s interests), and that every rebellion against a murderous dictatorship will always be accused (spuriously or not) of human rights violations. So when I read Bosco’s piece, I could not help but think of John Stuart Mill’s A Few Words on Non-Intervention (1859), in which Mill wrote the following devastating assessment of those who advocate for non-intervention in all cases, in a world where dictators definitely do intervene to protect their clients and friends:

The doctrine of non-intervention, to be a legitimate principle of morality, must be accepted by all governments. The despots must consent to be bound by it as well as the free States. Unless they do, the profession of it by free countries comes but to this miserable issue, that the wrong side may help the wrong, but the right must not help the right.

And that is exactly where Bosco, and others who argue with him, end up: in a multilaterialism that Mill regarded as miserably one-sided, which is incompatible with any support for those who are in fact fighting for their freedom against a tyranny, and which Orwell stigmatized in 1942 as “objectively pro-Fascist.”

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The UNHRC’s Omissions and Assumptions

Evelyn Gordon rightly highlights the unique treatment Israel receives at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and she is right that Western governments should “insist that the council’s systemic denial of Israel’s rights come to an end.”

For those who want to see just how skewed the UNHRC’s report is, this AIJAC analysis of the report should be a must read. The whole thing is worth a read, both as a Cliff’s Notes to the report itself, and a rebuttal to some of the more egregious statements and omissions.

Just a few highlights:

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Evelyn Gordon rightly highlights the unique treatment Israel receives at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and she is right that Western governments should “insist that the council’s systemic denial of Israel’s rights come to an end.”

For those who want to see just how skewed the UNHRC’s report is, this AIJAC analysis of the report should be a must read. The whole thing is worth a read, both as a Cliff’s Notes to the report itself, and a rebuttal to some of the more egregious statements and omissions.

Just a few highlights:

4. Significant omissions

4.1. Security measures

The Report discusses at length the impact of various measures, such as movement restrictions and the construction of the security barrier in the West Bank. These measures are in place to prevent terrorist attacks against Israelis – a fact that the Report utterly failed to note. In fact, that Israel has been subject to attacks by Palestinians is not mentioned once in the entire document.

4.2. West Bank legal system

A substantial amount of the alleged human rights abuses in the Report are due to the application of the Jordanian legal system in the West Bank, largely as it existed when Israel took control in 1967. The Report does not at any stage explain why Israel is implementing that system – which is in fact required under the laws of belligerent occupation.

Were Israel to cease implementing that system, it would be in breach of its obligations under international humanitarian law. Furthermore, whenever the possibility of Israel substantially amending that system is raised, Israel is condemned for attempting to annex the West Bank by imposing its own legal system. If continuing to apply the Jordanian legal system is against international law, Israel is caught in a Hellerian Catch-22.

5. Direct inconsistencies

5.1. Location of settlements

In some instances, the Report directly contradicts its own findings. For example, at one stage, the Report states that:

‘Settlements are generally located amongst the more vulnerable sections of Palestinian society, predominantly agrarian villages’ (at [18]).

Then in the next paragraph, the Report notes that:

The Mission heard that settlers can broadly be divided into three categories. Those who have moved on quality of life grounds and live in settlements close to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…

 

8. Incorrect or unverified research

8.1. Water resources

The Report alleges that:

The settlements, including the associated restrictions, impede Palestinian access to and control over their natural resources. The Secretary General has noted that “Palestinians have virtually no control over the water resources in the West Bank” (at [36])…

The reference given for this is a 2012 report by the Secretary-General of the UN, which in turn referred to a 2004 report by the Economic and Social Council…

So in a seven year game of “Chinese Whispers” at the UN, Israel planning to build a barrier in a route incorporating most of an aquifer system that provides 51% of the West Bank’s water became the Palestinians having ‘virtually no control over the water resources in the West Bank’. 

Additionally, the route of the barrier as it currently stands has been substantially altered since the 2004 plan, but the Mission apparently did not think that it was worth checking if the actual route incorporated the same land.

8.3. Israel’s establishment

The Report claims that:

The “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” is issued. It equates Eretz-Israel (in Hebrew “the Land of Israel”) to the territory of British Mandate Palestine, in contrast to the provisions of 1947 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into two Independent Arab and Jewish States (at p23).

This allegation is unfounded and entirely incorrect. In fact, the Declaration specifically provides that:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947.

The whole thing is not only worth reading, but should also be in any policymakers’ reference file. Kudos to AIJAC.

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Linking Obligations with Rights at the UNHRC

The UN Human Rights Council yesterday released a predictable report deeming Israeli settlements–including huge Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–a “war crime” and demanding the evacuation of all their hundreds of thousands of residents, thereby throwing every Israeli-Palestinian peace plan ever proposed out the window: All such plans envision Israel retaining parts of East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. The report would thus seem unhelpful to the “peace process” that Western governments so ardently support. But it’s arousing far less ire among these governments than Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review process, under which every country’s human rights record is supposed to be scrutinized every four years. As U.S. ambassador to the council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe explained, “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Yet as Professor Anne Bayefsky pointed out, it’s immensely hypocritical to insist on universality of obligations without universality of rights. And in two important ways, Israel doesn’t enjoy the same rights at the HRC as every other country does. First, it’s the only country whose alleged human-rights abuses are a permanent agenda item: The council has one agenda item for Israel, and one for all the other 192 UN member states. Second, it’s the only country that isn’t a full member of any regional working group. Bayefsky therefore proposed a simple quid pro quo: Israel should promise to uphold the universality of the review process the moment the council upholds the universality of Israel’s rights as a member state.

