The Iran-Israeli War

There is an article in this morning’s Washington Post by Ishaan Tharoor entitled, “Is regime change in Iran part of Trump’s agenda?” The answer offered is an assertive “yes.” The following evidence is offered:

  • Rudy (Rudolph) Giuliani, The Donald’s newly-appointed personal lawyer, just said so in an unexpected speech (both in timing and given his role as Trump’s personal attorney with no role in the White House) on Saturday to the Iran Freedom Convention for Democracy and Human Rights (IFCDHR) a front for the MEK, Mujahidin e-Khalq, stating that Trump was “committed to regime change” in Iran
  • Giuliani also said that, “We have a president who is tough… a president who is as committed to regime change as we are” and that confronting Iran is “more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal.”
  • Giuliani has been a lobbyist for over a decade for the MEK (see Jonathan Vankin in the INQUISITR)
  • In 2012, Giuliani was widely credited with getting the MEK delisted from its fifteen-year-old U.S. State Department designation as a “terrorist organization” under a court-imposed deadline for a decision (cf. Spencer Ackerman in Share 12/09/2012)
  • The MEK as a proxy for the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq had been held responsible for the deaths of three American military officers and three military contractors
  • The MEK, following a 2004 NYT Magazine report, is widely regarded as a husband-and-wife cult led by Massoud and Maryam Rajavi given its controls over the sex lives and reading of its members, though it now presents itself as a pro-democracy organization and implacable enemy of the Islamic Tehran regime that provides intelligence (usually fake) on Iran’s nuclear program
  • In 2012, the MEK, in spite of the support it had gained among some American politicians and policy buffs, was still largely considered a fringe cult with limited appeal to Iranians
  • However, currently both John Bolton, Trump’s newly-named National Security Adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the newly-minted Secretary of State, are known supporters of the MEK
  • Trump in his campaign to be the Republican nominee, in his presidential campaign and as president, has repeatedly denounced the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a “bad one,” the “worst deal ever”
  • This week it is widely believed that he will renounce the nuclear deal and re-impose economic sanctions contrary to the dire warnings against such a move by world political leaders such as Emmanuel Macron, President of France, and UN Secretary General António Guterres because of the imminent prospect of war (Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, arrived in Washington yesterday to continue Macron’s lobbying campaign)
  • May 12 is the deadline for making a decision about renewing sanctions by the U.S.
  • Trump is highly unlikely to go to war against Tehran given his dedication to pulling troops out of the Middle East and Far East (“We are going to stop spending US$7 trillion abroad and start focusing on infrastructure at home.”) in spite of the propensities and preferences of the hawks among his reborn foreign policy personnel

By all reputable accounts and inspection reports, Iran has kept the terms of the nuclear deal, but it has not curbed, and likely enhanced, its missile program as well as its troubling interventions in Syria, not just to back the Assad regime, but to establish long term military and missile bases in Syria. If the U.S. re-authorizes economic sanctions, thereby renouncing its commitment to the nuclear deal, a deep schism will result between the U.S. and its European allies who are intent on continuing their support for the nuclear deal.

The likely result will be that the U.S. will give, and has already probably committed itself to giving, Israel permission to act as its surrogate in attacking Iranian targets in Syria. Note the following:

  • Retired Israeli military generals and intelligence officers have become very vocal and have openly warned that withdrawal from the nuclear deal will make matters worse
  • In The Guardian on the weekend, Mark Townsend and Julian Borger reported that an Israeli intelligence firm had been employed by the Trump campaign to discredit those in the Obama regime (Kerry, Rhodes, Kahl, Biden) that had been active in forging the deal by means of “dirty ops” thereby helping to discredit the deal
  • Netanyahu in the week before presented an elaborate show-and-tell with an impressive array of detail captured by the Mossad on the well-known pre-deal record of lying and cheating by the Iranian regime on the Iranian nuclear program
  • Netanyahu almost explicitly claimed that Iran was continuing its past practices of lying and cheating in the post 2015 nuclear deal period but provided absolutely no evidence to that effect
  • Most ominously, Netanyahu insisted that Iran had to be stopped and it was better to do that now rather than later
  • Israel insists on continuing its policy of absolute control over the skies concerning any threats emanating from Syria as evidenced when Israel shot down an Iranian drone in February
  • In the past several weeks, Israel has upped the ante in attacking Iranian facilities in Syria; in the most significant action, Israeli F-15 fighter jets destroyed a cache of Iranian missiles and, in the process, reportedly killed dozens of Iranian military personnel
  • On 30 April, the Knesset voted to give Netanyahu authorization, if the Defense Minister agreed, to “declare war under extreme circumstances,” thereby amending the Israel’s Basic Law Clause 40A that states that the “state shall not start a war save by force of a government decision” and that such a decision will be conveyed to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee ASAP; the revised procedure would sideline the traditional pattern that the IDF, the intelligence institutions and the Foreign Affairs Ministry would all be consulted before such a decision
  • Netanyahu has repeatedly drawn a red line in the sand insisting that Israel will not permit Iran to establish military bases in Syria; in fact, there are three red lines: 1) no Iranian or Iranian proxies (e.g. Hezbollah) on Israeli borders; 2) no Iranian precision-guided missiles in Syria; 3) no expanded Iranian military entrenchment in Syria
  • Putin’s meeting this week with Netanyahu is unlikely to dissuade Israel from any further military action in Lebanon but will seek reassurances and mechanisms that Russian facilities will not be targeted
  • Hawkish Israeli cabinet members have insisted that Israel’s security will remain in dire jeopardy unless Assad is removed, an unlikely prospect, but holding that goal up will make Netanyahu’s military initiative against the Iranian presence in Syria appear as a more modest effort, even if quite disproportionate to the provocation, and will put further pressure on Assad to accede to Israeli demands that Iran be required to remove its military bases from Syria
  • A distraction from the eruptions expected from Palestinian quarters to the imminent U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem in a week adds fuel to the increased prospect of a much higher military engagement of Israel against Iran in Syria
  • The disproportionate Israeli response to the Hamas efforts against the fence received relatively muted international criticism and Hamas has now been reduced effectively to pleading for a long-term military truce

Iran has become both very circumspect at the same time as it has been more vocal in warning the U.S. not to cancel the nuclear deal. More specifically,

  • Until 12 May, Iran has put further military initiatives in Syria on “pause”
  • On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not only threatened the U.S. if it reneged on the nuclear deal, but also announced that, “We have plans to resist any decision by Trump on the nuclear accord…Orders have been issued to our atomic energy organization … and to the economic sector to confront America’s plots against our country”
  • American and/or Israeli diplomatic and/or military initiatives will weaken Rouhani and strengthen his rival hard line Revolutionary Guard Corps leader, Qassem Soleimani and solidify support for him by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
  • Soleimani is almost surely planning a quid pro quo attack on an Israeli military operation after 12 May even though it will almost surely result in a much larger retaliation against the Iranian military presence in Syria
  • In the May 6th elections in Lebanon, Hezbollah has run candidates, even more hawkish than before and in all constituencies for the first time in an effort to extend its control over Lebanese political and military policies and put Lebanon even further into Iran’s back pocket
  • The prospect of war with Israel and the imminent likely cancellation of the nuclear deal has led to a further precipitous decline in the value of the Iranian currency, putting more pressure on the regime to find a distraction and a nationalist rallying cry
  • The radical forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, especially the Al Quds division, is highly unlikely to retreat from its efforts to provide the point of attack for Iran to project power in the region even though in the past it moved into vacuums created by others; Soleimani likely views himself at a point of no return or retreat, but this is the critical breaking point on which Israel is forging its new activist agenda against Iran (cf. the recent piece by Jonathan Paris in the Fathom Forum)

I have been a strong supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. I have also warned that the debates over the Iran nuclear were really over differences in how to respond to the increasing threat of a more conventionally militant Iran. Both issues are now merging once again and the most likely prospect is an Israeli enhanced military involvement in Syria targeting Iran and with an implicit backing of the U.S. I believe that such an enhanced response would be more effective if it was de-linked from the Iranian nuclear deal but the Netanyahu government seems to believe otherwise and that now is the time to take action in the interest of long-term as well as immediate strategic goals.

Expect war unless Soleimani backs away temporarily (unlikely) to increase his forces fighting in Yemen and with Turkish forces against the Kurds.


The Arch of Justice

The Arch of Justice


Howard Adelman

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day. He was oft quoted as saying, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I only know this because Barack Obama loved to quote it and credit King. But he credited him with uttering the aphorism. Evidently, the originator was Theodore Parker in 1848 who offered it as a brief ode to hope and a belief in ethical progress. As Obama and others have recognized, however – this became a major theme of his final presidential address to the nation – the arc only bends if the people stand up and make it swing down and touch the earth. Without that effort, justice shoots off to the heavens to become an icon of aspiration instead of a practical reality here on earth.

Given the recent American election, can people still believe this is true? Can it be true of the Middle East? Of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And what is the nature of that justice? And justice for whom?

Parker was a Unitarian, an abolitionist and, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a Transcendentalist. Parker, like many before and after him, was especially influenced by the new Higher Biblical Criticism as those who followed were influenced by Source Criticism. He became convinced that the tales of dreams and prophecies of the Torah and of miracles and miraculous births of the New Testament lacked any truth value. He emerged from his spiritual quest as a naturalist, convinced that the divine was an intimate part of all of nature. What remained true in Christianity was its moral essence, the ethical teachings of Jesus.

Hence, he became a modernist. Religion required obedience to a higher Being. It required constructing a dependence on God and the institutions on earth responsible for conveying that message of obedience and even conformity with its rules. Morality, as Immanuel Kant had argued, was another matter and could not be reduced to religion. For moral principles were the sine qua non of behaviour without which there could be neither good nor bad. The basic principles of morality were a priori, as fundamental to the laws of human behaviour as gravity was to the laws of nature. They were transcendental preconditions of moral behaviour altogether and could not be distilled into religious directives. Morality requires right action and obedience to the conscience of the individual. Religion required obedience to an Other – God, the Church or an Authoritarian regime in a political system built on the same principles as religion while dispensing with God.

The attraction to authoritarian rule was almost as innate as conscience, but it was a propensity, not an a priori transcendental principle. “No feeling is more deeply planted in human nature than the tendency to adore a superior being, to reverence him, to bow before him, to feel his presence, to pray to him for aid in times of need.” But it was a planted feeling, one inculcated in both slave owners and their slaves, in religious leaders as well as their followers, in politicians who sought dominion and in citizens who sought an escape from the burdens and responsibility of freedom. When the heart is full of hope, divorced from personal effort, joy fills the air and a leader may be blessed. When that hope comes crashing down to earth, rejoicing turns to despair and the followers will seek to burn their fallen leader as an effigy. However, if one accepts that the whole world is divine, if one accepts that God lives within oneself, if one accepts that it is one’s responsibility and one’s responsibility alone to create the world as a living and vibrant moral universe, if one becomes convinced that this responsibility cannot be displaced onto another, then you have the premise for being both a moral and a responsible individual, two sides of the same coin.

It would be a theology that would be the counterpoint to authoritarianism so that even a religion as communitarian as Judaism would fall under its spell as liberal Jewish theologians became enamoured with the “autonomous self” as the only alternative to the authoritarianism of politicians and rabbis alike. The conviction of Theodore Parker became so pure that it even initially pushed him outside of even the pale of the Unitarian Church for a time before that church “canonized” him. Martin Luther King Jr. never went nearly that far. He was a communitarian in his heart and soul and believed in the power of his people, as Black Americans and as Americans of any colour or ethnicity. Individual conscience was never enough. One needed the power of the people to sustain oneself in battle and to provide the foot soldiers for that battle.

The issue was whether the people were to be lead by men of conscience or by reprobates, by liars, by those who were at base misanthropes, by men (perhaps even sometimes women) of no conscience, by men who fed off but showed utter disdain for the power of the people that they exploited in the name of attacking the institutional powers in place. Secular Protestantism was susceptible to seduction by the charms of a charlatan. And there were plenty around who offered to lead the people to greatness rather than to live under a brighter light, offered “our” power rather “theirs,” offered power at all rather than movement towards self-empowerment.

If the arc of justice is to be your guide, if it requires your effort to bend that arc towards the earth for the benefit of humanity, how does that help you in dealing with major international political problems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? It is one thing to rely upon the metaphor as a guide for domestic politics and social organizing. It is quite another to use it in service of international negotiations. But it is very far from impossible.

First, it requires each party to recognize the Other, however inferior that Other may be in the power it holds, in fact, in spite of the weak position of the Other. It requires recognizing the Other as worthy of equal respect and dignity as humans. This applies as well to the recognition required by the weak party as well. They too must see the Other, not as an overbearing demon, but as a group driven by demons of insecurity and fears. But also driven by its own dreams and aspirations. Respect of each party of the other becomes a primary condition for reconciliation and peace.

Second, it requires not relying on outsiders to bring pressure and force to bear on settling the matter. Influence, certainly. But not external authority or power. The mantra that the Palestinians and the Jewish Israelis are the only ones who can make peace must be a fundamental building block.

