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. 

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Antony Blinken Plays the ‘Two Sides Game’: Getting Israel Off the Hook

31 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below is based on my responses to an interview conducted by Rodrigo Craveiro, a Brazilian journalist who writes for Coorreio Brazilliense, the leading newspaper in the capital city of Brazillia.]

Antony Plays the Two Sides Game: Getting Netanyahu/Israel Off the Hook

Prelude: it is unclear to me whether Antony Blinken is acting other than as a loyal servant of President Joe Biden. But to make my point of departure as clear as possible, Blinken is the most lightweight Secretary of State a fitting complement to the overweight Mike Pompeo. Together they could do a late night TV comedy routine on the ‘arrogance of decline’ when it comes to America’s foreign policy in the Trump/Biden years. Their craven profile is most vividly expressed by their extreme subservience to extremist Israel, come what may, including its unlawful expansionism in occupied Palestine, and even the Golan Heights in Syria, which were Trump provocations endorsed by Biden. Given the outcome of the 2022 elections and the Netanyahu-led ‘extremist’ government, I would have thought Blinken/Biden could have been content to let this ugly culmination of Zionist ambitions pass in silence, rather than provide a public occasion for re-legitimating the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel as being as strong as ever, and unbreakable in the future no matter what. 

True, the Western labeling of this new leadership cabal in Israel as ‘extremist’ is itself polemical, implying that what preceded was moderate.. I am inclined to argue that virtually the entire elite spectrum of Israeli political parties is ‘extremist’ given their role in shaping an apartheid style of Jewish supremacy in Israel and Occupied Palestine many years before many were worried about the rise of the religious right as a political force in the form of Religious Zionism. My point being that the subjugation, dispossession, and exclusion of a people in relation to their national homeland has been the tragic destiny imposed on the Palestinian people since 1945, a resultt achieved with the active, continuing, and substantial U.S. complicity. The UK and UN are certainly also  partly to blame, having championed the partition of Palestine in 1947 without the consent of the resident population, which amounted to a denial of the most basic Palestinian rights, including the inalienable right of self-determination. Partition of a settler colonial state in an era of decolonization was also against the will of the peoples of the Middle East. As well, the UN and much of its membership then walked away after the 1948 War without condemning or reversing Israel’s territorial expansion by force, the forced mass exodus of Palestinians and the denial by Israel of their right of return to their homes and homeland, as also mandated by international law. If settler colonialism, de facto territorial annexations, and apartheid were not enough to fray the bonds between Washington and Tel Aviv, then it is hardly surprising that casting off the mantle of Israeli secular democracy would merit any rethinking of how the U.S. conceives of the ‘alliance of democracies’ that it purports to be leading in opposition to the Sino/Russian ‘alliance of autocracies.’

One last point, these displays of diplomatic steadfastness by the Biden/Lapid Declaration during a state visit to Israel a half year ago and now this post-election visit proved too much even for the corrupt and somewhat collaborationist Palestine Authority to swallow. President Mahmoud Abbas had the poise to dismiss Blinken’s ‘both sides’ approach to recent violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem with this rather mild rebuke: “We have found that the Israeli government is responsible for what’s happening these days,” that is, the upsurge of violence.“ Blinken did acknowledge, while in Ramallah for a few hours, that “what we’re seeing for Palestinians is a shrinkage of hope” that “needs to change.” This is double talk given Biden and Blinken’s much more weighty public display of solidarity with Israel, come what may. One is reminded of Hilary Clinton’s lame refrain after every Israel display of defiance with respect to international law, especially in the context of establishing additional Jewish settlements in Occupied Palestine, obviously a violation of Article 49(6) of the Geneva Conventions, as being ‘unhelpful.’

Without external pressure and internal resistance, South Africa would still be an apartheid state. The Palestinian horizon of hope will shrink until it disappears altogether with the continuation of resistance within and the spread of militant forms of global solidarity without. Without such pressure, and given such maintenance of geopolitical support, lament alone is not a liberation strategy for the Palestinian people. 

1– Today US Secretary of State Blinken called Israel and Palestinian for “urgent steps” to calm spiralling violence in the conflict. How do you see this request and what kind of measures do you believe are much more urgent and credible to reduce tensions?

It is not appropriate under the circumstances to treat Israelis and Palestinians as equally responsible for the recent upsurge in violence. Israel’s provocations are the principal cause of the current crisis that accompanied the formation of what has been widely viewed as the most extreme Israeli government since the country came into existence 75 years ago, with crucial internal cabinet position being given to outspoken anti-Paklestinian racists, most prominently Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism coalition group.

Of course, from the perspective of international law and morality, the Zionist Project was from day one ‘extremist,’ although it showed its hand only gradually over a span of almost a century. 

More appropriate measures responsive to the realities would be to suspend arms shipments to Isreal and to support UN censure of policies, practices, and Israeli leadership associated with racism, ethnic supremacy, and further dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland. 

2– Do you believe the US could have a decisive protagonism to push Israel and palestinian to negotiate a deal? Or do you believe a peace deal is out of question at this point?

Israel, the side in totally dominant control, shows no interest in a diplomatic approach to finding a solution for the conflict. With such an extremist government in control of Israeli foreign policy, the emphasis has shifted from those committed to ending the conflict through diplomatic negotiations to a unilateral approach imposed by Israeli force, essentially stabilizing and gaining international acceptance of an exclusivist Jewish State stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This outcome controlled Israeli thinking and the unfinished agenda of. the Zionist Political Project for more than the prior 20 years, although not so openly and aggressively proclaimed as recently..

Given this situation, it would cause serious US/Israeli tensions if Washington were to push hard for a revived diplomacy that was claimed to be ‘a peace process.’ There is no domestic pressure in the U.S. on Biden to move in such a direction, and Blinken’s legitimating visit and reaffirmation of U.S. unconditional support of Israeli security is a further indication that no such move will be forthcoming from Washington beyond the misleading and likely ineffective Blinken call for mutual de-escalation, which most objective observers regard as an evasive diplomacy based on false symmetry, or more bluntly put, as whitewashing intensification of prolonged Palestinian victimization..

3– What is the risk of an escalate of violence trigger a new intifada in your view? 

It is difficult to assess the thinking of the internationally recognized Palestinian leadership in Ramallah at this time, but the prospect of continuing Palestinian resistance to further Israeli violations of past understandings, such as formal Jewish visits to sacred Muslim sites will spontaneously spark escalated violence as does excessive use of force by Israeli security force and expansions of unlawful Israeli settlements. There would be widespread civil society support among Palestinians for a Third Intifada at this time, especially in the directly occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Gaza, as well as among Palestinian support groups around the world.

Postlogue: It may be that Blinken’s real mission was to convey to Netanyahu in private the message that Israeli provocations are weakening public support for Israel in the United States, especially among younger generations of Jews. It is notable how the Western media has focused on the extent to which Israel’s turn to overt ‘extremism’ is of concern because. of its effect on Jewish support and how little attention is given to how this intensification of oppressive tactics magnifies Palestinian suffering.

Lifting the Curtain: Barbara Walters

21 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a departure from my usual focus on current political concerns. It attempts a mini-exploration of the public/private interface of a news and entertainment celebrity, especially known for her ability to go ‘persona,’ and even enter intimate terrain with some of the most famous political leaders of our time. Even with a revered TV personality, what we see when the curtain of privacy is lifted ever so slightly can be quite startling, as was my experience, ‘an encounter of the fourth kind.’ Is it okay to lift this curtain, even for an instant, for someone who has so recently died and has had a career that even critics find remarkable for its sustained achievements, and because a woman achieved this meteoric rise at a time when women were still expected to serve morning coffee to their male colleagues and be a quiet presence at meetings. Barbara Walters was a long-distance swimmer against the tide, and yet managed to dwelling for decades among the most luminous of TV stars. This post was published as an opinion piece by CounterPunch on Jan. 19, 2023 under the title Barbara Walters in Real Life: Icon and ‘Pushy Cookie.’ The present text varies insignificantly]

Lifting the Curtain: Barbara Walters 

Barbara Walters, who died on December 30, 2022, received many accolades during the days that followed. She was rightly hailed as a TV journalist who shattered many glass ceilings and fused hard news with gossip-style entertainment and an interview style that led even famous world leaders and others, accustomed to formality and social distancing, to drop their guard, seeming to relish the aura of intimacy she created. She was admired, particularly by her female colleagues, who extolled Barbara as ‘pioneer,’ ‘icon,’ and ‘legend.’ She was most frequently celebrated as an ‘iconic trailblazer’ who permanently elevated the role and impact of women in TV journalism. I share this assessment that only someone with her drive, professionalism, and specia style could achieve such an extraordinary career that makes it seem natural to eulogize her death with words of extreme praise, tempered in some assessments by her own self-deprecating image of herself as ‘a pushy cookie,’ and that she was, and probably needed to be, to climb to the heights of media stardom in the patriarchal TV kingdoms in which she engaged so creatively.

In the close aftermath of such a public death, I felt hesitant to share my own less flattering experience with Barbara. Yet as the days pass, I became convinced that this idealized portrayal of Walters needed to be balanced by off-camera encounters, even those such as mine that admittedly seem trivial if compared to the experience of countless others, but were important for me,  accompanied by intriguing asides, and I felt no bonds of loyalty.

My contact with Barbara Walters went back many years, reviving briefly three decades later. We were a year apart in age, she a year older, and both of us at the time attending Fieldston High School in Riverdale, NY, but living on the West Side of Manhattan, riding together in the school bus as we were considered by our parents too young to handle safely the long subway ride to 242nd street alone, and then walk for another fifteen minutes up a steep hill to reach the school grounds.  We quite often sat together and chattered about various adolescent concerns. My hazy recollection of those conversations of more than 75 years ago mostly remembers that I struggled to get a word in, Barbara talking incessantly in a glitzy superficial way. I was then (and now) too shy to hold my own. I do recall that we sometimes talked about our fathers who both had strong personal ties to entertainment celebrities.

It was widely known after Barbara became famous that her father owned nightclubs, including the Latin Quarter in New York City. At school Barbara had a reputation of talking too much and teasing her student friends with the remote prospect of an invitation to accompany her to spend a weekend evening at her dad’s night club, tantalizing to the teenage imagination. Not surprisingly, no invitation came to me despite our friendly conversations that helped me at a rather early age to become a better listener than talker. Those older guys and her girlfriends who evidently received these much sought-after free passes to the Latin Quarter were apparently discreet or sworn to secrecy, and so I never heard accounts of whether the envisioned debauchery was more than an alluring myth. And I now think that maybe even the whole scenario was nothing more than a harmless phantasy adroitly manipulated by a teenage girl seeking romance.

At least 30 years later I ran into Barbara at a very different time in both our lives, a dinner meeting in the early 1970s of the Editorial Board of the recently established magazine, Foreign Policy. The event took place in the fancy East Side townhouse of Warren Manchel, a banker with international interests, the founding co-editor (with Sam Huntington) and publisher of the magazine, who had been Sam’s graduate school friend at Harvard, and possibly his roommate.  In the years before the magazine was sold to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and moved its offices, along with its editorial priorities to Washington, Warren’s home was the standard meeting place for periodic formal meetings of its Editorial Board, which for me at least were social gathering than serious meetings devoted to editorial policy. The attendees were too interested in each other and the world to have much time left over for the magazine.

As an aside, I do not think I ever before or since had the experience of sitting at a dinner table or living room with such a distinguished academic assemblage of overtly ambitious individuals. The group included such establishment stalwarts as Zbig Brzezinski, Joe Nye, Richard Holbrooke, and of course Sam Huntington. Sam had the most creative and interesting mind among us and also seemed the least ambitious (other than myself) when it came to reaching the top layers of influence within the U.S. Government. The others had their eyes fixed on plucking the biggest plums hanging from the upper branches of the power tree that had grown so tall in the climate of Washington careerist politics. Those with academic ties were waiting restlessly in their campus offices for that phone call offering them a big job in government, suffering from what some derisively called ‘Potamic Fever,’ a reference to the river that runs through Washington.   

