US Mideast Peace Plan: from a Paper Pharaoh & a Fake Moses

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Opinion

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb 3 2020 (IPS) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was slapped corruption charges last week while he was hobnobbing with US President Donald Trump in Washington. Bibi has, apparently, done his homework in psychology. He knew the quickest way to get around Trump was to flatter him.


Addicted to praise, Trump is incapable of understanding that there is a great deal of deception if someone praises him too much. In a June 16, 2017 article, USA Today opinion columnist Windsor Mann wrote, “Flattery is Trump’s cocaine — he’s addicted to it — and, like cocaine, it’s not always genuine.”

Rarely does he get sincere praises from honest people. So, Trump often self-praises himself.

On Tuesday, when Trump announced his Middle East peace plan, Bibi was superlative in his praises. As the drama unfolded in a White House room full of sycophants ready with applauses to ego massage praise-addict Trump and insincere Netanyahu, it became obvious that the peace plan was not worth the paper it was written on.

It also became clear that Trump did not have a thorough knowledge of the Middle East, for he failed to identify a typo in the text on the teleprompter. He read al-Aqsa as al-Aqua.

Many believe that the timing of the announcement was aimed at bolstering the political base of both Trump and Netanyahu – Trump embroiled in an impeachment battle was trying to appease pro-Israeli evangelical Christian voters, a key component of his support base, while Netanyahu used the occasion to go one-up over his political rival Benny Gantz in Israel’s election battle of the right-wings.

When Trump, impeached by the House of Representatives, and Netanyahu, an indicted suspect in a corruption case — a paper pharaoh and fake Moses – make a plan, it will be far from being value-based.

No wonder, the peace plan they unveiled promotes anything but peace and is an agenda to legalise Israel’s illegal land grab on the West Bank. No wonder peace analysts are unanimous in condemning the Trump plan as ‘dead on arrival’. (DOA)

It is one-sided and a travesty of justice in breach of the hallowed legal principle Audi alteram partem —which requires that the other side also be listened to. There was no Palestinian side in this ex-parte ruling that Trump’s pro-Israeli son-in-law Jared Kushner was instrumental in drafting.

If there is one US president who cares no two hoots about the Palestinians, it is Trump. He stopped aid to Palestine and his country’s annual US$ 360 million contribution to the United Nations Relief Work Agency which cares for more than five million Palestinian refugees.

Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu could not find a single Palestinian to endorse the plan made by Zionists for Zionists to continue their crimes in Palestine. Pro-American Arab states, however, have welcomed the peace effort but avoided extending support for the content of the plan.

Key regional powers Turkey and Iran, meanwhile, have given an outright thumbs-down to Trump’s plan, which declares Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, thus ignoring the Palestinians’ aspiration of making East Jerusalem their future capital. The Palestinians are condescendingly told they can have their capital anywhere east of Jerusalem.

Rejecting the Trump plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Jerusalem and “all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain.”

The Palestinians have dismissed the plan as Balfour 2.0, whereby one country (the United States) is trying to hand over chunks of another’s country (Palestine) to a third country (Israel) just as Britain in 1917, through an atrocious colonial act of injustice, allowed the Zionist movement to set up a homeland in Palestine.

In 1947, the United Nations adopted a partition plan that unfairly divided historic Palestine, giving the Jews who were a little more than 30 percent of Palestine’s population, 55 percent of the land. Most of them were European migrants who came to Palestine following the 1917 Balfour declaration. The indigenous Palestinians who were about 67 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land.

The Trump plan will leave the Palestinians with a mere 15 percent of historic Palestine. In other words, 85 percent of Palestine will come under Israel’s sovereignty while the balance to be declared as the State of Palestine will be bits and pieces of territory – or Bantustans connected by tunnels and roads guarded by the Israeli military.

Trump’s plan was unofficially conveyed to Arab leaders more than two years ago. This came after the Trump administration on December 6, 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

At the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain in June last year, the plan was partially unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Kushner. The Palestinians boycotted the event where they were promised billions in development aid if they accepted the plan.

To promote the plan, Kushner partnered Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. On December 3, 2017, a New York Times report said the Saudis had summoned Palestinian President Abbas to force him to accept Trump’s plan, where, instead of Jerusalem, the neighbouring town of Abu Dis that overlooks the Dome of the Rock mosque, was offered as the Palestinian capital.

When news leaked out that the Saudis were backing Trump’s plan and had no qualms over al-Aqsa– Islam’s third holiest site –being placed under Israeli sovereignty, the Saudi royals became jittery, fearful of the reaction on the Arab streets.

