“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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Time to reframe the debate on the Iranian nuclear programme

In this article, Paul Ingram* argues it is time to reframe debates on the Iranian nuclear programme. If we want to solve the current impasse, we need to move from a pervasive rhetoric based on security threats and mutual accusations to a cooperative framework more apt for negotiations. 


By Paul Ingram, 25th April, 2012

All too often the story around the Iranian nuclear issue is framed as our effort to contain the wild ambitions of a delinquent revolutionary state that with nuclear weapons given half a chance will threaten the stability of the world. This frame sticks for two key reasons: firstly because it plays into some of our greatest fears, and second, because there is enough of a hint of truth to it that people forget the qualifications, the underlying causes and the contrary evidence. In short, we fail in the face of complexity to understand the challenge, and the role of both sides in creating it. And in fact, many of the accusations made against Iran are mirrored in Tehran in things said about the West.

Western intelligence agencies continue to confirm that there is no strong evidence to back up the claim that Iran is engaged in a technical sprint to fulfil an ‘ambition to attain nukes’. Postulating reasons why Iran might want such capabilities is all very well, but such approaches are fraught with analytical and cultural traps. There are equally persuasive explanations for Iran’s programme that it would be equally dangerous to depend upon, such as the idea that Iran is caught up in an effort to demonstrate its modernity through the development of cutting-edge technologies, or that it is pursuing an energy-mix that both brings in foreign exchange and provides for an ever-increasing energy-hungry economy. The truth probably includes a balance of many explanations, including the fact that its technology development gives the administration a future option for nuclear deployment that may be seen as valuable in itself.

The talks in Istanbul last weekend between the E3+3 and Iran were best summed up by Guardian journalist Julian Borger as a play for a score draw, at least for now. Emerging without recriminations was in itself an achievement. But of course the challenge is how we get beyond this to reaching more substantive agreement in Baghdad on 23 May, when there have been so many factors in the way. Over the coming months, Iran faces some pretty severe additional sanctions, on top of crippling ones recently imposed. When previously people may have accused them of playing for time this is no longer be the case. In fact if anything it was Catherine Ashton, lacking a mandate, who last Saturday was playing for time when Jalili was looking for a deal that would soften impending sanctions. The best way of securing stocks of material in Iran is by negotiating access, not by threats, which only provide Iran an incentive to continue. Israeli protests over Iran’s increasing ‘immunity’ to attack ignores the fact that Iran has every right to protect themselves against illegal military threats. As Peter Jenkins, former UK Ambassador to the IAEA puts it, Iran bought itself immunity from attack by being a member of the United Nations and a signed up member of the NPT. Israeli military threats only make it more difficult for Iranian politicians and diplomats to sell any deal to their constituents.

There are plenty of frameworks out there to negotiate on that take the parties step-by-step in the direction of a technical agreements whilst the underlying trust essential to lasting improvement can be built up. Indeed, this is the only approach that holds any promise of working in negotiations. It will require parties to drop preconditions and talk with a view to understanding the other side’s perspective. Each step will need to involve net gains for both sides, as well as a clear sense of where the process is going. There will need to be maximum exploitation of common interests in other security areas – such as counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics activities. Positive signals such as those given recently by both President Obama and Ayatollah Khameini will need reflection, and negative, hostile rhetoric scaled back.

But we will also, in parallel have to tackle some of the deep-seated fears and attitudes that prevent progress. One such on the western side is a deep-seated exceptionalism around sovereignty that pervades the majority view. How much do we all share the attitude that we have a right to demand unlimited access and control over others’ nuclear programmes whenever we have our own suspicions? We have every reason to develop international systems based upon agreement and universal application, but we cannot force others into agreements, and certainly not those we are not willing to submit ourselves to. As a nuclear weapon state Britain is unwilling to seriously consider abandoning the highly expensive practice of keeping a nuclear submarine at sea at all times, or to share such a practice with France, for example, because we have such a powerful attachment to the concept of British sovereignty based upon the ability to threaten massive retaliation against any other state on the planet. This is bound to drive proliferation, sooner or later. Regionally, the inconsistent focus on Iran without any clear plan to address Israeli possession of a nuclear arsenal cannot be justified by a legalistic appeal to Israel’s non-membership of the NPT. As non-signatories the Israelis may not be directly breaking the law, but if we are to claim that the health of the international community depends upon a strong ethic of non-proliferation, then Israel cannot remain an out-law.

We cannot continue to have partial approaches to dangerous technologies. Did you know that India’s successful missile test this week broke a UN Security Council resolution, just as North Korea’s failed one last week did? Few have reported it.

On the Iranian side, it’s time they evolved the rather male pig-headed pride so ably illustrated in last year’s prize-winning film ‘the Separation’, an approach that too often characterises (though not uniquely) Iranian diplomacy and politics. Standing on one’s rights or maintaining an inflexible position can harm one’s own interests in fundamental ways, and destroy one’s position within the community, international or otherwise. International communities require trust, empathy and reassurance. They also depend upon a level of transparency and responsibility. Iranians have to recognise that for a variety of reasons they have a long way to go to build the trust of their neighbours, the sort of trust that will enable them to overcome the isolation they have suffered, isolation that threatens to deepen as the Syrian government goes down and their allies in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories start to look elsewhere for sponsorship in the context of the Arab Spring.

But the deeper choices lie in the international community’s relationship to nuclear deterrence, and how power has in the past been mediated by possession of nuclear arsenals. If we cannot break free from Cold War theologies that place such magical powers in the possession of nuclear weapons, we will only have ourselves to blame when the weapons spread, and those we fear most acquire the magic we have sought to invoke in defence of our privileged positions.

