Monthly Archives: December 2016

Historic UNSC resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements and Obama’s legacy

The resolution “… demands Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem…[which activity has] no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

There are up to 196 illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in addition to hundreds of settler outposts. These settlements host up to 600,000 Jewish settlers, who were moved there in violation of international law and, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In respect of resolution 2334, four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and all 10 of the current non-permanent members voted in favour of the motion: China, France, Russia, UK, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela. Although Egypt originally withdrew the proposed resolution which it was championing because of pressure from Israel, it eventually voted in favour, after being castigated by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, who decided to take up the baton. Egypt’s potential moment in the sun was eclipsed. So in the end, 14 out of 15 voted for the resolution.

The wording of the US abstention, however, made it sound very much like a yes vote: Samantha Power said: “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades… One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation”. This sends a powerful message to Israel from the international community ahead of Trump’s typically harebrained approach to the two-stage solution at the heart of international law on the matter.

The resolution has been called toothless, and yet unlike General Assembly resolutions, UNSC resolutions are actually not advisory but mandatory. It is only because Israel will violate with impunity because of the traditional lack of American and European political will in the face of the Israel lobby that such a resolution becomes ‘toothless’. We have seen this with Israel’s total disregard for Resolution 242.

Nevertheless, this departure will put any future Trump Israeli policy, which is widely expected to be strongly biased in favour of Israel, in the position of being “rogue” in the context of international law. The importance of this factor in the long term should not be underestimated, and the assembled council members expressed their unanimous backing of Palestinian rights by applauding after the resolution was passed.

This one action by Obama before his leaving office is a prompt for a reassessment of his foreign policy.

Although Syria is a disaster, one could interpret Obama leaving a void there for Russia, Turkey and Iran to take over, as a good thing in the long-term. Indeed Obama would seem to have bucked an inheritance here. Inderjeet Parmar’s considered thesis is that it was the liberal international policy of the Democratic Party’s establishment that had decided on a course of régime change in Syria prior to 2009 and Obama’s election. Furthermore, it was Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State, who deliberately tripped up the prospects for the Syrian National Council to take a political rather than military course in 2012. Hers was a plan for a war by proxy with her Saudi allies.

The Iran deal with Obama steered though the US legislative against determined efforts by Israel, thus avoiding war with Iran was clearly a positive step.

However, Obama support for the Sarkozy-Cameron idiocy in Libya was hugely destructive, although one might say that this might once again have been as a result of the undue influence of Hillary Clinton.

Another negative is the focus on and then the surge in Afghanistan – Obama’s war of choice.

In respect of Iraq, many in the US believe that the US military should have stayed to stop the sectarianism and the rise of ISIS, and that Obama’s withdrawal was a mistake. However, such a view contravenes the fact that in the first place the American and British militaries fostered the sectarian policies currently tearing the region apart, during their invasion, to further their own ends.

One could conclude in a negative sense that Obama’s wish to disengage from the Middle East, against the wishes of his establishment, was a good thing in the long term. Once the Iraq War was over, the Middle East changed completely and no amount of tinkering by a continued occupation force would have made any difference – and quite likely would have only exacerbated the situation. The decision to leave Iraq was right. The damage was done.

All in all, however, despite the positive glosses, one has to conclude that Obama was a weak president who felt hemmed in not only by the Washington bureaucracy, but also by the Clintonite establishment in his own party. This became terribly clear when he turned out to not be a fair and just enough person to stand against the demonisation of Sanders during the electoral process, which led to Trump’s win. If one is to take Obama’s legacy article in the Atlantic Magazine as a guide to his personality, it gives us a sense of sour grapes and a tendency to blame others for his mistakes. On this basis, could we say that Obama’s non-veto at this historic UNSC meeting was essentially an act of personal revenge over Netanhayu’s constant humiliations, rather than an act of statesmanship?

