World’s Young Activists at War: First, Occupy Wall Street, Next Un-Occupy Palestine

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Credit: Amnesty International

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2020 (IPS) – The world’s young activists, numbering over 3.8 billion, are on the war path.

The rising new socialist movements—which originated with “Black Lives Matter” and “Occupy Wall Street” (one protester’s slogan read: “Un-Occupy Palestine”) — were aimed at battling racism, political repression and institutionalized inequalities in capitalist societies.


In its recent cover story, Time magazine dubbed it “Youthquake” – a new phenomenon shaking up the old order, as young activists lead the fight against right-wing authoritarianism, government corruption and rising new hazards of climate change.

Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS “it is stunning to see how aggressive government efforts to quash protests, including by killing protesters, have not even succeeded in stopping them in the short run”.

In the long run, far too much is at stake, she said, where the coming years are likely to see more protests rather than fewer.

And it is more so in Asia, says AI, in a recently-released report which reviews human rights in 25 Asian and Pacific states and territories during 2019.

“2019 was a year of repression in Asia, but also of resistance”.

“As governments across the continent attempt to uproot fundamental freedoms, people are fighting back – and young people are at the forefront of the struggle,” says Nicholas Bequelin, AI’s Regional Director for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific.

“From students in Hong Kong leading a mass movement against growing Chinese encroachment, to students in India protesting against anti-Muslim policies; from Thailand’s young voters flocking to a new opposition party to Taiwan’s pro LGBTI-equality demonstrators. Online and offline, youth-led popular protests are challenging the established order,” he added.

Also, the rise of a new generation determined to lead the fight against climate emergency has led to a major youth movement worldwide, resulting in protest marches, with thousands of young people demonstrating in the streets of New York and in several world capitals.

According to Time magazine, the world’s under-30 population has been rising since 2012, and today accounts for more than half of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Credit: Amnesty International

Asked for the primary reasons for this surge in young activism, Mariner said this new era of youth activism reflects young people’s understanding that it’s their future at stake.

“If they don’t demand more from governments, including a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, their future is uncertain. It is the young who will inherit this fast-warming planet, and they see all too clearly the consequences of their elders’ inaction and irresponsibility,” she argued.

Meanwhile, the Youth Assembly, described as one of the longest-running and largest global youth summits, is scheduled to take place in New York city February 14-16.

The theme of next week’s 25th session will be: “It’s Time: Youth for Global Impact” aimed at underlining the importance of engaging young people, “especially at a time when the youth are influencing and leading movements that can change the world.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International report says China and India, Asia’s two largest powers, set the tone for repression across the region with their overt rejection of human rights.

Beijing’s backing of an Extradition Bill for Hong Kong, giving the local government the power to extradite suspects to the mainland, ignited mass protests in the territory on an unprecedented scale.

Since June, Hong Kongers have regularly taken to the streets to demand accountability in the face of abusive policing tactics that have included the wanton use of tear gas, arbitrary arrests, physical assaults and abuses in detention. This struggle against the established order has been repeated all over the continent, said AI.

In India, the AI report noted, millions decried a new law that discriminates against Muslims in a swell of peaceful demonstrations. In Indonesia, people rallied against parliament’s enactment of several laws that threatened public freedoms.

In Afghanistan, marchers risked their safety to demand an end to the country’s long-running conflict. In Pakistan, the non-violent Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement defied state repression to mobilize against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

Divya Srinivasan, Equality Now’s South Asia Consultant, told IPS young people across Asia have shown incredible resilience and bravery in their continuing battle against government repression in 2019.

One remarkable feature of these protests is that in many instances, they have been led by women and girls, including those from minority communities, she added.

In India, one of the epicentres of protests against the new anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which discriminates against Muslims, has been the neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi.

Srinivasan said women and children have braved the winter chill and gathered in huge numbers to continuously occupy a highway around the clock in a peaceful protest that has already lasted over a month.

“The voices of these women, particularly Muslim women, have been bravely opposing the Government’s discriminatory laws, and voicing concerns about the oppression of minorities and police brutality.”

“The Shaheen Bagh protest began on December 14th with around a dozen local women and their children and numbers soon swelled into the hundreds”, she said.

