Monday, October 12, 2009

Tony Blair comments in Buffalo on international law, Gaza, and Goldstone: full transcript

Mondoweiss linked to a YouTube video of Tony Blair's response to a question by a student at the University of Buffalo last week. Apparently the questioner, Nicolas Kabat, got permission to speak at the microphone because he'd said he was going to ask about something else. Adam Horowitz and Helena Cobban have posted their reactions to Blair's "nonsense" (Cobban), but here is a transcript of just what was said.

A UN investigation found that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the recent Gaza conflict. Yet, the U.S. and Israel insist that the report was biased, and proceeding with the committee's recommendations would be harmful to the peace process. Why is international law not applied in this case, when the evidence exists, and please explain as Quartet envoy why the application of international law would be harmful to the overall peace process, and furthermore, why the siege on Gaza is not similarly demeed harmful to the peace process. Thank you.

Well, of course international law should be applied. But you have given one view, but the trouble is there's another view. And so this is a matter of the most deep and profound contention between Israel and the Palestinians. And I'll tell you what I think very honestly, and I've been to Gaza twice within the last period, and it's a tragedy because the people there are hemmed in, it's very difficult for them, there is a blockade on Gaza. But it is also true, one of the things you learn about conflicts like this, and I learned this in Northern Ireland, is that you never solve these conflicts by taking one view and forgetting about the other. It is also true that in 2004-2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. And Israel took their settlers with them, and rocket attacks came out of Gaza, on Israeli towns. Now, those rocket attacks have got to stop, as well. The Israeli soldier who is kidnapped for the moment, Gilad Shalit, should be released. You know, yes it's true, it's true that I have [inaudible] many times that our policy with respect to Gaza should be different. But so should the Hamas policy towards Israel be different, too. And therefore my view of this is very simple, you know, and I, this is sort of a difficult thing to say, don't misunderstand what I'm saying, because I believe that international law should apply to these situations, yes I do, but it's not in the end going to be resolved by that, by a debate over a report that is hotly supported on one side and hotly and deeply contested on the other. It's going to be resolved when we understand what the basic issue is. Israel needs security. The Palestinians need an independent state with the Israeli occupation lifted. The only way in my view we will get this is if we build from the bottom up as well as negotiate from the top down. What do I mean by that? I mean that we build the institutions of Palestinian statehood, as we're doing in the West Bank, as part of my role as Quartet envoy, building their economy, building their institutions of government, their security forces. Just to tell you some good news out of Israel and Palestine, [inaudible] there's a lot of bad news. When I first became the envoy, I couldn't have gone to a city like Jenin or Nablus on the West Bank. Today I go to Jenin and Nablus. We opened a hotel in Nablus just the other day. I go to places like Qalqilya. I go to Hebron, I go to Jericho, Ramallah obviously. In other words, I can go around the West Bank. And that's because the Palestinians, with European, American, and other support, are actually providing security; as a result of that, some of the major checkpoints are now open; and the Palestinians have a greater control over their territory. Now that's what we've got to build on, in my view. This dispute will only be resolved if everyone agrees to end violence, everyone agrees to a political negotiation, everyone agrees that the outcome of that negotiation is two states living side by side in peace, and the international community shows the will and commitment to deliver it. And believe me, I mean I've seen the situation in Gaza. It is horrific. But changing it is not a responsibility for Israel alone. It's a responsibility also for those who run Gaza, and it's a responsibility for us in the international community. I believe that you will think this strange, I actually believe it is possible to resolve this dispute, but it's only possible to resolve it on the basis that we understand the pain of either side, get them to understand that they are not alone in their pain, and ensure we have a just and fair [inaudible] solution that allows each, Israelis and Palestinians, their own state, to live together in peace.

Where to start?