The views expressed in this article solely reflect Paul Ingram’s personal perspective.

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*About the author: Paul Ingram is Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) where he develops BASIC’s long-term strategy to help reduce global nuclear dangers through disarmament and collaborative non-proliferation, coordinating operations in London and Washington. He is also a weekly talk-show host on Iranian TV. This article was first published in Open Democracy on 23 April 2012 (the original article can be accessed here).

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

Life After Gaddafi – The Future of Foreign Intervention

In this article, the author assesses the precedent of Libya in foreign intervention after the death of Muammar Gaddafi. In a world in which there are now increased calls for intervention and isolationism the case of Libya is being presented as both an example of a successful intrusion and a reason to reform the UN Security Council. Military capabilities and the tensions within NATO may act as a check to the boisterous rhetoric in the wake of Gaddafi’s death but the key lesson may be the message it has sent to those who are still clinging to power.


By Jack Hamilton, 23 Oct, 2011

Today the Libyan transnational government has declared national liberation before a triumphant crowd in Benghazi, the city where the fight against Gaddafi began.

There are scenes of jubilation in Libya and NATO offices around the world.  Muammar Gaddafi is dead and attentions are now turning to the future of the Maghreb state and the implications of NATO’s intervention in the broader Arab Spring.  In such a celebratory atmosphere what will be the future response to rebellious populations rising up against murderous rulers?

Libya and the Future of Intervention

Nicolas Sarkozy has already made a direct comparison between the conflict in Libya and the plight of the people of Syria in facing down the armies of Bashar al-Assad.  He mused that “The best thing I can do is dedicate our visit to Tripoli to those who hope that Syria can one day also be a free country”.  The Obama Administration has toed a similar line in their policy of ‘Leading from Behind’ by touting the example of Libya as a framework for future interventions.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes stated that the Libya experience would provide the basis for future interventions with emphasis placed on the need for regime change to be based upon “indigenous political movements” rather than the ambitions of the United States and the importance of “burden sharing” amongst other nations.  The problem is that this does not fit into the model for preventing atrocities which the United States advocated so heavily in the 1990s.  In London and Paris there is talk of prevention and the need to take the lead while the US, perhaps due to domestic constraints, is taking up a more isolationist tone.  The question must therefore be asked if the example of Libya may hinder rather than assist future responses.

Military Capability

The first issue that must be addressed is military capability.  Don’t be distracted by the rhetoric of ‘no boots on the ground’, Libya was a huge military intervention.  The British and the French with help from the Norwegians and Danes, carried out the bulk of the airstrikes and provided the machinery to carry out the naval blockade.  This does not mean that the US should be discounted.  It was American air and sea forces that opened the intervention with decisive attacks on Libyan air bases allowing the European forces to act with greater freedom.  Specific American military capabilities in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance were key to the success to say nothing of the supplies of munitions that were supplied to the European forces.  The lasting images of the war will be of the final rebel push on Tripoli but it is the heavy NATO influence which will resonate in international relations.

A Frayed Alliance

The second impact is the increased tensions between the NATO powers.  Germany’s foreign minister hinted at an early stage that the country would refuse to take sides and eventually abstained from the vote on Security Council Resolution 1973.  The French have long advocated a reform of NATO and the obvious north/south European divide in capabilities has intensified this call.  Whether the military alliance is now in a position to oversee another campaign is debatable.

‘You Break It, You Own It’

NATO leaders have frequently referenced the ‘lessons of Iraq’ when discussing Libya.  The opposition of the National Transitional Council to any foreign troops in a post-war Libya has been welcomed by Western powers hesitant to adopt an increased military role in a time of economic uncertainty.  In this sense there has been a strong adherence to Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn mantra: ‘You Break It, You Own It’.

The Future of Intervention

So what will the lasting impact of the Libyan intervention be?  Crucially, both Britain and France seem to perceive the situation to have been an anomaly.  A nation with a small population and a weak military on the doorstep of Europe with regional actors who were unlikely to support the dictator.  It was seen as an easy case.  Additionally, the Western powers insisted on gaining the support of both the Arab League and the Security Council before intervening.  It is difficult to see such a situation emerging elsewhere in the Arab Spring and Russia has already blocked tentative discussions regarding Syria.

The question of Syria has been largely ignored in Washington.  Syrian opposition is increasingly turning to armed response with army defections burgeoning and calls for international intervention increasing.  People are being gunned down in the streets as the ‘liberators’ of Libya struggle to find the words to escape the precedent they have set.  It is unimaginable that international forces would enter Syria for a variety of reasons.  For that reason Libya must be viewed as an anomaly, not a precedent.

Reforming the Security Council?

Another impact of the intervention has been the rallying of non-interventionist states.  China, Brazil, South Africa and India have not been slow to point out the hypocrisy of the Security Council in elevating its own role while using the mandate of protecting civilians.  Perhaps the lasting message of Libya in international relations will be the claim these nations have demanded for many years: a reform of the Security Council.

Bloody Sheet, Noose, Cage or Condo?

The final message of the conflict in Libya is to those clinging to power in other nations.  It is a message to the Assads and Salehs of the world.  Like Gaddafi or Hussein they can go out on a bloody sheet or at the end of a rope.  Mubarak and Milosevic wound up in cages.  Ben Ali stepped aside amid violent persuasion and now resides comfortably in a condo in Saudi Arabia.  The bloody sheet, the rope, the cage or the condo?