APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

28 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of six segments devoted to relations of the West to Iran, centering on whether the United States post-Trump will attempt to reduce tensions with Iran or opt for continuity, and greater policy coordination with Israel’s new post-Netanyahu leadership. Naphtali Bennett, Israel’s new Prime Minister, has already made clear that he views Iran no differently than Netanyahu, opposes a return to the 2015 Nuclear Program Agreement (JCPOA) and seems to have authorized at unprovoked attack on the Karaj facility on June 23rd that produces centrifuges needed to obtain enriched uranium.

When the U.S. Government withdrew from the hard bargained Obama Era nuclear agreement in 2018 accompanied by a revamping of sanctions against Iran, tensions once again dangerously escalated. Biden pledged as a candidate for the American presidency to restore JCPOA, but has so far shown only a limited commitment to rejoin the earlier agreement, and seems to be insisting on a new agreement that is more restrictive of Iran’s nuclear program and even its regional political activity. The U.S. Government seems to forget that it was its actions that led to the breakdown of the agreement, and that Iran continued to comply for an entire year before embarking upon a more ambitious program of nuclear enrichment, accumulating three tons above the agreed limits, ten times the amount allowed by the lapsed agreement, yet still short of the level of enrichment need to produce nuclear weapons. Six rounds of negotiations have taken place during recent months in Vienna among the five remaining parties to the 2015 agreement (China, Russia, France, UK, Germany) and Iran, as well as indirect negotiations between Iran and the U.S. with the other governments serving as intermediaries.

Authoritative voices from Vienna tell us that an agreement is ‘within reach,’ whatever that may mean, yet they also say its restoration remains uncertain due to Israeli pressures, the recent election of a hardline Iranian President—Ebrahim Raisi, and the American insistence on a longer timeline for the agreement as well as a reported demand that Iran cease its support for ‘terrorist’ entities in the region and reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The Western media fails to understand the relevance of Iranian grievances with respect to its nuclear program, seems totally insensitive to double standards in its reportage, and so the issue is portrayed to the public in an exceedingly misleading manner. Among Iranian grievances the following are especially important: Iran is portrayed as a supporter of terrorism in the region while there is virtually no mention of the blatant pattern of Israel ‘terrorism’ against Iran, and specifically against its nuclear program that has breached no international norms. In the period 2010-2012 four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated by Israel: Masoud Alimohammedi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad, Mostafa Ahmed Roshan. As recently as November 2020 Iran’s leading nuclear scientist associated with Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed by a Mossad operation while driving in a car near Tehran. The U.S. has done its share of state-sponsored terrorism: disabling 1,000 centrifuges by cyber Stuxnet attacks back in 2010 and assassinating a leading military and political figure, Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 while he was on a diplomatic peace mission in Iraq. Israel also seems responsible for periodic attacks on the Natanz nuclears facility, as well.

For further contextualization it is well to recall that it was Trump who ruptured JCPOA when it was working well, which was confirmed by assessments of U.S. intelligence reports. Maybe even more important was the U.S. failure to object to such Israeli violation of Iranian sovereign rights, as well as aggressive acts that violated the basic norms of the UN Charter, as well as to curb its own recourse to overt and covert violations of Iran’s legal rights.

Despite this abusive pattern Iran refrained from challenging the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, or even coupling its commitment to refrain from acquiring the weapons or even the capability to produce the weaponry with a demand for a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. This pattern should remind us that Western colonialism is largely dead, yet Western imperialism persists almost undetected by the normative radar by which international behavior should be judged. Antony Blinken’s ‘rules-governed’ international order has some gaping black holes, and Iran continues to be victimized in the process, while Blinken’s silence is totally overlooked.

Finally, two statements indicative of Israel’s rogue behavioral ethos toward Iran. The Defense Minister, and alternate opponent of Netanyahu, Benny Gantz speaking on June 24, 2021 put his view of Iran in direct language: “..a murderous and dangerous enemy, building arms of terror around the State of Israel, seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel, and the stability of the entire region.” Iran’s ‘arms of terror’ presumably contrast with Israel’s ‘weapons of self-defense,’ such are the distortions of hegemonic political discourse. Allon Ben David writing in Ma’ariv on the same day as Gantz spoke was engagingly candid in masking Israeli embrace of terror as a peacetime tactic: “..the Mossad and IDF will contribute in their quiet way part of the effort to delay Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.” The word ‘quiet’ is code talk for ‘secret,’ and the quiet work consists of killing scientists and planting explosives in Iran’s nuclear facilities, or even sending drones on armed missions carried out in Iranian or Syrian territory.

Two interviews are also included that address Iranian leadership issues. It is almost comical that one hears shouts of indignation about an extremist leader being elected in Iran, whereas discussing Bennett’s extremist support of the unlawful encroachment of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories or refusal to support the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state is hardly mentioned, or set off against Biden’s endorsement of a two-state solution.]

APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

(1) Responses of Richard Falk to Interview Questions of journalist Niloofar Adibnia (19 April 2021)

What is your analysis of the Vienna meeting?

The so-called ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna likely have several distinct goals. (1) Holding the talks include the purpose of involving the four other P5 (Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and Germany) in the process of restoring American participation in and Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, known as JCPOA, and also, as the ‘5 +1 Agreement’; the U.S. and Iran separately interact with representatives of these five governments, which in turn inform U.S. and Iran, which then in turn provide responses; it is a dialogue with intermediaries; (2) The indirectness of the process allows each side to make an assessment as to whether it is worth the risks of international failure and domestic backlash as a result of disagreements as to the respective expectations of the two sides in a high profile diplomatic effort at restoring JCPOA along the lines of its original character in 2015; (3) The Vienna process also should be helpful in identifying sticking points with respect to the removal of sanctions on Iran, the restraint of Iranian regional diplomacy in the Middle East, and any further adjustments such as reparations for ‘nuclear terrorism’ or agreed ceilings on uranium enrichment, allowing both countries to decide how serious these gaps are.

Will the Vienna Summit Lead to the Revival of the Nuclear Deal?

I think part of the purpose of the Vienna talks is to allow the parties to determine whether the timing is right at present for a renewal of JCPOA. The U.S. is under pressure from Israel, and some Arab states not to participate again within the JCPOA framework unless new burdensome conditions are imposed on Iran. On its side, Iran is likely unwilling to alter its enrichment levels without assurances that ‘nuclear terrorism’ will be treated as a criminal disruption in the future, and appropriate steps taken including reparations. Iran may also insist upon unconditional removal of sanctions in view of its experience during the Trump presidency. In opposition, Biden may insist on flexibility with respect to sanctions relief in the event that Iran enriches uranium beyond agreed levels.

Will the US lift sanctions?

I think the sanctions will be lifted by stages if Iran agrees to return to the 2015 enrichment levels, and perhaps, agrees to transfer any stockpile of enriched uranium beyond these levels in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal in 2018 to an international depository or placed in a depot subject to periodic inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear agreement is not likely to become again operative unless the U.S. sanctions are completely removed. It is assumed that Iran learned its lesson of relying on the U.S. commitment to lift sanctions when Obama was president, while experiencing their reinstatement in harsher form when Trump became president. Undoubtedly, this sequence partly explains the discrediting of the so-called ‘moderates’ in Iran and their replacement by the ‘hardline’ faction, making diplomatic de-escalation seem somewhat more problematic

Do you think the nuclear deal will be revived?

It seems as though there exists a political will on both sides to proceed cautiously in that direction, with the intention of reviving the 2015 arrangements regulating Iran’s nuclear program. Whether this political will is strong enough on both sides remains to be seen as does whether some of the issues turn out to be non-negotiable, and hence deal breakers. Such include enrichment ceilings, treatment of ‘nuclear terrorism. There is also some uncertainty arising from domestic politics in both countries. Will Biden give priority to satisfying Israeli concerns or to reaching a major diplomatic goal of reviving JCPOA? Will Iran insist on a clear pledge of unconditional irreversible removal of the sanctions?

Is there a determination to keep the nuclear deal alive?

I think there is a widespread desire on both sides to give renewed life and relevance to the nuclear agreement,
But there are competing forces on both sides that are more ambivalent about the agreement or are even opposed to its existence. At this point it is difficult to determine with any confidence whether the pro-agreement forces in both countries are strong enough to withstand pressures from anti-agreement forces. The impact of other issues may turn out to be decisive. Will the Natanz attack harden Iran’s demands or soften the U.S. diplomatic stance? So far the indications are not encouraging, and even less so after the Karaj attack on Iran centrifuge production facility. The American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has called Iran’s lifting of the enrichment ceiling from 20% to 60% as ‘provocative’ without putting forth the slightest gesture of criticism of its Natanz attack, widely presumed to have been carried out by Mossad operatives acting on Israel’s behalf.

Will Iran return to full implementation of its nuclear obligations in the nuclear deal?

I cannot imagine the revival of JCPOA unless Iran agrees to comply, and maintains compliance. The more important question is whether Iranian compliance requirements will be set by reference to the initial standards agreed upon in 2015 or whether there will be new standards reflecting intervening developments and to some extent negotiating demands accepted, and. going into effect when the agreement is again operative.

what is your analysis about sabotage on natanz? can it derail vienna negotiation?can it lead to war?

It would seem that Israel intended the attack on the Natanz underground facility as a provocation that would by inducing a major Iranian retaliation and make progress in the Vienna talks problematic. Some have thought that the attack was only designed to give Israel a seat at the Vienna table. The attack should be internationally condemned as a form of ‘nuclear terrorism’ as well as a serious violation of Iran’s sovereign rights. The relative international silence, including by the IAEA is disappointing, and the Blinken response referred to above is unacceptable.

I do not think this event will lead either to the breakdown of the Vienna indirect talks or to regional war, although both possibilities certainly exist. It may delay reaching an agreement in Vienna, and has already raised regional tensions. My view is that with tensions rising in relation to China and Russia, the U.S. will not irresponsibly escalate the conflict dimensions of its relations with Iran, but there are many surrounding complications that
make such speculation unreliable.

We can only hope that peace-oriented pressures on both sides hold sway, and JCPOA again becomes operative. Many will hail this as a diplomatic breakthrough if this happens, and when sanctions are removed, Iranian societal life will benefit greatly, improving the regional and international atmosphere.

(2) Responses of Richard Falk to Amir Mohadded Ismaeli Questions for Mehr News Agency (April 14, 2021)

Q1: Who’s behind Natanz sabotage?

At this point, we have only the uncontested reports that Israel is responsible, having virtually confessed as much. Apparently Israel used Mossad to carry out the attack on the Natanz underground nuclear enrichment facility on April 10, 2021. The attack came only a day after new more advanced cetrifuges began operating at Natanz. The attack took the form of a major explosion 65 meters below the ground. The explosives used are believed to have been smuggled past security guards by being sealed within a steel table and then detonated from a remote location. The complete destruction of the power distribution supply system used to make the centrifuges work has been confirmed as the main damage. It has been estimated by Israelis that it might take Iran as long as nine months to make the facility operational again.

The United States has officially declared that it had no role in this act of sabotage, but it is hard to believe that Washington did not have advance knowledge, and there is no evidence of any attempt to prevent the attack from being carried out or complaints after the fact. Israel leaders although evasive, seemed to justify the attack as part of the country’s defense against the controversial assumption that despite Tehran assurances, Iran is developing the capacity to produce nuclear warheads that could be attached to missiles or rockets, posing dire threats to Israeli security. Iran continues to deny that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capacity. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has vowed unspecified ‘revenge’ for the attack on Natanz, but there is no indication that this is meant to signal a reversal of Iran’s policy toward the acquisition of the weaponry.

In the background, is the reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal that seems to stay below the radar of proliferation concerns and overlooks Iran’s reasonable apprehension of what this could mean in the future for its own security.

Q2: In your view, what purposes are behind this sabotage?

On the basis of circumstantial evidence, contrary to the posture taken by Israel that the Natanz incident was directed at slowing Iran race to the nuclear weapons threshold, I believe the attack had as its primary purpose, a provocation designed to escalate tensions between Iran and Israel, and encourage the U.S. to stick with the Trump approach to relations with Iran. More immediately, the attack is sure to complicate current efforts in Vienna to create the conditions leading to the resumption of U.S. participation in JCPOA through direct negotiations. As is widely understood, Iran has been demanding that its compliance with JCPOA depends upon an American commitment to terminate the sanctions imposed during the Trump presidency in conjunction with its unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

This hypothesis of provocation is reinforced by the highly belligerent statements made by Netanyahu when asked about the Natanz attack. Instead of a denial or even a claim of Israeli worries, he chose to treat the relationship between the two countries as a relation between two enemies poised to destroy one another. He is quoted as claiming that the ‘fanatical regime’ governing Iran without doubt intends to acquire nuclear weapons so as to destroy Israel in pursuit of their ‘genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.” Netanyahu added that Israel would continue ‘to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism’ as if Iran was the provocateur. Such language offers an official indirect justification for what happened an Natanz, as well uses warlike language of implacable hostility.

I suspect that Israel by such high-profile sabotage and incendiary language is doing its best to tie the hands of the Biden presidency, agitate pro-Israeli sentiments in the U.S. Congress and Western media. The secondary objective is to obstruct the Iranian nuclear program, which is consistent with such past acts of aggression as the disabling of centrifuges through the insertion of the Stuxnet virus back in 2010 as well as through targeted assassination of leading nuclear scientists, including Iran’s leading nuclear specialist, Mohsen Fakhrizadez in November 2020. This pattern of covert violence has long violated Iran’s sovereign rights and has been understandably denounced by Iranian officials as ‘nuclear terrorism.’

What is uncertain at this time is whether Israel will commit further provocations, how Iran will react, and whether the United States will take the bait, and either delay JCPOA negotiations or demand Iranian compliance with new conditions beyond the original agreement before it lifts or even eases the sanctions or resumes its own participation.

Q3: Do you think there is a coordination between the US and Israel for implementing the sabotage?

It is difficult to say. There is some reason to believe that if there was such coordination it would not be necessary for Israel to take the risks arising from such serious provocations. As with the Obama diplomacy that led to the agreement in 2015, there are differences between the U.S. interest in regional stability and the Israeli determination to keep destabilizing Iran so as to realize at some point its undisguised goal of regime change.

At the same time, with the COVID challenge uppermost as a policy priority for Biden, there may be some level of coordination, involving reassurances to Israel that it will not make things easy for Iran with respect to the sanctions or JCPOA. Biden seems eager to avoid diversionary issues in America that would allege that the U.S. is failing to uphold reasonable Israeli security demands.

As of now, resort to the ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna suggest that both sides are proceeding cautiously, keeping their options open. The next month or so will make clearer whether the U.S. will separate its search for normalization with Iran due to pressures arising from its special relationship with Israel or will pursue a diplomatic course in accord with its national interest. It will never be able to satisfy Israel and reach a negotiated agreement with Iran. It must choose, and hopefully opting for peace and diplomacy rather than coercion and hostility.

Q4: Some scholars believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency and JCPOA parties should clarify their stances and condemn this sabotage, as it’s been done while Iran has been trying to revive the agreement in Vienna. What do you think?

I do believe that if an investigation confirms Israeli responsibility for the Natanz attack it should be condemned by the International Atomic Energy Agency and by the parties to JCPOA (that is, the five Permanent Members of the Security Council and Germany). Such a step would be a major step toward depoliticization of regional tensions, and offer some hope that the current crisis atmosphere can be overcome. What is being called ‘the shadow war’ between Israel and Iran is dangerous and every effort should be made to end it. It also should be acknowledged as widely as possible that Israel has the main responsibility for recourse to this surge of war-mongering propaganda and acts of aggression that violate international law and the UN Charter. The UN should stop watching such dangerous and unlawful events in a spirit of silent detachment, and take its own Charter responsibilities seriously.