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The UN Human Rights Council yesterday released a predictable report deeming Israeli settlements–including huge Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–a “war crime” and demanding the evacuation of all their hundreds of thousands of residents, thereby throwing every Israeli-Palestinian peace plan ever proposed out the window: All such plans envision Israel retaining parts of East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. The report would thus seem unhelpful to the “peace process” that Western governments so ardently support. But it’s arousing far less ire among these governments than Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review process, under which every country’s human rights record is supposed to be scrutinized every four years. As U.S. ambassador to the council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe explained, “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Yet as Professor Anne Bayefsky pointed out, it’s immensely hypocritical to insist on universality of obligations without universality of rights. And in two important ways, Israel doesn’t enjoy the same rights at the HRC as every other country does. First, it’s the only country whose alleged human-rights abuses are a permanent agenda item: The council has one agenda item for Israel, and one for all the other 192 UN member states. Second, it’s the only country that isn’t a full member of any regional working group. Bayefsky therefore proposed a simple quid pro quo: Israel should promise to uphold the universality of the review process the moment the council upholds the universality of Israel’s rights as a member state.

If Israel’s leaders had any diplomatic smarts, they would long since have adopted this strategy. But Israel’s stupidity doesn’t excuse the hypocrisy of the Western governments that are pressuring it to comply with the universal review while making no effort to end these other distortions. By insisting that the council’s violations of Israel’s rights produce no corresponding reduction in Israel’s obligations toward the council, they are essentially saying it’s perfectly fine to deny Israel the rights enjoyed by every other UN member: After all, in other spheres of life, these governments do think that denial of rights reduces obligations. Just for example, does anyone remember “no taxation without representation”?

In short, Western governments are implicitly endorsing the council’s anti-Israel bias even as they publicly claim to oppose it. In fact, they even actively collaborate in it: After all, one of these two distortions–full membership in a regional working group–is in their power to rectify; nobody is stopping them from making Israel a full member of the Western working group.

That’s also why the claim that Israel’s refusal could serve as a precedent for egregious rights violators like North Korea or Zimbabwe is so ridiculous: Unlike Israel, none of these countries are denied the universal rights granted all other UN members states; hence they have no grounds for refusing to honor their obligations.

But since the council has agreed to postpone Israel’s review to allow time for a rethink, Western governments still have a chance to do the right thing: insist that the council’s systemic denial of Israel’s rights come to an end. Once that happens, I’m sure they’ll have no trouble getting Israel to comply with its obligations.

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The Shameful Attack on Israel from Amnesty International

One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

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One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

If Israel fails to fully engage in its examination under the Universal Periodic Review during 2013 as required, will the victims of human rights violations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, thank the Israeli government?

Amnesty wants Israel to take its beating or it will not-so-subtly suggest to the victims of the Taliban that they can blame the Jewish state. It would certainly be convenient for Amnesty to do so, since the organization could simply stop putting researchers at risk in dangerous countries and just consolidate its branches in its office in Tel Aviv, where its staffers can unironically fault Israel for every human rights violation unharassed by the democratically-elected Israeli government it is scapegoating.

Israel’s review was supposed to take place this afternoon, and be conducted by three nations–one of them Venezuela. As if it’s unclear why a country would opt-out of such a sham, the United States was apparently engaged in a last-minute push to convince Israel to take its medicine. The Times of Israel reports:

“Tough talks” were held on the matter between senior State Department officials and the head of the Foreign Ministry’s department for foreign organizations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, the paper reported Sunday. The US officials also said that even though Israel’s boycott might be justified, it would eventually harm Israel’s reputation in the international arena.

“We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation,” Eileen Donahoe, Washington’s ambassador to the UNHRC, told reporters in Geneva last week. “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Israel is also expected to not cooperate with a probe into the country’s reported use of drones against Palestinian targets, launched last week, Haaretz reported. Israel does not admit to using drones in aerial strikes. The US and Britain are expected to work with the investigation, which does not have official backing from the UNHCR, but was prompted by requests from China, Russia and Pakistan.

I don’t know exactly what the story means when it says the U.S. plans to “work with” the drone investigation, but I’ll give the White House and Foggy Bottom three guesses as to which country is likely to be the next subject of a drone investigation initiated by Pakistan.

Just as Amnesty vowed retribution for Israel’s intransigence, the UN Human Rights Council warned that “appropriate action would be taken.” For its part, the Israeli government made no attempt to hide its contempt for being lectured by the “dictator protection racket,” as the Wall Street Journal has so aptly dubbed the UN:

“It’s hard to understand how the countries that initiated this investigation have any moral right to review or to opine on human rights records of other countries,” an anonymous Israeli official said. “Such countries that have long records jailing and/or assassinating their political opponents are in no position to lecture anyone on human rights.”

That gets it about right. The UN, of course, has every right to ask Israel to participate in the review and drone investigation and take offense when they are rebuffed. But there is no excuse for the shameful comments from Amnesty, an organization that ought to be above making it official policy to blame Israel for human rights violations made by terrorists and dictators simply because the Israelis won’t lend credibility to their perennial accusers.

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UN: Return Golan Residents to Syrian Slaughterhouse “Forthwith”

The UN General Assembly, as Elliott Abrams noted yesterday, just passed nine resolutions in a single day condemning Israel, mainly for its treatment of the Palestinians, while completely ignoring the real disaster that befell the Palestinians this week: the Assad regime’s bombing of the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, which reportedly killed dozens of Palestinians and caused about 100,000 to flee. But the situation becomes even more surreal when one examines the actual content of the resolutions–because it turns out that while the UN is voting to condemn Israel, its alleged victims are voting the opposite with their feet.

