Archive | December, 2010


31 Dec

It is dismaying that during this dark anniversary period two years after the launch of the deadly attacks on the people of Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead by the Israelis, that there should be warnings of a new massive attack on the beleaguered people of Gaza. The influential Israeli journalist, Ron Ren-Yishai, writes on December 29, 2010, of the likely prospect of a new IDF major attack, quoting senior Israeli military officers as saying “It’s not a question of if, but rather of when,” a view that that is shared, according Ren-Yishai, by “government ministers, Knesset members and municipal heads in the Gaza region.” The bloody-minded Israeli Chief of Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi reinforces this expectation by his recent assertion that “As long as Gilad Shalit is still in captivity, the mission is not complete.” He adds with unconscious irony, “We have not lost our right of self-defense.” More accurate would be the assertion, “We have not given up our right to wage aggressive war or to commit crimes against humanity.” And what of the more than 10,000 Palestinians, including children under the age of 10, being held in Israeli prisons throughout occupied Palestine.

Against this background, the escalation of violence along the Gaza/Israel border, should set off alarm bells around the world and at the United Nations. Israel in recent days has been launching severe air strikes against targets within the Gaza Strip, including near the civilian crowded refugee camp of Khan Younis, killing several Palestinians and wounding others. Supposedly, these attacks are in retaliation for nine mortar shells that fell on open territory, causing neither damage nor injury. Israel also had been using lethal force against children from Gaza, who were collecting gravel from the buffer zone for the repair of their homes. As usual, the Israeli security pretext lacks credibility as if ever there was an occasion for firing warning shots in the air, it was here, especially as the border has been essentially quiet in the last couple of years, and what occasional harmless rockets or mortar shells have been fired, has taken place in defiance of the Hamas effort to prevent providing Israel with any grounds for the use of force. Revealingly, in typical distortion, the Gaza situation is portrayed by Ashkenazi as presenting a pre-war scenario: “We will not allow a situation in which they fire rockets at our citizens and towns from ‘safe havens’ amid [their] civilians.” With Orwellian precision, the reality is quite the reverse: Israel from its safe haven continuously attacks with an intent to kill a defenseless, entrapped Gazan civilian population.

Perhaps, worse in some respects than this Israeli war-mongering, is the stunning silence of the governments of the world, and of the United Nations. World public opinion was briefly shocked by the spectacle of one-sided war that marked Operation Cast Lead as a massive crime against humanity, but it has taken no notice of this recent unspeakable escalation of threats and provocations seemingly designed to set the stage for a new Israeli attack on the hapless Gazan population. This silence in the face of the accumulating evidence that Israel plans to launch Operation Cast Lead 2 is a devastating form of criminal complicity at the highest governmental levels, especially on the part of countries that have been closely aligned with Israel, and also exhibits the moral bankruptcy of the United Nations System. We have witnessed the carnage of ‘preemptive war’ and ‘preventive war’ in Iraq, but we have yet to explore the moral and political imperatives of ‘preemptive peace’ and ‘preventive peace.’ How long must the peoples of the world wait?

It is appropriate to recall the incisive words of Haidar Eid found in his article “Sharpville 1960, Gaza 2009,”( that were uttered in reaction to the attacks of two years ago: “While Israeli armed forces were bombing my neighborhood, the UN, the EU, and the Arab League and the international community remained silent in the face of atrocities. Hundreds of corpses of children and women failed to convince them to intervene.” International liberal public opinion enthuses about the new global norm of ‘responsibility to protect,’ but not a hint that if such an idea is to have any credibility it should be applied to Gaza with a sense of urgency where the population has been living under a cruel blockade for more than three years and is facing now new grave dangers.

And even after the commission of the atrocities of 2008-09 have been authenticated over and over, by the Goldstone Report, by an exhaustive report issued by the Arab League, by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there is no expectation of Israeli accountability, and the United States effectively uses its diplomatic muscle to bury the issue, encouraging forgetfulness in collaboration with the media.

It is only civil society that has offered responses appropriate to the moral, legal, and political situation. Whether these responses can achieve their goals only the future will tell. The Free Gaza Movement and the Freedom Flotilla have challenged the blockade more effectively than the UN or governments, leading Israel to retreat, at least rhetorically, claiming to lift the blockade with respect to the entry of humanitarian goods and reconstruction materials. Of course, the behavioral truth contradicts the Israeli rhetoric: sufficient supplies of basic necessities are still not being allowed to enter Gaza; the water and sewage systems are seriously crippled;

there is not enough fuel available to maintain adequate electric power; and the damage from Operation Cast Lead remains, causing a desperate housing crisis (more than 100,000 units are needed just to move people from tents). Also, most students are not allowed to leave Gaza to take advantage of foreign educational opportunities, and the population lives in a locked in space that is constantly being threatened with violence, night and day.

This portrayal of Gaza is hardly a welcoming prospect for the year 2011. At the same time the spirit of the people living in Gaza should not be underestimated. I have met Gazans, especially young people, who could be weighed down by the suffering their lives have brought them and their families since their birth, and yet they possess a positive sense of life and its potential, and make every use of any opportunity that comes their way, minimizing their problems and expressing warmth toward more fortunate others and enthusiasm about their hopes for their future. I have found such contact inspirational, and it strengthen my resolve and sense of responsibility: these proud people must be liberated from the oppressive circumstances that constantly imprisons, threatens, impoverishes, sickens, traumatizes, maims, kills. Until this happens, none of us should sleep too comfortably!


Stuttgart Declaration on Palestine (with short commentary)

28 Dec

I am using this blog to indicate my support for the Stuttgart Declaration that emerged from an outstanding conference held in that German city last November. The convenors of the conference are seeking signatures. To sign go to this url <;

The significance of the Stuttgart Declaration can be expressed briefly in the following three observations:

(1) The symbolic awakening of Germany to the suffering and injustice inflicted on the Palestinian, given the great sensitivity of these issues in Germany due to national memories about the Nazi background and the Holocaust, is a further sign of the growing strength of the Palestinian solidarity campaign. It underscores the fact that German passivity with respect to the Palestinian situation can no longer be justified, if it ever could, as a repudiation of this guilt-ridden past, but rather represents an acquiescence in a cruel regime of collective punishment of a people that has gone on for several decades, which was a core element of Naziism. This acquiescence continues at the level of the state in Germany, but the Stuttgart Declaration exhibits a German societal readiness for moral engagement with the Palestinian plight and struggle that expresses moral and legality clarity about the conflict, and should be seen as a historically important refusal to be no longer intimidated by feverish Zionist efforts to portray any and all criticisms of Israel, however well grounded, as nothing more than expressions of anti-semitism. If the Germans are no longer intimidated by this kind of baiting, neither should the rest of us who lack the pretext of history.

(2) The political purport of the Stuttgart Declaration is to lend the weight of considered intellectual opinion and political judgment to the growing consensus worldwide among Palestinians and their most committed supporters that the vision of peace by means of Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state on this 22% segment of historic Palestine, is no longer a realistic or desirable basis for a just peace. As the Declaration makes clear, to confirm the Israeli state as a Jewish state is to consign the Palestinian minority of about 1.5 million to permanent second-class citizenship in the land of their forefathers; there is no way that a religiously and ethnically defined state can be reconciled in the early 21st century with human rights and democracy. Beyond this, the settlement phenomenon, now proceeding at an accelerated pace of unlawful expansion, has converted the occupation by Israel into a de facto reality of annexation, which while being unlawful is politically irreversible as a practical matter. Of course, it is Palestinians, and only Palestinians, that can decide on what satisfies their struggle to realize their right of self-determination, and it is open question as to whether in the circumstances of 2011, there is any single entity that can speak authoritatively on behalf of ALL Palestinians. In this respect, the Stuttgart Declaration is one expression of a voice inflected by the convictions of leading Palestinian patriots and their strongest supporters, including those with an Israeli identity. It is a legacy of Edward Said’s advocacy of a unified secular and democratic state encompassing the whole of historic Palestine that is embodied in the Stuttgart Declaration, and one more reason to support and disseminate it.