And the site has become a creative space for many children and young people, with singing, storytelling, poetry, and talks happening daily, and drawings, graffiti, posters, photographs, and art installations decorating the roadside where people are camping”

In early 2019, Srinivasan said, India saw another historic protest in the form of the Dignity March, which was a 10,000-kilometre long march through 24 states that brought together thousands of survivors of sexual violence, including many young women and girls, who were raising their voices to call for justice, dignity, and an end to victim-blaming and stigma.”

“Young women across Asia are making their voices heard. We cannot ignore them any longer,” declared Srinivasan, a licensed attorney in India with a background in women’s rights, including work on sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence against women.

Asked whether there is a role for the United Nations to either support or give its blessings to these youth activists, AI’s Mariner said: “The UN, including at the highest levels, can and should speak out to demand that governments respect the right of peaceful protest”

She pointed out it was heartening to hear UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemn the killings of protesters in Iraq, “although he has been far less vocal regarding repression elsewhere”.

Also encouraging, from the perspective of UN action, are the numerous UN special rapporteurs who have called on the authorities in Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia, among others, to protect the rights of those who participate in protests, she declared.

The AI repot said people speaking out against these atrocities were routinely punished, but their standing up made a difference. There were many examples where efforts to achieve human rights progress in Asia paid off.

In Taiwan, same-sex marriage became legal following tireless campaigning by activists. In Sri Lanka, lawyers and activists successfully campaigned against the resumption of executions.

Brunei was forced to backtrack on enforcing laws to make adultery and sex between men punishable by stoning, while former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak took the stand on corruption charges for the first time.

The Pakistani government pledged to tackle climate change and air pollution, and two women were appointed as judges on the Maldivian Supreme Court for the first time.

And in Hong Kong, the power of protest forced the government to withdraw the Extradition Bill. Yet, with no accountability for months of abuses against demonstrators, the fight goes on.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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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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2020 Is the Decade of Action & It Has to Be a Sprint

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Opinion

Hosted by the governments of Kenya, Denmark and UNFPA, world leaders gather for the 3-day Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to advance sexual, reproductive health & rights for all. November 12, 2019. Photo Courtesy: Redhouse Public Relations

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 31 2019 (IPS) – Happy New Year, Kenya. 2020 marks a decade of action towards the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Peace and development are inextricably linked, with each making the achievement of the other far more likely. This puts the conflict-prevention and development work of the UN at the heart of the agenda in East Africa, but in a multi-agency and programme environment, making meaningful progress is challenging.


Aware of this, the UN began a process of structural reforms led by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres who made reforms of the United Nations, a priority at the very beginning of his term in January 2017. The aim being to deliver better results through cooperation, collaboration and integration. 2019 was the year that the impact of these reforms became real and nowhere more than in the peace, conflict-prevention and development pillars of the UN’s work.

At the country level, that shift towards a nimble, 21st century UN challenges deeply entrenched practices and operations. In a country team with over 23 individual agencies, funds and programmes, the reform process can be complicated, even messy.

To the credit of the Kenya country team, we overcame the challenges of ceding long-held agency interests for the collective good and achieved some ground-breaking milestones in our partnership with governments, civic organizations and the private sector.

The most outstanding was our venturing out to confront challenges that transcend borders. East Africa faces major threats to peace and development across multiple fronts, and respective UN country teams have, in a remarkable show of teamwork, sought to harmonize their responses to these threats. Internecine border conflicts and the effects of climate change together make a formidable challenge that brought together UN teams from Kenya and Uganda, in a pact that seeks to bring sustainable development to the Karamoja triangle.

This pact follows from another successful regional collaboration project on the Kenya-Ethiopia border where communities accustomed to recurrent hostilities are now reaching out to each other to find solutions to common socio-economic challenges.

We believe that our regional surge towards prevention, peacemaking and diplomacy will have a particular impact on the youth, who suffer an enduring sense of being neglected and ignored. This narrative is a breeding ground for extremism and radicalization, so addressing such concerns was a key point of deliberation during last July’s African Regional High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism and the Prevention of Violent Extremism in Nairobi.

The same regional approach was behind the initiative by Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia to sign the Declaration and Action Plan to End Cross-border FGM in April 2019. This was the first time multiple countries had come together to tackle this pernicious cross-border crime.