Despite not running in that race, and seemingly out of place, I was there because Warren and Sam had recruited me to join the original FP Board at an expensive French NYC restaurant, not because I was on my way to the top in Washington but in response to my vocal anti-war stance during the Vietnam War. The foundational idea of FP was to create a magazine more alive and responsive to the diversities of ideological outlooks on global issues than Foreign Affairs, then and now the most prestigious and influential journal of Western establishment opinion bearing on foreign policy. As I recall, Sam had supported the Vietnam War, while Warren opposed it on realist grounds, making me am acceptable critical lone voice among the others, all reallists, persuaded to join for reasons of friendship or career. Because of my public opposition to the Vietnam War on the basis of international law rather than anti-imperialism, I suppose I seemed a safe enough bet to satisfy the new editors’ quest for a more diverse venue for foreign policy commentary that was reflective of some ideological differences in the country that often angrily rose to the surface during and after the Vietnam War, but still within limits. In retrospect, I imagine myself an acceptable dissenter as not tainted by Marxism. The Vietnam experience, however negative it turned out as a major failed U.S. undertaking, was not seen as a strong enough setback to splinter the establishment consensus that prevailed at the Council on Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs. I never felt entirely comfortable in such company, but as Barbara taught me years before I joined the FP Board to believe I would learn more from listening to those with whom I disagreed than smoozing with likeminded comrades whose company I greatly preferred. I should further report that after the Carnegie Endowment took over FP in 1978, the Editorial Board was partially reconstituted, and I was not invited to remain a member, perhaps an early punitive pushback for criticizing Israel in public spaces after 1975. Perhaps more to the point, diversity was no longer considered a virtue among foreign policy influencers, and in fact was seen as a sign of ideological retreat and weakness in reviving the effort to restore confidence in the reliability of American global leadership beneath the storm clouds of the Cold War. Such a goal privileged unity of purpose and policy, and in this atmosphere I was again left out, which was not without its benefits.

As was the habit at these Editorial Board meetings, prominent personalities from various backgrounds bearing on leading global issue were invited guests, and Barbara definitely had earned such a status.  On that particular evening she was second to Shimon Peres, the liberal Israeli leader greatly admired in the West. In my view Peres was badly misunderstood by liberal Zionists who wrongly regarded him as a staunch advocate of a diplomatically negotiated fair peace with the Palestine. At dinner with such an influential group Peres had other priorities in mind than his usual concern with pleasing diaspora Jewish communities. As was the custom at these dinner meetings, Peres was given the opportunity to make a presentation, and spoke long before it became fashionable, of the natural convergence of strategic interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East despite their apparent confrontational relationship at that time. When it came time for questions, there were a series of approving remarks in the form of questions from several Board members seated around the dinner table. Put off by Peres’ forthrightly cynical proposal, I dared put forward a mild challenge by commenting upon the apparent tensions between Saudi governance and Israel’s embrace of democracy, and went on to call attention to an apparent lack of any concern about the prolonged suffering of the Palestinian people. 

Peres, visibly annoyed, brushed off my remarks as naïve and ‘leftist’ in relation to real world geopolitics. Barbara interpreted my remarks as unacceptably hostile and took offense. She delivered a rather lengthy rant attacking me for an impolitic questioning of Israel’s pursuit of peace, as well as its own interests as explained by its most beloved leader. I felt that Barbara had no memory of our earlier high school encounters, which had the curious effect of amusing me. This impression was confirmed after the dinner was adjourned, and she came to me to apologize for the attack, saying that she had a tiring and frustrating day, and lost control of her feelings (something, incidentally, she was famous for not doing when performing her professional magic). Her high-pitched shrill attack at the time had struck me as an unexpectedly ultra-Zionist outburst, although I had no knowledge of her views on Israel beyond this incident, and I was sufficiently annoyed by her over-reaction to my civilly phrased comments to Peres, whom I had met on other occasions, that I didn’t feel like reminding her that we were once, sort of friends. Reflecting on my own behavior, I confess that I was too intimidated by the surroundings dominated by men of power than to be other than polite in addressing Peres. In retrospect, Barbara the only woman present other than Manchel’s wife, was self-confident enough to let her raw feelings to hang out without any sign of the intimidation that treated what I said according to socially appropriate constraints.

As a further coincidence, Barbara and I were both invited to a small lunch in the Delegate’s Dining Room at the UN two weeks later hosted by Clovis Maksoud, a prominent Lebanese diplomat, to honor the Palestinian intellectual diplomat, Shafik al-Hout. Shafik was a friend, who I shortly thereafter invited to speak to my seminar on international relations at Princeton. As visas only allowed Palestinian diplomats to travel within a 25-mille radius from the UN, I actually needed to obtain permission from the Secretary of State before Shafik could visit. Surprisingly, permission was granted, but only for the seminar, with a clearly stated prohibition disallowing any wider presentation of his views in the form of a university lecture. Such a constraint made the grant of permission less a victory for academic freedom than a personal accommodation probably thought to be without political resonance. Decades later I can report with pride that it was the best attended seminar during my 40 years at Princeton. Shafik carried off the occasion with great charm, wit, and knowledgeable views sensibly presented. The feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive, some saying that they had never before had an opportunity to hear a Palestinian official speak, and were impressed. Overall, the experience reinforced my convictions that grew stronger over the years that when academic freedom is given a freer rein at universities, we all benefit. 

Back to Barbara, after seeming so alarmed by any show of sympathy for the Palestinian plight, seated next to Shafik, she let go of her politics, and behaved as someone seeming to flirt with an attractive partner at this lunch that she must have attended reluctantly, understandably fearing boredom in the milieu of UN bureaucrats. The lunch ended with Barbara giving her private phone number to Shafik. I never had the temerity to ask him whether he made use of it. Now I wish I had.

As in life, the asides may be more significant than the story line, and for this I apologize to readers who felt misled by the title and early paragraphs. From the vantage-point of the present, I feel grateful for Barbara Walters’ explorations of the links between private and public in the lives of some of the greatest figures of our time, at her best creating intimacy with historical figures who were not used to such exposure but in the moment enjoyed it. I suppose it says a lot that her most watched interview was with Monica Lewinsky and the U.S. president who most helped gain access to obtain interviews was none other than Richard Nixon.    

Is Israeli Settler Colonialism and Apartheid Poised for Victory or Defeat?

13 Jan

“These are the basic lines of the national

government headed by me:

The Jewish people have an exclusive

and unquestionable right to all areas of

the Land of Israel. The government will

promote and develop settlement in all

parts of the Land of Israel – in the Galilee,

the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria.”

         Benjamin Netanyahu, December 30, 2022

Anyone with but half eye open during the last several decades should by now be aware that of the existence of an undisclosed Zionist Long Game that preceded the establishment of Israel in 1948,  and remains currently very much alive. It aims at extending Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Occupied Palestine, with the probable exception of Gaza, excluded for demographic and biblical reasons. The significance of Netanyahu’s publicaffirmation of this previously secretive long game is that it may be reaching its final phase, with him presiding over the far right governing coalition that is poised to pursue closure. 

Should it matter that Netanyahu’s claim of exclusive Israel’s supremacy on behalf of the Jewish people over the whole of the promised land is in direct defiance of international law? Additionally, Netanyahu’s statement is also perversely at odds with Biden’s stubborn insistence, however farfetched, on reaffirming U.S. Government support for a two-state solution. This zombie approach to resolving the Israel/Palestine struggle has dominated international diplomacy for years, usefully allowing the UN and its Western members to maintain their embrace of Israel without seeming to throw the Palestinian people under the bus while doing just that. Netanyahu’s brazen avowal of Israeli unilateral expansionism foregoes these earlier diplomatic charades to placate world public opinion to put Israel’s intentions of unilaterally finishing the Zionist Project. Such a forthright approach challenges the UN, the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people, governments around the world, and transnational civil society to open both eyes and finally acknowledge that the two-state solution is dead. This does not mean giving up on a peaceful solution based on political compromise, but it does suggest shifting such hopes from two-state proposals to a single unified confederal, secular state with coexisting dual homelands for the two peoples based on equality of ethnic entitlements to Palestine as often conceived from ‘the river to the sea.’ Such a state would have a single governance structure upholding the fused sovereign rights of a post-Zionist, presumably renamed, state premised upon equal citizenship and human rights for Jews and Palestinians.   

In fairness, it is true that this Zionist Long Game has only recently become fully apparent to all but the closest observers of the struggle. Throughout the 20th century this design of progressive expansionism was hidden from public view by a combination of Israeli control over the public narrative and U.S. complicity, which deceived especially diaspora Zionists by assuming that Israel was open to a political and territorial compromises and that it was the Palestinians who were mainly responsible for the failures to accept reasonable diplomatic proposals prefiguring Palestinian statehood. Such an interpretation of the stalemate was always deeply mistaken becuase it underestimated Israel underlying ambitions. 

The Zionist Project from its very beginnings, more than a century ago, proceeded by stages to accept as final whatever was politically attainable at any given time, before moving quietly and quickly on to the next stage in fulfillment of its long-range colonization plans. Zionism never convincingly gave up its guiding commitment to establish a Jewish state that exercised sovereign control over the whole of ‘the whole of the promised land,’ itself a misleadingly precise reading of Judaic biblical tradition that could be concretized in any way that the Israeli leadership preferred.

This pattern of expansionist priorities should have become evident in the periods following the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and after World War II. The infamous colonial Declaration had pledged British support for ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine. This pledge was made credible during the British mandatory period by accommodating ballooning Jewish immigration, which coincided with the rise of antisemitic fascism, most visibly in Nazi Germany, but extending to much of the rest of Europe. 

After World War II came the UN partition resolution (UNGA Res. 181, 1947), which not only ignored Palestinian rights of self-determination by partitioning the country without a prior referendum, changing the status of the Jewish presence from ‘national home’ within the state of Palestine to a sovereign Jewish state on fully half of Palestinian territory, and then failing to take effective responsibility for implementing the portions of the UN proposals more favorable to Palestinians. This internationally devised ‘solution’ was greeted positively at each stage by the Zionist formal leadership, but rejected by representatives of the Palestinian people and by neighboring Arab governments. This regional rejectionism led directly to the 1948 War, which resulted in the catastrophic dispossession of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians, known to its victims as the nakba, ending with a ceasefire that increased Israel’s share of Palestine from 55% to 78%. The dispossession of such a large number of Palestinians was integral to the Zionist commitment to make Israel not only Jewish but democratic.  It was understandably thought insecure to suppose that Israel could remain an ethnic democracy without a substantial Jewish demographic margin, and this could not be obtained except by dispossession, by coercive means to the extent necessary. From early on, Zionist zealots believed it desirable for security and nation-building to work toward a Jewish Only state, and that goal may resurface in the months ahead, not only to achieve ethnic purity, but to quell worries about Palestinian ‘demographic bomb.’

The next step in carrying forward the Zionist Project resulted from Israell’s victory in the 1967 War, which drove Jordan out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (and Egypt from Gaza). II also dispossessed another large number of indigenous Palestinians, a course of events known among Palestinian as the naksa. The 1967 War also resulted in Israel’s prolonged occupation of the territories occupied during the short war, and it was the beginning of an Israeli version of ‘triumphalism,’ which also made converts among foreign political elites in Washington previously worried that full support for Israel would alienate the Gulf oil producers. 

