The El Jiyeh UN Oil Spill: Financial and Political Fairness

The El Jiyeh UN Oil Spill: Financial and Political Fairness


Howard Adelman

As discussed in the last blog, whether in Anglo Tort law or in Article 1382 of the 1804 French Civil Code (“Droit of la Responsibilité”), the principle for calculating compensation is similar. In summary, that code says: “Tout fait quelconque de l’homme, qui cause à autrui un dommage, oblige celui par la faute duquel il est arrivé à le réparer.” He who causes the damage, must pay. In English, “any loss caused to a person through the behaviour of another must be repaired by the person whose fault it was that the loss occurred.” The extended version in English is loosely translated as: Reparation to the victim of a crime or a tort must, in principle, be responsible for the complete damage the victim has suffered. Moral damage is taken into account as well as material damage. Indirect damages must be taken into consideration, but only as long as they are revealed as connected to the fact of the tort. In principle, the current damage done at the time only comes into consideration for the calculation of the reparation. In exceptional circumstances, a judge may take into account future damages if, firstly, the realization is certain and if, in addition, the means exists to assess in advance the exact amount of those damages.

Costs include not only environmental damage, but costs to fisheries and the tourism industry. Hundreds of suits have been filed as a result of these provisions against other offenders in a variety of oil spills. None have become issues for the United Nations General Assembly, especially ones that occurred as a result of hostilities. The issue is not about the principle for assessing a claim. The issue is about the venue and the procedure.

Further, since this is a claim made under international law and not domestic law, one principle for assessing the justice of a claim, particularly when the claim is about damages consequent to hostilities, is to discuss the purpose of the damage caused. In WWII, there were over 300 attacks against oil storage depots and refineries according to British and American bombing surveys, the last one in the European theatre against a refinery in Norway in April of 1945. Assessments after the war compared the effects of targeting the oil infrastructure. Compared to other targets, including the bombing of transportation, especially trains, the attacks on oil refineries and oil storage facilities infrastructure in areas controlled by Nazi Germany were considered to be the only unequivocal successes in damaging the German war effort, a conclusion which reaffirmed the opinion not only of Hermann Gӧring, but also Luftwaffe commander Adolf Galland in his book, General der Jagdflieger. Compared to WWII, the two attacks by Israel were pinpricks.

But what about the environmental consequences? Let’s put the El Jiyeh oil spill in comparison to the costs and size of other oil spills. The $850 million dollar total liability estimate included about 25% for cleanup costs. That amount can be compared to the environmental damage costs of the Exxon Valdez oil spill which was at least ten times larger. The latter’s cleanup costs, in a much more difficult and expensive terrain and covering 2,100 km of coastline rather than 170 km, were $3.5 billion. Although the Lebanese oil spill was often equated in the media with the Exxon Valdez spill, the cleanup costs in Lebanon were much less, just over $200 million, in this case an amount reasonably proportionate to the Exxon Valdez cleanup costs.
For another comparison, the costs to Saudi Arabia for the cleanup from the First Gulf War up to 2011 was $700 million Saudi riyal (over $180 million) in environmental rehabilitation in addition to the $45 million contributed internationally. However, compare the 240-336 million gallons of oil spilled from the Sea Island terminal and destroyed tankers in the 1991 Kuwait Gulf War by Iraq, supposedly to foil a US marine landing and to prevent the oil from falling into American hands, with the 5 million gallons spilled in the El Jiyeh disaster. The resulting oil slick in the First Gulf War was over 100 miles long, 42 miles wide and as much as 13 cm. thick in some places, several times the size even of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Just to cap the 700 wells and douse the fires cost Kuwait $1.5 billion in addition to the $225 million cost to clean up the environmental disaster. The Jiyeh spill was 5% the size of the Gulf spill, yet the cleanup costs were said to be about equivalent.

Take another example, this time from the Second Iraq War in 2002. Rather than an oil spill, consider the much more serious damage to the ozone layer by 60,000-80,000 combat missions that released 2,000 tons of ozone-destroying halons and stealth bombers that released freon fuel additives which, together, were estimated to be the equivalent of the global civilian releases destroying the ozone layer for three months. In neither the first nor the second Iraqi wars was there ever any attempt to attribute responsibilities and costs. No claims were made by the United Nations General Assembly against one of its members for these environmental calamities that occurred in the course of hostilities.

The oil spill can also be placed in the context of commercial as well as military environmental disasters:

Year Millions Location Cause

1978 68.7 Amoco Cadiz ship grounding in storm
1979 88.3 Coast of Tinidad Tobago two tankers colliding
1983 80 Nowruk Oil Field Persian Gulf collision with a platform
1983 80 Coast of South Africa, Soldana Bay Castillo de Bellver
1988 43 Coast of Nova Scotia break up of Odyssey in storm
1989 84 Alaska’s Prince William Sound Exxon Valdez struck Bligh reef
1991 80 Coast of Angola shipboard explosion
1991 42 Coast of Genoa Haven Tanker explosion
2010 185 Gulf of Mexico Deep Water Horizon blowout

The El Jiyeh oil spill was relatively small, less than 5 million gallons, compared to these oil spills ranging from 42 to 185 million gallons. The point of listing these non-military incidents is not to downplay the Lebanese oil spill, but to use these disasters to ascertain how liability is estimated and assessed. In commercial disasters, evidence is collected and analyzed, testimony is heard by a detached party, legal precedents and regulations are cited and, in contrast to the way the issues are handled by the media (the example of Anderson Cooper’s sensationalist coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is often cited), there is a strenuous effort to avoid sensationalism by those assessing costs.

In the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deep Water Horizon blowout, BP was required to pay $1 billion, just over the costs for which Israel was held by the UNGA to be liable for an oil spill that was 1/57th the size of the Deep Water Horizon spill.

In the case of these commercial oil spills, there is never an effort at repeating year after year another step in the evaluation process. The way the General Assembly handles the procedure is to insert in each motion a requirement that the Secretary-General report back on results and future action, thereby ensuring another future annual resolution and another opportunity for publicizing Israel’s alleged wrongs. This issue is about distraction from the real culprit, shaming and blaming to make a political point, not the collection of reparations.

When the motion is softened as a “request”, countries can vote for the motion seeing nothing wrong in asking Israel to pay for the damages. Nor do they have to confront the outrageously one-sided nature of the process or the very issue of whether the UN General Assembly was or is an appropriate place to assess blame and costs. Further, the repetition of one UN motion after another, to the exclusion of any other jurisdictions re parallel cases or any comparisons, allows the issue to remain in an isolated silo, in the same manner as the Palestinian refugees, who are treated totally differently than any other refugees. And those who were victims of the environmental disaster suffer the same fate as the Palestinian refugees – compensation is delayed endlessly because the issue of compensation and liability have not been separated. I can find no information that compensation has ever been paid to victims of the El Jiyeh oil spill.

There is another problem. The costs to the fisheries, mostly resulting from the blockade imposed by Israel against Lebanon from 12 July to 9 September 2006, are all viewed as costs to be attributed to the oil spill. The costs associated with loss of restaurant businesses because of the apprehension of Lebanese who arguably would not go to seafood restaurants or eat seafood because of possible effects on their health, are conflated with losses to restaurants because, during a war, there was very little tendency to want to risk eating in a public venue.

Israel is an active participant in the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea and works with all parties to the convention to promote its aims. Israel offered to work with others in a fair and judicious process to assess costs and liabilities of all environmental damages from the war. The offer was never taken up.

Instead of a separate procedure for determining compensation owed to victims and one for determining the liability for that compensation, the two issues were conflated in the El Jiyeh oil spill. The result is impotency in providing relief to victims in the name of making a political statement. The politicized process has been characterized by initial hyperbole, subsequent significant inflation – monetary, environmental and political – a one-sided assessment (the environmental damage done to Israel by its enemy, Hezbollah, was totally ignored), a singular focus that is decontextualized in both time and space. Precedents are ignored. The legal process is caricatured. The result is politics in its worst form, not justice.

As a final comparison, earlier this week I wrote about the break in the Eilat/Ashkelon oil pipeline 20 km. north of Eilat that took place last Thursday near Be’er Ora. There the spilled oil was also heavy crude, the most difficult to clean up. Initially, the original estimate of the amount of the spill was 1 million litres, but it has since been increased to 3 million litres (700,000 gallons). That means the Arava oils spill was one/seventh of the size of the El Jiyeh spill which, in turn, was one-tenth the size of the average commercial oil spill that attracts widespread media coverage. In both the Arava and the El Jiyeh cases, nature reserves were threatened and the cleanup had to take place swiftly in a very delicate eco-system. So one can also imagine that if the Israeli blockade did prevent a cleanup of the spill for up to a month, how much more disastrous the Lebanese spill, already seven times larger, was than the Israeli spill where there was almost panic that the oil would spill into the delicate ecosystem of the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. In the Lebanese oil spill, much of the five million gallons flowed into the Mediterranean Sea.

However, when costs of the cleanup are compared, the Israeli cleanup is expected to cost 17 million Israeli shekels or a little over $4 million, almost one-fiftieth (1/50th) of the cost of the Lebanese cleanup, costs which were so much higher than the costs of most other oil cleanups. Compared to the $850 million assessed against Israel as liability costs, the costs of the Israeli oil spill seem a pittance. The costs in the Arava spill will be, if the estimates are correct, 1/200th of the liability assessed against Israel and 2% of the cleanup costs in the Lebanese oil spill. So I am torn between being appalled at the extent of devastation caused to Lebanon in 2006 and upset at the gross injustice in both procedure and substance that seems so outrageous and disheartening.

But I should not be so shocked. After all, I worked in the late eighties and early nineties with the UN on early warning systems to anticipate and prevent hostilities and was part of the investigating team in the inquiry into the UN role in the Rwanda genocide where I learned firsthand of both the fickleness and impotence of the United Nations.

Even though the adoption of the “Oil Slick on Lebanese Shores” Resolution by the General Assembly is deliberately worded as a request because the UN General Assembly lacks jurisdiction and also to gain as many votes for the resolution as possible, Dr. Nawaf Salam, the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations, after the passage of the resolution, stated that the UN ruled that, “Israel has to pay for the damages inflicted on Lebanon in the immediate aftermath of El-Jiyeh attack.” The politics of the resolution is what is important, certainly not the compensation to victims. The Lebanese Permanent Representative to the UN envisioned the resolution as merely paving the way for further compensation in other areas of damage (health, ecosystem services as habitat, potential ground water contamination, and marine diversity) from the 2006 war.

The unique presumption is that Israel alone is liable for environmental damages caused during the 2006 Lebanese War or in any hostilities. Further, only environmental damage to Lebanon and not to Israel is to be considered. Israel is blamed as the aggressor even though, on 12 July 2006, Hezbollah’s military wing, as an exercise in Islamic “resistance”, launched rockets across the Lebanese border with Israel targeting the town of Shlomi and a military outpost at Shebaa Farms. Hezbollah also initiated a cross-border attack against two IDF Humvees, killing five Israeli soldiers and capturing two others. The objective of the Hezbollah aggression was ostensibly to free Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails. Israel retaliated by ground, air and sea attacks. Israeli navy gunships bombarded an electric power station on the coast at Jiyeh that resulted in the oil spill. The naval blockade to prevent the resupply of weapons to Hezbollah, which had fired about 4,000 rockets at northern Israel, may possibly have prevented a speedy cleanup. Security Council resolutions had called for full respect for the Blue Line by both parties and full implementation of the Taif Agreement, of resolutions 1559 and 1680 that required the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon. In spite of all this, Israel is considered the aggressor and liable for all costs resulting from the oil spill.

This is not justice. This is propaganda. It is enough, or almost enough, to make a peacenik like myself vote for Harper’s Tories in the next election for its principled stand on this issue at the UN — if it were not for the Harper government’s systematic destruction of the independence of the knowledge base of the Canadian civil service, its disregard of the environment, the lack of attention and progress on substantive issues of concern to aboriginal peoples, an absence of any real initiative to help refugees, and so much more.


The El Jiyeh UN Oil Spill: Legal Issues

The El Jiyeh UN Oil Spill: Legal Issues


Howard Adelman

There is no question that Israel bombed the oil storage tanks at the El Jiyeh electrical production facility south of Beirut during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. There is no question that Israel did so deliberately. However, did Israel do so knowing, or was it reasonable for Israel to have known, that 10,000-15,000 tons of IFP number 6 heavy fuel oil from the ruptured tanks would leak into the Mediterranean?

I do not know. From reading the repeated UN “inquiries” and reports into the environmental disaster, one could never find out. Because there is no effort to ask the question, let alone find answers. The inquiries begin with a presumption of guilt and responsibility and merely tried to make as strong a case for the prosecution as possible, much more in the nature of the procedures for a kangaroo court than an independent and objective inquiry in which one gathers and hears all the evidence, raises all the key questions, analyzes the results and tries, as much as possible, to arrive at an objective finding.

As much as one loves the environment and is determined to do everything to protect it, and even if one is critical for Israel going to war with Lebanon when Hezbollah rained 4,000 missiles down on the northern half of the country, the process adopted, if one believes in principles of fairness, has to make a detached observer sympathetic to the position of Israel on this question.

Begin with the legal question. Is Israel guilty for the financial costs of the environmental damage, and, perhaps, also the damage to the tourist and fisheries industries, according to international law? The reports all cite international law, but the citations are akin to those of a first-year university student who believes simply that you cite what you perhaps read as proof rather than offering supporting authoritative evidence to give weight to an interpretation or argument. Where domestic law is cited, it is only used as a basis for making a claim without considering whether the claim in general is valid.

There exist both law and legal routes to assess and attribute costs to various parties in order to assess liability and financial responsibility for damage from oils spills. Some of that is domestic law. For example, there is the America‘s Oil Pollution Act or its equivalent in other legal jurisdictions. There is international law. And there is case law in both domestic and international proceedings. However, there is no precedent for the United Nations General Assembly, and the office of the Secretary-General, becoming involved in assessing responsibility and costs for an oil spill.

Section I of the 2014 UNDP “Report on the Measurement & Quantification of the Environmental Damage of the Oil Spill on Lebanon” summarizes the contents on the legal question as dealt with in seven other 2006 and 2007 UN reports on the issue:

• Experts Working Group for Lebanon, Lebanon Marine and Coastal Oil Pollution International Assistance Action Plan, 25 August 2006;
• International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Lebanon Oil Spill Rapid Assessment and Response Mission Consultancy Report, 11 September 2006;
• Conseil National de la Recherche Scientifique Results of the Scientific Researches Undertaken by the Council in relation with the consequences of the last Israeli aggression on Lebanon (in Arabic), 20 October 2006;
• Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Lebanon – Damage and Early Recovery Needs – Assessment of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, November 2006;
• United Nations Development Programme, Rapid Environmental Assessment for Greening Recovery, Reconstruction and Reform – 2006;
• World Bank, Republic of Lebanon – Economic Assessment of Environmental Degradation Due to July 2006 Hostilities, 11 October 2007;
• United Nations Environment Programme, Lebanon – Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment, 2007.

The focus (and expertise) of virtually all these reports was to assess damages and the costs for recovery, sometimes including damages unrelated to the oil spill, but not to determine liability. In other words, who has the duty and responsibility for compensation? The first reference is to domestic Lebanese law which is heavily influenced by French law. As in English tort law, it includes the general principle that “any wrongful act which causes prejudice to another person obliges the culprit to indemnify the aggrieved party”. That is, the act must be a wrongful one, there must be a causal link between the wrongful act and the consequences (in this case, of the oil spill), and there is a question of indemnification. In summary, the polluter pays. The 2014 UNDP Report specifically states that it will not go into any of these three questions because the UN General Assembly has already made that determination, in fact, numerous times. So once again, legal analysis is not attempted on the most fundamental issue because there has already been a finding of guilt. Circularity permeates the whole process. A party is guilty because that party has been found guilty.

