The Global Consequences of UNSC Resolution 2344
UNSC Resolution 2334 did not pass by a vote of 14-0 with the American’s abstaining in a vacuum. Context is crucial. So are military troops on the ground. The Resolution may have endorsed once again the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, but as I have shown with respect to other areas – Russia in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Turkey in Cyprus, Morocco in the Western Sahara, North Vietnam in South Vietnam – the list is long with respect to the non-application of the principle. There were some exceptions – Kuwait and East Timor – but the general disposition has been to look the other way or pay only superficial and short-term attention when territory is acquired by force. In most cases, and contrary to the Israeli position, the conqueror had little justification for any territorial claims.
In Iraq and Syria, satraps were used to acquire control over the territory. In Iraq, the Obama doctrine entailed following the path forged by Henry Kissinger in Vietnam – declare victory while withdrawing from the field. But the Obama administration never managed to pull it off. It was too half-hearted. America did not pursue that goal with persistence and clarity. Declarations may require equivocation. Actions may demand a feint. But intent must be unfailing. Barack Obama, with his many great virtues, was too often a fence-sitter. Not counting “military contractors” involved in the privatization and transference of military responsibilities to mercenaries, the U.S. still has over 10,000 troops and personnel in Iraq.
It is not as if the U.S. did not want to get out of Iraq. America clearly did. But the U.S. also wanted to protect its vision of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state (really, a multi-Islamic religious state). When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched its offensive in mid-2014 in Iraq, it made quick gains that are only now being completely nullified. Barack Obama sent in American troops and supplied the Kurdish Peshmerga with both military and humanitarian aid when the Kurds were directly attacked by ISIL. By 2015, the direction of the war was reversed and the final steps to clean out ISIL forces are well underway. With the end of open warfare imminent, will the U.S. leave in the face of greater need when ISIL reverts to insurgency warfare?
At the same time, Russia accomplished the same feat in Syria, only this also entailed defeating anti-Assad rebels who had been supported by the Americans. Further, the war was fought at a far greater cost in lives, a vastly greater destruction of property and an unprecedented number of refugees and internally displaced that even made the Indochinese exodus in the late 1970s and 1980s look relatively small. Yet the Americans still have 500 mainly special operations forces in Syria serving as advisers and explosive ordinance disposal experts. With the U.S. as a silent partner to Russia, a partnership which Donald Trump wants to declare openly, where once Syria had been under French tutelage, it has now become a Russian protectorate. Where once Iraq was under British protection, a century later it has become a protectorate of the U.S.
General James (Mad Dog) Mattis, Trump’s new Defense Secretary, is thoroughly familiar with these two theatres of war, and Afghanistan as well, where large numbers of American troops are also deployed. But he left the theatre and retired in 2013 before the geography of war in the region changed. He understands the principle of holding and controlling territory by force. However, Mattis is completely unsympathetic to the Zionist enterprise. After his retirement, he said, “I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that meant all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us…they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.” Like John Kerry, he has argued that the Israeli settlements will lead to apartheid, not exactly the message coming from Donald Trump.
On the other hand, Mattis shares Israel’s belief that not only is Iran a mortal and existential threat to Israel, but is the main destabilizing force in the Middle East. But he also shares the traditional view of both the old State Department and a good part of the military establishment that America’s main allies in the region are Arab and they must be appeased. That includes, most specifically, Saudi Arabia. Mattis supports America’s backing of the Saudis with military equipment as that government continues its ruthless assault on the Houthi population of Yemen. Whether in Yemen or in Iraq, Mattis insists on clear policy objectives and a military fully resourced to achieve those objectives. He believes in being ruthless in the will to sustain the battle based on a sound strategy. He is totally dismissive of half measures.
The real question is how the American imperium will deport itself in the Middle East. Though superficially like Trump in his bluntness, Mattis is unlike The Donald in so many other ways. He is consistent and a hard-nosed realist who recognizes the value of allies. Mattis steeps his strategy in hard data rather than in the subconscious outflows of rhetoric of an unstable mind. Mattis reads books; Trump reads twitter feeds. Mattis believes in “continuing American engagement” in the world. Trump wants to complete Obama’s half-measures of withdrawal and press ahead at full speed – but with exceptions. The question is on what side of those exceptions will Israel fall?
That is the central question – where will Israel stand in the revised American imperium? UN Resolution 2334 would relegate Israel to a pariah status as long as it not only continues its settlement activities, but even as long as it maintains those settlements. Resolution 2334 raised the stakes by making the armistice lines of 1949 the reference border as well as declaring that all lands on the other side of the Green Line were Palestinian. It was as if Jews never lived in Hebron or the Old City. The UN was now competing with other regimes in the Middle East to eradicate ancient cultures and ethnic groups and their rights. The statement did not say “residents of Palestine,” for Jews had once been Palestinian in that sense. The reference was to Palestinians as a political group.
However, the innovations have not only been in principles but in practices to realize those principles. Lawfare has been raised to a central ingredient of international diplomacy. With the passage of Res. 2334, recourse to the The Hague Court will become de rigueur. Any Israeli – civilian, politician, military officer or settler – is now subject to being charged under the Geneva Convention – a long term goal of those opposed to any Israeli settlements. Fatou Bensouda, the The Hague prosecutor, has finally been given a license to correlate settlement activity of any kind with war crimes.