Third, it requires realism. If the arc of justice is to bend towards the earth, then the justice required is the justice on the ground, the justice that takes into account the needs and desires and aspirations of all of those wherever they live in the territory of the conflict. The mistake in Gaza was not the military withdrawal of the Israelis, but moral withdrawal of the Israelis, the decision to abandon not just leave Gaza and, thus, also to surrender to an evil principle of Judenrein. Because the Palestinians made a contractual deal virtually impossible and told the Israelis, in effect, to get out without any arrangements, this does not excuse the moral lapse. I myself participated in that lapse in supporting the total withdrawal. In retrospect, it was wrong to say, “To hell with you, we’re leaving.” At the same time, the political practices that are moral must be as realistic as they are idealistic. Escape from responsibility will not allow a party to achieve freedom. It is a very tough balancing act.

How does one retain responsibility while surrendering authority to the Other and granting the Other the right to empower itself? That is the task, not a premise. That is the goal of a peace agreement, not the foundation for one. How does one create and continue to engage in a positive sum game wherein there is both true mutual recognition and where the power of the Other is allowed to grow as a release and expression of the energy of a people while ensuring that this energy is not a threat but a partner, a complement rather than an antagonist. Much easier said that done. That is why the task of peace is so difficult. But it will never be made easier with the intervention of external superegos which remove the ethical and political responsibilities from the parties themselves to forge a peace. And each party must recognize its own shortcomings in such a quest.

That is what is fundamentally wrong with Resolution 2334. It attempts to pre-empt that discussion. It raises the status of the Palestinians quite justly, but only by demonizing and derogating Jewish Israelis and their position. Not only are realities ignored, not only are established principles torturously arrived at set aside, but the supporters of the Resolution – quite aside from the myriad of deficiencies – have surrendered to the belief that external parties must not only be helpful to the parties, but weigh in on the debate so that in terms of power, the weight clearly still remains with the Jewish Israelis that cannot be offset by all the abstract moral weight and economic clout put on the other side of the scale.

When that is done in bad faith, when that is done without loving-kindness, when that is done in the name of helping the so-called underdog, it is done without respect of the power and recognition the Palestinians truly deserve as a self-governing people responsible for who they are and what they want to become. It is done by ignoring the authoritarian institutions and corruption which impede their self-development. It is done by ignoring the long strides Palestinians have made in managing their own security. And it is certainly done by ignoring the realities of Jewish Israel and denigrating its motives and its position.

Given these parameters, it is why the conclusions of the Paris Peace Conference are so superior to those of Resolution 2334. All states, including that of Israel, should recognize Palestine as an aspiring state. That is what Palestinians want. That is what they should have. That is what only a minority of Jewish Israelis let alone a minority of all Israelis want to prevent. The majority of Jewish Israelis accept the goal of creating a Palestinian state side-by-side Israel.

Let me offer a concrete example. If an outsider determines in advance that Jerusalem is Palestinian territory, a determination that was never previously made in either an agreement between the parties or even by an authoritative international body, that is an illegitimate move. If a country wishes to do so in recognition of realities that do not pre-empt the discussion – such a moving an embassy to West Jerusalem – that may be an imprudent act given the timing, but it is not an undercutting action. One can even argue such an act is needed to make a statement about reality.

That is why the Paris Peace Conference was far superior to the UNSC Resolution 2334 even as it endorsed that Resolution, but did so in a way that offered some re-balancing. It was an influence conference, not a peace conference. Neither of the disputants were represented or there. The participants reaffirmed their support “for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The conference endorsed negotiations between the parties as “the only way” to achieve enduring peace while recognizing that current trends (on both sides) on the ground, not only the expansion of settlements but “continued acts of violence,” impede progress towards peace. The conference endorsed “meaningful, direct negotiations.”

Resolution 242 was not superseded by another UN resolution, though all UN resolutions were acknowledged. Instead, the conference endorsed a negotiated two-State solution that would meet the legitimate aspirations of both parties for both sovereignty and security “and resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of UNSC Res. 242 and 338.” If a framework was helpful in such negotiations, the Conference tipped its hat to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Palestinians as well as Israelis were urged to be governed by international humanitarian and human rights law. Instead of using international humanitarian law as a club, let alone the threat of economic coercion, the participants expressed a readiness to offer its support where needed, including economic aid and economic incentives as positive inducements.

One item emphasized was an offer to facilitate civil society dialogue between the two parties in contention. The focus was not on external pressures, but on strengthening civil society and direct dialogue between and among citizens from both sides. The conference was clear in its strictures against steps that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues – borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees. Though Netanyahu could wave away the results of the Paris Peace Conference as irrelevant and futile, and the Palestinians could welcome the conclusion by ignoring the strictures against their own positions and practices, reassurance came for me from a surprising quarter. Though he did not express any regret for not vetoing Res. 2334, John Kerry reassured Netanyahu that there would be no further UN Resolutions before Trump took over and no international action following from the Peace Conference. The timing of the conference and the results seem more intended to send a message to Donald Trump rather than to either Abbas or Netanyahu.

As I interpreted the Peace Conference, it went some way to offset the destructive elements of UNSC 2334, but the concluding statement lacked the legal authority of the UN. There were also other efforts on the ground that proved to be more promising and could serve as a precedent for partial deals rather than a comprehensive one. After six years of negotiations, a concrete deal was made on sharing water resources between Israel and the West Bank, including of a Joint Water Committee to work out the details of implementation.

However, on the international stage, the fallout from Resolution 2334 inviting unilateral actions on the international stage can be very destructive of efforts to implement a peace deal. I will deal with those consequences in my next blog.

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution: Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution:
Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations


Howard Adelman

Following the war in 1948, the borders recommended by UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, shifted. Beginning with the United States, many countries recognized the new state of Israel. This was before the war broke out. After the war, these states, and the numbers increased, which recognized Israel, did not differentiate between the borders approved by the UN and the territory between those borders and the new armistice line. The latter was not referred to as “occupied territory” within the enlarged borders of the armistice agreement. It is more than noteworthy that the Fourth Geneva Convention (Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) which defined the rights of a victor over territory and the treatment of local inhabitants, as well as the right to move or give permission to move its own population into those territories captured in that war, was not adopted until August 1949.

The inclusion of Jerusalem and the West Bank within Jordan was not generally recognized. Nevertheless, Jordan’s control and administration of Jerusalem and the West Bank and its subsequent annexation into Jordan became the de facto reality until 1967. In that year, UNSC Res. 242 set up a new framework for recognition. Israel was required to withdraw from occupied territories, and explicitly not the occupied territories. The drafters of that resolution explicitly did not recognize the 1948 armistice lines as borders. The big change was that Israel was now the occupying power of the West Bank, the Old City, East Jerusalem and Gaza. According to the generally established, but not universally accepted, interpretations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a power that exercises military occupation of a territory following a war – and it does not matter whether that territory was the sovereign territory of another state or territory occupied by another power or legal state or whether the territory was captured in a defensive or an aggressive war – that power was not allowed to alter the demography of that territory by moving its population into that territory or even allowing its citizens to move in to occupy parts of that territory.

The left in Israel took advantage of the clauses that allowed changes “for military purposes.” The right in Israel claimed, that under the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, that territory was to be a homeland where Jewish people could settle. Others claimed that the Fourth Geneva Convention trumped those allowances of the 1920s. But the point became moot because international treaties between the parties in contention would trump both the Geneva Convention and the exercise of de facto coercive power and administrative control on the ground.
Which brings us to Resolution 2334. Resolution 2334 alters previous arrangements and does so in fundamental ways. It reaffirms, as I have previously explained, a general principle, but one only applied to Israel after 1967, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by military force. It reaffirms the Fourth Geneva Convention about the transfer of populations and defines the creation of the barrier/wall/fence as a breach of that Convention and not justified by military or security needs, at least where it is located on territory administered by Israel. Israel’s actions were once again determined to be in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Resolution 2334 explicitly condemns altering the demographic makeup of the territory, more significantly, biases any negotiations by calling the occupied territory Palestinian territory and not simply the West Bank, and specifically includes East Jerusalem which encompasses the Old City in its nomenclature.

Resolution 2334 adds to these old assertions, now somewhat modified in language, a “grave concern” that the continuous construction of settlements threatens the two-State solution. The Resolution explicitly adds, “based on the 1967 lines,” and leaves out any reference to land swaps. In this Resolution, the 1967 lines now acquire a status as a border reference. The Resolution goes even further to point to the settlements as THE obstacle, that is the major, though not exclusive, barrier to concluding a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And it is, if you accept the Old City, East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank as Palestinian territory. And that is what the UN Security Council did in passing that Resolution. It effectively trumped Resolution 242 which had only required withdrawal from some territory and not all territory. Resolution 2334 effectively trumped OSLO by setting the 1967 armistice borders as the reference point rather than any swap of territories already agreed to between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

In effect, the weight of international recognition of what was Palestinian territory was added to the weight of the dominant interpretation of international law to offset the weight of coercive power and administrative Israeli authority over parts of that territory. In the near term, the Resolution seems to have had a stimulant effect, spurring the formalization of settlements and outposts underway or in the planning stage, as occurred at the beginning of the twenty-first century when another UN Security Council Resolution was passed. UNSC Resolution 1515 adopted unanimously on 19 November 2003, endorsed the Road Map proposed by the Quartet envisaging an exchange of territories to satisfy Israeli security concerns and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The threat of terrorism featured prominently. In that phase, the establishment of new settlements, at least legally, by and large effectively ceased.

The focus of Israel became “natural” expansion. This is precisely and explicitly what Resolution 2334 mentioned. Did Resolution 1515 passed in 2003 indirectly accept the settlements built before 31 March 2001? Was their legality reinforced in distinguishing between settlements after 2002 from those authorized before 2001? Resolution 2334 seemed to state that this was not the case. The only changes to the 1967 lines that will be recognized are those made between the two parties. Does that mean that Resolution 2334 recognizes the lines between areas A, B and C? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning them, they are given no international imprimatur. Does that mean Resolution 2334 recognizes the tentative agreement on the territorial swap? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning that swap agreement, it is given no international imprimatur. These may be incorporated into a final negotiated agreement, but the diplomatic trading hand of the Palestinians has been greatly strengthened.

In the last eight years under the Obama administration, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem neighbourhoods, has grown to about 400,000, a gain of more than 100,000 largely through the “thickening” of existing settlements. The number of “settlers” in East Jerusalem has grown to roughly 208,000, only 15,000 more than when Obama took office. The emphasis in policy of Israel has been on strengthening the West Bank settlements. Almost 13,000 new settlement units were initiated or completed in the West Bank. What Israel has lost in diplomatic leverage in the international arena it has tried to offset by facts on the ground and de facto coercive and administrative control.

Unlike the efforts at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the 2016 Resolution called on reversing the situation. Further, contrary to the contention of that Resolution, there is little evidence suggesting that efforts to grow and expand existing settlements entrench a one-State reality as claimed in Resolution 2334. But the clinkers come in the clauses much more than in the preamble. Those clauses reiterate that the settlements established anywhere in the occupied territories after 1967 are illegal., a flagrant violation of international law and impediment to a two-State solution and a just and lasting solution to the conflict. Resolution 2334 demands cessation of all settlement activities.

And what is a settlement activity. Expanding buildings? Repairing buildings, Working? Eating? Driving? Or is it just the collective initiatives such as providing for infrastructure and administration? The real substantive elements are the repeated references to the 1967 borders as the fundamental reference, the repeated reference to East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as falling within that reference point as not only occupied territory but occupied Palestinian territory, the call for reversal of trends that have significantly fallen off since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the call for other states to differentiate, not only in trade, but in all dealings between what happens in the occupied territories and what happens within the 1967 lines recognized as sovereign Israel. The supplementary clauses denouncing violence on all sides appear pro tem, especially because the resolution explicitly excludes reference to activities which reinforce or encourage terrorism (such as treating terrorists as heroes and martyrs) while the targeting of demolitions is spelled out and focused solely on Israel.

In August of 2016, following a denunciation of settlement thickening expansion plans by 200 American rabbis, the U.S. sent Israel an unequivocal message that if demolitions proceeded in the Palestinian village of Sussia, a red line would be crossed. This echoed protests made by EU foreign ministers on 20 July 2016 following warnings General Mordechai delivered to the Bedouins. 340 of them live in the village. The fact that these disputes, so badly handled by Israel, may have virtually nothing to do with Israeli settlement activities and everything to do with Bedouin resistance to Israeli urban development strictures, whether in Israel proper or the West bank, seem to have had no influence on the wording of the resolution.
Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, a lawyer dealing with this issue on behalf of the villagers, claimed that Israel simply wanted to move the village to or near Area B and out of Area C, an area in which 400,000 Israeli live and only 100,0000 Palestinians do. The fact that the villagers were forced to move in 1986 and the homes they built on their agricultural land were demolished in 2001, rebuilt and demolished again in 2011, was not considered as part of the analysis. This demolition would be the third time since the village was built thirty years ago. Nor did the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government in 2015 seem to count. Nor, finally, did it seem to matter that this was a new village built during occupation.

