Tag Archives: Sweden

Questioning Sweden’s ‘Bold’ Diplomatic Initiative

11 Oct

 

 

 

It was a welcome move, but only in some respects. The new center-left Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, in his inaugural speech to Parliament indicated on October 3rd the intention of the Swedish government to recognize Palestinian statehood. He explained that such a move mentioned in the platform of his party is in accord with promoting a two-state solution, and more significantly, that is to be “negotiated in accordance with international law.” The call for adherence to international law in future diplomacy is actually more of a step forward than is the announced intention of future recognition, which has so far received all the media attention and incurred the wrath of Tel Aviv. To bring international law into future negotiations would amount to a radical modication of the ‘peace process’ that came into being with the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993. The Israel/United States view was to allow any agreements between the parties to arise from a bargaining process, which is a shorthand for acknowledging the primacy of power, taking account of ‘facts on the ground’ (that is, the unlawful settlements) and diplomatic leverage (allowing the United States to fake the role of ‘honest broker’ while at the same time making sure that Israel’s interests are protected).

 

I suspect that this hopeful language suggesting the relevance of international law was inserted without any awareness of its importance or relevance. Such an interpretation is in line with Swedish official explanations of their initiative as a way of helping ‘moderate’ Palestinian leaders gain control of diplomacy, thereby facilitating the eventual goal of mutual coexistence based on two states. It was presumed by Stockholm without any supportive reasoning, and against the weight of evidence and experience, that a Palestine state could emerge from a reinvigorated diplomacy. No mention was made of the settlements, separation wall, road network that have cut so deeply into the Palestinian remnant, which as of the 1967 borders was already 22% of historic Palestine, and less than half of what the UN partition plan had offered the Palestinians in 1947, which at the time seemed unfair and inconsistent with Palestinian rights under international law.

 

The United States Government spokesperson, Jan Paski, was careful to confirm the Oslo approach adopted by Washington that has been so harmful to Palestinian prospects for a viable state: “We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can come only through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues and mutual recognition by both parties.” Note the pointed absence of any reference to international law. Beyond this, there is less and less reason to suppose that the Israeli government supports a process that leads to Palestinian statehood in any meaningful sense, although Netanyahu repeats in international settings the sterile mantra of saying that any such results can only come from direct negotiations between the parties, and he adds the Swedish initiative if carried out, is declared to be an obstacle to such an outcome. So as not to arouse hopes, Netanyahu adds that no agreement will be reached that does not protect the national interests of Israel and ensure the security of Israeli citizens. When he speaks at home in Hebrew the prospect of a Palestinian state becomes as remote as the establishment of  world government.

 

Unsurprisingly, the head of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, was active in reinforcing Netanyahu’s objection to Sweden’s proposed course of action. Herzog in conversation with Lofven sought to dissuade Sweden from acting ‘unilaterally,’ suggesting that such a move was likely to produce undisclosed ‘undesirable consequences.’ So much for the Israeli ‘peace camp’ that now seems content to act as errand boy for state policy as led by the right-wing Likud.

 

The Palestinian Authority, short on good news since the Gaza attacks, at its highest levels (Abbas, Erakat) greeted the Swedish move as ‘remarkable and courageous,’ as well as ‘great.’ The PA leadership even suggested that recognition of Palestinian statehood could build pressure for a resumption of talks on a two-state solution as if that would be beneficial for Palestine. Such sentiments turn a blind eye toward the Oslo record of failure from a Palestinian point of view, and quite the opposite for Israel.

 

What is the value of the Swedish proposed step, assuming that it takes place? Israel and the United States seemed poised to use full court pressure to persuade Sweden to delay indefinitely making the move, and Sweden has retreated to the extent that it has reassured the world that it is not planning to act ‘tomorrow morning’ and hopes to listen to the views of all interested governments and engage in dialogue before moving forward. At the same time, the British Parliament is set to vote on October 13 on a non-binding resolution urging recognition by Britain of Palestinian statehood.