The 2014 UNDP Report explores whether Lebanon tried to mitigate the damages because, if it did not, then Israel could escape some or all responsibility. The Report holds that, because Israel imposed an almost month-long maritime blockade on Lebanon, that country was unable to exert any effort to mitigate the consequences of the oil spill and, therefore, there was nothing to mitigate Israel’s responsibility. No evidence is cited. No international law on liability for the untoward effects of blockades in cases of hostilities is cited. Israel is simply fully responsible because one of the results of the blockade was, presumably, preventing Lebanon from mitigating the effects of the oil spill — even though there was no effort to determine whether Lebanon made such an effort, including requesting Israel’s cooperation, and whether Israel’s blockade actually prevented mitigation efforts.

How much ought to be assessed against the party which commits the wrongful act? For the totality of the prejudice sustained by Lebanon, a principle applicable to individual or collective disasters. Totality means the restoration in full to re-establish the equilibrium destroyed by the alleged wrongful act had the oil spill not occurred. Prejudices may not just be direct consequences but can include all indirect results, including future estimated or even possible results – such as lost profits and lost opportunity costs – as long as those indirect consequences can be linked to the wrongful act. In addition to indirect costs, there are ricochet effects, for example, the losses suffered by taxi drivers as a result of the loss of tourism which can be connected to the oil spill, or, an even greater ricochet effect, the loss of renovation work because owners of restaurants and hotels did not make their usual improvements because of huge losses suffered as a ricochet effect. However, in French law, moral as well as material costs are not included, such as loss of reputation to the tourist industry in Lebanon.

Given that the guilty party was identified by UN General Assembly resolutions, given this set of guidelines to determine damages, what process can be used? Three possibilities are set forth:
1. A UN agency or a combination of them makes the determination;
2. A panel of independent experts makes the determination;
3. A task force of government experts drawn from the party affected makes the determination.

In the assessment of environmental damages from the Iraqi actions following its invasion of Kuwait in defending its aggression by releasing oil into the Gulf, the Security Council, not the General Assembly, made the determination via a United Nations Compensation Commission that was provided with an interim fund. The Security Council, which has jurisdiction in cases of determining fault in a war, made the decision on how compensation would be handled. None of the options above were used; rather, a special UN agency was created, which was given interim funding to deal with the compensation and separate liability issues from victim compensation. To prepare claims for compensation, the Kuwait government set up a Public Authority consisting of representatives from both government and the private sector, supported by experts, to review any claims and to file the claims before the Claims Commission which would adjudicate those claims.

In adjudicating claims, including intangible assets such as lost business revenues, the losses had to be connected with the action, but, in the case of the Kuwait situation, the action was not restricted to the losses from the pollution caused by the oil spill into the Gulf, but any losses resulting from Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. If the latter was used as a precedent for claims by Lebanon as a result of the oil spill, then the accumulation of claims would be far greater than just those caused by the oil spill. In the Iraqi-Kuwait case, environmental claims were given the lowest priority.

Note further that the UN General Assembly started a process to create an international convention with respect to compensation as a result of hostilities between parties where one party is considered to have committed a wrongful act. The UN drafted proposed articles with respect to reparations that were referred the International Law Commission in 2001, but they have never been in force or given any application. Nevertheless, they were used as guiding principles for assessing responsibility.

In summary,
1. There was never any determination of responsibility for the hostilities;
2. Responsibility for the oil spill was determined independently, in fact, without any determination of responsibility for hostilities;
3. The UNGA lacked jurisdiction for determining responsibility or assessing compensation for environmental damages;
4. The UNGA had never proposed let alone passed a convention dealing with compensation in cases of oil spills;
5. There was no separation in determination of liability and determination of compensation;
6. There was no assessment whether the blockade in fact prevented any mitigation of damages;
7. The process of adjudication of compensation had no independence;
8. There never seemed to be a process for differentiating losses resulting from the hostilities and losses resulting from the oil spill;
9. No rationale was offered for making environmental damages the highest priority whereas they were made the lowest priority in the Kuwait case;
10. There was certainly no assessment or evaluation on the environmental damages suffered by Israel as a result of the hostilities.

The UN cited the following to justify its decision and its previous motions:
• United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, especially principle 7 of the Declaration of the Conference, which requested States to take all possible steps to prevent pollution of the seas;
• the need to protect and preserve the marine environment in accordance with international law;
• the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development especially principle 16, which stipulates that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution.

None of these references come anywhere close to assessing legal responsibility for the financial costs of the El Jiyeh oil spill to Israel. When Professor Richard Steiner, a marine professor at the University of Alaska, who participated in the assessment of the oil spill in Lebanon, asserted that the State of Israel should participate in a full and independent legal inquiry, establish a fund of $1 billion to reimburse all costs for oil-spill response, clean-up and economic losses caused, and implement a comprehensive restoration program, he had offered no legal justification for such a recommendation and had no expertise to make such a determination.

Other UN reports note that assessing blame and damages for environmental disasters were inapplicable when caused as a result of armed hostilities. Further, such provisions, in any case, do not relate to land-based incidents but only pertain to oil spills at sea. The provision for the United Nations Compensation Commission in the case of Kuwait is the only precedent major oil-spill compensation regime for spills arising from armed hostilities. It depended entirely on both the Security Council having jurisdiction and the prior finding of Iraqi responsibility for the hostilities.

Finally, the assessment of liabilities has precedents for other situations of oil spills during armed hostilities. For example, in the current war against IS involving the US and its allies, including Arab allies, on September 23rd, American aircraft bombed refineries and other oil installations in areas of Syria controlled by the Islamic State. In October it became known that the US was considering, as a serious option, bombing the oil pipelines over which IS had gained control, especially since IS generates $2 million per day to fund its aggressive efforts. My guess is that the U.S, and its allies are reticent, not so much because of the potential for environmental damage, but because of the precedent set that would invite sabotage initiatives by IS against American and Saudi pipelines.
In any case, you can make a large wager that neither the U.S. nor any of its Arab allies will be held to account for any environmental damage that takes place as a result of bombings targeting IS-controlled refineries and pipelines.

Tomorrow: The El Jiyeh UN Oil Spill: Financial and Political Fairness

Lebanon: The UN El Jiyeh Oil Spill Resolution

Lebanon: The UN El Jiyeh Oil Spill Resolution


Howard Adelman

[Note: 1 metric tonne of fuel oil = approx. 7 barrels = almost 318 gallons.]

This morning I will continue to examine the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through my annual regional survey of the Middle East, now focused on Lebanon. I will also continue to focus on the conflict through an environmental lens. This is not merely because of the angle I took on Jordan and the story of the recent oil spill in Israel because of a fractured oil pipeline. Last Friday (19 December 2014) the UN General Assembly voted to request that Israel “promptly” pay $856.4 million (often rounded off to $850 million) in damages, as a result of the oil spill caused when, on 13 and 15 July 2006, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched two air strikes which targeted and destroyed the oil storage tanks near the El Jiyeh electric power plant 30 km. south of Beirut which resulted in the burning of 55,000 tons of heavy fuel oil and the spill of 10,000-15,000 tons (up to 5 million gallons) into the eastern Mediterranean, polluting Lebanon’s shoreline for 170 km, two-thirds of Lebanon’s coastline. (Some UN resolutions claimed the damage covered the entire Lebanese coastline, in which case it would, inevitably, have included the Israeli coast, which it did not.) The incident is generally referred to as the Jiyeh Oil Spill (JOS).

Of the 46 environmental impacts, nine included littoral pollution, impact on marine biodiversity (especially rocky biogenic reefs and Palm Islands Nature Reserve where 100 oiled birds were observed), air pollution from El-Jiyeh fire, marine sediment impact from sunken oil, soil pollution from deposited contaminants of fuel burning at El-Jiyeh, 2), impact on seawater quality from the oil spill and the soil impact at El-Jiyeh site affecting plants and ecosystem from fuel burning. Rocks were covered in black sludge right up until the southern part of Syria killing fish and endangering the habitat of endangered species such as marine loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and green turtles (Chelonya mydas).

Initial reports on the extent and depth of the damage were hyperbolic and UN resolutions continued that tone even though the United Nations Environmental Program revised its initial estimates and minimized the long-term damage. For example, it reported that the sediment from sunken oil was not nearly as bad as originally feared and left no significant long-lasting impact. Similarly, seawater quality was not degraded significantly or for very long. Further, the UNEP report stated that routine stress from untreated sewage, boating and other activities had damaged the Lebanese marine environment far more than the oil spill.

There have been a series of eight UN General Assembly resolutions previously dealing with this oil spill, the first two, a resolution adopted by the Second Committee of the UN, 22 November 2006 and a resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 20 December 2006, and the latest previous one, res. 68/206 on 20 December 2013. They are all very similar except this one designated a dollar figure.

Various UN and international agencies have been apprised and become involved on the issue, including the United Nations (FAO), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Bank, and UNEP/Mediterranean Action Plan/Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) in addition to the Lebanese government. Under various rubrics, such as environmental protection, biodiversity, sustainable economic development, human health protection, fisheries protection, reservation of tourism and various other so-called relevant general themes, resolutions along the same lines have been introduced and passed by the UN since 2006. But the almost billion dollar figure seemed to catch enormous attention.

If you google “Jiyeh oil spill”, the reports of the UN decision assessing Israel for over $850 million in damages will be reflected in citations from almost every media outlet in the world. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories this past week. Although the issue has come up in the United Nations General Assembly many times before, never has it been so widely reported, most often with little context, especially about the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. Even though the resolution is non-binding, and even though it is recorded as a “request”, even though the UN General Assembly has no authority to levy fines or costs from an environmental disaster, the usual impression is that the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to find Israel guilty of the oil spill and responsible for all costs connected with it. Clearly, the figure of almost a billion dollar assessment caught the attention of the media.

Israel has not been held liable for the deaths of 1,200 Lebanese during that war. But it is being held financially responsible for an environmental disaster. A 2007 Secretary General’s Report on the oil spill reported that the damage caused was $729 million although the original damage claimed by Lebanon, including clean-up costs and damage to the Lebanese economy, was $203 million. The latest costs have been corrected to allow for inflation, but do not include interest on the total monies claimed. Further, these are only the alleged costs to Lebanon. For example, expenditures by Japan and Norway, which participated in the clean-up, cost $1.8 million. The Canadian International Development Agency spent $35,587 in a follow-up survey.

These costs do not include the outlays incurred by other international agencies and other countries and NGOs that helped with the cleanup, including Israel that cooperated with the United Nations Environmental Program. However, in the 2014 resolution, the Secretary-General was asked to conduct further studies to quantify environmental damage sustained by neighbouring countries (e,g, Syria, Turkey and even Cyprus presumably), ensuring the issue will come before the UN General Assembly next year.

Routinely, Israel, the United States, Canada and Australia vote against the resolution along with shifting numbers of Micronesian states. Mr. Mally, the US delegate in 2006, put the American position clearly, a position which has been repeated ever since. After expressing the American delegation’s condolences to the people of Lebanon for the tragic loss of Industry Minister Mr. Pierre Gemayel and the United States support for the Lebanese people’s desire to live in peace, the U.S. registered its criticisms for the “one-sided and unbalanced language and placed demands on one party to the conflict while failing to acknowledge the role of those responsible for initiating the hostilities in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. It was Hizbollah that had provoked the conflict with its incursion into Israel on 12 July. That fact was not acknowledged in the draft resolution.” The U.S. regretted “the pollution of the shores of Lebanon…However, the Committee had important responsibilities and should not be used to advance one-sided and unbalanced views. In particular, it was inappropriate for the Committee to take a position on Israel’s responsibilities to compensate Lebanon for damage caused during the course of an armed conflict.”

Canada opposed the resolution because it argued, and has always argued, that the UN General Assembly was an inappropriate place to take up a matter of legal and financial liability.

Israel insisted that the issue was politically motivated and no consideration was given to the context of the war, the initial attacks by Hezbollah, the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, the fires caused in northern Israel by Hezbollah that caused massive environmental damage. Certainly there was no consideration for Israel’s statement in its defence by Ilan Fluss, the Israeli delegate who called the resolution

a blatant attempt to politicize an issue of environmental concern and paint Israel, once again, as the unjust aggressor. It joined the litany of one-sided resolutions that flowed out of the General Assembly each year. The Committee must not allow politicization to infiltrate its work, as it distracted attention from issues of substance and relevance. The draft resolution omitted a crucial detail relating to the context of the events described. It did not mention the entire reason for the conflict — namely, that on 12 July 2006 Hizbollah terrorists had crossed an internationally recognized border into Israel and kidnapped and killed Israeli soldiers. Had the Government of Lebanon exercised its sovereignty and fulfilled the conditions demanded of it by Security Council resolution 1559 (2004), the conflict would not have occurred. But the Government of Lebanon had been derelict in its duty and irresponsibly allowed the growth of a ‘state within a state’, and now the peoples and land of Lebanon and Israel were paying the price.

In response to Hizbollah’s attack, Israel had done what any other country would have done: defend and protect the lives of its citizens and eliminate the impending threat. As 4,000 Katyusha rockets had rained down on Israeli towns and citizens, it had been Israel’s moral duty to defend its people. The obligation of a responsible Government was first and foremost to its citizenry. The same could not be said for the Government of Lebanon, which had ignored its people and its land and allowed terrorists to hijack both.

That was not to say that there was no reason for concern regarding the environmental health and vitality of Lebanon’s coast. Professional agencies — including United Nations bodies such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — were assessing and addressing the situation on the ground, in ways that would accomplish far more than the draft resolution. Moreover, if the sponsors were earnest in their desire to address the development ramifications of the conflict, they would have mentioned the more than half a million trees and 52,000 dunams of forest that had burnt down in Israel as a result of fires caused by Hizbollah rockets; the 25 Israeli cement and asbestos buildings that had been damaged, polluting an area of 20,000 square metres; or the direct hit by a Katyusha rocket on a sludge-thickening plant in Tzafat. The omission of reference to those environmental catastrophes in Israel proved that the draft resolution was an act of political demonization. Israel urged those Member States that believed in authentically addressing the challenges and responsibilities of the Committee to distance themselves from yet another act of partisan politicking. That was not the way to deal responsibly with matters requiring genuine attention.

Almost all other countries supported the resolution with very few abstentions and, also, very few speeches, none of which addressed the complaints of the countries that voted against. Though the dollar figure helped garner the headlines, the resolution was clearly about politics, for the Prime Minister of Lebanon used the occasion to welcome the action and to call on the UN to force Israel to stop violating Lebanese territory and to retreat from the Shebaa Farms, a small strip of disputed land at the intersection of the Lebanese-Syrian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the strategically located Kfarshouba Hills, once the home of the second largest village in south Lebanon on the borders of Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights, now largely destroyed. The village has been repeatedly attacked by Israeli forces in 1967, 1970, 1972, 1982, 2006. In May 2000, following the Israeli army withdrawal from Lebanon, the UN certified that Israel has withdrawn fully from all Lebanese territory.

The third area the Prime Minister of Lebanon complained about was the north part of the Ghajar village. Bibi, backed up by an Israeli cabinet decision, promised to hand the control over the area to UNIFIL on condition that the Lebanese Army protect the vicinity north of the village, while UNIFIL would be deployed in the village itself to deal both with Israel’s security concerns and the disputed claims over the territory between Lebanon and Syria. Ghajar was under full Syrian control before the 1967 war, including the northern part that Israel is being asked to return to Lebanon.

Contrast this political performance with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikat’s response to the indictment by a US-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafiq Harari, along with 20 others in a massive car bombing, that named four members of the Lebanese resistance movement of Hezbollah. The Lebanese Prime Minister then insisted that the evidence was not conclusive and that, “Every individual is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.” He went further by showing Israeli unmanned video footage and played recorded messages of alleged “fifth columnists” to claim that Israel was responsible for the attack, even though no motive was even suggested why Israel might want to kill an enemy of Hezbollah.