  • Avoiding any judgment of the content of the Goldstone Commission report, Blair says it is "hotly supported on one side and hotly and deeply contested on the other." But Blair is speaking four days after the Palestinian Authority decided not to bring up the issue with the UN Human Rights Council, so which side is he saying the PA is on? Or does he not know or care?
  • Using the word "kidnapped" (rather than "captured") to describe the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would suggest that this was the work of some criminal gang acting in defiance of legitimate authority. So then what is the legitimate authority here? It can't be the Israel Defense Forces, because Blair reminds us that "in 2004-2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza." Shalit was a soldier of a hostile army who was captured on Israel's border with Gaza. And of course, as others have pointed out, Israel holds many thousands of Palestinians it has captured (or kidnapped), but Blair doesn't mention any of them.
  • "When I first became the envoy, I couldn't have gone to a city like Jenin or Nablus on the West Bank." Mentioning this is just weird, because Israel, and only Israel, would have been preventing him from going there. He goes on to say that now, "I can go around the West Bank ... because the Palestinians, with European, American, and other support, are actually providing security; as a result of that, some of the major checkpoints are now open." These Palestinians are providing security for Israelis, not for Palestinians.
  • Tony Blair may have been prevented from going to some West Bank cities when he was appointed Quartet envoy two years ago, but just last December, the UN-appointed envoy Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, was expelled on arrival by Israel and prevented from even setting foot into the Palestinian Territories to do his job. By coincidence, the day before Blair's appearance in Buffalo, Falk gave a lecture at the Palestine Center in Washington on "Imagining Israel-Palestine Peace: Why International Law Matters." It is worth hearing or reading for a dose of sanity after Blair's comments.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

George Galloway refused entry to Canada

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has deemed George Galloway to be "inadmissible on security grounds."

I'm struck by some of the bad reporting here in The Globe and Mail, which is generally considered to be Canada's newspaper of record. The article calls Galloway a "Scottish MP". It's true that he's of Scottish origin, but he is a member of the British (not Scottish) parliament, and he represents a constituency in London, England. The article also says Galloway is "considered a renegade in Britain's Labour party". Well, yeah, that's why he was expelled from the Labour party. That was before he won the most recent election to Parliament as a member of the RESPECT party, defeating a Labour incumbent. Don't reporters even have time to look at Wikipedia?

The article quotes Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, as saying that "The government's decision was the right one from legal, security and moral viewpoints." Yet the same day, the same Mr. Farber has an op-ed in the National Post, which is the Globe and Mail's rival to the title of Canada's national newspaper, where he writes:
George Galloway has every right to speak here in Canada, no matter how offensive most Canadians would find his views and actions. But he does not have the right to raise funds for terrorist causes while on our shores. He does not have the right to promote terrorism or incite hatred.
Farber's piece is worth reading because in some places it looks like a parody:
Many Canadians will be shocked at the sort of organizations that are providing support for this speaking tour. The Toronto Women's Bookstore, which several years ago refused to distribute pins calling for an end to suicide bombings in Israel while concomitantly selling buttons that some believed supported Palestinian terrorism, is one backer.
Apparently, many Canadians are easily shocked. But Farber's strongest point is this:
This MP has not only offered moral support to terrorists, but when visiting Gaza during the latest conflict with Israel, he spoke proudly of providing financial assistance to internationally recognized terror groups. He told the Web site Islam Online, "I have offered [Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh] corporeal and financial support. I know that what we have offered is not enough, but it is highly symbolic."
Naturally those brackets arouse suspicion. Here is a longer quote from Galloway's interview in Islam Online:
My visit has more than one reason. ... The third and the main one is to stand beside the legal Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya. The entire world knows that he was elected, apparently, democratically. I have offered him corporeal and financial support. I know that what we have offered is not enough, but it is highly symbolic.
Farber would be more persuasive if he addressed Galloway's point that Ismail Haniya is the legal, democratically elected Palestinian prime minister, because everybody knows that, right? Well, OK, maybe not.