The occupation by law and political consensus at the time was expected to be temporary (a matter of a few years at most) but the establishment of many unlawful Jewish settlements encroaching on what had been projected as a coexisting Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem strongly suggested that all along Israel’s leadership envisioned permanent arrangements with an end game in mind that did not include viable Palestinian statehood encompassing the West Bank heartland. Israel stalled over the years by complicated demands for border adjustments being agreed upon prior to any withdrawal. And somewhat later on, with a show of temerity, Israel contended that the West Bank was ‘disputed territory’ rather than ‘occupied territory.’

Another strong straw in the wind back in 1967 was Israel immediate declaration and enactment of a sovereign claim over the whole of an enlarged Jerusalem as the ‘eternal capital’ of the Jewish state, signaling its unwillingness to trust an outcome of post-1948 diplomatic negotiations (or to uphold the Jerusalem portion of the UN Partition Plan), which had originally envisioned East Jerusalem as the capital of the co-equal Palestinian state, before backpedaling and accepting the idea of the holy city being divided between the two peoples. This incorporation of Jerusalem into Israel proper was repeatedly rejected by overwhelming votes in the General Assembly, duly ignored by the Israeli government, but again Israel found that it would suffer no adverse consequences by defying international law and General Assembly majorities.

There were many lesser displays of virtuoso salami slicing by Israel of Palestinian rights and expectations in the subsequent 55 years. The Oslo diplomatic process lingered and languished for more than 20 years after the 1993 hyped handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn, which was the most notable stunt by Israel along these lines designed to show the world that Israel remained open to achieving a negotiated sustainable peace. 

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear that in the Israeli strategic imaginary ‘peace’ was never what Oslo was about. The real basis of Israeli support for Oslo, besides satisfying international pressure to manifest a willingness to engage in some semblance of negotiations, was to gain the needed time to make the Jewish settlement movement large and territorially diffuse enough to become irreversible. Such an obvious assault on the two-state mantra should then have sounded the death knell of two-state duplicity, although it was overdue by 40-50 years. Yet the curtain was not lifted then or since.  The continuing international avowal of adherence to a two-state solution, until the present, was mutually convenient for both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and for friendly foreign governments, and even for the UN that was far too weak to insist on Israeli compliance with international law in the face of Euro-American unwavering refusal to authorize any pushback in the UN Security Council.  

Israel’s 2018 Basic Law proclaiming the supremacy of Jews in ‘the promised land of Israel,’ including the whole of the West Bank, moved a giant step closer to revealing the integral goals of the Zionist Project as openly endorsed by Netanyahu to coincide with the swearing in of his fourth go at being the Prime Minister. As argued here, the essential elements of such a project had preceded its public endorsement by more than a century, but for an Israeli head of state to dramatize the commitment as openly was new, and politically of great significance.

Yet, despite this series of monumental successes of this Zionist Long Game is from some perspectives more problematic of completion than it has ever been, strange as such assertions might be regarded from a purely materialist view of politics. The Palestinian people have held firm in their commitment to self-determination throughout, while enduring a century of being tested by large-scalle Israeli settler encroachments, as aggravated by Palestinian disunity and inadequate representation at the international level by the quasi-collaborative leadership provided by the Palestinian Authority. The spirit of resistance and struggle has been sustained by a Palestinian deep culture of steadfastness of sumud as reinforced by global solidarity initiatives and a generally supportive global public opinion, as well as by Palestinian resistance and gllobal solidarity, which although sporadic never disappeared.

Additionally, the weight of evolving historical circumstances has enabled the Palestinians to achieve important victories in The Legitimacy War being waged by the two peoples for the control of symbolic and normative spaces in the wider struggle, against all odds, is being won by the Palestinians. Over the course of the last decade the international political discourse has increasingly accepted the Palestinian narrative of Israel as ‘a settler colonial state,’ a damaging assessment in an era where colonialism elsewhere was being dismantled by the weaker side militarily, suggesting the unrecognized leverage of law, morality, global solidarity, and nationalist mobilization in out maneuvering a militarily superior adversary.

My previous comments on this latest, possibly terminal phase, of the Zionist Project, is further illuminated if interpreted through the lens of settler colonialism. As Patrick Wolfe, the leading academic expositor of the concept, and others point out, a settler colonialist undertaking eventually falters and collapses unless it manages to eliminate or at least permanently and radically marginalize and pacify the native population. Settler colonial successes in Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand confirm this hypothesis as do the most prominent instances of failure, South Africa, and less clearly, Algeria. Given this historical record, I anticipate feverish Israeli attempts in the near future to achieve a further massive dispossession of the Palestinian people. In an important sense, the nakba should be understood as a process rather than an event back in 1948, to be culminated during the 2020s by a new surge of dispossession tactical moves.

Beyond allegations of settler colonialism, and more carefully documented, the accusation of apartheid directed at the Israeli state, which had long dismissed as the irresponsible screams of those that wanted to destroy the Israeli state, became validated by an emergent civil society consensus. Over the course of the last six years exhaustive reports prepared under the auspices the UN (ESCWA), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even the fiercely independent Israeli NGO, B’Tselem issued reports documenting with care and professional skill the apartheid allegations. As memories of the Holocaust faded and wrongdoing toward Palestinian rights became harder to shove under the rug, world public opinion especially in the West, became somewhat more sympathetic to and convinced by the Palestinian narrative, and as significantly, by the relevance of the South African precedent that became harder to ignore. 

Further symbolic Palestinian victories included widespread diplomatic recognition of Palestinian statehood by many governments in the Global South, admission of Palestine to non-voting membership in the UN, access as a state party to the International Criminal Court and its 2021 judgment authorizing the investigation of Palestinian allegations of international crimes in Occupied Palestine after 2014, and at the end of 2022, approval by a wide margin of a General Assembly Resolution requesting an Advisory Opinion from the World Court in The Hague on the prolonged unlawful occupation of Palestinian territories amounting to a deprivation of the Palestinian right of self-determination. The 2022 HRC appointment of a high-level Commission of Inquiry with a broad mandate to investigate Israel wrongdoing was also a revealing UN turn in favor of the Palestinians. Such challenges to Israeli administration of the Occupied Palestinian Territories only occurred after decades of UN frustrations arising from Israeli non-compliance with international humanitarian law in the OPT as set forth in the 4th Geneva Convention devoted to belligerent and refusal to cooperate with UNHRC Special Rapporteurs.

Israeli and its puppet NGOs, UN Watch and NGO Monitor, recognized the gravity of these largely symbolic delegitimizing developments, as did the Israeli government. Israel was intelligently responsive to the risks to its own viability as a Jewish Supremacy state by the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa due to pressures brought about by a blend of resistance, symbolic delegitimation, and global solidarity initiatives. Accordingly, Israel and its militants fought back, with total support of the U.S. Government, but not substantively, recognizing the costs of bringing about further scrutiny of the substance of Israel’s policies, practices, and racist ideology. Instead, the Israeli pushback focused on attacking the critics and their institutional venues, including even the UN, as antisemitic, and in the process smearing conscientious legal experts and even international civil servants and the institutions themselves. This has created a sufficient diversionary smokescreen to enable Biden and top EU bureaucrats to keep faith with both sides by championing the hollow prospect of ‘two states for two peoples’ when even they must know by this time that such a policy is moribund, and no longer is of much use as a public relations tactic. This assessment is truer than ever now that an apparently cocky Netanyahu has publicly told foreign political leaders to their faces that Israel no longer is interested enough in the two-state ploy to underpin its credibility. This leaves Israel’s most ardent supporters out in the cold with no place to hide their formerly respectable pro-Israel one-sidedness.

Given this line of interpretation, contrary to media commentary, Netanyahu, rather than being burdened, is likely pleased that his governing coalition is heavily dependent upon the rightest extremism of the Religious Zionism (RZ) and Jewish Power bloc. In the present context RZ, led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvar seems useful, if not natural allies of Likud in launching this culminating phase of the Zionist Project. This last phase involves territorial consolidation over the whole of the promised land and likely moves to inflict further dispossession of Palestinians—on the scale of a second (or intensified) Nakba—from their native lands. Seen in this way, the Netanyahu declaration above amounts to a virtual road map, hopefully from his point of view with RZ taking most of the heat for its inflammatory, openly racist, and likely violent implementation.

Given this background, the present context should be understood differently than the prevailing mode of reporting that stresses the difficulties for Netanyahu of heading the most right-wing and extremist government in the history of Israel. Mainstream journalism remains sympathetic with Netanyahu’s situation of supposedly being forced to rely on a coalition that gives dangerous influence to RZ. In opposition to such thinking, I believe having RZ entrenched in his governing structure actually strengthens the hand Netanyahu wants to play. 

It is instructive to notice that most of the regrets up to now expressed in the U.S. about the extremist successes  in the 2022 Israeli elections are devoted to their possibly negative impact on support for Israel in the liberal democracies, especially, among the predominantly secular dominant communities that largely shape  attitudes toward Israel in the European and U.S. Jewish diaspora. The probability of intensifying suffering inflicted on the Palestinians hardly ever is mentioned, and almost never evokes Western empathy. Such slanted presemtations has always slighted the successive stages of the Palestinian collective trauma that has obscured their Orientalist erasures throughout the struggle.     

Biden’s undoubtedly unconscious embrace of such Orientalist insensitivity to Palestinian rights, much less acknowledging Palestinian legitimate aspirations should have been expected. The evasive wording of Biden’s statement congratulating Netanyahu, warrants scrutiny: “I look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been my friend for decades, to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region, including threats from Iran.” In the same text, the American president asserts that “the United States will continue to support the two-state solution and to oppose policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values.” What struck me most, although by now I should have known better, was the absence of even a small gesture of recognition that these developments might have a negative relevance to Palestinian wellbeing. Often silences convey meanings better than do words of explanation with the hope of winning approval.

Despite all, most pro-Israeli commentary analyzing the shift to the right on the part of the Israeli voting public attributes the extremist outcome in the November elections to some combination of the perceived absence of ‘a partner’ in the search for peace, the Israeli security-first response to Palestinian ‘terrorism,’ the rising influence of the religious right within Israel, the emboldening effects on Israel of the normalization agreements (so-call Abraham Accords) reached in 2020 during the last months of the Trump presidency, and even Iran’s threat to Israel. Undoubtedly, these contextual factors were influential in persuading a larger segment of Israeli voters to swallow their dislike of a governing coalition that gave strong influence to RZ, interpreted in some circles as the foretaste of a now plausible Jewish theocratically-tinged fascism. Overall, it seems enough Israelis gave priority to their hopes for a unilaterally imposed Israeli ‘victory’ scenario to the hypocritical uncertainties of the diplomatic status quo that is disinterested in negotiating a political compromise with its Palestinian counterpart. My main point here is that the shift to the right was opportunistic and pragmatic rather than reactive, resulting in most media accounts missing the relevance of the commitment of the Israeli religious right to the completion of the Zionist Project in the near future. 

My own encounters with liberal Zionist opinions in America emphasized a belief that Israeli good will with respect to a political deal with the Palestinian had run into a brick wall of Palestinian hard line opposition, an indirect validation of the ‘no partner’ excuse, or at best, blaming both sides for diplomatic failure in an asymmetric situation where one side was the oppressor and the other the oppressed. This view was accentuated by the entirely unreasonable, accompanying insistence that Israeli’s closest ally and geopolitical source of security serve as intermediary in all ‘peace’ negotiations. Nothing exhibited Palestinian weakness or lack of strategic judgment more dramatically than this willingness to rely on such a flawed diplomatic process for their prospects of realizing such basic national rights as self-determination.

While these factors have been endlessly analyzed in piecing together a coherent, exoteric or public narrative, the real story—the deep roots of these developments—is in my view yet to be told. This is because the true account of the evolution of the Zionist Project before and since the establishment of Israel is bound up with an esoteric or secret Zionist narrative that links the successive stages of Israeli expansionism to an overarching vision. This esoteric narrative centered on a strategic plan for the ideologically coherent and steady unfolding story of Israeli expansionism, which involved a pragmatic suppression of disclosing the utopian character of Zionist Project of recovering all of Palestine during a period when such ultimate goals seemed hopelessly out of reach due to the prevalence of rampant nationalism and the widespread decline in the geopolitical leverage and political acceptance of colonialism.