Tomorrow: The El Jiyeh Oil Spill: Legal, Financial and Political Fairness




Howard Adelman

I do not normally dedicate blogs. After yesterday, it may become a habit. This one, however, is doubly dedicated, and to two people who are still alive. First, I dedicate this blog to my son, Daniel, who, as a very committed environmentalist, has taught me a great deal about the dangers of oil spills in particular, particularly with respect to the Canadian Gateway and Keystone pipeline proposals, and climate change in general. Secondly, I dedicate this blog to my colleague at York University, Professor Stuart Schoenfeld ( if you want the same information), whom I last saw with his wife, Joan, when we were visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House in Buffalo a few years back. Stuart is a member of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Centre for Research and Information, and regularly shares with me (electronically) stories of environmental threats as well as areas of cooperation in the Middle East, but particularly between Israel and Jordan and between Israel and the Palestinians. (Website “Environment and Climate in the Middle East” – I just want to reassure him that I am grateful and still read his missives. This blog, and the one tomorrow on the UN General Assembly decision on Friday to hold Israel responsible for the oil spill on the Lebanon Coast in 2006, are intended to serve as proof.

In a recent blog, I reported that Jordan will be joining the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the first of January. In that role, Jordan has circulated a resolution to be passed by the UNSC sidelining the USA in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and calling for an end to Israeli occupation, withdrawal of military troops from the West Bank by 2017, and the conclusion of a peace treaty within a year based on the 4 June 1967 borders, with equitable, limited and agreed land swaps, a just outcome for the Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine. Israel, including key leaders in the opposition, have rejected the proposal outright. Israel has promised to work for its defeat, though, at this time, it looks like the resolution may win the 9 votes needed to pass. The U.S. has promised to veto the resolution. Yet Jordan boasts that it is closer to the Obama administration, the government and even the Republican dominated Congress than Israel.

I promised to answer the question of why Jordan would make such a boast. Even though Jordan’s initiative strengthens the rightwing in Israel by confirming that Israel lacks a serious partner with which to negotiate a peace agreement, Dow Marmur in his blog speculated that the reason Jordan sponsored the resolution in the UNSC is because Jordan, as well as the PLO and Egypt, prefer the status quo to an independent Palestine in which there is a good possibility that Hamas could come to power. I will be offering my own answer to my question and Dow’s speculation, though in a roundabout way.

Amman, the capital of Jordan, is gorgeous, with buildings constructed out of the same Jerusalem stone as those in the city from which that stone gets its name. The people are exceptionally hospitable. Even in a very poor house in a Palestinian refugee camp, a mother with her children swarming around her will offer me tea and even a sweet if she has any. Yet with all that hospitality and generosity, Jordan is the archetype of a state and an administration walking a tightrope. I do not mean this merely as a metaphor. Jordan is a tightrope. Jordan is a string of urban areas running north to south along the eastern border of the West Bank and Israel – Irbun, Ajloun, Jerash, Zarqua, Salt, Amman, Madaba along the top half bordering the West Bank that I referred to in my blog yesterday, and Karak, Petra and Aqaba parallel to the border with Israel on the southern portion of that string of cities. Jordan is more akin to Canada in that sense, but on a north-south rather than an east-west urban axis.

Except, while Canada stretches enormously from sea to sea to sea – from the Atlantic Ocean in the east, the Arctic Ocean on the north and the Pacific Ocean in the west – Jordan is virtually landlocked. Further, Jordan has a scarcity of water. There is more fresh water that I can see from my cottage in Georgian Bay, Ontario, than Jordan, Palestine and Israel possess all together. However, Jordan, unfortunately, does not have the responsibility of Canada, or even its not so-secret “partner”, Israel, in preserving coastline, and managing the competition between the tourist/development industry and the environmental ministry as the latter resists the efforts of the former in its efforts to convert pristine coastline at the northern end of Palmahim beach into a large resort on the Mediterranean rather than a nature reserve. Jordan can only wish that it had such problems.

Nevertheless, Jordan has led the world in a number of areas, especially in developing norms to deal with migrating human populations. Further, in the specific problem of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it did set two precedents in the building blocks towards a two-state solution. First, in the face of rising Palestinian nationalism, in 1988, the King of Jordan, a country of a core 35,480 square kilometres, gave up any claims to the West Bank, the almost 6,000 square kilometres of territory that Jordan had conquered and then annexed following the 1948 war, an annexation that few other countries recognized, but which hardly any countries protested – in stark contrast to Israel’s “occupation”. Secondly, in 1966, Jordan engaged in a trade of territory with another country. In 1966, it alleviated its almost total landlocked character slightly by trading territory with Saudi Arabia on its east and extending its shoreline along the Gulf of Aqaba to 16 miles so that Aqaba could extend its port and recreational facilities.

If Canada is currently a relatively politically inconsequential actor on the world stage, Jordan is a very understated and under-rated one. Jordan’s achievements in receiving and integrating refugees is unparalleled. In the last three months, Jordan has received over 10,000 refugees from Iraq fleeing the advance of the Islamic State (IS) as well as sectarian violence in Baghdad and Basra. Recall that many of the half million Iraqi refugees that fled in 2003 remained in Jordan. Of the 3.2 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, over 620,000 registered refugees have found a safe haven in Jordan, though just last week Jordan had to suspend the free health care services offered to those refugees in state-run hospitals because of a financial crisis. In fact, taking into consideration the estimated almost 800,000 unregistered Syrian refugees in Jordan as well as the registered refugees, the total of Syrian refugees alone in Jordan is probably over 1.4 million. And that is in a country with a citizen population of only six million! Compare that with the Canadian government’s cut off of health services for refugees who did not number 2% of that total and posed very little pressure on the economics of health in Canada. And my country cannot even manage to take in the 1,300 Syrian refugees it promised, 0.1% of Jordan’s intake, in a country with a population of 35 million rather than just over six million.

Even before the arrival of the 1.4 million Syrian refugees from the current civil war in Syria and the influx of refugees from Iraq, over 50% of its population consists of Palestinians who fled what became Israel in its war with the Arab states in 1948, as well as those who fled when Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. It is estimated that, of Jordan’s over six million naturalized population, 3.25 million are Palestinians. Unlike any other Arab country, the Palestinian refugees have almost all been given citizenship. And this in a country with few natural resources. Even Israel’s natural water shortage seems minor compared to that of Jordan.
But water is a basis for a relatively unknown area of extensive cooperation between Israel and Jordan. I first learned of this partnership when, as a producer and host of the TV program Israel Today, we did a full hour show out of Eilat on the coordination between Israel and Jordan on the preservation of turtles in the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. The cooperation on water and the environment is far more extensive and deeper (no pun intended) than the relatively minor issue of turtles.

In Sunday’s edition of Haaretz, in an article on water shortage in the Middle East that, through yet another lens in its repeated theme of fostering Israel as the economic and technological saviour of the region and, therefore, the key agent for ensuring security, prosperity and peace, the newspaper reported both that the journal Climatic Change, published a study claiming that a drought was responsible for the collapse of the Assyrian Empire 2,700 years ago, and that current estimates that 634 million people living in the Middle East by 2050 (double the current population) will be faced with even greater water shortages and a decline in precipitation. Israel’s advanced technology, desalination and water recycling, that have helped Israel to become a kind of regional water superpower, could play a role in the salvation of the Middle East from the current and worsening water crisis. After all, although the average amount of precipitation in Israel is 1.2 billion cubic meters, Israelis consume 2.2 billion cubic meters of fresh water, a shortage made up by technology, water conservation, desalination and recycling. Israel recycles an amazing 87% of its water, whereas the second most successful political jurisdiction recycles only 25% and the third most successful only 10%.

Since 1994, Jordan has stored water from winter rains and the rise in levels of the Yarmouk River in Israel’s Sea of Galilee. Israel then pumps the water back to Jordan in the summer. Water preservation is crucial to Jordan’s survival. Water agreements, that were part of that 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, provided that Israel would provide Jordan with an additional 55 million cubic meters of water per year. For food security, Jordan needs to practice the highest degree of water preservation and re-cycling. In the Arab countries in the region, annual renewable water resources per capita are less than 850 cubic metres (the world average is approximately 6,000 cubic metres), with Jordan ranking as the world’s second water-poorest country with water per capita 88% below the international poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres per capita, a need aggravated enormously by the huge influx of refugees and the fact that, at present, the agricultural sector utilizes 85% of total water withdrawals in contrast to the maximum 40% recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

Israel and Jordan cooperate, not only on water conservation, but on water waste and theft. With some remote imagery by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) incorporating some Israeli technology, the Jordanian water authority discovered “stolen” water. An illegal 1.5 km pipe in Amman was siphoning off water into a storage pool on a farm guarded by fierce dogs behind Middle East University. The water was being re-sold to other farmers. In Amman, where inhabitants receive water twice every two weeks, that situation could be alleviated if 50% of the water that leaks or is stolen from the water distribution system could be halted.

Israel and Jordan not only share a vital resource, water, and a common interest is wise management of that resource, but they effectively share the same air and, in some sense, land. When five million litres of oil from the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline leaked in southern Israel near the Jordanian border into the Arava nature reserve after a vehicle, being used in the construction of the new international airport to be shared between Israel and Jordan, crashed into and broke a section of the 245 kilometre Ashkelon Eilat crude oil pipeline on Wednesday evening on the 4th of December, Highway 90 was closed as was the town of Be’er Ora, 20 km. north of Eilat. Ironically, on the same day, a convention opened in Tel Aviv to implement Israel’s national plan for developing oil alternatives for transportation, the Eilat-Eilot Green Energy Conference. That meeting was intended also to celebrate the implementation of a plan to have the whole southern area up to the Dead Sea fully solar-powered by 2016, a plan somewhat at odds with the licensing of a Canadian company, Transeuro Energy Corporation, to develop the Hamzah Oil Field in Al Azraq.

In response to the smell from the Israeli oil pipeline leak, and the memory of the explosion of a gas well in Eilat two weeks earlier, panicked residents of Aqaba swamped the emergency rooms of Prince Hashem Bin Abdullah Military Hospital and the Islamic Hospital by citizens suffering from shortness of breath and an increased heartbeat. The panic was not medically justified, but it was understandable given the noxious smell of rotten eggs given off as a result of the oil spill that increased the hydrogen sulfide in the air above the acceptable level of 30 parts per billion (ppb) to 80 ppb and instead of the normal 1-2 ppb in Aqaba. Jordanians also feared that the gas would explode and, initially, that the oil would contaminate the Wadi Rum nature reserve north of Aqaba where a reintroduction and release program by the Jordanian EAD environmental agency of the endangered Nubian Ibex – 30 males and 70 females – had just begun.

I have not heard whether the heavy rainfall that took place a few days later allowed oil to seep deep into the aquifers and into the Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea endangering the coasts and the coral reefs. I suspect not since the truism, “No news is good news,” applies, especially to the environment. The rapid response of the Israeli Environmental agency, and the proximity of Neot Hovav, formerly Ramat Hovav, 12 km south of Beersheba as Israel’s main hazardous waste disposal facility, probably enabled the spill to be controlled quickly.

In Jordan, fear of another kind sits immediately under the skin. Syria occupies its northern border. There is the constant dread that the Syrian War will spill over into Jordan, especially since a shortage of water in Syria from the 2006-2009 drought is viewed as a precipitating cause of that civil war. There is fear that Jordan will follow the path of its neighbours in the Arab Spring and, in the quest for greater democracy and more liberties, Jordanians might seek to overthrow King Abdullah II and turn Jordan into a failed state. There is the fear that now permeates the whole Middle East that radical Islamicists and jihadists, like Islamic State (IS), will cross the border from Iraq and Syria, infiltrate and create havoc in Jordan or, as in Syria, gain control of a crucial water source just as IS took control of the Tabqa Dam there in February 2013. There is the fear that radical Palestinians will seek to turn Jordan into part of the state of Palestine and a base from which to conquer the West Bank and even hope to defeat Israel, as the PLO once tried to do before Black September in 1970. There is even the fear that the strict form of Islam, Wahhabism, practiced in Saudi Arabia, will cross over its eastern border, particularly given past historical tensions between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. After all, the Saudis displaced the Hashemites from Hejaz after WWI and the Hashemites received Jordan as a consolation prize from the British Empire. Saudi Arabia has always been, to a small degree, wary of Jordan.

During the Persian Gulf War, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were at loggerheads. After all, Jordan, given its great financial dependency on trade with Iraq and, along with the PLO, obtaining oil from Iraq at a discount, was one of the very few polities to back Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. After Iraq’s defeat by George H. W. Bush, Jordan was in dismal straits as both Jordanians and other Palestinians fled back to Jordan when they were evicted by Kuwait following Iraq’s defeat. Trade with Iraq had fallen to zero. This turned into a double whammy, since the previously large flow of remittances also dried up. By 1996, Abdullah, when he was still a prince, made the required trip to Saudi Arabia in contrition. In 2014, Jordan is now fronting the Arab League, dominated by Saudi Arabia, in sponsoring its Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal.

Given its borders, one has to understand the insecurities of the Jordanians. The only border which feels relatively secure is its border with Israel. Since all of Jordan’s major rivers are in the west running into the Rift Valley of the Middle East, environmental cooperation with Israel is not only a good idea, it is imperative. Further, Israel has the same border insecurities as Jordan, but in spades – from the Hezbollah-Lebanon border on the north, an increasingly radicalized Islamic State deployed along the border with Syria on the north-east where there is a rising possibility of Israel intervening in the Syrian conflict following an alliance between the rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigades and IS, and the Hamas self-destructive madness in Gaza to the south; once again Hamas is trying to rearm and improve its missile capabilities while regaining its support from Iran only to have Israel respond to a one-off rocket attack from Gaza by bombing Gaza’s cement factory. Thus, cooperation between Israel and Jordan is not only imperative on the environment, so too is it on the political front.

Tom Friedman had described John Kerry’s peace initiative, while it was underway, as the last train to catch if peace was to be achieved, otherwise the train would run over both parties and turn into a wreck leaving the two-state solution dead on the tracks. In this past Friday’s NYT, Friedman saw one last hope – in the cooperation between Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists as a model for preventing the political atmosphere as well as the environmental one becoming more toxic. Friedman wrote about the water crisis in Gaza; Gaza’s one hydro generating plant was severely damaged in the recent Fifty Day Gaza War so desalination has been greatly reduced. Israel seems the only source to provide the electric power needed to run the desalinization plant if it is repaired. The Gaza aquifers are becoming so brackish that the water is becoming undrinkable, a situation not helped by the propensities of Gazans to dig their own private wells. Untreated waste travels up the coast to Ashkelon so that Israelis get a slight taste of living in a waste management dump. In providing answers to those shared problems, interdependence and trust, Friedman argued, are fostered.

I agree with Friedman’s argument. The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) meeting in Amman in November highlighted the issue of food insecurity faced by Arab states (they import over 50% of their food needs). With increased aridity, limited cultivable land, scarce water resources and population growth, as well as the compounding effects of climate change, the situation can only get worse.
Jordan is no slouch when it comes to the environment. Amman has been named by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) declared ready to respond to the social, economic and physical shocks and stresses anticipated in this century. As both urbanization and globalization both grow apace, as anyone visiting Mexico City would have to notice, we are confronted by climate change, natural and man-made disasters, super-typhoons and category 5 hurricanes, booming populations and waning potable water, droughts and floods. Gaza last month suffered record-breaking floods, especially around Sheikh Radwan storm water lagoon, that forced the evacuation of homes and the closure of 63 schools. With very little of the aid promised reaching those needing to re-build, the situation is exacerbated by the 100,000 Gazans still homeless after the end of the Gaza War earlier this year.