What should make us lean towards answering that question in the affirmative, is the fact that this was the only UNSC resolution calling on Israel to respect international law that Obama has ever refused to veto. Under George W. Bush, six similar resolutions were allowed through. Under H.W. Bush, nine resolutions critical of Israel were allowed through.

At the same time, Obama awarded Israel with its largest military aid package ever — signing a memorandum of understanding in September that would give it $38 billion over 10 years. This was supposed to be a payment in exchange for Israel accepting the Iran nuclear deal.

As Trump comes into power and takes a firmly anti-Palestinian stand, a much clearer, less duplicitous political environment will reign under American conservatives than ever did under the liberal internationalists of the Democratic Party establishment. The Palestinian people will be able, if not forced, to make better choices, especially about their leadership, and in this they will be supported by the whole world, except for America, whose star is in decline.

 

Liberal Zionism is a contradiction in terms according to an article in the New York Times

Israel is a de facto two-nation state which, for a long time, has included the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Half the state’s citizens are Jewish and half are Palestinian; there are around 6.3 million of each. The Jewish half is privileged and enjoys social and civil rights, whereas most of the Palestinian half is under occupation and has few or no rights at all. This is not the way a democracy should behave.

This is increasingly recognised by liberal Jews. Omri Boehm, for instance, wrote a piece in the New York Times saying that liberal Zionism is a contradiction: liberal American Jews have “identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics.”

 

A new security architecture for the northern Middle-East

Iran, Russia, and Turkey meet to shape a new peace arrangement in Syria, following the increasing absence of the Western powers from the Middle-East, as a result of their disastrous policies since the Iraq War. This has signalled, as I explained in July this year,  the trend towards the consolidation of an entirely new security architecture directed by the three major powers in the region. The Iranian sensibilities which have slowed down the evacuation of Aleppo, have been accommodated by Russia and Turkey not only from an immediate need to complete the evacuation, but also from an overall understanding that there are, despite everything, overall common interests.

The interconnected interests of the three powers effectively means that Western influences will be squeezed out of the region, despite the fact that the US is using the fight against DAESH/ISIL  to try to stay in the game. The Iranian backing of Shia militias, if they are contained and do not attempt to move into Tel A’far or into the countryside around Idlib, is increasingly seen by Turkey and Russia as a valid strategy by Iran to counter the unfortunate proclivity of Sunni jihadis to accept Western aid, which is given to them either directly or through Saudi Arabia despite the fact that they are demonised in the Western media.

The new security architecture is strengthened, not weakened, by the different approaches and occasionally sharp disagreements of the three powers over their local interests, simply because of the overall danger posed by the covert interference of Western powers. The most important example of this is Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian insistence on the permanence of the Assad régime (and Assad personally when it comes to the Iranians), which has come about because of the fact that Western intelligence agencies continue to back deep state operators in the country in order to sow terror even after their attempt to overthrow of the Turkish government failed.

Future US policy towards the region is complicated by the fact that Trump seeks an alliance with Russia while inconsistently demonising Iran and that Trump’s pro-Russian stance itself may fail to become effective as a result of the objections of the US deep state. As the Turkish government consolidates its gains after foiling the July 15 coup attempt, it is clear that rather than achieve the objective of turning Turkey into a client state that could be used to undermine and encircle Russia, the actions of the Western intelligence agencies have of late driven the two powers together. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what the strategy of the Western intelligence-media conglomerate is, and it is precisely this Cold War mentality which increasingly cements the cooperation of the three rival powers in the northern Middle-East.

Qatar, a close ally of Turkey, has effectively underwritten the new political settlement in Syria, in view of its massive investment through Qatar Investment Authority and Glencore (in which it is majority investor) into Rosneft. It is this move in particular which encouraged Putin to stick his neck out to seek a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis at the planned summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The rapprochement between Qatar and Russia will put pressure on Syrian rebels to change their attitude and accept a political settlement which includes Assad.

