“Good fences make good neighbors”?

Writing about her visits to the West Bank, the author shares with us her impressions of the separation wall.


By Margaret McKenzie, 5th July, 2014.

It will have been a decade on July 9 since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) passed its advisory opinion saying Israel must cease construction of the Wall and dismantle sections, compensate for damage caused; and, return Palestinian property or provide compensation if restitution is not possible. The Wall has always been contentious with radically polarizing opinions, exemplified by the many different terms for the Wall depending on who you speak to – “Separation Fence”or “gader hafradeh” in Hebrew, “Apartheid Wall” or “al jidar al azil” in Arabic, are just a few terms used to describe the Wall separating the West Bank from Israel. The Wall depicted in the photos below around the West Bank is illegal under international law.

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Iran Should Not Allow the Talks to Be a “Success” If …

In this post, Shirin Shafaie offers a policy recommendation paper for Iran ahead of the Moscow talks between the P5+1 and Iran.


By Shirin Shafaie

Iran should not allow the Moscow talks (18 June, 2012) to be announced, declared or referred to as “successful”, “positive”, “constructive” or even “promising” by the other party or the Western media in the absence of absolutely concrete and tangible concessions from the West in terms of sanctions relief and normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA. I explain why.

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Addressing the Asymmetry in Negotiations between Iran and P5+1: a critical review of Oxford Research Group’s briefing

In this article, the author presents a critical review of the briefing, “Iran´s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock”, published by the Oxford Research Group on 1 May 2012. As negotiations over Iran´s nuclear programme stall, the author criticises the lack of neutrality of the briefing by the Oxford-based think tank, and calls for a review of the same in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, when pro-war think tanks played a key role in manufacturing consent for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


By Mehrnaz Shahabi, 10 July 2012

The Oxford Research Group’s briefing, Iran’s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock (1 May 2012) [1], published before the second round of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (permanent Security Council and Germany) in Baghdad on 23 May, whilst proposing some positive principles for a successful outcome of the negotiations – such as Iran’s right to enrichment, “reciprocity”, “defining endgame”, and “taking regime change off the table” – suffers serious drawbacks, which have become even more glaringly clear with the result of the recent Moscow negotiations.

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Non-Proliferation: Are we heading in the right direction?

In this article, the author reports from the first session of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee conference being held in Vienna, Austria. The international community, including Iran and the US, have gathered at the IAEA headquarters to discuss next steps while non-participants Israel, India and Pakistan follow the progress of the conference from the comforts of distance.


By David J. Franco, 2nd May, 2012

Ignored by the mainstream media, the world’s nuclear weapons and energy problems are being tackled by the international community gathered in Vienna. Attended by a gallant but tiny band of NGOs the meeting witnesses states from Iran to the US engaged in the debate, while the non-participants Israel, Pakistan and India cast a shadow over the proceedings.

On Monday, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, of the Philippines, declared open the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. Ambassador Cabactulan led a successful process that culminated in the 2010 NPT Action Plan agreed with the consensus of all states parties to the NPT. After his opening statement, in which he emphasized the need to build upon pass success, Ambassador Cabactulan declared elected Ambassador Peter Woolcott, of Australia, as the Chair-designate for the first session of the 2015 NPT review conference cycle.

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Will Iran be accorded its rightful place in the world?

In an inspiring analysis, Peter Jenkins analyses the current state of affairs over Iran’s nuclear file in advance of the April 14 meeting in Istanbul between members of the international community (the P-5 + Germany and the EU) and Iran. Jenkins warns that the scope for any process on nuclear talks with Iran to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Furthermore, he sees the wider political realities surrounding the Iranian case as ‘disturbing’ and calls for a more active role from the BRICS, especially India, in helping resolve the conflict. Iran’s nuclear programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift, he argues, and the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia.

This article was first published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations on 10 April under the title ‘Iran: An opportunity for BRICS‘.


By Peter Jenkins*, 12 April, 2012

The winter months saw the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme become dangerously heated. Western media were encouraged to interpret recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) findings as proof that Iran is bent on making nuclear weapons, despite the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community remaining that a weapons decision has not been taken and is in no sense inevitable.

The U.S., UK, and European Union (EU) used the concern aroused by media reporting to justify a further sharpening of their attack on the Iranian economy, while Israel pressed for a different sort of attack, to wipe out Iranian nuclear facilities before the programme enters a so-called “zone of immunity”. Iran reminded its adversaries that it could retaliate by closing the Straits of Hormuz to oil and gas shipments.