As for droughts, Jordan, Israel and Palestine all face a future of a steady increase in temperatures of 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius, more dry spells, as well as very much heavier rains and longer dry periods with a net drop in precipitation and an increase in evaporation, with the northern forests and freshwater ecosystems in the Jordan Rift Valley being the most vulnerable. The future until 2050 looks even worse as the region faces a rise in sea levels, extreme rainfall producing runoff and flooding, alternating with even more extreme droughts connected to rises in sea surface temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations. Add to this, increased economic inequalities and increasing irregular migration flows, a decaying and inadequate infrastructure and hyper-expensive health care, then solutions have to be found collectively and in large urban areas, not in sand swept marginal farms from which an astronaut cowboy will emerge to save the world as in Interstellar.

Thus, the main issue is not about where to draw the borders that divide, but how to unite to save the space and water both societies share, how to have the three states of Israel, Palestine and Jordan share one homeland. If they cannot share the environment, they will never be able to share Jerusalem.

To return to our original question, why did Jordan boast that it had better access than Israel, not only to the Obama administration and the American government, but to the Republican-dominated Congress? Is there any validity in Rabbi Marmur’s speculation that Jordan and the PLO have a vested interest in the status quo and prefer an administration of the right in Israel with whom they cannot make peace rather than a government of the left when the resistance to making a peace agreement will shift back to them?

I have a simple answer to the Jordan access issue which I will document in more detail, hopefully, later this week.

In the interim, I suggest the answer to both questions is “Yes!” For though Bibi Netanyahu may be a Republican in disguise, he sometimes pisses even American right-wingers off. In contrast, Jordan, even when it introduces a UN resolution that the USA promises to veto, coordinates and explains its policies in detail to the Americans. Jordan has close connections and has fully informed both the Obama administration and Congress that the proposed resolution in the UNSC is a feint. The Obama administration understands basketball. It understands that the path to a peace agreement will not be a straight line and that an agreement coming from the right might have more resilience than one coming from the left. After Kerry’s year-long immersion in the negotiations, it is clear that even if the centre-left in Israel comes to power in March, there will be no peace agreement. As there was not when Meridor and Barak made their generous offers to the Palestinians. But the Arab League must be kept on side.

Egypt, Palestine and Jordan

This blog is dedicated to Abdul Aziz Muhammad Hegazi who passed away today, but I have used the spelling “Abdul” that I believe he gave me at the time rather than the spelling as it appears in his obituary, Abd El Aziz Muhammad Hegazi.

Egypt, Palestinians and Jordan


Howard Adelman

I will focus on Jordan alone in my next blog, but I first want to provide some background, more on the shaping of my own views on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, than on an objective analysis of the current prospects for peace. Since this blog relies a great deal on my memory, which has never been very good, and has certainly deteriorated as I have aged, it may contain many mistakes in names and dates. I believe, however, that the overall impressions that I absorbed remained with me and influenced my outlook until today.

I have been in Jordan on three different occasions, first when I attended a Track II meeting in Amman, Jordan on Israeli-Palestinian peace in the early eighties, then again in the early nineties when I was a guest of Crown Prince Hassan to discuss, not the Middle East, but a proposed new convention on international migration that he was promoting as a complement to the refugee convention, and then in the late nineties when my friend
Mike Molloy was the Canadian ambassador to Jordan between 1996 and 2000.

Mike and I had met when he was responsible for implementing the new provisions of Canada’s 1976 Immigration Act, which came into force in 1978, and when he was responsible for coordinating the 1979-1980 Indochinese Refugee Movement. I had visited him later when he was stationed in Geneva representing Canada at the Law of Sea discussions, and then worked with him again when he was a key diplomat when Canada accepted the role of gaveling the Multilateral Working Group on Refugees during the Middle East Peace Process in the nineties and I, as the Director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University and a scholar who has written on Palestinian refugees, served as an advisor to that group. Mike also served as Co-Director of the Jerusalem Old City Initiative at the University of Windsor, but I was never involved in that. Most recently, this year, he, I and Naomi Alboim wrote a joint paper proposing a renewal of private sponsorship in Canada.

However, this blog is not based on my experience with Mike nor his views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, nor with the time when I was the guest of Crown Prince Hassan, brother of the late King Hussein, for that trip had only a peripheral relationship with the Middle East, let alone Israeli-Palestinian peace, though I did learn how the Canadian government and the Jordanian government could be very flexible when they wanted to be. Those two governments cooperated in facilitating my entry into Jordan when I had a number of entry stamps to Israel in my passport, something which prohibited my entry into Jordan at that time.

As a total aside, as a guest of the crown prince, I learned that “enough of too much” at Passover seders bore absolutely no comparison to the meal table of Middle Eastern royalty. I thought that the initial huge sumptuous table offerings, more than enough to feed all of the participants in the meeting in Amman ten times over, was the main meal. I soon learned, after I had stuffed myself, that those delicious morsels had only been the appetizers. Then I had to be very polite in dealing with the meal subsequently offered.

I gained a sketchy knowledge of the northern string of cities in Jordan and of Jordanian politics, an insight into Egyptian views of the Palestinians, and an in-depth immersion course into the politics of Egypt during the volatile 1970s when I went with Dr. Abdul Aziz Hegazi on a car excursion exploring the region north of Amman. We had been together at a Track II meeting in Jordan in the early eighties to discuss the potential of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. It was a Muslim holiday and we had a day off. Petra, we agreed, was too far away for a day excursion, especially when we had to return to Amman for a reception that evening. As a skeptic about the possibilities of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Abdul had evidently decided to give me a lesson in realpolitik to counter my peacenik propensities.

Abdul, as a highly regarded economist, had been made Treasury Minister of Egypt by President Gamel Abdel Nasser in 1968. He had been made Minster of Finance and Foreign Trade when the Ministry of Finance, Treasury and the Ministry of Foreign Trade were merged by Anwar Sadat in March 1973, a unification that was unpacked when Abdul was “promoted” to Prime Minister in September 1974 and Mohammed Abdul Fattah Ibrahim was made Minister of Finance. Abdul told me that he regarded that move at the time as a demotion because he had less real power than he ever had as Finance Minister, and that was very limited. Abdul was forced out of the Egyptian government in 1975. That day we traveled around Jordan together, Abdul gave me an education in Egyptian politics, particularly for the period he served until 1975 when his ouster was demanded by students rioting in demonstrations against him, demonstrations he said were organized by his cabinet colleague, the Minister of the Interior.

When he was appointed by Nasser as Finance Minister, Egypt was in shock from the economic tsunami resulting from the Six Day War. Abdul had the responsibility of holding the economy together in the face of enormous losses of both tourist revenues and tolls from the then closed Suez Canal. When Anwar Sadat came to power and then determined to prepare the Egyptian military for war, Abdul was faced with covering those costs, but only after he learned about them, for he had not been informed of the military build-up or the plans to go to war with Israel.

As background, as you will certainly recall, at least those of you old enough to do so, Anwar Sadat’s peace overtures to Israel to sign a peace agreement entailing recognition of Israel had been rebuffed in 1971, not only by Israel, but by both the USA and Egypt’s prime supporter at the time, the Soviet Union. Even though Egypt was then considered a client of the USSR, Sadat expelled the 15,000 Soviet advisers in July of 1972. As we now know, free of the Soviet overwhelming presence, Sadat created his three man war committee at the end of December 1972 consisting of only himself, his Foreign Minister, Mohammed Hassan el-Zayyat, and Mamdouh Muhammad Salem, his Interior Minister who had succeeded Sharawy Gomaa, who had until then controlled the then all-powerful Egyptian secret police and opposed any reconciliation with Israel. Salem succeeded Abdul as Prime Minister.

The role of the Interior Ministry and the national security police forty years ago should be familiar to readers today, first, because of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and then only last October, on the fortieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War commemorations, the real beginning of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s war against the Muslim Brotherhood when 53 demonstrators were killed and many more injured all over Egypt in protests on 6 October 2013 against the Egyptian army and the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in the military coup of 3 July 2013. Those security police had fired live rounds at the demonstrators, though, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, they had only used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. The Muslim Brotherhood had called on its supporters to commemorate that fortieth anniversary by staging demonstrations against the government.

Abdul Hegazi was never included in that three man war triumvirate formed by Sadat at the end of 1972 to conduct the planned war against Israel in October 1973. In fact, the day before the Yom Kippur War began, he had been in Great Britain at his wife’s bedside as his wife was about to be operated on in a London hospital. In spite of that, he was summoned back to Cairo on urgent business, but only learned of the attack across the Suez Canal from the media after it had been initiated. Abdul, however, as Finance Minister, had been tasked by Sadat with introducing the badly needed reforms, the so-called Intifah Economic Policy, introducing privatization and the cutting of subsidies while increasing the charges for welfare, health and transport services, changes necessary if Egypt, once again, was to be in a reasonable financial position to go to war against Israel.

Even though appointed Prime Minister, Abdul had not been part of the cease-fire agreement or the disengagement agreements of 1974 and 1975, though he supported all three. He was out of office when Sadat decided to go to Jerusalem and when the Egyptian Israeli Peace Treaty was negotiated that led to Egypt’s suspension from the Arab League from 1979 to 1989 and Sadat’s own assassination in 1981. Abdul when I met him had become a confectionary importer. Nevertheless, my most important lessons about Egypt, and, perhaps, even indirectly about Jordan and the Palestinians, were absorbed in that all day seminar of discussions, though those lessons may have been deformed because I only had Abdul’s perspective on the events of the seventies and, as I said above, have a very poor memory.

What were those lessons?

First, I learned about the role of the Egyptian army. The one day “seminar” provided a foundation for my understanding of the current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, and his role in the coup against former President Mohamed Morsi. The army is a very entrenched conservative organization. Even when Sadat became president, Abdul told me, and though Sadat had issued a decree to study the diseconomies and problems caused by the Aswan High Dam, and whether the building of the dam and the reclamation of vast new agricultural land in Egypt’s western desert, had offset any negative effects, Sadat’s fellow officers forced Sadat to suspend the decree to launch a study. All powerful military leaders in military coups, at least in Egypt, are not all powerful. Abdul, a lover of Shakespeare, told me that the bard had more to teach about politics and intrigue that most political texts.

Second, in Egypt, ever since the military coup in 1952, the Egyptian army, though it has a prime role as a highly disciplined institution in the defence of the state, has an even more pronounced role in the acculturation of men in Egyptian society. Within its hierarchical organization, one in eight males in Egyptian society were then trained in disciplined behaviour, in loyalty to the state and in the development of a new sense of belonging divorced from their rural families and clans. The Egyptian army, compared to Egyptian civil society, has three key strengths: a sense of esprit de corps, a well-working internal communication system, and some degree of self-sufficiency that no other institution in Egypt possesses.

After Sadat’s army reforms, which undercut the network of personal loyalties rooted in elites and personal connections, the army retained one exceptional virtue, promoting recruits based on merit rather than background or who they knew. The downside was that the myth of the army as the egalitarian guarantor, of promoting social mobility and the provision of opportunity, prevented the development of an equivalent rags to riches American Horatio Alger myth as an inspiration in Egyptian civil society. Further, the norms within the military had not become deeply enough institutionalized by the time Sadat was assassinated and the army once again became more inward-looking at the officer level under Hosni Mubarak. In my current interpretation, Morsi’s overthrow was not just because of the deep historical antipathy between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, but because Morsi wanted to obtain the traditional all-powerful role in Egypt as the truly titular leader. Abdul, like Morsi, had not served in the army; he too learned his lessons about the centralization of power by the Egyptian army in the seventies the hard way.

I learned a third lesson, the limited power of that all-powerful army. With respect to that self-sufficiency, the Egyptian army was the most powerful factor in the Egyptian economy. When Abdul was Finance Minister, he introduced reforms that utilized the army’s huge share of public resources to make the military responsible in the last six months of military service for a soldier acquiring a skill which he could use when rejoining civil society. On the other hand, because those approximately 600,000 troops at the time were overwhelmingly stationed at or near Al Nasr City between Cairo and the Suez Canal in preponderant military municipalities, the army was not well equipped nor trained to keep internal order within Egypt. Hence the need for the Central Security Forces. He who controlled those forces, not the army, he told me, controlled Egypt, though the head of those forces always came from the army.

Fourth, when Abdul became Finance Minister, the army consumed about 25% of public state revenues. His economic reforms were intended to reduce that proportion and free the economy both from the overwhelming weight of the army as well as centralized Soviet-style planning and control. Instead, because of preparations and expenditures for the war against Israel, expenditures over which he had absolutely no control, that percentage increased to as much as 70% at one point, creating the huge financial crisis which was eventually used to get rid of him.

Fifth, the military was not just an army but a way of life that instilled civic identity, loyalty, a sense of responsibility, a familiarity with new technology and skills to make a success in civil society. It was thus the only real competitor on the national level to the Islamic religion which, however, lacked the modernizing abilities of the army. The army’s first priority had always been to defend and enhance that role.
Sixth, I learned how the army always made civilians the carriers of responsibility for failure. Sadat, an army man through and through, always reverted to army control in the face of a crisis, but took credit for successes even when initiated by civilians. Even though Sadat, after he came to power, had tried to civilianize his cabinet even more than Nasser had after the debacle of the Six Day War, and even subsequently to reintroduce political parties, whenever a great initiative was taken, civilian members of the cabinet were excluded. Whenever a crisis occurred, civilian member in the cabinet were put on a sacrificial pyre. After Abdul left office as Prime Minister, on the groundwork he had laid, Egypt joined with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States to develop a weapons manufacturing self-sufficiency using both Gulf wealth – a billion dollars a year – and Egyptian manpower. However, that move had the unintended effect of further entrenching the army as the economic engine of the state, even after the Gulf States threw Egypt out of the Arab League following Sadat’s peace with Israel. The Gulf States canceled the military cooperation arrangements.

Only in the late 1970s did the reforms Abdul set in place reduce the enormous parasitical role of the army on Egyptian civil society, at least until Sadat was assassinated, after which Mubarak worked to restore the army’s pre-eminent place in the economic life of Egyptians through the appointment of Abu Ghazala as the dominant Defence Minister. In spite of the army’s voracious appetite for the profits of civil society – Abu Ghazala had sold off the army’s ownership of public lands to enhance the army’s role in the economy – and the personal kleptocratic interests of army officers, by then it was too late to close the barn doors. A foundation for a thriving civil society had been created of which Abdul felt very proud.

Seventh, the army’s power was limited in two other ways, by the power of the street and the power of the paramilitary Central Security Forces. Because of the tensions between the army’s cut of the economy and the need for financial reforms, Sadat, on Abdul’s recommendation, had removed food subsidies. They were then reinstated in 1974 in the face of popular protests. Further, when people on the street demonstrated, the army did not intervene because it was not in a position to do so. The Central Security Forces (CSF) were. That is why it is the control and use of that force, rather than the army itself, that is so critical to understanding Egypt. The CSF is also used to control ordinary soldiers if they dare challenge their senior officers, even though the army is upheld as the ultimate safeguard for order and good government in the nation and controls the economy. Unless that dynamic between the army as an economic behemoth as well as a cultural icon, and the CSF as an internal security apparatus, is understood, one cannot understand Egypt or the contradiction between a constitution which, on the books, guarantees civilian control of the political life of Egypt, and the reality of the course of Egyptian history since WWII and the overthrow of King Farouk by the free officers. All change in Egypt comes from above. It just depends on who the “Above” is which shifts from time to time. Or so I was instructed.