King Salman invited Abbas to Saudi Arabia again and assured his support for the Palestinians’ stand. Abbas’ Saudi visits indicated that the Saudi establishment is divided over the Palestinian issue. Once the old king becomes history, the kingdom is likely to endorse Trump’s plan.

In December 2017, after Trump misused the US veto to quash yet another United Nations mechanism to bring peace to Palestine, the world community overwhelmingly passed a UN General Assembly resolution asking nations not to establish diplomatic missions in the historic city of Jerusalem.

They did so, defying Trump’s threat to developing nations that they would face an aid cut if they voted for the Jerusalem resolution. Just as the then US president George W. Bush’s 2003 Middle East peace roadmap, Trump’s plan, touted as the deal of the century, is bound to collapse, because it is not founded on justice. It is the fraud of the century.

It ignores international law, numerous UN resolutions, principles of justice, and norms of decency. Sri Lanka, as a true friend of Palestine, should not endorse Trump’s plan which promotes chaos and conflict instead of peace.

*Ameen Izzadeen is Editor International and Deputy Editor, Sri Lanka Sunday Times

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US Mideast Peace Plan: Israelis Offered the Cheese & Palestinians the Holes

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Credit: Palestine Campaign.Org

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 2020 (IPS) – The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has described the much-ballyhooed US Middle East peace plan as “more like Swiss cheese– with the cheese being offered to the Israelis and the holes to the Palestinians”.


“There are many ways to end the occupation, but the only legitimate options are those based on equality and human rights for all,” said the Jerusalem-based B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

“This is why the current plan which legitimizes, entrenches and even expands the scope of Israel’s human rights abuses, perpetuated now for over 52 years, is utterly unacceptable”, it said.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, based in Johannesburg, drew a parallel between Israel and apartheid South Africa of a bygone era.

“We concur with our Israeli comrades, and we painfully recall how Apartheid South Africa tried to impose its own plan during the 1980s where white people would own South Africa and the indigenous Black South Africans needed to be happy with small enclaves called Bantustans.”

“We rejected this then in Apartheid South Africa, and we, today, join those in rejecting it in Palestine-Israel,” said BDS in a statement released here.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor Jadaliyya, an ezine focusing on the Middle East and produced by the Arab Studies Institute (ASI), told IPS the Trump Plan is not a peace initiative, that seeks to lay the basis for meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the core issues of the conflict.

Rather, it seeks to unilaterally implement a permanent status reality that is tantamount to the extreme reaches of the Israeli political spectrum, with the imprimatur of US recognition and legitimacy, he said.

Any analyst with even a passing acquaintance of this conflict can immediately recognize that it cannot possibly serve as a basis of negotiations, let alone a negotiated settlement, because it prejudges virtually every Palestinian right, claim, and interest, Rabbani argued.

“This is deliberate — the references to negotiations are no more than a diplomatic fig leaf to enable Israeli to proceed unilaterally with acts of territorial annexation, the liquidation of the refugee question, the transfer of Arab citizens of Israel to Palestinian jurisdiction (thus removing there status as Israeli citizens), and the like,” he added.

Credit: PalestineUN.Org

Ramzy Baroud, a syndicated columnist, editor of The Palestine Chronicle and a senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs in Istanbul, told IPS the Deal of the Century is a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for more than a decade.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, he pointed out, but an egregious act of bullying.

However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of “peace-making,” where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Tel Aviv accountable to its violations of previously signed treaties and international law, he noted.

“In truth, the Deal of the Century is not a ‘peace plan’, nor was it ever intended to be, despite what its chief architect and White House adviser Jared Kushner has been claiming”.

As expected, said Baroud, Trump has handed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu everything that he and Israel ever wanted.

He also pointed out that the Middle East Plan does not demand the uprooting of a single illegal Jewish settlement and recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘undivided’ capital.

“It speaks of a conditioned and disfigured Palestinian state that can only be achieved based on vague conditions, rejects the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and doesn’t mention the word ‘occupation’ even once”, said Baroud, author of the newly-released book These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons.

According to Cable News Network (CNN), the Trump administration unveiled its much-anticipated Middle East plan, which it’s touting as a “realistic two-state solution.

But Palestinians definitely don’t see it that way. The plan caters to nearly every major Israeli demand, including the annexation of its settlements in the contested West Bank region, said CNN.

“A future Palestinian state, meanwhile, would get a capital in eastern Jerusalem, physically separated from the rest of the city. The plan doesn’t lay out what would happen to Palestinian refugees displaced by ongoing conflict”.

In a brutally frank comment, Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, was quoted as saying: “The message to the Palestinians, boiled down to its essence, is: You’ve lost, get over it.”

Rabbani said the peace plan is also not a framework for a two-state settlement.