(3) The Stuttgart Declaration is also a document that exposes the contrast between the perspectives of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement and inter-governmental diplomacy as to how to resolve the Palestine/Israel Conflict. The statist world of diplomacy is still fixed on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on realizing the goal of ‘a viable and and independent’ Palestine living in peace next to Israel. It presupposes an unrealizable goal, given 43 years of Israeli encroachment, of a viable Palestinian state, and imagines that a ‘demilitarized’ Palestinian entity on what remains in the West Bank after the settlement blocs, the infrastructure of roads and security zones, and the separation wall are deducted from the 22% remnant. This inter-governmental road leads no where, but to some combination of illusion combined with Israeli hegemony. The societal perspective, so well articulated in the Stuttgart Declaration, relying on coercive soft power via the BDS movement, offers both peoples and the region a peaceful future based on justice and genuine reconciliation. The issue for all of us committed to this struggle is whether we have the will and commitment to make soft power prevail over hard power.



“Separated in the past – together in the future”. Stuttgart, 26-28 November 2010

Equality – or nothing (Edward W. Said)

From 26-28 November 2010, over 200 participants came together for a “Palestine Solidarity Conference”. The theme of this 3-day conference, with the title Separated in the past – together in the future, was “Barriers and Perspectives for a just solution” of the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinians.

The speakers were the Israeli historian Prof. Ilan Pappé from the University of Exeter (U.K.), Prof. Haidar Eid from the Al Aqsa University Gaza, Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh from Bir Zeit University Ramallah, the co-founder of the Internet Portal Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian activist Lubna Masarwa, the international law expert from Hamburg Prof. Norman Paech, the journalist and human rights activist Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, Annette Groth MP from the parliamentary fraction of the left party (DIE LINKE), lawyer Jörg Lang, and Attia Rajab and Verena Rajab from the Stuttgart Palestine Committee. The jazz musician Gilad Atzmon supported the conference with his welcome address. The actress Julianna Herzberg and Samir Mansour with his Layalina Ensemble performed in the cultural programme. The patron of the conference was the Israeli-German lawyer and human rights activist Felicia Langer.

The conference participants from England, France, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, the USA and Germany discussed strategies and objectives that they could follow together.

The great majority determined that the dogmatic adherence to the 2-State Solution ignores the actual realities and assumes a false parity between a colonized and occupied people on one side, and a colonial state with its military superiority on the other. This falsely propagates the possibility of achieving a peace in which the Palestinians living in the areas occupied in 1967 are granted limited national rights, while the rights of those living within the borders of 1948 and of the expelled are denied their rights. 2

The adherence to a 2-State Solution condemns Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to live as second class citizens in their historic country, in a racist state in which they are not allowed the same rights as Jewish citizens. Furthermore, the continuance of a Zionist state on the land of the Palestinian refugees denies these refugees the internationally recognized right to return.

The Two-State Solution cannot lead to anything other than the consolidation and cementation of inequality. The model of two states separated according to ethnicity or religion means ethnic separation or fundamental inequality inside this state, as we experience in Israel today.

The contributions of Ilan Pappé and the Palestinian speakers showed conclusively that the hitherto so-called “peace process” and negotiations have been merely a smoke screen behind which Israel continues to steal land and disenfranchise the Palestinian population.

At the end of the discussion there was general agreement that only the creation of a shared secular and democratic state in historical Palestine with equal rights for all can bring peace and equality for Palestinians and Israelis – a state in which all people live together with equal rights, irrespective of their religion or background. This of course includes the Palestinians expelled from the country (fulfilment of Resolution 194 of the UN General Assembly).

Leading powers, above all the USA and the EU countries, continue to tolerate or support the sustained transgressions of Israel against international law and the abuse of all UN resolutions, which condemn the colonial and discriminatory politics of Israel as illegal. The governments of the USA and the EU tolerate the constant attacks against the Palestinian people and their homes. In particular, the complete failure of the “international community” during the Israeli massacre in Gaza in Winter 2008/2009 demonstrates clearly that only pressure from civil society worldwide can enforce a change in the politics of Israel and her supporters.

The politics of eroding international law by Israel’s allies particularly affects the Federal Republic of Germany, and its governments, parties, trade unionists, and media, who have pledged themselves to a close relationship with Israel. They tacitly endorse Israel’s politics and human rights abuses, and even partially support them.

One current example of the connection between Germany and the Apartheid State of Israel is the involvement of Deutsche Bahn with the high-speed railway project between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, 3

which travels through the West Bank, and must lead to the expropriation of the land of the inhabitants, while these Palestinians in the West Bank are simultaneously forbidden to use the train. A further example is the German support for the activities of the Jewish National Fund, a central Zionist institution which safeguards Apartheid in the State of Israel. Currently, the Jewish National Fund is displacing Palestinians in the Negev from their historical lands with its forestation and settlement projects, as the example of the village of Al Arakib near Beer Sheva makes plain. Recently, Al Arakib was destroyed by Israeli security forces for the seventh time.

The conference participants discussed methods and possibilities of how our grassroots movements can become effective towards a shared future for Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of equal rights. The barriers are high, as there are powerful interests for the retention of the role of Israel as an imperial outpost of Europe and the USA and their economic and strategic interests. In this role, Israel is given carte blanche to break and erode human rights and international law.

The most effective method follows the example of the boycott campaign which was part of the effective fight against Apartheid in South Africa. The conference participants agreed on the urgent need for people in Germany also to support the international campaign for Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

With this, they supported the appeal from virtually all Palestinian civil organizations to boycott the discriminatory and colonial politics of the Israeli government and to put pressure on our respective governments and economic institutions to enact embargos and sanctions against Israel. Boycott measures and disinvestment are also the theme of the Kairos Paper adopted by Palestinian Christians in December 2009, and of the Cairo appeal from the Gaza Freedom March at the beginning of this year.

No time can be lost with this campaign, as the ethnic cleansing in Palestine and the slow genocide of the people of Gaza through the illegal blockade continues every day. Many have already died and continue to die on a daily basis because they are denied exit to seek medical treatment. The contamination of land and water from the legacy of the war against Gaza also leads to illness and death.

The campaign provides many opportunities to actively join in as part of an already very successful international network of solidarity groups, trade unions, anti-racist initiatives, anti-globalization groups, church groups, critical Jewish and Palestinian federations and left parties, everywhere where we are actually connected with the power structures, institutions and politicians, that practise and 4

consolidate injustice. Everywhere those who profit from the Israeli Apartheid regime must be called to account. In Germany in particular we must make a stand against the military and so-called “security cooperation” with Israel.

“These non-violent punitive measures”, as stated in the appeal from 9 July 2005 (Palestinian United Call for BDS against Israel) “must be maintained until Israel complies with her obligation to the Palestinians to allow the inalienable right to self-determination, and to all the standards according to international law”.

The following issues must be realized (citation from the appeal):

1. “The end of the Israeli occupation and the colonization of all Arab land, as well as the dismantling of the apartheid wall.