 

Even proposing recognition of Palestinian statehood is definitely a psychological boost for the Palestinian Authority, but it changes nothing on the ground, and likely makes Israel take some defiant steps such as provocatively issuing permits for additional housing units in the settlements, which it did in 2012 as retaliation for Palestine’s successful bid to be recognized by the UN General Assembly as a non-member observer state (similar to the status enjoyed by the Vatican). Recognition also gives Palestine potential access to the International Criminal Court, which again worries Israel as it should, although the Palestinian Authority has so far held back from seeking to become a party to the ICC, and by so doing gain the capacity to request the prosecutor to investigate various allegations of Israeli war crimes, including the settlements.

 

In international law diplomatic recognition by states has been traditionally viewed as largely a matter of discretion. The United States withheld recognition from mainland China for decades after it had consolidated its governmental control over the territory and its population. Palestine has been long recognized by at least 125 states, and enjoys diplomatic relations as if a state. UN membership presupposes statehood, but it is also highly politicized and subject to the veto by any permanent member of the Security Council. Indications are that, if necessary, the United States will stand alone in using its veto to block Palestine from becoming a member.

 

But why does Israel care so much as nothing changes on the ground? There would seem to be three reasons, none very persuasive. Firstly, since Palestine badly wants to be a sovereign state and a UN member, it would make further concessions to Israel to obtain such a status in the event of further negotiations. Secondly, Israel seems eager to have the formal capacity to deny Palestinian statehood in a full sense so as to allow for the future likely incorporation the West Bank into Israel when the opportune moment arrives. This is a course of action favored by the recently elected Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, who offers Palestinians a supposedly benevolent ‘economic peace’ in exchange if they swallow their political pride. Thirdly, recognition might give the Palestinian Authority more leverage at the UN and the ICC, and self-esteem in Palestinian circles, especially if other European Union members to follow the Swedish example. At some point down the line Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine would under these conditions come under increasing legal, moral, and political fire.

 

Yet from the perspective of the Palestinian people as distinct from the Palestinian Authority, does it make sense at this stage in their struggle to continue to act as if the two-state solution could still bring peace? Israel’s feverish settlement activity of recent years seems to be a clear message that a viable sovereign Palestinian state is no longer in the cards. In fact, Sweden seems to be playing the Oslo game after the game has ended for all practical purposes.

 

In other words, if Sweden’s act of recognition had been linked to Oslo’s failure it would be pointing the way toward a constructive turn in peace diplomacy, but to justify it as a step toward the two-state solution achieved by direct negotiations of the sort that has failed repeatedly for more than 20 years seems an ill-considered expression of political innocence on the part of the inexperienced new leadership in Stockholm, a gesture for peace undoubtedly meant in good faith, but seemingly without any awareness that the sick patient died years ago.

 

Interrogating the Arizona Killings from a Safe Distance

11 Jan


I spent a year in Sweden a few years after the assassination of Olaf Palme in 1986, the controversial former prime minister of the country who at the time of his death was serving as a member of the Swedish cabinet. He was assassinated while walking with his wife back to their apartment in the historic part of the city after attending a nearby movie. It was a shocking event in a Sweden that had prided itself on moderateness in politics and the avoidance of involvement in the wars of the twentieth century. A local drifter, with a history of alcoholism, was charged and convicted of the crime, but many doubts persisted, including on the part of Ms. Palme who analogized her situation to that of Coretta King who never believed the official version of her martyred husband’s death.

I had a particular interest in this national traumatic event as my reason for being in Sweden was a result of an invitation to be the Olaf Palme Professor, a rotating academic post given each year to a foreign scholar, established by the Swedish Parliament as a memorial to their former leader. (after the Social Democratic Party lost political control in Sweden this professorship was promptly defunded, partly because Palme was unloved by conservatives and partly because of a neoliberal dislike for public support of such activities)

In the course of my year traveling around Sweden I often asked those whom I met what was their view of the assassination, and what I discovered was that the responses told me more about them than it did about the public event. Some thought it was a dissident faction in the Swedish security forces long angered by Palme’s neutralist policies, some believed it was resentment caused by Palme’s alleged engineering of Swedish arms sales to both sides in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, some believed it was the CIA in revenge for Palme’s neutralism during the Cold War, some believed it could have criminals in the pay of business tycoons tired of paying high taxes needed to maintain the Swedish maximalist version of a welfare state, and there were other theories as well. What was common to all of these explanations was the lack of evidence that might connect the dots. What people believed happened flowed from their worldview rather than the facts of the event—a distrust of the state, especially its secret operations, or a strong conviction that special interests hidden from view were behind prominent public events of this character.

