VII Samantha Power: Machinations on the 31 December 2014 Jordanian Resolution

VII Samantha Power: Machinations on the 31 December 2014 Jordanian Resolution


Howard Adelman

In the maneuvers to prevent passage of the Palestinian resolution put forth by Jordan at the end of December, at least two questions arise. First, who? Who did what and how did they succeed in preventing passage of the resolution? In particular, was the UN American delegation headed by Samantha Power instrumental in the failure of the resolution to pass? Second, why? Why did the Palestinians push for a vote when they were virtually guaranteed passage after January 1st when Rwanda and Australia, countries which abstained or voted against the resolution, left the Security Council and countries which supported the resolution, including Venezuela and Malaysia as well as Jordan, joined the Security Council? The two issues are interrelated. But first the question of Palestinian motives.

Two facts are clear. The Palestinians aggressively pushed for a vote before the end of December. Second, they were blindsided by the Nigerian vote to abstain; they expected Nigerian support almost right up to the hour before the vote. Here are a number of propositions vying to explain the situation:

  1. They expected to win and just miscalculated;
  2. They calculated that the risk of losing was very low, but even if they lost, they could simply have a second vote in the New Year, which they would win and thereby double the publicity and triple the exhilaration that came with a win;
  3. They were indifferent to the results since the whole point of the exercise was to deepen the rift between Europe and Israel, and even a loss would do that;
  4. They did not care whether the resolution passed or was vetoed, or even lost, because, ironically, they wanted to help Netanyahu win the March election in Israel, lest the Palestinian Authority (PA) be faced with an Israeli government strongly committed to a two-state solution and, therefore, putting the PA on the defensive internationally for not being able to conclude a deal, and on the defensive domestically against those critical of any deal;
  5. Given the pressure John Kerry as Secretary of State put on President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, they wanted to lose because they would win their case in the world of public opinion, particularly in Europe, without alienating the U.S.A. significantly by provoking a veto that in turn might then even lead to the cancellation or reduction of foreign aid from the U.S.

The first proposition is feasible given the aggressive campaign the Palestinians waged, but, if true, revealed the weakness of their diplomatic intelligence. Further, the loss makes the PA subject to ridicule by its critics. However, it does not explain the rush given a guarantee of success only weeks later. The Palestinian explanation that further delay would have led to a loss of momentum does not initially appear credible. The loss not only weakens the PA in terms of its domestic critics, but wearies the diplomatic UN delegations from other states given that the UN spends a huge disproportionate time on the Palestinian issue, a situation particularly troubling when there are so many other urgent and far more horrific situations on which to focus. This is especially true since, even those who supported the resolution are firmly convinced that, in the final analysis, the only route to peace is through direct negotiations between the PA and the Israeli government.

The second thesis is also possibly true, and we soon may be easier to tell. However, the situation is not as simple as it might appear given the rules of procedure of the Security Council and an understanding of the issue of momentum. There is no prohibition against resubmitting a resolution that has not passed. But the Palestinians had floated the motion in October. It had been worked on and re-worked and had to be approved by the Arab League at each change. Look how much time it took to get a resolution in writing put before the Security Council in a form that would not attract amendments, since amendments are voted on first.  Further, Rule 32 in the procedures and practices of the UN Security Council requires that resolutions be placed in the order of their submission, unless the UNSC itself deems the issue a matter of great urgency, which this resolution is not. Therefore, since a new session starts the clock again, and since there are always other resolutions being put before the Security Council, a vote on a re-tabled Palestinian motion would not take place immediately.

The UNSC deals with an average of two resolutions per week not counting the even more numerous presidential statements brought before the UNSC. For example, when Nigeria, a subject of this blog, was president of the UNSC for the month of April – the presidency rotates month-to-month – 7 resolutions and 11 presidential statements came before the UNSC. The UNSC dealt with topics ranging from Western Sahara to South Sudan, Central African Republic, Darfur, Cote d Ivoire, Syria, Ukraine and genocide. But if you google UNSC resolutions, and even specify 2015, 90% of the items that come up are about the resolution on Palestine that failed to pass at the end of 2014.  And what else comes up is usually historical – an old debate on South Africa or on reforming the UN Security Council. One has the impression that the Palestinian issue is the overwhelming preoccupation of the United Nations.

However, yesterday, the UNSC took up the issue of the horrific attack by Islamic militants in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which twelve were killed. The day before, Mali was the main subject on the agenda that also dealt with Syria and MINUSMA, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Today, the UNSC has on its agenda an update report on the situation concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) to be followed by a closed session on UNOWA. In the rest of January, the UNSC will deal with UNFICYP (the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus), UNOCI (the United nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire) and sanctions against that state, CAR (Central African Republic), as well as many others that I will not bother to spell out – UNFICYP, UNMIK, DRC, BNUB, TCC, UNRCCA, MONUSCO, UNIOGBIS, UNFICYP, UNAMI. In addition, full debates will take place on thematic topics: sanctions in general, post-conflict peacebuilding, the whole of the Middle East, maintenance of international peace and security, and the protection of civilians. One has to be in love with the alphabet soup of international relations to follow the workings of the UN Security Council alone. Yet, if your knowledge of the UN comes simply from the media or from google, you might swear that the Israeli-Palestinian issue took up 90% of the UNSC’s time.