(3)Zahra Mirzafarjouyan interview questions, May 30, 2021, Mehr News Agency

1- An Israeli leader described Islamic revolution as “earthquake of century”. What have been the effects of the Imam Khomeini-lead revolution in the region that worried Israelis?

Imam Khomeini made clear his opposition to Israel and the Zionist Project of establishing a Jewish state inside the Islamic World, although he was also clear that he regarded Judaism as an authentic religion deserving respect. When I had a meeting with Imam Khomeini in Paris days before he returned to Iran, he said explicitly that so long as Jews were not active in supporting Israel, it would be ‘a tragedy for us if they left Iran after the revolution.’ His outlook was anti-Israeli, but not anti-Semitic.

I am not familiar with this quote although it makes sense. Israel had enjoyed positive relations with Iran during the period of the Shah’s rule. The Islamic Revolution was perceived as an immediate threat to Israel because it sought to reclaim political control for the ancestral peoples, long resident in the region under the auspices of a political movement espousing Islamic principles and opposed to all forms of secular and Western penetration, especially in the form of a settler colonial state. And such a movement had successfully challenged the Pahlavi regime in Iran, which had the most elaborate modernized internal security apparatus in the region. If it could in Iran, it was supposed that such revolutionary movements could and would succeed elsewhere in the region.

Whether ‘earthquake of the century’ is an overstatement can be discussed, and challenged. It competes with the Russian and Chinese Revolutions and the rise of Hitler, World Wars I & II as alternative candidates for such an assertion. Possibly, seen in the context of the Middle East, and from the perspective of Israel, it was seen as an extreme disruptive event, with an anti-Israeli mobilizing potential that would influence the peoples of the region, and at the same time deprived Israel of its most sympathetic support as centered previously in Iran.

2- What features of the Islamic Revolution have worried the western powers?

I suppose the most worrisome aspect of the Islamic Revolution from the perspective of the West was its resolve to eliminate all forms of Western influence—geopolitical, political, economic, and cultural. In this sense, the events in Iran could be interpreted as anti-imperial as well as anti-colonial, that is, not only opposing European colonialism but its sequel taking the form of the project of U.S. influence in strategic partnership with the hostile regimes and Israel.

A second source of concern was the rejection of Western ideas about governance and the place of religion in the life of society. Western ideas of political legitimacy rested on a premise of separating church and state, while the Islamic Revolution favored their organic connection, giving primacy to religious leadership, although accompanied by a political sphere that was legitimated by periodic free elections.

Other issues involved imposing religious traditions contrary to Western cultural ideas. This can be observed, especially, in relation to the dress and appearance of women, and with respect to education, social life, and entertainment.

The West celebrates ‘freedom’ by reference to social practices, including music, consumption of alcohol, pornography, and tolerance of anti-religious ideas. It perceived Iran after the Islamic Revolution as prohibiting what in the West were regarded as achievements of the Enlightenment and modernity.

In the end, the most fundamental opposition to the Islamic Revolution arose from the belief that political Islam would be resistant to Western penetration and hegemonic control after the collapse of European colonialism, and thus threatened crucial Western strategic interests, including access to energy, security of Israel, ideological anti-Marxist solidarity, and neoliberal globalization.

3- How do you see the role of Imam Khomeini in uniting the Muslim world?

I believe that Imam Khomeini had a major impact in demonstrating to the Muslim world
the mobilization of national populations could be effective in challenging corrupt and decadent forms of political leadership. It gave rise to Islamic activism and extremism, which in turn produced Islamophobic reactions in Europe and North America. Iran itself
opposed such Sunni extremism associated with ISIS and the Taliban as in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Imam Khomeini has so far failed in uniting the Muslim world, especially if measured by the outlook of governing elites. Indeed, it seems more reasonable to conclude that his
Influence has led to deeper divisions and a rise in sectarian rivalries, especially in the Middle East. Imam Khomeini was as opposed to the Gulf dynasties, especially Saudi Arabia, than he was about Israel, secularism, and Western influence. In turn, these conservative monarchies, although purporting to adhere to Islamic law and practices,
were severely threatened by populist advocacy of an Islamic orientation of government. It is no secret that Gulf monarchies, along with Israel, opposed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the region, especially Egypt. Islam from below, as in Iran, was
consistently opposed by Sunni elites in the region.

4- Imam Khomeini always hated compromising with arrogant powers and Zionists and believed in resistance. How has the culture of resistance been able to change the balance of power in the region?

Except for Iran itself, I do not see any shift in the balance of power in the region arising from Imam Khomeini’s support for a culture of resistance. It could be argued that the Arab uprising of 2010-11 reflected a certain influence of the Imam and the Iranian experience of revolutionary success inspired people to act collectively in mounting challenges to the status quo. Even if this is so it must be offset by counter-revolutionary moves that followed these uprisings, producing chaos in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and intensifications of the harsh rule of Arab monarchies. It may be correct that Western influence has somewhat declined, and is being now challenged by other extra-regional forces, China and Russia. These changes are affecting the role of global geopolitics in the Islamic world, but I don’t associate these developments with manifestations of a culture of resistance.

Iran’s foreign policy has enjoyed a measure of success in Lebanon, Palestine, and above all, Syria, but it seems premature to speak of a new balance of power in the region. The Palestinian resistance is the most impressive example of a culture of
resistance that is active in the region. Although the Palestinian struggle has been led for 20 years by Hamas, its movement of resistance seems remote from any direct influence by Imam Khomeini, whom I believe would be disappointed that his legacy has not extended beyond Iran.

(5) Responses of Richard Falk to Questions posed by Javad Arab Shirazi(May 9, 2021) (Press TV)
Q#1: Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei on Friday marked the International Quds Day, voicing confidence that the downward movement of the Zionist regime has already started and “it will never stop”. What do you think?
I agree with the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the Israeli apartheid state has suffered a series of defeats in the symbolic domain of politics in the first months of 2021: the preliminary decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Prosecutor possesses the legal authority to investigate allegations of Israel’s criminality in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem that occurred after 2015; influential reports by the Israeli NGO, B’Tselem and by the leading U.S. NGO, Human Rights Watch conclude that the practices and policies of Israel throughout Israel and occupied Palestine constitute the international crime of apartheid; and significant worldwide increases in global solidarity initiatives in support of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, including the inalienable right of self-determination enjoyed by every people.

These symbolic advances suggest that Palestine is winning the Legitimacy War fought between Israel and Palestine over the relative legal, moral, and spiritual entitlements in their struggle. The record of the struggles against colonial rule since 1945 suggest that the side that prevails in a Legitimacy War eventually controls the political outcome. In this respect, the statement of Ayatollah Khamenei about a downward Israeli spiral accords with the flow of history.
At the same time Israel will not easily accept defeat. It has tried to deflect attention by accusing individuals and even institutions, such as the UN and ICC, of being ‘antisemitic.’ This is a display of ‘the politics of deflection.’ Such deflection attempts to wound the messenger rather than heed the message. Israel also enjoys the geopolitical backing of the United States and to a lesser extent, the European Union, and has benefitted from ‘the normalization agreements’ reached in 2020 with several Arab governments as encouraged by the Trump presidency during its last months. These factors suggest that it will be a difficult and likely prolonged struggle.
In the meantime, the Palestinian people are being severely subjugated in their own homeland, including ever since the Nakba in 1948 being victimized by ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. It is necessary to appreciate that symbolic successes do not translate immediately into substantive results, and often have the opposite short-term effects because the oppressor senses its vulnerability. Such an experience is currently the fate of the Palestinian people.

Q#2: The Leader said the policies of the oppressive and cruel capitalism “have driven a people out of their homes, their homeland and their ancestral roots and instead, it has installed a terrorist regime and has housed a foreign people therein.” What are your thoughts on this?
My response to the prior question addresses this language on the level of the existential suffering of the Palestinian people within and outside their homeland, including in refugee camps in neighboring countries and through the dispersion of Palestinians in involuntary exile around the world.
I think that the abuses of capitalism are not essential aspects of the basic crimes of displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people so as to enable the Zionist Project to succeed in establishing a Jewish state in the Palestinian homeland. These crimes are virtually acknowledged in Israel’s Basic Law of 2018. Capitalist patterns of exploitation of Palestinian labor and resources are part of this overall picture but incidental to the apartheid and colonial structures that exert comprehensive control over Palestinian activities.

Q#3: “Today, the situation in the world is not like those days. We should keep this reality within sight. Today, the balance of power has swung in favor of the world of Islam. Various political and social incidents in Europe and in the United States have laid bare the weaknesses and the deep structural, managerial and moral conflicts among westerners. The electoral events in the US and the notoriously scandalous failures of the hubristic and arrogant managers in that country, the unsuccessful one-year fight against the pandemic in the US and Europe and the embarrassing incidents that ensued, and also the recent political and social instabilities in the most important European countries are all signs of the downward movement of the western camp”, the Leader said. What do you think?

There is much evidence of Western decline as the quoted language of Ayatollah Khamanei suggests, but the world future remains obscure. Historical tendencies appear to favor the rise of Asia and a more multipolar world order. There are also indications of Western, particularly U.S. decline, as in its handling of the COVID pandemic and prolonged failure to update and improve the quality of its infrastructure, spending excessively on armaments instead of investing
in a sustainable and equitable future.

Yet there are some contradictions that prevent any assured image of the future. At present, there are prospects of a dangerous confrontation between China and the United States, which could confirm Chinese ascendency or lead to regional conflict, and possibly wider tensions in the form of a second cold war. It is also possible that prudence and humane judgment will lead to a geopolitics of accommodation, allowing proper attention being given to managing global challenges of unprecedented magnitude.

It is not clear to me that the Islamic world can escape from the constraining logic of statism, particularly in the Middle East where sectarian strains and regional rivalries appear stronger at present than religious and civilizational bonds.

There is also uncertainty arising from the novelty of global scale challenges amid many inequalities causing both impulses toward cooperation and withdrawals from internationalism in the form of exclusive forms of statism. The modern world system has never been challenged as a totality by anything like climate change in the past, and whether it has the flexibility and resilience to adapt remains to be seen, although the evidence to date is not encouraging. The failures to suspend sanctions during the pandemic in response to humanitarian appeals and the vaccine diplomacy emphasizing profits over people that accompanied the COVID suggest that the political elites have not caught up with history, and are ill-equipped to conceive of national wellbeing beneath the bluer skies of human wellbeing.

There is a need for forward-looking global leadership that is informed by a commitment to the global public good. It may be that this leadership could emerge from below, from a transnational movement animated by a struggle for ecological balance and species identity.
Instead of patriots of the nation or state, patriots of humanity; instead of entrepreneurs for profit, guardians of nature. New values and new identities to sustain a responsible anthropocentrism.

(5)Interview Questions from Javad Arabshirazi, Press TV on domain seizures (June 23, 2021)

Q#1: In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message has appeared on the websites of a series of Iranian and regional television networks that claims their domains have been “seized by the United States Government.” The notice, which appeared late Tuesday on the website of English-language television news network Press TV as well as a number of other Iranian and regional news channels, cited US sanctions laws for the seizure and was accompanied by the seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Department of Commerce. What is your take on this?

A#1: It is important to recall that a similar seizure of Iran-related news sites occurred on October 7, 2020. It was justified at the time as the implementation of U.S. sanctions and directed at preventing alleged dissemination of ‘disinformation.’ It was further claimed that the step was taken in response to threatss to U.S. national security and its ‘democratic process.’ Significantly, the identification of the seized website domains was a result of cooperation between the U.S. Government and the high tech giants Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Such a move was seen in 2020 as an effort to increase pressure on Iran by way of improper interference with its sovereign rights, an intensifying of coercive pressures.

The rationale of this latest phase of domain seizures repeats the earlier pattern of justification, again with accusations that these supposed Iranian news outlets were disguised governmental operations that used their media platforms to subvert democratic procedures in the United States. Again this time the seizures were presented as implementations of the U.S. sanctions procedures. The timing is suspicious, coming a few days after a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected and just prior to the resumption of a seventh round of talks in Vienna to negotiate indirectly the restoration of U.S. participation in the Iran Nuclear Program deal of 2016 coupled with a phasing out of the sanctions.

These developments raise crucial questions about motivation and goals: does it reflect Israeli influence designed to prevent restoring U.S. participation in and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, the technical name of the nuclear deal? Or is it a reaction to the outcome of the Iranian presidential election, which resulted in a landslide victory for a candidate presented as hostile to the West, and particularly to Israel and the United States? Perhaps, the best answer is to postulate a combination of factors. It should be noted that an American spokesperson for the government in Washington claims that the election of Ayatollah Raisi is not relevant to the Vienna diplomacy as whoever was president of Iran, it was asserted, the final decision on such issues of vital policy would be made not by an elected official but by the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Q#2: Do you believe that the move shows Washington’s selective view towards freedom of speech and democracy?

A#2: If the seizures turn out to be official acts of the U.S. Government, it would express a serious moral hypocrisy and double standards, and unlawful encroachment on sovereign rights. The U.S. seeks to control the public discourse on matters of international concern, especially if part of the background is conflict and strife as here. There are also in the U.S. ongoing struggles behind the scene between moderate and hardline attitudes toward Iran, which also reflects degrees of direct and indirect Israeli influence. The more aggressive tendencies opposes moves toward normalization, favoring high tensions. Having one-sided presentations of conflictual situations tends to inhibit compromise and normalization of relations among states, producing an atmosphere of might makes right.

Q#3: The US is in possession of the mainstream media and can easily change and distort narratives around the world. What has irked the US government? Why do you think a TV network like Press TV should be seized by the US government?

Control of the political narrative is an important dimension of geopolitics in the digital age. Fake news and manipulation of reality are coercive means if deployed in uncontested political settings. By shutting down Press TV the US is attempting to deprive Iran of its capacity to challenge hostile propaganda, and put forth its own counter-narrative of controversial events, and more generally of peace, justice, and democratic governance. In effect, being able to exercise monopoly control of media platforms is a crucial representation of power, as important in some settings as guns and missiles. Underneath this manipulation of information is an extremely dangerous tendency to substitute one-sides propaganda for truth and dialogue.

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

9 Oct

[Prefatory Note: Responses to an Iranian journalist, Javad Heiran-Nia Interview Questions on U.S. Elections (8 Oct 2020).]

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

  1. What is the most important issue affecting the upcoming US presidential election? (Economy; Foreign Policy; Domestic Policy; etc.)

For the voters in America the most important issues at this time are the (mis)management of the health crisis by Trump and the impact on the recovery of the U.S. economy. At this point there is a surge of criticism directed at the present U.S. leadership with respect to the Coronavirus pandemic: more infections and deaths per capita than almost any country in the world, intentional disregard of guidance by health specialists, dishonest and irresponsible reassurances, and economic relief favoring the rich and influential while understating the economic distress caused others by the loss of jobs, food insecurities, and threats of eviction. There is little interest, at least up to this point, in foreign policy with the single exception of international economic relations and geopolitical tensions with China. Both candidates for the presidency seem to adopt anti-Chinese positions, but Biden seems less militaristic and provocative than Trump. Biden refrains from blaming China for the virus, and seems somewhat less likely to embrace a strategy in East Asia that will lead to a second cold war.

For the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere, the foreign policy implications of the elections assume greater importance. As with China, Trump seems more inclined than Biden to push the anti-Iran coalition of Israel, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia toward the brink of war, with the hope that the persistence of ‘maximum pressure’ will cause destabilization in Iran, and if possible, regime change. Biden would not likely change very much in terms of alignment, but might be expected to be more cautious in endorsing aggressive policies, and might even restore the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program negotiated toward the end of the Obama presidency. At the same time, Biden might be more inclined than Trump to push an anti-Russian approach that could take the form of regional and global confrontations, as well as arms races in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.  

