Biden’s Opportunity To End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Opinion

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU) and teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies

Time is running out fast. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) doesn’t improve promptly, says Philippe Lazzarini, the organization’s commissioner-general. Credit: United Nations

NEW YORK, Dec 7 2020 (IPS) – Recently I had an opportunity to brief a group of European diplomats and journalists on a variety of conflicts, with a focus on the Middle East. During the Q&A I was asked which of the region’s conflicts Biden should tackle first.


Without much hesitation I said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only because it is over seven decades old, but because it is an increasingly intractable, explosive, and destabilizing situation, which reverberates throughout the Mideast, and several regional powers are exploiting it to serve their own national interests, which sadly contributes to its endurance.

It is expected that Biden will support a two-state solution given his past position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians no longer believe that such an outcome remains viable.

I disagree with this belief: the Palestinians will never give up their right to establish an independent state of their own, and the one-state solution, which is being floated as an alternative, will never be accepted by the Israelis, because that would compromise the Jewish national identity of the state and undercut its democratic nature.

Due to the inter-dispersement of the Israeli and Palestinian populations, the two independent states, however, will have to fully collaborate in many areas, especially on security and economic development. This will lead to the establishment of the framework for a confederation, which will be the final outcome after several years of peace and reconciliation.

For Biden to succeed where his predecessors failed, he must repair the severe damage that Trump has inflicted on the entire peace process and restore the Palestinians’ confidence in a new negotiation that could, in fact, lead to a permanent solution.

To that end, he must take specific measures before the start of the talks and establish rules of engagements to which both sides must fully subscribe to demonstrate their commitment to reaching an agreement.

Preliminary Measures

Reestablish the PLO mission in DC: Biden should allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reestablish its mission in DC. This would immediately open a channel of communication which is central to the development of a dialogue between the US and the PA and to clear some of the initial hurdles before resuming the negotiations.

Resuming financial aid: It is essential that Biden restore the financial aid that the Palestinians had been receiving from the US. The Palestinian Authority is financially strapped and is in desperate need of assistance. The aid given should be monitored to ensure that the money is spent on specific program and projects.

Prohibiting territorial annexation: The Biden administration should inform the Israeli government that it will object to any further annexation of Palestinian territories. It will, however, keep the American embassy in Jerusalem and continue recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, leaving its final status to be negotiated.

Freezing settlement expansion: Given the intense controversy about the settlements and their adverse psychological and practical effect on the Palestinians, Biden should insist that Israel impose a temporary freeze on the expansion of settlements. This issue should top the negotiating agenda to allow for a later expansion of specific settlements in the context of land swaps.

Invite Hamas to participate: The Biden administration should invite Hamas to participate in the negotiations jointly with the PA or separately, provided they renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If they refuse, they should be left to their own devices and continue to bear the burden of the blockade.

Appoint professional and unbiased mediators: Unlike Trump’s envoys who openly supported the settlements and paid little or no heed to the Palestinians’ aspirations, Biden’s envoys should be known for their integrity, professionalism, and understanding of the intricacies of the conflict, and be committed to a two-state solution.

Invite Arab and European observers: The Arab states and the EU are extremely vested in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi and German officials will be ideal observers who can render significant help in their unique capacity as leading Arab and European powers.

Rules of engagement

Establishing the end game: No negotiations succeed unless the parties involved agree on the nature of their desired outcome. For the Palestinians it is establishing an independent Palestinian state, and for Israelis it is maintaining the security and independence of a democratic Jewish state. Before embarking on new negotiations, the Biden administration should insist that both sides unequivocally commit to a two-state outcome.

Acknowledging historical and psychological impediments: Both sides have paid little heed in the past to the need to understand each other’s historic experiences—the Holocaust for the Israelis and the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians—which they subconsciously use as protective shields. Acknowledging each other’s respective traumatic experiences would help mitigate the psychological impediments which continue to feed into the mutual distrust and hatred.

Ending public acrimony: No negotiations can be conducted in good faith in an atmosphere of mutual public acrimony, as had been the case in all prior peace talks. An integral part of any negotiating process is to build trust, which cannot be nurtured while denouncing each other publicly. Leaders on both sides must end acrimonious statements, as their respective publics will have no faith in negotiations under such an atmosphere.

Renouncing and preventing violence: Both sides must commit not only to renouncing violence but to doing everything in their power to prevent acts of violence against one another. To be sure, nothing is more disruptive to the negotiations than a wanton act of violence.

To that end, both sides need to fully collaborate on all security matters and send a clear massage, especially to extremists on both sides, that violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators will suffer severe consequences.

Delinking and “banking” agreed-upon issues: What will be necessary in future talks is to commit to “bank” any agreement reached on a specific issue, delink it from all others, and not subject it to renegotiations should the talks stall or collapse. This would prevent the resumption of negotiations from ground zero and allow for the building blocks that could eventually lead to an agreement.