“The potential Palestinian entity presented in the initiative, assuming it comes to pass, does not have any – I repeat, any – of the attributes of statehood as commonly understood.”

He said its objective is not the establishment of a Palestinian state but rather the permanent expansion of the Israeli state into occupied territory, less those areas heavily populated by Palestinians that Israel does not intend to annex.

The Palestinian entity, or rather the patchwork of Palestinian-populated regions within Israel according to this plan, are held together by some 15 bridges and tunnels, he noted.

“The purpose here is not Palestinian statehood, but rather achieving Israel’s long-term objective of maximum territory with minimum Arabs – an objective additionally furthered by the proposed transfer of Palestinian population centers within Israel to the jurisdiction of this entity”.

The broader purpose of this initiative, he argued, is to utilize the weakness, fragmentation, and polarisation of the Palestinians, and the Arab world more generally, to ram through a unilateral settlement of this conflict while the opportunity presents itself.

A second objective is to facilitate the formalisation of Israeli-Arab normalisation, though given the contours of this plan that is unlikely to be achieved.

In a word, the formalisation of Palestinian capitulation to not only Israel but a particularly extremist Israeli agenda, he declared.

More broadly, said Rabbani, it seeks to replace international law and the international consensus with the principle that might makes right and thus the law of the jungle in which power is the sole principle for the resolution of international disputes.

From the Trump administration’s perspective this therefore has much broader application than only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he declared.

Baroud said the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ has confirmed what many have argued for years: a just and peaceful future in Palestine and Israel cannot be achieved with Washington at the helm.

“So obviously only Israel benefits from the plan, as the Zionist discourse, predicated on maximum territorial gains with minimal Palestinian presence, has finally prevailed.”

He said every Israeli request has been met, to the last one. Meanwhile, Palestinians get nothing, aside from the promise of chasing another mirage of a Palestinian state that has no territorial continuity and no true sovereignty.

Not only will Trump’s plan fail to resolve the conflict, he argued, it will exasperate it as well; it will divide the region into blocs, with some Arabs normalization with Israel and others refusing to do so, especially while Palestinians continue to live in perpetual suffering.

As for the economic component of Trump’s plan, history has proven that there can be no economic prosperity under military occupation. Netanyahu and others before him tried such dubious methods, of ‘economic peace’ and such, and all have miserably failed.

“Time and again, the UN has made it clear that it follows a different political trajectory than that followed by Washington, and that all US decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem, the illegal settlements and the Golan Heights, are null and void; only international law matters, and none of Trump’s actions in recent years have succeeded in significantly altering international consensus on the rights of Palestinians”.

As for the status of and Palestinian rights in their occupied city, said Baroud, East Jerusalem, renaming a few neighborhoods – Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis – as al-Quds, or East Jerusalem is an old Israeli plan that failed in the past.

The late Yasser Arafat rejected it, and neither Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian official would dare compromise on the historic and legal Palestinian rights in the city.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Arab Region’s Largest Youth Gathering Focuses on New Tech

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Population

At the Global Youth Forum in Egypt thousands of youth attend a session on Artificial Intelligence and to hear Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

SHARM-EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Dec 18 2019 (IPS) – On late Monday morning, a motley group of more than a thousand youth gathered in a hall in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to listen to Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Yahya Elghobashy, a computer science engineering student from Cairo, sat excitedly in the audience. A few meters away from him, also in the audience, was Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — the President of Egypt.


As Sophia and a panel of scientists on the stage spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI), El-Sisi was seen listening attentively and taking notes while the young crowd around him squealed and took photos.

“It was very exciting that I was going to see and hear the world’s best humanoid robot and that the president himself was there,” Elghobashy revealed, a big smile on his face.

Since 2017, Egyptian president El-Sisi has been seen here at the World Youth Forum each year. The event is now the Arab world’s largest youth gathering, focusing on peace, culture and development.

The 3-day forum, which ended yesterday, Dec.17, drew nearly 8,000 people including 64 speakers and several hundred youth leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. There was also a large contingent of government officials and ministers in attendance, which has been happening under the direct patronage of the president. The core theme of the event is “Egypt: where civilisations meet” – an effort to highlight the cultural diversity of the country to the world.

Technology and innovation in the spotlight

But the dominating subject of discussions at the forum this year was technology and innovation. Of the 20 sessions, half were centred around technology and artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security, industrial innovation and blockchain technologies and applications.

On Monday, Dec. 16, at the session on AI, youths were seen loudly cheering as Sophia the robot spoke. Designed by Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, Sophia described herself as a robot who is here to assist in the fields of research, education, and entertainment, and help promote public discussion about AI.  At the session, a panel of youth experts also talked passionately about ethics and the future of robotics. “You can build robots that are energy-efficient and also run on renewable energy,” said the humanoid robot to the cheering young crowd.