One cost of such foreign policy initiatives is to weaken the attention given to challenges  that can only be solved by multilateral cooperation at a time when it is most needed, especially in relation to climate change, the control of nuclear weaponry, migration flows, and health issues. As noted above, Biden is much more likely to renew American support for ‘liberal internationalism’ than Trump, and can almost certainly be expected to do so unless geopolitically distracted.

There are other hot spots around the world that are capable of generating dangerous foreign policy crises, especially in relation to Korea or India/Pakistan.

2. Which candidate has the best chance of winning? (Trump or Biden)

As of now, it appears that Biden will win the election rather decisively, but in 2016 there existed a comparable clear outlook close to vote, reinforced by public opinion polls. It created a strong impression that Hillary Clinton would win easily over Donald Trump, a view almost universally shared by the media, and reportedly even by the Trump campaign. The American political mood is unstable, and could be influenced by developments in the coming weeks as the date of the election approaches that are supportive of Trump’s campaign for reelection as, for example, violent riots in American cities, a further surge in the financial markets, a crisis in the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula. .

Additionally, there are a series of factors that sow doubt about present expectations of a Biden victory that go beyond which candidate will gain the most votess: first of all, Biden could win the popular vote by a wide margin, and yet lose the election because of the way in which the peculiar American institution of the Electoral College determines the outcome of presidential elections by counting the results on a federal state by state basis rather than nationally. This happened in 2016, Hillary Clinton winning by wide margins in New York and California, but losing close votes in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan. According to the Electoral College a candidate receives the same number of electoral votes assigned to a state if he wins by one vote or 10 million votes. The value of the vote in states where one party dominates, an individual vote becomes of diluted value, whereas if both parties are more or less of similar popularity, the value of an individual vote is inflated. The question posed is whether the Electoral College vote will again override the popular vote as it did in 2106.

Secondly, it is well known that Republican control of governments in the 50 states making up the U.S. has resulted in a variety of voter suppression schemes that make it harder to vote, and particularly affects African Americans and the very poor, making voting more difficult i cities and the rural South. Trump has also attacked mail-in voting as subject to mass fraud although the evidence in no way supports the accusation. Less votes are seen as helping Trump. Republicans are better organized and more disciplined than Democrats, although the Democrats have devoted great energy this year to getting out the vote.

Thirdly, Trump has intimated that he can only lose the election if it is has been ‘rigged’ by the Democrats. The reality seems to justify a different complaint that targets the Republicans. Much of the rigging that occurred in 2016 was attributable to Russia, and definitely worked in Trump’s favor, being intended to do so. Back then such partisan interference seemed welcomed by the Republican campaign, and likely would be again.  There are concerns that similar interferences might occur again this time around as Russia continues to prefer Trump to Biden, although there seems to be a greater effort in 2020 to insulate the election process from outside interferences, especially in relation to social media.

It is important to grasp a basic ideological feature of recent American elections of the presidency. Ever since the unified response to fascism during World War II the political parties have accepted a ‘bipartisan consensus’ that almost completely excludes certain crucial policy commitments from political controversy. The most important of these is overinvestment in the military, the predatory features of global capitalism, and so-called ‘special relationships’ with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and European alliance partners. This consensus held up throughout the Cold War, was sustained during the banner years of neoliberal globalization in the decade of the 1990s, and reinvigorated after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon after George W. Bush launched the war on terror, and Barack Obama continued it. 

Bernie Sanders challenged this consensus as it impacted upon policy discourse during his two campaigns to obtain the Democratic Party nomination, but his efforts were rejected by the party elite because he threatened the consensus, defied the ‘deep state,’ worried the Washington foreign policy establishment, and frightened the large private sector donors whose funding support depended on respecting the bipartisan consensus. In this sense, the Democrats successfully subordinated in their own party all radical elements that enjoyed movement support, especially among youth. The Republicans sidelined their moderate leadership, giving over control of the party to extremists that formed the base of Trump support. And so while the Democratic Party establishment neutralized the progressive Sanders’ challenge the Republican Party was radicalized from the right giving Trump control over all mechanism.

In part, it is this issue of party identity, and its relation to the governmental structures of power, that may be the most important effect of the November elections. If Biden wins, the bipartisan consensus is reaffirmed, while if Trump somehow prevails, the bipartisan will be further weakened, and even threatened by replacing the consensus with a right-wing policy agenda. If Biden loses, the consensus will be further discredited by its mistaken view that moving toward the political center is what wins election. What evidence exists by polls and other measurements of public opinion suggest that Sanders would have been a stronger candidate than Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, but for reasons suggested above, adhering to the bipartisan consensus was more important or Democrats than winning elections. 

  •  

The Turkish Coup Attempt: Five Years Later

16 Jul

[A Modified Text of my Responses to Interview Questions of Murat Sofuoglu, a
Turkish Journalist associated with TRT World, “On the July 15th Coup Attempt Five Years Later” (July 8, 2021)]

Five years ago my Turkish wife and I were strolling in the Karakoy neighborhood of Istanbul amid the crowded cafes on a typical summer night. It was our only day in Istanbul during the entire summer, occasioned by a conference at Koç University scheduled for the next day devoted to refugee policy with special attention to problems of massive human displacement caused by the regional conflicts, particularly Syria and Iraq. We stopped for dinner at a Greek restaurant, encountering unexpectedly Turkish friends who asked to join us. As the meal neared its end, the manager came to our table, speaking in almost a whisper he said that the Bosphorus Bridge, subsequently renamed 15th of July Martyr’s Bridge, was occupied by troops and the scene of violence, and that it seemed a coup was underway. It was a bit eerie as the atmosphere in the restaurant was vibrant and utterly without any sense that a national crisis was in the process of erupting. We paid our bill, and walked slowly back to a nearby hotel where we were staying for the night. Soon jets were flying low over this part of the city fast enough to cause the terrifying explosive sound of sonic booms, obviously with the intention of causing panic on the ground. We cautiously looked out of our hotel window to see police cars blocking the street below. For the rest of the night we were glued to the TV coverage of the rapidly unfolding events climaxed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dramatic appearance at the Istanbul Airport, greeted by a supportive crowd that walked the streets to greet the President and reaffirm their loyalty to the elected legitimate government. This reassurance by the people of Turkey and all of the political parties that made clear their rejection of the coup attempt contrasted with the silence of NATO governments, the longtime allies of the Ankara government. An impression was created among close observers of the political scene that leading Western governments would have greeted a successful coup with open arms. This impression was undoubtedly shared by leadership circles in Turkey, and has had profound effects on Turkish foreign policy, and particularly with the United States. These effects were initially associated with the Obama and Trump presidencies, but have continued in the early months of the Biden presidency.

1. How has the July 15 coup attempt affected Turkey’s foreign policy?

I believe the principal impact of the failed coup five years ago on Turkish foreign policy has been to cast lingering doubts on the loyalty of Turkey’s NATO partners. There was not only a display on the fateful night of July 15th of ‘wait and see’ attitudes in the principal capitals of Western Europe and of Washington as the coup unfolded, but there was no show of support for the legitimate elected government of Turkey from its longtime, and supposedly closest, allies. This Western diplomacy sent a message to Ankara that for the sake of its future security the government would be well advised to proceed rapidly to diversify its relations with other countries, and in particular, seek to deepen friendly relations with important other countries, including Russia and China.

These impressions were reinforced by the refusal by Washington to give serious consideration to the extradition request of the Turkish Government after the coup to enable the criminal prosecution of Fetullah Gulen, the presumed leader of FETO, the presumed forces behind the coup. Furthermore, in the period after the coup the various anti-Turkish international actors that were situated in various countries, including FETO, Kurdish groups aligned with the PKK, hard-core Kemalists living in the West, and Israel mounted an anti-Turkish international campaign alleging that Turkey was an unreliable ally, and was guilty of undermining Western policy with regard to Iran and the Kurdish presence in the Syrian civil strife.

A final factor for some was a clear indications that the coup attempt had been given a green light to proceed by Washington even if it not receive active, material support. There were several independent reports of CIA involvement and collaboration with FETO, and although never definitively confirmed, it naturally contributed to Turkish attitudes of wariness and some distrust with respect to ongoing relations with the United States, which had already been strained by a vigorous anti-Turkish international campaign.

2. Did the coup attempt make negative effects on US-Turkey relations? If so, how?

My response to the prior question supplies part of the answer. Turkey acted in a manner that stressed its political independence, especially on matters of national security and in relation to regional issues. It made no secret of its support for the Palestinian struggle for basic rights including the right of self-determination and its consistent opposition to Israeli longtime policies and practices. As well, Turkey purchased a defensive missile system—S-400—from Russia, which angered Washington, and was treated as a threat to NATO coherence and a breach of an unwritten NATO code of conduct. .

To an extent difficult to measure the coup attempt intensified preexisting trends in both Ankara and Washington. It has led to a downward trajectory in relations between the two countries. Ever since the AKP was elected to govern in 2002, its leadership made clear that Turkey was no longer a passive ally within the NATO framework as it had been throughout the Cold War. Already in 2003. the Turkish Parliament turned down the U.S. request to invade Iraq from Turkish territory, and in 2010 Turkey, together with Brazil, made efforts to negotiate an agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program, which although earlier encouraged by the U.S., created tensions with the U.S. when Iran turned out to be receptive to such an initiative with its promise of reduced regional tensions. The coup attempt in 2016 hardened Turkish perceptions that hostile forces were receiving help from governments supposedly friendly with Turkey. In the background was a steady drum-beat of anti-Turkish propaganda on right-wing Western websites such as the Gatestone Institute and Middle East Watch, which are geopolitical propagandists for post-colonial U.S. imperialism, which include unabashed support for Israeli expansionism and denigration of legitimate Palestinian aspirations for an end to apartheid and the attainment of self-determination in their own country.

3. Will the coup attempt’s effects on the Turkish foreign policy have a lasting legacy?

This is hard to predict. It depends, in part, on whether Turkish/Israel relations remain strained, and possible leadership shifts in both countries. If normal diplomatic relations with Israel are restored, a process now mutually pursued, then I would suspect that leading Western governments will not back away from their anti-Turkish policies without offering an explanation. The American president Biden, together with the UK, France, and Germany, seem eager to focus their foreign policy in relation to meeting the multiple challenges posed by China’s rise, and secondarily by Russian territorial ambitions on its borders, and want as few secondary distractions in other regions as possible.

At the same time Turkey is likely for the foreseeable future to continue to hedge its policies, as well as seize its opportunities, by further developing a wide range of positive contacts within the Middle East and beyond, and this seems prudent even if Washington/Tel Aviv back off. Because Turkey is polarized in relation to the governing AKP, which has now held the reins of power since 2002, the originality of the Turkish reality is rarely comprehended as perceptions oscillate between embittered critics of the government and its leadership and its base of ardent supporters.

Links for Signatures for Apartheid Declaration & Petition

9 Jul

Scholars and artists can continue to sign using this form

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdkGoZ25r-Yj8Ur4jCHOcLrw4YvdbrD5URS5-J1emQuPbq1dg/viewform

Activists can endorse by signing this petition

https://www.wesign.it/en/droitshumains/we-call-for-the-dismantling-of-the-apartheid-regime-in-historic-palestine

The Declaration is available here

https://www.aurdip.org/declaration-on-the-suppression-and.html

DECLARATION OF THE CRIME OF APARTHEID: ISRAEL

7 Jul

[PREFATORY NOTE: The Declaration on Apartheid below is an initiative initiated by the wellknown
Tunisian mathematician, Ahmed Abbes, and endorsed by scholars and artists worldwide. If impressed
please distribute widely as there is a campaign underway to reach 1,000 signatures.]

Declaration on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid in Historic Palestine
6 juillet |

Partager : facebooktwitter
Over 700 scholars, artists and intellectuals from more than 45 countries have signed the following declaration calling for the dismantling of the apartheid regime set up on the territory of historic Palestine and the establishment of a democratic constitutional arrangement that grants all its inhabitants equal rights and duties. The signatories include many distinguished figures, including the Nobel Peace Prize laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, academics with legal expertise Monique Chemillier-Gendreau and Richard Falk, scholars Étienne Balibar, Hagit Borer, Ivar Ekeland, Suad Joseph, Jacques Rancière, Roshdi Rashed and Gayatri Spivak, health researcher Sir Iain Chalmers, composer Brian Eno, musician Roger Waters, author Ahdaf Soueif, economist and former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Sir Richard Jolly, South African politician and veteran anti-apartheid leader Ronnie Kasrils and Canadian peace activist and former national leader of the Green Party of Canada Joan Russow.

Declaration on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid in Historic Palestine
Whereas :

1- Israel has subjected the Palestinian people for 73 years to an ongoing catastrophe, known as the Nakba, a process that included massive displacement, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity ;

2- Israel has established an apartheid regime on the entire territory of historic Palestine and directed toward the whole of the deliberately fragmented Palestinian people ; Israel itself no longer seeks to hide its apartheid character, claiming Jewish supremacy and exclusive Jewish rights of self-determination in all of historic Palestine through the adoption in 2018 by the Knesset of a new Basic Law ;

3-The apartheid character of Israel has been confirmed and exhaustively documented by widely respected human rights organizations, Adalah, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and in the UN ESCWA academic study that stresses the importance of defining Israeli apartheid as extending to people rather than limited to space, [“Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” UN ESCWA, 2017] ;

4- Israel periodically unleashes massive violence with devastating impacts on Palestinian civilian society, particularly against the population of Gaza, which endures widespread devastation, collective trauma, and many deaths and casualties, aggravated by being kept under an inhuman and unlawful blockade for over 14 years, and throughout the humanitarian emergency brought about by the COVID pandemic ;

5- Western powers have facilitated and even subsidized for more than seven decades this Israeli system of colonization, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid, and continue to do so diplomatically, economically, and even militarily.

Considering :

i- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates in its first article that ’all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ And taking account that the inalienable right of self-determination is common Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Political Rights, and as such, a legal and ethical entitlement of all peoples.

ii- The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which stipulates in Article I that ’apartheid is a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, as defined in article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.’ The States Parties to this Convention undertake in accordance with Article IV :
_ “(a) To adopt any legislative or other measures necessary to suppress as well as to prevent any encouragement of the crime of apartheid and similar segregationist policies or their manifestations and to punish persons guilty of that crime ;
_ “(b) To adopt legislative, judicial and administrative measures to prosecute, bring to trial and punish in accordance with their jurisdiction persons responsible for, or accused of, the acts defined in article II of the present Convention, whether or not such persons reside in the territory of the State in which the acts are committed or are nationals of that State or of some other State or are stateless persons.”

The endorsers of this document :

A- Declare their categorical rejection of the apartheid regime set up on the territory of historic Palestine and imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole, including refugees and exiles wherever they might be in the world.

B- Call for the immediate dismantling of this apartheid regime and the establishment of a democratic constitutional arrangement that grants and implements on all the inhabitants of this land equal rights and duties, regardless of their racial, ethnic, and religious identities, or gender preferences, and which respects and enforces international law and human conventions, and in particular gives priority to the long deferred right of return of Palestinian refugees expelled from their towns and villages during the creation of the State of Israel, and subsequently.

C- Urge their governments to cease immediately their complicity with Israel’s apartheid regime, to join in the effort to call for the dismantling of apartheid structures and their replacement by an egalitarian democratic governance that treats everyone subject to its authority in accordance with their rights and with full respect for their humanity, and to make this transition in a manner sensitive to the right of self-determination enjoyed by both peoples presently inhabiting historic Palestine.

D- Call for the establishment of a National Commission of Peace, Reconciliation, and Accountability to accompany the transition from apartheid Israel to a governing process sensitive to human rights and democratic principles and practices. In the interim, until such a process is underway, issue a call for the International Criminal Court to launch a formal investigation of Israeli political leaders and security personnel guilty of perpetuating the crime of apartheid.