Eighth, I learned about Abdul’s perspective on the Palestinians. Sadat had been at war with the Palestinians as well as the army officers who opposed him and his policies. When Arafat became leader, first of Fatah and then of the PLO, Sadat saw him merely as another Egyptian upstart searching for a political base of his own over which he could become a Pharaoh. After all, Arafat was born in Cairo and only went to Palestine to live with his mother’s brother from the age of four to eight after his mother died. Arafat’s father, Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini, was an Egyptian who had lived in Gaza when he met Arafat’s mother. Arafat went to live with his father again at the age of eight, but he evidently hated his step-mother and his father even more.
Arafat decided very early, Abdul told me, to make another al-Husseini his true spiritual father, an ardent anti-Zionist, Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem who had stridently opposed the settlement of Jews in Palestine from the twenties to the forties. Arafat became active in the Palestinian cause as an arms smuggler when he was seventeen, but an Egyptian army officer confiscated his weapons at one point in 1948. The enmity between himself and Egypt, especially the Egyptian army, never abated when he left Egypt for Eastern Europe to get a higher education and an engineering degree.

Arafat co-founded Fatah and then became chair of the PLO in 1964 with the aim of eliminating Israel. Egypt did not allow him to use Egyptian soil to raid Israel so he established his political base in Syria and Jordan and achieved notoriety when, in March 1968, his guerilla force had a frontal confrontation with Israeli army units and managed to kill as many as thirty Israeli soldiers even though it was at the cost of 150 Palestinian guerilla lives. Abdul told me that it was important to understand Arafat’s roots and the path of his career to comprehend the pan-Arab sense of his mission, of which Palestinian nationalism was only a part, and the PLO covenant seeking total liberation of Palestine that only allowed Jews born in or descended from Jews living in Palestine before 1896 to remain in a free Palestine. That justified the series of terrorist attacks by Palestinians against civilians. The return of all refugees to Israel and the creation of a Palestinian secular and democratic state became the twin mantra of the PLO but, according to Abdul, Arafat would never make a deal if that agreement was not just an interim step in the quest to eliminate Israel. For me, that is the only explanation in understanding why Arafat rejected Barak’s most generous offer at Taba for peace. Hence, although I disagree with the right in Israel and their intention to deny Palestinians a state of their own, their deep suspicions of Palestinian leadership intentions may be warranted.

After the battle with the Israeli army in 1968 and the increasing use of Jordan as a base for raids against Israel, when a state within a state was being created in Jordan, King Hussein launched Black September on the sixth of that month in 1970, expelling the militant Palestinians to Lebanon. That action was backed up by both Israel and Egypt but not Syria. The Palestinians tried to repeat their successes and eventually drew Israel into the 1982 Lebanon invasion.

Success followed success for the PLO to the horror of Egypt at that time. Nevertheless, in 1973, Arab states, including both Jordan and Egypt, recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. In 1974, Arafat was the first non-state representative to address the United nations General Assembly, and he did so with a gun in his waistband. In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed the infamous Zionism is Racism resolution with the support of Eastern bloc, Islamic and non-aligned states, a resolution that was not rescinded until 1991. Egypt and Jordan supported the PLO rhetorically as both countries tried to control that polity lest the threat become focused on them instead of Israel. At the same time, Egypt was determined to make peace with Israel after the Yom Kippur War and regain its lost territories. But it adamantly refused to re-establish its administration over the Gaza Strip.

So my final lesson from Abdul was that you should not confuse public rhetoric and words in the Arab world with beliefs. The two may be totally at odds unlike the West, which he deeply admired, where the governing rule was that you should say what you mean and mean what you say, even when Western politicians often fail to follow that norm. In the world of business and economics, to which he really belonged, a man’s word was a pledge, entirely to be trusted. In the world of power, however, a man’s word was just a gesture and often a disguise to hide true intentions.

As a current example of such disinformation, in early December of this year, during the Presidential Palace trial in which Morsi and 14 other prominent Islamist leaders are accused of inciting the murder of protesters during clashes outside the Itihadeya Palace in December 2012, evidently, according to the pro-Morsi satellite channel, Mekamelin, Morsi is being held in a maximum security navy prison in Abu Qir and not in a civilian detention facility, contrary to both the law and the information given out by the army about Morsi’s detention.

Abdul Hegazi was a wise and wonderful man. He was a memorable teacher and any false lessons learned are a result of my poor memory, not his analysis.


Howard Adelman

This morning, I was going to continue my survey of Middle East countries, primarily in relationship to Israel, and in continuation of my blogs on Iran, Egypt and Turkey, by writing on Jordan. However, yesterday I received a copy of a resolution that Jordan, as a newly-elected rotating members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), was circulating to existing and newly-elected members of that Council that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had approved on Wednesday. The proposed resolution has been published in this morning’s Haaretz and is appended hereto.

Since October, the PA had been promising to ask the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution requiring Israel’s retreat to the pre-1967 line, but evidently thought there was a better chance of obtaining the required 9 of 15 votes of Council members needed to pass if the resolution was brought to a vote after the new Security Council takes office on 1 January 2015 and when five of the existing members are replaced by five new members. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had been circulating drafts since November. On 29 November 2014, a pan-Arab draft on a Palestinian state had been sent to the Security Council as the United Kingdom, France and, a non-member, Germany, were evidently preparing their own versions. All this was taking place against the background of a number of European states, beginning with Sweden, recognizing Palestine. In October, the British parliament, with an overwhelming majority, passed a non-binding motion recognizing Palestine as a state.

On the 17th of December, almost as soon as the blue-lined (final version) draft resolution had been made available to the Security Council, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, announced that the US would veto the resolution. The quick promise of a veto was not expected. In fact, it had been uncertain whether the administration would even veto at all. The swift announcement is an indicator that the Obama administration regards the current resolution as an outlier. The USA, especially the Obama administration with its multilateralist approach to international issues, has been wary of using its veto power in the UNSC. On 1 February 2011, the US cast its first veto in the UNSC to block a draft Palestinian resolution declaring Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as both illegal and an obstacle to peace. This was followed by the year-long Kerry initiative that finally collapsed this past spring.

The government of Israel had unequivocally expressed its opposition to the resolution. But so did key leaders of the opposition. On Wednesday, Tzipi Livni urged John Kerry to announce the US intention to veto the resolution. Israel’s announcement of its opposition to the resolution and its intention to try to prevent it from passing may seem redundant given the threat of a US veto, but a vetoed resolution has moral force that a defeated resolution lacks. It is this difference between passing the resolution that is vetoed and failing to even pass the resolution that explains why the resolution is being submitted at this time. The Palestinians think they have the votes in the new year to pass the resolution.

However, Palestinian UN representative Riyad Mansour, on behalf of the PA, announced that it is not seeking a speedy vote, and, further, that it is willing to negotiate the terms of the resolution. In other words, this is an effort to restart peace negotiations under other auspices even if the veto hangs over the whole process. The veteran Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, said that the PA wanted a statement of clear principles of peace.

What did he say they were?
1. A Palestinian state within the 1967 borders;
2. Jerusalem as its capital;
3. The release of all prisoners;
4. A declaration that all settlements are illegal.

As we shall see, they are not quite congruent with the published resolution, especially the third principle above. Nevertheless, given this statement of principles, and given that it took the USA less than 24 hours to promise a veto, why did Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Nasser Joudah, accompany the release of the resolution to other member of the UN Security Council with the boast that the Hashemite Kingdom, because of the prestige of the King, was more influential than the State of Israel, not only with the US administration and the State Department, but the US Congress as well?

Before answering the latter question, let’s turn to the version of the resolution that has been published. (See the addendum to this blog.) After the fourteen clauses in the preamble that reiterate past UN resolutions and principles on the matter at hand, and after offering a polite nod to American previous efforts, there are twelve principles set forth in the resolution. The thirteenth clause merely says that the Security Council remains open for discussion. In other words, under the cover first of PA openness to further negotiations, followed, presumably, by UNSC openness to negotiations, the general principles of a peace agreement are intended to be etched in stone, or, at least, in history, as the basic terms for a peace agreement.
Clause 1 reiterates the traditional UN position on a two-state solution calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and a final peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians within mutually and internationally recognized borders. It requires that the second sovereign state come into being within one, not two, years, and that the Israeli occupation come to an end, but does not specify that the occupation end at the same time as the State of Palestine comes into being. The clause calls for the Palestinian state to be contiguous (the West Bank and Gaza?) and viable. Unlike earlier informal versions circulated that had not been blue-lined, this formal version did not call for the “founding” of two states as if Israel did not exist and would only come into being coterminous with the recognition of a Palestinian state.
Clause 2 sets forth the basic terms of the peace agreement to be reached by further negotiations: A. The borders will be based on the 4th of June 1967 borders, that is, the borders prior to the Six Day War fought between the 5th and 10th of June 1967 and not the internationally recognized borders of the 1923 Sykes-Picot line agreement, the proposed 1947 partition lines or the 1949 Armistice lines. Between 1949 and 4 June 1967, the borders on the ground became the de facto borders. Further, the new borders envision land swaps, presumably as negotiated in the Oslo process, but specifies that those land swaps are to be both limited and equivalent.

Basing the negotiations on the 4 June 1967 borders would mean that the old city of Jerusalem goes to Palestine, but Jerusalem is dealt with separately in the resolution. Palestine could insist on moving its border back onto the north-east quadrant of Lake Kinneret (Lake Tiberias), contrary to the 1923 historical border, giving Palestine equal rights to the waters of the lake. The Jordan River between Lake Kinneret and Lake Hula becomes the basis for a boundary. At that time, the main issues were riparian rights to the river and lake rather than control of the underground aquifers. (For a very helpful discussion of the 4 June 1967 borders see Frederic C. Hof, “The Line of June 4, 1967” ( By implication, the Golan, annexed by Israel, goes back to Syria as well, presumably, including the Jewish settlement of Mishmar Ha-Yarden captured by Syria in the 1948 war.

B. There is a provision for third party peacekeeping and for ensuring that there is no terrorism, but Israel is given a deadline for ending its occupation in phases by the end of 1917.

C. In a phrasing adopted from the peace proposal of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, there will be a just and agreed solution for the Palestinian refugees based on resolution 194(III) without specifying a “right of return”; this implies compensation rather than return as the main route for resolving the Palestinian refugee issue.

D. Jerusalem is to be a common and shared capital for both countries and freedom of worship will be secured, a solution that goes beyond recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with the old city left as a question mark, for a shared capital harks back to the UN resolution that proposed that Jerusalem remain united but internationalized or bi-lateralized in the current resolution. Further, Israel cannot even agree on “freedom of worship” among women, and men and among the various competing divisions within Judaism, so how can “freedom of worship” be guaranteed on the Temple Mount (Heb., Har Habayit; Arabic, Haram esh-Sharif)?

E. The resolution specifically points to water among other outstanding issues that will have to be settled.
Clauses 3 and 4 are both pro forma: 3) The Council agrees that the permanent agreement must immediately lead to an end of occupation and mutual recognition; 4) A timetable establishing the security arrangements through negotiation must be formed.

However, clause 5 is significant in welcoming Palestine as a full UN member. Up until recently, this was expected to be the heart of the resolution brought before the UNSC, a quest for permanent membership and, hence, recognition of Palestine as a state. The PA instead has decided to go for broke and place the UN membership issue within the framework of its position on a peace agreement. Since the US is promising a veto (which the PA had to know when they endorsed the resolution on Wednesday), it means that the Palestinians are going for a moral win beyond UN membership. The PA wants a formal resolution passed by at least 9 of 15 members of the UNSC supporting its position on a peace agreement and, thereby, implicitly legitimizing a position that both the US and Israel would not support. It prefers that moral victory more than full membership in the UN, though passage of this resolution will enhance its possibility of attaining that membership, especially if the timeframe is the end of 1917.

Half of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are re-elected each year. Though non-permanent or rotating members have no veto right, their combined votes can be very effective. Possibly 10 of the 15 members after 1 January 2015, when the vote is expected to take place, can be expected to support the resolution – China and Russia as permanent members and up to 8 of the 10 rotating members: Angola, Chad, Chile (likely), Jordan, Malaysia, Nigeria (likely), Spain (even though it beat out Turkey which would have certainly supported the resolution but, as pointed out in yesterday’s blog, has become more and more diplomatically isolated) and Venezuela. Only Japan and Lithuania of the rotating membership are in the “no” camp.

Angola takes its positions based on international law and the fundamental principle of self-determination. Malaysia, which already had wide sympathy because of the Malaysian МН17 Boeing crash, has positioned itself as the leading Muslim state opposed to Islamic State on ideological grounds. It convened a conference of leading experts on Muslim law which defined a Muslim state as one which guaranteed economic, political and social justice while the rights to life, freedom of religion, family, property, dignity and intellect are upheld. Recall further that most of the new members campaigned for their positions, not on simply a management of conflict agenda, but a conflict prevention agenda. On this plank, Spain was a leading proponent and backs up that position by providing peacekeeping troops. Venezuela, which campaigned on a platform of UN reform (President Nicolás Maduro called the charter of the UN high poetry), received unanimous support from Latin America and 182 out of 193 votes for its membership in spite of opposition by the United States. That means the resolution can be expected to get 9 and possibly even 10 votes in the UNSC before it is vetoed by the US.
The rest of the resolutions are expressions of motherhood:

6) The Council urges both sides to engage seriously and act together to guarantee peace and refrain from any act of incitement. Therefore, the council calls on all international states and organizations to support the negotiations with confidence-building measures.

7) The Council calls on all sides to stand behind their commitments to the International humanitarian law.

8) The Council encourages regional efforts to obtain peace in the Middle East, citing the Arab Peace Initiative as a reference.

9) The Council called for a new negotiating framework with the support of major stakeholders to help the parties reach an agreement in a timely way, beginning with holding a new international conference on the issue. The Council proposes assembling an international peace committee to launch negotiations. This has diplomatic significance for it removes the US from the leadership in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and search for peace and shifts it to the UN. Further, other countries are called upon to through the provision of political support as well as tangible support for post-conflict and peace-building arrangements.

10. Both sides are called on by the Council to refrain from taking one-sided, illegal steps, such as construction in settlements. (Note the indirect method of labeling the settlements as illegal.)

11. The Council urges both sides to immediately begin improving the unstable situation in the Gaza Strip and provide humanitarian aid through the different UN agencies.

12. The Council calls on the UN General Secretary to file a report stating the application of the decision within three months.

Note that there are no clauses calling for the release of prisoners.
Both the motives and strategy of the PA are clear. So is the reason for the US promising to veto the resolution as currently worded. The ground has been set for another negotiating route far more favourable to the Palestinians. But why did Jordan boast that its link with the US administration, with Congress and with the State Department is stronger than that of Israel? In the light of the swift promise of a veto, this seems a gross overreach.

I will try to answer this question in my next blog on Jordan.