In that regard, five critical issues—the settlements, Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, national security, and borders—have been hashed and rehashed ad nauseum in past negotiations. The Biden team should identify any common denominator on these issues to prevent renegotiating certain elements over which both sides have already agreed.

Establishing a process of reconciliation: The negotiating process must simultaneously be accompanied by a process of reconciliation. Both sides must initiate widespread people-to-people interactions to gradually mitigate the deep animosity and distrust between them which cannot simply be negotiated away.

Israelis and Palestinians should engage in many activities, including sports, performing arts, tourism, development projects, and student interactions, to foster trust and confidence that peaceful coexistence is possible.

Keeping the public informed: Given that both sides will be required to make significant concessions, it will be imperative to keep their respective publics informed about the progress being made in the negotiations to engender support.

Keeping the public in the dark, as was the practice in past, prevented the public from developing any vested interest in the negotiating process and its successful outcome.

The failure of both sides to agree in the past to establish and be governed by the above rules of engagement clearly suggests that neither side negotiated in good faith. The Biden administration must insist that Israelis and Palestinians accept the above rules if they want to resume the negotiations in earnest. Otherwise, the new talks will be nothing but an exercise in futility.

Sadly though, the current leaders in Israel and Palestine are not in a position to enter into serious negotiations, and must leave the political scene before Biden resumes new talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on record opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state; he is also facing three criminal charges of corruption, and in spite of his impressive accomplishments, he may well have outlived his usefulness.

President Abbas too has taken a hard position in connection with the settlements, Jerusalem, and the refugees, and it will be nearly impossible for him to make any significant concession and survive politically.

He is also “too comfortable” in his position and does not want to leave the political scene accused of having sold the Palestinian cause. In the interim, Biden should reiterate the US commitment to Israel’s national security and his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, giving a clear signal that only moderation will win the day.

The US remains the indispensable power that can bring both sides to an enduring peace, because no other power can exert the kind of influence needed to reach a breakthrough.

For the Biden administration to bring this about, it must play an active role by advancing its own ideas and put its foot down when necessary because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can have it only their way, and certainly not without direct US involvement.

As president, Biden has a momentous opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both sides will do well to grasp the moment.

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Mahatma’s Non-Violence: Essence of Culture of Peace for New Humanity

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Opinion

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations and Founder of The Global Movement for The Culture of Peace (GMCoP), was the keynote speaker at the observance of the International Day of Non-Violence on the 15th Mahatma Gandhi Day Celebration, organized virtually by the Gandhi International Institute for Peace (GIIP)

Credit: United Nations

HONOLULU, Hawaii, Oct 22 2020 (IPS) – I will begin by presenting to you excerpts from the message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the International Day of Non-Violence.


I quote: “In marking the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, this International Day highlights the remarkable power of non-violence and peaceful protest. It is also a timely reminder to strive to uphold values that Gandhi lived by: the promotion of dignity; equal protection for all; and communities living together in peace.

On this year’s observance, we have a special duty: stop the fighting to focus on our common enemy: COVID-19. There is only one winner of conflict during a pandemic: the virus itself. As the pandemic took hold, I called for a global ceasefire. Now is the time to intensify our efforts. Let us be inspired by the spirit of Gandhi and the enduring principles of the UN Charter.” End of quote

At the outset, let me thank the Gandhi International Institute for Peace (GIIP) and its dynamic President Mr. Raj Kumar for organizing the observance of the International Day of Non-Violence and of the 15th Mahatma Gandhi Day Celebration by the Institute.

The theme of my keynote speech today is “Mahatma’s Non-Violence: Essence of The Culture of Peace for New Humanity”

The Mahatma affirmed that he was not a visionary but a practical idealist. He affirmed that “Non- violence is the law of our species, as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law – to the strength of the spirit.”

It is said that “he was the first in human history to extend the principle of non-violence from the individual to the social and political plane.” He entered politics for the purpose of experimenting with non-violence and establishing its validity.

Ambassador Chowdhury

The Mahatma had said that “Nonviolence is the greatest and most active force in the world. One cannot be passively nonviolent … One person who can express ahimsa in life exercises a force superior to all the force of brutality.” I believe whole-heartedly that Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of nonviolence or Ahimsa has found true reflection in the life of a great son of the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s own struggle for equality and justice.

Dr. King considered his Nobel Peace Prize as “a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the critical political and racial questions of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression without resorting to violence“. I reiterate this mainly to highlight the need for revisiting those words in view of what is happening in many parts of our world, including in this country.

As I have stated on many occasions, my life’s experience has taught me to value peace and non-violence as the essential components of our existence. Those unleash the positive forces of good that are so needed for human progress. Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace.

It is important to realize that the absence of peace takes away the opportunities that we need to prepare ourselves, to empower ourselves to face the challenges of our lives, individually and collectively. This intellectual and spiritual inspiration is implanted in me through the Mahatma’s life and his words.

The United Nations Charter emerged in 1945 out of the ashes of the Second World War. The UN Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was born in 1999 in the aftermath of the Cold War. I was the chair of the nine-month-long negotiations from 1998 to 1999 that produced the Programme of Action on Culture of Peace.