One resolution, for instance, slams Israel’s 1981 annexation of the “occupied Syrian Golan” and demands that Israel “rescind forthwith its decision.” Given what’s happening across the border in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has killed over 44,000 people and created over 500,000 refugees, I suspect most of the 20,000 Syrian Druze on the Golan are thanking their lucky stars to be living safely under Israel’s “occupation.” But you needn’t take my word for it: According to the Hebrew daily Maariv, whose report was subsequently picked up the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Israeli government statistics show that the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship (for which the annexation made them eligible) has risen by hundreds of percent since the Syrian civil war erupted, after 30 years in which very few did so.

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The UN General Assembly, as Elliott Abrams noted yesterday, just passed nine resolutions in a single day condemning Israel, mainly for its treatment of the Palestinians, while completely ignoring the real disaster that befell the Palestinians this week: the Assad regime’s bombing of the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, which reportedly killed dozens of Palestinians and caused about 100,000 to flee. But the situation becomes even more surreal when one examines the actual content of the resolutions–because it turns out that while the UN is voting to condemn Israel, its alleged victims are voting the opposite with their feet.

One resolution, for instance, slams Israel’s 1981 annexation of the “occupied Syrian Golan” and demands that Israel “rescind forthwith its decision.” Given what’s happening across the border in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has killed over 44,000 people and created over 500,000 refugees, I suspect most of the 20,000 Syrian Druze on the Golan are thanking their lucky stars to be living safely under Israel’s “occupation.” But you needn’t take my word for it: According to the Hebrew daily Maariv, whose report was subsequently picked up the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Israeli government statistics show that the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship (for which the annexation made them eligible) has risen by hundreds of percent since the Syrian civil war erupted, after 30 years in which very few did so.

“More and more people comprehend that this [Israel] is a well-managed country and it’s possible to live and raise children here,” one Druze who acquired Israeli citizenship explained. “In Syria there is mass murder, and if [the Druze are] under Syrian control they would likely be turned into the victims of these atrocities. People see murdered children and refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey, lacking everything, and ask themselves: Where do I want to raise my children. The answer is clear–in Israel and not Syria.”

But what the Golan’s own residents want, of course, is of no interest to the UN: It would rather Israel return the area, and its Druze, to the Syrian hellhole “forthwith.”

Then there was the resolution condemning Israel for violating “the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” But in East Jerusalem, too, the number of Palestinians requesting Israeli citizenship has risen sharply in recent years (West Bank and Gazan Palestinians aren’t eligible for citizenship, since Israel hasn’t annexed those areas). And while the number of Palestinians actually receiving citizenship remains small, Haaretz reports, “everyone involved agrees” it would be higher if Israel’s notoriously slow Interior Ministry would just process the applications faster.

The number of East Jerusalem Palestinians registering for the Israeli matriculation exam rather than the Palestinian one has also recently risen by dozens of percent, meaning these young Palestinians aspire to study at an Israeli university and work in Israel rather than studying and working in the Arab world. This, too, is a sea change: For years, Palestinians refused to allow their children to study the Israeli curriculum; now, private preparatory schools are springing up to enable these children to pass the Israeli exams.

Moreover, repeated polls have shown that if Jerusalem were redivided, many Palestinians–at least a sizable minority, and possibly a majority–would want to remain in Israel. But again, what East Jerusalem residents want is of no interest to the UN.

All of which just goes to show, if anyone had any doubts, that the UN and its member states have no interest whatsoever in the actual wellbeing of those under Israeli “occupation.” All they’re interested in is bashing Israel.

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Israel’s Settlements and the Europeans

Those looking for an explanation for why almost all of Europe backed the Palestinians in the recent vote to upgrade their status at the United Nations are blaming it on Israel’s decision to continue building homes in Jerusalem and its suburbs. As reporter Laura Rozen put it in a tweet, “Does Israel really not get how fed up Europe is w/ its settlement policies?” The upshot of this sort of thinking is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fanatical devotion to “Greater Israel” is isolating Israel and forcing even its friends to abandon its cause in international forums.

The problem with this thesis is that it is pure bunk. As Jonathan Schanzer and Benjamin Weinthal point out in their article in Foreign Policy (about which Rozen was commenting), there are a lot of reasons why the Europeans stabbed the Israelis in the back at the UN, among which their objections to “settlements” is by no means inconsiderable. But as I pointed out earlier, if the Europeans believe that the 1967 lines with land swaps is the formula for peace, it’s hard to understand why they are upset with Israel building in places that everyone knows they would keep under such a plan. After all, does anyone who is actually interested in peace–as opposed to those who think every Jewish home anywhere in the country is an illegal settlement–actually think Israel will abandon 40-year-old Jerusalem neighborhoods or the suburbs that are close to the green line? Far from the Israelis pushing the limits in their quest for settlements, it is the Europeans who are redefining the terms of peace.

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Those looking for an explanation for why almost all of Europe backed the Palestinians in the recent vote to upgrade their status at the United Nations are blaming it on Israel’s decision to continue building homes in Jerusalem and its suburbs. As reporter Laura Rozen put it in a tweet, “Does Israel really not get how fed up Europe is w/ its settlement policies?” The upshot of this sort of thinking is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fanatical devotion to “Greater Israel” is isolating Israel and forcing even its friends to abandon its cause in international forums.