* Academics, artists and intellectuals can endorse this declaration by completing this form.

* Endorsed by 723 academics, artists and intellectuals on July 8, 2021 (click here for the full list), including

Ahmed Abbes, mathematician, Director of research in Paris, France
Sinan Antoon, New York University, United States
John Avery, Writer, Denmark
Bertrand Badie, Sciences Po Paris, France
Étienne Balibar, Anniversary Chair of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University London, United Kingdom
Anthony Barnett, Writer, United Kingdom
Edmond Baudoin, Auteur de bandes dessinées, France
George Bisharat, UC Hastings College of the Law/Professor, musician, United States
Nicolas Boeglin, Professor of Public International Law, University of Costa Rica, Costa Rica
Hagit Borer, Professor, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom
Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, Council of Elders of the ICCA Consortium, Switzerland
Daniel Boyarin, Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, UC Berkeley, United States
Anouar Brahem, Musician, Composer, Tunisia
Rony Brauman, Physician, writer, former president of Médecins Sans Frontières, France
Iain Chalmers, Editor, James Lind Library, United Kingdom
Hafidha Chekir, Emeritus Professor of Public Law, Al Manar University, Tunis ; Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Tunisia
Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, Professeure émérite de droit public et de sciences politiques, Université Paris-Diderot, France
David Comedi, National University of Tucumán and National Research Council, Argentina
Laurent Cugny, Professeur, Sorbonne Université, France
Eric David, Emeritus Professor of International Law at the Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Chandler Davis, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Toronto, Canada
Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun, Professeure émérite à l’Université de Paris, France
Herman De Ley, Emeritus Professor, Ghent University, Belgium
Ivar Ekeland, Professor emeritus of mathematics and former President, University of Paris-Dauphine, France
Brian Eno, Artist/Composer, United Kingdom
Adolfo Esquivel, Premio Nobel de la Paz 1980 (Nobel Peace Prize 1980), Argentina
Richard Falk, Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University, United States
Emmanuel Farjoun, Emeritus Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Jan Fermon, Avocat. Secrétaire général Association Internationale des Juristes Démocrates, Belgium
Domenico Gallo, Chamber President in Supreme Court of Cassazione, Italy
Irene Gendzier, Prof Emeritus in the Dept Political Science, Boston University, United States
Catherine Goldstein, Director of Research, Paris, France
Neve Gordon, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom
Penny Green, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom
Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita, University of California, Los Angeles, United States
Michael Harris, Professor of Mathematics, Columbia University, United States
Judith Herrin, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Christiane Hessel-Chabry, Présidente d’honneur de l’association EJE (Gaza), France
Shir Hever, Political Economist, Germany
Nicholas Humphrey, Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
Abdeen Jabara, Attorney, past president, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, United States
Richard Jolly, Emeritus Fellow, IDS, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
Suad Joseph, Distinguished Research Professor, University of California, Davis, United States
Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
Ronnie Kasrils, Former government minister, South Africa
Assaf Kfoury, Computer Science Department, Boston University, United States
Rima Khalaf, Former Executive Secretary of UN ESCWA, Jordan
Daniel Kupferstein, Film director, France
Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond, Emeritus professor, University of Nice, France
David Lloyd, University of California Riverside, United States
Brinton Lykes, Professor & Co-Director, Boston College Center for Human Rights & International Justice, United States
Moshé Machover, Mathematician, KCL, United Kingdom
Kate Macintosh, Architect, United Kingdom
Mairead Maguire, Nobel peace laureate, Ireland
Dick Marty, Dr. Jur. Dr. H.c., former Chair of the Committee of Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Switzerland
Georg Meggle, Philosopher, Prof. em. at University of Leipzig, Germany
Jan Oberg, DrHc, peace and future researcher, Transnational Foundation, Sweden
Joseph Oesterlé, Emeritus professor, Sorbonne University, France
Adi Ophir, Professor Emeritus, Tel Aviv University ; Visiting Professor, The Cogut Institute for the Humanities and the center for Middle East Studies, Brown Universities, United States
Karine Parrot, Professeure de droit à l’Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France
Ghislain Poissonnier, Magistrate, France
Susan Power, Head of Legal Research and Advocacy, Al-Haq, Palestine
Prabir Purkayastha, Editor, Newsclick.in, India
Jacques Rancière, Professeur émérite, Université Paris 8, France
Roshdi Rashed, CNRS/Université de Paris, France
Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology and Neurobiology at the Open University and Gresham College, London, United Kingdom
Hilary Rose, Professor Emerita Sociology University of Bradfor, United Kingdom
Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics, United Kingdom
Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University, United States
Alice Rothchild, MD, retired, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School, United States
Joan Russow, Researcher, Global Compliance Research Project, Canada
Richard Seaford, Emeritus Professor, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
Leila Shahid, Former Ambassador of Palestine, Palestine
Eyal Sivan, Filmmaker – Essayist, France
John Smith, Filmmaker, Emeritus Professor of Fine Art, University of East London, United Kingdom
Nirit Sommerfeld, Singer, actress, writer, Germany
Ahdaf Soueif, Writer, Egypt
Gayatri Spivak, Columbia University, United States
Jonathan Steele, Author and journalist, United Kingdom
Annick Suzor-Weiner, Professor emeritus, Université Paris-Saclay, France
Salim Tamari, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Birzeit University, Palestine
Virginia Tilley, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, United States
Salim Vally, Professor, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Roger Waters, Musician, United Kingdom
Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law, King’s College London, United Kingdom
John Womack jr, Harvard University, United States
* Institutional affiliations are given only for identification purposes

* The full list of signatories is available here.

* Academics, artists and intellectuals can endorse this declaration by completing this form.

* Version française ; versión en español ; versione italiana ; النسخة العربية

Navigation
DANS CETTE RUBRIQUE
Plus de 600 universitaires et artistes appellent au démantèlement du régime d’apartheid en Palestine historique
Signataires de la Déclaration sur l’élimination et la répression du crime d’apartheid en Palestine historique
Qui était Edward Said ? Une interprétation biographique, un souvenir existentiel
Communication Palestine contre Israel : étape relative à l’admissibilité franchie
Carte blanche sur le conflit israélo-palestinien : être neutre dans une situation d’injustice, c’est être du côté de l’oppresseur
051015…
Syndiquer notre site
Contactez nous
Association des universitaires pour le respect du droit international en Palestine

© 2009-2021 AURDIP

Who Was Edward Said? Biographically Interpreted and Existentially Recollected

3 Jul

[Prefatory Note: This post is an edited text of Remarks on 30 June 2021 at the opening on the Book Launch of Timothy Brennan’s PLACES OF MIND: A LIFE OF EDWARD SAID (2021), an event under the auspices of the Cambridge Centre of Palestinian Studies, moderated by its director, Dr. Makram Khoury-Machool. Also participating in the discussion of Professor Brennan’s book Prof. As’ad Abu Khali and Dr. Kamal Khalef Al-Tawll.]

Who Was Edward Said? Biographically Interpreted and Existentially Recollected

I am honored to take part in this event celebrating the publication of Timothy Brennan’s extraordinary biography of Edward Said. This gathering also provides an occasion for considering once more Edward’s powerful legacy as a creative and progressive icon, someone with a global reach, possessed of as passionate and challenging an ethical, cultural, and political conscience as I have ever had the good fortune to experience. I understand from Makram that my role tonight is to set the stage for the featured performer, somewhat similar to the warmup given to the audience at a rock concert by an obscure local pop group before the acclaimed international star makes his or her dramatic appearance. As I mentioned to Makram, I have two qualifications to be a speaker tonight: I once played tennis with Edward on Cambridge’s exquisite grass courts several decades ago, and more to the point, we were both often embattled due to supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people for a just and sustainable peace.

Edward more than anyone else on the American scene exemplified what we understand to be a ‘public intellectual’ in the late 20th and early 21st century, that is after this presence had been epitomized by the life of Jean-Paul Sartre. Such a role presupposes a degree of democratic governance within sovereign space that tolerates, even if only barely and reluctantly, ideas and critiques that challenge the most fundamental behavioral tropes of the state, captured in spirit by the slogan ‘talking truth to power,’ which is somewhat less activist than Mario Savio’s slogan that embodied the spirit of the 1960s: ‘put your body up against the machine.’

One of the many achievements of Brennan’s book is to grapple with the complexity and contradictory character of Said, who as a friend and colleague was at once engaging, paradoxical, theatrical, seductive, critical, provocative, who could be on occasion defensive and even enraged. Such qualities were distinctively expressed by this most gifted individual possessed of a dazzling intelligence, a sparkling sense of humor, and of course, stunning erudition. Edward was continually reenergized by his curiosity about all aspect of life and about the world. More than the few notable academics of my acquaintance with whom he might be compared, in my reckoning Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and on the right, Samuel Huntington, Said alone was both a hero to constituencies of outsiders and a welcome guest among most insiders, and with his paradoxical style on display he was often a commanding presence in both atmospheres. Perhaps, the secret of his personal magnetism and intellectual preeminence was that he was simultaneously a profound thinker and a consummate performer, a combination rarely found to inhabit the same person.

Such was his charm and the imaginative excellence of his academic contributions that Edward was almost even forgiven in Western elite circles for vigorously challenging the Zionist Project and denouncing Israel’s policies and practices. Brennan points out that Said after he declared himself an activist on behalf of Palestinian liberation was on multiple occasions offered jobs at Harvard and elsewhere that would have made his life easier, yet although tempted, he never abandoned the edgy Manhattan atmosphere that he explored as an adolescent, possibly because he wanted to guard against succumbing to the alluring comforts and urbane satisfactions of the more serene academic life style that the Harvard/Cambridge scene offered. In his pre-activist days, he had partaken of such serenity while a graduate student and earlier as an undergraduate at Princeton where he became a participant in the elitest eating club social life. Perhaps, nothing is more vividly revealing of Edward’s love/hate relationship to the establishment in the U.S. than his disgust with the way Middle East Studies were done at Princeton, undoubtedly prefiguring his most famous and influential rebuff to the disguised style of ‘othering’ Arabs and others by way of his book and work on Orientalism. Despite this, Edward took a bemused delight that his two beloved children followed in his footsteps and received their first university degrees at Princeton. Even after their graduation Edward annually came and taught my seminar in international relations once a year, a high point for the students, and for me a lesson in humility tinged with admiration and affection.

As Timothy Brennan is such a warrior of ideas, himself working in the Said tradition of comparative cultural studies, I am not so foolish as to venture comments in this venue on Said’s seminal work in literary and cultural studies, including music. My relations with Edward were during the last 25 years of his life, but it was for me an enriching friendship that centered on several personal connections and of course our shared commitment to and understanding of the Palestinian struggle, and the multiple obstacles that beset it.

I met Edward through his greatest political friend, somewhat of a guru for Edward of Thirdworldism, Eqbal Ahmad. Like Edward, Eqbal was a larger-than-life character who left an indelible impression on many he encountered, partly a result of his stage brilliance as a charismatic speaker before large audiences and partly as a legendary professor at Hampshire College. Eqbal brought to Edward a vivid form of Third World authenticity as well as exceptional warmth and loyalty as a stalwart friend. Beyond this they proudly shared a theatrical and romantic sense of life as performance, excelling in its execution, which characteristically exhibited disciplined passion backed by humane and humanistic worldviews, illuminating humor, and a deep knowledge of their subject-matter.

Yet both men were involuntary refugees of the spirit who never lost altogether their existential sadness, having been deprived of their homelands of childhood by alien forces. Despite their quite different success stories in America they long forgot these deep feelings of political and autobiographical nostalgia. Both men achieved much in their lives, yet died before fulfilling their respective redemptive dreams. Eqbal’s consuming wish of his latter years was to establish a quality university in Pakistan while Edward’s was to experience directly a liberated Palestine.

It was one of the great joys of my life to have been their friend and comrade over many years, somewhat sharing their strivings for societal, political, and personal fulfillment where justice and love flourish and coexist. And always learning from their example of devotion and steadfastness so meaningly fused with their dedication to justice and their appreciation of the precious quality of lives well lived.

Brennan’s book made me feel, despite my great differences of religion, temperament, background, and talent from Edward, that my life was yet in illuminating respects a pale replica of Edward’s illustrious life story, especially with respect to the choices we made in relation to Palestine, choices that crossed several red lines of political propriety.

I hope it is not overly self-indulgent for me to explicate nervously this comparison in the course of bringing these remarks to a close. We both were products of privileged socio-economic backgrounds, both shaped to a significant degree by the vivacities of NYC’s cultural milieu, specifically that of Manhattan, both educated in preparatory schools. We both attended Ivy League universities, and later earned doctorates at Harvard, and we both remained throughout long professional careers within the faculty confines of the Ivy League. We were multiply linked to Princeton University, and happened to write our most enduring books while visiting The Stanford Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences, and finally, and perhaps most relevantly, we both endured defamation and threats because of our outspoken engagement with pro-Palestinian activism.

There were also some manifest differences, none starker than Edward as an ambivalent upper class Christian and me as a nominal middle class Jew, yet surprisingly not very relevant. Of course, Edward’s birth and experience of consciousness in Jerusalem and his Palestinian identity created for him a more natural vector for his political activism.

Brennan brilliantly shows how Said’s oppositional sensibility pervaded all that he did, including eventually including even his relationship to the Palestinian political establishment in Ramallah. My somewhat similar oppositional sensibility remains somewhat more mysterious, but like Edward involves the frustrations and satisfactions of a resolve to swim against the current.

And finally, I think as the years go by Edward Said’s life becomes more and more fused with his texts to form a seamless whole, and no one has done more to bring this confluence to our sense of Edward and his work than Timothy Brennan, whose presentation I now look forward to experiencing in this oral form different from the valuable experience of reading his book.

Whither Palestine? Whither Israel? After the Violence Spike, After the Abraham Accords, After Netanyahu

13 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post covers the changing circumstances in Irael/Palestine over the course of the last six weeks. It takes the form of responses to questions posed by the political economist, journalist, and author, C.J. Polychronious, and was published in Truthout  on June 13, 2021, which happens to be the day that Israel ended its political impasse by formally empowering the Coalition for Change to take over the Israeli governing process. The coalition joins together a very diverse set of political parties, but its center of gravity leans sharply left. There are two questions now that will shape the Palestinian destiny to its next phase: Will the post-Netanyahu government push harder the political agenda of the right-wing settler movement? Will the aftermath of the IDF military operation, Guardian of the Walls, increase Palestinian resistance and global solidarity? The next two months will allow us to make better informed assessments for what is in store for both sides.]

Whither Palestine? Whither Israel? After the Violence Spike, After the Abraham Accords, After Netanyahu

Q1. Richard, the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which caused massive destruction in the Gaza Strip, ended with a ceasefire after growing US and international pressure. In your view, what factors or parties reignited the dormant Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

This latest upsurge of violence in the relations between Israel and Palestine seems to arise from a combination of circumstances. In such situations where an explanation is not obvious, and even if given, may not be trustworthy, and should often be largely discounted as a self-justifying rationale. An assessment of the reasons behind this latest cycle of large-scale Israeli violence lead to a deeper understanding of what otherwise seems opaque. It is clear that Israel usual claim of a right to defend itself is far from the whole story, especially when its behavior seemed designed to provoke Hamas to act in response. In light of this we should investigate why Israel wanted to launch a major military operation against Gaza at this time mid-Mayu when the situation seemed comparatively quiet in the preceding months?

The easiest answer to the question—to save Bibi Netanyahu’s skin. It seems that the precarious political position and legal vulnerability of the long-term, increasingly controversial Israeli leader, is the best back story, but also far from a complete picture. It helps account for the seemingly reckless Israeli provocations that preceded the flurry of rockets from Hamas and affiliates. Netanyahu had failed four times to form a government after inconclusive elections, and was for the first time facing an opposition coalition that was effectively poised to displace him as leader. Now displaced as prime minister, Netanyahu will likely have to face substantial criminal charges for fraud, bribery, and breach of public trust in Israeli courts, which could result in a jail sentence.