As for the government's reason for excluding Galloway, the Globe and Mail article tells us:
Mr. Kenney's spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, called the decision to bar Galloway a "matter of law" taken by border officials in accordance with Section 34(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which bans those who provide material support for terrorist groups.
Section 34(1) of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states:
A permanent resident or a foreign national is inadmissible on security grounds for
(a) engaging in an act of espionage or an act of subversion against a democratic government, institution or process as they are understood in Canada;
(b) engaging in or instigating the subversion by force of any government;
(c) engaging in terrorism;
(d) being a danger to the security of Canada;
(e) engaging in acts of violence that would or might endanger the lives or safety of persons in Canada; or
(f) being a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c).
Didn't I hear something about a foreign national who was allowed entry into Canada this week despite clearly falling under the category of (b) above, and didn't I hear that he even admitted something about that fact publicly during his visit?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Zoroastrian new year

John McCain at the Alfred E. Smith charity dinner in New York on October 16, 2008:

"Finally, when Larry King asked President Clinton a couple weeks ago what was the delay and why wasn't he out there on the trail for Barack, Bill said his hands were tied until the end of the Jewish high holidays.

"Now, you've got to admire that ecumenical spirit. I just know Bill would like to be out there now, stumping for Barack until the last hour of the last day. Unfortunately, he is constrained by his respect for any voters who might be observing the Zoroastrian new year."

As the punchline of a joke, "Zoroastrian new year" brought some of the biggest laughs in McCain's whole comedy routine that night, in an audience of rich and powerful people including Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I don't know of any pundits who noticed the gaffe, aside from one anonymous commenter on Free Republic. Even the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America didn't bother to issue a press release. But now President Obama has chosen to observe the actual Zoroastrian new year by giving a video message to the Iranian people. The interesting thing about the White House web page about the speech is that it actually highlights what is by far the least conciliatory portion:

"You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create."

Switching the names of the countries, President Ahmadinejad could easily use those exact same words in a message to the people of the United States, but how would such a message be received by Americans? This must have been intended as boilerplate for domestic consumption. After all, there are probably more Americans who are concerned that Obama might be too conciliatory with Iran, rather than not conciliatory enough.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres of Israel, widely acknowledged as the father of his country's nuclear weapons program, has also chosen this day to address the Iranian people, telling them that their leaders should "stop spending their days dealing with bombs and uranium — is this in the name of God?"

Friday, February 27, 2009

All the news that's fit to print about Amnesty International's call for arms embargo on Israel

On Monday this week, I was listening to one of the BBC world service's hourly news broadcasts, and the top story was this one:
Amnesty International has called for a freeze on arms sales to Israel and Palestinian groups such as Hamas following the recent Gaza conflict.

The human rights group said it had evidence both Israel and Hamas had used weapons sourced from overseas to carry out attacks on civilians.

It called for the UN Security Council to impose the embargo on all parties.

Amnesty International is a pretty well-known and well-respected organization in the United States, and as this BBC story reminds us, "Israel's weaponry predominantly came from the US, the report said."

So what did the U.S.'s newspaper of record have to say about this story? After all, a couple of years ago the U.S. signed an agreement promising $30 billion in military aid to Israel over a 10-year period. So you'd think that some American officials and other American interest groups would have something to say about Amnesty's call for this military aid to be suspended.

The New York Times has had just one reference to the Amnesty report, in Tuesday's print edition on page A7. The headline: "Netanyahu Rebuffed Again in Efforts to Form Coalition". Most of this article is about the negotiations between political parties to form a new Israeli government, but then if you scroll down to paragraph 10, you find a sudden change of topic:
In a separate development, Amnesty International issued a report on Monday accusing Israel and Hamas of misusing foreign-supplied weapons to "attack civilians" during the recent 22-day Gaza war.

Amnesty called on the United Nations to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on both parties, and it urged the Obama administration to suspend American military aid to Israel.

Then the article quotes a response from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a response from a Hamas spokesman, but no response from the Obama administration or any other Americans on Amnesty's request for a change in American policy.