“This is very progressive that we are discussing advanced technology like AI here. As an engineering student, I think it especially encourages us to talk about what is most relevant to our life, our country and our future,” Elghobashy told IPS.

At a press conference later, El-Sisi assured people that the government was indeed paying attention to the developments at World Youth Forum and planned to bring cutting-edge technologies to the country’s youth for a better future.

“We will be launching a series of new universities teaching all relevant digital age sciences. We will also seek partnerships with international institutions to guarantee a high level of quality education,” El-Sisi said.

New technologies, risks and challenges

Besides the excitement of ground-breaking technologies, the forum also threw light on the risks and challenges of new technologies such as  blockchain – a decentralised, distributed ledger that records the provenance of a digital asset. Cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is a perfect example of blockchain technology.

Challenges faced by various countries regarding blockchain due to the lack of national legislation in countries other than China and the United States was also a prominent talking point. This includes possible threats like blockchain being misused by terrorist organisations to sell oil, purchase weapons, and exchange digital currencies.

The missing technologies

Samia Khamis is a student of international relations in Amman, Jordan who traveled to the forum for the first time. “I came via Cairo, which is only an hour away from Jordan, but the moment I stepped out of the airport I could feel that the air pollution level is much higher than my country,” she told IPS.

Cairo is one of the world’s most polluted cities.  According to NUMBEO – an air quality data monitor, residents of Cairo breathe in polluted air, with levels reaching as high as 85 percent.

According to Khamis, Egypt needs to develop technologies that could clear its sky which is “dark” because of pollution. “It is good that we are brining so many technologies on display here, but we need technologies that can make our environment better and our air clearer,” she said.

The forum’s closing ceremony took place on Tuesday night.

 

Achieving the Possible: “Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East”

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2011), was responsible for safeguards and security policy, the Director General’s annual report on the Application of Safeguards in the Middle East and for the IAEA Forum on the Experience of NWFZs relevant for the Middle East.

Credit: United Nations

VIENNA, Nov 20 2019 (IPS) – A historic conference on the Middle East opened at the United Nations in New York on 18th November and will continue until 22nd November. The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction is presided over by Ambassador Sima Bahous of Jordan.


This matter has been before the international community since 1974 and remains controversial and unresolved to this day. On the one side, the Arab States of the region of the Middle East and Iran have called for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and the dismantlement of Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapon programme.

On the other side, Israel supported by the EU member States, Canada and the US, maintain that regional peace and security is a pre-condition for any negotiations on such a zone and that concerns about nuclear programmes in certain Arab States also need to be resolved first.

Thus, this matter has simmered for decades, plagued the proceedings and outcomes of the review conferences of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the annual General Conferences of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as the First Committee and the United Nations General Assembly.

Now finally, pursuant to a decision by the General Assembly in December 2018, this conference is going ahead albeit without the participation of Israel and the United States.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones

The original concept of establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) was conceived with a view to preventing the emergence of new nuclear-weapon possessor States.

Efforts to ensure the absence of nuclear weapons in other populated parts of the world have led to five regional denuclearization agreements—the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco covering Latin America, the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga covering the South Pacific, the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok covering Southeast Asia, the 1996 Pelindaba Treaty covering Africa, and the 2006 Central Asian NWFZ treaty, all are in force—thus the entire southern hemisphere below the Equator is covered by NWFZ treaties.

In addition, in 1992 Mongolia declared itself to be a nuclear-weapon-free space that was approved by the Great Hural in 2000 and endorsed by UNGA in 2002.

Also, certain uninhabited areas of the globe have been formally denuclearized. They include Antarctica under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty; outer space, the moon, and other celestial bodies under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1979 Moon Agreement; and the seabed, the ocean floor, and the subsoil thereof under the 1971 Seabed Treaty.

General Assembly resolution 3472 B (1975) defines a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone as

    • any zone recognized as such by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which any group of States, in the free exercises of their sovereignty, has established by virtue of a treaty or convention whereby:
    a) The statute of total absence of nuclear weapons to which the zone shall be subject, including the procedure for the delimitation of the zone, is defined;
    b) An international system of verification and control is established to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from that statute.

NWFZs ban the production, testing and stationing of nuclear weapons, permit peaceful uses, include verification provisions and in some cases an institutional set up; and require security assurances from nuclear-weapon States.

Article VII of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) affirmed the right of States to establish NWFZs in their respective territories and the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC) expressed the conviction that regional denuclearization measures enhance global and regional peace and security.

