Chas Freeman calls for European, Arab activism on Israeli-Palestinian peace

The experienced American diplomatist Chas W. Freeman, Jr, has issued a strong call for European and Arab states to work together to ensure speedy attainment of Israeli-Palestinian peace, arguing that “Only a peace process that is protected from Israel’s ability to manipulate American politics can succeed.”
Speaking Wednesday morning (September 1) to the staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Oslo, Freeman argued that, in their pursuit of a sustainable and final peace settlement, European and Arab states should be prepared to convene their own values-driven peace process outside the currently shackled UN system, if necessary.
At the core of this process should, he said, be an ultimatum that if the two parties can’t reach a peace settlement within a year, the world’s states would impose one: This would be either a call for recognition of a Palestinian state within all the Palestinian areas that lie beyond Israel’s 1967 borders– or, recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over all of Mandate Palestine and a requirement that it grant equal rights to all who are governed by Israel.
On October 1, my company Just World Books will be publishing Freeman’s first collection of writings on the Middle East, titled America’s Misadventures in the Middle East. The book contains much new material, including a detailed account of how he saw the strategy and diplomacy unfolding during the US-Saudi-led campaign to liberate Kuwait from its Iraqi occupiers back in 1991, when he was the U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia. It also contains several chapters that analyze the mis-steps Pres. G.W. Bush made– both when he ignored the challenge of pushing for a fair and sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and when he pushed the U.S. into the unjustified invasion and occupation of Iraq.
In his speech in Oslo, Freeman notes that many previous rounds of the US-led “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians have proved to be only,

    diplomatic distractions [that] have served to obscure Israeli actions and evasions that were more often prejudicial to peace than helpful in achieving it. Behind all the blather, the rumble of bulldozers has never stopped… When the curtain goes up on the diplomatic show in Washington tomorrow, will the players put on a different skit? There are many reasons to doubt that they will.
    One is that the Obama administration has engaged the same aging impresarios who staged all the previously failed “peace processes” to produce and direct this one with no agreed script.

During his long career in the US State Department Freeman led the negotiation that resulted in South Africa’s withdrawal of its troops from Namibia, and the holding of a democratic election in Namibia (South West Africa) that resulted in the Namibians finally attaining their long-held dream of national independence. (That complex peace diplomacy also resulted in Cuba’s withdrawal of its troops from Angola.)
In his address in Oslo Freeman called forthrightly for Hamas’s inclusion in some manner in the peace diplomacy, describing it (correctly) as “the party that won the democratically expressed mandate of the Palestinian people to represent them,” and noting that “there can be no peace without its buy-in.”
He concluded by asking Norway and its fellow Europeans to do four things to maximize the chances that this latest peace “process” might become an actual peace:

    1. Get behind the Arab peace initiative
    2. Help create a Palestinian partner for peace. “Saudi Arabia has several times sought to create a Palestinian peace partner for Israel by bringing Fatah, Hamas, and other factions together. On each occasion, Israel, with U.S. support, has acted to preclude this. Active organization of non-American Western support for diplomacy aimed at restoring a unity government to the Palestinian Authority could make a big difference.”
    3. Reaffirm and reinforce international law. “If ethnic cleansing, settlement activity, and the like are not just ‘unhelpful’ but illegal, the international community should find a way to say so, even if the UN Security Council cannot. Otherwise, the most valuable legacy of Atlantic civilization – its vision of the rule of law – will be lost. When one side to a dispute is routinely exempted from principles, all exempt themselves, and the law of the jungle prevails. The international community needs collectively to affirm that Israel, both as occupier and as regional military hegemon, is legally accountable internationally for its actions. If the UN General Assembly cannot ‘unite for peace’ to do what an incapacitated Security Council cannot, member states should not shrink from working in conference outside the UN framework.”
    4. Set a deadline linked to an ultimatum. “Accept that the United States will frustrate any attempt by the UN Security Council to address the continuing impasse between Israel and the Palestinians. Organize a global conference outside the UN system to coordinate a decision to inform the parties to the dispute that if they cannot reach agreement in a year, one of two solutions will be imposed. Schedule a follow-up conference for a year later. The second conference would consider whether to recommend universal recognition of a Palestinian state in the area beyond Israel’s 1967 borders or recognition of Israel’s achievement of de jure as well as de facto sovereignty throughout Palestine (requiring Israel to grant all governed by it citizenship and equal rights at pain of international sanctions, boycott, and disinvestment). Either formula would force the parties to make a serious effort to strike a deal or to face the consequences of their recalcitrance. Either formula could be implemented directly by the states members of the international community.”

JWN readers can get more information about Freeman’s upcoming book, and about Just World Books’s other October 2010 title, “Gaza Mom” (the book), from Laila El-Haddad, when JWB’s website gets launched next week.
Watch this space for news on that! Meantime, you can follow Just World Books’s news on Twitter, here.