All of this must be understood also within the context of diplomacy conducted over the last six years. The Americans refused to declare the settlements illegal in 2011 when the Palestinians attempted to declare their status as a state at the United Nations in the Palestine 191 initiative. How did Israel respond? It doubled down and announced the building of additional settlement units in response to the Palestinian diplomatic initiative. The Europeans resisted. Germany moved to stop delivery of submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Israel. The following year, if some European states previously abstained, they then supported Palestinian statehood. If they previously opposed, they abstained in 2012 voting. The diplomatic war was running against Israel and criticisms mounted against home demolitions, expropriation of land and the refusal to grant construction permits to Palestinians.
These countries and their diplomats contended that Israeli actions and initiatives in the West Bank were completely contradictory to the stated and agreed aim of arriving at a two-State solution. But as I tried to demonstrate in my previous analysis, that depends on what you define as the two-State solution since there are many variations. If the plan is simply to incorporate Area C along with the accepted Jerusalem neighbourhoods into Israel, and to transfer equivalent Israeli land to the new Palestinian state, such thickening activities do not undermine a two-State solution. But if the reference point is the 1967 armistice lines, then such activities do conflict with a very different two-State solution. More importantly, by making the 1967 lines the reference point and by defining the occupied territory as Palestinian territory, the diplomatic hand of the Palestinians is significantly strengthened.

The situation, to say the least, has not been helped by the way Bibi Netanyahu conducts diplomacy in terms of domestic politics. He has bragged that his government is more committed to settlements than any Israeli government in history, in spite of the evidence to the contrary when comparing the expansion of the number of settlements under Arik Sharon’s government compared to Bibi’s. Further, Naftali Bennett and others in Bibi’s cabinet openly declare the two-State solution in any form dead. Donald Trump has appointed an ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who dubs the two-State solution in any form an illusion. All of these responses of the Israeli government stimulate an equal and powerful reaction from Western governments sympathetic to some kind of a Palestinian state being created side-by-side Israel.
As more Israeli politicians not only believe in but advocate implementing a one state solution unilaterally, increasing numbers of Palestinians have moved to advocate a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean attracting idealist support and that of many European nations. But those efforts are NOT identified as a threat to the two-State solution because they ostensibly emanate from idealist principles rather than what is perceived to be a crass power grab.
In one interpretation of Resolution 2334, the world is trying to save Israel from its worst propensities, propensities likely to be reinforced by the new Trump government. In a very different interpretation of the very same international diplomatic initiatives, a sustained effort has been mounted to strengthen the Palestinian hand in negotiations and to keep the threat of terrorism at bay. As Israeli settlers marched from Ma’aleh Adumim to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on territory captured in the Six Day War (February 2014), when in 2016 Bennett openly advocated formally annexing those territories, the counter-movement strengthened.

Those who argue that settling people to mark territory is illegal under the dominant interpretation of international law, and, further, that such efforts are unsustainable, in turn, strengthen the hands of Israeli extremists demanding total annexation. The extremes are enhanced and the most reasonable compromises are undermined from both sides. This is especially true when the idealists and opponents charge Israel with creating an apartheid state – which is not outside the realm of possibilities. Certainly, hatred of Jews has been increasing among Palestinians. Suspicion and fear of Arabs, reinforced by extremist Islamic actors in the Muslim world, has increased among Israelis.

In response to my last blog, one reader wrote and asked, “To whom does the land belong?” I quipped back as if I were writing a Donald Trump tweet, “To God. We are merely the custodians.” The reader wrote back, “Well, that may be theological, but I’d like a more practical answer.” I offered a more serious response as follows:
“You are right to do so [object to my terse response]. In part, but only in part, this was written tongue in cheek. The reality is that the borders of a territory and the country that controls that territory are products of coercive power, administrative legal authority, legal treaties between and among nations and recognition by others. Is Taiwan part of China? Is Tibet part of China? According to the first two criteria above, the answer in both cases is yes. Over the last seventy years, the answer to the 3rd and 4th criteria has also increasingly been “yes,” even though there is often a distinction made between de facto and de jure recognition.”

Are the settlements illegal and does that mean they should all be condemned and torn down? Illegal means unlawful, but does not entail that what took place is a criminal act. Civil disobedience is illegal in many countries. Trespassing is illegal but not a criminal offence. Further, some practices are illegal, but the laws against them are not enforced. Some acts are considered illegal but the requisite authority lacks any enforcement mechanism. Most international legal experts in humanitarian law deem it illegal to transfer a conqueror’s population into the territory under occupation. Many Israeli experts in humanitarian law argue that if the territory is taken in a defensive war AND if the territory was never the possession of a sovereign state, settling the population of the new occupier in the conquered territory is not illegal and many even regard the territory as not occupied.

Since the International Court in The Hague has sided with the first set of interpreters, and those interpreters are in the majority, I simply take it as a descriptive fact that, currently, international law deems the settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. However, I myself believe that law is not the only determinant and often not the main factor in international affairs. The removal of such a large number of people would be immoral and politically catastrophic and those ethical and political considerations far outweigh the considered legal opinions of most international humanitarian legal scholars and even the interpretations of The Hague court.

Further who gives the recognition is critical. If it is a major power, that is one thing. If it is Honduras, that is quite another. Sometimes occupied territory is recognized as part of a state passively – namely by muting criticism of that occupation. This happened with the territory Israel won in the 1948 war. It has not happened with the territory won in the 1967 war. In fact, the vocal and legal opposition to the ownership by Israel of the “occupied territories” has grown. At the same time, the control via power and demography of some of that territory has increased. The next two decades will set the direction of the resolution of the recognition of new borders based on an admixture of these factors, but the determination will not be unilateral determined by Israel’s coercive power or formal administrative authority alone.

Those other factors will be significantly affected by influence, the growing role of Israel in wealth and in the world economy and the other kind of influence that is non-material, the respect Israeli politicians and friends earn for Israel on the international stage. The latter is usually called diplomacy.

It is in this context that I want to move on and examine the American approach to Resolution 2334 compared to the Israeli one.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Corporeality III: Trudeau and ISIS

Corporeality III: Trudeau and ISIS


Howard Adelman

Inspired by the failure of the international community to intervene in the Rwanda genocide in 1994, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, Canada was the major initiator of the doctrine: “The Responsibility to Protect” (R2P). The Liberal Party of Canada when Lloyd Axworthy was Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Jean Chretien had given birth to that doctrine that endorsed military intervention when a state failed to fulfil its responsibilities and war crimes, crimes against humanity, religious cleansing and even genocide were all rampant. We do not hear much about R2P anymore since it was endorsed by the United Nations unanimously just over ten years ago because R2P proved to be both hypocritical in its passage and inapplicable in practice. The doctrine presumed that sovereignty was not absolute but rather a delegated authority by the international community and could be breached by that same international community if a state failed in the primary duty if it was either unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The passage was hypocritical because countries like China voted for R2P as long as it observed the principle of the absolute sovereignty of a state and military intervention was permissible only with the permission of that state. R2P was inapplicable because, when military intervention was most needed in failing states, powerful states suspected one another of practicing power politics and interfering in the domestic affairs of another state for their own political interests.

In the case of Iraq, was this not a perfect instance for the applicability of humanitarian intervention, especially since the government of Iraq had itself invited that intervention? In Syria and Iraq, minorities were under constant attack – the Yazidis and Chaldeans ae a few examples.  Further, the United Nations itself had endorsed such intervention in the fight against terrorism. On 19 September 2014, the UN Security Council, as it welcomed the newly-elected Iraqi government, did not simply endorse but urged international support for the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS (S/PRST/2014/20). This was followed up on 19 November 2014 with a statement of the President of the Security Council, endorsed with the full authority of the SC, that called for international cooperation in combating terrorism and the threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters, violent extremism, Al-Quaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). One year later on 20 November, the UNSC called on its member states “to take all necessary measures on the territory under the control of ISIS to prevent terrorist acts committed by ISIS and other Al-Quaida affiliates.”

The Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau had assumed office in Canada at the time that the last UN resolution was passed. Given its past and current policies of renewing Canada’s traditional record of engagement in the international sphere and with the United Nations, one might have expected that the Justin Trudeau government would step up its involvement in Iraq in the fight against Al-Quaida and ISIS. But that did not seem to be the case.

It was not as if Canada had been totally immune from attacks by Islamicist terrorists on Canadian soil or had not been used as a transit stop for terrorists heading for the U.S. On 14 December 1999, Ahmed Ressam had been arrested as a result of a very alert American customs guard when Ressam tried to enter the U.S. on the car ferry between Victoria and the U.S., a car that was packed with explosives intended for use in a plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve as part of the planned 2000 millennium attacks. In 2006, in Ontario, Canadian counter-terrorism forces rounded up 18 al-Quaida-inspired terrorists to attack and set off bombs at the CBC in Toronto and the parliament buildings in Ottawa with the intention of capturing and beheading the Canadian Prime Minister and other political leaders. In August 2010, Misbahuddin Ahmed was arrested and subsequently convicted for his involvement in facilitating terrorism. In 2013, Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser were arrested for their involvement in a plot to derail a Toronto-New York train. In July 2013 in British Columbia, John Stewart Nuttall and Amanda Korody were arrested for planning to plant pressure cooker bombs in the provincial legislature.

Canadians were not always lucky in avoiding actual terrorist acts. In a ramming attack, not uncommon in Israel but rare here, Martin Couture-Rouleau, a recent Muslim convert, struck two members of the Canadian Armed Forces and killed warrant officer Patrice Vincent. On 22 October 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, another recent convert to Islam, gunned down 24-year-old Corporal Nathan Cirillo standing guard at the War Memorial in front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and might have done considerably more damage if he had not been killed within the building by the head of the Parliamentary Security Services.

These plans and actual attacks, for the most part, may just have been inspired by Al-Quaida and ISIS, but they alone provided sufficient motive for Canada to join the war against Daesh (ISIS) – which Canada did under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Just over a year ago, the Harper government agreed to participate actively in the war against Daesh and in March of 2015 reconfirmed that commitment for another year. The new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau had different plans. In his very first press conference, Trudeau announced the government’s intention of keeping its pledge to withdraw Canadian fighter jets from the battle against Al-Quaida and ISIS in Iraq. But he also pledged to stay in the battle, no longer directly, but by using Canadian forces to train Iraqi forces to do battle with Al-Quaida and ISIS.

But how does this square with the historical tradition of the Liberal Party in support of R2P, with Canada’s liberal tradition of involvement with UN sanctioned missions, with Canada’s own self- interest in defeating Al-Quaida and ISIS, and with a fourth source of legitimating Canadian direct military involvement, the call by President Hollande of France following the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 to participate in the war against Al-Quaida and ISIS? Under both the EU and NATO’s doctrine of mutual defence invoked when President Hollande declared war on ISIS. Canada under its treaty obligations was called upon to actively join the direct war effort against Daesh. Instead, Canada seemed to be opting out of the direct combat against Al-Quaida and ISIS.

“What we’re doing right now is working with our allies and coalition partners looking at how best Canada can continue to help militarily in substantive ways that offer real help in a way that is specifically lined up with our capacities as Canadians.” This, in various iterations, has been Trudeau’s explanation for plans to withdraw six Canadian fighter jets from the battle. In what sense has this been working with partners when it has been clear that Canada’s military partners do not endorse the withdrawal? Canada’s allies have not responded well to the Canadian government decision to withdraw the six fighter aircraft. When U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter in an effort to enhance member contributions summoned American allies – including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK – Canada was conspicuously excluded. America responded in diplomatic-speak to queries about Canada’s non-invitation. “The United States and Canada are great friends and allies, and together with coalition partners, we will continue to work to degrade and destroy ISIL.” Three Republican congressmen initiated an investigation of Trudeau for supporting ISIL.

In what sense is the involvement of Canadian fighter jets out of line with Canadian capacities? Is active involvement in such a legitimate war not the best way for Canadian fighter pilots to gain experience in actual combat? Trudeau offered a threefold explanation. Canada should do what it does best. Other alternatives of involvement were better options in the war. Third, Trudeau had pledged to withdraw the fighters in the election campaign and was beholden to the Canadian electorate to carry out what he promised to do. “We do some things better than just about anyone else in the world and looking at our capacity to do that in smarter ways is exactly what Canadians asked me to do in the last election campaign.” It is part of a division of responsibilities and Canada should serve in a role in which it has a competitive advantage. It was an explanation he repeated many times, including statements made to a G20 summit in Turkey just after the Paris November massacres.

The third explanation of fulfilling promises made in an election is certainly valid, but did not the 13 November massacres in Paris change the equation? Did not President Hollande’s call for directly joining the war against ISIS demand an alteration in promises made? Why was it an either/or proposition – training Iraqi soldiers versus the use of fighter jets? Both might be appropriate. Finally, to declare that what Canada does better than anyone else is training foreign military forces seemed the height of conceit as well as blatantly false. Though Canada has Canadian soldiers offering tactical training on the ground – for example 250 in Ukraine – as well as offering financial support and training for strengthening democratic institutions, this hardly seems to be the main priority in Iraq and Syria. Even if the boast about Canadian unique capacities happened to be true, it is not as if Canadians can avoid involvement in combat. In December, Canadians training Kurdish Peshmerga forces were subject to a three-pronged attack by Daesh forces and the Canadian forces became actively involved in the two-day battle supported in the air by two Canadian hornets in addition to other allied aircraft. A ground involvement would not obviate participating in the air war, especially since the Canadian armed forces boast of the successes of its 13 missions in November and its 8 in December. Further, in the light of the casualties taken in the seemingly fruitless 8-year involvement in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban, Canadians seem more wary of having troops on the ground than in the air.