Harvard University Succumbs

7 Jan

Harvard University Withdraws a Fellowship from Kenneth Roth & HRW

I admit to feeling an ironic mean-spirited satisfaction that Ken Roth had his appointment as Senior Fellow at the Carr Center of Human Rights of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government cancelled. After serving for 29 years as Director of Human Rights Watch, the world’s leading organization addressing human rights violations, Roth was superbly qualified for and entitled to this appointment. And would have had it but for the exertion of effective Zionist donor influence at Harvard. Without such a backroom factor this most revered academic institution would have undoubtedly been proud of Roth’s presence. [Chris McGreal, “Harvard Blocks Role for Former Human Rights Watch Head Over Israel Criticism,” The Guardian, Jan. 6, 2023] After his long and distinguished tenure at HRW Roth had become a civil society celebrity. This incident is another demonstration that even the most respected and wealthy institutions of higher learning are not fully insulated from nasty ideological and mercenary pressures that go against their proclaimed missions.

The irony of Roth’s mistreatment recalls a somewhat illuminating anecdote that seems so relevant that I cannot resist its disclosure. Over a decade ago I was a member of a local HRW advisory committee in Santa Barbara where I live. One day I got a phone call from a friend who chaired the committee. She informed me of my removal from this body because of a conflict of interest arising from my then holding the position of UN Special Rapporteur for Israeli Violations of Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. I thought it strange that this technical rule, given its dubious application here, should have been suddenly invoked some years after I had taken up the UN position, which led me to iuire further as to the real motive for my abrupt removal..

And I suppose unsurprisingly, it didn’t take me long to find out the true explanation for my ouster. UN Watch, Israel’s puppet NGO in Geneva had complained to HRW that it was unseemly to retain on their organizational chart a person with such notorious antisemitic views as myself. It was Ken Roth, I was told who had made the move to dismiss me. in. response, What followed could have been anticipated, UN Watch seized upon the incident to boast about their influence, announcing this blacklisting ‘victory’ on their website and through media releases. HRW was silent in response, allowing the impression to stand that I had been removed from their committee because of my antisemitism. I asked that HRW issue a statement clarifying my removal from committee on their stated grounds, which I thought of as a routine request, and learned that it was supported by several senior HRW staff, but rejected by Roth. The incident had some harmful effects on my academic life: lecture invitations were withdrawn or cancelled, and I experienced a variety of other unpleasant effects of becoming ‘unacceptably controversial.’ 

By coincidence, a few weeks later Roth and I appeared on the same panel at the University of Denver, and I told him that I was harmed by the way my removal from the SB Committee was handled, giving UN Watch grounds to show that I was too extreme in my criticisms of Israel for even HRW. Roth brushed me off with these unforgettably derisive words—“no one pays any attention to what UN Watch says.” In fairness, I acknowledge the subsequent reckless bravery of HRW years later in joining Amnesty International and B’Tselem in finding that Israel had established an apartheid regime of governance when it comes to the Palestinian people. [See “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,’ Human Rights Watch, April 27, 2021; see also earlier report by Richard Falk & Virginia Tilley, “Israeli Pactices Towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” UN ESCWA, MRCH 15, 2017.] It was this single report among hundreds issued during Roth’s long tenure that caused enough of a backlash as to make Harvard succumb. 

I wish that it was true that smears by UN Watch and likeminded individuals and organizations lacked the leverage they possess to produce such totally unjustified results as inflicted on Roth. I suspect that what motivated Roth in my case was the influential Zionist membership on the HRW Board. As a child, I had known Bob Bernstein, the founder of HRW, as a family friend in NYC, and had a rather unpleasant dinner with him here in Santa Barbara a few years before incident while he was the leading Israeli advocate on the HRW Board. I learned that he and other board members were unconditional Israeli supporters who would have shed no tears about my treatment a few years hence.

Roth’s experience recalls the famous 1946 poem of the German theologian and pastor, Martin Niemöller, which vividly depicted the problems arising from the tendency of liberals under pressure to sacrifice principles for financial gain or woke morality. The poem was undoubtedly inspired by Pastor Niemöller’s own life, especially the shift from being an outspoken pro-Nazi in his early years to becoming an imprisoned anti-Nazi dissident later in life:  

First They Came 

“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Toward Justice for Kashmir

18 Dec

Richard Falk

Among the self-determination struggles of our time, Kashmir is at risk of being forgotten by most of the world (except for Pakistan), while its people continue to endure the harsh crimes of India’s intensifying military occupation that has already lasted 75 years. In 2019, the Hindu nationalist government of the BJP, headed by the notorious autocrat, Narendra Modi, unilaterally and arbitrarily abrogated the special status arrangements for the governance of Kashmir that had been incorporated in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and although often violated in spirit and substance, at least gave the people of Kashmir some measure of protection.

1947 was a momentous year for South Asia as British colonial rule came to an end, followed by a partition of India that resulted in much bloodshed throughout the process of establishing the Muslim state of Pakistan alongside the secular Hindu majority state of India. At this time, Kashmir was one of 560 ‘princely states’ in India, governed by a Hindu Maharajah while having a population that was 77% Muslim. The partition agreement reached by India and Pakistan gave the peoples of these ‘states’ a partial right of self-determination in the form of a free choice as to whether to remain a part of India or join their destiny with that of Pakistan, and in either event retaining considerable independence by way of self-rule. It was widely assumed that these choices would favor India if their population was Hindu and to Pakistan if Muslim. In a confused and complicated set of circumstances that involved Kashmiris and others contesting the Maharaja’s leadership of Kashmir, India engaged in a variety of maneuvers including a large-scale military intervention to avoid the timely holding of the promised internationally supervised referendum, and by stages coercively treated Kashmir more and more as an integral part of India. This Indian betrayal of the partition settlement agreement gave rise to the first of several wars with Pakistan, and it resulted in a division of Kashmir in 1948 that was explicitly not an international boundary, but was described as a temporary  ‘line-of-control’ created to implement a ceasefire by separating the opposed armed forces. It has ever since given rise to acute tensions erupting in recurrent warfare between the two countries, and even 75 years later no internationally recognized boundary exists between divided Kashmir. The leadership of Pakistan has consistently supposed that Kashmir was a natural projection of itself, treating India’s behavior as occupying power as totally unacceptable ‘aggression,’ and illegitimate as have the majority of Kashmiris.

The essence of India’s betrayal of the partition arrangement was to deny the people of Kashmir the agreed opportunity to express their preference for accession to India or Pakistan, presumably correctly believing that it would lose out if a proper referendum were held. Back in 1947 the Indian secular, liberal leadership did itself make strong pledges to the effect that Kashmir would be allowed to determine its future affiliation in an internationally supervised referendum or plebiscite as soon as Kashmiri public order could be restored. The two governments even agreed to submit the issue to the UN, and the Security Council reaffirmed the right of Kashmir to the agreed process of self-determination, but India gradually took a series of steps designed to prevent this internationally supervised resolution of Kashmir’s future from ever happening. It appears that India originally sought control of Kashmir primarily for strategic and nationalist reasons associated especially with managing  Kashmir’s unstable borders with China and Pakistan, and in doing so converted Kashmir into a buffer state of India, giving it the security that supposedly accompanies strategic depth of a ‘Great Power.’ Unsurprisingly, Pakistan reacted belligerently to India’s failure to live up to its commitments, and the result for Kashmir has been a second level of partition between India-occupied-Kashmir and a smaller and less populated Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. In effect, India’s unilateralism with respect to Kashmir poisoned relations between these two countries, later to become possessors of nuclear weapons. Beyond this, India’s failure to live up to its commitments toward the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir produced a Kashmiri population that felt deprived of its fundamental rights. This underlying deprivation led to accompanying atrocities (including torture, forced disappearances, sexual violence, extrajudicial killing, excessive force, collective punishment, the panopoly of counterinsurgency crimes), which amount to Crimes Against Humanity. This pattern of abuse has increasingly resembled the deprivations associated with Israel’s occupation of Palestine and Morocco’s occupation Western Sahara.  

Part of the blame for this Kashmiri prolonged tragedy reflects the legacy of colonialism, which characteristically left behind its colonies as shattered and factionalized political realities, a distinctive consequence of British reliance on a divide and rule strategy in its execution of colonialist policies of control and exploitation. Such a strategy aggravated the internal relations of diverse ethnic, tribal, and religious communities. This Indian story is repeated in a variety of British decolonizing experiences of such diverse countries as Ireland, Cyprus, Malaysia, Rhodesia, and South Africa as well as its quasi-colonial mandate in Palestine, which Britain administered in this manner between the two world wars. In these cases, ethnic the demographics of diversity were manipulated by Britain to manage the overall subjugation of a colonized peoples. Divide and rule was rationalized as minimizing administrative challenges in the colonies, which was becoming increasingly troublesome in the face surging national independence movements in the 20th century.

Adding to the misery of the colonial aftermath, these cleavages were left behind as open wounds by Britain during the decolonization process, which can be best grasped as a crude display of irresponsibility toward the wellbeing of the previously dominated native populations. This unfortunate aftermath of British colonialism was dramatized by a series of unresolvable political conflicts that resulted in prolonged strife, producing severe suffering for the population that continues to occur many decades later.

These adverse results were only avoided, ironically enough, in the few ‘success’ stories of settler colonialism—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. These successes, ironically so described, were achieved through often ruthless reliance on genocidal tactics by settlers that overcame native resistance by eliminating or totally marginalized hostile indigenous populations. South Africa is a notable instance of the eventual failure of a settler colonial enterprise and Israel/Palestine remains the sole important instance of an ambiguous, ongoing struggle that has not reached closure, but is now at a seemingly climactic stage.   

Kashmir’s status, despite the denial of self-determination, had given the beleaguered country substantial autonomy rights, and despite many encroachments by India during the 75 years of occupation, chief of which was blocking the Kashmiri people from exercising their internationally endorsed right of self-determination. Nevertheless, what Modi did on August 5, 2019 definitely made matters worse for the Muslim majority living in Kashmir. It ended Kashmir’s special status in the Indian Constitution and placed the territory under harsh direct Indian rule, accompanied by various religious cleansing policies and practices expressive of Hindu expansionist ambitions.  Counterinsurgency pretexts obscured Modi’s efforts to impose Hindu supremacy on Kashmir by establlishing an undisguised framework of domination, discrimination, highlighted by altered residence and land ownership laws in a pattern favoring the Hindu settlement and minority control.

After taking journalistic notice of these events in a surprisingly non-judgmental fashion, the world, especially in the West, has fallen silent despite the continuation of crimes against the people of Kashmir that are reported by human rights defenders daily. Such crimes include branding of all forms of Kashmiri opposition to Indian behavior as ‘terrorism’ giving the incredibly large occupying Indian forces of 700,000 or more a green light to use excessive force without a formal advance assurance of non-accountability, as well as the mission of imposing repressive conditions by way of collective punishment on the entire population.

This outcome in Kashmir should not cause much perplexity among those familiar with how the world works. International reactions to human rights abuses rarely reflect their severity, but rather exhibit the play of geopolitics. Washington sheds many tears about alleged violations of human rights in Cuba or Venezuela while giving Egypt and Saudi Arabia a free pass.  More reflective of the international politics governing the inter-governmental and UN discourse on human rights is the insulation of Israel’s apartheid regime from any kind of punitive response at the international level while screaming for action in the same institutional settings against China’s far milder, but still regrettable, abuse of the rights of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. India like Israel is too valuable a strategic partner of the West to alienate the Modi leadership by objecting to its behavior however extreme and criminally unlawful. It is unfortunate that the best human rights activists can hope for in such cases as Kashmir is silence.