The article then refers to a different Amnesty report released earlier this month "that accused Hamas of a "campaign of deadly retribution" against Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel." The version of the article on the Times website includes a hyperlink to that report. However, there is no hyperlink to the other Amnesty report, the one that calls for an arms embargo on Israel and Palestinian groups, even though there are more than twice as many words about it in the article.

Unlike the Times, the BBC's website does include a hyperlink to Amnesty International's report. Just the table of contents is revealing:

Misuse of conventional arms by Israeli forces3
Unlawful use of indiscriminate rockets by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups15
Arms supplies to Israel16
Arms supplies to Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups30
Hmmm, why is it that this report has many more pages on use of arms by Israeli forces than by Palestinian armed groups? And many more pages on arms supplies to Israel than on arms supplies to Palestinian armed groups? Someone should expose this clear sign of anti-Semitism at Amnesty International.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

So focused on future scenarios that you ignore the present

Stephen Walt has posted an article entitled What do we do if the "two-state" solution collapses? He writes:
One does not need to look far down the road to see the point where a two-state solution will no longer be a practical possibility. What will the United States do then? What will American policy be when it makes no sense to talk about a two-state solution, because Israel effectively controls all of what we used to call Mandate Palestine?
This is a strange way to pose the question, because Israel has been effectively controlling all of what we used to call Mandate Palestine since 1967.

Prof. Walt goes on to describe three alternatives to the two-state solution. Option 1 is expulsion of the Palestinians from the West Bank (which Walt rejects as "a crime against humanity"); option 3 is a democratic binational state in which all individuals have equal rights (an option that Walt considers objectionable for other reasons). Option 2 is:
Israel could retain control of the West Bank but allow the Palestinians limited autonomy in a set of disconnected enclaves, while it controlled access in and out, their water supplies, and the airspace above them.
This is, of course, a perfect description of the status quo, as Walt surely knows, but in this article he never lets on that he's aware of that fact. He continues:
This appears to have been Ariel Sharon's strategy before he was incapacitated, and Bibi Netanyahu's proposal for "economic peace" without a Palestinian state seems to envision a similar outcome. In short, the Palestinians would not get a viable state of their own and would not enjoy full political rights. This is the solution that many people -- including Prime Minister Olmert -- compare to the apartheid regime in South Africa. It is hard to imagine the United States supporting this outcome over the long term, and Olmert has said as much.
But how long is "the long term"? Walt is describing the course that Israel has chosen to take for 40 years, during which time the United States has been supporting Israel consistently. But then Walt writes:
After all, supporting option 2 -- an apartheid state -- is contrary to the core American values of freedom and democracy and would make the United States look especially hypocritical whenever it tried to present itself as a model for the rest of the world. Openly endorsing apartheid would also demolish any hope we might have of improving our image in the Arab and Islamic world.
Yes, and this is exactly why the United States does not openly endorse apartheid, but says it supports some other outcome for Palestine. At the same time, though, it won't exert pressure on Israel towards any outcome that the Israeli government itself will not support. Hence Israel's stalling and creating distractions to supply "formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians", as Ariel Sharon's senior adviser Dov Weisglass put it in 2004. And hence the continuation of what Walt calls "an apartheid state".

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two pictures

BlueStar PR has been putting up pro-Israel advertising posters around the U.S. Am I the only one who notices a striking similarity between the poses of the two figures in this poster and those in this famous painting?

Now just imagine if the poses of the two figures in the poster had been reversed, with the European-looking Hebrew reader looking down, as his swarthier Arab companion looks confidently at the camera. Would BlueStar consider that such a poster might be equally appealing to the target demographic of its ad campaign?


"The situation is very bad." This is a phrase I keep hearing from people in parts of the Middle East that are beset by war or occupation.

There are other good blogs on Middle East affairs out there (see the blogroll), but this one is for me to post any insights I might have that I haven't seen posted elsewhere, or to link to articles that I think deserve attention, even if they're not explicitly about the situation being very bad.