In a calculation of gains and losses among various scenarios interpreting the failure to pass the UNSC resolution on Palestine, Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman’s claimed that the failure “must teach the Palestinians that the provocations and attempts to force Israel into unilateral moves will not lead them to any gains – only the opposite.” This is sheer rhetoric. Because, whatever the alternative scenarios, none of them was intended to advance the cause of peace, only to advance the position of the Palestinians, in particular, of the Palestinian Authority, in the esteem of their own people and in the international game of diplomatic jockeying. For no deal is on the horizon with this Israeli government or its possible centre-left successor unless three issues are resolved: the status of the Old City; clarification that refugees will largely be compensated and how that compensation process will work, and, most importantly, on how security will be assured for Israel, an issue which has reached the highest in importance given what happened in Gaza after the Israelis withdrew and given the disintegration in general in the Middle East following the Arab Spring.

So gains sought are strategic, most importantly, relative to the shifting sands in the international community, particularly in Europe. That suggests that the third to fifth propositions appear on initial examination to be most relevant. However, since all Palestinian efforts were so strenuous and the Palestinian and Arab delegations expected to secure a majority of nine votes needed for passage of the resolution at the UN Security Council on 30 December 2014, all three are actually implausible because it would mean all the Arab delegation members were superior actors. Not one of them, let alone each and every one, is a Sadat. This pushes us back to proposition1 and possibly 2.

The plausibility of accepting proposition 1 as the correct explanation, that is, the failure to pass the proposed resolution was simply a Palestinian miscalculation, increases because the Palestinians waited to actually table the resolution until both France and Luxemburg had been persuaded to vote in favor of the final version of the resolution. The PA had then clearly calculated that they had the necessary nine votes to win. After all, their claims for momentum is plausible given the wind behind their sails as a result of European developments. Europe had become increasingly feisty about the inability of the USA to push forward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition to the EU itself passing a strong resolution by a very large majority in support of a two-state solution (498 to 88, with 111 abstentions), Sweden, the British Parliament, Ireland, Spain, Denmark and France had also passed such resolutions. These parliamentary votes on foreign policy issues are not binding on a country’s stance, hence Britain’s abstention. However, such votes do change the political climate.

Further, Israeli delegates at the UN indicated repeatedly that they were expecting the vote to pass by the minimum vote required and that the resolution would be vetoed by the U.S. Was this a feint to hide the knowledge that Nigeria would switch from the approval to the abstention column? It appeared that the Nigerian delegates did not know of the switch until the delegation received last minute instructions directly from Afula, the capital of Nigeria, to abstain. Why did the Palestinians not take this possibility into consideration? Had the Israelis played them to at least deliver a temporary and symbolic defeat?

That takes us to the other half of the story – the backroom manoeuvres to get Nigeria to change its vote. Here Avigdor Lieberman, so at odds with his clumsy rhetorical posturing and exercises in self-promotion, looms large. The Foreign Ministry of Israel in general and Lieberman in particular had targeted African states for diplomatic attention.  Back in September 2009, Lieberman traveled to Africa and visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. In June 2014, Lieberman returned to Africa and visited Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya, but, interestingly enough, not Nigeria. For by then, Netanyahu had established a personal relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. The latter had visited Israel twice in 2014 alone, the last time in October 2014 when he flew in his private plane to join 3,000 Nigerian Christian pilgrims to Israel. At that time, he placed his own personal note in the Western Wall.  Netanyahu went out of his way to offer Jonathan a gracious welcome and the two, among other things, discussed Nigeria’s votes in the Security Council. Once Netanyahu knew that a vote was immanent in the Security Council, he phoned Jonathan personally to request that Nigeria abstain from supporting the Palestinian resolution in contrast to the usual pattern of Nigeria routinely voting for Palestinian resolutions.

So although Israel had been doing poorly on the diplomatic front in Europe, it had been developing friends and supporters in Africa, in particular in Rwanda, Nigeria and other African states facing the rising threat of radical Islam. Israel had been first off the mark to offer Nigeria help in combatting Boko Haram, President Jonathan’s most lethal internal domestic threat. Though John Kerry also phoned  President Goodluck to convince him to instruct his UN delegation to abstain in the UN Security Council vote on the Palestinian resolution, evidence suggests that he was not successful, not because John Kerry lacked persuasive powers, but because the U,S, has been so up-and-down in assisting Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.

A very brief background first. In 1995, when Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (SOP), opposed Shell Oil Company’s polluting the Niger Delta, Saro-Wiwa, along with eight others, was executed by the military rulers of Nigeria. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth and an arms embargo was imposed by the EU and the USA. It was just after that suspension that we (a consortium of university research units and the office of the UN secretary-general) sent our first pilot early warning team to gather information on the struggle between the pro-democracy movement and the military rulers in the belief that the internal tensions might result in a civil war. To our surprise, we learned that the military rulers were strongly entrenched. More important, we learned of a nascent conflict, about which none of our Nigerian experts had any knowledge. A low-level conflict between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria was not only brewing; it was underway and was far more serious than all the inter-ethnic conflicts in that country (there are well over a 100 tribes and language groups). However, out exclusive funder, the government of Canada, decided that the information produced was not “actionable” and discontinued support. We would later revive the early warning effort in other African venues backed by American money.