What about the other parts of Canada’s Operation IMPACT and the Canadian air contribution to the Middle East Stabilization Force (MESF) to halt and degrade Daesh in both Iraq and Syria? Canada boasts that as part of its participation, Daesh has lost the ability to operate freely in 20-25% of the populated areas in Iraq under its control. Daesh has lost a great deal of infrastructure and equipment. In addition to the six CF-18 Hornet fighters, Canada contributes a CC-150T Polaris refueller and two CP-140M Aurora surveillance aircraft.  Nothing has been said that I know of about withdrawing them. But how important would retaining them in the field be if the six Hornets are withdrawn?

It is not as if the Canadian air forces have been underused having, by the end of January, conducted over 2,000 sorties, about two-thirds by its fighter jets, one-sixth by the refueller and one-sixth by its surveillance aircraft. In addition to the air crews, what about the crews on the ground required to support the fliers – the liaison and planning personnel, the logistics people, those officers working in command and control, and the ground crews? The reality is that all Canadian troops overseas in the war against Daesh are combat troops in some sense.

One argument not used at all is the ineffectiveness of the campaign against Daesh and al-Quaida. That is for three reasons. Since Trudeau contends that Canada will continue to be involved in the train-and-assist mission, a revised policy on these lines would be incoherent. Secondly, such a rationale would prompt close examination of the mission and reveal how critical air support has been to the success of the train-and-assist mission. Third, the examination would reveal how successful the air mission has been in degrading and setting back ISIS. The last has a corollary harking back to R2P. The sooner the mission is completely successful, the sooner the people of Mosul and Fallujah will be free of the tyranny of ISIS and the practice of hoarding food for their fighters while the local population is left to starve.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland has stated:

  • The mission has forced the enemy in Iraq to give up terrain, ejecting Daesh from Beiji and its nearby oil refinery and from Ramadi where defense forces were deeply entrenched;
  • The train-and-assist mission has already succeeded in training 17,500 Iraqi troops, 2,000 police with another 3,000 soldiers and police in process;
  • The mission has trained the Iraqis in how to integrate infantry, armor, artillery, air power (my italics), engineers, etc. in coordinated attacks;
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces, including Syrian Kurds, Syrian Arabs and others “have made dramatic gains against the enemy in northern and eastern Syria, while the vetted Syrian opposition and other groups are holding the enemy back along what we call the Mara line in northwest Syria;”
  • None of the above would have been possible “without coalition air support.”

Discount some of these claims as embroidered. Nevertheless the mission has been and continues to be successful. Essentially, Justin Trudeau seems to believe that, motivated by fear, a response to terror with force only succeeds in inducing greater radicalization among Islam’s adherents. The angry extremists and terrorists are out there because of what we Westerners have done in the past. Trudeau has evidently not read, or, if he has, he disagrees with Joby Warrick’s description of the rise of ISIS in his book Black Flags. Daesh did not arise in response to George W. Bush’s terribly mistaken invasion of Iraq, but with the help of the Bush administration that enormously raised the profile of an obscure Jordanian street tough, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He learned that terror, the bloodier the better, was the best means of getting America to sell his message. Zarqawi offered the militant match to Donald Trump’s belief that the greater the quantity of insults shot off with a scatter gun, the more publicity, the higher your profile and the greater your chances of becoming President of the U.S. The jihadists just wanted to create a caliphate over the whole Middle East.

If the argument were left there, we would be stranded, for the arguments on the basis of tactics and strategies leave us bereft of any understanding. Trudeau appears to be left standing on quicksand. But that is fundamentally a decision not to comprehend his position. For in the end he is not arguing about the best tactics and strategies to combat and defeat ISIS, but about identity, Canada’s identity in a world of realpolitik. Canada is a peaceable kingdom with a very successful multicultural policy. What we do in foreign affairs and the defence of Canadian citizens must be carried out with this as the first premise. The use of military force must be a last resort and used only when diplomacy and working to improve government have crashed against a cement wall. Even then the use of military force will be very small.

That approach apparently would not even change as a result of an increase in homegrown terrorism. A successful attack would not change Canadian policy. Responding with a declaration of war is wrong for Trudeau. That is NOT how attacks at home or abroad should affect us – by stirring up our militancy and our paranoia and fear. In the case of the latter, reinforcing Canadian intelligence services would only mean reinforcing the surveillance of those intelligence services to ensure they do not abrogate our freedoms. This is the claim of the son of Pierre Trudeau who introduced the draconian War Measures Act against what was relatively a pinprick by the FLQ.

So how do we assess Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party’s position when placing military and strategic considerations within the context of identity politics? By examining some other miscues of the government unrelated to Daesh, Iraq or Syria we might gain some further insight.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Trudeau, the domestic body politic and defining the body politic of Canada

Palestinian Terrorism and Israel

Palestinian Terrorism and Israel


Howard Adelman

I believe there may be an apparent correlation: when I cease writing a blog for almost a week; I suddenly get reams of correspondence. Can I conclude that if I do not want to hear from readers, I must continue producing a blog a day so that readers are so busy that they have no time to write or read much else? False logic, no? I will try to suggest other forms of false logic that have far more substantive implications. Among the emails I received, two were about, first, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, second, Justin Trudeau’s policies in that respect. Let me address both issues in turn, the issue of Palestinian support for terrorism against Israeli Jews in today’s blog, and the issue of Justin Trudeau’s views and the advisers who shape those views in tomorrow’s blog.

I begin with Palestinian intentions. The reference was to an article distributed by The Gatestone Institute written by Bassam Tawil on opinion polls of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel.

As we enter the third month of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, Bassam Tawil argues that it is important to discern the intentions of Palestinians in general and of the Palestinian leadership more specifically not just of the individual perpetrators of stabbings, rammings and fire bombings. Bassam is out to attack the thesis that the assaults are driven by despair and frustration among Palestinians at the lack of progress towards a peace agreement with Israel. In Bassam’s views, the attacks are nothing but a reiteration of long term Palestinian goals to eliminate Israel and are a result of Palestinian leadership incitement rather than actions of the Israeli government, the IDF or settlers.

Let me analyze the claim by first introducing readers to Bassam Tawil for those unacquainted with his writings and reviews of the policies and practices of Mahmoud Abbas over this past year. In this blog, I will mostly concentrate on polls he cites with respect to Palestinian attitudes towards Israel.

Bassam Tawil is a regular writer of op-eds for The Gatestone Institute and, since the outbreak of the intifada of knives, has written on topics such as:

“Fatah Knives and ISIS Knives: Palestinian Child Sacrifice”

“Palestinians: The Real Goal of the Intifadah”

“Who is Jailing and Torturing Palestinian Journalists?”

“The Terrorists Funded by the West”

“Palestinians: A World of Lies, Deception and Fabrication”

“Muslim Blood and Al-Aqsa”

“The Palestinian Jihad: Lies, Lies and More Lies” that was published in the Canadian Jewish News

“What Do Palestinian Terrorists Want?”

“Palestinians: Why Our Leaders Are Hypocrites and Liars.”

These are but a sampling of his prolific output. But they should tell you, without reading much more, that Bassam is a Palestinian, that he is very repetitive on a few themes, that he believes the Palestinian leadership is not simply absent without leave, but an orchestrator and stimulus of the Third Intifada. According to Bassam, the majority of Palestinians hope for and want the destruction of Israel. When he is more fired up than usual, he refers to Palestinians as the New Nazis and depicts Gaza under Hamas and eventually the West Bank as proto-Da’esh entities.

Bassam Tawil’s byline usually states that he is a scholar on the Middle East or a Senior Scholar at the Gatestone Institute whose pieces for The Gatestone Institute are reprinted in The Jewish Press ( and elsewhere. He is often linked with another Palestinian, Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli, who is a well-recognized Palestinian investigative reporter. In fact, Bassam Tawil is more like Ezra Levant whom I will discuss tomorrow, someone who writes opinion pieces or op-eds, often using data accumulated elsewhere. Since a scholar is generally defined as a distinguished academic or a scholarly expert in a particular field, it is difficult to understand how Bassam can be portrayed as a scholar since he is not recognized as such by Middle East experts of various persuasions and since I have never been able to track down a CV listing his scholarly credentials. There is absolutely nothing wrong with listing oneself as a writer on the Middle East or a journalist on the Middle East. But why insert “scholar” or “distinguished scholar” unless one wants to mislead. This is especially important for a writer whose short essays so often refer to alleged lies and misleading statements by others.

Let us begin with the empirical material he does use and other material that he ignores based on polls of Palestinian attitudes. In the piece cited by my reader, reference is made to a poll conducted by The Watan Center for Studies and Research. Watan has published such items as a book entitled, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine – A Tale of Two Narratives by Padraig O’Malley, which is a scholarly book with the usual plethora of books read and interviews cited. One essential argument in the book is that, “Israel’s actions, according to the Israeli perspective, cannot be judged in conformity with universal norms” because Israel always faces an existential threat and is determined to survive in spite of the toxic atmospheric context of the area in which the country exists.

The thesis is consistent with Bassam’s and has been repeated by other authors and commentators. For example, Rachel Molschky on 24 July 2014 wrote on “Palestinian Support for Suicide Bombings,” based on a 1 July 2014 Pew Report. I will come back to the Watan Centre Poll in a moment, but I wanted to begin with polling by an organization with relatively impeccable credentials. The Pew poll cited was really about negative attitudes to extremism and terrorism in the Muslim world. “Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies.” Further, “support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade.” Nevertheless, the Pew Poll demonstrated that, in some countries, a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.

Take neighbouring Lebanon, which has the highest anxiety about extremism in the region given its long suffering from such acts, “92% of the public is worried about Islamic extremism, up 11 points from the already high figure of 81% in 2013. Lebanese Christians (95%), Shia Muslims (95%) and Sunni Muslims (86%) all share high levels of concern.” “In the Palestinian territories, 65% worry about extremism.” Ironically, that concern is higher in Gaza (79%) than in the West Bank (57%). The polls in Jordan and Turkey are instructive. For in Jordan, though the relative concern is low, 62% are aware of and upset by extremism. The percentage is 60% in Turkey. But both countries had shown a precipitous increase by mid-2014 and subsequent polls in both countries show a further significant increase, particularly in Turkey. Concern with terrorism seems to rise in correlation with the direct experience of extremist behaviour targeting one’s own population. Not surprising; it is rather what one would expect.

In Israel, in mid-2014, “More than eight-in-ten Israelis (84%) express worries about Islamic extremism,” Israeli Jews (87%) and Israeli Arabs (66%). This suggests either a correlation with being targets of Islamic extremism, or, as Bassam would argue, an unconcern with the victims. But concern with Islamic terrorism is not to be equated with concern with Palestinian terrorist attacks on Jews, as distinct from Islamic terrorism, or support rather than unconcern for such acts. If two-thirds of Palestinian Israelis are concerned with terrorism and 57% of West Bank residents are concerned with terrorism and 79% of Gazans are concerned with Islamic terrorism, how does this reconcile with Bassam’s allegations of Palestinian support for terrorism targeting Jews and Israelis?

The Pew poll does demonstrate that fears of and support for terrorism is ideologically aligned, though, for many, the differential between Jewish concerns and Palestinian fears of terrorism already indicate that. For example, Hezbollah, branded by Western governments as a terrorist organization, is viewed unfavourably in every mid-East country, 69% unfavourable and 26% favourable in Gaza, while 46% are unfavourable and 35% favourable in the West Bank.  If Hezbollah has been an ally of Hamas, why are almost 70% critical of Hezbollah actions in Gaza? The explanation – most Gazans have an unfavourable view of Hamas. Hamas scares them as much as Hezbollah, a view shared throughout the region.

If we look at Palestinian Israeli citizen fears of Jewish terrorism, in a poll conducted by the Haifa-based research centre Mada-al-Carmel, 72% reported either a moderate or high degree of fear of violence by Jewish extremists in November following a spate of Israeli Jewish extremists attacks aimed at Palestinian Israelis. In Dimona with anti-Arab graffiti readily visible everywhere, a Jewish teen stabbed four Palestinians in October claiming “all Arabs are terrorists,” but proving by his actions that not all terrorists are Arab. In Netanya, three Arab Israelis were attacked by Jewish extremists screaming, “death to the Arabs.” In Tel Aviv, an Eritrean, mistaken for a Palestinian, was bludgeoned to death by a mob after a Palestinian terrorist shot and killed an Israeli soldier.

Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. The frequency may vary. The targets may vary. But the punishment meted out to different types of terrorists also varies. Palestinian terrorists are often killed on the spot. Jewish extremists are not killed on the spot. In fact, most often they are not caught, and when, in high profile cases, they are caught, if one follows the results, the Jewish terrorists are often treated with greater leniency than Palestinian terrorists.

All this is not to say anything yet about terrorism and its support or non-support. It merely suggests that one must be wary of selective citations of polls, of interpretations given to those polls and of claims that those polls are being examined with a scholarly and critical eye. At the same time, it should be noted that the interpretation given by Bassam was the general one: see Breibart, Sound the Trumpet, Rachael Molschky, Israel National News, the Jewish Virtual Library, the British Israel Group. Even a left-of-centre commentator like Bill Mahar, picked up on the poll results. So is the interpretation valid, namely that:

  1. A majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza support the terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews;
  2. The attacks are a reiteration of long term Palestinian goals to eliminate Israel;
  3. The attacks are a result of Palestinian leadership incitement;
  4. The attacks are not the result of frustration with the peace process, lack of action by the Israeli government on that issue and initiatives by the Israeli government and the IDF in support of the settlements.

Virtually all polls I have examined indicate just under half of Palestinians support the random acts of terrorism against Israeli Jews, including the poll cited by Bassam. As one example, in a detailed poll last month conducted by the Israel Virtual Library, only 30% believe in a peaceful uprising, namely through non-violent passive resistance, while 42% support a violent uprising. Just under 28% oppose any uprising altogether. The 42% who support a violent uprising is not far off the 48% support for the terrorists. The difference, quite aside from methodology of conducting the poll and built-in room for error, is possibly explained because the support for random acts of terror may be higher than for a wholesale violent uprising which would undoubtedly be put down with overwhelming force at great cost to the homes, infrastructure and many Palestinian lives. Random acts of terror only attract reprisals against the attackers and, because of their randomness, generally spread more fear among Jewish Israelis.

On the other hand, almost half of Palestinians are either fearful or positively favourable to these random acts of violence as precursors to a general uprising. But even for this half, they absolutely do not identify with Da’esh.

In fact, a clear 83% actually support the war waged by the West against ISIS and over 90% see ISIS as totally unrepresentative of Islam with only 6% identifying with Da’esh. Palestinians even exaggerate the support Da’esh has in their own society with 8.5% in the West Bank believing it has moderate or large support and almost 20% in Gaza believing it has moderate or large support, though most Palestinians correctly believe it has a small or no presence at all. Almost 93% of Palestinians oppose the actions of Da’esh and  less than 2% are supportive.

The attitude to Da’esh stands in stark contrast to the support for random acts of terror by Palestinians or a general uprising, with 70% of Palestinians on the West Bank and 84% in Gaza having a favourable attitude to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad. What is more interesting is how the support for violence has shifted over the last twenty years, from a low of about 25% twenty years ago to a high of 86% in July of 2001. Since then, that support has fluctuated from a low once again of 30% to a high of 62%. So support for acts of terrorism seems to fluctuate significantly, interpreted by most as, other than a core resistance of 25-30%, seemingly context driven. That alone makes one suspect that there is not much substance to the claim that Palestinians in general have an implacable hatred of Jews and want to throw Jews into the sea. It is bad enough that such a significant minority still does, but they do not constitute even a majority or even close to it. Yet a much higher percentage supports random terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews.

From my studies of a wide cross section of polls, the random violent attacks, which most Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank support, are not an expression of a long term Palestinian goal of eliminating the Jewish state, though a very significant minority of Palestinians do support such a goal. The third thesis that Bassam articulated, namely that the Palestinian leadership has been orchestrating the “spontaneous” acts of violence, not by ordering them or even facilitating them practically, but by creating a poisonous atmosphere of distrust in the reinforcement in the myth that the Israeli government has an appetite to change the political arrangements concerning the al-Aqsa mosque. That is harder to overtly refute since the causal analysis would be difficult to prove or disprove.

However, look at the majority of poll results. Most Palestinians, in the West Bank and certainly in Gaza, do not look favourably on the Palestinian Authority in general and the role of Abbas in particular. If Abbas is ambivalent about support for the random acts of terror, a more likely hypothesis is that this ambivalence results from his knowledge that he no longer enjoys a majority of support from Palestinians, that, on the other hand, if he took the lead in fostering terror, he could be squashed quickly by Israel, that support for violence would benefit his enemies more than himself since he has adamantly argued that the use of violence to oppose Israel is counter-productive. He is caught between an anvil and a hammer, and with either choice he loses. So he tries to create distractions rather than stimulating a general uprising.

However, a great deal more analysis and mustering of evidence would be needed to support or falsify such a thesis or to test whether Bassam’s theory might be valid, though on first glance, the evidence against it seems overwhelming. In sum, most Palestinians do support the terror attacks, but do not support an uprising against Israel, do not support the government of Abbas, and are unlikely to be led in their support of those random acts of terror by a leader who has lost the confidence of the majority of them.

It is bad enough that such a large number of Palestinians support random terror against Jewish Israelis without going off the rails in attributing that support as indicative of an exterminationist agenda or of a covert manipulative strategy of the Palestinian leadership. Whether the alternative thesis, that the violence in explicable in terms of anger at the Israelis for lack of movement on the peace front, would require a whole separate analysis. Suffice it to say that there is still a glimmer of hope since polls indicate that a majority of Palestinians as well as Israelis still supported a two-state solution in 2013 (Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah) which ascertained that 63% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians then supported the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. That support has since fallen on both sides as despair about the possibility of peace continues to increase, especially among Palestinians. Most worrisome, even then, Palestinians feared Israel as an existential threat as they saw encroachments on Palestinian land making a viable Palestinian state less likely each day, while a majority of Israelis, and, thus, an even higher majority of Jewish Israelis, saw Palestinians as an existential threat believing that most Palestinians had an exterminationist agenda.

Bassam’s thesis has more to do with detecting false but deeply held fears and feelings than having much to do with reality.

Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal

Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal


Howard Adelman

This past summer, John Robson wrote an op-ed in the National Post (17 July 2015) claiming that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” He went from that assumption to its presumed opposite, asserting that those most committed to the deal then must have a very different agenda than stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He speculated that it might mean a desire to promote regime change provided that this happens before Iran goes nuclear in ten years. Or perhaps the real motive is a soft-headed rather than hard-hearted intent simply to delay Iran going nuclear for just ten years. (He did not write soft-hearted versus hard-headed, but if he so deliberately turns what is written on its head, he perhaps deserves the same treatment, even if only for a weak attempt at humour.)

However, ignoring the extreme misrepresentation for the moment, just look at the bad logic. To repeat, he insists that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” But is it not more valid to assert that those most unhappy with the deal are more determined to continue economically crippling Iran so it is less able to pursue its hegemonic program in the Middle East and enhance its extreme antagonism towards Israel? Are these goals not the primary ones rather than any determination to stop Iran from going nuclear? The presumption that Netanyahu and his ilk are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear is a presumption, not a fact, and I would argue a false one. Further, even if it was accepted that the extreme opponents of the deal are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear – a very questionable assumption indeed – it does not follow that this is the reason that they are really unhappy with the deal. Nor does it explain their actions, particularly Netanyahu appearing before the American Congress to try to persuade Americans to kill the deal. Netanyahu said, “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political; that was never my intention.” But how else can one describe the enormous effort the Jewish state put in to killing the deal. Motives can be overdetermined – to kill the deal, to prevent Iran from becoming an even more powerful economic and military power in the region, and even, perhaps, to heighten the political schisms already in America.

The false assumptions and illogic in reasoning is also to be found in the characterization of the proponents of the deal. While those proponents, as I indicated in my last blog, have a modest agenda focused only on making sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and that they have no agenda beyond that, the argument that they must have another hidden agenda, such as an illusionary expectation of regime change, does not follow from the argument that the opponents of the deal are most determined to stop Iran from becoming nuclear. It is both logically and empirically possible that the proponents and opponents are equally, or almost equally opposed to Iran not acquiring nuclear arms, but either side may have additional, and often very understandable and even commendable goals separate from that one, such as the fairly obvious one, that Netanyahu also has the goal of keeping Iran crippled economically.

Now I wish that John Robson were just an extreme example of a critic who is both illogical and misrepresents reality, but, unfortunately, this is not the case. He may teach history in Ottawa and be a journalist and documentary filmmaker, but he also may be one of the poorest critics of the accord. He, however, has lots of company, though many do not defend that opposition on the basis of sheer partisanship that is immune to wrestling with facts and rational argument.

Take another critic of the accord, Shimon Kofler Fogel, CEO for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Canadian counterpart to America’s AIPAC. At least in his op-ed alongside John Robson’s, he says what he believes is wrong in his view of the deal, that it fails to leverage the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to reign in its hegemonic foreign policy goals and its extreme antipathy to Israel. He is absolutely correct. It does not do that. Further, all parties negotiating with Iran did not believe that was a feasible goal. But Fogel, though accurate about the non-achievement of the accord, is also guilty of false reasoning. If the weight of sanctions coerced the Iranian regime to come to the negotiating table, then, he argues, it follows that those conditions can and ought to have been used to modify Iranian foreign policy. But that does not follow at all, not only not for Iran, but for virtually all of the other representatives of the six nations negotiating with Iran.

The fact that Iran is the leading sponsor of terror in the Middle East (I personally think ISIS is, but Iran is horrible enough, and the point is not worth debating here), that it is a brutal regime with an enormous number of executions per year and extreme repression of its minorities, mainly Bahä.a’is, does not invalidate the value of the agreement. Fogel’s recommendation that relief from the sanctions should be tied to Iranian tangible progress on reducing Iran’s role as a state-sponsor of terror is disingenuous. For, to repeat, it was neither the goal of the negotiations nor one that any reasonably-knowledgeable person argues could be achieved by negotiations at this time. The agreement already allows for his other recommendations – continuing to define Iran as a state-sponsor of terrorism, continuing the criticism of Iran for its horrendous human rights record and the continuing use of sanctions for these reasons – quite separate from the provisions of the Special Economic Measures Act.

The goal of the negotiations with Iran was clearly spelled out in Obama’s first election platform, but particularly in the Prague Agenda articulated in an Obama speech in Hradčany Square of the Czech capital on 5 April 2009, which focused on Iran, not as a rogue state, not as a promoter of terrorism, not as a human rights abuser and, most of all, not as an intractable enemy of Israel. The focus was on promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy and reinforcing mechanisms in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Obama was intent on reducing the risks posed by nuclear weapons while simultaneously supporting and promoting nuclear energy as an alternative for peaceful purposes.

The Prague Agenda included a broad swath of goals, many since achieved:

  • Negotiating a new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by 30%;
  • Cancellation of the Bush plan to deploy ground-based strategic missile interceptors in Europe;
  • Restricting the strategic use of America’s nuclear arsenal to deterrence only;
  • Banning nuclear testing for the future.

The Prague Agenda included further restrictions on North Korea and Pakistan, but these have notably not been achieved. However, the goal of rallying international support and engaging Iran to resolve the crisis over its military nuclear program has now finally been achieved after over five years of work. The Majli, the Iranian parliament has just endorsed the deal. So has the Obama administration. “My administration will seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect. We believe in dialogue. But in that dialogue we will present a clear choice. We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community.” (my italics) Israel wanted no such result for this regime.

Making the world safer from nuclear terror and reigning in Iran did not supplant the need for deterrence and a strong regional strategy. (It may have had an inadvertent impact on it.) Further, the achievement of such a goal of eliminating the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power had to meet a number of criteria:

  1. The strongest inspection and verification system ever;
  2. Elimination of advanced centrifuges and a significant reduction of older models;
  3. A virtual elimination of Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium
  4. Sanctions relief as a quid pro quo;
  5. Spelling out repercussions in case of violations.

A further word is needed on the prospect of regime change in Iran and transformation of its confrontational ideology. Paul Berman in The Tablet on 15 July 2015 focused on a single paragraph in Obama’s speech about the conclusion of the Iran deal. Obama stated in reference to U.S./Iran relations, “Our differences are real, and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel – that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.”

Paul Berman insisted that this one paragraph was crucial because, “if a change among the Iranians is not, in fact, possible, then Obama’s critics are right. The deal will turn out to be a disaster because, in the short run, it will strengthen the Islamic Republic conventionally and, in the long run, will strengthen the Islamic Republic unconventionally – and, all the while, the Islamic Republic will go on treading the dead-end path of violence and rigid ideology and the dream of eradicating demonic enemies. It is hard to imagine how, under those circumstances, the deal will reduce the chances of war. On the contrary, Iran’s endangered neighbors will contemplate their own prospective eradication and will certainly notice that time is against them, and they would be foolish not to act.”

It is one thing to argue that regime transformation may take place as a result of the deal and the insistence that it must take place or else the deal is more than worthless for it will enhance the prospect of war in the region. Obama made the former claim. Berman extracted from that slim possibility and transformed it magically into an absolute necessity. In that case, then the nuclear containment deal to peaceful uses is only as good as the strength of the possibility of transformation of the Iranian regime. That is clearly not Obama’s position.