As spring has come, passions have cooled. U.S. President Barack Obama seems to have felt able to tell Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu that a military attack is unnecessary at this juncture, even though the U.S. President is vulnerable to Israeli influence on U.S. public opinion in an electoral year. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, the EU and Germany have agreed to talk to Iran’s nuclear negotiator despite the latter’s failure to commit Iran to full implementation of the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council since 2006 (Notably these require Iran to suspend all production of the enriched uranium that can be converted into reactor fuel, but which Iran could divert to military use if it decided to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], or to ignore its NPT obligations).

There are signs that the U.S., UK and Germany, if not France under President Sarkozy, are moving towards the Russian and Chinese position of accepting Iranian enrichment as long as Iran offers the best possible guarantees that all its nuclear material will remain in non-military use.  Public diplomacy has moderated rude aggression yielding to civility and reason.

The risk of disruption to oil and gas shipments has receded – for the time being at least – although recent U.S. and EU measures are causing problems for some of Iran’s traditional customers, and are hurting consumers everywhere through their effect on prices.

So it is not irrational to hope that when the eight parties – Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S., the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, the EU and Iran – meet on 14 April in Istanbul, they may find some way of launching a process that can, over time, lead to agreement. At long last, perhaps there can be concurrence on handling Iran’s nuclear ambitions in accordance with the treaty to which Iran is a founder-party, the NPT.

An NPT deal would recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium and would accept its taking advantage of that right, in return for Iran placing all nuclear material in its possession under IAEA safeguards and renewing its commitment to refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons.

In one sense, the West approaches these talks from a position of weakness. The Iranians have shown no sign of buckling under the pressure of ever-tighter sanctions. They know that the West’s military option is deeply unattractive to any of sane mind.

In another sense, the West has many good cards in its hand.  Sanctions are hurting Iran and it has an interest in having them lifted provided the price is not intolerable.  Abandoning its enrichment plans would be intolerable; volunteering full access to IAEA inspectors, and other measures that can allay the concerns aroused by the clandestinity of some of its past nuclear activities, need not be.

To say that hope is permissible is not to say that the odds on yet another disappointment are long.  In 2007 a promising opening vanished when Iran’s chief negotiator clashed with President Ahmedinejad.  In 2009 it was President Ahmedinejad’s turn to be thwarted by domestic rivals; and President Obama, under pressure from hawks, withdrew his negotiators rather than wait for the Iranians to sort out their differences. In 2010, the timing of Iranian assent to a confidence-building proposal brokered by Turkey and Brazil cast doubt in Western minds on Iran’s sincerity.

In other words, the scope for any process to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Equally disturbing are the wider political realities.

Since 1992 both leading Israeli parties, Likud and Labour, have sought to convince Washington that Iran is a mortal threat to U.S. interests in South West Asia. This they have done in order to maintain Israel’s value to the U.S. as an ally in a post-Cold War Middle East and to avert a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations that they fear might entail a cooling in U.S.-Israeli relations.  For these Israelis, Iran’s nuclear programme, and especially its undeclared activities prior to 2003, has been a gift from heaven.

Iran’s transgressions are a matter for persuading Americans that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, that these weapons will be used to destroy Israel, they say. Iran’s programme, if left unchecked, will precipitate nuclear proliferation in an unstable region, leading Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to acquire similar capabilities. U.S. conservatives, in thrall to dreams of re-shaping the Middle East and regime-change in Iran, have been eager echoers of these (highly questionable) arguments.

These constituencies, Israeli and American, have no interest in the normalisation of the Iranian nuclear case through an NPT deal.  On the contrary, they have every interest in making it as politically difficult as possible for any U.S. administration to arrive at such a deal.

Saudi Arabia has been even less transparent than Israel.  It is not obvious that the Saudis have been poisoning the wells of American opinion to thwart a deal with Iran.  But Saudi-Iranian rivalry, multifaceted and acute since the advent of an Islamic Republic that challenges the legitimacy of Saudi occupation of the Holy Places, seized from the Hashemites in 1924, and which shows up the undemocratic nature of the Saudi monarchy, is well-documented.  There have been veiled threats that Saudi Arabia will ignore its NPT obligations if Iran is left in peace to exploit nuclear technology that the Saudis themselves are decades away from mastering without outside help.  Saudi Arabia too has an interest in thwarting any deal that leaves Iran in possession of enrichment plants.

There are additional factors.  Ever since the NPT opened for signature in 1968, U.S. officials have found it hard to accept that the treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) access to technologies that can serve both civil and military purposes. There’s been a 44-year itch to close what Americans see as a loop-hole, despite all the evidence that many NNWS are unready to concede a back-door renegotiation of a carefully-balanced instrument.

There is also in the U.S. a tendency to blind self-righteousness that can lead Americans to treat non-Americans as miscreants when the latter err. Iran’s failure to respect its NPT safeguards commitments prior to 2003, ill-disposes American officials to accord Iranian representatives the respect the latter crave.  There’s a risk Iran’s negotiators will be made to feel like criminal suspects invited to engage in plea-bargaining.