The NPTREC adopted a Resolution on establishing a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction as well as delivery systems in the region of the Middle East. The 2000 NPTRevConf reiterated the importance of the 1995 Resolution, and the 2010 RevConf mandated that a conference be held on such a zone by 2012; and the 2015 RevConf came to an inglorious end over disagreements on the Middle East zone.

Earlier in 2000, the IAEA General Conference adopted a Resolution for the IAEA Director General to convene a Forum on Experience of NWFZs Relevant for the Middle East. On joining the IAEA in 2002, the Director General assigned me the task to make the arrangements for holding this Forum – during the course of the summers of 2002-2004, I was able to get agreement on the Agenda but the Forum itself was convened only in November 2011.

Representatives from all five zones and Mongolia attended and made presentations at the IAEA Forum; however, under the-then Director General the Agency acceded to pressure from certain sources to ensure that the Forum was a one-off event and that there would not be any follow-up activities.

In terms of new NWFZs, the Middle East remains an old unfulfilled aspiration. First jointly proposed by Egypt and Iran in 1974 through a General Assembly resolution, the concept was broadened in 1990 through the Mubarak Initiative to cover all weapons of mass destruction.

There is as yet no general agreement on the contours and details of a WMD-free zone (WMDFZ), however keeping to basics it is possible to identify practical measures and elements – as is endeavoured in the draft treaty text prepared by The METO Project.

Middle East

Traditionally, Egypt has taken the lead in promoting efforts for the implementation of the 1995 NPTREC Resolution on the Middle East in the NPT review process, as well as at the IAEA General Conference and at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on the establishment of a NWFZ in the region of the Middle East.

Last year, UNGA First Committee adopted by voting (103 yes :3 no : 71 abstentions) decision (A/C.1/73/L.22/Rev.1) co-sponsored by Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt,* Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and State of Palestine on Convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The UNGA decision A/73/546, adopted on 22 December 2018 by a vote of 88 to 4 with 75 abstentions, called on the UN Secretary General to:

    • convene a conference for the duration of one week to be held no later than 2019 dealing with the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
    • the conference shall take as its terms of reference the 1995 NPTREC resolution;
    • all decisions emanating from the conference shall be taken by consensus by the States of the region;
    • all States of the Middle East, the three co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, the other two nuclear-weapon States and the relevant international organisations (IAEA, OPCW, BTWC ISU) to participate;
    • the Secretary-General to convene annual sessions of the conference for a duration of one week at United Nations Headquarters until the conference concludes the elaboration a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the States of the region ; .

Accordingly, Under-Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu and the Department for Disarmament Affairs made the preparations to hold the conference on 18-22 November 2019.

The main areas of contention between the Arab States and Israel can be summarized as follows: that there still continues to be a long-standing and fundamental difference of views between Israel, on the one hand, and other States of the Middle East region, on the other hand, with regard to the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the region of the Middle East (MENWFZ/WMDFZ).

Israel takes the view that MENWFZ/WMDFZ and related regional security issues, cannot be addressed in isolation from the regional peace process and that these issues should be addressed in the framework of a regional security and arms control dialogue that could be resumed in the context of a multilateral peace process.

These should help reduce tensions, and lead to security and stability in the Middle East, through development of mutual recognition, peaceful and good neighbourly relations and abandonment of threats and use of force by states as well as non-State actors as means to settlement of disputes.

Following the establishment of full and lasting peaceful relations and reconciliation among all nations of the region, such a process could lead to the adoption of confidence-building measures, discussion of arms control issues, and eventually pave the way to regional negotiations of a mutually and effectively verifiable regime that will establish the Middle East as a zone free of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles.

Israel also holds the position that any modalities, obligations or provisions should be solely addressed by the states concerned through direct negotiation.

The other States of the region maintain that there is no automatic sequence which links the establishment of the zone, the application of IAEA comprehensive safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East, to the prior conclusion of a peace settlement, and that the former would contribute to the latter.

The Arab States maintain that all of them have acceded to the NPT, while Israel continues to defy the international community by refusing to become a party to the Treaty or to place its installations under the Agency’s comprehensive safeguards system, thus exposing the region to nuclear risks and threatening peace.

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region; especially if Israel’s nuclear installations remain outside any international control.

Most Arab States of the region of the Middle East consider that:

    • the 2018 UNGA decision A/73/546 on convening a conference on the zone was a breakthrough;
    • the new initiative through the UNGA is directed at all States of the region of the Middle East, the three co-sponsors of the1995 NPTREC Resolution are invited and no States of the region shall be excluded;
    • while the UNGA route was not ideal, it was resorted to as there was no realistic alternative due to the prevailing situation regionally and globally; and
    • the initiative shall be fully inclusive, involve direct dialogue, be based on arrangements freely arrived at, there will be no singling out of any State of the region; however, if any State of the region does not attend, this cannot prevent other States of the region to attend the conference slated for November this year.