2. Israel’s recognition of the fundamental right of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equal rights.

3. Israel’s respect, defence and support for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their houses and to their property, as prescribed in UN Resolution 194.”

The international BDS campaign is naturally not orientated against Jews, nor against Israeli citizens as such, but against the oppressive politics of a state, and against the firms and institutions which are complicit in the occupation, those who support the occupation and those who profit from it. It is thus supported by numerous Jewish organizations and by Israeli individuals.

Boycott, Disengagement from investments and Sanctions are the key way in which everyone – as previously against the South African Apartheid regime – can help to build economic and moral pressure. The BDS campaign has above all a great symbolic effect, in which it holds a mirror in front of the Israeli public and confronts them with the fact that ever more people in the world regard the politics of their country as criminal.

The numerous attempts by Palestinians, Israelis and international groups to break the illegal blockade of Gaza provide, as with BDS, a method to break the structures of injustice and the isolation of the oppressed. The conference participants call for further Freedom Flotillas and for mass actions by land and sea to bring the blockades and occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to collapse.

The participants of the Stuttgart conference also call for: 5

The release of the over 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners, particularly the women and children, and parliamentarians.

The end of the Israeli settlement politics and the return of the stolen land.

The removal of all barriers, checkpoints and Apartheid walls in Palestine.

The stop of house destruction in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, in the Negev, in Galilee, and in the whole country.

The de-recognition of the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in Germany, as this concerns an Apartheid organization of the state of Israel.

The participants call on trade unions, peace movement, anti-racist initiatives and civil society to embrace these positions.

It is high time to put pressure on Israel. The Zionist system of Israel will not recognize the rights of the Palestinians from itself. Every day of delay costs lives. Our initiatives must avoid giving the impression that this is a conflict between two equally powerful adversaries. In truth, the Israeli military maintains absolute superiority over a practically defenceless Palestinian people. Our aim must be to make this situation clear to people worldwide quickly and effectively and to mobilize for the rights of the Palestinians.

Stuttgart, 10 December 2010

Time to START Over: Arms Control is Not Nuclear Disarmament

26 Dec

There is no question that the Senate ratification of the New START Treaty was a political victory for the Obama presidency, demonstrating that it could override hard core militarism associated with the right wing of the Republican Party that is mindlessly opposed to any international source of restraint on the American nuclear weapons policy, even if the purpose is only, as here, to limit the costs and risks of nuclear weaponry. But was it also a victory for the cause of nuclear disarmament, getting to zero as the guiding new approach to this infernal form of destructive power?

Not long after President Obama moved into the White House he gave a visionary speech in Prague on April 4, 2009 where he declared “..I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Then came some cautionary language, “I am not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly—perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can.’” And then the reassurance that the vision is not meant after all to be taken seriously as a political project: “Make no mistake: as long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies..”

Many mistakenly read the Prague speech as setting forth a program of action that would move the world toward a comprehensive treaty for nuclear disarmament, what is prescribed in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, but this is not the case, whatever Barack Obama may privately wish. There was no reason to point out that nuclear weapons could not be eliminated within a decade or so if the necessary political will existed. After all, the present window of opportunity in modern world history is almost uniquely favorable to nuclear disarmament. No war-threatening strategic rivalry exists among leading states at present. At the same time, the menace posed by non-state political extremists acquiring and using nuclear weapons creates a strong incentive to work hard toward the elimination of this weaponry. Beyond this, there are no acceptable ways to prevent further proliferation of these weapons in the years ahead, and the mere effort to do so carries a high price tag, providing a looming pretext for aggressive war as is the case in relation to Iran. Then there are the moral/legal arguments that have always existed since the bombs were first dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945: these weapons are completely indiscriminate and utterly disproportionate, and are massively cruel in their overall effects, particularly for those exposed to radioactive fallout. To possess and threaten the use of such weapons and to create in societies a citizenry ready to rely on such genocidal approaches to national security is to strike at the moral core of political culture, which must rests on respect for the sacredness of innocent lives, which is completely absent from the nuclearist mindset.

Yet why not consider reductions in the number of nuclear warheads on strategic missile launchers and agreed verification procedures to test compliance on the part of Russia and the United States as a step, even if a modest one, in the right direction? There is 30% reduction over the amounts agreed upon in the last US/Russian treaty on nuclear weapons concluded in 2002, bringing the total down to 1,550 warheads, but even here the results are less than meets the eye. Each bomber is now being counted as a single warhead no matter how many nuclear weapons it actually carries. There are also some minor restrictions placed on the number of launchers that each side is permitted to possess. In my view, this treaty is designed to avoid an expensive quantitative nuclear arms rivalry, and to create some favorable publicity to undergird the claim that the leading nuclear weapons states are beginning to live up to their bargain to get rid of the weaponry, as well as to put the relations between Russia and the United States on a friendlier footing. But if you look just a bit deeper, it becomes obvious that this treaty is at best concerned with the management of this weaponry and not with disarmament. To get the necessary Republican votes for ratification the Obama Administration promised $85 billion for the modernization of the nuclear arsenal over the course of the next decade, and insisted that nothing in the treaty would interfere with the development of nuclear missile defense systems, which are widely seen as not primarily defensive, but as making it less likely that any sort of retaliation by a country attacked would produce significant damage in the attacking country. To go further than this New START approach would suggest that the formidable American military-industrial-media complex is ready to let go of the weaponry, and this is not the case, and never has been.

There are two logics at work in relation to nuclear weapons: the realist logic that believes that it is a dangerous illusion to suppose that these weapons can ever be eliminated, and is reinforced by the geopolitical logic that legitimizes the weaponry for the nuclear weapons states while (selectively) criminalizing attempts to acquire the weapons by other states, including those like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea that are surrounded by hostile states and threatened by the United States. Preventing unwanted proliferation is treated by the United States as justifying military threats, and possibly attacks, on the preemptive/preventive war reasoning that was used by the Bush presidency to justify the attack on Iraq in 2003, while neutral or desirable forms of proliferation are indulged (for instance, Israel, India). No domain of international life is more characterized by double standards than is the status of nuclear weapons since 1945. It is an apocalyptic mind game in which the world is supposed to accept the lie that the threat flowing from nuclear weaponry derives primarily from those that do not possess these weapons rather from the nuclear weapons states, above all the United States, that has never even been willing to renounce the option to use nuclear weapons first. In his Prague speech President Obama said that “ the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, we can lead it, we can start it.” We should certainly be asking whether the New START Treaty is any kind of start? It hardly seems so as the side assurances on modernization and missile defense seem like robust commitments to continue to bolster the nuclear arsenal in ways that more than offset the quantitative reductions in warheads and launchers, given their large numbers. The treaty might more accurately be called the New Continuation Treaty.

The other logic is one that takes credible steps to explore the prospects for phased nuclear disarmament accompanied by verification. This logic is guided by a commitment to long-term human survival, by strategic prudence, and most of all by acknowledging the inherent immorality and unlawfulness of relying on genocidal instruments of power and security, and of preparing for their use in circumstances subject to neither scrutiny nor accountability. When the most important possible decision a government might ever make is entrusted to a secret set of guidelines that are never exposed to criticism and dissent, it is obvious that democratic forms of governance are being severely compromised. There is every indication that several of the leading nuclear weapons states will never part with these weapons unless there emerges a grassroots global campaign of unprecedented strength, and this seems unlikely without the tragic stimulus of a war fought with nuclear weapons.