The problem with this thesis is that it is pure bunk. As Jonathan Schanzer and Benjamin Weinthal point out in their article in Foreign Policy (about which Rozen was commenting), there are a lot of reasons why the Europeans stabbed the Israelis in the back at the UN, among which their objections to “settlements” is by no means inconsiderable. But as I pointed out earlier, if the Europeans believe that the 1967 lines with land swaps is the formula for peace, it’s hard to understand why they are upset with Israel building in places that everyone knows they would keep under such a plan. After all, does anyone who is actually interested in peace–as opposed to those who think every Jewish home anywhere in the country is an illegal settlement–actually think Israel will abandon 40-year-old Jerusalem neighborhoods or the suburbs that are close to the green line? Far from the Israelis pushing the limits in their quest for settlements, it is the Europeans who are redefining the terms of peace.

For Israel’s European critics, “Greater Israel” is no longer all of the West Bank, which even Netanyahu has conceded may be ceded for a real peace deal, nor even retention of an undivided Jerusalem. They are now acting as if any Israeli government that acts as if it is going to hold onto all of the Jewish areas of Jerusalem is a foe of peace. In doing so, they are not only distorting Israel’s position — which is still perfectly compatible with a two-state solution based on the ’67 lines with swaps — but also covering up or ignoring the fact that the Palestinians have refused Israeli offers of a state and now no longer even wish to negotiate.

The idea that the Europeans — save for the principled stand of the Czech Republic — have turned on the Israelis solely because of “settlements” is a misnomer. The tilt toward the Palestinians and against Israel is not a recent phenomenon, nor is it the product of Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. Virtually any act of Israeli self-defense is treated as impermissible. Nor can one understand the unwillingness of these governments to stand with Israel outside of a context in which anti-Zionism has become the orthodoxy of European intellectuals and the rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent.

Moreover, as Schanzer and Weinthal point out, the decision to back Mahmoud Abbas at the UN has just as much if not more to do with the hope that giving him a shot in the arm will undermine Hamas. This is a monumental misjudgment, since Abbas cannot hope to compete in the long run with the more violent Islamists who run what is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name.

Europeans who think isolating Israel in this manner will teach Netanyahu or the Israeli people a lesson are ignoring the realities of the conflict. Though they would divest themselves of almost all of the territories in exchange for an end to the conflict, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no intention of allowing the West Bank to become another, more dangerous version of Gaza from which Islamist terrorists will launch missiles or terror attacks. A European demand for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines including a divided Jerusalem and the eviction of nearly half a million Jews from their homes to empower a Palestinian entity that won’t negotiate is antithetical to the idea of genuine peace.

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Palestinian UN Bid Not About Peace

With the Palestinian Authority all but certain to have its status at the United Nations upgraded this evening to nonmember observer state, some who call themselves friends of Israel as well as some prominent Israelis are applauding the initiative. In particular, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he does not oppose the move by his former negotiating partner, PA head Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert says the vote will promote a two-state solution and help Palestinian moderates in their quest to make peace with Israel. But Olmert, whose attempt to give Abbas pretty much everything he had asked for in 2008 resulted in the Palestinian fleeing the U.S.-sponsored talks without even responding to the offer of a state, seems more interested in vainly seeking to undermine his successor Benjamin Netanyahu than drawing conclusions from his own experience.

The show at the UN is about a number of things, but advancing the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t one of them.

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With the Palestinian Authority all but certain to have its status at the United Nations upgraded this evening to nonmember observer state, some who call themselves friends of Israel as well as some prominent Israelis are applauding the initiative. In particular, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he does not oppose the move by his former negotiating partner, PA head Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert says the vote will promote a two-state solution and help Palestinian moderates in their quest to make peace with Israel. But Olmert, whose attempt to give Abbas pretty much everything he had asked for in 2008 resulted in the Palestinian fleeing the U.S.-sponsored talks without even responding to the offer of a state, seems more interested in vainly seeking to undermine his successor Benjamin Netanyahu than drawing conclusions from his own experience.

The show at the UN is about a number of things, but advancing the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t one of them.

The decision of most European countries to line up behind the PA seems to be based on the same reasoning put forward by Olmert. They think that after Hamas’s attention-getting terrorist missile offensive against Israel it is necessary for those who would prefer the PA to lead the Palestinians rather than the Islamists to give Abbas a shot in the arm. The win today in New York will give him that, but the vote shouldn’t be mistaken for anything that will advance peace. In fact, the whole point of the exercise is to help Abbas avoid being cornered into a negotiation like the one he abandoned with Olmert.

Understanding this requires observers to stop their myopic obsession with Israel and to focus on the real obstacle to a two-state solution: the inability of the PA to ever sign an accord that will accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Netanyahu’s critics consistently decry his lack of a long-term strategy for dealing with the Palestinians and achieving peace. In a sense they’re right, since the prime minister and most Israelis don’t believe peace is possible in the immediate or perhaps even the foreseeable future because of the PA’s refusal to negotiate or to contemplate the sort of compromises needed for an agreement.

But the PA can justly be accused of the same thing. Abbas has no long-term strategy, since he won’t or can’t make peace with even an Israeli leader like Olmert who was willing to make drastic concessions, and doesn’t want to return to fighting the Israelis as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did during the second intifada and as Hamas continues to do.

All Abbas can do is to hang on in the West Bank. His strategy is to avoid elections that he might lose to the increasingly popular Hamas while also evading peace talks with the Israelis while also seeking to maintain a security relationship with the Jewish state that keeps his corrupt and discredited regime in place.

The show at the UN is perfect for Abbas since it does nothing to hinder those objects, especially since the Israelis have wisely decided not to retaliate for his stunt.

The problem for the PA will come next year as a re-elected President Obama will likely attempt to revive a peace process that Abbas has spent the last four years dodging. By then, the UN vote will be just one more propaganda move that will heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation but achieve nothing tangible for Palestinians. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to rule a real independent Palestinian state in all but name that makes Abbas’s Ramallah outfit look like Israeli puppets.