But there remain many in the region still left behind by development, and we continue to stand up for them through our UN Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022. The framework’s gender equality and rights focus is unmistakable, because in too many communities, the simple fact of being born female shatters one’s chances of living in full human dignity.

Our focus on giving a leg-up to those left farthest behind has attracted a positive response from our partners in national and county governments. By staying in lockstep with national priorities on issues such as health, agriculture and housing, the common thread of messages from our partners is that we are staying effective and responsive to the ambitions of Kenyans.

As 2020 beckons, the decade of action starts and it has to be a sprint to deliver on the SDGs, the UN team in Kenya is rolling up its sleeves with greater urgency, ambition and innovation. We will enhance regional cooperation and private-public partnerships as we work with the Government towards lifting millions of the citizens of this region out of poverty and upholding their human rights.

We are re-imagining ways of delivering development in ways such as the co-creation of an SDG innovation lab between the Government of Kenya, the Centre for Effective Global Action at the University of California in Berkeley, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the UN. The SDG Lab will kick off with support for the delivery of Kenya’s Big Four agenda by harnessing, big data, technology and innovation to achieve scale and impact.

As a UN country team, we got off the blocks in 2019 in pursuit of UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed’s challenge to “flip the orthodoxy” for the repositioning of the UN. We have dared to go beyond the typical and will do whatever it takes to respond effectively to the challenges faced by Kenya’s people, now and in the future.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya.

 

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

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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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Trump Poised to Withdraw from Open Skies Treaty

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KINGSTON REIF is director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant.

WASHINGTON DC, Oct 18 2019 (IPS) – The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, according to lawmakers and media reports. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, first sounded the public alarm in an Oct. 7 letter to National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien.


“I am deeply concerned by reports that the Trump Administration is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and strongly urge you against such a reckless action,” Rep. Engel wrote. “American withdrawal would only benefit Russia and be harmful to our allies’ and partners’ national security interests.”

Slate columnist Fred Kaplan reported Oct. 9 that former National Security Advisor John Bolton pushed for withdrawing from the treaty before departing the administration.

Following Bolton’s departure in September, White House staff continued to advocate for withdrawal and convinced President Trump to sign a memorandum expressing his intent to exit the treaty. The Omaha World-Herald reported that the signed document directed a withdrawal by Oct. 26.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) joined Rep. Engel in an Oct. 8 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper denouncing a possible withdrawal.

The lawmakers wrote that “pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, an important multilateral arms control agreement, would be yet another gift from the Trump Administration to Putin.” They also noted that the treaty “has been an essential tool for United States efforts to constrain Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

The United States and several allies in December 2018 conducted an “extraordinary flight” over eastern Ukraine under the Open Skies Treaty. The flight followed a Russian attack in late November 2018 on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea.

Republican lawmakers also expressed concern about ditching the treaty. In an Oct. 8 statement, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) stated that he has “yet to see a compelling reason to withdraw from Open Skies” given the “valuable access to Russian airspace and military airfields” the United States gains from the treaty.

Signed in 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed, observation flights over the others’ entire territories in order to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia.

According to the treaty, states-parties must give one another 72 hours advance notice before conducting an overflight. At least 24 hours in advance of the flight, the observing state-party will supply its flight plan, which the host state-party can only modify for safety or logistical reasons.

No territory is off-limits under the treaty. Each participating country is assigned a quota of overflights it can conduct and a quota, based on its geographic size, of overflights it must accept every year.

Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States. After the overflight, the information collected must be provided to all states-parties.

In recent years, disputes over implementation and concerns from some U.S. officials and lawmakers about the value of the treaty have threatened to derail the pact.

For example, Washington has raised concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty, citing, in particular, Russia’s restricting of observation flights over Kaliningrad to no more than 500 kilometers and within a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In response, the United States has restricted flights over the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii and the missile defense interceptor fields in Fort Greely, Alaska.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization act included a provision that would reaffirm Congress’ commitment to the treaty and prohibit the use of funds to suspend, terminate, or withdraw from the agreement unless “certain certification requirements are made.”

The Senate version of the bill did not include a similar provision. The House and Senate continue to negotiate a final version of the bill.

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