In spite of his antipathy to Israel as a threat to American-Arab relations, General Mattis is the last to uphold the Geneva Convention. In the Bush II Iraq War that toppled Saddam Husseini, Mattis, as commander of the First Marine Division, engaged in mass slaughter, arbitrary arrests and rough treatment of civilians to extract information he needed in the prosecution of a war he later labeled a major mistake. He would deny access to humanitarian aid – in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention – to the civilian population to make them comply with his fulfilling his strategic objectives. Just look at his leadership in the battle for Fallujah in 2003. His modus operandi in Iraq makes the Israeli military look like gentleman soldiers, especially since they are so constrained by Israeli law itself.
For Mattis, in global strategic terms, Israel is an outlier and an unnecessary burden. If Israel is torn between an adherence to the rule of law, including international law, and its own security needs, Mattis has no similar compunctions or restraints. Further, he agrees with Israel about Iran. Like the Republican hawks and unlike The Donald, he has no use for Putin. One can predict Mattis and Trump will be at loggerheads, but it will be difficult to see how Israel will emerge from the battle. Given that both Trump and Mattis far outflank Netanyahu and his right-wing government’s disdain for international law and sometimes even domestic law governing war and humanitarianism, Israel can count on the new Trump administration, when it engages in war against the UN, to undermine the use of international humanitarian law and the efforts to use courts to reinforce one side of a political struggle.
Resolution 2334 not only greatly enhances the role of lawfare in the field of international conflict, but the long arm of international law will creep into such relatively esoteric areas as sports and culture. Res. 2334 provides FIFA, the international governing body for soccer (THE major international sport), authority to intervene in a dispute with six Israeli soccer clubs. If the territories on the other side of the 1949 Armistice Line are designated as Palestinian territory by the UNSC, Israeli teams as part of the Israeli soccer league playing at the settlement clubs now become likely violators of international law. The monitoring team on this spat, led by Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa, which had been dithering on the issue, is now in motion, guided by a directive along these lines from Wilfried Lemke, the special advisor on sport to the UN Secretary-General.
Culture is another field that will be affected by the new level of lawfare. Ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls is set to become another issue that will be tested given UN Res. 2334. For the scrolls were found on Palestinian territory, at least according to the UNSC authoritative pronouncement and the change from Res. 242 and 338. The scrolls were found in caves near Qumram in the West Bank. Even if purchased from Bedouin, the question was whether the Bedouin had any legal right to even sell the documents. You can count on a suit coming from the Palestinians on this issue, perhaps using a European country as its front to protect the PA from economic reprisals from Israel.
The major internationalization of the conflict will take place on the economic level. BDS, which had been battling and losing in the trenches, just won a major victory in the UNSC. The UN has been given a clear sanction to develop the administrative mechanisms for an organized boycott of Israeli goods and services. Those boycotts may not significantly undermine Israel as a modern economic miracle, but they will cause some distress and even broader annoyances. What they will not do is bring Israel kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. For Israel has expressed a continuing willingness to do so without any pressures, but also without any preconditions. Israel will no longer freeze settlement activity as a precondition of peace talks.
Many are predicting an increase in violence as a result of Resolution 2334. I doubt it – at least on any significant level. Based on this enormous diplomatic coup by Abbas with both the passage of Resolution 2334 and even the Paris Summit, and, further and perhaps even more importantly based on the current weakness of Hamas under threat from the population of Gaza dissatisfied with Hamas rule, Abbas (Abu Mazen) was able to forge a unified government with Hamas. Abbas will boast that he can now exercise with even greater authority restrictions to the resort to violence of Hamas. However, at the same time, the Palestinians will continue to celebrate their “martyrs” who are killed in violent attacks against Israelis. The week before the Paris Peace talks, 4 Israelis were killed and many more wounded, a few quite seriously. Abbas refused to even condemn the terror attack. The PA government, subsidized to a great extent by Europe, will pay the “martyr’s wife 2900 NIS per month (about $CAN1,000) for the rest of her life.
On the diplomatic front, positions are hardening on both sides, though for very different reasons. The passage of the Resolution may have made it very self-satisfying for those who support the Palestinian cause without qualification, but it will not advance that cause one iota. The conflict will only become more contentious, spread into more international arenas, but highly unlikely to bring both parties to the negotiating table.
What about initiatives by Donald Trump who stands unequivocally against Resolution 2334? Trump’s son-in-law, 34-year-old Jared Kushner, has been named the point person on this effort? According to the Donald, “You know what? Jared is such a good lad, he will secure an Israel deal which no one else has managed to get. You know, he’s a natural talent, he is the top, he is a natural talent. You know what I’m talking about – a natural talent. He has an innate ability to make deals, everyone likes him.” Ignoring Jared’s lack of diplomatic experience, given such an endorsement, would you have any optimism about the possibilities of negotiations?
In fact, based on either the European initiatives or the Trump initiatives from a radically different angle, would you expect any successes on either front? When Saeb Erekat after the Paris Peace Summit issued the following statement urging France to, “immediately recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” and when Netanyahu’s increasingly defiant government, at the other extreme, promotes the expansion of settlements, attempts in its “formalization law” to retroactively legalize over 100 outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land and deemed illegal according to Israeli law, and when his government even flirts with the idea that the two-State solution has had its day, neither international diplomacy, nor lawfare nor economic pressure are going to bring the disputants to the negotiating table.
The Palestinians grow bolder. The right in Israel grows more recalcitrant and more inclined to ignore the international community. And some believe that the results of Resolution 2334 are beneficial as a move towards peace!
With the help of Alex Zisman