Those expecting today’s vote will do anything to advance the moribund talks are dreaming, and not just because the upgrade will make mischief for Israel in international forums. Peace talks are the last thing Abbas wants.

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Israel Right to Downplay UN Vote

After more than a year of campaigning for it, the Palestinian Authority will have its moment tomorrow when the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote to upgrade the PA’s status to nonvoting observer. Israel’s foes will rejoice and many of its friends will worry. Some of that will be justified, as the decision will be a symbolic triumph that the Palestinians will attempt to portray as tantamount to UN recognition of their independence in the areas Israel won in the Six-Day War. But after working hard to prevent this from happening, the Israeli government has decided to downplay the outcome. Some will interpret this as nothing more than a feeble attempt to spin a diplomatic defeat; the reaction is more than just politically astute. It is an accurate reflection of the real-world impact of the vote since it won’t change a thing on the ground in the Middle East or even at the UN itself.

The Palestinian Authority knows all too well that the victory they will win tomorrow is of minimal use to them. They can use it to create mischief for Israel in the International Criminal Court as well as bolster their already secure niche in the hearts of most UN member states and the world body’s bureaucracy. But it won’t get them one inch closer to actual independence or — more importantly — give them any credibility with Palestinians who will be quick to note that it will change nothing in the West Bank or in Gaza where the PA’s Hamas rivals rule over an independent state in all but name. Rather than seeking to punish the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas for effectively trashing the Oslo Accords, Israel can afford to ignore the vote since it will not move him any closer to a state or genuine international legitimacy. The only reason European nations and even some of the PA’s third-world allies are backing the move is because they know it has no significance. After all, how can any government claim to be independent when a rival group already exercises sovereignty over part of the territory it claims?

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After more than a year of campaigning for it, the Palestinian Authority will have its moment tomorrow when the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote to upgrade the PA’s status to nonvoting observer. Israel’s foes will rejoice and many of its friends will worry. Some of that will be justified, as the decision will be a symbolic triumph that the Palestinians will attempt to portray as tantamount to UN recognition of their independence in the areas Israel won in the Six-Day War. But after working hard to prevent this from happening, the Israeli government has decided to downplay the outcome. Some will interpret this as nothing more than a feeble attempt to spin a diplomatic defeat; the reaction is more than just politically astute. It is an accurate reflection of the real-world impact of the vote since it won’t change a thing on the ground in the Middle East or even at the UN itself.

The Palestinian Authority knows all too well that the victory they will win tomorrow is of minimal use to them. They can use it to create mischief for Israel in the International Criminal Court as well as bolster their already secure niche in the hearts of most UN member states and the world body’s bureaucracy. But it won’t get them one inch closer to actual independence or — more importantly — give them any credibility with Palestinians who will be quick to note that it will change nothing in the West Bank or in Gaza where the PA’s Hamas rivals rule over an independent state in all but name. Rather than seeking to punish the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas for effectively trashing the Oslo Accords, Israel can afford to ignore the vote since it will not move him any closer to a state or genuine international legitimacy. The only reason European nations and even some of the PA’s third-world allies are backing the move is because they know it has no significance. After all, how can any government claim to be independent when a rival group already exercises sovereignty over part of the territory it claims?

In the summer of 2011 when the Palestinians first announced their intention of trying an end around the U.S.-sponsored peace process via the UN, many foreign policy observers as well as many Israeli critics of the Netanyahu government were quick to portray this effort as a “diplomatic tsunami” that would completely isolate the Jewish state. But these visions of doom were quickly exposed as nothing more than hot air when the initiative flopped last year. The Palestinians failed to gain enough votes in the Security Council to force the U.S. to veto actual independence and they soon realized there was little appetite even in the General Assembly where they could count on an automatic anti-Israel majority to delve into the issue.

They’ve done better this year but not because anybody really thinks Fatah’s corrupt, discredited and unpopular West Bank regime is deserving of this upgrade. Rather, it is merely a way for the international community to pay lip service to the plight of the Palestinians. They’ve gained the votes of some European nations like France, not because Paris believes that Abbas’s pretensions should be gratified but because they think they need to make some gesture toward the PA after the recently concluded fighting between Israel and Hamas along the border with Gaza. By demonstrating that it had the support of Egypt and Turkey as well as most Palestinians for their terrorist rocket offensive against Israel, Hamas confirmed its status as the true face of Palestinian nationalism. The UN vote won’t do a thing to undermine the Islamist group, but it will allow many in the West and elsewhere to pretend as if they are doing something to bolster the alleged moderates of Fatah.

Both Israelis and Palestinians know that if PA leader Mahmoud Abbas actually wanted a state in the West Bank, he could have one if he was willing to pay the price of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Even if we were to assume that he wanted to do it, Abbas can’t since that would render him even more vulnerable to Hamas inroads in the West Bank.

The UN gambit is an insult to the U.S. and the European nations that fund the PA through foreign aid that does little to help ordinary Palestinians, since it is an attempt to evade negotiations rather than to facilitate them. But they are tolerating it since it allows Abbas a shred of dignity in his increasingly unequal competition with the terrorist government of Gaza. Were Jerusalem to punish the PA or, as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened to do in the past, to topple it, it would only make things more complicated for Israel and strengthen Hamas.

But after the hoopla tomorrow at Turtle Bay, there will be little in the way of negative fallout for the Israelis. Life will continue as usual in the West Bank and Gaza and the region will be no closer or farther away from peace. While certainly unwelcome, it is neither a tsunami nor even much of a nuisance. The best proof that Israel is right to ignore it will come in the days, weeks and months to come when both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders realize that the UN vote was a non-event that did nothing much to advance their campaign against Israel.