Patten on Europe’s role

Former British diplomatic heavyweight Chris Patten had an important piece on the Guardian website yesterday. He was arguing for a considerably more robust EU role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
He writes,

    the EU has too often since taken the view that only Washington really drives things forward. Yet what should the EU do when American policy is going nowhere? Not surprisingly, the secretary-general of the Arab League called the so-called quartet (the EU, US, UN and Russia), which supervised the non-implementation of the road map for peace, “the quartet sans trois”.
    It is true that the US has the primary external role in the region, and that any peace settlement will require Israel’s willing agreement. But none of this justifies the EU’s nervous self-effacement. This removes much of the political price the US should pay when it does nothing or too little. It gives Israel carte blanche. It damages Europe’s relationship with its alleged partners in the Union for the Mediterranean, and makes Europe complicit in outrageous and illegal acts.

He argues that one specific role the EU should play is in actively brokering a new inter-Palestinian agreement (in conjunction with Turkey and the Arab League.)
He also makes this important argument:

    Without Hamas there will not be a peace settlement. What we should require from Hamas is simple – a ceasefire, acceptance of the outcome of a peace process provided it is endorsed in a Palestinian referendum, and help in securing the release of Corporal Shalit. To insist that they accept all past agreements is bizarre when no such requirement is made of Israel. Look, for example, at settlement building.

This is the first politically significant (though still non-governmental) voice I have heard from Europe arguing that the EU should abandon the three ironclad “conditions” it has until now placed– at the behest of the US– on any Palestinian unity government that might include Hamas.
Patten concludes thus:

    The present situation is awful for the Palestinians, denied a decent life in their own country, bad for Israel and its prospects for a peaceful future and wretched for relations between the US and EU on the one hand and the Islamic world on the other. It is time for Europe to go back to what it said 30 years ago [in the 1980 Venice Declaration, which was very rapidly brushed aside by Washington] and act with real rather than rhetorical courage.

As someone with a European background, I agree heartily with everything Patten says here. However, to be honest, I don’t see the European nations getting their act together to “act with real courage” any time soon. The “European idea” has been a big disappointment in all geopolitical respects except the transformation of the Franco-German relationship. And today, the European nations are grappling with a financial crisis that calls into question the basic underpinnings of the entire “European” project. It is therefore very hard to see why, at a time of such internal stress and challenge, any European leaders might feel moved to cast aside the “nervous self-effacement” that has, as Patten wrote, been the EU’s modus operandi in Arab-Israeli affairs for most of the past 30 years. (I hope I might be proved wrong.)

London, election day

I’m here at Heathrow preparing to return to the U.S. while the voting proceeds in this country’s pretty dramatric election. I picked up a bunch of newspapers. The (Murdoch-owned) Sun has on its front page a massive graphic of Tory leader David Cameron, executed in the fashion of that iconic screen print of Barack Obama, over the words ‘Our Only HOPE’. The Daily Mirror is leaning more pro-Labout than ever, and has given over its first 20 pages or so to lots of exhortations to people to get out and vote Labour. On the front page is a picture of David Cameron, aged about 20, in a group photo taken at Oxford’s very upper-class ‘Bullingdon Club’, dressed along with his confreres there in a snappy bowtie and tailcoat.
The Independent, which seems lean a little cautiously pro-Lib Dem, is a lot more seriousin its coverage. It has a helpful two-page spread outlining what the three major parties have promised to do in various areas of policy.
Meanwhile, Greece has been burning, facing the EU’s monetary policy (and perhaps beyond that the whole world financial system) with a huge new challenge. Interesting days.
By the time I get back to Charlottesville– near midnight EST– we may have a good picture of how this British election will turn out. If there is no clear winner and if Cameron is unable to speedily form a majority coalition, then I gather that Gordon Brown stays on as PM until some party is able to form a government. However, several of his ministers may lose their seats today.

Excellent BDS victory in Brussels!

Lengthy efforts by those trying to get targeted sanctions imposed against products made in Israel’s illegal settlements have won a great victory in the European High Court. It ruled today that setlement products cannot benefit from the free trade agreement the EU has with Israel.
The case in question involved water-carbonating machines and syrup made by Soda-Club, which is based in the nasty, sprawling settlement of Maale Adumim. The German company Brita objected to paying import duty on these items. The Hamburg Finance Court had earlier ruled that Brita should indeed pay such duties. Brita appealed to the High Court– and the BDS forces won!
The court’s decision also noted that “the Israeli authorities are obliged to provide sufficient information to enable the real origin of products to be determined.” That is also important, given the misleading labeling many settlement-based manufacturers have engaged in.
Locating businesses inside the settlements has been important to Israel’s powerful pro-settlement forces because (1) they enable the settlers to work close to home, (2) they generate some tax revenues to help administer the settlements– in addition to the vast subsidies from central government, that is, and (3) they help “normalize” the whole idea and reality of settlements within the socio-economic life of Israel and its trading partners.
But now the EU, which is Israel’s largest trading partner, is saying a resounding NO! to that normalization.
(I should note that though I called this a victory for the ‘sanctions’ part of the BDS movement, strictly speaking it is not a sanction/punishment to make the settlers pay normal import duties on products exported to Europe. In truth, it is the withholding of a benefit/reward. But why on earth should Israel– or its settlers– get rewarded for anything??)