Why would a wily leader and ardent nationalist play roulette with the wellbeing of Israel? The answer seems to involve the character of the man rather than an astute policy calculation. Netanyahu seems to possess a narcistic personality disorder that always leads him to view national interests through as optic that accords primacy to his personal needs and desires. To the extent that the Netanyahu approach was grounded in knowledge, it reflected the well-evidenced view that Israelis put aside differences and give their total allegiance to the head of state during a wartime interlude. Netanyahu had every reason to believe that in this situation as so often in the past experience that Israelis would rally around the flag, and be thankful for his style of strong leadership in a security crisis.

Israeli behavior preceding the rockets was plainly inflammatory that  it safe to assume that it was intended to be a highly provocative challenge to Palestinian public opinion, exerting pressures on the leadership in. Ramallah and Gaza City to do something in response. First came high profile evictions of six Palestinian families from their Sheik Jarrah homes in East Jerusalem on flimsy legal grounds, with a prospect of more evictions to follow. These Israeli court rulings enraged the Palestinians. It reinforced the sense of continuing victimization taking the form of acute insecurity as to Palestinian residence rights in Jerusalem, a dynamic perceived as a process of ethnic cleansing that goes back to 1948. As such, it reawakened the still agonizing memories of the 700,000 or more Palestinians who fled or were forced across the borders of what became Israel to Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank (until 1967 under Jordanian administration) in the 1948 War, becoming refugees, and never thereafter allowed to return to their homes and homeland, which was and is their right under international law.

This process of coercive demographic rebalancing was integral to the essential racial and idealistic character of the Zionist Movement, which sought to establish not only a Jewish state but a democracy that could qualify for political legitimacy by Western criteria. To achieve this goal, however, depended on implementing policies ensuring and maintaining a secure Jewish majority population, which involved the denial of fundamental human rights to Palestinians. These controversial Sheikh Jarrar evictions were continuing this Judaizing of East Jerusalem after more than 70 years since Israel was founded. In other words, what Israeli Jews treated as a demographic imperative that was almost synonymous with maintaining a Jewish state for the Palestinians had the character of a continuous process of ethnic cleansing, which meant second-class citizenship and living with perpetual insecurity.

Days before the rockets were launched there were further provocations that took the form of unregulated marches by right-wing Jewish settlers through Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem carrying posters and shouting ‘Death to the Arabs’ coupled with random acts of violence against Palestinians and their property. Such events reinforced the impression that the Palestinians in Israel were acutely insecure and vulnerable to thuggish manifestations of settler racism and that would be abetted by the Israeli state, and its security forces. This pattern exhibited the jagged edges of Israel’s distinctive version of apartheid.

Likely, the most provocative of all these events preceding the cross-border violence with Gaza were the several intrusions at al-Aqsa compound and mosque by Israeli security forces in a manner that obstructed Muslim worship during the last days of Ramadan. As well, Muslims were prevented from coming to al-Aqsa from the West Bank during this period. These encroachments on freedom of religion again seemed designed to provoke Palestinian reactions of resistance by harshly discriminatory practices of Israeli interpretations of law and order.

Against this background, Palestinian protests mounted, and Hamas undoubtedly felt challenged to maintain its claim as the inspirational leader of Palestinian resistance. Because of the limited options available to Hamas, meaningful resistance took the characteristic form of firing hundreds of primitive rockets, many falling harmlessly or intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. The rockets were indiscriminate and inflicted some Israeli casualties, minor damage to towns in southern Israel, such a tactic violates international humanitarian law, and undoubtedly were very frightening to the Israeli civilian population.

It should be appreciated that Israel’s violations far outweighed the violations on the Palestinian in several crucial respects: the death and destruction caused by the two sides, the refusal of Israel to uphold its legal obligations as the Occupying Power toward the civilian Occupied Palestinian people who were already long subjugated by an unlawful blockade in place since 2007 held responsible for unemployment levels over 50% and dependence on humanitarian aid by over 80% of the Gazan population. Israel also ignored its specific duty outlined in Article 55 of the 4th Geneva Convention to protect the civilian population during a time of ‘contagious disease or epidemic,’ and instead subjected Palestinians to what has been described as ‘medical apartheid,’ which was most blatant on the West Bank where all Jewish settlers were vaccinated while almost no Palestinians received even a first dose.

Q2. The Arab world condemned the latest Israeli assault, but took no action. My question about this is twofold: first, to what extent did the Abraham Accords precipitate the renewal of violence between Israelis and Palestinians? And, second, what’s behind the cozy relationship between Israel and Arab Countries, particularly Gulf States?

With respect to the Abraham Accords, I am not aware of any concrete indications of a link, although some circumstantial evidence suggests its plausibility. On the Israeli side, the Accords seems to have given Israel greater confidence that they could make life even more miserable for the Palestinian people without having to fear adverse repercussions from their Arab neighbors. Without Trump in the White House the right-wing in Israel seemed to believe that their expansionist goals, including annexationist hopes for most of the West Bank would have to be achieved unilaterally, and with somewhat less diplomatic cover from the United States, and that meant intensifying their already bellicose reputation.

On the Palestinian side, opposite forces seemed at play. A sense that Netanyahu and the settlers were exerting increasing pressure to make the Palestinians believe that their struggle was futile, a lost cause, with the goal of making them agree to whatever ‘peace arrangement’ was put forward by Israel (what I call ‘the Daniel Pipes’ scenario, squeezing the Palestinians so hard that they give up, having failed to achieve such a result by way of the Oslo diplomacy). More assertively interpreted, the rockets expressed a resolve not to accept peacefully ethnically cleansing from their homes nor silenced and intimidated by the settlers nor by those who would interfere with their religious practices. The message of the rockets may have also been intended as a warning to the Palestinian Authority not to accept some arrangement that validated this coercive Israeli approach to ‘peace.’

These ugly direct encounters originating in Jerusalem were dealt with harshly by the Israeli government in the afterglow of the Abraham Accords, which was a further incitement for Hamas to act in militant solidarity. Hamas probably also sought to challenge the Palestinian Authority that so often confused its role as representative of the Palestinian people with a quasi-collaborationist approach to Israel.

Additionally, at play undoubtedly was the challenge posed by the Accords to Palestinian steadfastness or sumud. A Palestinian show of resistance, even with the full awareness that the rockets would bring a massive IDF military operation as in the past, and with it, death, trauma, displacement, and destruction in Gaza. It was the Palestinian way of expressing resolve that the struggle for basic rights will continue as long as necessary regardless of the costs. The Abraham Accords underscore the this symbolic abandonment of the Palestinian struggle by our Arab brothers and sisters, or at least their regimes, which in any event had long been evident on the level of behavior, and now more crassly. This abandonment had been previously expressed substantively by these Arab governments, especially the Gulf monarchies, which were never comfortable with Palestinian or Islamic movements from below in their region, especially in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution when political Islam showed its willingness and ability to challenge the control of the established order as confirmed by their counter-revolutionary support for the Sisi coup in 2013 against Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt.

As far as the motivations behind Arab elite willingness to ignore the pro-Palestinian sentiments of their own populations, and become parties to the Abrahamic Accords three factors are explanatory: first, the governments involved were given transactional rewards by the Trump diplomatic offensive in the form of weapons, economic inducements, delisting as a terrorist government, support for political claims; secondly, with respect especially to the Gulf monarchies, it seemed advantageous to seek a common front with Israel in opposing and destabilizing Iran, not only in relation to its nuclear program but with respect to its political solidarity relationships in the region, which included Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen; and thirdly, by seeming to take political risks at home to support U.S. pro-Israeli objectives in the region these regime could expect to gain leverage in Washington as a dependable ally, and not face criticism for their autocratic manner of governance that included flagrant abuses of human rights, especially with respect to women.

 Q3. Israeli police have arrested thousands of people over the last couple of weeks in Israeli Arab communities as part of a “law and order” operation. What is Israel really hoping to achieve with such actions against Palestinian protesters who happen to be, incidentally, Israeli citizens?

Jewish supremacy is the core of the Zionist Project as it has played out in Israel, which has in turn generated racial policies and practices that are increasingly perceived as a form of apartheid. The government of Israel to retain internal legitimacy must continually prove to its Jewish citizenry that it able and willing to maintain the racial hierarchy in reaction to Palestinian resistance and external pressure. This means that any show of resistance by subjugated Palestinians must be disproportionately punished, with the hope of deterring future defiance by the downtrodden. This mentality, so subversive of respect for international humanitarian law, has been formalized by Israel, and incorporated into IDF’s mode of operations, and is known as the Dahiya Doctrine, first so articulated by the IDF Chief of Staff, General Gadi Eisenkot, after the 2006 Lebanon War. Dahiya is a neighborhood in south Beirut that was heavily bombed despite the absence of military targets so as to destroy the civilian infrastructure of Hezbollah, which provided operational guidance for future uses of military force by Israel, especially in Gaza.

In the past 20 years Gaza and its people had borne the brunt of this Israeli need to exhibit its commitment to Jewish supremacy by periodically displaying its ability to crush any challenge, however indirect, to the policies and practices of apartheid. This was the first time that serious communal violence in towns where Palestinians and Jews cohabited arose within Israel, significantly coinciding with an IDF military operation in Gaza. It was a new internal threat to the apartheid regime, but posed a different kind of challenge as Israel couldn’t respond by devastating towns within Israel, and needed to rely on different coercive tactics. The mass arrests of Palestinian protesters was the ad hoc method relied upon to reestablish the appearance of stable control of the asymmetric relations between Jews and Palestinians, and it remains to be seen if that will be sufficient to restore stable, if fragile, ethnic coexistence within 1967 Israel.

Q4. Palestinians have been facing a severe leadership crisis for many years now, but solidarity with the Palestinian people has shifted massively on  a global scale. Are there hopeful prospects for Palestinian unity, and is the BDS movement an effective way to challenge Israeli oppression without hurting the victims themselves?

As indicated earlier, deficiencies of Palestinian leadership have weakened the Palestinian movement for self-determination. In part, this reflects the ‘success’ of Israel’s overall approach to managing a hostile population. Israel has pursued for many years ‘a politics of fragmentation’ toward the Palestinian population under its control, including at leadership levels. Such fragmentation includes its occupation administration on the West Bank with more than 700 checkpoints making internal travel incredibly difficult for Palestinians, as well administering the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in different ways that greatly complicate Palestinian interactions difficult and unity hard to maintain. Of course, the toxic split between Hamas, as intractable terrorist entity allegedly bent on Israel’s destruction and the Palestinian Authority which is alternatively useful as adversary and as potential peace partner and de facto collaborator is the deepest fissure of all. As well, Israeli denial to Palestinians of any right of return has kept the refugee status of millions of Palestinians static, untenable, and precarious. Refugee demands for return create tensions with Palestinians living under occupation many of whom believe the formula ‘land for peace’ is the best deal that they can hope for. Further they realize that Israel might agree to end the occupation but it would never assent to upholding the repatriation rights of the refugees, which is seen as a deal-breaker.

Only with a charismatic leader with support from all of these constituencies could provide the Palestinian people with authentic leadership capable of representing both Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps. Israel remains determined at this point not to let this happen, and feels strong and secure enough to refuse meaningful Palestinian statehood as well as to deny refugee rights, giving up all pretensions of any interest in a political compromise involving both land and people.

Despite these Israeli tactics, the Palestinians have discredited themselves to some extent by not putting aside their differences so as to establish a common front to achieve their overarching common goal of self-determination. The top echelons of the Palestinian Authority live a comfortable life, rumors of corruption abound, and one senses a willingness to lie low until they can make some sort of deal that hides their political defeat. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader who is internationally recognized as representing the Palestinian people, has not held promised elections since 2005, and recently cancelled elections scheduled for this year on the alleged grounds that Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem would not be allowed to vote. Critics insist that elections were cancelled because Hamas might emerge as the winner, and an anti-Abbas coalition seemed to pose a threat.

Hamas, although mischaracterized in the U.S. and Israel, has governed harshly in Gaza making many Palestinians fear its leadership. Yet as Sandy Tolan and other researchers have made clear, Hamas was induced by Washington to pursue its goals by political means and compete electorally, but it was not expected to win as it did in Gaza in 2006. When it won, it made diplomatic overtures to Washington and Tel Aviv offering a long-term ceasefire, up to 50 years, in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 ‘green line’ borders, but these were rebuffed without even the pretense of a diplomatic response. Instead, Hamas was returned to its terrorist box, the people of Gaza were blamed for their victory in the elections, and this crowded, impoverished enclave was maintained as a test site for Israeli weapons and tactical innovations, and a combat zone enabling Israel to project a regional image of credible deterrence.

The Palestinians have never set forth their own vision of peace, probably because it would reveal sharp differences between those willing to settle for some version of partition and those who seek a unified Palestine with a secular constitution assuring equality of rights. As matters now stand a sustainable peace presupposes the prior dismantling of apartheid structures and the renunciation of Zionist foundational claims of Jewish supremacy. Without such steps, any agreed outcome would end up as a ‘ceasefire.’ It is instructive to study the fall of apartheid in South Africa, and its aftermath, that failed to fulfill all of the hopes of the Africans or result in economic and social retaliation that the whites feared. And yet both Africans and whites benefitted from the transition. South Africa’s pariah state difficulties were overcome, a bloody armed struggle was averted, and so was the feared vindictive sequel to apartheid.

The South African narrative is also important for illustrating its ‘impossible’ unfolding: internal resistance, strongly reinforced by a global civil society anti-apartheid campaign supported by the UN and highlighted by BDS pressures releasing Mandela from 27 years confinement in prison despite his life sentence so that he could negotiate the transition to constitutional multi-racial democracy and become the natural and unquestioned choice of the population to be the first president of the new South Africa. It all sounds plausible 25 years after the fact, but before these dramatic events, it seemed ‘impossible,’ a dream of accommodation and substantial reconciliation too good to come true.

Can something analogous happen in Israel/Palestine? Israeli realities are very different than were South African circumstances. For one thing, there are about the same number of Israelis and Palestinians inhabiting historic Palestine (adding Gaza), while in South Africa the black population outnumbered the white population by a 4:1 ration. This would seem to make Israeli Jews less vulnerable to abuse in a secular state, and besides they could undoubtedly insist on robust international peace force with a mandate to restore order and protect the equality of rights in the event of communal strife.

A final observation. The South African apartheid leadership did not awake one morning and become aware that their racist regime was immoral and illegal. It decided through backroom debate and reflection that it was better off taking the risks of constitutional democracy than go on living the problematic existence of a pariah state waiting for the day when the roof would collapse. In other words, the white leadership made a rational public policy decision, the contemplation of which was kept as a closely guarded state secret until a consensus reached, and the extraordinary events started happening to the great surprise of the world, and came as a shock to majority of South Africans, whether black or white.

Q5: What are your thoughts on Israel’s new government? What can one expect from it in general, and will it be able to skirt the Palestinian issue?

The coalition that has managed to prevail, and end for the moment, the political impasse in Israel. The coalition set to take over the Israel government is not united on policy or belief. Its only unifying principle is a deep hostility to Netanyahu’s personality and character. For that reason the diversity of its composition makes it fragile with respect to sharp departures from Likud consensus on Palestine that has prevailed for the last twelve years in Israel.

At the same time the dominant elements in the Bennett-Lapid coalition are correctly perceived on Palestinian issues as further to the right on such issues as accelerated ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, expansion of West Bank settlements, annexation of all or most of the West Bank, opposition to any genuine form of Palestinian statehood, and greater severity with respect to the implementation of apartheid policies and practices. Further, it is expected that Naphtali Bennett, an exponent of the extreme right wing settler movement and maximal Zionist goals, will be Israel prime minister for the next two years during which he will undoubtedly be tempted to push Israeli policy even further to the right.