It is and was certainly not the goal of the Iranians who stood steadfast in the opposition to the “arrogant” U.S., “the policies of which they viewed to be at 180 degrees to their own. The U.S. remained as the “Great Satan” ever after 18 months of negotiations. Israel remained its implacable enemy. Though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that the deal was only about guaranteeing that Iran could continue its peaceful program of developing nuclear energy and had no wider goals, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted there was another aim: opening a new chapter of cooperation with the outside world after years of sanctions. He predicted that the “win-win” result would gradually eliminate mutual mistrust. Similarly, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also saw the deal as going beyond the nuclear arrangements and hopefully could lead to greater regional and international cooperation.

What have Benjamin Netanyahu’s goals been in rejecting and criticizing the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program? Let me go back to his address to a joint session of Congress, not the one earlier this year, but the one he delivered on 24 May 2011 before the negotiations got underway and when the Arab Spring remained a gleam in many eyes, including Netanyahu’s. Though most of his address focused on the negotiations with the Palestinians, a small portion of his remarks addressed the question of Iran. Iran was depicted as the most powerful force in the Middle East opposed to modernity, opposed to democracy and opposed to peace. Here are Netanyahu’s words verbatim:

The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people. It supports attacks against Americans troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It subjugates Lebanon and Gaza. It sponsors terror worldwide.

When I last stood here, I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out. The hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons. (my italics) Militant Islam threatens the world. It threatens Islam. A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. It would make the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger throughout the world.

These were not Obama’s words, but those of Netanyahu. Then he came across as the most vocal champion of ensuring that a militant Iran did not possess nuclear weapons. Just over seven months later, in the 2012 new year, when the U.S. led the successful charge to impose new and tough sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking industry as the “only” diplomatic measure that could force Iran to the negotiating table, after President Obama signed legislation imposing sanctions against Iran’s central bank to impede Iranian oil sales and the EU put plans in place for an oil embargo, this goal was no longer sufficient for Netanyahu. The consequent weakening of the Iranian rial led Iran to state that it was willing to permit a visit by a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, independently of the world powers, had suggested that Iran was working towards acquiring the ability to make nuclear weapons. As the goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons came nearer, Netanyahu’s pitch shifted.

There was one discordant note at the time. Israel wanted the U.S. to warn Iran that if the sanctions and diplomacy failed to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, the U.S. should warn Iran that the U.S. would resort to military means to stop Iran. While not ruling out such a possibility, the U.S. refused to threaten Iran if negotiations failed. In contrast, Netanyahu, while applauding the new economic sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s military nuclear program, insisted that only if the sanctions were combined with the threat of military action would the effort succeed. Netanyahu was proven wrong. It succeeded beyond most expectations. No threat of military action was necessary.

That note threatening military action grew far more shrill when Netanyahu, during the period in which he was struggling to put together a new coalition government, addressed an AIPAC Policy Conference in March 2013. After the usual praise for the President and Vice-President of the U.S., after the accolades to the government of the United States as Israel’s best and most steadfast ally, Netanyahu now insisted far more vociferously that sanctions were insufficient and that Iran needed to be militarily threatened.

Iran has made it clear that it will continue to defy the will of the international community. Time after time, the world powers have tabled diplomatic proposals to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. But diplomacy has not worked. (my italics) Iran ignores these offers. It is running out the clock. It has used negotiations to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program. Thus far, the sanctions have not stopped the nuclear program either. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard. But Iran’s leaders grit their teeth and move forward. Iran enriches more and more uranium.  It installs faster and faster centrifuges Iran has still not crossed the red line I drew at the United Nations last September. But they are getting closer and closer to that line. And they are putting themselves in a position to cross that line very quickly once they decide to do so. Ladies and Gentlemen, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we cannot allow Iran to cross that line. We must stop its nuclear enrichment program before it will be too late.  Words alone will not stop Iran.  Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. (my italics) Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

From March 2013 until November 2013 when the negotiators were on the verge of a tentative deal with Iran, and with the US Senate poised to authorize new sanctions, and after Obama phoned Netanyahu to ask him not to oppose the deal, Netanyahu did just that, openly opposed the deal by phoning all the other leaders asking them to block it. French President François Hollande agreed. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, carried the message to his colleagues in the negotiations which bought time for Israel to take further steps to try to stop the deal after Netanyahu had failed to persuade John Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport not to loosen sanctions without the Iranians agreeing to halt the nuclear project altogether. The sticking points then were Iran’s stock of enriched uranium and the heavy water reactor at Arak that could produce plutonium from spent fuel.

The delay turned out to be temporary only. On 24 November 2013, an interim agreement, called the Joint Plan of Action, was agreed upon in Geneva that provided for a short-term freeze on much of Iran’s nuclear program in return for a decrease in the economic sanctions against Iran, the agreement to commence on 20 January 2014. Iran agreed not to commission or fuel the Arak heavy-water reactor or build a reprocessing plant to convert spent fuel into plutonium, agreed not to commission the Bushehr Nuclear Plant, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plan, the Isafahn uranium-conversion plant, the Natanz uranium-conversion plant and the Parchin military research and development complex. Iran also agreed to stop enriching uranium above 5% reactor-grade, and to dilute its stock of 20%-enriched uranium. As well, Iran agreed not to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and to leave half its 16,000 centrifuges inoperable, all this to be verified by more extensive and frequent inspections.

That is when Netanyahu first labelled the deal a historic mistake and became an implacable foe to the negotiations. But not because it left Iran as an implacable foe of Israel. Not because of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. Those reasons would come later. At that point the deal was opposed because it did not dismantle Iran’s nuclear capacity altogether. In other words, Netanyahu now opposed Iran even having the ability to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu had upped the ante and produced a deep gulf between Israel and the P5+1, for the premise of the negotiations from the get-go was that Iran would be allowed to use its nuclear knowhow and facilities for peaceful purposes. In his speech to the Knesset on the Plan of Action, Netanyahu admitted that sanctions without a military threat had, in fact, produced significant and successful results, but the deal was still bad because the results were not tangible. Effectively shutting down Iran’s nuclear military production was insufficient.

From then on, the line of attack grew more shrill, more definitive, and the grounds expanded until the bulk of the weight was not on the efficacy of inspections or the length of time Iran’s military nuclear program would be in place, though these were always there and were almost always deformed with less and less resemblance to the actual terms of the agreement. It soon became obvious and clear that Netanyahu was not really after an agreement that halted the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons, but that he opposed the deal because Iran without nuclear arms would be an even more dangerous foe of Israel. However, preventing Iran from using its facilities for peaceful purposes had never been a premise of the negotiations or there never would have been any negotiations. Further, that goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities altogether had not been Netanyahu’s goal eighteen months earlier.

Netanyahu was now engaged in gross exaggeration if not an outright lie. “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world .” (my italics) This is a bad agreement; this is a historic mistake. This became his mantra. Both were evaluations of a very dubious nature as more and more information emerged about both the Action Plan and the terms of the ongoing negotiations. Netanyahu’s efforts to weave his new critique and reconcile it with his old support for simply a ban on Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons was skating on thinner and thinner ice. The release of the final agreement in July allowed him to fall through the ice, but the freezing water has not reduced the pitch of his hysteria one iota. Netanyahu had established to any objective observer, as distinct from his horde of cheerleaders, that he was not the one most opposed to Iran developing nuclear weapons; he wanted to keep Iran impoverished for very understandable reasons given Iran’s irrational and extreme antipathy towards Israel.

X: Samantha Power, Obama and Darfur

X: Samantha Power, Obama and Darfur


Howard Adelman

Between the time Samantha Power (SP) traveled to Darfur in the first half of 2004, the publication of her article in August of that same year and the rally in Boston in 2007, a large number of initiatives were underway in Darfur. When Samantha circled back to the beginning of her piece at the end of her New Yorker article, back to the refugee camps in Chad, she exuded despair while echoing the hopes of the refugees for the arrival of international peacekeepers. In April 2004, a ceasefire had been negotiated in Darfur. The African Union then sent peacekeepers to Darfur, NOT to protect civilians, but to protect the EU monitors that had been sent to the region to monitor the ostensible cease-fire between the rebels in Darfur and the Sudanese government. In the same month that SP published her piece in The New Yorker, August 2004, 150 Rwandan soldiers of the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) arrived in Darfur.

Within a year, the force grew from an original small contingent to a force of 7,000. However, given that Darfur is the size of France, the inadequate training and equipping of AMIS, the rhetorical cooperation but on the ground non-cooperation of Sudan, the repeated breakdowns in the cease-fire, the repeated schisms that developed among the rebel factions (originally there were two, JEM, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the SLA, the Sudanese Liberation Army, but eventually there were twelve), and the mobility of the Janjawid, this proved to be an impossible task even though countries like Canada tried to help by enhancing AMIS’ equipment and mobility. At the end of 2006, Canada had sent 105 armoured personnel carriers to Darfur when AMIS was to come under UN auspices. For the rebels had turned against AMIS, branding it as an arm of the Sudanese government, and humanitarian convoys started refusing AMIS protection lest they be attacked.

UNAMID, the United Nations Mission in Darfur, was established to take over from AMIS in September 2006, but was not actually deployed until the end of December 2007, after the Boston rally. Sudan each time acceded to African Union and then UN pressure to permit the entry of peacekeepers because an oil embargo was threatened and because of internal pressure from the new autonomous South Sudan within the government to settle the conflict in western Sudan. However, the Sudanese government would no sooner accede to international demands than it undermined its implementation. Thus, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council repeatedly had to renew the mandate of AMIS, first from 1 April 2006 to the end of September. But when the 31 August 2006 UNSC resolution 1706 could not be implemented, the AMIS mandate was extended again, first to the end of 2006, then to July 2007 when the UNSC passed resolution 1769 mandating the deployment of UN peacekeepers, until the end of December 2007 when, at long last, the AU troops were folded into the UN peacekeeping force and 20,000 peacekeepers were deployed.

Between Sudanese stalling tactics, largely by means of arguments over the details of the deployment, the collapsing financial and security situation for AMIS troops and the inability or unwillingness of UN members to pay for the peacekeepers, the UN peacekeeping mission was repeatedly stalled. AMIS had gone beyond its crisis point when 10 AMIS soldiers (7 Nigerians, I Mali soldier, 1 Senegalese and 1 from Botswana) were killed when 1,000 SLA rebels overran an AMIS base in Haskanita on 30 September 2007. Sudan had only agreed to the deployment when the threat of sanctions was removed from the authorizing resolution and the principle of absolute state sovereignty clearly trumped R2P and the right of the international community to intervene without the approval of the nation in which UN troop deployment was to take place. However, finally, peacekeepers had a mandate to protect civilians as well as monitor the arms embargo, protect humanitarian workers and support the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

By the end of 2014 when Sudan insisted on downsizing the force and the removal of the UN heads of both the humanitarian and development UN mission in Sudan, when the UN human rights office in Khartoum had been ordered closed, when reports of mass rape by Khartoum forces, not Janjawid, of 200 women that UNAMID refused to confirm, ostensibly because its “partnership” with the Sudanese government would be further imperiled, the conviction had settled in that the peacekeepers had been ineffective. Last week, in two separate incidents, UN peacekeepers were directly attacked. The Janjawid had not been stopped. The war between rebels and the government continued. The protection of civilians had evidently not improved. And now the attacks against the UN forces that had reached a peak in mid-2013, seemed to be on the verge of escalation once again.

When Samantha acquired influence and then a position of power in the Obama administration, in 2009, why did she not manage to influence Obama to take real action? Why was the civil society constituency she helped grow and raise funds for on the Darfur issue, the sine qua non for Presidential action according to her, not more effective? On 20 July 2012, when she was a prominent fixture in the White House, she spoke at Harvard at a Facing History and Ourselves conference. SP had been a fixture at Facing History and Ourselves conferences going back to at least 2005 and including speaking engagements in LA in March of 2006. Once again in 2012, using the atrocities in Darfur as an example, she insisted on the difference that, “students can make in stopping gross violations of human rights…as an example of creative participation in the face of an ongoing genocide.” She apparently had not changed her views. Yet, the situation had not improved, and, in the opinion of many observers, had grown much worse.

On 27 December 2014, under intense pressure from the government of Sudan, the United Nations planned “to shrink its floundering peacekeeping force in Darfur.” What is the difference between the American position in April of 1994 with respect to Rwanda and Obama’s current position with respect to Darfur, except that ten years had passed and not several weeks, and that Obama cannot offer ignorance as an excuse. The Government of Sudan expelled the UN Resident Coordinator, Ali Al-Za’tari, and UN Development Program Country Director, Yvonne Helle, from Sudan. Samantha complained that, “The decision…damages the Government of Sudan’s credibility with the international community and represents one in a series of actions taken by Khartoum that have frustrated the UN’s ability to meet its humanitarian, development, civilian protection and security objectives in Sudan.”