India is a large country with a huge population and nuclear weapons. Under the best of circumstances, India is hard to challenge with regard to policies that seem almost normalized by the passage of time and fall within the domain of its territorial sovereignty, given the state-centric allocation of legal authority in the post-colonial world. Many important countries have ‘captive nations’ within their borders and are united in opposing internal self-determination claims. The harshness and cruelty of India’s policies has over time have given rise to an insurgent mood and movement on the part of Kashmiris who now seem themselves somewhat divided as between aspiring for accession to Palestine and independent statehood. Despite the long period since partition, such a choice, however improperly delayed for decades, should be made available to the people of Kashmir if only the UN was in a position to implement its long-ignored responsibility to organize and administer a referendum. It seems fanciful to take seriously the possibility a peaceful transition in Kashmir at present, but without it unsustainable arrangements will continue to provoke resistance. Nevertheless, it does not seem presently feasible given India’s recent ideological militancy as expressed by recent further encroachments on Kashmir’s normal development, to envision either a peaceful or just future for entrapped nation. Yet one never knows.

The situation in Kashmir is not as hopeless as it seems. The rights of the Kashmiris are as well established in law and morality as are the wrongs of India’s increasingly apartheid structure of domination, exploitation, and subjugation. The Kashmir struggle for justice enjoys the high ground when it comes to the legitimacy of its claims and struggles of a similar sort since 1945 have shown that political outcomes are more likely to reflect the nationalist and insurgent goals of legitimate struggle than the imperial goals of foreign encroachment. In effect, anti-imperial struggles should be thought of as Legitimacy Wars in which the resistance of a repressed people backed by global solidarity initiatives are in the end more decisive and effective than weaponry or battlefield superiority. It is worth reflecting upon the startling fact that the major anti-colonial wars since 1945 were won by the weaker side militarily. At this preliminary stage, a liberation strategy for Kashmir needs to concentrate on raising global awareness of the criminal features of India’s ongoing treatment of the Kashmiri people. To achieve such awareness, it might even be helpful to grasp how Gandhi mobilized international public opinion in support of India’s own struggle for independence; as well, studying Vietnam’s brilliant tactics in mobilizing global solidarity with its nationalist struggle and sacrifice that proved so helpful in neutraling the weight of the U.S. massive military intervention might yield insights useful in the Kashmiri struggle.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM NETANYAHU & RELIGIOUS ZIONISM

12 Nov

Prefatory Note: This post is a slightly modified version of my Nov 62022 responses to questions posted by an Iranian journalism, Javad Heirian-Nia] 

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM NETANYAHU & RELIGIOUS ZIONISM: A Preliminary Appraisal

  1. Israel’s Knesset elections ended with the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. Many analysts believe that the cabinet headed by him will be the most right-wing cabinet in Israel. What is the effect of Netanyahu’s victory on the region?

The anti-Netanyahu political parties in Israel were united around a platform that contained few substantive changes from the policies expected to be pursued by the Netanyahu coalition. Their faulty focus was devoted almost exclusively to stopping Netanyahu from having an incredible fifth opportunity to become the next Prime Minister of the country. 

It is now generally agreed that the election results are  significant beyond this failure to block Netanyahu’s return to governing authority. What has emerged as potentially important is that Likud’s winning coalition depended on teaming up with the openly racist and exclusionary Religious Zionism Party, a political alliance of two far right religious parties that put the completion of the settler colonialist project at the top of their explicit agenda, although phrased in the language of Zionism and their understanding of ‘the promised land’ and what is meant to be truly a state of the Jewish people. It also reflected the growing strength of religious Zionism as compared to secular Zionism, and thus poses serious issues about the future character of Israel as a sovereign state.  

The alliance of these two extremist ultra-religious parties gained 14 seats in the Knesset, the third most, and emerged not only as a strategic partner in Netanyahu’s triumphal return to power, but seems likely to provide the indispensable political glue needed by Netanyahu to prevent a crash landing of his tenuous coalition in the months and years ahead. This vulnerability will make Netanyahu, a master tactician and opportunist, pragmatically responsive to the extremist priorities of these ultra-Zionist allies. If current expectations are correct the first sign forming a cabinet that includes accords important ministerial portfolios to the leaders of the two political groupings making up the Religious Zionism (RZ) Party, such notoriously Israeli political personalities as Itamar Ben Gvir, and possibly even Bezabel Smotrich. 

I think the regional impacts of these political developments will be a gradual downgrading of overt normalization diplomacy by the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Sudan, and even Morocco initiated during the Trump presidency under the banner of the Abraham Accords, continued by Biden within a less flamboyant framing as ‘normalization and peace diplomacy.’ These arrangements were significant legitimizing victories for Israel within the Arab world, the result of bargains by the highly pragmatic Arab governing elites that had long dealt with Israel on economic and security matters of joint interests covertly. Such reactions against formalizing normalization will undoubtedly take more seriously the sentiments of the outraged public opinion of Arab masses who remain overwhelmingly supportive of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, and regard their national elites as betraying the just cause of fellow Arabs and Muslims. I expect that this Israeli election, more than previous ones, will give rise to a new wave of pro-Palestinian activism in the Islamic World, but also at the UN, and perhaps more widely, including in the Global South.

But Netanyahu’s leadership is also extremely worrisome on other grounds, especially his obsessive hostility to Iran that centers on exaggerated concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Such a belligerent approach to Iran is likely to produce Israeli militarist provocations that will increase risks of a major regional war. We should recall that Netanyahu, then also Prime Minister, was fiercely opposed to the Obama approach that resulted in the 2015 Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA). Netanyahu also exhibits a seeming willingness to take unilateral military action against Iran with the goal of disrupting if not destroying its alleged ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons once and for all, as well as supporting initiatives aimed at destabilizing the government in Tehran. 

At the same time, we can expect Netanyahu to ignore, if not renounce, the widely supported recent UN General Assembly urging Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal and abide by the inspection provisions of the Nonproliferation Treaty regime. The Resolution (A/C.1/77/L.2) adopted on October 30, 2022 by a vote of 152-5 (24 abstentions) in the First Committee of the General Assembly; of the five were unsurprisingly U.S., Israel, and Canada, joined by Palau and Micronesia. Such a resolution introduces a semblance of balance at the global level, at least, with respect to negotiations pertaining to Iran, which in the public aspects of the Vienna negotiations designed to revive the 2015 JCPOA have so far ignored the relevance of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability, which both undermines regional proliferation constraints and disregards denuclearizing imperatives.

  • Netanyahu won while the Arab League meeting emphasized the Arab peace plan. What actions may Netanyahu take to undermine the Arab peace plan?

Netanyahu’s primary concerns in the period ahead will be to gain acceptance within Israel of his rightest leadership that will probably emphasize the threats posed by Iran to Israeli security, or unity through fear. Even prior to these Israeli elections there were growing indications of discontent with the normalization diplomacy initiated by Trump and continued by Biden. For instance, the leading Israeli liberal Zionist print media platform, Haaretz editorialized: “The Israeli election dealt a grievous blow to Judaism.” In effect, Jews elected a leadership that was programmed to push this already expansionist Zionist political entity in the direction of openly embracing and strengtheningethno-nationalist values and policies, which because of Palestinian demographic presence and continuing resistance will exert strong societal pressures to introduce new ugly episodes of ethnic cleansing combined with territorial expansionism particularly in the form of futher annexationist encroachments in the occupied West Bank.

Even without the problem of a coalition dependent on the RZ, Netanyahu and the Likud Party have not the slightest intention of lending credibility to any Arab proposal for a negotiated peace, and especially one that revives the 2002 Plan put forward by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Israel public opinion seems firmly committed to the idea that there is no longer any security need to offer, even as was the case earlier, but even if only for the sake of public relations, the Palestinians national sovereignty or a meaningful form of statehood. The whole spectrum of opinion in the new Knesset lineup is to secure Jewish supremacy quickly as much of ‘the promised land’ as possible, while the world is distracted by Ukrraine, COVID, and climate change. Concretely this means accelerated settlement expansion in the West Bank, punitive occupation in Gaza, and Israeli governance and further Judaization of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people. This entails increasing pressures on Palestinians by way of terminating tenuous residence rights, raising pressures to live elsewhere, preferably outside of Israel. For almost a decade it has become clear to anyone with eyes that wanted to see the realities on the ground that Israel had abandoned all pretenses nurtured by the Oslo Diplomacy to bring peace through negotiations of the parties prepared to compromise, and instead chose to rely on an imposed ‘peace’ sustained by what is now widely understood to be the Israeli apartheid state.

  • Netanyahu’s victory comes while the democratic government is at work in America and insists on the two-state solution. What will be the relationship between Israel and the US considering Netanyahu’s rise to power?

Contrary to the wording of your questions there is no U.S. ‘insistence’ on the two-state solution, only an empty rhetorical posture belied by the language of ‘strategic partnership’ highlighted in the Biden-Lapid Jerusalem Declaration of last July. If Netanyahu is openly collaborating with and dependent on religious extremists, his new indispensable allies, it will make Washington Democrats and liberal Zionists nervous and uncomfortable, gradually producing some lowering of public enthusiasm for Israel. Even this happens it will be without foreseeable policy consequences. It seems inconceivable at this point that there will be a groundswell of opposition in the U.S. calling for an abandonment of the bilateral partnership on regional security issues, including the annual $3.8 billion U.S. economic assistance given to Israel or American continuing efforts at the UN and elsewhere to shield Israeli policies and practices when it comes to  dealing with Palestinian resistance or grievances, compliance with international law, and even with its special status as a known but still undeclared nuclear weapons state. Since the outcome of the 1967 War Israel has been valued as a vital strategic asset by the U.S. Government, which is societally reinforce by the strong pro-Israeli influence wielded by such powerful domestic grouping as the AIPAC lobbying organization and Christian evangelists. 

  • Considering Netanyahu’s serious opposition to the JCPOA, how do you see the prospect of reviving the JCPOA?

I think it highly unlikely that JCPOA will be revived. The U.S. might be prepared to reach agreement with Iran absent Netanyahu’s record of opposition that goes back to its origins during the Obama presidency. Biden has strongly indicated that the domestic political costs are too high to break openly with Israel on such a crucial security issue. The power struggle for political control of the United States is at a critical phase and no mainstream liberal leader, such as Biden, is remotely likely to weaken Jewish support by openly alienating Netanyahu. Besides, even before the Israeli elections, Israeli back-channel pressures were influencing the Biden presidency to insist on unacceptable concessions from Iran. Given the background of Trump’s 2018 withdrawal and repudiation of JCPOA, coupled with the ramping up of sanctions despite Iran’s internationally verified compliance with the agreement, the U.S. from the outset approached negotiations arrogantly. If seeking agreement and hoping for normalization, the U.S. should been prepared to offer apologies and an incremental removal of sanctions rather than put forward additional conditions that needed to be satisfied before it would rejoin JCPOA. The Trump/Biden sanctions have brought prolonged economic hardship to the people of Iran in recent years, and it undoubtedly colored the Iranian approach even if it seemed not to matter to the U.S.

  • Netanyahu is Putin’s friend, and the relations between Israel and Russia are bad after the war in Ukraine. It seems that Netanyahu has to choose between America and Russia. What is your assessment?

I think there is little doubt that if such an existential choice ever were to confront Netanyahu, he would have not have a moment’s hesitation about choosing America. It is not only the years of closeness, but the U.S. is the more formidable geopolitical actor in the Middle East and the world than Russia, and massively helps Israel militarily, ideologically, and diplomatically. Besides, the Jewish presence in the United States has great leverage over foreign policy, and although somewhat less supportive of Israeli behavior than in the past, continues to regard Israel’s security and wellbeing as an unconditional commitment, ignoring and defying the apartheid consensus that has emerged in the last five years, by shamelessly continuing to include Israel in the ranks of countries governed as ‘democracies.’ 