Draft Resolution (17 December 2014)

Reaffirming its previous resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967); 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), 1544 (2004), 1850 (2008), 1860 (2009) and the Madrid Principles,

Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,

Reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,

Recalling General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947,

Reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and recalling its resolutions 446 (1979), 452 (1979) and 465 (1980), determining, inter alia, that the policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,

Affirming the imperative of resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees on the basis of international law and relevant resolutions, including resolution 194 (III), as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative,

Underlining that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, and calling for a sustainable solution to the situation in the Gaza Strip, including the sustained and regular opening of its border crossings for normal flow of persons and goods, in accordance with international humanitarian law,

Welcoming the important progress in Palestinian state-building efforts recognised by the World Bank and the IMF in 2012 and reiterating its call to all States and international organizations to contribute to the Palestinian institution building programme in preparation for independence,

Reaffirming that a just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved by peaceful means, based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and the two-State solution, building on previous agreements and obligations and stressing that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement that ends the occupation that began in 1967, resolves all permanent status issues as previously defined by the parties, and fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties,

Condemning all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism, and reminding all States of their obligations under resolution 1373 (2001),

Recalling the obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and ensure their protection in situations of armed conflict,

Reaffirming the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders,

Noting with appreciation the efforts of the United States in 2013/14 to facilitate and advance negotiations between the parties aimed at achieving a final peace settlement,

Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a long-term solution to the conflict,

1. Affirms the urgent need to attain, no later than 12 months after the adoption of this resolution, a just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967 and fulfills the vision of two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognized borders;

2. Decides that the negotiated solution will be based on the following parameters:
– borders based on 4 June 1967 lines with mutually agreed limited, equivalent land swaps;
– security arrangements, including through a third-party presence, that guarantee and respect the sovereignty of a State of Palestine, including through a full and phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces which will end the occupation that began in 1967 over an agreed transition period in a reasonable timeframe, not to exceed the end of 2017, and that ensure the security of both Israel and Palestine through effective border security and by preventing the resurgence of terrorism and effectively addressing security threats, including emerging and vital threats in the region.
– A just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Arab Peace initiative, international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolution 194 (III);
– Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship;
– an agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, including water;

3. Recognizes that the final status agreement shall put an end to the occupation and an end to all claims and lead to immediate mutual recognition;

4. Affirms that the definition of a plan and schedule for implementing the security arrangements shall be placed at the center of the negotiations within the framework established by this resolution;

5. Looks forward to welcoming Palestine as a full Member State of the United Nations within the timeframe defined in the present resolution;

6. Urges both parties to engage seriously in the work of building trust and to act together in the pursuit of peace by negotiating in good faith and refraining from all acts of incitement and provocative acts or statements, and also calls upon all States and international organizations to support the parties in confidence-building measures and to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations;

7. Calls upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949;

8. Encourages concurrent efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region, which would unlock the full potential of neighborly relations in the Middle East and reaffirms in this regard the importance of the full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative;

9. Calls for a renewed negotiation framework that ensures the close involvement, alongside the parties, of major stakeholders to help the parties reach an agreement within the established timeframe and implement all aspects of the final status, including through the provision of political support as well as tangible support for post-conflict and peace-building arrangements, and welcomes the proposition to hold an international conference that would launch the negotiations;

10. Calls upon both parties to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, including settlement activities, that could undermine the viability of a two-State solution on the basis of the parameters defined in this resolution;

11. Calls for immediate efforts to redress the unsustainable situation in the Gaza Strip, including through the provision of expanded humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and other United Nations agencies and through serious efforts to address the underlying issues of the crisis, including consolidation of the ceasefire between the parties;

12. Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution every three months;

13. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

Turkey Foreign Policy

Turkey: Foreign Policy


Howard Adelman

It is always remarkable when a domestic policy issue becomes a matter of foreign policy. Yesterday morning, I discussed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasing repression of the media and, in particular, the arrest of Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of Turkey’s largest circulation newspaper, Zaman, and Hidayet Karaca, director of the news channel, STV. When combined with the corruption scandals, the purge of the Gulenists, the total sidestepping off the military on an issue that directly affects its self-image as the embodiment of the Turkish people and its ability to perform, the increasingly dire economic, health and educational reports on the government’s performance, and Erdoğan’s determined efforts to convert the Turkish parliamentary polity into a highly centralized presidential system, but one without checks and balances, then the signs of weakness of the Erdoğan government are everywhere on which foreign governments can pounce. However, rarely do governments use press freedom and rights to free speech as the instruments to undermine an ally of which it is increasingly critical.

This is particularly interesting because Turkey has a long enough history of vibrant press freedom that has revealed the media repression to be very porous. Erdoğan‘s Kurd political satrap, his former economic minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, has a bad habit, just as Erdoğan has, of putting his foot in his mouth and probably ill-gotten gains in his pocket. In the spring, he self-righteously defended his son, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, who had just been arrested and charged with involvement in the 2003 corruption scandal. What was the defense? A blatantly anti-Semitic response! “I would understand if a Jew, an atheist, a Zoroastrian would do all these things to us. Shame on them if these things are done by those who claim to be Muslim. How can a Muslim do this?”

After the Gulenist purge from the police and the judiciary by Erdoğan, a Turkish court very recently dropped the corruption charges against 53 people, including Çağlayan’s son, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, and the sons of two other cabinet ministers. But all has not be sanguine. Just over a week ago, Hurriyet, a mass-circulation paper normally in Erdogan’s back pocket, played up the corruption scandal on its front page by following up on the parliamentary query by Corruption Commission Chairman, Hakki Koylu, an AKP loyalist, of the suspicious transfer of 2.5 million Turkish lira ($1.06 million) to Çağlayan’s personal bank account.

Erdogan may still appear invulnerable as the elected choice of the people, except that he won the presidential elections, in spite of alleged vote rigging, by a very slim margin. As the spiritual core of the AKP and the leader that carried his cohort to both political power and personal wealth, he is now incapable of separating himself from those colleagues. Countries that have grown weary of Erdogan’s unreliability are now taking advantage of that weakness and, in particular, his efforts to suppress the media, to undermine him further – in spite of commentators, like Semih Idiz, who still see the efforts at consolidation of power while sweeping the corruption scandal under the rug to be unstoppable. However, the combination of the suppression of the media through the arrests of journalists and heavy fines levied against media outlets by the government and the news of the widespread corruption, may, as Nobel prize-winning writer, Orhan Pamuk commented, but with my cliché, offer the two straws that broke the camel’s back.

Given America’s strategic interest in ensuring that Turkey remains a capable and secure partner, particularly in the fight against Islamic State, it now seems that those strategic interests can be married to the issue of a free press. Jen Psaki, Secretary of State John Kerry’s spokesperson on foreign affairs, while admitting that John Kerry has not personally taken up the issue, and while insisting that Turkey remains a democracy and an important ally and NATO power, clearly suggested that the American embassy in Ankara has raised the issue of press freedom in Turkey. She replied to press queries about the media repression in Turkey by saying that, “the United States supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest. We look to Turkey to uphold these fundamental freedoms. We remain concerned about due process, broadly speaking, and effective access to justice in Turkey…we are concerned by the detention of journalists and media representatives following police raids on the offices of media which have been critical of the government. Media freedom, due process, and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. Freedom of the media includes the freedom to criticize the government. Voicing opposition does not equal conspiracy or treason. As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s core values and democratic foundations.”

Criticism for the US of Turkey has become more blatant. The EU has been even more critical than the US. The EU has openly stated that the raids were incompatible with media freedoms and, further, suggested they could affect Turkey’s longstanding bid to join the bloc. Erdoğan has responded by dismissing such threats, but most ordinary Turks take them seriously.

However, whatever the debates over media suppression, the current central issue in foreign policy for Turkey is – not Israel and Gaza or even Cyprus – but the rise and spread of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. On the one hand, Turkey has harboured Islamic State militants and permitted Islamicists to cross the border into Syria to fight the Bashar al-Assad regime. The main opposition military supply line runs from Turkey to the northern city of Aleppo, which is why the recent Syrian army recapture of Aleppo was so important. At the same time, true to his faith in the teachings of his hero, the Turkish anti-Semitic philosopher, Nurettin Topcu (1909-1975) (see his essays “Money and the Jew”, mankind’s two enemies, and “Human Beings and Jews” where Jews are depicted as the bloody and sinful ordeal for humanity), Erdoğan himself envisions Turkey as the future Islamic caliphate. So he is tempted as well as pressured to join the US-led coalition against Islamic State. However, he has not.


In the meanwhile, AKP media mouthpieces deride that US pressure as a conspiracy to trap Turkey into fighting battles for the West. Erdoğan denounced Interpol when, at the request of Egypt, it issued an arrest warrant for Youssef al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi is an Egyptian-Qatari national as well as an intellectual eminence grise of the Muslim Brotherhood and president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, who is suspected of having found a safe haven in Turkey. Is Erdoğan protecting Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has supported suicide bombings in Israel and endorsed the killing of Jewish fetuses? For Qaradawi, Muslims can only speak to Jews through the sword and the rifle.

On 21 November, Dursun Ali Sahin, an Erdoğan appointed governor of Edirne in Eastern Thrace, a city that once had 13,000 Jews and now has only 2 as a result of systematic ethnic cleansing over the years, decided to convert the Jewish synagogue there into a museum, but one in which there would be no displays. After an outcry, Ali Sahin apologized and said he had been misinterpreted. However, it is widely believed that Erdoğan’s anti-Israeli rhetoric is a distraction for his deeper anti-Semitic convictions. So much for Hamas’ cousin, the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, occupying the peaceful road to Islamic unity.

Turkey and Egypt have become each other’s worst enemies. They have cut off diplomatic relations with one another and Egyptian men between the ages of 18 and 40 are banned by their government from traveling to Turkey without the written approval of Egyptian State Security. This has also exacerbated the tension between Turkey and the West, a tension enhanced to the breaking point when the US State Department issues its annual reports on the mistreatment and torture of political prisoners in Turkey at the same time as both countries obfuscate the Turkish-American illegal rendition, detention and torture of Islamist terror suspects. Turkey (the only NATO member to do so) vociferously denounced American actions in the wake of the recent Senate report on the illegal activities and torture by calling on those who violated laws and democratic norms to be held to account. Ankara tried to have it both ways, staking out its greater moral purity while disguising its own sins and never acknowledging that Turkey participated in the rendition of terrorists as cited in the Senate Report. Nor has Erdoğan admitted that he made the Incirlik air base available to the Americans for transfer of those prisoners while continuing to stress his deep-seated anti-western outlook. It is no wonder that relations between Erdoğan and his European and American allies have become so strained.

If Turkish-American relations are strained, to say the least, Turkey’s over fifty-year-old pursuit of membership in the EU, if it has not almost been completely abandoned, is in the doldrums and, thus, the EU threats ring more hollow as Erdoğan continues to pose that he is still interested, though little has been done to whittle down the 14 outstanding conditions for accession from the original 35. But his actions belie his words as Turkey demonstrates an increasing unwillingness to comply with the EU’s entry restrictions.

Cyprus remains a sore point, not only between Greece and Turkey, but between the EU and Turkey. The EU has never stopped objecting to Turkey’s occupation of the northern half of the island. As Greek Cyprus pursues a joint hydrocarbon exploration with Israel and Egypt as partners, Turkey can only fume and foam and threaten to disrupt the exploration by deploying the Turkish navy. Erdoğan’s loose tongue does not help. A week before the EU ministers and top brass visited Ankara for talks, he fired a fuselage: European Christian states do not like Muslims but they love the “oil, gold, diamonds and the cheap labour force of the Islamic world”. He went even further: Europeans were accused of enjoying watching Muslim children die.

So why do Western leaders troop religiously to Ankara, not only European leaders (recently High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, Frederica Mogherini, and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain), but US Vice-President Joe Biden in November and the Pope in December. The unequivocal answer – realpolitik. The West will do whatever it can to keep the Islamists from allying with the far more radical Islamicists. The EU and the USA are also wary of the growing friendship and links between fellow wannabe strongmen who are remarkably similar in a number of respects – Putin and Erdoğan – as they come closer to one another in sharing their increasing international isolation. This explains the delicate tightrope walk by both the USA and the EU as they reinforce the message that Turkey is an important ally and, at the same time, raise the decibel level of the criticism of the Erdoğan government.

Erdoğan’s decision to allow Turkey to be used for pipelines as a transit route for natural gas between the Middle East and the West both has undermined the Russian-Tukey relationship while, at the same time, it has brought Putin to Ankara to woo Erdoğan with his charms, though unlikely to be completely successful given Russia’s support for Turkey’s enemy, Assad’s Syria. Putin, however, came armed. On his visit at the beginning of December, Putin announced that the US$22 billion South Stream project running through Bulgaria from Russia would be scrapped. However, that proposal turned into an unloaded gun when, in the face of Western sanctions against Russia, Bulgaria declined to host the pipeline.

Putin had to become more fawning than ever on his December 1st visit to Turkey and proposed a huge 63 billion cubic metre capacity pipeline from Russia through Turkey in addition to the 16 billion cubic capacity pipeline already under construction to supply both Turkey and Europe with Russian natural gas. This would provide the kleptocrats in Turkey with a large amount of loose change. These projects are over and above the 18 billion cubic metre Tanap project from Azerbaijan through Turkey to Europe that Iran is building. Turkmenistan will also be able to access that pipeline for oil transmission. As a bonus for Turkish cooperation, Russia promised to reduce the costs of gas to Turkey by 6% on 1 January 2015.

In spite of realpolitik, it is amazing that Turkey has not been evicted from NATO for ignoring the boycott of Russia over the issue of Ukraine.

Here is where money trumps ideology. Israel too may also be permitted to build a pipeline from its enormous gas fields on the Mediterranean coast to Turkey. Although economic cooperation between Israel and Turkey may be forging ahead, political relations continue to worsen. Israel has accused Turkey of training Hamas operatives while Turkey insists it is only hosting Hamas Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and its leader, Saleh al-Aruri who was deported from the West Bank by Israel in 2012 after his 18-year prison sentence had been served. Even the Palestinian Authority accuses Aruri, with support from Ankara, of planning multiple attacks against Israeli targets.

The contradiction between economic interests and ideological convictions, between the realities of the marke place and Erdoğan’s populist domestic policies, such as the distribution of free coal to the needy that also serves as a cover for stealing money from the public (estimated at 10 billion Turkish lira by the end of 2013 when rake-offs from the coal deals, transportation and distribution are all taken into account) as Turkey closes dangerous and inefficient coal mines forcing the government to buy coal on the spot market, both of low quality and high cost, to meet its “obligations” as that coal must be distributed for electoral benefit in the run-up to the June elections. In addition to a press freedom crisis and a corruption crisis, Turkey is coming closer and closer to a financial crisis. In the process, the EU and the USA are putting their joint weight on the opposite side of the teeter-totter than Erdoğan.

Turkey’s obsession with orchestrating regime change in Syria has been a failure, yet Ankara does little about the rising threat of lslamic State even as Turkish cars are stolen to be used as car bombs, as in the 29 November suicide attack in Kobani at the Mursitpinar crossing into Turkey. Turkish territory is used as preparation areas for attacks by IS on Syria. IS fighters can be found in Turkish villages near the Mursitpinar border crossing with Syria. Those fighters attack the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces from the rear as the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, now that it has secured a revenue-sharing agreement with Baghdad, grows closer to the Kurds in Turkey than to the government in Ankara

Is Ankara hosting IS as pressure on the anti-Assad coalition, that includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain, to create a buffer and no-fly zone on the Syrian side of the Turkish border? Why is Erdoğan so stubbornly resistant to including Assad representatives in the Geneva talks sponsored by both Russia and the US? Erdoğan has chastised the US for its “impertinence, recklessness and endless demands” offered from “12,000 kilometers away”. In some ways the criticism is wholly justified for Turkey hosts over a million Syrian refugees (Ankara says it is 1.6 million) while countries like Canada cannot even muster the ability to admit a meagre 1,300 to which it is already pledged.

Nevertheless, Turkey increasingly appears as the odd man out in the Middle East with enemies in Cairo, Damascus, and the Arabian peninsula, cool relations with Baghdad, not to speak of its direct rivalry with Tehran. Netanyahu has to be gloating with these radical shifts since the 2010 Mavi Marmara episode even as Erdoğan continues to host Hamas and enhance its presence in the West Bank.

Turkey – Domestic Changes

Turkey – Domestic Changes


Howard Adelman

I begin with domestic matters because they help understand the direction of the Turkish leadership. Tomorrow I will take up foreign policy.

Sixty-year old Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Turkey’s current president and former prime minister for the last eleven years, and mayor of Istanbul before that, has transformed Turkey domestically and certainly redirected Turkey’s foreign policy. Erdoğan is to Turkey what Putin is to Russia. After founding his new party in 2001, that party in the Turkish elections of 2002 took two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. A year later, after his banishment from politics was overturned and his then ally, Abdullah Gűl, served as interim Prime Minister for a year, Erdoğan became Prime Minster. Only this year did he assume the role of President after converting the Turkish political system from a parliamentary to a quasi-presidential democracy by shifting the largely ceremonial role of president to the most powerful figure in the country. However, in contrast to his earlier victories, he only won the presidency with less than 52% of the vote. However, he has set up a shadow government of directorates to monitor Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Cabinet who all come from his own party.

