“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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The Israeli Embassy Vehicle Attack in New Delhi – Reactions in India

In this article, the author explores the reaction among the media, the government and the people over the attack that took place on the Israeli Embassy vehicle on the 13th of February, 2012. 

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By Siddharth Singh, 15th Feb, 2012

In the aftermath of the bomb blast targeting an Israeli embassy car in central Delhi, the reaction of the people and the press has largely revolved around three themes: one, outrage that yet another attack has taken place in India and the condemnation of the current government over its inability to stop such attacks. This perception is strengthened by the “weak” verbal responses by the concerned Indian ministers. Two, pointed criticism that the government couldn’t prevent an attack which is a stone’s throw away from the Prime Minister’s residence. Three, surprise – by people mostly – that Iran is in any way related to this attack. Bomb blasts in India have so far been popularly and officially blamed on home grown terrorist groups and those supported by or originating from Pakistan.

The First Theme: Outrage over the attack and ridicule of the official response

The near-universal condemnation of the United Progressive Alliance government under Dr. Manmohan Singh is a recurrent theme that follows every bomb blast in a big city in the country. While it is true that India is a rather large country with multitudes in a politically and socially unstable neighbourhood, it is equally true that the government can do a lot more to improve the security situation in the country without resorting to the controversial measures such as the U.S. government has. Indeed, the government has failed to put in place effective counter-terror and law-and-order mechanisms.

For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs is overburdened with non-security related tasks such as “implementation of the official language” – Hindi – and welfare of freedom fighters from the pre-Independence era. The long proposed Internal Affairs Ministry has not been set up yet, even though it is an idea accepted by officials on Raisina Hill. Comprehensive police reforms too haven’t seen the light of the day in spite of being on paper for several years.

Additionally, the establishment of an Internal Security University – which would provide long term research and analysis on the internal security scenario in India, apart from providing better trained policemen and administrators – has not been established yet, in spite of being passed by the Cabinet years ago. Currently the officials in the ministry are over burdened with day-to-day crisis management and do not have time to research and plan for the longer run.

The image of the government as an ineffective unit, however, largely comes from the lack of effective communication from the government, in particular its ministers. While the government response is typically greeted with disdain, this time around, it was met with ridicule. One of the reasons is that unlike previous attacks, this one did not result in deaths, making mockery acceptable. The people and media resorted to ridiculing the government over what they referred to as a “cliched, disinterested and monotonous” official statement. This time around, they got to see on their favourite prime time news shows on TV – in the form of Israeli ministers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu – give decisive statements on how such attacks cannot be tolerated and the perpetrators will be hunted down. The Israeli administration was also hasty in blaming Iran for the attack, at a time when the Indian officials were sticking to the story of an “incident” caused due to “unknown circumstances.” The reaction to the blame on Iran will be addressed later in this article.

While this author does not believe that hawkish statements are constructive in the aftermath of such bomb blasts, it is true that the government’s reaction is often trite, and are often replays of every official reaction after every major attack the country has seen in the past many years. This fits into the popular narrative of the government, which lacks effective communicators at the top of the administrative setup. The leader of the political coalition – Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister, among others, are not exactly known for their oratory skills. In a hyperactive news TV era, this has become a burden on the political establishment. The media and people in India yearn for effective communicators who can sell governance as much as they can effectively govern in the first place. Even though transparency has been legislated via the Right to Information Act and other instruments, there seems to be opacity in the verbal communication at the top of the administration.

This narrative is popular and cannot be easily undone by the government without a major cabinet reshuffle. It is an issue the government will have to accept and work around.

The Second Theme: Outrage over the location of the attack

The second theme of the reaction has been specific to this incident: the bomb blast took place on one end of Aurangzeb Road, which is a posh neighbourhood in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (where all the ministers, officials, parliamentarians and chiefs of military reside) in New Delhi. The location of the attack was a stones throw away from the Prime Minister’s official residence at 7, Race Course Road.

Unsurprisingly, this became a talking point, and many commentators and the general public have lamented about the lack of security even in such a high profile area. One news TV host in partcular was at his hyperbolic best when he commented that even the Prime Minister could hear the bomb blast (adding later that it would have been possible only if the Prime Minister was home. The police eventually revealed that the blast wasn’t a loud one).

The Prime Minister’s residence is on the Race Course Road, which is open to the general public. Pedestrians freely walk along the sidewalks on the road, and motorists are free to use this road for their daily commute. This fact once brought praise by a friend from a subcontinental neighbour who lamented that common people in his country couldn’t even step in the neighbourhood of the most important ministers.

The entire Lutyens Bungalow Zone is fully accessible to the public, as it rightly must be. However, this also means that it is easy for a motorist to – say – bring explosives in close proximity of the Prime Minister’s home. The PM, of course, is safe in his multi layered security setup. In fact, he uses a different road (which is fully secured) from the other side of his home for his daily commute.

Lutyens Delhi cannot be made exclusive to the residents of the area. Not only does this area house the representatives of the people, it has the headquarters of the political parties, and several markets where the poor find employment. There is no practical way to fully secure this area. Commentary on this theme of the location of the attack is hence misplaced. The location is immaterial here: that it happened at all is the issue at hand.

The Third Theme: Surprise and confusion over Iran’s involvement

What has been more interesting, however, is the sense of confusion among people and a few reporters about Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack. The only foreign nation Indians are used to hearing get linked to attacks has been Pakistan. (To a much lesser extent, Bangladesh was once on this list too, but now makes headlines for partnering India in its fight against militancy).

Natanyahu’s assertion that Iran had a role in the attack even before the Indian authorities could confirm that it was an “attack” rather than an “incident” came as a surprise to many. Many in the media termed this as a hasty reaction without credible evidence to back the claim. A few in the public commended such naming tactics, recommending India do the same with Pakistan.

Importantly, however, this holds important implications on India’s foreign policy. In case Iran’s role is directly or indirectly established, it would mean that India will have to re-draft its policy in the region, which has so far been fairly neutral so far (barring for a few strategic decisions against Iran on the nuclear issue and the Iran-Pakistan-India Natural Gas Pipeline).

Historically, Iran has an image of a cultural “ally” in India. In recent years, the Ahmedinejad administration has brought criticism of official Indo-Iranian relations among those who advocate a more realist foreign policy. However, there is a general acceptance of Iran as an energy supplier nation which can help India meet its growing energy demand.

Indians are in general unaware of the growing tension between Iran and Israel. Reports on the stand off between Iran and the United States are often buried deep inside new papers and have nearly no mention on TV. For these reasons, the very mention of Iran has caught many by surprise. People still don’t fully grasp why India has emerged as a battlefield in the Iran-Israel stand off. The set of challenges for policymakers are profound, and it will be interesting to observe how the foreign policy and security discourse evolves from 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