We can appreciate that President Obama achieved a domestic political victory, needed at home to counter the perception of his ineffectual presidency, but we also need to keep focused on what is acceptable and what is not with respect to governmental policy. Perhaps, the New START Treaty will make Obama more re-electable, but it will not move us any closer to a world without nuclear weapons, and by substituting illusion for reality, may reduce what momentum had been building for converting the visionary goal embraced at Prague into a genuine political project undertaken belatedly, but with all seriousness, on behalf of the peoples of the world.


This table of nuclear forces provides a snapshot of the nuclear weapons arsenal, and the relative size of various country’s share:

Status of World Nuclear Forces 2010*
Country Strategic Non-Strategic Operational Total Inventory
Russia 2,600 2,050a 4,650 12,000b
United States 1,968 500c 2,468d 9,600e
France 300 n.a. ~300 300f
China 180 ? ~180 240g
United Kingdom 160 n.a. <160 225h
Israel 80 n.a. n.a. 80i
Pakistan 70-90 n.a. n.a. 70-90i
India 60-80 n.a. n.a. 60-80i
North Korea <10 n.a. n.a. <10j
Total: ~5,400k ~2,550k ~7,700k ~22,600k
* All numbers are estimates and further described in the Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the nuclear appendix in the SIPRI Yearbook. Additional reports are published on the FAS Strategic Security Blog. Unlike those publications, this table is updated continuously as new information becomes available. Current update: May 26, 2010.

a Russia’s estimated total inventory of non-strategic warheads is approximately 5,390 warheads, down from 15,000 in 1991.
b The estimate for the size and composition of the total Russian inventory comes with considerable uncertainty but is based on Cold War levels, subsequent dismantlement rates, and official Russian statements. Perhaps as many as a quarter (~3,000) of the weapons listed may be awaiting dismantlement. An estimated average of 1,000 retired warheads are dismantled per year.
 c Approximately 200, probably including some inactive warheads, are deployed in Europe.
 d An additional 2,500 warheads are spares and in central storage and not counted as operational.
 e In addition to the 5,100 warheads in the DOD stockpile, approximately 3,500-4,500 retired warheads are awaiting dismantlement. In addition, nearly 14,000 plutonium cores (pits) and some 5,000 Canned Assemblies (secondaries) are in storage. See here for breakdown of U.S. warhead inventory.
 f France is thought to have a small inventory of spare warheads but no reserve like the United States and Russia. An additional reduction announced by President Sarkozy in March 2008 will reduced the inventory to slightly less than 300 warheads in 2009.
 g Many “strategic” warheads are for regional use. The status of a Chinese non-strategic nuclear arsenal is uncertain. Some deployed warheads may not be fully operational. Additional warheads are in storage, for a total stockpile of approximately 240 warheads.
 h Only 50 missiles are left, for a maximum of 150 warheads. “Less than 160” warheads are said to be “operationally available,” but a small number of spares probably exist too. Forty-eight missiles are needed to arm three SSBNs with a maximum of 144 warheads. One submarine with “up to 48 warheads” is on patrol at any given time. In addition to the 160 operationally available warheads, another 65 or so are in reserve for a total stockpile of 225.
 i All warheads of the four lesser nuclear powers are considered strategic. Only some of these may be operational. India and Pakistan are increasing their inventories, with Pakistan thought to have a slight lead.
 j Despite two North Korean nuclear tests, there is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has operationalized its nuclear weapons capability. A 2009 world survey by the U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) does not credit any of North Korea’s ballistic missiles with nuclear capability.
 k Numbers may not add up due to rounding and uncertainty about the operational status of the four lesser nuclear weapons states and the uncertainty about the size of the total inventories of three of the five initial nuclear powers.

A Christmas Poem

23 Dec



How many time have I seen them together

Yet mostly near birth or just after death

Neglecting the hard passage through time

From infant Jesus to the cross is too quick

For my modern eye to see

And rarely caught the painter’s fancy

But holding the holy infant

Became back then the artist’s signature of belief

As holding the limp sacred body

Became the artist’s inscription of faith

This holy mother alone for centuries

Abandoned in hard times by Joseph

Or was it the other way around

Abandoned also by her only son

Or was it the other way around

Her son who finds the world to lose it

And is found again and mortally spurned

And found yet again to be so well remembered.

Discrimination in Occupied Palestine: Validating the Obvious is Necessary

21 Dec

In 2010 only the most diehard Zionist would deny the presence of multiple forms of Israeli discrimination being daily inflicted upon the Palestinians in the course of an occupation that has gone on for more than 43 years. It is hardly a secret that Israel lavishes every kind of benefit on the settler population of the West Bank while subjecting Palestinian existence to severe torments that bring cruel suffering, and produce an atmosphere of unalleviated anxiety that inevitably accompanies a situation in which the oppressor can do anything it wants whenever it pleases (up to and including dispossession and murder) with impunity, while the oppressed is left utterly vulnerable without the protection of law and placed in a no-law vacuum that constitutes a condition of utter subjugation (or subject to Israeli military law, which is roughly the equivalent), that is, when victimized, no-law, when accused, one-sided oppressive law).

The release a few days ago of an exhaustive Human Rights Report, “Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” is a major event. It exhaustively documents the forms of discrimination against Palestinians in the West Bank, and enjoys the credibility of an NGO that has an impeccable global reputation for getting the facts and applicable law right, and exercising restraint with respect to political implications. When HRW speaks the media listens (although media bias is such that it keeps its mouth mostly shut if the target is Israel). The public has every reason to believe that whatever allegations are made by HRW are fully supported by reliable evidence. For all these reasons, and in the setting of the Global Palestinian Solidarity Movement, and specifically the BDS Campaign, those who support the Palestinian struggle should welcome this publication, and do their best to make it as widely known as possible. This is so even though, in important respects, ‘Separate by Unequal’ ( an ironic play on the American Jim Crow doctrine supported for years by the Supreme Court under the rubric ‘separate and equal’) doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know before, or at least should have known. If anyone is ‘shocked’ after reading this report, it means that for more than four decades their ears have been filled with wax, and their eyes blindfolded.

But the report is more than a conclusive demonstration of acute and pervasive discrimination against Palestinians as a salient feature of the Israeli occupation. It also brings to life abstractions and statistics by relating stories of specific individuals and particular communities that have endured the occupation or enjoyed the privileges of being a settler living in a settlement. This confirms what has been reported in a series of powerful recent books on the occupation that rely on the power of storytelling to convey the actualities of social and political set of conditions. I would recommend highly the following recent books for capturing with compassion and concreteness the daily suffering and insecurity of Palestinian lives, thereby supplementing the more analysis and presentation of the practices reported upon so tellingly in the HRW Report. In my view these books extend the story being told in the report about life in Area C of the West Bank, even though their geographic focus is Gaza or another dimension of life in the West Bank: Laila El-Haddad, Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between (Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, 2010); Rich Wiles, Behind the Wall: Life, Love and Struggle in Palestine (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2010); Ramzy Baroud, My Father Was a Freedom Fighter (London, UK: Pluto Books, 2010); Sharyn Lock (with Sarah Irving), Gaza Beneath the Bombs (London, UK: Pluto Books, 2010). Each of these books is powerful partly because it speaks so movingly from experience relying on the resources of the heart, as well as those of the head, and thereby creating unforgettable auras of enduring authenticity.