In fact, Russia had tried and failed to form alliances within Syrian rebels groups in the past to bolster its interests on the ground. Within the past twelve months it had resumed pursuing diplomatic efforts in this regard.

Thousands driving to Cilvegözü crossing in Hatay to meet refugees, as evacuation suspended

 

Hatay camp set up to house 50,000 refugees, but confusion reigns supreme as evacuation is suspended. It looks like 800 refugees in one convoy on its way to Idlib were held up by Shia militias. The Russians are trying to tell us, however, that the evacuation is complete. But as at 17.00 GMT there are still 40,000 people left in Aleppo including 3,000 fighters.

It appears that it is the Lebanese Hezbolla which is standing in the way of the proper completion of the evacuation, and that there is serious tension between Russia and Iran as a result. It is difficult to see how Russia can plan a peace conference in Kazakhstan between the different sides in the conflict, given Iran’s ongoing ideological-religious project taking advantage of the US interregnum, repopulating strategic areas in Syria, and ethnically cleansing Sunnis.

Rand Paul Vows to Block John Bolton as Deputy Secretary of State

Jason Ditz writes

President-elect Donald Trump is facing criticism for other nominations, but none may be so impactful as Sen. Rand Paul’s (R – KY) promise to oppose John Bolton’s nomination as Deputy Secretary of State, saying the ultrahawkish Bolton is “an automatic no.”

Paul expressed openness at Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, saying he’s going to reserve judgement on him, but that Bolton “should get nowhere close to the State Department.” Read full article here.

Perhaps the Bolton proposal is a ploy by Trump to manoeuvre the Senate into endorsing Tillerson, while giving them a decoy to shoot down.

The Russians inherit a wasteland and the Saudis… the whirlwind

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, just over 10,000 people in Syria were killed by Russian airstrikes between 30 September 2015 and 30 October this year, of whom 2,861 were members of the Islamic State (IS) group, 3,079 fighters from rebel and Islamic factions, 2,565 males over the age of 18,1,013 children under the age of eighteen and 584 women.

Upon the fall of Aleppo, planned by the Russians for the US interregnum, David Hearst tells us: “From these figures alone, and there are others, it is clear that Russia has waged total war on an unprotected population in rebel-held areas. War on its people, its hospitals, and its markets, just like it did in Grozny 16 years ago. Its actions differ little from those of the Syrian army. Like all colonial powers, the Russian Federation has arrogated on itself the choice of deciding which Syrians live and which die. And if they are in rebel-held areas, they all die together. But that is not what worries Lavrov. Privately, Lavrov, like Pyrrhus before him, fears what victory looks like. What does “inhabited Syria”, the phrase I used earlier, actually mean, when victory has been declared? A pile of rubble, one ruined city after another, whose citizens will be totally dependent on aid for years to come?”

For years now we have watched as the Neanderthal Assad régime battled the Syrian rebels whose jihadi elements were funded by the even more retrograde Australopithecine Saudi régime, which will reap the whirlwind from its duplicitous intervention in this destructive civil war.

In two audio recordings widely circulated across social media, Michel Kilo, a Christian opposition thinker, equated Saudi Arabia to Israel and demanded that Riyadh fulfill its promises towards the Syrian opposition. He says of Saudi Arabia that “it has committed a crime against the Syrian people. Our brothers in Saudi Arabia are neither capable of drawing up a plan, nor are they able to lead a comeback against the campaign that is being waged against Arab and Islamic societies. They live just because they have money… but eventually they will see what’s coming for them. They are below the level of politics… democracy does not suit them, nor does an Islamic governance system.”

“This havoc will eventually end up destroying them [the Saudis],” he continued. “If events in our country do not come to an end, they [terrorists] will move towards them in multiples, because they are the ones with the money.I swear on the lives of my own children we shall not leave the Gulf intact. We shall dismantle it stone by stone. You are destroying the best country in the Islamic and Arab worlds, a country whose name is Syria.”