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PA’s UN Bid Won’t Undermine Hamas

While there is some debate as to who emerged as the real winner from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, there’s little doubt that the big loser was the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party were shown to be irrelevant to the Middle East conflict as Hamas demonstrated once again that it is running an independent Palestinian state in all but name. The firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel boosted Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians who still view violence as the only credential that brings political credibility. But Abbas still has one card to play: his attempt to get the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the PA’s status at the world body to nonmember observer status. The proposed resolution would recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”

There’s little doubt that a majority of UN member states will vote for the resolution, but the value of this move was enhanced by the announcement today that France will vote for it. This gives Abbas a much-needed shot in the arm, as it appears that the West will be split with the French being joined by some other European nations while the U.S. and Germany will oppose it. But any expectation that this vote will ensure that Abbas will hold onto the West Bank, let alone lead a state of Palestine some day, is unfounded. Though the vote might make some mischief for Israel at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, most Palestinians understand this is about symbolism, not power. Since Abbas can’t or won’t pay the price of genuine independence — making peace with Israel — his UN gambit remains nothing more than posturing intended to help him avoid the negotiations that could actually help him get something Hamas can’t achieve. Until that changes, any effort to help Abbas via the UN won’t do a thing to undermine Hamas.

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While there is some debate as to who emerged as the real winner from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, there’s little doubt that the big loser was the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party were shown to be irrelevant to the Middle East conflict as Hamas demonstrated once again that it is running an independent Palestinian state in all but name. The firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel boosted Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians who still view violence as the only credential that brings political credibility. But Abbas still has one card to play: his attempt to get the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the PA’s status at the world body to nonmember observer status. The proposed resolution would recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”

There’s little doubt that a majority of UN member states will vote for the resolution, but the value of this move was enhanced by the announcement today that France will vote for it. This gives Abbas a much-needed shot in the arm, as it appears that the West will be split with the French being joined by some other European nations while the U.S. and Germany will oppose it. But any expectation that this vote will ensure that Abbas will hold onto the West Bank, let alone lead a state of Palestine some day, is unfounded. Though the vote might make some mischief for Israel at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, most Palestinians understand this is about symbolism, not power. Since Abbas can’t or won’t pay the price of genuine independence — making peace with Israel — his UN gambit remains nothing more than posturing intended to help him avoid the negotiations that could actually help him get something Hamas can’t achieve. Until that changes, any effort to help Abbas via the UN won’t do a thing to undermine Hamas.

Those worried about Hamas’s ascendancy keep telling us that the only way to answer the Islamist threat is to bolster Abbas’s corrupt and discredited government. That seems to be the motivation for the French whose president, Francois Hollande, is also not adverse to firing a shot across the bow of an Israeli government that the doesn’t like. But as the reservations expressed by the British government — which is equally hostile to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu but more attuned to political reality — make clear, the UN vote won’t bring the region closer to peace.

As the New York Times notes:

A British official told The Financial Times that Britain was prepared to back the Palestinians but wanted three assurances: that the Palestinians would not then seek to join the International Criminal Court; that they would not follow with a bid for full membership; and that Mr. Abbas return to negotiations without conditions.

These are assurances that Abbas knows he cannot honestly make since the whole point of the UN effort is to help him avoid negotiations which complicate his efforts to compete with Hamas for popularity on the Palestinian street, not to revive them.

France’s betrayal will help heighten the isolation of Israel. But this won’t do a thing to help the lives of ordinary Palestinians or to bring them closer to the independence they say they want. The only thing that can do that is to talk directly to Israel. Yet Hamas’s growing influence internationally as the result of their alliances with Egypt and Turkey means that Abbas has even less room to maneuver than before.

The problem those promoting the UN initiative fail to address is that as long as Fatah is locked in a contest with Hamas to see who can be the most hostile to Israel that it can never win, there’s nothing that anyone in the West can do to help it.

The last time Abbas tried to outmaneuver Israel and the U.S. at the UN the result was a humiliating rebuff that showed his “diplomatic tsunami” was nothing more than an embarrassing drizzle. Though he may do better this year, the disconnect between an illusory diplomatic victory and the facts on the ground for the Palestinians will do more to loosen Abbas’s hold on the West Bank and help Hamas gain ground there than another UN defeat. Those seeking to undermine Hamas via the UN are doing the Palestinian people no favors.

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“Palestine” Does Not Qualify as a “State”

Back in 2005, after Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that “from this day forward, there will be no security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture.” He proved a poor prognosticator regarding Palestinian culture: given the chance to live “side by side in peace and security” with Israel, the Palestinians demonstrated they could not do so even with themselves. 

Abbas was expelled from Gaza in 2007; there have been no parliamentary or presidential elections since 2006; no functioning Palestinian legislature exists; Abbas is entering the 95th month of his 48-month term; he cannot set foot in half of his purported state (in the words of Israel’s UN ambassador, he cannot even see it with binoculars); he has refused to negotiate with Israel for more than four years; he demands recognition of a Palestinian state while refusing to recognize a Jewish one; and he now seeks admission to the UN as a non-member state even though “Palestine” meets none of the four requirements under international law for a state. 

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Back in 2005, after Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that “from this day forward, there will be no security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture.” He proved a poor prognosticator regarding Palestinian culture: given the chance to live “side by side in peace and security” with Israel, the Palestinians demonstrated they could not do so even with themselves. 