What actions would follow: “consultations with our UN Security Council colleagues” to raise U.S. “serious concerns” while stressing “the importance of UN peacekeeping and development personnel being able to continue their work unimpeded and without fear” just when the UN was withdrawing part of that UNAMID peacekeeping force and just after reports were received that 200 more women had been raped in the Darfur village of Tabit in spite of the fact that the joint Sudan/AU peacekeeping mission has 16,000 military personnel, with the second-highest budget of all UN peacekeeping forces. The U.S. pays 1.3 billion annually for its costs. Nevertheless, the U.S., through Samantha Power as the spokesperson, simply urged Sudan to reverse its position. After an additional motherhood proposition, the statement concluded: “The United States reaffirms its commitment to working with the UN to try to ensure that all UN missions, agencies and personnel are able to carry out their efforts to serve the people of Sudan.” One could not craft a weaker statement of protest however hard one tried. It deserves an inverted Pulitzer Prize.

A lot of good 7-8 years of the Darfur lobby, the Enough Project, had accomplished. The lobby had its own person in the White House and the President nevertheless was left to exude impotence. Further, while I have heretofore been reluctant to use the term “genocide” and previously preferred ethnic cleansing to describe the situation there, last year I became convinced that key people in the regime, including Gosh and Al-Bashir himself, are now committed to genocide as well as the scorched-earth practices of the last decade, in part, ironically, in reaction to the war crimes and crimes against humanity indictments issued by the ICC. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” as the old English expression goes when the penalties are exactly the same anyway. Besides, with Russian troops occupying eastern Ukraine, the war in Syria, the resurgence of the war in Iraq with the sudden and effective emergence of Islamic State, the problems in Libya and in West Africa, the Ebola crisis, the truly evil regime of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and its actions against Darfur and Darfurians throughout Sudan has moved off the radar screens. Hence, the minimal publicity given to the massacre perpetuated on the students of Darfur Students Association at the University of Khartoum on 10 March 2014 with tear gas, canister bombs and live ammunition. Two days after, Samantha Power spoke of the lack of protection for civilians in Sudan, but her words never translated into actionable policies. The Doha Document for Darfur Peace (DDDP) has not been exposed for the fraud it clearly is. No moves have been made to arm the rebels, though, admittedly, and much more than in Syria, the rebels have splintered into multiple factions. Once more, three months from now, al-Bashir will be “elected” president of Sudan.

A year before those scheduled elections, Janice Elmore, a former foreign service officer in the American State Department who attended the 2004 ceasefire meeting in N’Djamena and follow-up meetings in Addis Ababa and Abuja, wrote a piece entitled, “Never Again – Until Next Time,” in War on the Rocks published on 17 April 2014. Like Samantha, she noted how the world stood by while the Rwanda genocide forged ahead over 100 days. Unlike Samantha’s illusions, however, Elmore accurately, and presciently, described the realist position of nation-states. “Nations act and react in their perceived national interest, while spending billions of dollars on U.N. peacekeeping missions that benefit participating countries and U.N. officials more than the victims.” Janice did not offer Samantha’s explanation that the only way to get President’s to act was the strong exertion by civil society organizations of enough pressure. Rather, “It was, and is, in our national interest to support a strong reaction, but the argument to do so has at best been relegated to the back pages due to our poor understanding of the conflict and its concomitant issues.”

Accurate knowledge and incisive analysis were key. As she explained the situation, geography, history and culture (moderate versus Islamist) separate Darfur from Khartoum, though Samantha had offered a glancing mention of history in her article. The treatment of Darfur prior to the rebellion was not a matter of benign neglect, as Samantha claimed, but of a deliberate policy of de-Africanization as Samantha herself suggested at a different point in her article. However, African countries have learned a very different lesson that the erroneous one Samantha took from Rwanda and applied willy-nilly to Darfur. As Elmore put it, “Regardless of labels of ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing,’ Western democracies were not particularly interested in getting involved in anything beyond humanitarian assistance and giving advice on living together peacefully, democratic elections, and rule of law — none of which applies to burning homes, dead livestock, raped daughters, and poisoned wells.”

Ocampo has been unable to bring Omar al-Bashir before the International Criminal Court nor the other high officials in the Khartoum regime. The Sudanese government argued that the ICC indictment was the true spoiler of peace. However, the argument that the ICC threatened the peace process seems fatally flawed, not because the indictment exacerbated the violence, which I believe it may have, but because no credible peace process was ever underway. Al-Bashir may have fomented more violence in Darfur and certainly undermined the position of the peacekeepers to at least prove his contention that the ICC indictment would foment more violence.

Last week I watched the 2007 documentary Darfur Now and the terrible news is that so little has changed. Don Cheadle, the Oscar-nominated actor in Hotel Rwanda, Adam Sterling, a waiter from an activist family who helped organize the passage of a California Bill requiring the state to divest itself of funds related to companies doing business in Sudan, a process which simply opened up room for Chinese investments in Sudan and for China to become Sudan’s protector in the UN, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor already discussed, the cheerleading Pablo Recalde, who headed the World Food Program in West Darfur, Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, a former contractor and farmer who ran a 47,000 IDP camp in Sudan, and Hejewa Adam, a Darfurian whose child was beaten to death by Janjawid and who was then a soldier in the Sudanese Liberation, were all featured in that film. From today’s perspective, without the intervention of a powerful state, their efforts seem both inconsequential and irrelevant.

In 2004, Barack Obama said that, “Genocide is underway in Darfur, Sudan. Already, 50,000 African Muslims have been killed and 1.2 million displaced by the Sudanese Government and by Arab Janjaweed militias armed and encouraged by Khartoum…We cannot, in good conscience, stand by and let this genocide continue.” In 2007, when he was campaigning for president, Barack Obama insisted that the United States, as the most powerful nation on earth, had a moral obligation to prevent and stop atrocities. During that campaign, he dubbed the reports of the Bush Administration’s “negotiating a normalization of relations with the Government of Sudan” as “reckless and cynical,” an initiative that “would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments.”

Then, in 2009 when he had become President, Barack promised a “menu of incentives and disincentives” for Sudan, a government that the U.S., and Obama in particular, has repeatedly accused of genocide. The incentives and disincentives did not work. Sudan is in the process of wriggling free of the UN presence. Last year at this time, Mia Farrow, a pro-Darfur activist along with Samantha Power, wrote, “There was a time when Mr. Obama expressed outrage over the mass murder and aerial bombardment of civilians in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Now President Obama has joined that silence.” For Samantha, Power and the Obama Administration, “Never Again” remains just a slogan and R2P a defunct doctrine.

V. Samantha Power, the UN Security Council and the Jordanian Resolution on Palestine

V. Samantha Power, the UN Security Council and the Jordanian Resolution on Palestine


Howard Adelman

This morning, I had planned to write a blog on Samantha Power’s relationship to the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect and reserve my discussion of her role on the Security Council for my series of case studies. It would allow me to follow up on the question of the extent to which Samantha Power has become a supporter of Israel, an issue that I raised in yesterday’s blog. But I have also been itching to write about the recent UN Security Council vote on the Jordanian-sponsored Palestinian resolution that failed to pass. In particular, I wanted to write about my puzzlement over the Palestinian decision to push the vote for the end of last year, which I had not expected, instead of early this year when Venezuela and Malaysia, both strong supporters of Palestine, replaced two friends of Israel, Australia, which voted against the resolution, and Rwanda which abstained. If they waited, the Palestinians would have been assured of the nine votes needed, and, in any case, may still bring up the resolution again. As it is, most of us counting the numbers thought the Palestinians had enough support for the resolution tabled at the Security Council on the 30th of December and brought up for a vote on the 31st.. As it turned out, the key to the failure to pass turned out to be Nigeria.

I will deal with the voting itself tomorrow. In this blog I will present and analyze the resolution. On 31 December 2014, the UN Security Council convened to vote on a so-called compromise motion of the original draft circulated by Jordan just before Christmas. I have appended the resolution tabled on the 30th at the end of this blog. The additions to the 17 December resolution are in bold. Where there were changes in wording, the new wording is in bold and the older version is in italics.

There are a few significant but relatively minor differences between the two drafts, but both called for peace between Israel and the Palestinians to be negotiated within a limited time frame of one year. A preamble clause was added citing relevant previous UN resolutions on Jerusalem declaring that the annexation of East Jerusalem was illegal. Another preamble clause cited the advisory ruling of 9 July 2004 of the International Court of Justice that the wall constructed in the Occupied Territories had legal consequences. Instead of one of the parameters of a peace agreement referring to an agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, the word just was substituted. The biggest change, in line with the change in the preamble on Jerusalem, was to alter the paragraph calling for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of the two states. A more general wording called Jerusalem the capital, not a shared capital, of the two States. In other words, each state could have its capital in a part of Jerusalem.

Instead of weakening the original document through a compromise with the French version, the new version was even stronger, except for the clause on Jerusalem. The French were supposedly pushing for a resolution that might win American support. There was no chance of that. Further, the French voted in support of the resolution even though it still included the idea of finalizing a peace agreement within one year and did not seem to include any of their suggestions. The Palestinians misleadingly had insisted that their draft was a compromise with the French version. When the French were asked about this, they were non-committal and very diplomatic. The French Foreign Ministry said, “Our aim is to bring the international community together in support of the peace process. We therefore wish to see presented to the UN Security Council a text likely to get unanimity…The Palestinians have announced the submission of a text in New York. We will examine it in light of this objective.” There was no chance of the wording of the text achieving unanimity. Instead of it being a compromise with a phantom French text, the final text was stronger. The French supported it anyway.
Why? In putting the resolution to a vote in the Security Council, the French supported the Palestinian drive to avoid the American-Israeli diplomatic dead end by setting a short timetable for negotiations and an end to the occupation, The peace process had to move on and evolve. That meant taking Barack Obama at his word and adopting a multilateral approach, or, as the French envoy to the United Nations put it, with the vision of a two-state solution receding, “the peace process must evolve. If parties can’t take decisions alone, the international community has to share the burden.”

The key terms of the resolution were:
• endorsement of the two-state solution with each state having secure and recognized borders
• the borders were to be based on the 1967 borders with agreed, limited and equivalent land swaps
• the right of the Palestinian state to have East Jerusalem as its capital
• rejecting settlements, including in East Jerusalem, as illegal
• defining the annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal
• calling for a just and agreed resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of international law [not international practices] citing resolution 194 (III) which does not, contrary to what many have been led to believe, specify a “right to return”
• clauses denouncing the illegality of the wall in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza
• reiterating peaceful means as the exclusive method of conflict resolution
• denouncing both terrorism and the failure to protect civilians in time of war
• acknowledging American peace efforts but effectively sidelining the USA and shifting the peace negotiations to the auspices of an international conference
• affirms the urgent need (not the requirement or the obligation) to get an agreement in 12 months
• security arrangements for both states to be secured by a third party presence
• a phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces to be completed by the end of 2017 at the latest

Even before the revised resolution was modified and submitted, there was strong opposition to the resolution circulated by Jordan on 17 December from within the Palestinian community, not including Hamas which opposed submitting a resolution altogether since Hamas adamantly opposes a two-state solution. The criticisms included:
• absence of an enforcement mechanism
• absence of penalties against Israel for its continued occupation, expansion of settlements, its imposition of “apartheid,” and its denial of Palestinian rights for 66 years
• failing to recognize the imbalance in power between the two sides and, instead, treating Israel and Palestine as equal partners
• the resolution did not mandate the creation of a Palestinian state within 12 months, but simply “affirmed the urgent need” for its creation
• the resolution introduced nothing new since there have been many UN resolutions already on record affirming “a just lasting 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.”
• The strongest criticism was aimed at the acceptance of the principle of negotiated “mutually agreed, limited and equivalent land swaps” since, for the critics, land acquired in 1948 is occupied and is not to be bartered away while legitimizing the land acquisitions by Israel in the 1948 war. (For those critics who do not even recognize partition, Israel itself must be dismantled and all of its territory is occupied land.)
• Resolution 194 (III) is interpreted as endorsing the right of refugee return, a right that cannot be negotiated or bargained away; the resolution, in effect, retreated in favour of a “negotiated solution” as supported by the Arab League Peace Initiative rather than a mandated requirement
• The major stress on Israeli security merely legitimizes the Israeli military occupation as a “security” arrangement and the IDF as a “security force” rather than an imperialist colonial occupying army
• Existing settlements are not labeled illegal, as UN resolutions usually do, but the resolution merely calls upon the parties to abstain from settlement activities.”

Even Marwan Barghouti, sitting in solitary confinement in an Israeli jail for calling for a new uprising, criticized the Jordanian resolution, although he does support both a two-state solution and putting a resolution before the Security Council. The revised document incorporated his criticisms of Jerusalem as a “shared capital” and his demand to include a reference to prisoners. He was also critical of the mild wording of the reference to the settlements and disliked the endorsement of land swaps, thereby, in his interpretation, legalizing the Israeli settlements. As far as he was concerned, any resolution had to label all Israeli settlements as illegal and, hence, that they be removed. Finally, the refugee right of return had to be endorsed.
There was a great deal of politics in the week leading up to the vote, some necessary, such as submitting the compromise back to the Arab League for ratification. But it became very clear, and Saeb Erekat, spokesperson for the Palestinians, repeatedly reinforced that interpretation, that the Palestinian delegation seemed very eager to bring the resolution to a vote before the New Year, that is, before they would have a guaranteed number of votes necessary to pass the resolution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas phoned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to tell him that he intended to press ahead in spite of U.S., and, of course, Israeli opposition. Israel threatened retaliation because the Palestinians were engaging in an end run instead of negotiating directly with Israel. Israel did not want to be bound by third party imposed deadlines, even though the deadline was aspirational rather than mandatory. Israel had too much experience with so-called goodwill resolutions that were soon interpreted to be embedded with poison. Israel quickly acted upon its threat by withholding tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority due in the New Year just because of the initiative, even though it failed to pass.