Since that time, democracy was restored in Nigeria and sanctions were lifted by the beginning of this century, but the new focus in the last six years has not been on arms supplies, but on reinforcing democracy, integrity and good governance.  However, the religious conflict, largely propelled by an anti-Christian insurgency led by radical Muslims, grew. The most famous were attacks by Boko Haram founded in 2002. An estimated 5,000-15,000 civilians have been killed, mostly Christians, by Boko Haram. That terrorist organization reached its greatest infamy this past year with the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls. After all its infamy, the UNSC finally, on 23 May 2014, imposed sanctions against Boko Haram to close off funding, travel and weapons to the group after attacks against two villages in Boro State killed 30 and twin blasts compounded their heinous crime of kidnapping the 200 girls by killing at least 118 people in a market in the central city of Jos. Samantha Power was a leading voice in pushing for sanctions in the Security Council against Boko Haram. After the unanimous vote, she boasted that, “Today, the Security Council took an important step in support of the government of Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram and hold its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities.”

However, at the beginning of last month, the Nigerian government ended its U.S.-sponsored military training program in response to a decision by Washington not to sell Nigeria Cobra attack helicopters which Nigeria said it needed for its battle against Boko Haram. The U.S. explanation for its action: “concerns about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain this type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram and ongoing concerns about the Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.” James Entwistle, the American ambassador to Nigeria, added that complaints about human rights violations by Nigerian troops in the north-east of the country also were reasons. The United States blocked Nigeria’s ability to purchase any weapons for its military; the U.S refused to even consider the Nigerian military’s request for arms.

Yet in the spring, Samantha Power had said that, “The sanctions designation [for Boko Haram] is the latest step in the international community’s long-term effort to help Nigeria counter this terrorist threat.” SP continued, “We will continue doing everything we can to help the people of Nigeria bring back their girls, and we will work with the government of Nigeria to eliminate Boko Haram, including refuting their [Boko Haam’s] backwards and bloodthirsty ideology, because no child anywhere should ever be afraid to pursue a brighter future.” Helping in a rescue effort, refuting a militant ideology, but not supplying weapons to the government best equipped to fight Boko Haram. This was SP’s and the Obama administration’s strategy.

U.S. Ambassador Entwistle told the Nigerians that U.S. support was “unwavering”. Americaa’s interpretation of its unwavering support for Nigeria was bound to make Israel even more sceptical of America’s unwavering support for Israel. Support for the battle against Boko Haram takes many forms: military training, information sharing and supplying military equipment. Except re the latter, sometimes not. A part of Ambassador Entwistle’s rationale for the cancellation of the helicopter deal is worth quoting at length.

Over the years, the United States has always been willing to share appropriate military equipment with Nigeria.  That remains the case today but must be understood in the context of our global policy on arms transfers.  The U.S. government undertakes a rigorous evaluation process before proceeding with the sale of military equipment to any country, including Nigeria.  The U.S. Departments of State and Defense review all potential arms transfers for their consistency with U.S. policy and interests, as detailed in the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.  This includes any requests from a country that we have sold or donated weapons to resell or donate those same weapons to another country, such as Nigeria.  We examine whether an arms transfer makes sense for the needs of the prospective country.  Part of our review considers whether equipment may be used in a way that could adversely affect human rights.

SP had traveled with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to Nigeria, as well as Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad just two weeks before the 31 December vote, but the agenda did not include Nigeria’s vote on the Security Council on the Palestinian resolution which had been tabled on the day SP left for Africa. Instead, SP focused on promoting human rights and good governance as well as coordinating regional security. On the Security Council, SP clearly supports the Obama administration position of watching Israel’s backside while remaining critical of the front. But SP’s real heart is not in how to deal with state power or how to use diplomacy to win state support, but on rhetorical support for ideals – human rights, democracy, good governance.

So, in the end, the explanation is the simplest one available. The PA miscalculated and the Netanyahu administration, of all parties, outmaneuvered them.  The Palestinian offensive and the Israeli defense were synergistic. The US was totally sidelined in its preoccupation with human rights, democracy and good governance, all the issues dearest to my heart. But unless you also know how to play hardball, you are bound to be impotent even in advancing these ideals.

The emphasis on ideals is not just SP’s. It is that of the Obama Administration.

Tomorrow: Samantha Power on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)


The Nigerian military is reported to be short of adequate munitions and ammunition. This past week, after capturing a military base in northeast Nigeria and using gasoline bombs and explosives, Boko Haram destroyed Baga, the last town in northern Borno under federal control, and burned down 16 villages. Estimated death toll – 2,000. Thousands of other Nigerians are trapped without food and water.


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