It is, of course, possible that Bennett will contain his anti-Palestinian fury so as to hold the coalition together, but it is just as likely that he will be prepared to pay the price of a collapsed coalition by being able to attract support for his program from the Likud members and other rightists outside the coalition who agree with his approach on Palestine and are no longer tied to Netanyahu or preoccupied with having a place in the leadership of the government. It is also possible that Bennett will move more cautiously to avoid weakening American support, which is already weaker than ever before in this century. Bennett is less abrasive in personal style than Netanyahu, which is hardly a difficult achievement, but is more of an extreme ideologue and less an opportunist. The unanswerable question at this point is whether the ideological push will prevail or give way to a pragmatic lowering of objectives in the hope of holding onto power.

Given this further turn to the right in Israel there is no realistic prospect of any kind of meaningful diplomacy for the foreseeable future. Although the coalition is presented as ‘center/right’ it is heavily weighted to the right. There are, in contrast, real possibilities of stronger global solidarity efforts through the UN and by way of civil society campaign such as BDS, and a stronger public support for Palestinian grievances, especially if Palestinian resistance remains strong and Israeli repression remains harsh. We should leave room for surprises, good and mostly bad. This is the Middle East where it is folly to predict the future, and a sure recipe for disappointment to expect the best.

IDF Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’: Prelude, Aftermath, Prospects

7 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post consists four journalistic pieces that were initially published in April and May leading up to the fourth in the sequence of massive military operations against Gaza in each instance falsely presented as ‘defensive.’ These operations resulted in large casualties and were further justified as ‘counter-terrorism’because the alleged target was Hamas, a terrorist organization. Somehow, this latest attack on Gaza was more fairly reported in the Western press, and let to the most convincing show of Palestinian unity in a period of crisis. It also was an event that weakened Netanyahu’s hold on power, not because of objections to his hardline policies, but due to distaste for his personality and character, and a coalition is poised to form a new government awaiting only confirmation by the Knesset on June 9th.]

IDF Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’: Prelude, Aftermath, Prospects

  • Responses to Questions from Daniel Falcone (May 11, 2021)


1) Why is it that American politicians cannot say the words ‘Israeli apartheid

As an international crime, apartheid is a collective crime against a distinct race, that is one step down in severity from

genocide. There is a major distinction. As the South African antecedent experience illustrates, apartheid is reversible, although the material and psychological harms suffered by its victims is not. As death is the core of genocide, it is as a practical matter irreversible, and its legacy lingers as the instance of the Holocaust illustrate. In fact, Israeli apartheid may be partly understood as an unintended consequence of the Holocaust. Israel probably could not have been successfully established without widespread international support, which would not have been so forthcoming without the shame of liberal guilt of the West in doing so little to oppose the extreme antisemitism and racism of Nazi Germany, including closing their doors to Jewish refugees.

In any event, the Palestinian people were made to pay the price of Nazi wrongdoing in the form of the imposition of a non-Palestinian state in their homeland at the very time when European colonialism was unraveling elsewhere in the world. In such a setting it was to be expected that Palestinian society would resist, and that Israel’s security would depend on effective means of repression. Such an interaction was accentuated by the characteristics of the Zionist Project that sought a Jewish state that was governed in accordance with democratic principles. Given the premise of such ethnic politics, this induced an ethos of ethnic cleansing to ensure stable Jewish demographic control of the state in what had been Palestine. It also meant discriminatory treatment of immigration and residency, denying Palestinians basic rights while giving Jews many privileges based on identity alone. Such discrimination is crudely exposed in the grant to Jews worldwide of an unrestricted right of return and immediate access to Israeli citizenship could

American mainstream political arenas and media are frightened and intimidated by the prospect of being labeled as antisemitic. The widely relied upon IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Anniversary) definition of antisemitism would easily result in any allegation of apartheid being treated as proof positive of antisemitism. This is so, despite respected studies concluding that Israel’s practices and policies satisfy the definition of apartheid as set forth in the 1973 UN International Convention on Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. And despite the Rome Statute (2002), the treaty governing the operations of the International Criminal Court regarding in Article 7(h) apartheid as one type of crime against humanity.

This inhibition on describing apartheid as ‘apartheid’ has been eroded by two 2021 reports confirming the apartheid allegation. The first report is by B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights NGO, that characterizes Israeli apartheid as the imposition of Jewish dominance upon the Palestinian people in the territory governed by Israel, that is, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea that encompasses both Israel proper and the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. (This is Apartheid, 12 Jan. 2021) The second report by Human Rights Watch reaches the apartheid conclusion after an exhaustive examination of systematic Israeli racial discrimination and reliance on inhuman measures resulting in Palestinian victimization in furtherance of the Zionist Project of maintaining a Jewish state. (A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, 27 April 2021) Back in 2017 I co-authored a report with Virginian Tilley, under UN auspices (Economic and Social Commission for West Asia or ESCWA) that investigated the apartheid allegation and concluded that Israeli practices and policies were an instance of apartheid, which we felt was best understood in relation to the Palestinian people (including refugees and exiles) rather than confined to territory. (Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,

March 2017)

2) How, in your estimation, will Biden respond to the “Jerusalem crisis?”

On the basis of past behavior and the initial statements of  close advisors, it is most likely that Biden visors will call for calm, while making one-sided and unconditional criticisms of the rockets and artillery shells from Gaza fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad as ‘provocations’ and ‘escalations’ of the underlying conflict. The one-sidedness is almost certain to be underscored by refraining from any criticism of Israeli responses, which are almost certain to be disproportionate in terms of casualties, devastation, and firepower.  

The one-sidedness will be further highlighted by the absence of direct reference to Israeli provocations in Jerusalem such as right-wing settlers marching through East Jerusalem shouting ‘death to the Arabs’ or municipal plans to expel a series of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem on the basis of flimsy legal pretexts. The admitted goal is to prepare the way for further Jewish settlements, which is regarded by almost every Palestinian as a continuation of the ethnic cleansing that began in 1947, and has occurred periodically in 74 ensuing years. The Palestinian steadfastness (sumud) in Sheikh Jarrar is epitomized by their slogan ‘we will not be erased.”

Biden places a high priority on sustaining a bipartisan image in the conduct of foreign policy, especially with respect to Israeli policies. He has already indicated that the United States will accept Trump’s unlawful initiative of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, will not question the unlawful annexing of the Syrian Golan Heights, and applauding the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries so heralded as triumphant diplomatic achievements during the last stage of the Trump presidency.

Although there is some friction from a small group of Democrats in Congress resulting from such an imbalanced approach, it is strongly endorsed by both political parties and by the powerful lobbying influence of AIPAC. Leading Biden foreign policy representatives have made clear that the $3.8 billion military aid package will not be affected by negative findings in the annual country reports of the State Department, which signals a green light for Netanyahu’s aggressive approach to relations with the Palestinians.    

3) The media still repeats in the passive voice, “21 killed by Israel’s Retaliatory strikes”. Has any dimension of the press coverage improved however in your estimation?

There is a subtle change in the coverage of the liberal print media, as highlighted by the New York Times and Washington Post. Instead, of reporting only Palestinian violence as objectionable there is more of a tendency to place nominal blame for periodic crises on both parties. I regard this as conveying a distorting image of symmetrical responsibility shared equally by Palestine and Israel while overlooking the structural realities of gross inequality arising from Israeli oppression and expanding territorial claims. It is always deceptive to treat the oppressor and the oppressed as if equal. As here, the oppressor acts contrary to applicable international law and elementary morality while the oppressed is countering by exercising rights of resistance and suffering the deprivation of basic rights. Of course, the tactics of resistance should be scrutinized by reference to legal and moral constraints, but without losing sight of overwhelming structures of dominance and the far greater harm done by state violence than by the violence of resistance.   

4) Just hours ago, it was reported that “Israel launches airstrikes after rockets fired from Gaza in day of escalation.” This headline conveys that the situation is somehow symmetrical and the media’s interest in maintaining a false balance. Is this a correct observation?

As my last response suggests, one of the worst flaws in liberal journalism is to treat asymmetries as if symmetrical. Such a practice has been notorious in relation to the so-called ‘peace process’ or Oslo diplomacy where the Palestinians are made to share equal responsibility with the Israelis. This is so despite Israel making clear that its acceptance of ‘peace’ with the Palestinian people depends on Palestine giving up its inalienable right of self-determination as well as claims to having its capital in Jerusalem or challenges to extensive Israeli armed settlements unlawfully established.

5) I have a friend who recently wrote, “Israel, as an ethnostate is [on the verge of] committing suicide.” This in reaction to May 7th’s headline “Palestinians, Israel police clash at Al-Aqsa mosque; 53 hurt”. What kind of political consequences do you perceive the Israelis to suffer?

There is an ambiguity in your friend’s assertion of Israel being on the verge of committing suicide. Is this because Israel is encountering difficulty in the enforcement of its claims as an ethnocracy to occupy all of the ethno-religious space? Or is it because Israel has been compelled to challenge the red line of Islamic identity, by forcibly entering Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, attacking and injuring hundreds of Muslim worshipers, thereby threatening what it sought to achieve by the normalization agreements. Time will tell.

It remains to be seen what this latest flareup will produce by way of effects. One alternative is a Third Intifada that is sustained sufficiently to uphold claims to preserve the Palestinian identity of East Jerusalem. Another alternative is for Israel to mount a massive attack on Gaza in response to the 300 rockets that have allegedly targeted Jerusalem and southern Israel in the vicinity of Ashkelon and Ashdod in recent days of a similar or greater intensity to such prior attacks as in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. With the West, especially the U.S. singling out the rockets from Gaza, despite the far greater human injury inflicted on the Palestinians in the Jerusalem incidents, the scene is set for Israeli violence in Gaza to be treated as ‘defensive’ or even as ‘self-defense.’

The unresolved Israeli domestic political turmoil is not to be discounted as an influence, tempted Israeli escalation. Netanyahu is thought to have better chances of surviving as Israel’s leader if the security agenda again becomes prominent.’

(2) Jerusalem: Bloody Polarization

The events of the past week revealed the deep fissures of the Israeli

Apartheid state. Right-wing Israeli extremists, referred to ‘Israeli nationalists’ by most

Zionist media, staged a demonstration some days ago that featured the slogan ‘death to the Arabs.’ Israeli security forces countered by attacking the Palestinian resisters, wounding hundreds, and reportedly using non-lethal weapons to inflict maximum injuries, with many head wounds reported, including eyes shot out.

In the background were fanatical efforts in April and early May by Israeli settlers to Judaize the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, evicting four Palestinian families. The Israeli High Court deferred ruling on these controversial moves for a month in light of the tensions in the city.

This riotous atmosphere was further inflamed when Israeli security personnel forced their entry to Al-Asqa Mosque compound where Muslim worshippers were present in large numbers on the last Friday of Ramadan. More injuries resulted as well as the defiling of the third holiest Islamic site in the world. Jordan called the Israeli behavior ‘barbaric’ and the UAE objected officially despite the recent normalization agreements. The magnitude of this interference with religious observance have led some to call the pre-Gaza encounter the ‘Ramadan Intifada.’

The latest episode is associated with the march route celebrating the unlawful annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 War, coupled with Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the expanded city limits of Jerusalem now that Israel controlled the entire city. The Knesset established May 12 as Jerusalem Day to acknowledge the unification of the city under its control, supposedly heeding the words of Psalm 122: “Built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was jointed together.” On the advice of Israeli security forces, backed by Benny Gantz, the Defense Minister, the proposed route of the march was revised to exclude passage through the Damascus Gate, which was regarded as a flashpoint, likely to provoke renewed Palestinian resistance and Israeli police violence. At the last moment, the Israeli authorities bowed to international pressure and redirected the settler demonstrations away from the Damascus Gate, which would assuredly have resulted in confrontations between unarmed Palestinian

Youth and violent settlers alone among West Bank residents permitted to carry arms.

This is in the spirit of Netanyahu’s response to the mayhem, which is to say that Jerusalem is our capital and we will do want we want in the city. This signals an acceptance of the legitimacy of the settler violent efforts to push for further the ethnic cleansing of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem through eviction notices and intimidation based on discriminatory Israeli laws and thuggery as to Palestinian residency and property rights.

Netanyahu, speaking on TV at an event celebrating Jerusalem Day, defiantly voiced support of settler claims and of Israeli security behavior in violently suppressing Palestinian oppositional activity and Ramadan worship. “We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late,”

“I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as     every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do.”

I also take note of the silence of the UN, which once again fails to uphold its responsibilities for Israeli compliance with International Humanitarian Law as embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention governing Belligerent Occupation.

U.S. officials, including Jake Sullivan, Biden’s National Security Advisor, calls for calm of both sides, which a meaningless whisper in the face crisis conditions prevailing in Jerusalem.  

(3) Daniel Falcone Questions (June 3, 2021

  1. Can you comment on the US role in the ousting of Netanyahu?

The U.S. Government while vocal in denouncing leaders of rival countries, is discreet when it to friends, above all Israel. There are undoubtedly some private conversations

among influential persons in both countries, suggesting that sustaining friendly

relations would be easier without the belligerent discourse and political style of Netanyahu. Other Israelis are as resolutely right-wing but less confrontational, and one suspects that the Biden Administration would rather try its luck with a post-Neetanyahu leadership, no matter what its outlook on such questions as settlements, a state for Palestine, or a nuclear deal with Iran.



2) What is the game plan for the Israeli government moving forward?

It appears that if this so-called center/right coalition headed by Yair Lapid and Naphtali Bennett takes over the leadership of Israel for the next four years, it will not change its position on relations with Occupied Palestine or with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. It will focus on the internal economic agenda, improving secular-religious relations, and promoting closer relations with Arab neighbors by implementing the ‘normalization agreements’ and seeking to additional such agreements within the Middle East. I feel that formal annexation of portions of the West Bank will also be deferred by Israel to avoid friction with the U.S. and Europe.

On the restoration of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Israel will likely offer less

opposition than Netanyahu, but seek to exert influence in similar directions, seeking to impose more restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and possibly conditioning the removal of sanctions on Iranian discontinuance of work on precision missile technology or support for Hamas and Hezbollah.  It should be appreciated that Bennett is scheduled to serve as prime minister of Israel for the next two years, and he has been an impassioned advocate of settlement expansion and an uncompromising opponent of establishing a Palestinian state. Bennett favors what he calls ‘autonomy on steroids’ to be exercised by Palestinians on 40% of the West Bank.




3) Does this leadership shift signal anything to the rest of the world about authoritarianism?

I think Israel is such a special case of a hybrid state, combining an apartheid regime subjugating the Palestinians with democratic constitutionalism for the Jewish citizenry of the country, that this prospective leadership shift doesn’t signal any wider trend of departure from international authoritarian leadership. This is especially true as the political shift is almost totally about the personality and character of Netanyahu, and not any fundamental shift in policy or in governance. The issue of Palestinian governance is not even part of the main coalition-building conversation. I suppose there could be surprises. Maybe the small Islamic Arab party that belatedly joined the anti-Netanyahu coalition hints at this possibility, but it seems more motivated by the desire to get rid of Netanyahu than anything more substantive.



4) How can we expect the media to cover the change in leadership? 

I would imagine that the mainstream media would share much of my assessment, perhaps giving more emphasis to a less stressful relationship with the U.S. and EU, and

possibly the UN. There will likely be a more hopeful tone about this transition demonstrating Israel’s democratic character. Also, more discussion of Netanyahu mixed record during his years in office as the longest serving prime minister, as well as his legacy and recent fall from grace.