It is an aspect of the ugly atmosphere that still prevails in the United States that whenever HRW issues a report critical of Israel, the organization is  described as ‘courageous.’ In a democratic society that supposedly values the rule of law it should not require courage to depict patterns of practice that so flagrantly and systemically violate international humanitarian law norms as embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention. But it is courageous. A human rights organization dependent on private funding and media access takes its life in its hands wherever it challenges Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. In this respect, it is appropriate to acknowledge the principled leadership of HRW that undertook to produce this report, knowing with the certainty of the cycles of the moon, that a vicious counter-attack designed to discredit would undoubtedly greet the study at the moment of its publication. And what is more, that the attack would be short on substance, but adept at the politics of deflection.  It would cleverly seek to redirect the eye of a reader from the message to the supposedly perfidious messenger.  Already a spokesperson from the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, launched such an attack only a day after the report was released as saying: “Unfortunately, over the last few years there has been a series of documented cases in which Human Rights Watch has allowed a blatant anti-Israeli agenda to pollute its reporting.” (Financial Times, XII.20.2010) In fact,

HRW is scrupulously careful whenever it ventures on this treacherous ground   of criticizing Israel, and leans over backward, as was also the case with the defamed Goldstone Report, in giving every possible benefit of reasonable doubt to Israeli claims.

NGO Monitor characteristically shoots from the hip, tries its best to discredit NGOs or individuals who dare to be truthful about the situation of Palestinians living under occupation even if their approach is methodical and mild. CNN gave TV exposure to Gerald Steinberg, the notorious founder and principal toxic voice of NGO Monitor, in which he absurdly claimed that the HRW Report consists of “manufactured allegations” that ignore the supposed intense ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and is thus insensitive to the “legitimate security” of Israel. From this perspective, it is but a short leap to contend that “the report exploits human rights” and is part of the larger plan to turn Israel into “a pariah state.” In essence, the HRW is being criticized because it relies on information gathered by such highly respected human rights NGOs as al Haq, Badil, B’Tselem, and Yesh Din, as well as the UN agency, OCHA. HRW is also accused of promoting the BDS agenda by recommending that outside sources of settlement funding be respectful of international law and withhold financial support. NGO Monitor also explicitly argues that outsiders should refrain from ever holding Israel accountable because it is as an open society that engages in self-criticism and needs no external assessment as to law or morality. Without much effort at disguise, what irks these defenders of Israel is that the claim that the international community holds Israel to higher standards than other countries in the region, and is supposedly obsessed with Israel while turning a blind eye to the violations of others. Of course, there is a bit of truth to this claim, although it overlooks the degree to which it was a colonialist mentality (first, Britain, and then, the United Nations) that inflicted the tragic destiny on the Palestinian people from a time long pre-dating the independence of Israel as a sovereign state. What is also not considered, is the degree to which the United States in particular, through an unprecedented network of public and private sector initiatives, has been regularly financing the settlement dynamic and Israeli militarism.

What is strange, although understandable given the oppressive structure of Israeli discrimination, is the lack of attention given by the critics of the HRW report to its most central contention: that the Israeli settlers unlawfully present and their settlements unlawfully established are given the fullest protection of the law and the maximum security possible, while Palestinians living under this occupation who are according to international humanitarian law, ‘protected persons,’ are abused constantly, are compelled to live decade after decade without rights or the barest minimum of security, that there land and prospects for a decent future are constantly diminished by the expansion of the settlements.

The moderateness, and from my perspective, the incompleteness of the HRW report can be expressed by calling attention to several shortcomings of its conclusions and recommendations:

time: although the report is explicit about the patterns of discrimination being aggravated due to the length of the occupation, there is no attention accorded to the intrinsic unlawfulness of an occupation that is so prolonged.

International humanitarian law was designed for temporary occupations of short duration, not a quasi-permanent set of circumstances that includes ill-disguised tactics of land seizure and the incremental dispossession of long-term Palestinian residents. Any ‘right’ of occupation should long since have lapsed. It is a failure of international humanitarian law that it makes no provision for this failure to bring a belligerent occupation to a timely and agreed end (here anticipated in accordance with SC Resolution 242 agreed upon in 1967, and pointing to an Israel withdrawal).

criminality: the report addresses violations of international law and human rights law, but it holds back from describing these violations in terms of their criminal character. Surely, the structures of discrimination (roads, security, legal regime, access to water, mobility) establish the primie facie basis for allegations of apartheid arising from the dual structure of privilege (for Israeli settlers) and vulnerability and deprivation (for Palestinians). It should be understood that the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court  (ICC) treats apartheid (forms of systematic discrimination based on race) as one type of Crimes Against Humanity. This international crime of apartheid is deliberately conceived of as a distinct crime of generic character, and not to be equated with the racist patterns of discrimination that existed in South Africa under the apartheid regime that operated there. As well, the crime of apartheid is embedded in customary international law, which makes it a crime even without any formal undertaking by the ICC. Additionally, the patterns of discrimination are rendering life unbearable for Palestinians residents in most of the West Bank. As many as 31% of those interviewed for the HRW report are seeking to escape somehow from life under occupation. Such an outcome appears to qualify this occupation as a form of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ even if there is evidence lacking of a blueprint or specific intent. An inference of ethnic cleansing follows from the deliberateness of the dual structures of law and administration, producing either direct or indirect forms of displacement of the indigenous population.

language: the report speaks in terms of violations, not crimes, not the overall illegitimacy of persisting occupation that encroaches on the fundamental rights of the occupied, and leaves those living under occupation without a clear path to achieving their most fundamental of rights, the right of self-determination. I believe it is necessary to use harsher language than is usual in mainstream circles in describing the situation confronting the Palestinians who continue to endure this occupation. It is ‘annexation’ not ‘occupation,’ it is ‘ethnic cleansing’ not ‘house demolitions’ and ‘settler only roads, not just ‘land seizures,’ and constraints on ‘mobility,’ but ‘settler colonialism.’ In keeping with the BDS campaign it is time for the peoples of the world to perceive the Palestinian multiple nakba (catastrophe) without evasive or legalistic terminology that obscures and normalizes rather than illuminates the abnormality of the situation and gives rise to a mobilizing sense of outrage.



The report can be downloaded from the HRW home page website:

Separate and Unequal

Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories


Download the full report


17 Dec

There has long been advocacy of the idea that judges in national courts could help strengthen the implementation of global norms by extending the reach of national law, especially for serious crimes that cannot be otherwise prosecuted. The authority to use national courts against piracy on the high seas was widely endorsed, and constitutes the jurisprudential basis for what has come to be known as ‘universal jurisdiction,’ that is, regardless of where a crime was committed or the national identity of the alleged perpetrator or victim, a national court has the authority to attach its law. This reliance on universal jurisdiction received a strong shot in the arm as a result of the war crimes trials at the end of War War II against surviving German and Japanese political and military leaders, a legal framework institutionalized internationally in 2002 as a result of the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The underlying rationale is that aggressive war, crimes against humanity, and severe violations of the law of war and international humanitarian law are crimes against the whole of humanity, and not just the victim state or people. Although the Nuremberg Judgment was flawed, ‘victors’ justice,’ it generated global norms in the form of the Nuremberg Principles that are considered by international law consensus to be universally binding. These ideas underlie the recent prosecution of geopolitical pariahs such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, and several African tyrannical figures. But when it comes to the lead political actors, as understood by the American-led hegemonic hierarchy, the leadership of the rest of the world enjoys impunity, in effect, an exemption from accountability to international criminal law. It is a prime instance of double standards that pervades current world order, perhaps, most prominently illustrated in relation to the veto power given permanent members of the UN Security Council or the Nonproliferation Regime Governing Nuclear Weaponry. Double standards severs any link between law as administered by the state system on a world level and pretensions of global justice. The challenge for those seeking global justice based on international law that treats equals equally is to overcome in every substantive setting double standards and impunity. The world of sovereign states and the United Nations have not been able to mount such a challenge. Into this vacuum has moved a surging global civil society movement that got its start in the global fight against colonialism, especially, the Vietnam War, and moved forward dramatically as a result of the Anti-Apartheid Campaign. Various instruments have been relied upon, including boycott, divestment, and sanctions solidarity movements, informally constituted citizens’ war crimes tribunals (starting with the Russell Tribunal during the Vietnam War, and extended by the Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Rome, and in 2005 by the Iraq War Tribunal that held 20 sessions around the world, culminating in a final session in Istanbul), civil disobedience in various forms, especially refusals to serve in military operations that violate international law. It was a coalition of civil society actors that created the political climate that somewhat surprisingly allowed the International Criminal Court to come into being in 2002, although unsurprisingly without the participants of the United States, Israel, and most of the senior members of the geopolitical first echelon. It is against this background, that two contradictory developments are to be found that will be discussed in more detail in subsequent blogs: the waging of an all out Legitimacy War against Israel on behalf of the Palestinian struggle for a just peace and a backlash campaign against what is called ‘Lawfare’ by Israeli hardliners. A Legitimacy War strategy seeks popular mobilization on the basis of nonviolent coercion to achieve political goals, relying on the relevance of international law and the accountability of those that act on behalf of states in the commission of crimes of state. The Goldstone Report illustrates this interface between a Legitimacy War and Lawfare, reinforcing Palestinian contentions of victimization as a result of Israel’s use of force as in the notorious Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) and driving Israel’s top leaders to venomous fury in their effort to discredit the distinguished jurist, Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN mission responsible for the report, and the findings so convincingly reached. With Israeli impunity under growing threat there have been special pressures placed on the United States to use its geopolitical muscle within the UN to maintain the mantle of impunity over the documented record of Israeli criminality, and to make sure that the UN remains a selective sanctuary for such outrageous grants of impunity. These issues of criminal accountability are on the front lines of the Legitimacy War, and provide the foundation for efforts throughout the world in relation to the growing BDS Campaign. The Lawfare counterattack at one level acknowledges the strength of civil society efforts, but it is also cynically and polemically undertaken to discredit reliance on international law by those who are victimized by abusive and oppressive uses of military and police power. The Palestinians have been victimized in these respects for more than 62 years, and their efforts to end this intolerable set of realities by an innovative reliance on nonviolent resistance and self-defense deserves the support of persons of conscience throughout the world. Whether this reliance on a Legitimacy War can finally achieve justice for the Palestinian people and peace for both peoples, only the future can tell, but there is no doubt that this struggle is the best contemporary instance of ‘a just war.’

‘The Peace Process,’ ‘The Roadmap,’ and other Delusions

15 Dec

It is astonishing that despite the huge gaps between the maximum that Israel is willing to concede and the minimum that the Palestine Authority could accept as the basis of a final settlement of the conflict, governmental leaders, especially in Washington, continue to pull every available string to restart inter-governmental negotiations.  Is it not enough of a signal that Israel lacks the capacity or will to agree to an extension of the partial settlement freeze for a mere additional 90 days, despite the outrageous inducements from the Obama Administration (20 F-35 fighter jets useful for an attack on Iran; an unprecedented advance promise to veto any initiative in the Security Council acknowledging a Palestinian state; and the assurance that

Israel would never again be asked to accept a settlement moratorium) that were offered to suspend partially their unlawful settlement activity. In effect, a habitual armed robber was being asked to stop robbing a few banks for three months in exchange for a huge financial payoff. Such an arrangement qualifies as a transparently shameless embrace of Israeli lawlessness on behalf of a peace process that has no prospect of producing peace, much less justice.  Justice here is conceived in relation to the satisfaction of Palestinian rights, especially the right of self–determination that has through the years been whittled down.

The Palestinian acceptance of the 1967 borders (a decision ratified by the PLO in 1988) as the unilaterally reduced basis of the territorial claims associated with Palestinian self-determination, which is only 22% of historic Palestine, and this is less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan that was at that time quite reasonably rejected by the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors as a colonialist ploy in which the indigenous population was adversely affected and never consulted. In retrospect, the Palestinian readiness to settle for the 1967 borders was an extraordinary concession in advance of negotiations that was never acknowledged by either Israel or the United States, casting real doubt on whether there was ever a credible commitment to end the conflict by diplomacy.

The shamelessness continues. Instead of castigating Israel for its refusal to show even a pretense of pragmatic flexibility that would make the Obama approach seem slightly less fatuous and regressively wimpy, the U.S. Government simply announced that it was abandoning its efforts to persuade Israel to extend the moratorium, and was now embarking on a resumption of the negotiations between the parties without any preconditions, that is, settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing could now continue uncontested.

This was too much even for the normally passive European Union. A few days ago a meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels issued a statement insisting that all Israeli activity cease in what was called the ‘illegal settlements’ and that the Gaza blockade be ended ‘immediately’ by an opening of all the crossings to humanitarian and commercial goods, as well as to the entry and exit of persons. The EU statement was impressively forthright for once: “Our view on settlements, including East Jerusalem, are clear: they are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace.” Regrettably, the EU statement was silent on the issue of recognition of Palestinian statehood, losing the opportunity to reinforce the symbolically important diplomatic step taken by Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay to accord Palestine recognition within its 1967 borders. Nevertheless, the EU did distance itself from Washington, leaving the United States to the discomfort of its lonely solidarity with Israel. By refusing a diplomatic accommodation with Turkey in the aftermath of the flagrantly criminal attack last May on the Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered people of Gaza, Israel confirms this perception of its pariah status.

Underneath these dark clouds of deception and delusion, the peoples of occupied Palestine, as well as the several million refugees, endure their harsh daily existence while the world watches and waits, seemingly helpless. The durable American envoy to the conflict, George Mitchell, continues to say that the objective of the talks is “an idependent, viable state of side by side with Israel.” The incoherence of such an objective should be palpable. How can one honestly talk about such an envisioned Palestinian state as ‘viable’ when the American leadership, agrees with Israel that ‘subsequent developments’ (the code phrase for settlements, land seizures, wall, ethnic cleansing, annexation of Jerusalem) need to be embodied in the outcome of negotiations? And what sort of ‘independence’ is being contemplated if the Palestinian borders are to be still controlled by Israeli security forces and a demilitarized Palestine is expected to live side by side with a highly militarized Israel? The American approach plays with lives as it plays with language, and yet most of the mainstream media swallows this latest bend in the river without raising even a skeptical eyebrow.

These considerations ignore some other problematic aspects of the current framework. The Netanyahu government demands PA acknowledgement of Israel as ‘a Jewish state,’ thereby overlooking the human rights of the Palestinian minority in pre-1967 Israel, numbering about 1.5 million or about 20% of the total population, to live as citizens under conditions of non-discrimination and dignity. Sometimes history is useful. Even the notorious Balfour Declaration, a pure assertion of British colonial prerogative, promised the Zionist movement only ‘a homeland,’ not a sovereign state. The workings of warfare and geopolitics and clever propaganda gradually shifted the parameters of understanding, allowing a homeland to be transformed into a sovereign state with disastrous chain of consequences for the indigenous population. In this respect the most recent Hamas position of refusing recognition of Israel while agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders is a reasonable effort to draw a line between affirming the illegitimate and being reconciled to political circumstances. To expect more is to drive the Palestinians into an unacceptable corner of humiliation, in effect, endorsing the nabka, and all that has followed by way of dispossession and abuse.