Regarding the question of how to deal with the Middle East issue at the 2020 review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the following points are relevant:

    (a) the NPT review process remains the primary focus and the UNGA initiative is not an alternative to the NPT process but should be regarded as parallel and complementary;
    (b) it can alleviate pressure on the 2020 review conference;
    (c) there is no intention to hold the review conference hostage to the Middle East issue and the NPT States of the region want the review conference to be successful;
    (d) the UNGA conference shall be open to all States and now it is important to start engagement and preparations on the modalities and procedural aspects;
    (e) the assertion is incorrect that Israel was not consulted in advance on the 2018 resolution at UNGA, in fact it was consulted in advance of the decision;
    (f) the decision garnered more than 100 affirmative votes at UNGA, which was a clear majority;
    (g) the 2019 NPT PrepCom should take factual note of the UNGA decision to convene the conference in November;
    (h) the Middle East zone issue remains within the NPT process and the 2020 review conference would have to reaffirm and recognize this;
    (i) the November conference provides an opportunity to all States to meet and discuss zone matters, express views, all decisions shall be by consensus, it is an opportunity for direct consultations among the States of the region of the Middle East, and it is up to the States of the region to decide whether to sign/ratify a future MEWMDFZ treaty;
    (j) the Middle East zone now can be considered as the fourth pillar of the NPT;
    (k) it is regrettable that some States (Israel and the United States) had urged the IAEA (and other relevant international organizations) not to attend the November conference;
    (l) the NPT States of the region believe in collective not selective security and this calls for the universalization of the NPT and the cessation of granting privileges to States not party to the Treaty (Israel);
    (m) regarding the three co-sponsors (Russia, UK, USA) of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference Resolution calling for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction: the UK has voiced support for the vision of a MEWMDFZ and is attending the November conference; the Russian Federation endorsed the convening of the conference also is attending the November conference which it regards as easing pressure at the 2020 review conference; while the US has indicated support for the goal of a Middle East free of WMD based on direct dialogue and consensus but has condemned the General Assembly decision of 2018 to convene the November conference as “illegitimate” and is boycotting the conference; and
    (n) Israel too has decided not to attend the November conference.

The METO Project

The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) Project for a zone free of WMD in the Middle East represents a civil society initiative on “Achieving the Possible” was launched and sustained by Sharon Dolev of the Israeli Disarmament Movement and has attracted support from experts from States of the region of the Middle East as well as from other countries. The METO project has developed the elements of a text of a MEWMDFZ treaty that has been shared with the States of the Middle East region and is designed to serve as a catalyst for them to jump start discussions on such a treaty.

Ii is hoped that the States attending the current conference can draw motivation, ideas and elements from the draft treaty text prepared by the METO Project as they discuss the possible elements and provisions of a future treaty that can garner the support of the States of the region.

Some may find shortcomings or omissions in the draft text but States of the region and other concerned parties are invited to further develop, enhance and enrich the elements presented in the draft text.

This effort needs to be joined not by sceptics nor naysayers but by optimists and those who are serious about promoting the cause of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and of its transformation into a region of peace, justice and security.

Conclusion

The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction now underway at the United Nations in New York provides a belated but important opportunity to address regional security, non-proliferation and disarmament matters in the region of the Middle East.

It sets into place an annual process focusing on discussing matters pertaining to eliminating the threats, dangers and risks of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the region; achieving universal adherence in the region to the NPT through the verified elimination of Israel’s nuclear weapon programme, and also securing universal adherence in the region to and compliance with the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that prohibit biological and chemical weapons, and signature and/or ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) that prohibits all types of nuclear explosive tests.

Bringing peace and security to the region of the Middle East should be accorded the highest priority by the States of the region as well as by all other States.

The views expressed are the writer’s personal observations.

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Vibrant Civil Society Essential for Sustainable Development in Iran

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Sohrab Razzaghi is Executive Director of Volunteer Activists Institute a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political and independent institute, whose primary aim is capacity building among activists and civil society organizations for democracy, human rights and peace building within Iranian society and communities in the MENA region.

 
Masana Ndinga-Kanga is MENA Advocacy Lead at CIVICUS, an alliance of 7000 civil society partners around the world.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran

JOHANNESBURG / AMSTERDAM, Oct 15 2019 (IPS) – 2019 has not been a good year for Iranian human rights activists. At a time where civic space had completely closed, many watched in disbelief as the regime mounted even more restrictions on civil society. Over recent months, many activists have been arrested, like Noushin Javari (a photographer), Marzieh Amiri (a journalist), and Javad Lal Mohammadi (teacher).