As Bennett is known to be a more pleasant and diplomatic in style, hewill be presented to the public as more compatible with Biden. Possibly also, the media will give greater influence to the more secular and supposedly moderate outlook of Lapid, both as the leader of the coalition process and scheduled to succeed Bennett as prime minister in two years. Given the rightest consensus in the Knesset, estimated to be as 100 of its 120 members, it is not likely that there will be any expectation of changes of significance with respect to Palestine. There is an outside chance that more civil society pressure will cause some fracturing of this status quo consensus on Palestine, especially if global pressures grow from BDS, the UN, and governments and internal tensions in Israeli/Palestinian relations mount. .

(4) Is the Tide Finally Turning in Favor of the Palestinians

Repetition or Change?

The latest Israeli violence, at first glance, seemed just like the prior massive attacks on Gaza of 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. There were large number of primitive rockets fired by Hamas in Israel’s direction that fell harmlessly or were intercepted by the Iron Dome, causing minor damage. In its turn, Israel

Inflicted widespread death and destruction by bombs, artillery shells, missiles fired from land, sea, and air, which once again terrorized the totally vulnerable people of Gaza 24/7 for from May 10-21.

As in the earlier attacks, there were calls from almost everywhere for a ceasefire to halt the carnage, including at the UN Security Council. As before, these pleas were spurned by Israel and blocked by the United States. Denunciations of Israel’s attack without action came from Arab governments. As is its habit, the U.S. provided the shield that allowed Israel to continue with the attack against the weight of world public opinion, giving the familiar lame excuse: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Further, anything goes, since Gaza is controlled by Hamas, ‘a terrorist organization’ by the Western moral compass, which amounts to signaling to Israel that anything goes, and international humanitarian law is not applicable to such an adversary.

When the smoke cleared in Gaza, 90,000 Gazans were displaced with their homes destroyed, over 1900 wounded, at least 243 dead, including 66 children. In contrast, Israel suffered 12 fatalities, including two children. Without minimizing the loss of life, the contrast reflects differences in military technology, tactics, and relative vulnerability of Israelis and Gazans, and Israel’s brazen indifference to the loss of Palestinian lives despite protestations to the contrary.  

Nothing seemed changed. Hamas was still in firm control of Gaza with its

Impoverished population of over two million living in a permanent lockdown, borders were armed on the Israeli side and almost all Palestinians unable ever to leave the tiny, blockaded enclave where over 50% are unemployed and 80% are dependent for life support on humanitarian assistance.

It would seem that there is nothing new to report. We are left to speculate as when to expect the next cycle of violence. Yet this time maybe these appearances of repetition are deceptive.

Beneath the Surface

In the past few months Palestine has won notable victories in the symbolic domains of political struggle, which contrary to conventional wisdom,

often determine the eventual winners more than combat zones.

The International Criminal Court in a Pre-Trial Chamber decided that its Prosecutor could launch a formal investigation is Israel’s international crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza that occurred since 2014. It was evident that the Prosecutor had ample evidence of specific crimes associated with disproportionate violence in the 2014 attack on Gaza, the use of excessive violence in dealing with the 2018 Great March of Return at the Israeli border, and in relation to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Even if not a single Israeli official is ever prosecuted by the ICC, this validation of Palestinian allegations of Israeli wrongdoing, and what is more Israel knows it. Why else would Netanyahu greet such a decision with the simplistic dismissal of ‘pure antisemitism’? Israel has long insisted that the UN was biased, but has never before smeared an international institution that had given it the benefit of the doubt while conducting a legal proceeding.

An even bigger Palestinian victory was recorded by mainstream reports finding that Israel was guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinians under their authority. Both the leading Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, and the most influential global human rights NGO, Human Rights Watch, issued reports documenting their central conclusion that Israeli policies and practices constituted apartheid.  The recommendations of the reports call for application of international criminal law and confer on all countries a legal responsibility to take steps to suppress and oppose apartheid.

These developments are of great victories in what I have called the Legitimacy War dimensions of conflict. Reviewing the record in anti-colonial wars since 1945 it becomes clear that the side that prevails in such a legitimacy war fought to gain command of the high ground of law, morality, and public approval, usually goes on to control the political outcome. The French lost the Indochina and Algerian wars despite having superior weaponry, and the U.S. totally dominated the battlefield in Vietnam and yet lost the war.

The most relevant legitimacy for Palestine involves the collapse of the South African apartheid regime despite its effective monopoly of security capabilities. It collapsed because of the combination of non-violent resistance and global solidarity efforts rooted in anti-racist civil society initiatives prompting the apartheid leadership to reevaluate their options. They decided it was better to dismantle apartheid and take their chances with constitutional democracy than

to go on living as an international pariah state.

Palestinian Symbolic Victories Impact on the Future

The just concluded Israeli military operation, code named Guardian of the Walls, exhibited some impacts of these Palestinian symbolic victories. The most salient can be. noted:

–signs of division within Israel that never before were visible during prior military operations;

–an opinion poll showing that 72% believe the ceasefire came too early, suggesting that the Israeli leadership bowed, after all, to international pressures,

including from Washington;

–increasing expressions of Palestinian Arab-Jewish communal violence in Israeli towns;

–more balanced treatment of the violence by Western media platforms, with unprecedented coverage of the daily misery of Palestinian lives under occupation;

–widespread condemnation of collective punishment inflicted on the blockaded civilian population of Gaza in the midst of the COVID pandemic and a badly degraded medical and health system;

–new signs of Palestinian unity in reaction to Israeli violence within Jerusalem, including intrusions on worship during Ramadan, right-wing settler violent provocations protected by Israeli police, and protests by massed Palestinian refugees on the borders with Lebanon and Jordan;

–weakening support for Israel and rising criticism of unconditional U.S. support of Israel;

–increasing support in many countries for BDS and other civil society initiatives, as well as solidarity moves by labor unions and religious groups seeking boycotts and sanctions to promote a just peace for Palestinians.

A Sharpeville Moment?

In retrospect, many felt that the Sharpeville Massacre was the turning point that led in the end to the demise of apartheid in South Africa. The incident arose from a protest at the provincial police facility in the township of Sharpeville by Africans against the pass laws used to enforce segregation and limit mobility. 69 unarmed protesters were killed by the police, many shot in the back while fleeing the scene. The incident exposed to the world what apartheid meant.

Of course, even if history proves that Guardian of the Walls was a turning point, it does not mean that Israeli apartheid is on the verge of collapse. The Sharpeville massacre occurred in 1960, yet it was not until the early 1990s that apartheid was dismantled. It often takes a long time for prophetic writing on the wall to be registered in historical happenings.

The Palestinian ordeal is certainly not over, but for the first time we can envision it ending!    

‘Rules-Based-International-Order’: A New Metaphor for U.S. Geopolitical Primacy

1 Jun

[Prefatory Note:  This post interrogates Biden’s Secretary of State’s frequent claims that the United States and its allies adhere to a ‘rules-based-international-order’ while our adversaries somehow do not. Yet Antony Blinken does not clarify what is the behavioral substance of this dual track behavior. Do Blinken’s rules validate impunity for close allies such as Israel or Saudi Arabia? Are U.S. ‘black sites’ for interrogating suspects overseas in ways prohibited by U.S. and international law? For destabilizing policies and coercive measures directed at Iran? For imposing sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, others, and refusing to suspend these sanctions during the COVID pandemic despite WHO appeals? And what about all those regime-changing interventions? and interferences in foreign elections? It raises two sets of issues: WHAT RULES? FOR WHOM? Others around the world have few doubts about how to answer these questions. Blinken’s rules are a way of force-feeding the insatiable American appetite for the food of innocence, however toxic, perhaps the new language of ‘American exceptionalism.’]

‘Rules-Based-International-Order’: A New Metaphor for U.S. Geopolitical Primacy

Is the U.S. Leading a Geopolitical Alliance or a Coalition of Governments Committed to Democracy and Human Rights?

Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has made U.S. adherence to a ‘rules-based-international-order’ the core of American foreign policy. It is being used as a sword against China, Russia, and some other countries that have antagonized Washington for a variety of reasons. It seems to be as aspect of what Biden must has in mind when he speaks about ‘building back better.’ Of course, part of this new wave of American ‘liberal internationalism’ is to get out from under the dark legach of chauvinistic nationalism and transactional relations with foreign governments that Trump presidency left behind.

Biden wants in contrast to reaffirm U.S. claims to be a benevolent global leader almost as if he is living in the years after World War II. Trump was as confrontational toward China as Biden/Blinken but he validated his hostile and bombastic diplomacy by exclusive efforts to advance the U.S. policy agenda of self-serving national interests. Implicitly, he was telling American Cold War allies, including the European democracies, that they would have to pay their fair share if they wanted the American NATO alliance to continue providing for their security. The Biden approach seems willing to buy back global leadership by investing whatever it costs to maintain the American global security system of 800 based around the world, navies in all oceans, and an edge in the distinctive weaponry resulting from innovations in cyber technology, robotics, and AI.

There is some foreign policy overlap between two presidencies, Biden like Trump has conceded that regime-changing interventions and prolonged occupation of a hostile society in the global South has compiled a record of costly failures. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in a few months, overriding Pentagon warnings, was a sign that there would be fewer ‘forever wars’ in the next few years. A second convergence with the Trumpism is to maintain an inflated military budget and to push foreign arms sales, thus ensuring retaining the dubious distinction of being by far the world’s leading annual spender on military preparedness and the dominant player in the lucrative global market place for weaponry.    

Where Biden/Blinken diverge most strikingly from Trump/Pompeo is with respect to ideological and normative claims, relating to solidarity with democracies and a robust commitment to human rights. Even before Biden moved into the White House he made clear that his primary motivation in foreign policy would be to lead the democratically oriented governments in an ideological against the autocrats of the world, a division that promised to be divisive and to risk the second coming of the Cold War division of the world into friends and enemies. Worse than the rivalry with the Soviets, this new conflict patterning risks hot wars and diverts resources and energies at a time when other urgent needs, above all, climate change, deserve to be the focus of security concerns. In this important sense, Biden is living dangerously in a long gone past.

Furthermore, when the signifiers of democracy and human rights are examined critically, it turns out that in practice they are more about hostile propaganda than expressive of coherent commitments to democratic forms of governance or respect for human rights. The distinguishing criterion of diplomatic affinity for Biden is the willingness to be a compliant alliance partner, nothing more, nothing less.

In light of this what are we to make of this diplomatic language that sounds so idealistic? If it is carefully considered even from a sympathetic perspective, it nothing more than a way of calling attention to normative bipolarity. It draws an imaginary line between democrats and autocrats, with the U.S. and its NATO allies leading the democracies and China and Russia leading the autocracies. In existential terms there are some full-fledged autocrats that are welcomed into the democratic tent despite their autocratic resume—for instance, Modi, Mohammed bin Salmon, Sisi, Bolsonaro, and for that matter Netanyahu.

When Israel flagrantly defied the rule of law in its recent military operation against Gaza the United States used its leverage to block calls for a ceasefire at the UN Security Council and blandly told the world that Israel ‘had the right to defend itself’ overlooking its provocative acts (evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrar neighborhood, right-wing settlers marches protect by Israeli police shouting ‘Death to the Arabs,’ and interference with al-Aqsa worshippers at the height of Ramadan), which seemed intended to incite Hamas to attack with its primitive rockets, which would provide Israel with just enough legal cover to launch a massive military operation that caused 20 times the number of civilian deaths in Gazaa than were Israelis killed by the Hamas rockets.. It has credibly conjectured that the domestically embattled Netanyahu sought the crisis with the Palestinians as a way to remain in power as the Israeli public has always backed the leadership if Israel was military engaged.

Living in a ‘Rule-Governed International Order’?

Against this background, one would have expected Biden and Blinken at least to couple their enthusiasm for alliance diplomacy with language that indicated respect for international law and support for a stronger United Nations. This is such an obvious oversight that it must be assumed to be deliberate. And it leads us to wonder further what sort of alternative ‘rules-governed international order’ was being put forward. One hypothesis is that Blinken was guilty of a repeated slip of the tongue, and what was intended all along was ‘a ruler governed world’ by ‘guess who?’Diplomatic practice in this early period of the Biden diplomacy makes this reformulation more than a semantic joke.

When it comes to China or Belarus their behavior justifies an opportunistic sounding the alarm due to their alleged failures to abide by the rules of international law. True, China declared an adverse judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration a few years with respect to its island resource disputes with the Philippines in the South China Seas. Rather than making China an outlier, such a show of contempt for the decision of an international tribunal makes it seem like it has learned to behave like other members of the geopolitical club.  The United States recently flaunted international institutions when it officially repudiated a decision by the International Criminal Court that claimed the legal authority to investigate well-evidenced allegations of U.S. international crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. The reason to emphasize inconsistency in the Blinken claim that they play is to show that the commitment to a rule-based international order is based on moral hypocrisy, and should be perceived for what it is, hostile propaganda.

This pattern of seeing with one eye is even more blatant when it comes to human rights—when the silences scream and the screams are contrived to mobilize hostility. Do we hear from Washington about Duterte’s gangster tactics of governance in the Philippines or the denial of rights to Muslims in India, especially Kashmir? In contrast, the far lesser grievances of the population of Hong Kong or Tibet becomes a major concern of Washington, and the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang are inflammatorily portrayed as ‘genocide.’ The compliant Western mainstream media dutifully followed the unwritten guidelines as to erasures and trumpets, while Pentagon planners and think tank militarists urge Congress to increase arms expenditures, and seem to relish prospects of a confrontations in the waters surrounding the Chinese mainland, especially highlighting Chinese threats to the security of Taiwan and U.S. resolve to engage militarily in response. This war-mongering ethos is evident in the call for weapons rather than

a plea for avoiding incidents that could lead to uses of force by establishing joint crisis management schemes.

Concluding Remark

This emphasis on a ‘rules-governed’ world implicitly makes the polemical claim that the United States play by the rules whereas our adversaries do not. But what can this mean? The United States has projected more deadly force outside its borders than has any state in the course of the last 75 years. It has also intervened repeatedly over the years in disrupting democracies and using its geopolitical prerogatives to block and sanction democratic forms of governance if they refuse U.S. tutelage or display proclivities that can be castigated  as ‘socialist.’ The Snowden revelations suggest that the United States has invested more heavily than any government on the planet in developing intrusive surveillance capabilities. The U.S. record of manipulating foreign elections is notorious, and has long been a well-known part of the CIA’s portfolio.

Several conclusions emerge:

–Blinken’s stress on the virtues of a rules-governed world should not be confused with making a U.S. commitment to conduct its foreign policy in accord with international law:

–When this rule-governed language is used to criticize the behavior of others, the misleading claim is implied that the U.S. plays by rules applicable to others, but its adversaries don’t;

–Blinken should be pressed to clarify the concept and to explain why he refrains from references to international law and the UN Charter when describing U.S. foreign policy; I suspect that ‘American exceptionalism’ is in play when it comes to exploring Blinken’s normative consciousness. Why else would the US refrain from becoming a party to the International Criminal Court?

–It should be emphasized by foreign diplomats and international jurists that the only legitimate rules-governed international order is international law, even when critical account is taken of its hegemonic record and its selective enforcement. And more progressive civil society initiatives should use international law, where possible, as a counter-hegemonic tool on behalf of global justice.   

A New Different Cold War, An Old Geopolitics

30 May

[ Prefatory Note: The text below is based on responses to questions posed by C.J. Polychroniou, a skilled interpreter of the global scene andnoted author and interviewer. His book of interviews with Noam  Chomsky was published in 2017 under the title Optimism over Despair.Great Power Competition Is Escalating to Dangerous Levels: An Interview with Richard Falk” was published online in slightly modified form in recent issues of Global Policy, Rosenzweig Quarterly, and Z-Net.]

