Sunday, September 04, 2011

Soccer Dad's Mideast Media Sampler 9/4/11‏

Today's sampler and analysis of Mideast media content from my pal Soccer Dad:

1) The administration panics

The New York Times reports U.S. Appeals to Palestinians to Stall U.N. Vote on Statehood (h/t Jim Roberts)

Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler write about Obama administration efforts to thwart a Palestinian statehood declaration at the UN. Early on they report:

The administration has made it clear to Mr. Abbas that it will veto any request presented to the United Nations Security Council to make a Palestinian state a new member outright.
But the United States does not have enough support to block a vote by the General Assembly to elevate the status of the Palestinians’ nonvoting observer “entity” to that of a nonvoting observer state. The change would pave the way for the Palestinians to join dozens of United Nations bodies and conventions, and it could strengthen their ability to pursue cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
This goes into the "no kidding, Sherlock" file as this is something that Mahmoud Abbas wrote about in an op-ed in the New York Times back in May

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.
Aside from the dishonest telling of the creation of Israel it was this threat that marked the op-ed less as a plea for peace than a declaration of belligerence. But what's more troubling is the following paragraph.
Senior officials said the administration wanted to avoid not only a veto but also the more symbolic and potent General Assembly vote that would leave the United States and only a handful of other nations in the opposition. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic maneuverings, said they feared that in either case a wave of anger could sweep the Palestinian territories and the wider Arab world at a time when the region is already in tumult. President Obama would be put in the position of threatening to veto recognition of the aspirations of most Palestinians or risk alienating Israel and its political supporters in the United States.
Is this the way the administration wished to be portrayed? They sound panicked. But worse than that, the administration effort is doomed to failure. Abbas got what he wanted when President Obama prevailed upon PM Netanyahu to freeze building in communities in Judea and Samaria. Abbas still refused to negotiate until the last few weeks of the freeze and, by then, nothing would come of those negotiations. The PA's strategy is based on the belief that they are not going to get what they want from negotiations, so they're looking to get what they want by forcing it from Israel - using the UN. So how is pushing for negotiations going to forestall the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)?

And the final sentence of the paragraph pits the aspirations of the Palestinians against the wishes of Israel and its supporters. What a clever way to express sympathy for one side against the other. Why didn't Myers and Landler write "risk alienating the powerful pro-Israel lobby" so they could be clearer?

Maybe instead of seeking to placate its enemies the administration should be seeking to pressure them?

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has introduced a bill that would threaten American funding for the UN if the Palestinian measure passes.Of course the New York Times didn't mention this effort in the article about the administration's efforts to thwart the UDI.

In a rather hostile article in Foreign Policy Josh Rogin writes:
Ros-Lehtinen spokesman Brad Goehner told The Cable today that the expected Palestinian statehood drive at the U.N. General Assembly next month was a major factor in the timing of the bill's introduction.
"Chairman Ros-Lehtinen felt it was important to introduce the bill, which includes a title withholding U.S. funding to U.N. entities which upgrade the status of the Palestinian mission, in advance of the Palestinian Authority's statehood push at the U.N.," Goehner said.
The bill would also withhold funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees, call for the United States to lead a high-level U.N. effort for "the revocation and repudiation" of the Goldstone Report, and pull the United States out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the Goldstone Report and has historically been critical of Israel.
More broadly, the bill would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," rather than have them follow the compulsory assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn't get 80 percent of its money from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United State to cut its contribution by 50 percent.
The bill would also halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented, and institute a new regime of reporting requirements and auditing powers for examining U.S. contributions to the United Nations.
Defenders of the UN are quoted saying that Ros-Lehtinen's bill would reduce American leverage at the UN. The same argument was used by the administration for participating in the UN Human Rights Council. American participation exerted zero influence over that body. Why should America fund a corrupt institution that works against its interests?

Ros-Lehtinen wrote that there's a historical precedent for her bill.