As the UN Third Committee prepares to meet in October 2019, it will be worth following whether the General Assembly will take proactive steps to respond to the crisis in Iran or continue to avert its eyes in the face of complicated global politics that have emboldened President Rouhani in his regressive anti-western crackdown on civil society.

During the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2019, Iranian President Rouhani’s called for the creation of a ‘coalition of hope’ in the Gulf region, that would focus on “peace, stability, progress and welfare” and working to “invest on hope towards a better future rather than in war and violence [sic],” with the aim of restoring justice and peace.

However, the civic space track record of Iran and many of its Gulf neighbours demonstrates that oftentimes the state is the perpetrator of violence and restrictions in-country, curtailing the very justice and peace it aims to implement.

It then begs the question, how can a regional coalition of hope be developed, when the state so frequently responds to human rights defenders with violence – excluding the language of human rights from even sustainable development goals.

Many civil society actors have been detained – deemed enemies of the state and foreign agents. As Iranian communities reel under the pressure of yet another bout of sanctions, it is worth begging the question ‘does the closure of civic space serve the interests of sustainable development in Iran?’

Contrary to what policymakers responsible for civic space closure might think, these restrictions ultimately hurt sustainable development. Human rights activists around the world, including in Iran, are oftentimes the critical purveyors of equitable ‘sustainability’ in the development process, campaigning for environmental justice, worker’s rights and the respect for the dignity and humanity of all.

In 2018, the Ayatollah Khamenei’s official website published a draft 50-year vision for “progress.” The document, entitled the Islamic-Iranian Pattern for Progress (IIPP), sets out a set of objectives to be met by 2065, covering a vast range of issues, among them the economy, justice and poverty – still to be approved by parliament.

The plan focuses on addressing poverty, the economy and the justice system. It seeks further alignment of religion and the sociopolitical system in the country, but also includes provisions for “prompting independence, accountability and specialization in the judiciary” and “enhancing women’s position and providing equal opportunities for them, with emphasis on their role as mothers.”

Critics of the regime would not be wrong to look at these policy objectives with concern, especially as the regime has a narrowed position on the role of women in society and has repeatedly failed to guarantee independence of the judiciary – where human rights defenders and political dissenters are subject to numerous violations of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (to which Iran is party).

According to a recent comparative report on Sustainable Development, Iran is in 82nd place among 156 countries. This lower-than-average score, however, is not surprising. Iran has not committed to the indexes of sustainable development, meaning people in Iran are not participating in a systematic and organized manner in the process of development. Instead, policymaking and development is a top-down process steered by the government.

In fact, most involvement of Iranians in this process is decorative. As a solution, Iranians have been organizing themselves in civil society to combine their voices and make sure they are heard. This, however, is counteracted by repression from the state, resulting in the country being rated as closed on the Civicus Monitor.

Countless activists who have been advocating for the true meaning of sustainable development have paid the price. Civil society activists, especially environmental activists, labor union and teacher union activists, as well as human rights defenders have been wrongfully persecuted.

Eight environmental activists are sitting in prison on charges of espionage, four of whom are additionally charged with “sowing corruption on earth”. If convicted, they will face death penalty. Another environmental expert, Dr. Kavous Seyed Emami, died in detention, and the circumstances of his death are unclear.

According to the Iranian Constitution, citizens are permitted to set up associations and assemblies; yet this clause is not implemented. Few, if any, groups have permission to freely form associations, including socio-political groups or ethnic/religious minorities. Last month for example, Omid Mehr foundation was closed by government authorities. When asked about the reason for closure, authorities said that Omid Mehr foundation was advocating Western values, which does not fit in Iran.

The false claim that campaigning for human rights is equal to advocating Western values is an adage used by repressive regimes to silence dissent and put forward a development agenda that excludes minorities and others on the margins. But development is not sustainable if they are excluded.

For example, the regime frequently equates the campaigns of women to determine their dress codes as acts against the state, threats to national security or prostitution. Despite the peaceful protest (handing out flowers in commemoration of International Women’s Day) against the hijab by Yasaman Aryani and Monireh Arabshahi, they were sentenced to 16 years imprisonment after being subject to enforced disappearance. Such lengthy sentences and gross human rights violations do not equate sustainability nor development.

The government not only fails to safeguard the freedom of associations and civil society organizations, but actively creates non-independent organizations (or Governmental NGOs, GONGOs) to put forward an inaccurate picture of civic engagement by the state.

Only CSOs that support the agenda of the state are accepted by the government, strengthening the top-down, government-centered way of working. The Organization for Defending Victims of Violence (ODVV), one of many GONGOs, attends international meetings, including UNHRC meetings.