C. J. Polychroniou: Richard, US foreign policy under the Biden administration is geared toward escalating the strategic competition with both China and Russia. Indeed, the Interim National Strategic Guidance, released in March 2021, makes it abundantly clear that the US intends to deter its adversaries from “inhibiting access to global commons, or dominating key regions” and that, moreover, this work cannot be done alone, as was the case under Trump, but will require the reinvigoration and modernization of the alliance system across the world. Does this read to you like a call for the start of a new New Cold War?

Richard Falk: Yes, I would say it is more  ‘a call’ for a New Cold War, but it a start of a process that may soon indeed be a new Cold  War or as you aptly put it, a new, new Cold War. The focus is presently much more China than Russia, because China is seen by Washington as posing the primary threat, and besides, it regards Russia as a traditional rival while China poses novel and more fundamental challenges. Russia, while behaving in an unsavory manner, dramatized by the crude handling of the opposition figure Alexei Navalny, is perceived as manageable by standard geopolitical reliance on refurbished versions of ‘containment’ and ‘deterrence’ approaches, and without much of an ideological dimension. Euro-American strategy is to stiffen resistance to Russian pressure being exerted along some of its borders

China is another matter entirely. The most serious perceived threats are mainly associated with non-military sectors of Western, and particularly, U.S., primacy, its dominance over a dynamic productive economy, especially with respect to frontier technologies. The remarkable developmental dynamism of the Chinese economy has far outstripped anything ever achieved in the West. The United States Government under Biden appears stubbornly blindsided, seemingly determined to address these Chinese threats as if they could be effectively addressed by a combination of ideological confrontation and as with Soviet Union, containment and deterrence. This Biden response is fundamentally mistaken in its approach, which is to view China as a similar adversary than was the Soviet Union. This Chinese challenge cannot be successfully met frontally, that is, by geopolitical pushback resting on military credibility. It can only be met by a diagnosis of the relative decline of the West by way of self-scrutiny, selective emulation, and the effective encouragement of creative adaptive energies. Crafting such a response needs to be accompanied by a reformist agenda of socio-economic equity, massive infrastructure investment, the adoption of fairer wealth and income tax structures, and a commitment to a style of global leadership that identified the national interest to a greater extent with global public goods. Instead of focusing on holding China in check, the United States would do much better by learning from its successes, and adapting them to the distinctiveness of U.S. national circumstances.

It is to be regretted that the present mode of response to China is dangerous and anachronistic for four principal reasons. First, the mischaracterization of the Chinese challenge betrays a lack of self-confidence and understanding by the American Biden/Blinken foreign policy leadership.

Secondly, the chosen path of confrontation risks a fateful clash in South China Seas, an area that according to the precepts of traditional geopolitics falls within the Chinese sphere of influence, and a context within which Chinese firmness is perceived as ‘defensive’ by Beijing while the U.S. military presence is regarded as intrusive, if not ‘hegemonic.’ These perceptions are aggravated by the U.S. effort to augment its role as upholding alliance commitments in South Asia, recently reaffirmed by the clear anti-Chinese animus of the QUAD (Australia, Japan, India, and the U.S.), formally named Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which despite the euphemism of its name intends to signify enhanced regional military cooperation and shared security concerns.

Thirdly, the longtime U.S. military superiority in the Pacific region may not reflect the current regional balance of forces in the East and South China Seas. Pentagon public assertions have recently issued worrird warnings, expressing the opinion that in the event of a military confrontation, China would likely come out on top unless the U.S. resorts to nuclear weapons. According to an article written by Admiral Charles Richard, who currently heads National Strategic Command, this assessment has been confirmed by recent Pentagon war games and conflict simulations.

Taking account of this view, Admiral Richard advises that U.S. preparations for such an armed encounter be changed from the possibility of recourse to nuclear weaponry to its probability. The implicit assumption, which is scary, is that U.S. must do whatever it takes to avoid an unacceptable political outcome even if it requires crossing the nuclear threshold. We might usefully recall the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when Soviet moves to deploy defensive missile systems in Cuba in response to renewed U.S. intervention to impose regime change. Let us remember that Cuba was accepted as independent sovereign state entitled under international law to uphold its national security as it sees fit, that is, in accord with the Blinken prescription of acceptable behavior because it accords with the general understanding of a ‘rules-governed’ world. In contrast,d Taiwan has been consistently accepted internationally as falling within the historical limits of Chinese territorial sovereignty. The credibility of the Chinese claim was given political weight in the Shanghai Communiqué that re-established U.S./China diplomatic relations in 1972. Kissinger recalled that in the negotiations leading to a renewal of bilateral relations the greatly admired Chinese Foreign Minister, Chou En-Lai, was flexible on every issue except Taiwan. That is, China has a strong legal and historical basis for reclaiming Taiwan as an integral part of its sovereign territory considering its armed severance from China occurred as a result of Japanese imperialism. China governed the area now known as Taiwan from 1683-1895. In 1895 it was conquered and ruled by Japan until 1945 when it was reabsorbed and became a part of the Republic of China. After 1949 when the Chinese Communists took over control of China, Taiwan was renamed Republic of China on Taiwan, and its security dependent on the U.S. Navy. From Chinese perspective, this historical past supports their basic contention that Taiwan is part of China and not entitled to be treated as a separate state. There is little doubt that if the United States had not committed itself strategically to the defense of Taiwan, the island state would have been reabsorbed into a resurgent China.

Fourthly, and maybe decisively, the international claims on the energies and resources of the United States are quite different than they were during the Cold War of the last century. There was no impending catastrophe resulting from climate change to worry about, decaying infrastructure within the United States desperately needing expensive repair, and under-investment in social protection by government in the area of health, housing, and education. The over-investment in military capabilities and a global geopolitical posture, which involves paying for the upkeep of 800 military bases worldwide and navies in every ocean, is contributing more to national decline rather than it is to maintaining a global security system managed from Washington .

C. J. Polychroniou: Isn’t it possible that the approach of the Biden administration to the future environment of great power competition could lead to the formation of a Russia-China military alliance, especially since  alliance formation constitutes a key element of state interaction? Indeed, Vladimir Putin has already said that the prospect of such partnership  is “theoretically… quite possible,”  so the question is this: What would be the implications for global order if a Sino-Russian military alliance were to be formed?

Richard Falk: I think we are in a period of renewed alliance diplomacy recalling the feverish attempts of the United States to surround the Soviet Union with deployed military forces, which was a way of communicating to Moscow that the Soviet Union could not expand their borders territorially without anticipating a military encounter with the United States. At first glance, alliances conceived in these traditional terms make little sense in the present global setting. Except in Taiwan it is unlikely that China would seek to enlarge its territorial domain by the threat or use of force. In this sense, the ad hoc diplomacy of alliance formation, typified by the QUAD seems anachronistic, and could lead to warfare as one among several unintended and unwanted consequences.

However, realignment as distinct from alliance frameworks does make sense in an international atmosphere in which the United States is trying to confront its international adversaries with sanctions and a variety of measures of coercive diplomacy that are intended to constrain the policy options of its opponents on the world stage. Many states are dependent on international supply chains for energy and food, as well as reliable trade and investment relations. Reverting to the Cold War the Soviet Union was relatively autonomous. This is much less true under present conditions in which the higher densities of interdependence are linked to acute security vulnerability to cyber attacks by way of state-sponsored, criminal, and non-state hacking.

Additionally, access to drone technologies and computer knowhow make non-state actors, extremist political movements, and criminal syndicates an increasingly troublesome part of the global political landscape. In such an emergent global setting, traditional reliance on deterrence, defense capabilities, and retaliatory action is often ineffectual, and frequently even counter-productive. The purpose of contemporary patterns of realignment is less to augment defenses against intervention and aggression than to broaden policy options for countries that need to reach beyond their borders to achieve economic viability. Another motivation is to deflect geopolitical bullying tactics intended to isolate adversaries. As China and Russia are being portrayed as the enemies of the West, their alignment with one another makes pragmatic sense if thought of as a reciprocally beneficial ‘security community.’ Compared to past configurations of conflictual relations, current geopolitical maneuvers such as realignment are less concerned with weaponry and war and more with attaining developmental stability, intelligence sharing, and reduced  vulnerability to the distinctive threats and parameters of the Digital Age.

The logic of realignment gives China and Russia opportunities to increase their geopolitical footprint without relying on ideological affinities or coercion. Such a change in the nature of world politics is more broadly evident. For instance, important countries such as Iran and Turkey use realignment as a diplomatic tool to offset pressures and security encroachments by U.S. and Israel. In Iran’s case despite radical differences in ideology and governing style it is turning to China and Russia so as to protect its national sovereignty from a range of unlawful destabilizing measures adopted by its adversaries. Whereas Turkey, while being devalued as an alliance partner in the NATO context, may in the future better satisfy its overall needs by turning to China and Russia than by sticking to its traditional role of a junior participant in the most potent of Western alliance structures.

C. J. Polychroniou: Certain mainstream foreign policy analysts are rehashing old arguments about the US-China competition, in particular, by claiming that this is really an ideological battle between democracy and authoritarianism. What’s your own take on this matter?

Richard Falk: I think even more so than in the Cold War the ideological battleground is a smokescreen behind which lurk fears and perceived threats to the Western dominance of the world economy, which presupposes military dominance, achieved by its control of innovative military technologies. In the last half century China has already staked a strong claim to have demonstrated a superior development model (‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’) to that produced in the capitalist United States. This Chinese achievement is quite clearly explained and documented by the outstanding Indian liberal economist, Deepak Nayyar, in his important study, Asian Resurgence: Diversity in Development (2019). Great emphasis is placed by Nayyer on a high rate of savings enabling China to finance and strategically manage targeted investment of public funds. Nayyer downplays the role of ideology and stresses these economistic factors, as he analyzes the comparative development achievements of 14 countries in Asia.

The reality of the Chinese rise makes a mockery of the triumphalist claims of Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and The Last Man (1992), and even more so in their echo in George W. Bush’s covering letter to the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States in which he claims that the 20th century ended with “a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.” How dated, vain, and misplaced such language seems twenty years later!  

If China now additionally manages to challenge successfully the U.S. in such vital areas of technological innovation as artificial intelligence and robotics it will undoubtedly reinforce this image of Chinese ascendancy on the 21st century world stage. It is this prospect of being relegated to the technological shadowland that has made bipartisan elites in the United States so nervous and hostile of late. In fact, even Republican stalwarts are willing to put aside their polarizing tactics to join with Democrats in mounting a diplomatic offensive against China that could quickly become a war-mongering interaction if Beijing responds in kind.

Graham Allison has reminded us that historical instances where a previously ascendent power is threatened by a rising one has often resulted in disastrous warfare. Such belligerence is usually initiated by the political actor that feels it is being displaced by the changing hierarchy of influence, wealth, and status in world order, yielding to pressure to engage the challenger while it still possesses sufficient military capabilities to prevail in a war. [See Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap (2017)]

C. J. Polychroniou: Nuclear weapons and climate change represent by far humanity’s two greatest existential crises. Can we really be hopeful that these threats can be managed tamed within the existing international system? If not, what changes are required in current interstate relations?

Richard Falk: Of course, at this time we have become acutely aware of such global existential threats by experiencing the ordeal of the COVID pandemic, which has revealed the conflictual state-centric manner of dealing with a situation that could have been more effectively addressed for all countries if the response had been primarily by way of global solidarity. As the pandemic now appears to be subsiding in most parts of the world, we cannot be encouraged by the weakness of cooperative impulses of these two stressful years despite the obvious self-interested benefits for all if a global commons approach had been adopted with respect to testing, treatment, and distribution of medical equipment, protective gear, and vaccines. This negative background suggests that it is probably a misleading fiction to suppose that the threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change can be successfully managed over time by current forms of response. Each of these mega-threats disclose different features of an essentially dysfunctional and inequitable system of world order. World history has now entered a bio-political phase where civilizational achievements are at risk and even the survival of the human species is in doubt. Analogous dysfunctions of a different nature are evident in the internal political and economic life of many, if not most, sovereign states.

The relationship to nuclear weapons has been problematic from the beginning, including the momentous decision to drop atomic bombs on Japanese cities in 1945 as the war was nearing its end. The horrifying civilian consequences seared the collective human conscience almost to the extent of the Holocaust. The two realities exemplifying the atrocities of World War II are Auschwitz and Hiroshima. It is illuminating that in the first instance the behavior of the loser in the war was criminalized in the Genocide Convention while that of the winner in the second instance was politically legitimated although left under a dark legal cloud that lingers imprudently until now. The reality is that nuclear weapons are retained for possible use by nine states, including the most militarily powerful countries. The fact that the great majority of non-nuclear governments and the sentiments of most people in the world unconditionally oppose such weaponry has hardly mattered. The UN recently sponsored the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) that entered into force in January 2021; however, neither law nor morality can challenge the resolve of the nuclear weapons states to retain their freedom to possess, deploy, develop, and even threaten or use such weaponry of mass destruction. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the first states to develop nuclear weapons, have issued a formal statement expressing their belief in the non-proliferation regime and deterrence as a preferred model of nuclear war prevention to that associated with reliance on a universal norm of unconditional prohibition reinforced by phased, monitored, and verified disarmament treaty process.

Martin Sherwin in his definitive study, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Rouletter from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2020), convincingly shows that the avoidance of nuclear war has been a consequence of dumb luck, not rational oversight or the inhibitions on use resulting from deterrence. The point being that despite the magnitude of the threats posed by the existence of nuclear weapons the structures of Westphalian statism has prevailed over considerations of law, morality, common sense, rationality, and the precautionary princple. What is absent with regard to these existential global threats is a sufficient political will to transform the underlying structural features by which authority, power, and identity has been managed by dominant states on a global level for last several centuries. The absence of trust among countries is given precedence, and is further reinforced by the weakness of global solidarity mechanisms, resulting on leaving this ultimate weapon in potentially irresponsible hands, which becomes the fate of the earth in Jonathan Schell’s book bearing that title, published in 1982.

Climate change has dramatized a different facet of this statist structure of world order. The need for the cooperative and urgent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has been validated by a strong consensus of scientific opinion. The effects of inaction or insufficient action are being concretely experienced in the form of global warming, sea levels rising, extreme weather events, glacial melting, and migrations caused droughts and floods. Yet effective responsive action is blocked by inequalities of circumstances, perceptions that generate disagreements about  allocations of responsibility, and by short-termism that makes private and public sector decision makers reluctant to depress performance statistics by expensive adjustments that cut immediate profits and slow increases in GNP. There is a widespread recognition of the need for drastic action, but the best that the collective will of governments have been able to do is to produce the Paris Agreement in 2015, which falls short of what the scientific consensus recommends and leaves it up to the good will and responsible voluntary behavior of governments to reduce emissions, wobbly foundations on which to stake the future of humanity.

The UN as now constituted cannot provide platforms for addressing global existential threats in an effective and equitable manner. The responses to the COVID pandemic offer a template for such a negative assessment. It was obvious that short-term national economic and diplomatic interests prevailed at the expense of minimizing the health hazards of virus COVID-19. Once these interests were satisfied the richer countries claimed to be virtuous by resorting to feel good philanthropy, which was masked as empathy for poorer countries and their populations.

A revealing extreme instance of the pattern was embodied in the Israeli approach, labeled ‘medical apartheid’ by critics. The Israel vaccine was made available within Israel and to Jewish settlers, while withholding the vaccine from the approximately five million Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This discriminatory pattern ignores, indeed violates, Israel’s explicit obligation under Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to accord protection to an occupied people in the event of contagious disease or an epidemic. What is disclosed beyond reasonable doubt is the structural dominance of statist and market forces combined with the weakness of existing mechanisms of global solidarity, which are preconditions for upholding global public goods. An analogous dynamic occurs within states, reflecting the class, gender, and race interests and the disproportionate burdens borne by the poor, women, and marginalized minorities.