In 1989, Yasser Arafat’s PLO also pushed for membership for a “Palestinian state” in UN entities. The PLO’s strategy looked unstoppable until the George H.W. Bush administration made clear that the U.S. would cut off funding to any UN entity that upgraded the status of the Palestinian observer mission in any way. The UN was forced to choose between isolating Israel and receiving U.S. contributions, and they chose the latter. The PLO’s unilateral campaign was stopped in its tracks.
This example demonstrates a simple but needed lesson: At the UN, money talks, and smart withholding works.
With Arafat’s successors up to the same tricks today, the U.S. response must be as strong. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has consistently refused to use our strongest leverage — our financial contributions — to advance U.S. interests at the UN. If the executive branch will not demonstrate leadership on this issue, Congress must fill the void.
Unsurprisingly the editors of the National Review agree with the Congresswoman.
The Ros-Lehtinen bill stipulates that the lion’s share of the U.N. budget be moved from mandatory to voluntary funding. This would fundamentally alter the current system, under which the United States simply is informed what it must pay each year. Under the one-country, one-vote procedures at the United Nations, the United States has no more say over the budget than does tiny Tuvalu. The budget can be passed by two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly (129 nations) that collectively could pay less than 1 percent of all dues over the objection of the United States, which pays 22 times that amount. Moving toward voluntary funding would lessen the likelihood that United States taxpayers’ dollars could be used to support anti-Israel initiatives such as the Durban conference or the notorious Goldstone report.
Moreover, voluntary dues would encourage more efficiency at U.N. agencies that have become accustomed to automatic funding and lack any real incentives to economize or compete. On Monday, a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Joseph M. Torsella, complained that plans to increase the salaries of U.N. employees by 3 percent were “inappropriate at this time of fiscal austerity.” Apparently, no one at the United Nations understands the meaning of the word “austerity.” Incredibly, the U.N.’s budget has increased faster than the federal government’s in the last ten years, despite the United States’ bearing the majority of the cost for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill would also withhold funds from the embarrassing Human Rights Council until it removes from its committee those nations listed as human-rights abusers, known sponsors of terrorism, violators of religious freedom, and those currently under sanctions — a commonsense initiative that could only possibly be controversial at the world body, which sees nothing amiss in North Korea’s serving on the proliferation committee.
When explained like that it makes lots of sense. Is the administration listening?

2) International law and the ham sandwich

Former Judge Saul Wachtler of the New York Court of Appeals, apparently coined the phrase that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Wachtler's point was that a prosecutor had enormous influence over the grand jury.

I wonder if the same could be said about the UN and international law. When members of the UN declare that something is against international law, that seems to be accepted as a truism.

The original New York Times report about the Mavi Marmara Deadly Israeli Raid Draws Condemnation
The flotilla of cargo ships and passenger boats was carrying 10,000 tons of aid for Gaza, where the Islamic militant group Hamas holds sway, in an attempt to challenge Israel’s military blockade of Gaza.
The raid and its deadly consequences have thrown Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza into the international limelight; at the Security Council on Monday voices were raised against the blockade, and the pressure to abandon it is bound to intensify.
Israel had vowed not to let the flotilla reach the shores of Gaza, which Hamas, an organization sworn to Israel’s destruction, took over in 2007.
And a followup article U.N. Security Council Condemns ‘Acts’ in Israeli Raid reported:

Nawaf Salam, the Lebanese ambassador, said even the laws of war require the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Several envoys said Israel was in violation of international law, not least because Security Council resolution 1860, passed in January 2009 during the Gaza war, had called for ending the blockade and opening unfettered access to humanitarian assistance throughout the strip. The diplomats also demanded immediate access to their citizens, with some 32 different nationalities among the estimated 600 to 700 people on the flotilla. Israel seized all six ships and forced them into port.
Now the UN commissioned Palmer report are known and the New York Times reports in Report Finds Naval Blockade by Israel Legal but Faults Raid
A long-awaited United Nations review of Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-based flotilla in which nine passengers were killed has found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is both legal and appropriate. But it said that the way Israeli forces boarded the vessels trying to break that blockade 15 months ago was excessive and unreasonable.
I wonder if the UN would ever be as eager to declare a ham sandwich in violation of international law as it is to declare the same about Israel?

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