Of course, Netanyahu would like to maintain friendship with both Russia and the United States if this can be managed. The Ukraine War, should it be further prolonged, might induce Netanyahu to side more openly with the U.S./NATO, especially in light of the difficulties arising from including the religious extremists in his governing process with their undeniable hostility to a two-state solution. Their priority is to move toward ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to complete the ultra-Zionist project of settler colonialism, which either requires the elimination of the Palestinians from Israel altogether or at minimum their complete marginalization through crushing Palestinian resistance morale. How Netanyahu handles this open departure from Washington’s two-state mantra will give hints as to his approach to other issues where pressure arises if Israel rejects the American effort to adopt a posture, however insincere, that does not explicitly reject basic Palestinian objectives. We must wait and see how this likely political drama unfolds.

Netanyahu has early tried to convey an impression that he is not captive of the RZ by indicating his continuing support for LGBTQ freedoms and rights. Whether this is a true demonstration of Netanyahu’s political independence or a symbolic marginal gesture that is to be soon offset by an unpopular implementation of the radical policy views of RZ. It is this cloud of uncertainty that hangs over what this renewed Netanyahu/Likud governance of Israel will mean for regional politics, the Palestinian people, and Israel’s standing in the world.   

FRANCESCA ALBANESE’S ILLUMINATING FIRST REPORT AS UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON OCCUPIED PALESTINE

31 Oct

[Prefatory Note; This post is the text of opinion piece published in Middle East Eye on Oct. 27, 2022. It is slightly modified.] 

FRANSCESCA ALBANESE’S FIRST REPORT DEVOTED TO THE RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION

For more than a century, the Palestinian people have endured a series of ordeals that have violated their most basic individual and collective rights.

Instrumental to this epic saga of suffering has been the success of the Zionist movement in establishing the state of Israel on the premise of Jewish supremacy in 1948. 

Such success depended also on perpetrating a distinct international crime, a consequence of the Zionist Movement seeking to establish not only a Jewish state but a democratically constituted state. This combination of goals could only be reliably ensure and maintained by demographic measures that Jews in Israel would enjoy a permanent  demographic majority. Note that other settler colonial states so long as they kept a hierarchical relationship with the native population never pretended to be an inclusive electoral democracy. 

As an operational undertaking this  required Israel to make a drastic demographic adjustment involving either a large increase in the Jewish presence in Palestine – which was not feasible at the time – or the drastic reduction of the Arab presence, which was course taken.

This logic informed the forced expulsion of 750,000 or so Arab citizens of British Mandate Palestine from that part of historic Palestine set aside for the Jewish state by the United Nations partition plan, itself territorially enlarged by Zionist territorial acquisitions in the 1948 war.

A Jewish majority in Israel was further reinforced and safeguarded by the implementation of a rigid denial of the right of return of displaced and dispossessed Arabs of Palestine in violation of international law. This Palestinian experience of expulsion coupled with the denial of any right of return is what is known as the Nakba (or catastrophe). 

Of course, this is not the whole story surrounding the founding of Israel. There was a Jewish presence and biblical connection with Palestine stretching back thousands of years, although the Jewish minority had dwindled to less than 10 percent in 1917, when the British foreign secretary pledged support for establishing a Jewish homeland by way of the infamous Balfour Declaration. Nevertheless, the Zionist narrative, taking various forms, became widely accepted, especially in the West.

Highly relevant to this endorsement of the dominant Jewish narrative was the rise of European antisemitism in the 1930s, culminating in the Holocaust, which made a Jewish sanctuary a condition of survival for a significant portion of Jews in the world. It also increased receptivity to the founding of Israel, reflecting liberal guilt about failing to stop Naziism at an earlier stage and by an Orientalist dismissal of Palestinian nationalist claims.

The historical context certainly mobilized the Jewish diaspora, especially in the US, to back the Zionist project to colonize Palestine, and ever since, to provide geopolitical muscle and massive economic and military assistance over the course of many years to support the security and expansionist ambitions of Israel continuing even as it became strong and prosperous. .

A UN innovation 

At the international level, particularly within the UN, there has been constant sympathy and support for Palestinian rights under international law, especially in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Commission (HRC), which carries out the decisions of the Human Rights Council, consisting of 47 elected governments.

In 1993, a country mandate concerned with Israel’s human rights violations in the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza occupied since 1967 was created. 

It is from this initiative that the mandate of the special rapporteur (SR) derives.

A special rapporteur is selected by a consensus vote of the HRC on the basis of a rather elaborate vetting process that includes a committee of diplomats from member government that conveys to one-year rotations of country diplomatic representatives who serve as president of the HRC a ranked shortlist of preferred candidates.  The candidates are supposed to be selected because of their expert credentials.

The president generally follows the recommendation, which is then submitted to the HRC for an up or down vote, with a single dissenting vote sufficient to reject a candidate.

The SR position itself is a U N innovation, with each individual normally serving two three-year terms. 

Although requiring considerable work by way of travel and reports, it is an unpaid position. The up-side of this voluntary status is that SRs are not subject to administrative discipline as UN civil servants. This feature is designed to provide the position with political independence, at least with respect to UN Members and the UN itself, but offers no insulation from hostile media or NGOs, or even governments so long as they do not interfere with the work of SRs.

It should surprise no one that Israel and the US were against establishing the mandate since it was first proposed in the HRC. In recent years Israel has refused to cooperate with SRs even refusing to allow access to Occupied Palestine..

By denying entry into Israel or the occupied territories, the Israeli government denies the UN rapporteur direct contact with the people and situation on the ground, and forces a reliance on public information and meetings in neighboring countries. For those of us who have been to Occupied Palestine, there is no adequate substitute for a direct experience of the place.  

It is significant that during the last 15 years, Israel and its supporters have stopped responding to the substance of the carefully documented SR reports and other UN assessments of alleged Israeli violations. Instead Israel and its most ardent apologists have concentrated their political energies on allegations of UN antisemitism and related vilification of successive rapporteurs. 

I would explain the shift in tactics in this way. When the Israeli violations became too flagrant and documented by multiple sources it was a. fool’s errand to attempt refutation. Better attack the messenger than address the message. It is most unfortunate that ofteen such a tactic has been effective, diverting the discourse, especially in the media, to questions about whether or not the SR is in fact biased or antisemitic, and burying the serious allegations in the process.

Despite being confronted by this personally unpleasant, abusive, and diversionary Israeli pushback, the reports of SRs have gained influence and legitimacy over the years. They are relied upon by several important governments, as well as by some of the more independent media and many civil society actors including churches, labor unions, and human rights organizations. 

Within this context, the new SR for Palestine, an Italian academic jurist and highly esteemed human rights expert, Francesca Albanese, has recently issued her first report, due shortly for presentation to the UN General Assembly in New York. [UN GA Doc. A/77/356, 21 Sept 2021]

It is a most impressive document that comprehensively depicts and offers evidence relating to the most fundamental violations of the basic rights of the Palestinian people.

Against the flow of history

The Albanese Report appropriately gives primary attention to the Palestinian entitlement to the fulfillment of the inalienable right of self-determination. It was this right of self-determination that provided the normative foundation for the anti-colonial struggles in the period of 1950-80. These struggles shared and interacted with the Cold War on the global center stage after the end of World War II.

Albanese takes note of the supreme irony that Zionism managed to go against the flow of history by establishing a durable and legitimated settler-colonial state of Israel at the very moment when European colonialism was elsewhere under assault by national resistance and liberation movements, enjoying media and public support.

Her report has already gained widespread attention and praise both for its spirit of fierce independence, the lucidity of its argument, and the superior quality of its analysis. Such an exemplary performance in the formal start as SR has expectedly also provoked hostile commentary by way of taunts and defamatory accusations. Albanese’s report is accused of deliberately slanted interpretations of law and facts, which enabled her to reach conclusions hostile to Israel.

I would submit that such a complaint is unjustified and believe that any fair reading would confirm this. An objective reading of the Albanese report would conclude, in opposition to her venomous critics, that the author has gone out of her way to gain direct access to Israel’s narrative and sought to present to the reader Israel’s own justifiications of its contested behavior.

Although accepting the emerging civil society consensus to the effect that Israel is imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, Albanese sets forth an entirely original and illuminating argument for why the elimination of apartheid would not by itself be enough to end the ordeal of the Palestinian people.

Briefly summarizing, the most influential depictions of Israeli apartheid are territorially bounded either to the occupied territories or an enlarged entity that includes Israel proper (often identified as stretching “from the river to the sea”). As Albanese notes, such spatial delimitation of apartheid are not directly relevant to refugees in the occupied territories and neighboring countries, as well as to the several million involuntary exiles living in various places around the world living outside the boundaries of Palestine.

Dismantling settler-colonial occupation

Beyond that, without satisfying the full spectrum of Palestinian basic rights, including economic and social rights, there is no assurance that Israel would not be able to maintain exploitative forms of domination characteristic of settler-colonialism even should Israeli apartheid be dismantled.

For Albanese, it is indispensable to recognize that justice for all the Palestinian people will not be done until their right of self-determination is fully implemented. She analyses this Palestinian right by reference to two principal dimensions: free choice of the form of political governance and permanent national sovereignty over natural resources.

The resounding message of this historically significant report is its call for a solution premised on respect for relevant history and international law

In essence, as articulated by Albanese, the right to self-determination is the right of a people “to exist as independent both demographically (as a people) and territorially (within a given region) and to pursue their cultural, economic and social development through what the territory and associated resources offer.”

In the more prescriptive sections of her report, Albanese puts her analytic skills to work in clearing a path forward for the Palestinians. In doing this she does not exempt the UN from its many past failures to uphold international law in relation to the struggles for justice and the rule of law in Palestine and is insistent that it should do better in the future.

She indicts the UN as having “systematically failed to hold Israel accountable”, thereby enabling Israel’s imposition of settler colonialism accompanied by flagrant, repeated violation of international humanitarian law.

In passing, she also argues that Israel’s defiant rejection of a stream of General Assembly resolutions calling upon Israel to uphold Palestinian rights, including the rights of self-determination “legitimated a Palestinian right of resistance” and undermined the legality of Israel as an occupying power.

The Palestinian People Deserve Respect for their Rights under International Law

The resounding message of this historically significant report is its call for a solution premised on “respect for history and international law.” It is to be enacted by the immediate withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the payment of reparations for decades of unlawful harm inflicted on the Palestinian people.

Albanese is to be commended for the clarity and forthrightness of this report to the UNGA, but it would be naive to suppose that it will by itself bring overdue liberation to the Palestinian people.

What it does bring is an authoritative and deeply informed legitimation of Palestinian resistance to occupation and a convincing critique of UN weakness when it comes to the implementation of basic rights.

It would be wrong and misleading to conclude from the realization that the UN has been useless in relation to the Palestinian struggle. Even though the UN is helpless to change the behavior on the ground, it remains crucially important in the symbolic and normative domains of legitimacy wars, which have controlled the eventual political outcomes of major anti-colonial wars. These outcomes have astonished ‘realists’ who continue to exert a dominating influence over the formation of foreign policy. Astonished but not persuaded. These realists continue to suppose that the side with the better military technology and smarter tactics should be able to prevail even in anti-colonial wars, and so the bloodstained failures of imperial warfare are repeated, ignoring this record of defeat.

A Concluding Remark

This sense of UN impotence to achieve substantive results whenever the dictates of justice clash – as here – with the vital strategic interests of a geopolitical actor is an operative fact of international life. Such a phenomenon is at play in the Ukraine Crisiis.

At the very least, Francesca Albanese’s courageous report should serve as a wake-up call for the Global South and a reminder to all of us that the anti-colonial movement still faces a formidable challenge.