Actively curating a counter-narrative of progress through GONGOs shows the vulnerability of the state to international pressure in an interconnected global political economy. The state recognizes its reliance on international partnerships for the advancement of its economic objectives.

But instead it fails to align its internal policy processes to international human rights conventions – channeling resources that could be spent on authentic engagement with civil society in country to its image. As a result, tensions in Iran are mounting at the dire state of socioeconomic affairs.

For instance, in January 2018, mass protests against poverty and economic difficulties erupted in the country. Rather than engage with citizens, the state responded through 4,967 arrests and any assembly was strictly and heavily repressed.

Among those arrested were activists, women, workers, students and teachers. Many of the arrestees have been sentenced to long imprisonment terms. Many more are critical to the realization of sustainable development in Iran.

Rather than supporting socioeconomic development, the state-imposed limitations on freedom of assembly and association in Iran, have weakened and decapacitated citizen engagement, and prevented their participation in the process of achieving sustainable development. It is short-term thinking that creates enemies of civil society and sustainable development.

In fact, a dynamic, vibrant, democratic and development-oriented association landscape is an important requirement for sustainable development. By releasing activists and opening the civic space, Iran can truly begin the process of social change for the upliftment of all.

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Watchdog Pushes U.S. to Publish ‘Duty to Warn’ Khashoggi Files

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Press Freedom, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Press Freedom

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) seeks disclosure of files under the U.S. intelligence community’s “duty to warn” obligations, which demand officials alert folks in imminent danger. The CPJ wants to know if they knew about an assassination plot against Jamal Khashoggi. Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2019 (IPS) A media watchdog has asked United States intelligence agencies to reveal whether they knew about an assassination plot against Jamal Khashoggi and failed to warn the Saudi journalist he was in mortal danger.

A legal brief, filed in a Washington DC district court by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), comes almost exactly one year after a Saudi hit squad butchered the renegade writer inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

CPJ’s advocacy manager Michael DeDora told IPS that his lawsuit against the U.S. government “asks a simple question: did the intelligence community know of yet fail to warn Jamal Khashoggi of threats to his life?”

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post columnist, who was once a royal Saudi insider and had grown critical of the regime, was reportedly lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in an elaborate and brutal plot to silence him.

Khashoggi was allegedly killed, dismembered and removed from the building; his remains were never found. The CIA reportedly assessed that crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, had ordered the operation.

The CPJ seeks disclosure of files under the U.S. intelligence community’s “duty to warn” obligations, which demand officials alert folks in imminent danger. The brief, filed Thursday, follows the Trump administration’s rejection of a previous CPJ disclosure request.

“Nearly one year after Khashoggi’s murder, disclosure of these documents would provide transparency and help efforts to secure accountability,” DeDora told IPS in an email.

“But this lawsuit has broader implications: journalists around the world should have the security of knowing that the U.S. will not ignore threats to their lives.” 

Khashoggi’s assassination sparked global outrage, blighted MBS’ global standing and undercut his ambitions to improve the kingdom’s poor human rights record and diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons. 

Saudi officials, who initially said Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, now say he was killed in a rogue operation that did not involve the prince. A domestic Saudi trial of 11 suspects is widely viewed as a sham.

Speaking with IPS among a small group of journalists in New York this month, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s former fiancée, explained how she was saddened by the lack of global pressure on Riyadh to come clean about the affair.

MBS has not visited Europe or the U.S. since the murder. While the prince was briefly shunned by foreign leaders, Riyadh’s long-standing diplomatic support from the U.S., Britain and others has largely resumed.

“This silence and inertia created huge disappointment on my side,” said Cengiz. 

“Countries could have demonstrated a more honourable attitude instead of remaining silent, particularly the United Nations, the European Union and the five members of the U.N. Security Council.”

Cengiz was joined at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly by Agnes Callamard, the U.N. rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who investigated the killing and concluded it was a “deliberate, premeditated execution,” and called for MBS and other officials to be probed.

Callamard, a French academic, said she knew that achieving justice for Khashoggi’s murder would be an uphill struggle, given Riyadh’s deep pockets, clout in the world energy markets and powerful friends in Washington, London and elsewhere.

“This single year [since Khashoggi’s death] is just the first phase in our journey for accountability and justice. And that means that it will demand and deserve patience, resilience, and time,” said Callamard.

“Early on, I could see that justice for Jamal Khashoggi would have to be found beyond the usual path and beyond our usual understanding of accountability.”

Callamard urged the CIA to publish its files, while also calling for an FBI investigation and a public inquest in Turkey. Meanwhile, a draft U.S. law on human rights and accountability, if enacted, would unmask and sanction the culprits and send “ripple effects” towards accountability around the world.

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