Control of the Media

Unlike Russia, where corruption and control of the media have allowed Putin to undermine the nascent democracy of Russia, Erdoğan has not achieved the position yet. Events, however, are changing the situation rapidly. Though Erdoğan seven years ago began arresting critics in the media whom he accused of being the propaganda arm of a coup effort, only in the last two years has he revealed himself to be determined to assert absolute control over the media. Yesterday afternoon I received news that Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman, Turkey’s top-selling newspaper, and Hidayet Karaca, the director of STV, a news channel, had been rounded up two days previously by Turkish police. The mysterious twitter account, Fuat Avni, had three days before that predicted these arrests and that of 150 or so other journalists. Some of these have gone into hiding. The charges: affiliation with the Fethullah Gulen movement, Erdoğan’s once erstwhile ally in overcoming the stranglehold the military held over the state, and an alleged conspiracy to undermine and/or attack a small rival Islamist group, the “Tahsiyeciler”, a group whose leaders Erdoğan had arrested only four years earlier who follow the teachings of the Islamic scholar, Said Nursi. Is it a wonder that Turkey ranks 154th on the world press freedom index, according to Reporters Without Borders?

The attacks on the domestic press were matched by a vicious campaign castigating the foreign – particularly Western – press of distortions, disinformation, ignorance, lying and even spying. Ceylan Yeginsu, a journalist working for the New York Times, that in its editorials had once lauded Erdoğan for his leadership role in the emerging Turkish vibrant democracy, had to flee the country for his life after being attacked in the AKP-controlled press and receiving multiple death threats. When Erdoğan himself was not deriding the Western press for being propagandists and undermining the new Turkey, that role was taken up by Ibrahim Karagul, editor-in-chief of the pro-Erdoğan newspaper, Yeni Safak, and the new English newspaper in Turkey, Daily Sabah, initially owned by Erdoğan’s son-in-law. And this is just the surface in this information war that permeates the electronic media as well.

Turkey’s Deteriorating Democracy

So much for the hopes for democracy in Turkey once the military had been removed from power in the name of rule by and for the people. That populism has been enhanced by the distribution of free coal to the needy. However, the crushing of the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013 was just more public action in a coordinated effort to destroy any opposition in Turkey. The cronyism and corruption that is endemic and very widespread in Turkish society has permeated the AKP (one in five Turks and about 50% of businesses pay bribes to access public services). The effort to protect ill-gotten gains once that corruption had been revealed by the Fethullah Gulen movement have led the government to place a publication ban on the parliamentary committee looking into corruption. At the same time, Turkey has followed the lead of the Canadian parliament under Harper’s Conservatives of passing legislation through complex omnibus bills with relatively little time for debate. The bills in Ankara include provisions which infringe human rights protections.

The corruption scandal possibly accelerated the leadership’s plans to enhance its control of the media. Turkey has slipped from 53rd to 74th on Transparency International’s corruption index. Further, that corruption as well as increasing disparity between the rich and the poor are now being legalized as a new presidential provision permits young Turkish men to buy out their compulsory military service for $US8,700. Turkish writer and 2006 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Orhan Pamuk, has also denounced Turkey’s increasing climate of fear.

Educational Revisionism and Social Policy

In addition to its educational reforms that provided free textbooks for needy students, Erdoğan and his allies have pushed for making Ottoman Turkish compulsory in schools, introducing more and more elements of Ottoman culture into the curriculum, introducing segregation of schools by gender, and introducing Islamic religious instruction for students in fourth grade and higher, and planning to introduce such education at even lower grades in the face of EU demands that compulsory religious education requirements be scrapped. In the meanwhile, the educational authorities have eliminated human rights and democracy classes previously taken in fourth grade. These changes have taken place in parallel with the long term trend of religious cleansing of non-Muslims in Turkey as property disputes affecting the Armenians, Syriac church and the Yazidis drag out through the bureaucratic and legal process.

Unfortunately, at the same time, Erdoğan has pushed for technological modernization. Language, cultural and religious revisionism are difficult to blend with modernization that becomes self-propelling and innovative instead of simply copying from the West. Thus, Turkey ranks last among 44 countries on the English proficiency list, even though English is compulsory in Turkish schools. Raising a generation of devout Muslims may be at odds with encouraging technological innovation. Turkish pupils, along with other pupils from predominantly Muslim countries, are in a race for the bottom. Turkey now ranks 44 out of 65 countries in the measurement of 15-year-old educational achievements in mathematics, science, literacy and problem-solving.

The social indicators have been very bad. Child poverty has risen by 63.5%. With 301 minors killed in the disaster at Soma this year, Turkey had by far the worst record of workers’ deaths compared to any European state. On the gender front, the news is even worse. Although Erdoğan in 2004 passed a new penal code protecting women’s sexual and body rights, and although Erdoğan has promoted changes in the treatment of women in the army by increasing the number of female officers and NCOs to facilitate dealing with terrorism and to enhance the professionalism of the military, on 24 November he claimed that gender equality contradicted the laws of nature even though 22% of AKP seats were held by women.

Erdoğan, however, is a champion of motherhood rather than sisterhood. In spite of an enormous increase of almost 40% in GDP per capita under his rule, there was still only a 30% female participation rate in the workforce. His policies threatened to exacerbate the health, education and income disparities between men and women already deeply rooted in Turkish culture. Not to speak of honour killings! While not as bad as the situation in Pakistan, those murders still take the lives of 200 Turkish girls each year in spite of the 2004 law designed to combat such crimes. Between 2002 and 2009, the murder rate of women in Turkey went up 1400% and since Erdoğan came to power, 7,000 Turkish women have been murdered. On the UNDP’s Gender Equality Index, Turkey’s standing has slipped from 69th to 77th out of 187 countries.

When my brother, a renowned Canadian cardiologist, was invited to Turkey in 1996, and where they first diagnosed him with a blastoma after he had fainted on a golf course where he had gone to play with other Turkish doctors, Al had been very impressed with the advanced state of medicine in Turkey in the hospital he had visited. Now Turkey seems to be moving backwards in time to revive traditional medical practices including:
• acupuncture (the stimulation of specific points along the skin with thin needles)
• apitherapy (the use of honeybee products for treatment)
• phytotherapy (treatments based on traditional herbalism)
• hypnosis
• the use of leeches
• homeopathy
• chiropractic treatments
• wet cupping
• larval therapy (the introduction of live, disinfected maggots into the skin)
• mesotherapy (the injection of special medications into the skin)
• prolotherapy (the injection of irritating solutions into an injured spot to provoke regenerative tissue response)
• osteopathy (nonsurgical treatments of the muscle and skeleton system)
• ozone therapy (the introduction of ozone and oxygen gas mixtures into the body)
• reflexology (massage-like treatment of pressure on reflex areas).

The issue is not the legalization of these treatments, but making them part of the education in medical schools. Some, like the use of leeches, are already part of modern medical practice. Others, however, have not been validated by science. So in addition to taking time away from enhancing modern medical practice, practices which have not yet been validated by science will be introduced into the medical curriculum. Further, the system of independence in educational decisions by qualified professionals is being undermined by state dictates in favour of validating traditional culture.

There are those who posit that this is merely a method of bringing traditional medical practices under state supervision. Then why are the costs of those treatments not covered by public health insurance? Some argue the expansion has been introduced to enhance medical tourism. Further, Turkey is far from unique in allowing and regulating such practices.

Standing in opposition to these rationales, one of the indicators to the undermining of scientific medicine has been the lethargic response to a rise in measles which has been blamed on the large number of Syrian refugees who have found a haven in Turkey, rising from very low numbers – 7 cases in 2010 – to over 7,000 cases last year. No provision in the Turkish 2015 budget targets contagious diseases like measles. Further, excluding Syrian refugee births, infant mortality and maternal deaths increased in 2013 for the first time since 1945.

Crime has also increased, much as a by-product of the Syrian civil war. Almost 500 high quality 4x4s have been stolen from Turkish car rental companies for transfer to Syria.

Kurdish Separatism

Erdoğan has to be praised for beginning the process of recognizing the Armenian genocide, enhanced by Pope Francis’ recent visit to Turkey, but with little sign of real progress. Erdoğan is perhaps best known for pushing reconciliation with Kurds who had been forcefully resettled in the thirties and banned from using their language. He has even entered into discussions with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party) itself. However, while now allowing school children to be taught in Kurdish, would Kurds also have to learn classical Ottoman Turkish? Further, was Erdoğan strongly motivated to make peace with the PKK early in his national political career because he respected the group rights of the Kurds or because he wanted to undermine the rationale of the military for maintaining a relatively large army while, at the same time, solidifying his support with the Turkish public?

One very much suspects the latter given his subsequent career in national politics in Turkey and seemingly confirmed by the recent decision on December 10th in the face of the adjacent threat of Islamic State to enable middle and upper class military recruits to buy their way out of national service, a decision made without any consultation with the military general staff as required by the Turkish constitution. However, Erdoğan has never seemed to care about the constitution when it is to his populist advantage (currently an average Turkish citizen contributes about US$200 for each member of the family for defence) and when it undermines support for his critics on the left who were bound to vigorously oppose the move’s inegalitarian character. Further, if, as projected, 700,000 young men pay the state $8,700 each (men older than 30 pay US$13,300), US$5.7 billion will be added to state coffers from the men under 30 years of age alone, especially since parliamentary elections are to be held in June 2015. This is in addition to the monies saved on defence. The loans men are taking out to pay for the exemption in response to a spate of bank ads and the sales of unproductive capital (property, gold rings) has already acted within days to stimulate the economy. The greatly increased revenues to the state may be bad for the economy in the long run, but, in the short run it is much more than enough to pay for Erdoğan’s vain, enormous, lavish and enormously expensive presidential palace.

Is Erdoğan’s populist and Islamic program complemented by his foreign policy?

Vietnam and Canada: Journey to Freedom Day

Vietnam and Canada: Journey to Freedom Day


Howard Adelman

(NOTE: as with all my blogs, receivers are free to circulate this blog. In this case, I hope they will circulate it, especially to other members of the Canadian Vietnamese community. I always welcome feedback.)

Last week I received an email forwarded to me from the Honourable Jason Kenney requesting my signature on a petition in support of Bill S-219, originally called Black April Day, and retitled Journey to Freedom Day (Journée du Parcours). An introduction to the bill, its historical context and the explanation of its purpose of the bill can be found at: The bill was very recently passed by the Senate of Canada and is currently before the House of Commons for its approval. (…) The bill is intended to officially recognize April 30th as Journey to Freedom Day in Canada in commemoration of the flight of tens of thousands of Vietnamese from Vietnam who found refuge in Canada after 1975.

Though Kenney is a senior minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet, the bill is a private member’s bill rather than a government bill; members of each party are free to vote on the bill independent of the party of which they are a member. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine Conservative Party members voting against the bill when it is strongly supported by a high profile cabinet minister and was initially sponsored by an ethnic Vietnamese member of the Senate, Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, who was appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper. Senator Mobina Jaffer, a Liberal, also strongly supported the bill.

Why the full press? The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons and can easily pass the bill. Why has such a bill become controversial? Is it because the bill has led to a spat with the government of Vietnam as newspaper headline writers have suggested in reporting on the bill?;
When I open my laptop daily, including this morning, picture after picture of the beauty of Vietnam, taken by my friend Truc, pass before my eyes. Nancy’s long visit there reinforced a fondness for that country, a fondness that is only somewhat painful for personal reasons – because of the death of a friend of my son in a road accident when my son was traveling with him south of Hanoi. Nevertheless, I feel a great love for that country, even though I have never visited. So I am very bothered by a dispute between Canada and the Government of Vietnam.

Yesterday, on my first full day in San Pancho, Mexico, as I listened to the Pacific waves crashing on shore, I also opened the 5 December 2014 minutes received by email of the meeting of the Indochinese Refugee Movement Project Steering Committee Meeting of which I am a member. The Project is intended to provide an archive of documents on the Indochinese refugee resettlement, an oral history, a curriculum, a website, a docudrama and initiate commemoration efforts in 2015 on the 40th anniversary of the beginning of that movement. That meeting was coordinated by the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. I was unable to attend the meeting, even by Skype, as, at the time, I was en route to Marin County, CA heading for Mexico.

The minutes opened with a discussion of the controversy surrounding the bill with the suggested explanation that the media had framed the bill as an act that would cause a “diplomatic spat between Canada and Vietnam”. The minutes expressed a concern that the controversy might taint the efforts of the project to archive a documentary record of that refugee resettlement by entangling its aims with that of the supposedly “controversial” bill, even though the project had nothing to do with the bill. The concern of the committee seemed not to be the spat with Vietnam over the bill, but the effects of the bill on the other communities of Indochinese refugees (Cambodians, Laotians, ethnic Chinese from Indochina). The Project wanted to be clear that its focus was on all Indochinese Communities represented by our project.

I will give my explanation for the controversy after I discuss the contents and the context of the bill and also offer my evaluation of the bill itself. April 30th is commemorated by the Vietnamese community in Canada because, on 30 April 1975, Saigon fell to the combined forces of North Vietnam, officially called the People’s Army of Vietnam (not North Vietnam) and the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam (the Viet Cong). (Ironically, Vietnam means southern Viet.) As the members of the sixties generation well recall, the Vietnam War was a defining issue in North America from 1964, when U.S. President Johnson used the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident to get Congressional approval for the USA to send military advisors to the South Vietnam government in 1964 and then intervene with ground troops in 1965. The controversy only ended in 1973. Henry Kissinger, as U.S. President Nixon’s Secretary of State, had worked out a face saving Paris Peace Accord (27 January 1973) to permit the American troops to withdraw from South Vietnam in what many regarded as the faint hope that South Vietnam could survive as a separate country, much as South Korea has.

It was not to be.

Bill S-219

The bill is described in its opening section as: “An Act respecting a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.” In the Preamble, the following contextual items are mentioned:
• the role Canadian forces played in the UN supervising force;
• the bill refers to the military forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front invading (my italics) South Vietnam that led to the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Government;
• cites the UNHCR as blaming deteriorating economic conditions and abuses of human rights as contributing to the exodus of Vietnamese refugees – the Vietnamese “Boat People”
• the privately-sponsored refugee project assisted 34,000 Vietnamese refugees [NOTE: this phrase could mean ex-citizens of Vietnam or refugees from Vietnam who are ethnic Vietnamese not refugees from Vietnam] coming to Canada while the Canadian government resettled 26,000;
• notes the major and sustained contribution by the people of Canada to the Indochinese exodus was recognized by the UNHCR which awarded the Nansen Refugee Award to the “People of Canada” in 1986;
• members of the Vietnamese community refer to April 30 th as “Black April Day”, or “Journey to Freedom Day”
• April 30th should be designated as Journey to Freedom Day to remember and commemorate a) the lives lost,
b) the suffering experienced during the exodus,
c) the acceptance of Vietnamese refugees into Canada,
d) the gratitude of Vietnamese people in Canada to the Canadian people and the Government of Canada for accepting them,
e) contributions of Vietnamese-Canadian people — whose population is now approximately 300,000 — to Canadian society.