[Prefatory Note: This is the third iteration of an essay on the evolution of the Ukraine War, the earlier two versions published online in Transcend Media Service (TMS) and CounterPunch. The essential argument remains: war-mongering geopolitics in the nuclear age imperils species survival and suppresses the necessity for emergency action to restore sustainable forms of ecological habitability to planet earth.]

25 Oct
RIP VAN WINKLE SLEEPS FOR 20 YEARS

Ukraine War Evolves: Who  Will Awaken Rip Van Winkle?

Disdaining Diplomacy, Seeking Victory

Ever since the Ukraine War started on February 24, 2022 the NATO response, mainly articulated and materially implemented by the U.S., has been to pour vast quantities of oil on the flames of conflict, taunting Russia and its leader, increasing the scale of violence, the magnitude of human suffering, and dangerously increasing the risk of a disastrous outcome. Not only did Washington mobilize the world to denounce Russia’s ‘aggression’, but supplied a steady stream of advanced weaponry in great quantities to the Ukrainians to resist the Russian attack and even mount counterattacks. The U.S. did all it could at the UN and elsewhere to build a punitive coalition supportive of international sanction hostile to Russia, and when this failed to gain sufficient support resorted to a range of national sanctions. The American president, Joe Biden, also breached diplomatic protocol by resorting to the demonization of Putin as a notorious war criminal unfit to govern and deserving of indictment and prosecution. This incendiary flow of state propaganda was faithfully conveyed by a self-censoring Western media filter that built public support for a Western posture of war rather than diplomacy. It did this primarily by graphically portraying on a daily basis the horrors of the war endured by the vivid portrayals of the sufferings being by the Ukrainian civilian population, something the media has been advised to avoid when dealing with U.S. regime-changing interventions or Israel’s violence and flagrant practices of collective punishment unlawfully inflicted on the Palestinian people.

This unduly provocative behavior, given the wider issues at stake, is underscored by a newly discovered West-oriented enthusiasm for the International Criminal Court, urging the tribunal to gather as much evidence as quickly as possible of Russian war crimes. This law-oriented posture is contradicted by intense past opposition to ICC efforts to gather evidence for an investigation of war crimes by non-signatories (of which Russia is one) in relation to the U.S. role in Afghanistan or Israel’s role in occupied Palestine. To some degree such one-sidedness of presentation was to be expected, and even justified given Russia’s aggression, which while irresponsibly provoked was still a breach of the most fundamental norm of international law. And yet the intensity of this NATO response in relation to Ukraine has been dangerously interwoven with an irresponsible and amateurishly pursued geopolitical war waged by the U.S. against Russia, and indirectly against China. It is so far a war fought without weapons, yet with a major potential impact on the the structure and processes of world order in the aftermath of the Cold War, further complicated by the ascent of China as a credible regional and even global rival to U.S. dominance. Such a geopolitical war proceeds on uncharted historical conditions. It is being waged in a manner oblivious to wider human security interests, and in a profound and perverse sense, contrary even to the wellbeing and fate of Ukraine and its people.

Despite the presence of these features of the Ukraine War, Western minds continue to view the conflict with one eye closed. Even Stephen Walt, a moderate and sensible self-styled realist commentator on U.S. foreign policy, and currently, a prudent, persuasive critic of the Biden failure to do his best to shift the bloody encounter in Ukraine from the battlefield to diplomatic domains nevertheless joins the war-mongering chorus by misleadingly asserting without qualification that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal, immoral, and unjustifiable..” [Walt, “Why Washington Should Take Russian Nuclear Threats Seriously,” Foreign Policy, May 5, 2022] It is not that such a characterization is incorrect as such, but unless supplemented by explanations of context it lends credibility to the war-oriented, self-righteous mentality displayed by the Biden presidency, while shielding its geopolitical war dimensions from scrutiny. Perhaps Walt and others of similar outlook were striking this posture of going along with Washington’s portrayal of the Ukraine Crisis as a tactical concession needed to be in a position to propose a Faustian Bargain of self-righteousness as a prelude to endorsing support for finally adopting a diplomatic stance toward ending the Ukraine War, and abandoning the ultra-hazardous militarist path toward victory for Ukraine and defeat for Russia. Perhaps, Walt frames his argument to gain a seat at the table with influential audiences in Washington. Understandingly believing that even their dire warnings about the rising escalation risks and to improve chances of advocacy of diplomacy will otherwise not even get a hearing from the foreign policy insiders advising Biden/Blinken. 

To be clear, even if it can be argued that Russia/Putin have launched a war that is unlawful, immoral, and unjustified, the wider geopolitical context remains imperative if peace in Ukraine is to be restored and global catastrophe avoided. For one thing, the Russian attack may be as wrong as alleged, and yet conforms to a geopolitical pattern of established  behavior that the U.S. has itself been largely responsible for establishing in a series of wars starting with the Vietnam War, and notably more recently with the Kosovo War, Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War. None of these wars were legal, moral, and justifiable, although each enjoyed a geopolitical rationale that made them seem sufficiently desirable to U.S. foreign policy elites and its closest alliance partners to be worth undertaking despite violating these norms. Of course, two wrongs do not make a right, but in a world where geopolitical actors enjoy a license to pursue vital strategic interests within traditional spheres of influence, it is not objectively defensible to self-righteously condemn Russia without taking some principled account of what the U.S. has been doing around the world for several decades. Antony Blinken may tell the media that spheres of influence became a thing of the past after World War II, but he must have been asleep for decades not to notice that the Yalta Agreement on the future of Europe reached in 1945 by the Soviet Union, United States, and the United Kingdom was premised on precisely the explicit affirmation of such spheres, which in retrospect, however distasteful in application, deserve some credit for keeping the Cold War from becoming the disaster of all disasters, World War III fought with nuclear weapons far more potent than the atomic bombs that so apocalyptically devastated the people and cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such compromised sovereignty of these borderland countries is descriptive of the often tragic prerogatives claimed by so-called Great Powers throughout the history of international relations, not least by the United States through the Monroe Doctrine and its extensions. In this sense, Ukraine finds itself in the long unenviable position of Mexico, and indeed all of Latin America. Many years ago the famous Mexican cultural figure, Octavio Paz, proclaimed the tragedy of his country ‘to be so far from God and yet so close to the United States.’

The UN  Itself a Vehicle of Geopolitics more the International Law

In a somewhat insightful fit of frustration, George W. Bush after a failure to gain UN Security Council authorization in 2003 for the use of non-defensive regime-changing force against Iraq, declared that the UN would lose its ‘relevance’ if it failed to go along with the American imperial plan of action, and so it has. The ambiguity as to international law arises from the UN Charter own equivocation, asserting that all non-defensive uses of force are prohibited, a position reinforced by the amended Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court by declaring ‘aggression’ as a crime against the peace, while conferring a conferring a right of veto on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. How can this right of veto be conferred on these five states, which has the effect of precluding any Security Council decision that clashes with their strategic interests, be reconciled with the Charter and international law prohibition on aggression? Of course, Bush’s frustration was more extreme in the sense that he was expecting the Security Council to sanitize a proposed unlawful war of aggression against Iraq, that is, in a fit of unipolar arrogance, this American president expected that even the veto powers would fall in line, and offer the US/UK attacking coalition the legitimacy of UN authorization. When this was not forthcoming the U.S. did not adjust its war plans, but resorted to this dismissal of the UN.

The right of exception as embodied in the constitutional framework of the UN is not some peculiar anomaly, and the failed Bush override was an unusual rebuff of imperial geopolitics that flourished after the Cold War. It was seldom notice that such developments were indirectly anticipated by post-1945 experience of international criminal law, which from Nuremberg to the present has exempted from accountability dominant geopolitical actors, even for such incredible acts as the dropping of atomic bombs on overwhelmingly civilian targets at the end of World War II. This gray zone separating law from power continues to be the accepted playground of geopolitical actors, never so dangerous as when its prerogatives, alignments, and constraints are in flux. The Russian and Chinese challenges can be best interpreted as seeking to restore the framework of geopolitical bipolarity (or modified to accommodate tripolarity) that collapsed after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This situation led the U.S. to fill the resulting vacuum with a militarist/neoliberal form of geopolitical management consisting of full spectrum dominance of the instruments of warfare and an ideological insistence that the legitimacy of the internal political order of a sovereign state depended on its adherence to a market-driven logic of private sector dominance at home and internationally, the s0-called ‘Washington consensus.’ The momentous open question, aside from worrying about how and when the war in Ukraine will end, is whether the geopolitical world order resting on U.S. primacy will be confirmed or modified. If confirmed it will extend the period of unipolarity that followed the end of the Cold War. If modified, it will usher in a new era of geopolitics requiring a new framework of meta-legal accommodation. In either case, there exists the additional uncertainty as to whether post-Ukraine world order will be oriented toward cooperation and the production of global common goods or with hegemonic and conflictual priorities.

Geopolitical Practice: Prudent or Irresponsible

These considerations are mentioned here not to defend, much less exonerate Russia, but to show that the world order context of the Ukraine War is deeply problematic in relation to U.S./NATO claims of normative authority, especially when invoked in such a partisan manner. In contemporary geopolitical relations, as distinct from normal state-to-state or international relations, precedent and Great Power experience generally act as substitutes for norms and rule-governed behavior, at least on matters of peace, national security, and public economic policy. What the U.S. claims the right to do and does, can be generally done subsequently by other sovereign states, especially those with some level of geopolitical entitlement. Blinken has again muddied the waters of international discourse by falsely claiming that the U.S., unlike adversaries China and Russia, is as observant of rule-governed behavior in a similar manner to that regulating the behavior of ‘normal states’ in relation to matters of vital strategic interests

To gain a clearer and more objective perspective on aspects of Russian behavior in Ukraine it seems appropriate to look back at NATO’s clearly unlawful war of 1999. This non-defensive war, unauthorized by the UN, fragmented Serbia by coercively supporting Kosovo’s claimed right of secession, including political independence and territorial sovereignty. Account should be taken of this Kosovo precedent before uncritically condemning the Russian annexation of four parts of eastern Ukraine, rationalized as the exercise of rights of self-determination in the light of alleged Serbian abuse, and supposedly validated by after administering widely condemned referenda. Yet even here an understanding of past geopolitical behavior is instructive. The NATO military victory didn’t even bother with a referendum before implementing Kosovo’s secession.

The point is not to condemn all such undertakings without legal authority by recognizing that there may be extreme cases where the fragmentation of existing states is justifiable on humanitarian grounds and others where it is not, but to claim that Russia overstepped the limits of law in a context where power has been consistently shaping behavior and political outcomes in similar cases is to prepare the public for a wider war rather than leading it to seek and be pragmatically receptive to a diplomatic compromise. In effect, I am arguing for the wisdom and virtue of what might be described as geopolitical humility and self-restraint: do not require of others, what you have yourself done, or at the very least explain non-polemically what is the difference between say Dombas and Kosovo that makes the former unlawful and illegitimate and the latter lawful and legitimate. In the complexity of internal struggles of a beleaguered ethnic or religious minority it is along the same lines helpful to acknowledge that Moscow and Washington ‘see’ the same realities of the Dombas and Kosovo in contradictory ways.

This contextual understanding of the Ukraine War is in my judgment highly relevant as it makes the current fashion of mounting legal, moral, and political arguments of condemnation distract attention and energies from following otherwise rational, prudent, and pragmatic courses of action, which from day one of the attack on Ukraine strongly supported the wisdom of making an all-out effort to achieve an immediate ceasefire followed by negotiations aiming at durable political compromises not only between Russia and Ukraine, but also between Europe/U.S. and Russia. That the U.S. Government never to this day has publicly manifested any such interest, much less setting forth a commitment to stopping the killing and devastation by encouraging diplomacy, in the face of mounting costs and escalation risks associated with prolonging the warfare in Ukraine. Such geopolitical recklessness should be shocking to the conscience of peace-minded persons and patriots of humanity everywhere.