In a way, this process of reflection is natural, even inevitable, but it leads to faulty conclusions. We tend to process information against the background of our general worldview and understanding, and we do this all the time as an efficient way of coping with the complexity of the world combined with our lack of time or inclination to reach conclusions by independent investigation. The problem arises when we confuse this means of interpreting our experience with an effort to provide an explanation of a contested public event. There are, to be sure, conspiracies that promote unacknowledged goals, and enjoy the benefit of government protection. We don’t require WikiLeaks to remind us not to trust governments, even our own, and others that seem in most respects to be democratic and law-abiding. And we also by now should know that governments (ab)use their authority to treat awkward knowledge as a matter of state secrets, and criminalize those who are brave enough to believe that the citizenry needs to know the crimes that their government is committing with their trust and their tax dollars.

The arguments swirling around the 9/11 attacks are emblematic of these issues. What fuels suspicions of conspiracy is the reluctance to address the sort of awkward gaps and contradictions in the official explanations that David Ray Griffin(and other devoted scholars of high integrity) have been documenting in book after book ever since his authoritative The New Pearl Harbor in 2004 (updated in 2008). What may be more distressing than the apparent cover up is the eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an al Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials. Is this silence a manifestation of fear or cooption, or part of an equally disturbing filter of self-censorship? Whatever it is, the result is the withering away of a participatory citizenry and the erosion of legitimate constitutional government. The forms persist, but the content is missing.

This brings me to the Arizona shootings, victimizing both persons apparently targeted for their political views and random people who happened to be there for one reason or another, innocently paying their respects to a congresswoman meeting constituents outside a Tucson supermarket. As with the Palme assassination, the most insistent immediate responses come from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, both proceeding on presuppositions rather than awaiting evidence.

On one side are those who say that right-wing hate speech and affection for guns were clearly responsible, while Tea Party ultra-conservatives and their friends reaffirm their rights of free speech, denying that there is any connection between denouncing their adversaries in the political process and the violent acts of a deranged individual seemingly acting on his own.  If we want to be responsible in our assessments, we must restrain our political predispositions, and get the evidence. Let us remember that what seems most disturbing about the 9/11 controversy is the widespread aversion by government and media to the evidence that suggests, at the very least, the need for an independent investigation that proceeds with no holds barred.

Such an investigation would contrast with the official ‘9/11 Commission’ that proceeded with most holds barred.  What has been already disturbing about the Arizona incident are these rival rushes to judgment without bothering with evidence. Such public irresponsibility polarizes political discourse, making conversation and serious debate irrelevant.

There is one more issue raised, with typical candor and innocence, by the filmmaker, Michael Moore. If a Muslim group has published a list of twenty political leaders in this country, and put crosshairs of a gun behind their pictures, is there any doubt that the Arizona events would be treated as the work of a terrorist,, and the group that had pre-identified such targets would be immediately outlawed as a terrorist organization. Many of us, myself included, fervently hoped, upon hearing the news of the shootings, that the perpetrator of this violence was neither a Muslim nor a Hispanic, especially an illegal immigrant. Why? Because we justly feared the kind of horrifying backlash that would have been probably generated by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly,  Sarah Palin, and their legion of allies. Now that the apparent perpetrator is a young white American, the talk from the hate mongers, agains without bothering with evidence, is of mental disorder and sociopathology. This is faith-based pre-Enlightenment ‘knowledge.’

What must we learn from all of this? Don’t connect dots without evidence. Don’t turn away as soon as the words ‘conspiracy theory’ are uttered, especially if the evidence does point away from what the power-wielders want us to believe. Don’t link individual wrongdoing, however horrific, to wider religious and ethnic identities. We will perish as a species if we don’t learn soon to live together better on our beautiful, globalizing, and imperiled planet.