Why Kosovo’s independence bid is (Not) unique

CS Monitor today includes an interesting story about pending recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The article is built around the theme that Kosovo’s bid is somehow unique, that Kosovo has emerged without the imprimatur of the United Nations Security Council.
News flash to the Monitor: the UN Security Council is hardly the sole arbiter of international legitimacy in the world today. International “law” is not equivalent to Security Council “votes.”
Kosovo’s appearance as a new state owes to a long struggle for recognition from as much of the world as it could obtain. Yet Kosovo lies at a fault-line of great power tensions. Russia, not surprisingly, vehemently opposes the further partition of the former Yugoslavia, along with other (but not all) Slavic populated states. With Russia holding a veto at the UN Security Council, it’s of course not surprising that the Security Council could not bestow its institutional approbation on Kosovo.
To legalists who narrowly view the UNSC as the sole “guarantor of legality among nations,” Kosovo’s emergence will be “illegal.” Russia condemnation of Kosovo’s “independence” as “illegal” is something other than “candid,” when it alone is the reason for the technical basis of that claim.
To be sure, the UN Security Council, when it can agree, remains an important indicator of international norms and rules. But when consensus fails, the battle for international legitimacy goes on at other levels.
Kosovo’s case for international recognition outside the UNSC was won in the broader battles for international opinion, what Thomas Jefferson, when reflecting in 1825 upon America’s own revolutionary struggle, referred to as “the tribunal of the world.” Serbia’s claims to retain “sovereignty” over Kosovo were weakened by its own flagrant lack of a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” It now reaps the fruits of that disregard for the opinions of a “candid world.” Huffing about “international law” won’t change that.

To Spain! Help?

This evening I’m leaving NYC for a couple of weeks in Spain. It’s mainly a vacation with my daughter Lorna, but when I originally planned it I thought I could also do a little interviewing about the whole process Spaniards have gone through of choosing whether and how to memorialize the victims of Civil War and Franco-era violence.
However, I’ve been running around so fast in the past few weeks that I really haven’t done anything to set up interviews, excursions, etc in Madrid in pursuit of this project. So if any of you fine JWN readers has some suggestions about people I could talk to, or places I could go, please post them on the Comments board here pronto!!
We’ll only be in Madrid for a few days. After that we’ll head south to Andalucia, which has a whole set of different concerns about memorialization, on a very different time-scale.
Anyway, I’d much appreciate any help any of you can give. H’mmm, now I need to think about packing.

CSM column on Europe’s global role

I have a column in the CSM today. (Also accessible here.) It’s titled Europe springs ahead.
It’s datelined from Lille, France, and it starts out like this:

    With the United States becoming bogged down in Iraq, how ready might the European Union (EU) be to pick up the slack in global affairs left by the diminishment of American power?
    I’ve been in Europe for nearly six weeks – in Britain, Belgium, and here in northern France. My clear impression is that the EU is too divided and too concerned with pressing internal issues to provide any real alternative to the role the US plays in world affairs. Expect China and India to fill that vacuum instead.

Then, after a quick romp through a few of the political issues now facing European countries, it concludes thus:

    Today’s Europe is an exciting, engaging place to be. Most European economies are humming. The publics here are dealing with challenging issues of governance, including how to build a multicultural community that works for all its citizens. But there isn’t much appetite or energy for running the wider world as well.
    As Washington deals with the challenges that lie ahead in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe, it won’t find a strong, unified Europe standing at its side. Perhaps the best help European countries can provide is to reassure Americans that life can still be good even after a retrenchment from global empire.

When I was first planning this column, I was thinking of looking at the potential Europe has to play a strong role– distinct from the US role– in the Middle East. But the more I thought about it the more it seemed clear that I should take the broader view to see the potential for Europe to play a strong (and independent) role in the world as a whole. What remains from my earlier conception is the framing of the question as to whether the EU could “provide any real alternative to the role the US plays”… and the conclusion that No, actually the EU countries are too divided amongst themselves, and too busy with matters of internal governance, to have much “appetite or energy for running the wider world as well.”
Anyway, I wrote the first draft of the piece on Monday. My editors at the CSM needed to cut it quite a bit and we then had a bit of friendly to and fro on how to do that.
The paragraph about the emergence of Scottish-ness and English-ness refers to something new and very interesting indeed. I think I’ll write a whole separate blog post about that.