Of course, the issue of self-determination is not for non-Palestinians to determine. Those who call upon Washington, even now and despite its partisanship and ill-concealed alignments, to impose a solution are thus doubly misguided. Even Hilary Clinton acknowledged days ago the impossibility of adopting such an approach. What seems clear at present is that both the PA and Hamas seem ready to accept a state of their own within 1967 borders, more or less along the lines set forth back in 1967 in the Security Resolution 242, which remains an iconic document that supposedly embodies a continuing international consensus. What it would mean with respect to implementation is certain to be highly contentious, especially in relation to those infamous ‘subsequent developments,’ better understood as massive encroachments on Palestinian prospects for separate statehood.  Many in the Palestinian diaspora doubt whether a two state solution is attainable or desirable. Instead theyt are calling for a single secular, bi-national democratic state that is co-terminus with the historic Palestinian mandate, and alone has the inherent capacity to reconcile contemporary ideas of democracy, human rights, and a belated realization of Palestinian rights, including the long deferred claims of Palestinian refugees.

Geopolitics is stubborn, and is not moving in hopeful directions. Now arms are being again twisted by American diplomacy in the region to resume talks between the parties on what are being called ‘core issues’ (borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, relations with neighbors). While this mindless diplomatic spinning goes forth, other clocks are ticking madly: the settlements expanding at accelerating rates, new segments of the wall are being constructed, ethnic cleansing intensifies in East Jerusalem, the apartheid practices and structures in the West Bank are being steadily strengthened, the entrapped and imprisoned population of Gaza lives continuously on the brink of a survival crisis, the refugees in their camps endure their dreary and unacceptable confinement. Netanyahu thunderously warns that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, that never will a single Palestinian refugee be allowed to return, that Israel is a Jewish state, and that whatever Tel Aviv calls ‘security’ must be treated as non-negotiable. Given these predispositions, combined with the disparities in bargaining power between the parties, as well as the one-sided hegemonic role of the United States, who but a fool could think that a just peace could emerge from the such a deformed pattern of geopolitical diplomacy? Is it not better at this time to rely on the growing Palestine Solidarity Movement, peace from below, and the related success being experienced in waging the Legitimacy War against Israel, what Israel itself nervously calls ‘the de-legitimacy project’ that is viewed by its leaders and think tanks as a far greater threat to its illicit ambitions than  armed resistance?




AFTER CANCUN: Reflections on Apocalyptic Multilateralism (written in collaboration with Hilal Elver)

13 Dec

The thousands of delegates and many civic activists have temporarily retreated from the climate change wars waged on the battlefields of Cancun. The inter-governmental battles were fought in the resort setting of the five star Moon Palace Hotel, known for its manicured golf course, situated in an ecologically sensitive area beyond the easy reach of activists, while the main NGO happenings were staged on the streets of the urban poor of the town of Cancun, and in a isolated huge convention center.

The overwhelming majority of the delegates went home content, feeling that they did all that was possible under the circumstances for their governments and having rescued for the time being the reputation of the multilateral approach that had been so tarnished by the failures of Copenhagen that were magnified by the rash and unexpected ineptitudes and police violence of the Danish hosts. Cancun, at the very least, was a triumph for Mexican hospitality and diplomacy, with Latin American women running the show with panache, tact, and a credible commitment to inclusiveness of participation and transparency of negotiations. Of course, there were glitches in the process, and moments of high tension at the end, but overall, and certainly by comparison with Copenhagen, there were good feelings generated in most governmental circles by the end of the proceedings. I suppose that the best summary of these atmospherics was ‘Onward to Durban’ where next year’s climate change gathering will convene, and where there were a variety of pledges to get beyond the compromises and ambiguities that clouded the results at Cancun.

If we put aside these diversionary atmospherics to one side, it dawns on us that this meeting of governments, most represented at the ministerial level, was supposed to address urgent concerns relating to climate change, which has up to now widely understood to mean doing what is necessary to keep global warming from rising above 2 degrees Celsius, the absolute highest tolerable average earth temperature as measured since the onset of the industrial age. The scientific consensus seems increasingly to believe that this ceiling is dangerously high, having at most a 50% chance of avoiding severe harm to the quality of life throughout the world, and that a 1.5 degree increase, although seemingly too ambitious to be realistic as a target, is the most average increase in heat that it is prudent to allow. If this is the case that means a reduction of the current 390 ppm (parts per million) of greenhouse gasses to a utopian upper limit of 350 ppm. Even it these lower levels were somehow achieved over time, great problems would remain as the heating of the earth is uneven, with Africa getting a much higher than average heating, causing dreadful droughts and fires already. At Cancun these realities were essentially ignored except by Bolivia as they were correctly understood by the convenors and delegates to bring the whole negotiating process to a grinding halt, uncovering all the unresolved battles about the distribution of responsibilities for reducing carbon emissions, the developing world is united in refusing to slow their development when the problems of global warming were, in their judgment, mainly a result of the buildup of GHGs during the centuries of industrialization in the developed world. The developed world, led by the United States Government (with a climate skeptic Republican dominated Congress in the background), insists in opposition that present contributions to emissions should be the primary basis for assessing levels of responsibilities, making the developing countries, led by China, share the burden on a roughly proportionate basis. This standoff is fundamental, and seems unlikely to be resolved soon by either multilateral diplomacy or by enlightened leadership on either side of this paralyzing divide.

This state of affairs puts the spotlight on the pluri-national democratic state of Bolivia, as it insists on being identified, that stood bravely and resolutely on principle throughout the conference, cogently arguing that the refusal to work toward the control of carbon emissions was unacceptable, and meant dooming the future of humanity as well violating the integrity of Mother Earth. At the final dramatic session when there existed near unanimity in the great hall the Bolivian chief negotiator, Pablo Colon, with eloquence and indisputably, played the role of spoiler refusing to go along with a final text, called ‘The Copenhagen Agreements: A New Era of International Cooperation on Climate Change,” that he described as a virtual death warrant for the human species and the surrounding reality of a habitable earth, precisely because it failed to address the central issue of global warming in a prudent and responsible fashion. That Colon with great composure and dignity stood alone in a vast hall filled with tired and angry delegates, was shamelessly shouted down, and invoked the notion of ‘consensus’ to contend that no negotiated text could be procedurally adopted without adhering to UN procedural rules requiring ‘consensus’ to be equated with unanimity.

In the end to the relief of the assembled crowd at about 4 am, the President of the Conference, the Mexican Foreign Minister, Patricia Espinosa, declared the agreed text adopted, receiving thunderous applause that was also meant to convey the enraged response to the Bolivian efforts to block the process. It is a nice technical question for the legal community as to whether or not in UN circles ‘consensus’ should be understood to mean ‘unanimity’ or just an expression of the overwhelming political will, a kind of super-majority plurality. A related issue is whether a UN climate change conference can establish its own procedural norms for reaching decisions. The Bolivian voice was wonderfully expressive and determined, a courageously prophetic intoning of the underlying failure of the conference to come to grips with the challenges of climate change, but in terms  of process, it would operate as a veto on a process that would become unmanageable if serious decisions required the unanimous assent of the more than 192 participating governments.

Should we conclude that Cancun was a small step forward, restoring some hope to multilateral cooperation, achieving some help for the most vulnerable countries, and illustrating the willingness of most governments to work together for the sake of achieving what was attainable given the political realities of the moment? Or should we condemn Cancun as one more demonstration of the incapacity of the world of states to rise above national interests and geopolitical ambitions, to see ahead to the terrible consequences of inaction at present, and to administer a sedative to the peoples of the world when what is desperately needed is a strong stimulant?