Some elaboration:
• Other than supplying military supervisors to observe the so-called peace provided in the Paris Peace Accords, the Government of Canada stayed out of that war and did not, as Australia did, contribute troops to the American-led effort to support the South Vietnamese government against the insurgents;
• The Socialist Republic of Vietnam Government was created on 2 July 1976 when North and South Vietnam were formally united, and though North Vietnam did invade South Vietnam, contrary to the terms of the Paris Peace Accord, and captured the province of Phuóc Long in December 1974 beginning a full scale offensive, reputable historians would not describe the National Liberation Army (the Viet Cong) in South Vietnam as “invading” South Vietnam for, though supported by Hanoi, the Viet Cong insurrection was a civil war begun in the late 1950s as a guerrilla campaign to overthrow the corrupt Diệm government;
• The UNHCR rarely enters into a political analysis of the causes of an exodus. It was not involved in dealing with the exodus of Vietnamese, largely Catholic, from the north in 1954 following the French withdrawal from Vietnam and its division into South and North. In Terms of Refuge: The Indochinese Exodus and the International Response, W. Courtland Robinson’s official history of the Vietnamese (and other Indochinese refugees), based on full and complete access to UNHCR documents, Robinson concluded that, in 1974, UNHCR became involved with Vietnamese refugees to assist in the return and reintegration of refugees (my italics) resulting from war. Hence, UNHCR opened an office in Hanoi. In 1975, for example, violence broke out in Guam as several hundred Vietnamese refugees demanded the right to return to Vietnam just as many others began to flee. After the fall of Saigon, UNHCR became involved with helping the refugees (35,000) who, according to UNHCR, primarily left Vietnam between 1975 and 1978 for ideological reasons because they were on the losing side in that war, a view which was strongly at odds with that of the USA, which insisted that it was an exodus of people fearing persecution by the Communist government. Only in 1978, when the renewed and much more massive outflow was the result of many factors, including intolerance of ethnic minorities (the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam), religious intolerance, government oppression and the dislocation caused by extensive economic “reforms”, did the refugees become the “Boat People”. I have only included this very condensed summary to indicate that the preamble in the bill with respect to UNHCR’s involvement really refers to the massive exodus after 1978;
• Though Canada took 5,608 Vietnamese refugees between 1975 and 1978, 16% of the exodus, it only became a leader in resettling the refugees in 1978 with the arrival of the huge freighter, the Southern Cross, in the Philippines, and the arrival in December of another freighter, the Hai Hong, in Hong Kong; Canada’s involvement escalated to the role of a leader of Vietnamese “Boat People” resettlement;
• In 2006, the ethnic Vietnamese population in Canada was officially estimated at over 180,000 so it is difficult to reconcile this figure with the current estimated population of Canadians of Vietnamese origin of 300,000 or the figure of only 60,000 Vietnamese refugees brought to Canada since 5,608 came in the first wave (1975 to 1978), an estimated 50,000 in the second wave (1979-1980), and many more in the subsequent third wave;
• There is a confusion in Bill S-219 between refugees from Vietnam and Vietnamese refugees, who may either be ethnic Vietnamese or ethnic Chinese from Vietnam;
• The bill seems to be sensitive to the feelings of the Thai, Malaysian and other regional governments, which often pushed the refugee boats out to sea until Western countries pledged to resettle the refugees, for there is no mention of the role of these governments in Canada’s decision to resettle the refugees;
• The bill ignores the other Indochinese refugees and the different causes of their plight and subsequent exodus, including the pushback of 42,000 Cambodians from the Thai border in June 1979.

The controversy over the bill between the Government of Vietnam and the Canadian government is significant because the current Harper government is one that strongly supports international trade. Since 2000, following its economic reforms, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world. That may explain the extreme mildness when referring to the Hanoi government, for there is no mention of the almost 200,000 Vietnamese killed or executed by the Hanoi government after it came to power in 1954 or of the tens of thousands imprisoned.

What did the Vietnamese government say in its protest against the bill? Before I get into that, it is important to note that there were other objections to the bill, though very little about ignoring Canada’s other Indochinese communities. The bill, however, is supposedly controversial within the Vietnamese community; the Canada-Vietnam Friendship Association and the Canada-Vietnam Trade Council suggested the bill would create tension. They wanted cordial relations with Vietnam and also wanted to put the past behind them. In addition, Peter Tran, an old friend, opposed the bill because it had never been supported by a referendum within the Vietnamese community.

Note that the bill says very little, in fact, almost nothing about past causes and circumstances, in spite of the Vietnamese ambassador claiming that the bill provides a distorted view of his country’s history. The bill does ignore Canada’s positive bilateral relationship with Vietnam over the past 40 years, especially the economic relations as they have developed over the last fifteen years, but what relevance does that have to the purposes of the bill?

Some argue that we are on a slippery slope; is Canada to have a national day to celebrate every ethnic group? However, this is not a national day celebration, such as Tartan Day celebrated on the 6th of April. It is more akin to Raoul Wallenberg Day, January 17th that commemorates what Wallenberg did to help Jews escape the genocide of Nazi Germany.

There were also process concerns. The Vietnamese ambassador was not permitted to come before the committee and had to register his objections in writing. When the letter was received, delayed because it had to be translated into French, the Senate committee had already reported back to the Senate and did not consider the letter. Witnesses from the Vietnamese community, especially those opposed to the bill, were not invited to the committee considering the bill. Only three witnesses appeared. Further, the bill, after languishing in committee for months, was hurriedly passed by the Senate. The Vietnamese ambassador, Anh Dung, in his letter, accused Ngo of dredging up the past, painting a distorted view of his country’s history and ignoring its positive bilateral relationship with Canada over the past 40 years. “The government of Vietnam disagrees with this negative and selective portrayal and has expressed its concerns privately and publicly…about the language and intent of this bill.” The ambassador, in addition to his complaints about the portrait of Vietnam painted in the bill and about dredging up the past, claimed that the bill, if passed, will have an adverse impact on the growing bilateral relations between Canada and Vietnam. The bill was accused of inciting hatred between Canada and Vietnam and fostering division not unity. And it was not only the ambassador who complained about the bill. Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, Pham Binh Minh, wrote John Baird in June to voice his objections.

I have absolutely no problem with the intent of the bill. Commemorating the suffering of the Vietnamese community in Canada, the huge loss of lives in their flight, yet their very successful resettlement in Canada, is commendable. To call this “dredging up the past” is not only an insult to Canadians of Vietnamese descent, it flies in the face of the widespread belief in Canada that the past must not only be remembered, but wrongs that took place must be pointed out and analyzed. History should NOT be forgotten but recalled. Any country that desires to suppress its past, any country that does not confront its past head on, seriously risks a failure to liberate itself from that part of its past that is despicable. The past must be brought into the present and thoroughly debated.

Articulating and explicating the causes of the exodus of the “Boat People”, however, is not Canada’s task, it is Vietnam’s. Nor is a private member’s bill the place to record and analyze that history. And the bill does not do that. It offers only a very brief passing reference to that history that is 90% accurate, and the one minor inaccuracy can be corrected in committee as the House considers the bill. If the bill has a detrimental effect on Canada’s economic and social relations, then that is a problem for Vietnam, not Canada. Canadian policy in relationship to its own citizens is a Canadian issue, not Vietnam’s, and should not be subject to Vietnam government threats or possible blackmail.

However, there are a number of other issues, all relatively minor, which can be corrected in the committee of the House of Commons considering the bill and then passing an amended version that can then be sent back to the Senate for its approval. Which takes us back to the initial question. Why has the bill been handled so poorly and with last minute haste? I can think of only one reason, but there may be others. Aside from the genuine merits of the bill, it is probably intended both to win favour with the Vietnamese-Canadian community as part of Jason Kenney’s larger strategy of shifting ethnic Canadian support from the Liberal Party to the Conservatives and to place the Liberal party in a conundrum, forcing that party, if possible, to be ambivalent about the bill. Whatever the Liberal Party does, it loses by either supporting a quasi-government initiated bill or placing obstacles in its way. The Conservative Party gains whichever path the opposition takes.

The motives of the Conservative Party may be primarily or secondarily political – domestically to secure support from the Vietnamese community in Canada, and, by making it a private member’s bill, to minimize as much as possible any friction with Vietnam. However, that is insufficient grounds for opposing the bill. So is the fear that often plagues Canadian policy in dealing with different ethnic groups. A policy of apologizing to one group may inundate needed apologies to others. A policy commemorating the experience of one ethnic group may result in a cascade of requests by other groups. The argument is often made that commemorating one group’s past suffering discriminates and ignores the suffering of other groups. It does not. It makes one more sensitive to the history of suffering. The more commemorations for more groups, the better position Canadians are in to both understand suffering and to comprehend the multicultural heritage of this country.

I support the bill and hope there will be some fine tuning by the committee of the House of Commons. If there is not, I would still support the bill. Its merits far outweigh any disagreements I have with how the bill was passed by the Senate or the lack of clarity and even errors in the wording.

Interstellar: Wormholes and Intergalactic Travel – B: The Movie

Interstellar: Wormholes and Intergalactic Travel – B: The Movie


Howard Adelman

In the movie, Interstellar, the black hole, Gargantua, a hundred million times heavier than our sun (only a neutron star approaches it in weight), is used, not as a route of travel, but as a way of gaining propulsion, much as a slingshot works, by propelling the spaceship along its event horizon and back out in space at enormous speed. In the film, this occurs as a way of reaching and going through the wormhole and, again, in traveling from Miller’s planet to Mann’s planet, and, finally, to escape from Gargantua, the black hole itself into which Cooper falls.

In contrast to an event horizon, singularities include the sharply-pointed prime singularity where black holes terminate; they were formed when black holes formed. Eric Poisson and Werner Israel at the University of Alberta, postulated there may be a second singularity within a black hole that grows as the black hole ages, the infalling singularity. There is also an outlier singularity that was discovered two years ago by Donald Marolf at UC Santa Barbara and Amos Ori at the Technion in Israel.

Space and time are infinitely warped in the prime singularity. Einstein’s laws of relativity and quantum laws clash like the rough waters between the Scylla and the Charybdis. That singularity will guarantee your death before you could get to the terminus of a black hole. That is not necessarily true of a gentle infalling or outlier singularity. That’s how Cooper survives, by detaching himself and the Ranger from Endurance and plunging into the gentle outlier singularity rather than the primary or infalling one. The Ranger retained just enough thrust for it to escape the gravitational pull of Gargantua. Conceptually, this is a real stretch. Only in extreme theory would it be possible. Of course, if Cooper had fallen into the infalling singularity, he would not have been able to return to Earth for billions of years. Cooper had to be hit by stuff that fell before, not after, he fell in. And he is able to escape using Gargantua’s slingshot effect.

The problem of using black holes is twofold concerning both entry and exit. First, the nearest one, the one at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, is still extremely far way. In contrast, it is theoretically feasible to find a wormhole within one solar system. That is not possible with a black hole. Secondly, in addition to the enormous distance to reach one, black holes are one way streets. Black holes can be used to escape this universe but never to return. Energy entering a black hole is trapped and condensed. There is no return voyage. Interstellar required a concept that allowed a spaceship to return, even if the passage of time of those aboard the spaceship was measured in hours while years passed on Earth. In fact, that difference in time is central to the dramatic core of the movie.

There are other problems in using wormholes than the ones mentioned above – aside from the fact that they exist only in theory. Even if one were discovered, would it still be in the same place by the time the mechanisms were created to travel through one. After all, the universe is a dynamic, not a static system. Even if the location of the wormhole remained relatively static, the energy dynamics might alter radically between the time the spaceship was launched and the time it took to reach the rim of the wormhole. For example, after launch, it took Ulysses sixteen months to reach the huge Jovian magnetosphere, the windsock formed around the planet Jupiter produced by its magnetic field. The magnetosphere changes in size and shape as it is blown by the solar wind, the outflow of magnetic gas traveling at speeds of 1.5 to 3 million kilometres per hour produced by the evaporation of the enormously hot (much hotter than the sun itself) and unstable atmosphere of the corona of the sun.

Thirteen years after Voyager I traveled to Jupiter, when Ulysses sailed past that planet on 8 February 1992, we discovered that the solar wind had died down. There had been something like a calm following a huge storm. At the same time, the size of the magnetosphere had ballooned. What might happen between discovering a wormhole, the time to prepare a launch and the time it takes to travel to the rim? How would a wormhole be altered by the changes in the character, speed and composition of the solar dust traveling in the opposite direction of our planets and asteroids? How would the possibility of reaching the rim of a wormhole be affected by the interstellar wind produced by the galactic cloud traveling usually at 50,000 mph, particularly as its speed and direction shifted? How would the changing turbulence of this interstellar cloud, which would probably travel in reverse direction to the spin of the wormhole just inside its edge, affect the possibility of a spacecraft traveling through a wormhole? These are among the many scientific issues Interstellar brackets. The movie already had a plethora of scientific issues on which to make a number of assumptions.

Thorpe doubted that the laws of physics would permit traversable wormholes to be created naturally– though this is the premise of the film. So why is it called science fiction and not science fantasy? Because, Thorpe argues, a wormhole could be created by a very advanced civilization. The members of that civilization – the undefined “They” in the film (they are our descendants who have become so advanced that they have acquired a fourth dimension of space) – were truly humanitarians. They developed the cosmological version of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) by creating an exit route for suffering humans. Of course, whereas UNHCR exaggerates all the weaknesses of humanity, the movie presumes that this advanced civilization is not only phenomenally advanced intellectually, but compassionately as well. Now whatever the presumptions of this advanced civilization, it is not science fiction but science fantasy. No known laws of psychology and sociology make this version of an advanced civilization possible. But, of course, in defining science fiction, Thorpe meant possible according to the laws of physics, not possible according to the laws of psychology and sociology. But even according to the laws of physics, bulk with a fourth dimension of space would be curled. That is not in the movie. A curled bulk would have no impact on our four dimensions and pictorially would be a bore. Further, its depth would be so small, no human, as Cooper does, could perform any tasks in the fifth dimension (the fourth dimension of space).

One of the most interesting parts of the science in the movie concerns the character of the wormhole that allowed the spaceship to drop down into it. The movie makers gave the wormhole a weak gravity (in contrast to a black hole). So the Endurance could control its speed and direction in traveling through the wormhole. Further, according to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the weaker the gravitational pull, the slower time moves, but the difference is miniscule. Christopher Nolan postulated that one hour of travel in the wormhole was equivalent to seven years of time on Earth (the time dilation), a not scientifically impossible estimate for Miller’s planet which rotated around Gargantua with its enormous gravitational pull, even though Gargantua is located in the far reaches of the observable universe. Christopher Nolan found that it was impossible to apply the ratio to the rest of the trip. That is another reason to call the film a science fantasy rather than a science fiction, though Miller’s planet was not pulled apart by Gargantua’s enormous gravitational pull because its distortion was kept constant as its spin kept one side only facing Gargantua. At the same time, the picture of Gargantua, as seen from Miller’s planet, was very significantly reduced for aesthetic and/or dramatic reasons.

The speed of such a flight, even if inaccurate, was seriously altered. What about the width of the mouth of the wormhole or the distance from one end to the other? Unlike black holes, wormholes, like worms, have openings on each end. Envisioning the shape of the wormhole as a spool for holding thread with a fat axle was one of the great moments of the movie, especially given the distorted view of Saturn from its inside as if one were in a mirror maze in a carnival. However, when the moviemakers portrayed travel through the wormhole, the film abandoned science for artistic license to capture a feeling with which the audience could identify, even if that depiction of flight was impossible.

I will not go into detail into the most imaginative scientific extension of the movie, Michael Green and John Schwarz’s superstring theory. Nor will I deal with the visualization of four rather than three dimensions of space let alone the nine dimensions of space envisioned by the engineering of Endurance, especially in relationship to its landing craft, Ranger. The visualizations, particularly the huge waves encountered on Miller’s planet because of its proximity to Gargantua, were awesome. Those waves of over a kilometre high are scientifically realistic. The moon has a very weak gravitational pull. Yet, along the Petitcodiac River, off the Bay of Fundy and right into Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, the water level rises 25 feet with the Tidal Bore twice a day. Think how much it would rise if the Tidal Bore were pulled by the huge gravitational force of Gargantua. Nevertheless, in spite of all the valid science, I believe I have made my point. Though I loved the movie, and though there was an enormous amount of real science packed into the film which I really appreciated, Interstellar should have been labeled a science fantasy and not a science fiction.

So probably should Interstellar II be labeled when Cooper sets off to rescue Brand from her orbiting on Gargantua’s horizon in the damaged Endurance.