What were American objections? Since the resolution simply affirmed the need to end the occupation and arrive at an agreement in twelve months, it did not seem to cross Washington’s red line which adamantly opposed any unilateral action. But it did cross a line. For the results were a product produced by one side instead of a negotiated one. There was also an unstated process objection. The Americans were being sidelined. The Palestinians had become convinced that the Americans were too biased towards Israel and they could not get a fair deal as long as America was the key mediator. Quite aside from the insult to America’s status, the U.S. was convinced that there could be no deal without American help given the position and security concerns of the Israelis.

The United States also differed with the resolution on several substantive issues. Some issues, as the British Ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant stated, were largely linguistic, though nevertheless very significant, such as the language dealing with refugees. Others were problems with timelines even if only moral and not imposed. On Jerusalem, Israeli support for a divided Jerusalem was required. But Israel would never support any deal unless there were strong provisions to protect Israel’s security. The resolution was totally flimsy on that issue. When Americans said the resolution was not constructive, they usually added the clause that it failed “to address Israel’s security needs.” But the most important issue for the Americans, which could not be discussed, was the Israeli elections in March. The Americans were determined not to give Netanyahu a platform on which to beat a battle drum and increase his chances of forming the next government. Given their experience with Bibi, they had become convinced that, as long as he was at the helm, no agreement with the Palestinians was possible.

What was Samantha Power’s position? She insisted the resolution was “deeply imbalanced” and only addressed the issue of one side. In comments after the vote, she said that: “the effort of pushing the resolution to a vote, instead of giving voice to the aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis, addressed only one side.” She insisted that the Palestinians, in pushing for the Security Council vote, had staged a “confrontation” that would push the parties farther apart. But she gave no evidence that she had any idea of how to get them together.

Did Samantha Power play any significant role in ensuring the failure of the resolution?

Tomorrow: The Machinations Behind the Vote on the Palestinian Resolution

Jordan: draft resolution tabled at the UN Security Council on 30/12/2014

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 and to independence in their State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital,
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,
Recalling also its relevant resolutions regarding the status of Jerusalem, including resolution 478 (1980) of 20 August 1980, and bearing in mind that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community,
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,
Recalling the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 9 July 2004 on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,
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 fulfils 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 the Israeli occupying 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);
– a just resolution of the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship; [v.s Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship;)
– the just (vs, an agreed) settlement of all other outstanding issues, including water and prisoners;
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 centre 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 neighbourly 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, as well as all provocations and incitement, that could escalate tensions and undermine the viability and attainability of a two-State solution on the basis of the parameters defined in this resolution;
11. Reiterates its demand in this regard for the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem;
12. 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;
13. Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution every three months;
14. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

X: Reconciling Strategy and Just War Norms

X: Reconciling Strategy and Just War Norms


Howard Adelman

Some military strategies are much more compatible with international just war norms than others. Some are totally incompatible. Thus, in Iraq and Afghanistan, an application of strategy that makes the battle for the hearts and minds of a population rather than one which regards the whole population as potential enemies is almost bound to be more sensitive to just war norms, at least for the dominant power. However, even a war based on the belief that the enemy population must itself be demoralized and force must be used to destroy support for its leadership, but which purports to follow just war norms, is not a strategy of “total war” in which a dominant power simply blasts a civilian population to smithereens. The latter is totally incompatible with the application of just war norms.

An insurrectionary military group, such as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (to be distinguished from the ancient Egyptian goddess, Isis), or ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is not the same as Hamas. When Ramadan began, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani announced that henceforth the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, would be known as the caliph and ISIS itself would be just the Islamic State. The Islamic State, which fights by directly exterminating civilian populations of those it regards as heretics, is not to be equated with Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is not an advocate of “total war” from an insurrectionist perspective. Yet it is quite willing to reign rockets on the civilian population of Israel, but does not advocate the extermination of Israelis as heretics. The Hamas military arm is not even made up of Jihadists even though Hamas and Islamic Jihad often collaborated in the war against Israel.

But Hamas may be more dangerous than ISIS when the hearts and minds of Westerners enter the equation. After all, Hamas won in a fair election and has a degree of political legitimacy. Though Hamas has murdered alleged collaborators and even Fatah lackeys when Hamas first took power, it has not targeted uninvolved civilians for slaughter. ISIS cannot even get along with other terror groups like al-Qaeda or the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front. In contrast, Hamas has agreed to enter a coalition government with the Palestinian Authority without even getting any cabinet posts.

Whereas ISIS is fighting a bloody media war to gain recruits and conquer more territory and economic assets to become self-sustaining, the Hamas media war is aimed at the hearts and minds of Europeans and Arab states to gain support and help escape its economic isolation and its severely restricted geographical area. Hamas is an economic basket case with its society largely funded by external, including Western, donors, not an economically rich terrorist machine expanding its territory and sources of economic exploitation. Hamas is fighting a media war to win the hearts and minds of Europeans. Hamas has been able, in part, to rule for seven years because of Western “humanitarian” aid and Western human rights protesters opposed to the blockade, at least the blockade imposed by Israel.

The difference between the two organizations is best illustrated by the UN political attacks against Israel for firing rockets in its own self-defence against Hamas and Gaza while the UN largely silently cheers when a country like the US, which is not directly threatened by ISIS, uses drones and Western fighter jets to shoot up trucks loaded with armed jihadists as they cross the desert of Iraq. The UN even pays for the education of almost half the citizens of Gaza, openly criticizes Israel, and acts as an apologist for Hamas even though its schools are used not only to house refugees but to store rockets.

The most common thread connecting Hamas and ISIS is not the Muslim religion (which is so variable in the interpretations of its texts), but the reliance of each organization on the twin legs of militancy and martyrdom. Both are used to restore and enhance each organization’s popularity. Both are children of the modern age of communications. ISIS may broadcast its beheadings and Hamas may hide its kangaroo justice, but the reason in each case is the same – to selectively use different types of militancy to defend and advance their respective positions in the Muslim and then the larger world.

The most significant difference is that Hamas is embedded in a dense civilian population; ISIS is not. The main strike force used by Hamas was not its rockets but its military units on the ground who fought soldiers of the IDF. However, the question in whether they used “human shields”, that is embedded themselves so deeply in the civilian population and in such various ways that it became very difficult if not impossible for their enemies to fight them without killing civilians either in total error, as when significant numbers of civilians were in a location where there were no militants nearby and Israel could not offer a strategic reason for targeting that locale, or because a belligerent was close by without the knowledge of the Gaza civilians and sometimes without the IDF knowing that civilians were close by. However, sometimes civilians were coerced or induced or even cooperated to host militants, in which case is the civilian complicit and therefore subject to being attacked by the IDF? In each of these different cases, the ethical criticism of Israel would be quite different as would be the application of the norms by which the action is judged.

In the case of the air war, the rockets and mortars shot off by Hamas had no guidance systems so could not be used unless civilian targets were acceptable. Even if Hamas wanted to discriminate between Israeli civilians and military units, it was unable to do so without totally disabling its storehouse of rockets. If the types of weapons available to fight an air war are such that they, by their very nature, cannot discriminate between civilians and militants, does that make what Hamas does automatically a war crime. However, if, in actual practice, those rockets and mortars kill and maim relatively few civilians, if, in fact, one application of just war theory would lead to the total immobilization of Hamas’ air weapons – its rockets and mortars – does the imperative of Hamas to use the weapons trump concerns about discriminating between civilian and military targets? The very fact that we can ask this question means that Hamas is not outside the bounds of international humanitarian law and is accountable under that law. Hamas, to repeat, is not an extremist warrior jihadist group indifferent to moral and legal norms.

Both the Israeli government and Hamas fought a war in which each side was governed by just war norms. Both sides targeted civilian buildings, but there seemed to be no intention on either side of using its military hardware and firepower to wantonly kill civilians on the other side in spite of what Israel has said about Hamas or what Hamas has claimed about Israel. As Benny Morris described with respect to the latter, Israel demonstrated “no willingness to exact a heavy price in blood from the enemy’s civilians.” Nevertheless, Israel was willing to tolerate more collateral damage to civilian targets and to civilians than would otherwise have been the case if Israel had adopted a strategy of trying to win the hearts and minds of Gazans. Hamas was willing to adopt military weapons that landed on civilian targets and maimed and wounded civilians on the ground when faced with the alternative of being almost totally defanged

The problem of applying just war norms in an impartial and detached manner is much more difficult when a war strategy includes civilian demoralization as part of its strategy versus a war that tries to win over a population and alienate it from its leaders. Nevertheless, unless a more forceful response was the dominant strategy, it is unlikely we would be concerned very much about just war norms. For the norms of discrimination between civilians and militants and the principles of proportionality would be much more scrupulously followed.

This means that, in the Gaza War, just war norms can be applied since there is no a priori way of condemning either side. On the other hand, on each side there are bound to be cases where it is crucial to look into whether the norms of discrimination between civilians and militants and of proportionality were attended to properly in the conduct of the war.  However, it is first necessary to understand whether the war was just in the first place.

In the case of Israel, the answer is fairly easy — unless one already has a built-in prejudice in one’s approach to the Zionist state. The 2014 Gaza War was clearly and unequivocally a war of national defence against a party reigning rockets down on its civilian population. This is true even if Israel might have provoked the war by rounding up Hamas operatives in the West Bank after the killing of three teenage Yeshiva boys by Hamas operatives, either as a rogue operation or one under the direct control of Hamas. What makes the Hamas position problematic is that its ultimate aim is to exterminate Zionism and destroy the product of the self-determination of the Jewish people. If Olmert had not imposed a blockade when Hamas came to power, the aggressive intent of Hamas would have been clearer. But Israel would have won a moral battle in international eyes but at the cost of a much stronger, better armed and more militant Hamas. Israel is unwilling to bet on Hamas becoming moderate in order to legitimate itself when, if Israel loses the bet, its very existence is put at risk.

Nevertheless, the existential threat to Israel does not permit Israel to engage in total war against the civilian population of Gaza. And it does not do so and has not done so. But Israel has chosen to ignore the hearts and minds of Gazans and to win each battle by diminishing its military capacity and enhancing the fear of Israeli reprisals. As a result of adopting such an approach, Israel is more tolerant of collateral damage than it would be otherwise, and many more civilians in Gaza were maimed and killed than if the alternative strategy were adopted. But unless one is a Rousseauian purist with human rights trumping everything, just war norms are not there to determine strategy but to determine whether the execution of that strategy falls within just war norms.

In some cases, the implementation of the strategy may not have conformed with just war standards. In general, Israel clearly went out of its way to spare the lives of civilians, once the caveat is accepted that it adopted a more militant strategy than an opposing strategy which would have encouraged more attention and consideration of just war norms. This does not mean Israel in its militancy abused just war norms. There may indeed be instances where Israel was careless or indifferent to the civilian collateral damage. That has to be ascertained by gathering case-by-case evidence and cannot be accomplished by a priori begging the question.  

Hamas has to be judged by the same norms and within the context of the strategy it chose to adopt. It could have, and I think it should have, adopted the path of peace that Fatah eventually adopted to seek a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the strategy it did adopt neither put it outside the application of just war norms nor allows independent judges to determine in advance that Hamas was guilty of criminal activity. Given the choices it faced and the military means at hand, could the killing of civilians be seen as collateral damage? However, if Hamas can be shown to have been complicit in the killing of the three Yeshiva students, that was a criminal act and should be seen as such. So probably was the kangaroo justice meted out to alleged collaborators. But given the context, the fact that either side chose to deal with the situation by a more militant strategy than I personally saw as imprudent and unnecessary does not mean either side broke the norms of just war.

I recognize that I am interpreting the application of just war norms from a contextual or Grotian perspective and not an absolutist Kantian perspective that makes human rights the absolute ruler in applying international norms to the exclusion of any real genuine concern with military strategy. The Kantian or deontological approach has become the reigning doctrine in human rights organizations and for international legal experts and philosophers, but it is not the dominant outlook for teaching the application of just war norms in military colleges. For obvious reasons. Military colleges are there to teach people how to win wars and to do so with sensitivity and consideration of just war norms. They are not there to prevent armies from adopting strategies and methods which might lead them to lose.

On a personal note, it is relatively easy to combat the realists who would totally ignore and subvert just war norms, and the moralists who also subvert just war norms by trying to use them to rule out war but in the end merely support the weaker party in a conflict and, thereby, indirectly contribute to the civilian death toll. What is really difficult is trying to uphold just war norms in the face of more militant strategies, whether employed by the Israeli government or by Hamas, but applying those norms in as impartial and objective way as possible.