Beyond the immediate zones of combat, catastrophic costs are presently being borne by many vulnerable societies throughout the world from the spillover effects of the war, magnified by anti-Russian sanctions and their major impact on food and energy supplies and pricing. Such a deplorable situation, likely to get worse as the war goes on and likely intensified in the coming Winter months. Beyond this it is now also bringing closer to reality the growing danger of the use of nuclear weapons as Putin’s alternatives may be narrowing to a personal willingness to accept responsibility for a Russian defeat or to give up his status as autocratic leader. While not relenting a bit on implementing an aggressive approach to gaining Ukraine’s ambitions of victory, Biden himself incredibly acknowledges that any use of even a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine would with near certitude lead to Armageddon. This paradoxical duality (combining escalating the war and anxiety as to where it might lead) seems more like a mindless embrace of geopolitical insanity than a sobering balancing of the contradictory somber realities at stake in Ukraine. We can ask when will this Rip Van Winkle of our time awaken to the realities of the nuclear age?

As always actions speak louder than words. Blinken facing a rising public clamor for negotiations, especially in Europe, responds with his usual feckless evasions. In this instance, contending that since Ukraine is the victim of Russian aggression it alone has the authority to seek a diplomatic resolution and the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine’s maximal war aims, supposedly, for as long as and for whatever it takes, including recently even the extension of Ukraine war aims to the recovery of Crimea, which has been widely accepted internationally as reabsorbed by Russia since 2014.

Context also matters in relation to the conduct of the war. Its major escalation within the month of the sabotage of Nord Stream1 & 2 gas pipelines to Europe, which Blinken once more confounded by this act of sabotage outside the war zone by calling it ‘a tremendous opportunity’ to make weaken Russia and force Europe to intensify their efforts to gain energy independence. Such an operation initially implausibly attributed to Russia by the U.S., yet later more or less acknowledged as part of the expansion of the war by reliance on ‘terrorist’ tactics of combat. This latest expression of state terrorism is the suicide bombing of the strategic Kerch Straight Bridge on October 7th, connecting Crimea and Russia, a major infrastructure achievement of the Putin period of Russian leadership, as well as a symbolic expression of relinking Crimea to Russia serving as a supply line for Russian troops operating in the Southern parts of Ukraine. These extensions of the combat zone and tactics beyond the territory of Ukraine contain the fingerprints of the CIA and seems designed as encouragement of Ukrainian resolve to go all out for a decisive victory, sending Putin unmistakable signals that the U.S. remains as unreceptive as ever to a responsible geopolitics of compromise. Biden reportedly refuses even to respond favorably to Putin’s apparent initiative that the two leaders discuss their differences at the G-20 meeting in Indonesia. Biden’s characteristic response was a defiant refusal, subject only to reconsideration if the meeting was limited to negotiating the release of an American female pro basketball player being held in Russia on drug charges. The U.S. anger directed at Saudi Arabia for cutting its oil production is an additional sign of a commitment to a victory scenario in Ukraine as well as a reaction against the Saudi resistance to U.S. hegemonic geopolitics in its co-management of OPEC+ with Russia. With such provocations, it is hardly surprising, although highly unlawful and immoral, for Russia to retaliate by unleashing its version of ‘shock and awe’ against the civilian centers of ten Ukrainian cities. Such is the course of these vicious cycles of escalation characteristic of the lawlessness of major warfare! The neglect of the relevant and shameful American precedents in Iraq and Afghanistan is also integral to sustaining a war mentality under siege.

Concluding Observations

Always lurking in the background, and at Ukraine’s and the world’s expense, is Washington’s geopolitical opportunism, that is, seeking to defeat Russia and deter China from daring to challenge the hegemonic unipolarity achieved after the Soviet disintegration in 1992. This huge investment in its militarist identity as the sole ‘global state’ that best explains such a cowboy approach to nuclear risk-taking and the tens of billions expended to empower Ukraine at a time of internal suffering in the U.S. and elsewhere coexisting with such a costly expression and dangerous expression of international overreach.

Such a tragic political drama unfolds as the peoples of the world and their governments, along with the United Nations, watch this horrendous spectacle unfold, seemingly helpless witnesses not only to stop the carnage, but also to do their best to curtail the spillover and Armageddon dangers, and even to react meaningfully against the potential supreme damage to their own national destinies.

Call on the Future of Humanity

20 Oct

A poster for a webinar seeking to build a global community of endorsers to work for a better future for all of us living together on this lonely endangered planet

Will Saudi Leadership of OPEC Clash with U.S. Strategic Partnership?

14 Oct

[Prefatory Note: This post is a somewhat updated and expanded version of responses to questions posed by the Iranian journalist, Javad Arabshirazi on October 12, 2022.]

REEVALUATING US RELATIONS WITH SAUDI ARABIA AFTER OPEC+ OIL PRODUCTION 

#1: The White House says that President Joe Biden is re-evaluating the US relationship with Saudi Arabia after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies (OPEC+), in which Riyadh is a top producer, announced last week it would cut oil production. What is your take on this?

Biden and the U.S. swallowed a lot of harsh criticism for maintaining such a friendly relationship with Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the 2018 brazen murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul of the respected journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was long a Washington resident. Also, such a positive relationship had long been criticized as disregarding Biden’s supposed primary commitments to democratic values and human rights, given that Saudi Arabia has a worst record on gender issues than Iran and yet gets a pass. Furthermore, criticism had long been leveled at the U.S. military and diplomatic support for the unlawful and inhumane Saudi military intervention in Yemen mainly in the form of air attacks that have frequently struck civilian targets. 

In this sense, Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salmon, like Israel, had been shielded from official censure either by the U.S or at the UN, being considered a strategic partner and a key player when it comes to world energy markets and regional security in the Middle East. That being said, it is also true that Saudi Arabia never dreamed of having the extraordinary policy leverage in the U.S. enjoyed by Israel, lacking its lobbying prowess and willingness to use its influence when necessary to sway American voters. In addition, Biden’s visit in July of this year in the face of mounting liberal criticism was  rumored to be compensated by a private Saudi commitments to maintain  oil production levels and accept lower per barrel princes at least until December, that is, after the U.S. upcoming November elections at which higher gap pump prices would hurt Democratic Party prospects.  In addition, it was believed that any production cuts by OPEC would aid Russian energy export marketing.  

In this sense, the Saudi-led OPEC+ (13 OPEC members + 23 cooperating governments of oil exporting countries; significantly, Saudi Arabia and Russia co-chair OPEC+!) production cuts were seen as undercutting both U.S. domestic anti-inflation and foreign anti-Rissian policy, which was determined to reduce Europe’s dependence on imported Russian gas. Although not publicly commented upon, this turn toward Russia in the strategic context of energy must have outraged, or at least disillusioned, those Washington insiders who have pragmatically encouraged a human rights blindfold and a tight embrace.

To consider this production/price move from a Saudi perspective makes it seem mainly motivated by its national interest in protecting the value of their principal trading asset, as well as not wanting their compliance with Washington wishes to be taken for granted or cancel other relationship as with Russia in OPEC+. With a global recession widely anticipated in coming months, principally as a consequence of the prolonged Ukraine crisis, oil demand is predicted to fall sharply, if possibly  briefly, exerting a downward pressure on the world prices of oil and gas. Thus, from an economistic perspective an OPEC adjustment by way of temporarily reduced production seemed sensible. The Saudis undoubtedly felt that to remain a trustworthy leader of the OPEC and especially OPEC+ required that their influence not be distracted by U.S. political pressures and this depended on setting production quotas responsive only to energy market factors. Saudi Arabia formally confirmed this line of interpretation in their public written reaction to complaints from Biden, ant threats to reevaluate the bilateral relationship in manner than would be punitive toward Riyadh.

Also, at stake was the idea that a country like Saudi Arabia should demonstrate its political independence, especially when purporting to administer such an important form of multilateralism as is involved in OPEC+ operatioonas. To manifest such independence on such a crucial issue as production levels meant avoiding any impression of subservience to the regional hegemony claimed by any non-OPEC or OPEC+ external actor. In this sense, what the Saudis are doing is somewhat similar in spirit to what Turkey has been doing in recent years, which has caused some friction within the NATO alliance framework but gained wide international respect for Turkey as an independent political actor. This is also what Israel has done in its own more provocative manner by not at all hiding its sharp differences with the U.S. on important questions, perhaps most notably through various disruptive expressions of its intense opposition to the 5+ 1 Nuclear Agreement of 2015 (also known as JCPOA) with Iran and currently by way of its opposition to the revival of the agreement by way of a U.S. return as a party, which is what Biden pledged when campaigning to be president in 2016. Israel has vigorously obstructed this major diplomatic and security effort without encountering any sort of pushback by way of adverse ‘consequences’ that the Saudis are now being warned about. I would venture the opinion that absent Israel’s opposition, JCPOA would have been by now long restored,   providing greater stability to the Middle East while at the same time gradually  lifting the harsh and unjustifiable Trump sanctions that have brought great suffering to the people Iran.

#2: President has warned of the consequences. What consequences this could have?

Biden has been deliberately vague about the nature of such consequences, although he spoken publicly about reevaluating the entire U.S./Saudi relationship. It may indicate that such a public show of displeasure, also reflecting some Congressional and public pressure to rethink whether closeness to Saudi Arabia sufficiently serves American interests to offset the clash with U,S. proclaimed values relating to human rights and democracy. I believe that it is helpful at this stage to consider this flareup as  a temporary kafuffle between long-term allies joined at the hip. If this is true this incident will eventuate in nothing more consequential than a warning and a signal of disappointment, at most conveying an implicit threat that if such diplomatic defiance is shown in the future by Riyadh it might then indeed have ‘consequences,’ but even that might be a stretch unless Israel also turns away from soliciting normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia. If Republicans regain the White House in 2024, there will be even less willingness to rethink in any serious way, u.S./Saudi relations. 

More concrete options are of course presently possible and have been proposed in the U.S. media and the Congress including an embargo on arms and legal action against the OPEC oil cartel. I find it somewhat doubtful at this stage that such drastic steps would be taken, and if they were, I would predict a boomerang effect. I suspect that the foreign policy establishment in Washington is inhibited by the fear that in the event of a tangible pushback, Saudi Arabia might become tempted by the opportunity to shift its alignment in a direction more in line with China and Russia, an outcome running directly counter to the regional policies of both Israel and Egypt and quite disturbing for Europe, and of course the United States.

#3: An important question here is that on what basis and why Riyadh has decided to do this. Is Riyadh going to partner with another country? 

It is probable that Saudi Arabia’s leaders are also hoping that the storm will pass, and that it can reestablish close security ties with the U.S.. once having made its point about the autonomy of its approach to oil and OPEC+. There is little reason to think that the Saudis are ready to risk the loss of U.S. support for the security of Kingdom against internal and external adversaries. This has been the overriding Saudi goal long before MBS became the face of Saudi Arabia, and this support has critically extended to the management of its regional rivalry with Iran. 

It may take some accommodating steps by Riyadh to restore rapidly pre-crisis normalcy such as voting with the U.S. in the UN to condemn the Russian annexation of four areas of Ukraine following the sham referenda that Moscow insisted exhibited a popular preference for reintegration with Russia. It has been rumored that the Saudis have given secret reassurances that current OPEC oil production quotas will be reconsidered at the next cartel meeting in light of any changes in the world economic situation that might lead increased oil production by OPEC members.

I would think that both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will downplay the apparent tensions of the moment, and nothing concrete will happen to diminish the strategic level of mutual cooperation between these two countries. I further assume that behind the scenes, Israel is exerting strong pressure encouraging such an approach for the sake of its regional ambitions  and to undergird its continuing  efforts to confront and destabilize Iran. Nevertheless, it is a turbulent time in international relations, and anything is possible. So what seems most plausible at this moment may look quite different in a month or two.