For their part, the Iranians have a tendency to give way to the temptation to retaliate when instead keeping a stiff upper lip would be wiser. For instance, they retaliated for the 2006 reporting of their IAEA non-compliance to the Security Council by ceasing to allow the IAEA the access it needed to arrive at the conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material in Iran.  They retaliated for recent UK sanctions on financial dealings by trashing the British embassy in Tehran, an act of vandalism ill-calculated to make it easier for the British government to accept their enrichment activities. Will they be able to resist the urge to retaliate if some indignity is inflicted on them while negotiations are underway?

These wider factors suggest that India, Brazil and South Africa could play a part in resolving this controversy if they chose.  They could act as auxiliaries of their BRICS partners, Russia and China, whose role in a negotiating process will be to help narrow differences.  India could use its influence in Washington and European capitals to urge patience and the turning of deaf ears to special pleading from Israel and Saudi Arabia. It could draw attention to the way in which Western slowness to accept evidence that the Iranian nuclear threat had been exaggerated, has damaged Indian economic interests.

India could also stress the unacceptability of any attack on Iran that has not been authorised by the Security Council, both on legal grounds and on account of its probable consequences for Indian living standards. It could draw on 2,500 years of cultural affinity with Iran to offer advice on Iranian sensibilities: the dos and don’ts that matter in any negotiation.

The underlying need is for the BRICS to make their voice heard on this issue, to counter-point the tunes composed by the West’s Middle East allies. The BRICS are qualified to argue against seeing Iran’s nuclear programme in isolation. They can point out that the programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift: Iran is slowly returning to the ranks of Asia’s greater powers.

This shift is unwelcome to some of Iran’s neighbours, it seems.  They have sought to prevent it by distorting Western perceptions, by encouraging Western governments to assume the worst of a state whose intentions the West finds it hard to fathom, and by playing on the negative prejudices that are the legacy of past clashes with Iran.

But this kind of shift cannot be prevented without a conflict that would entail hardship or suffering for most of mankind. So the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours accommodating what can hardly be prevented, and according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia – what the Iranians see as their rightful place in the world.

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*Peter Jenkins is a former British diplomat who worked on the Iranian nuclear issue when ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (2001-06).

   

Palestine, the UN and Statehood – The relevance of the UNESCO vote

In this article, the author looks into the legal relevance and implications of the recent UNESCO vote which recognised Palestine as a full member of the United Nations agency. 


By Abdulaziz Khalefa, 2 Nov, 2011

Of the 193 member states of the United Nations, 127 have recognized a Palestinian state. When the UN cultural body (UNESCO) voted on admitting Palestine as a full member, what came as a surprise was that of the 66 states not recognizing Palestine, seven (Myanmar, France, Spain, Finland, Greece, Ireland and Austria) voted yes. One Israeli academic expressed a pervasive view among those states which stand against the Palestinian bid for full UN membership. He explained “what the Palestinians really have to look for is the establishment of a Palestinian state and this is not going to be implemented by the decision of an international organization – of course not UNESCO, but (not) even the General Assembly.” Such a position expects the establishment of a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel. There are two problems with such a stance however; from an international legal perspective the case can be made that such negotiations are irrelevant, as for the political side the negotiations are unnecessary.

Legal Relevance

When talking about Palestinian statehood, one cannot ignore the history of the territory. After taking consideration of the area in its colonial context, the question of self-determination is bound to come up (see Quigley, 2011). I am talking about the right of self-determination. Self-determination is a right of people, and it is a right erga omnes (see Advisory Opinion, 1975). Several UN resolutions, the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the Wall, and even Israel itself have recognized the Palestinians as a people (see Quigley, 2011). The entitlement of the Palestinian people to a Palestinian state is uncontroversial. What is controversial however is what the Palestinian state would look like. Fortunately for the Palestinians the law on self-determination has specific core content which can guide the statehood process to have Israel, the US and the many European states recognize Palestine and admit it as a full member in the UN. Unfortunately for the Palestinians however, several Security Council members have decided to sidestep the legal formalism of self-determination, to instead opt for a negotiated settlement which has effectively made the Israeli endorsement a pre-requisite for Palestinian recognition and eventual admittance into the UN as a full member.

Before addressing why the negotiations are politically unnecessary, I would like to address the legal formalism which ought to be.

The law of self-determination involves (1) the free choice of people and (2) substance. The relevant UNGA resolutions and conventions (such as article 1 of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. UNGA resolution 2656, 1514 and 1541) highlight that the free choice of the people must be ascertained (see Advisory Opinion, 1975, para 55). This can be done through a referendum as has been done with the Timor-Leste or through a UN mission as has been done with the Western Sahara. (Do note the East Timorese referendum has been criticized for not allowing for all the options to be put on the table).