Abbas was expelled from Gaza in 2007; there have been no parliamentary or presidential elections since 2006; no functioning Palestinian legislature exists; Abbas is entering the 95th month of his 48-month term; he cannot set foot in half of his purported state (in the words of Israel’s UN ambassador, he cannot even see it with binoculars); he has refused to negotiate with Israel for more than four years; he demands recognition of a Palestinian state while refusing to recognize a Jewish one; and he now seeks admission to the UN as a non-member state even though “Palestine” meets none of the four requirements under international law for a state. 

Under the Montevideo Convention (1933), a state “should possess the following qualifications”: (1) a defined territory; (2) a government; (3) capacity to enter into relations with the other states; and (4) a permanent population. 

“Palestine” lacks a “defined territory.” A “defined territory” cannot include an area whose status and borders can only be defined, under longstanding international agreements, by negotiations. To have a defined territory, “Palestine” has to negotiate it with Israel; until then, its self-definition of territory is not a “defined territory” under the law; it is simply a negotiating position. 

“Palestine” lacks a “government.” It is ruled half by a terrorist group and half by an unelected administrative entity. Its last election occurred nearly seven years ago, and it has no capacity (much less inclination) to hold a new one. The government of each half considers the government of the other half illegitimate, and both are correct: one regime took power by a coup, and the other remains in power four years after its term expired. There is no legal governing body in either half of the purported state, much less one that governs both. 

“Palestine” lacks the “capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” Abbas has no capacity to bind the rulers of Gaza, nor even to implement his own commitments in the area in which he can at least set foot. While in office, he failed to implement his prior obligations, including Phase I of the Roadmap (which mandated the dismantling of Hamas and other terrorist groups), and he is currently an unelected official, unrecognized by half his putative state, with no capacity to bind “Palestine” to anything. 

“Palestine” lacks a “permanent population.” Most of the population considers themselves not putative citizens of a new state but perennial “refugees” — an inherited status under the unique definition applicable to Palestinians — who reject any suggestion they should form the permanent population of a new state. They consider themselves instead to be temporary residents (and UNRWA, the UN agency devoted to caring for them, is legally a “temporary” UN body) who seek to “return” to a different state, not to be permanent residents where they currently live. 

When you refuse to negotiate a defined territory (and demand instead that it be conceded before you deign to “negotiate”); when you lack a government that controls your purported territory (and instead have multiple regimes each lacking legitimacy); when you lack the capacity to enter into relations with other states (and ignore the agreements you already signed); and when you have residents who reject permanent residence and assert instead a “right” to “return” to another state, you meet none of the requirements for a state. 

The irony is that between 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians received three formal offers of a state, and rejected them all — the modern equivalent of the Three Nos. Now one group of Palestinians seeks UN recognition as a “non-member state,” when they fail to qualify as a state at all, and they ignore the fact they could already have been a member-state three times over (or more), had they simply said yes. As Stephen J. Rosen noted last year, they have: 

two incompatible presidents, two rival prime ministers, a constitution whose most central provisions are violated by both sides, no functioning legislature, no ability to hold elections, a population mostly not under its control, borders that would annex territory under the control of other powers, and no clear path to resolve any of these conflicts. 

Once again, “Palestine” is all set to be a failed state, no more ready for statehood than it was a year ago. Article 10 of the Montevideo Convention provides that the “primary interests of states is the conservation of peace.” The Palestinian gambit at the UN is not intended to produce peace, but to provide a platform for law-fare. It will do nothing to bring the Palestinians closer to the state they could have had long ago, if a state were really what they wanted, and it will in fact put peace further away.

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Will Obama Impose a Peace Plan On Israel?

President Obama started his first term seeking to distance the United States from Israel in an effort to jump-start Middle East peace talks. As it turned out, the fights he picked with Israel over settlements, borders and Jerusalem not only failed to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but also actually caused them to be more intransigent on issues that required compromise if peace is ever to be made. But that hasn’t stopped some on the left from dreaming about the president starting off his second term with one of their favorite fantasies: an American peace plan that would be imposed on Israel’s government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

That’s the rumor floated by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz yesterday. The veteran journalist is a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and, like others on the Israeli left, has long since despaired of being able to convince their fellow Israelis to follow their advice. Since Israeli democracy has consistently failed to produce a government that will do as he thinks best, he is hoping the re-elected American president will issue a dictat that will effectively nullify the results of the planned January vote for a new parliament that is likely to return Netanyahu’s existing center-right coalition to power. But though Eldar is right to think that Obama would probably like nothing better than to hammer the Israelis again, he’s making the same mistakes Israeli leftists have made for the last 20 years of peace processing: ignoring the Palestinians. They can always be counted on to spike any deal no matter how favorable it might be to their cause.

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President Obama started his first term seeking to distance the United States from Israel in an effort to jump-start Middle East peace talks. As it turned out, the fights he picked with Israel over settlements, borders and Jerusalem not only failed to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but also actually caused them to be more intransigent on issues that required compromise if peace is ever to be made. But that hasn’t stopped some on the left from dreaming about the president starting off his second term with one of their favorite fantasies: an American peace plan that would be imposed on Israel’s government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

That’s the rumor floated by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz yesterday. The veteran journalist is a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and, like others on the Israeli left, has long since despaired of being able to convince their fellow Israelis to follow their advice. Since Israeli democracy has consistently failed to produce a government that will do as he thinks best, he is hoping the re-elected American president will issue a dictat that will effectively nullify the results of the planned January vote for a new parliament that is likely to return Netanyahu’s existing center-right coalition to power. But though Eldar is right to think that Obama would probably like nothing better than to hammer the Israelis again, he’s making the same mistakes Israeli leftists have made for the last 20 years of peace processing: ignoring the Palestinians. They can always be counted on to spike any deal no matter how favorable it might be to their cause.