As has been so well said on other occasions, my friends, “the answer is blowing in the wind.”


10 Dec


It surely exists

as surely more surely

than you or I

more surely than this place of mine


Same sun same moon and sky

with similar starlighting

yet the sonic intrusions are different

the nights and days are different


Those children driven toward death daily

are still being born and dying there

their mothers trembling past pain

as old men weep with wonder


Despite the visits and images of distress

renewed year upon year renewed by films

that hide little and show s well hard truths

despite the futile rage mixed with tears


Despite all this weighing down of heart and soul

Gaza remains a blank space in the recoiling mind

a void valley of despairing darkness

a wound without boundaries


So condemned it seems to this deforming destiny

such an endless night expects no dawn

expects not even an audience

for this prison theater of crime


The real Gaza will always be unimaginable

it can only be  lived lamented loved

and then forgotten by forms of departure

forgotten even by the most tender among us


And yet her presence before me now

seems so much stronger than my imaginary

her eyes shining her smile glistening

for her we must learn to walk in the dark


For her we must do more than hope

Impressions from Cancun

8 Dec

Having spent the last several days as a delegate to the Climate Change Conference in Cancun, I am left with many impressions. As Copenhagen is remembered as a disaster due to Disappointed Expectations, Cancun is likely to be forgotten altogether except possibly by archivists of global conferences, or referred to by those who attended as ‘a grand occasion despite being a moment of Minimal Expectations that were themselves, not even realized. What makes this outcome disturbing to many participants is that the rhetoric of climate change diplomacy continues to stress convincingly urgency, responsibility, the vulnerability of small island states and sub-Saharan African countries, the fervent hopes of world opinion that governments will act beyond national and large-scale private sector interests on behalf of humanity as trustees for a viable future. At stake, in part, is whether multilateral mechanisms of statist diplomacy under UN auspices can fashion credible responses to twenty-first century challenges. In the twentieth century these mechanisms proved effective in relation to negotiating the law of the seas and a public order for the administration of Antarctica in a manner sensitive to the global public good. The magnitude of the climate change agenda combined with the radical unevenness of the situation of sovereign states makes it seems highly unlikely that this format can produce satisfactory results, and failure here could darken overall human prospects.

There is much to be said about the Cancun experience, but I want primarily to call attention to a profound dilemma that bedevils the good intentions and hard work of thousands of persons representing governments and civil society who are in attendance here. Just as Copenhagen illustrated the illegitimacy of a self-appointed, American-led bloc of states seeking to push an agreement down the throats of the rest of the world community overriding texts of a proposed agreement on emissions painstakingly negotiated by the assembled governments through a heroic effort, Cancun epitomizes the gridlock that follows from delivering on promises of transparency and inclusive participation from the almost 200 governments gathered in Cancun representing states. What emerges is unmanageable complexity together with a variety of clashes of perception and priorities. One persistent theme are the claims of vulnerable states that have made minimal contributions to the buildup of greenhouse gasses naturally seeking maximal attention and generous help from the rich developed countries that have yet to appreciate, or acknowledge, the harm to themselves that is being caused by climate change (e.g. Hurricane Katrina, forest fires in Russia, floods and droughts in China, the hottest year ever recorded, Arctic melting). Without strong and benevolent leadership this assembly of governments lacks the political will to make compromises, strike bargains that are indispensable to reach needed decisions on greenhouse gas restrictions in accordance with the widely accepted, yet still vacuous, formula of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’ Here in Cancun those chairing the conference repeat over and over again the solemn mantra that they have heeded ‘the lesson of Copenhagen,’ and they even seem to mean it: much seems transparent, although in brackets (meaning not yet agreed), there are apparently no secret texts being circulated by hegemonic actors. Of course, these reassurances are only partly convincing, and may turn out to have been fraudulent as soon as the next cycle of WikiLeaks commences, as it surely will, and surely must.

But Cancun also highlights the cumbersome ineffectuality of global democracy (at least of the intergovernmental variety) in this setting of addressing urgent and severe policy challenges affecting the wellbeing of the entire world, now and in the future. This cumbersomeness is experienced despite the effective exclusion of bothersome civil society voices from the political process, which is a severe shortcoming from the perspective of genuine global democracy. At the very least, this exclusion reinforces normative arguments in favor of establishing a Global Peoples Assembly within the framework of the UN System. Without a civil society presence, the peoples of the world lack an authentic vehicle to express a variety of societal concerns at variance with statist diplomacy. Without this voice being heard and heeded, the outcomes in Cancun and elsewhere lack full legitimacy, especially as with regard to climate change. It is only the dominant voices of civil society that are calling for the sorts of major commitments that will give the peoples of the world some realistic prospect of escaping from the worst effects of global warming. Major governments are continuing to play statist games, pursuing geopolitical strategies designed to shift burdens and responsibilities away from themselves. The short-run dominates, a preoccupation with what will be popular at home trumps what might reduce the buildup of carbon densities and higher global temperature, and great power leverage is used shamelessly to avoid unwanted commitments.

Time is also an enemy. Each year makes a humane framework of adjustment to the multiple challenges of climate change less and less likely, and adaptation and mitigation more costly. It makes the tensions between illegitimate, yet more effective, authoritarian approaches and more legitimate, yet ineffectual, democratic approaches more prominent, and disturbing to those of us who affirm democratic values.

Next year at Durban this format of an inter-governmental mega-conference is to be repeated, but the talk in the corridors here is filled with heaps of understandable skepticism about what might be accomplished there in 2011. I am sure that the UN Secretary General will again give a solemn address, that heads of state will again manifest their deep concerns about the future, and that the best that can be hoped for as an outcome will again be ‘a muddling through’ that remains long on rhetoric and short on tangible results. In Cancun there is a back room consensus that a perception of muddling through (neither giving up nor making notable progress) is the most that can possibly emerge despite the dedicated efforts of thousands, and even this is far from assured: a legally binding agreement on carbon emissions is unattainable, recrimination and open conflict is undesirable, leaving us with only the ‘realistic’ middle, muddling option as the only possible way to push toward incremental steps that propose vague guidelines and leave subsequent implementation up to the voluntary and highly untrustworthy action of states. One basic trouble with this statist realism is that its historical agency is being superseded by ecological realism based on the growing density of greenhouse gasses, the rising temperatures already beyond safe thresholds, the harm to lives and livelihoods being done presently and in the near future, and the general distraction being caused by a climate skeptic campaign financed by oil and gas interests designed to confuse the public as to actuality of global warming, and if possible prevent the scientific consensus from getting translated into a political consensus that insists on obligatory global norms. Yet statist realism remains so deeply embedded in our political culture that it entraps the mind in obsolete ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.

We have to ask ourselves, what kind of framework will be most likely to respond benevolently (justly, effectively, legitimately) to the multiple challenges posed by climate change. It is discouraging that there is no present response that seems both coherent and plausible. Neither imperial nor democratic solutions are promising at the moment. The planet burns, leaders talk, the people wait, not yet nearly nervously or apprehensively enough!

Perhaps, but only perhaps, a new global setting is emerging at the edges of these intergovernmental exhibitions of global gridlock that will give way unexpectedly to an extraordinary populist surge that reconstitutes world order on the basis of global law and global justice, an emergent attachment to sustainable global commons, that renounces militarism and militarist geopolitics, that transforms the world economy so that it serves people rather than capital, that couples political representation with effective participation, and that gives rise to a new type of transnational engaged citizenship that gains its primary identity from the global community and conceives of its essence as journeying to a preferred future, what I have called in the past the vocation of ‘the citizen pilgrim.’