The outcome the people choose can be (1) independence as a sovereign state (2) association with an independent state (3) integration with an independent state (see UNGA, 1970).

As for the second component of the law, substance, it might seem quite obvious that after the ascertaining of the will of the people, their decision would be followed. However this is not as obvious as it may seem. It has been the case in the past where the free choice has been ascertained without any substance. The best example I can think of is the Australian exploitation of oil resources in East Timor. In the Oral proceedings of the East Timor case at the ICJ, Australia argued that exploiting the East Timorese oil did not impede their free choice and their right of self-determination. However Judge Rosalyn Higgins deconstructed this line of argument and explained that there is no point in having the East Timorese exercise their right to choose freely if the land and resources remain under the exploitation of others (see Higgins, 1995).

With ascertaining the will of the people by granting them the option to choose; and by maintaining the substantive aspects of what they choose, we can have the legal formalism of self-determination. However the Quartet’s Road Map to peace has neither given regard to the free choice of the Palestinian people to determine what their future state would look like, nor has it even addressed substantive issues such as the danger of the Wall prejudging the future boundaries, or even the expansion of the settlements. In legal terms, specifically when it comes to self-determination, it is irrelevant for the Palestinians to negotiate given a framework which does not take into consideration their free choice and substance. It is also politically imprudent, and I will explain why in the following section.

The Negotiations: What’s the point?

Just hours after the UNESCO vote admitting Palestine as a full member, Israel ordered the building of new housing units in East Jerusalem. While one might think this is a punitive measure taken by Israel in response to the Palestinian maneuvering for full UN recognition, one only needs to be reminded of the fact that the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were never to be stopped. In a speech the Israeli PM gave in 2009, he explained that Jerusalem will remain the unified capital of Israel and that he will not do anything to stop the natural growth of the settlements (in both the West bank and East Jerusalem – both areas recognized as being occupied by the ICJ) (see Advisory Opinion, 2004). The Israeli foreign minister said two weeks beforehand that “I want to make it clear that the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria [the biblical name for the West Bank].” What this means is that the settlement expansions will continue whether the Palestinians do something about it or not.

Unfortunately, this means that the negotiations with Israel from a political perspective will be very unproductive for the cause of a possible future Palestine and its eventual membership in the UN. Negotiations have effectively meant more time deciding on nothing while the settlements continue with the natural growth. With the US vetoing almost any UNSC resolution or bid not in Israel’s interest, Israel can continue the building of settlements without any repercussions. Perhaps the staunch US support for Israel can be attributed to the Israel Lobby in the US; I know John Mearshiemer wrote a best-selling book in 2007 about the Israel Lobby, and it certainly was an interesting read.

This is the reason why the Palestinian Authority cannot do as the Israeli academic implied and return to the negotiating table. The Palestinians have nothing to gain from that table, and are better off focusing their efforts elsewhere.

Perhaps the recent cluster of South American states recognizing the state can add to the needed pressure to move the Palestinian case forward. In the UNESCO vote only 14 states voted against Palestinian membership with 107 voting yes, with 52 abstentions. Now to become full UN member the Palestinian bid will have to survive the US veto, which the US has already said it will use. What this means is that the Palestinians will have to rely on the other option to submit a resolution to the General Assembly seeking an upgrade from its current status of “observer” to “non-member observer state.” This status is currently held by the Vatican and was held by other full members such as Switzerland.

Conclusion

The international efforts to realize the statehood of the Palestinian people have trumped the legal formalism. The Quartet’s road-map says nothing about ascertaining the will of the Palestinian people, and ignores the substantive issues raised by the Wall. Politically, the negotiations with the Israelis have become sterile. It has become apparent that Israelis are determined to do nothing about the settlement expansions with the United States passionately wagging its finger at Israel for doing so. The Palestinian authority is left with no other choice but to focus its efforts elsewhere in hope that its status in the UN grows ever steadily until they become full members.


References:

  • Advisory Opinion, 1975; Western Sahara, ICJ Rep. Cited in David Harris, Cases and Materials on International Law (7th edn Sweet & Maxwell, London 2010) 108.
  • Advisory Opinion, 2004; Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, ICJ Rep para 75 – 78. Cited in Stephanie Koury, ‘Legal Strategies at the United Nations: A Comparative Look at Namibia. Western Sahara, and Palestine’ in Susan M, Akram (ed), International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Context (Routledge, Oxon 2011), 159.
  • Higgins, R., 1995; Final Oral Argument, CR 1995/13 8.
  • Quigley, John, 2011; ‘Self-Determination in the Palestine Context’ in Susan M, Akram, Michael Dumper, Michael Lynk and Iain Scobbie (eds), International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Context (Routledge, Oxon 2011) 212 – 219.
  • UNGA Res 2625 (XXV), 24 October 1970