It may be asking too much to hope the president and his foreign policy team have learned their lesson when it comes to counting on the Palestinians. Every attempt by Obama to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction has been met with rejection or indifference. Rather than taking advantage of the president’s stands on borders and especially Jerusalem, which have done more to undermine Israel’s position than that of any of his predecessors, the Palestinian Authority always refused to budge. Indeed, in a stinging insult to Obama that was a poor reward for his favors, the PA actually tried an end run around American diplomacy by asking the United Nations to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel. In the last year, Obama appeared to get the message that there is no benefit to trying to help the Palestinians. Though that may have been as much a product of his election-year Jewish charm offensive as anything else, it is still hard to avoid the conclusion the president isn’t interested in wasting any more time on futile efforts that will always be rejected by Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas no matter how hard he presses the Israelis.

Nevertheless, Eldar thinks the second attempt of the PA to win UN recognition will give Obama the opening he needs to float a new American peace plan. Eldar assumes the president doesn’t want to veto the Palestinian initiative and fears the result of its adoption, since that would bring Israeli retaliation that could bring down Abbas. Though Eldar doesn’t mention it, it would also trigger a U.S. aid cutoff to the president’s beloved UN. Eldar thinks a better third option would be a U.S. peace plan that could be imposed on Israel in exchange for a promise to safeguard its security and to prevent Iran from going nuclear. To that end, he cites a report being prepared by former U.S. diplomats that would meet his criteria for an Israeli retreat and an independent Palestinian state.

But Eldar’s scenario is a leftist fantasy that won’t come true. The PA’s UN campaign — the so-called diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to isolate Israel but which turned out to be nothing more than a light drizzle — failed in 2011. That was not just the result of Obama’s veto threat, but also because even the Palestinians’ friends know that granting independence to the PA when its Hamas rival controls much of its territory is insane. The PA is a corrupt, bankrupt failure that can’t make peace even if it wanted to, and even the Europeans know Abbas’s gambit would be a disaster.

Obama might like to settle his account with Netanyahu, but he knows it would mean picking a nasty and costly political fight that would not bring peace any closer. Nor will it make Netanyahu more amenable to a compromise over Iranian nukes–something that is probably much higher on Obama’s priority list.

The next four years are likely to be just as stormy as the previous four were for the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the idea that Obama will stick his neck out for the Palestinians is probably just wishful thinking for Netanyahu-bashers.

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At UN Human Rights Council, Will U.S. Go Down with the Ship?

One of the reasons the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has had trouble gaining adherents is that everyone knew the movement would never just target Jews. It would begin with Israel, but surely expand to anyone deemed insufficiently hostile to Israeli companies.

And soon enough it did so, targeting American companies such as Caterpillar, which makes the type of tractor that hit Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist attempting to shield terrorists’ weapons smuggling tunnels from the Israeli military. Since Corrie was attempting to aid those who wanted to kill Israeli civilians, you would think a “social justice” movement would spare Caterpillar its ire. But that’s not how BDS works. And so it is not surprising that such a movement has found a stalwart ally in the United Nations, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s worst human rights violators while relentlessly targeting the Jewish state.

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One of the reasons the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has had trouble gaining adherents is that everyone knew the movement would never just target Jews. It would begin with Israel, but surely expand to anyone deemed insufficiently hostile to Israeli companies.

And soon enough it did so, targeting American companies such as Caterpillar, which makes the type of tractor that hit Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist attempting to shield terrorists’ weapons smuggling tunnels from the Israeli military. Since Corrie was attempting to aid those who wanted to kill Israeli civilians, you would think a “social justice” movement would spare Caterpillar its ire. But that’s not how BDS works. And so it is not surprising that such a movement has found a stalwart ally in the United Nations, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s worst human rights violators while relentlessly targeting the Jewish state.

When the UN went looking for a special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories who embodied the world agency’s values, they settled on Richard Falk, a 9/11 truther who compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Falk hasn’t disappointed, and his latest stunt was to expand his brand of economic warfare against the Jewish state to America. Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Falk’s belligerent threats against American companies:

“The costs to companies and businesses of failing to respect international humanitarian law are considerable,” the report warns, “including damage to a company’s public image, impact on shareholder decisions and share price and could result in employees being criminally responsible for rights abuses.”

The report warns American employees of targeted companies that they face legal risks.

“Employees of companies can face investigation and prosecution for human rights violations committed irrespective of where the violation was committed.”

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, got it only half right in her response:

“Throughout his tenure as Special Rapporteur, Mr. Falk has been highly biased and made offensive statements, including outrageous comments on the 9/11 attacks,” Rice said. “Mr. Falk’s recommendations do nothing to further a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed poison the environment for peace. His continued service in the role of a UN Special Rapporteur is deeply regrettable and only damages the credibility of the UN.”

But credibility is not what the dictators’ playground is looking for. (Falk does hold an emeritus professorship at Princeton, so perhaps the prestigious university’s credibility is done continued harm by its association with Falk.) But Rice gets it wrong with respect to the UN. Falk’s report is for the UN’s Human Rights Council, a historically and notoriously anti-Israel committee. The administration of George W. Bush made the decision to withdraw from the council when it was clear it could not and would not be reformed. But President Obama rejoined the council in an attempt to round out his administration’s new focus on doing the opposite of whatever George Bush did.

Falk doesn’t harm the UN’s credibility. Just the opposite. The UNHRC eats away at America’s credibility by our continued participation in an explicitly anti-Israel “human rights” group that can put America’s name on its hateful work. John Bolton put it best when he said the Obama administration’s decision to join the council when it did was “like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg.” And now Rice is scolding the iceberg when she should be heading for a lifeboat.

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