For more than two decades, I have continued to devote considerable time, energy and effort to realizing the implementation of this landmark, norm-setting decision of the UN. For me, this has been a realization of my personal commitment to peace inspired by the Mahatma and my humble contribution to humanity.

My work took me to the farthest corners of the world and I have seen time and again how people – even the humblest and the weakest – have contributed to building the culture of peace in their personal lives, in their families, in their communities and in their countries – all these contributing to global peace one way or the other.

The focus of my work and advocacy has been on advancing the culture of peace which aims at making peace and non-violence a part of our own self, our own personality – a part of our existence as human beings. I believe this will empower ourselves to contribute more effectively to bring inner as well as outer peace.

In simple terms, the Culture of Peace as a concept means that every one of us needs to consciously make peace and nonviolence a part of our daily existence. We should know how to relate to one another without being aggressive, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect, without prejudice.

We should not isolate peace as something separate or distant. More so, in today’s world so full of negativity, tension, poverty and suffering, the culture of peace should be seen as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilization based on inner oneness and outer diversity.

In my keynote address on “Human Security – an Essential Element for Creating the Culture of Peace” at the Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, in August 2007, inspired by Mahatma’s eternal words “Be the change that you want to see in the world,” I underscored that “Peace is a prerequisite for human development.… We all must undertake efforts to inculcate the culture of peace in ourselves. We cannot expect the world to change if we do not start first and foremost with changing ourselves – at the individual levels.”

The objective of the culture of peace is the empowerment of people, as has been underscored by the global leader for peace and Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. As we say “Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression, injustice and neglect”. The culture of peace can be a powerful tool in promoting a global consciousness that serves the best interests of a just and sustainable peace.

I am encouraged that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN in 2015 includes, among others, the culture of peace and non-violence as well as global citizenship as essential components of today’s education.

This realization has now become more pertinent in the midst of the ever-increasing militarism and militarization that is destroying both our planet and our people. The Mahatma asserted that “One thing is certain. If the mad race for armaments continues, it is bound to result in a slaughter such as has never occurred in history. If there is a victor left, the very victory will be a living death for the nation that emerges victorious. There is no escape from the impending doom save through a bold and unconditional acceptance of the nonviolent method with all its glorious implications.”

Dr. King had advised us rightly, “… I suggest that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately a subject for study and for serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, by no means excluding the relations between nations.”

The last decades of violence and human insecurity should lead to a growing realization in the world of education today that children should be educated in the art of peaceful, non-violent, non-aggressive living.

Never has it been more important for the next generation to learn about the world and understand and respect its diversity. I want to underscore one particular aspect in this context. In the culture of peace movement, we are focusing more attention on children because that contributes in a major way to the sustainable and long-lasting impact on our societies. As the Mahatma’s words highlight, “Real education consists in drawing the best out of yourself.”

An essential message that I have experienced from my work for the culture of peace is that we should never forget that when women – half of world’s seven plus billion people – are marginalized, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Women bring a new breadth, quality and balance of vision to a common effort of moving away from the cult of war towards the culture of peace. “Without peace, development cannot be realized, without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development is possible.”

I believe the culture of peace is not a quick-fix. It is a movement, not a revolution.

Let us remember that the work for peace is a continuous process. Each one of us can make a difference in that process. The culture of peace cannot be imposed from outside; it must be realized from within.

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Modern Tools, Age-old Wisdom: on India-Sri Lanka Relations

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Opinion

Prasad Kariyawasam was Sri Lanka’s one-time Foreign Secretary and High Commissioner to India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Credit: V.V. Krishnan, the Hindu

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jul 31 2020 (IPS) – The unique India-Sri Lanka relationship, de jure, is between equals as sovereign nations. But it’s asymmetric in terms of geographic size, population, military and economic power, on the one hand, and social indicators and geographical location, on the other. It is steeped in myth and legend, and influenced by religious, cultural and social affinities.


This is an opportune time for Sri Lanka and India to nourish the roots of the relationship using modern toolkits, but leveraging age-old wisdom and experience.

Historical ties

History reveals that the advent of Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the time of Emperor Ashoka was the result of cross-border discourse. For many centuries in the first millennia, the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura housed an international community which included traders from India, China, Rome, Arabia and Persia.

Later, Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka travelled to India, China, Cambodia and Java leaving behind inscriptions. Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, to this day, contain shrines for Hindu deities. The colonial expansion of European maritime nations reshaped the Sri Lankan economy. Labour from south India was brought to Sri Lanka to work in plantations.

The Indian freedom struggle had its influence on Sri Lanka as well. There was cross-border support for the revival of culture, tradition, local languages, spiritual practices and philosophies, and education. Both countries transformed into modern nations with constitutional and institutionalised governance under colonial rule.

Most aspects of today’s globalisation existed in a different form in the pre-colonial era with free exchange of ideas, trade and intellectual discourse. However, process engineering by colonial powers for identification and categorisation of people was a factor in the emergence of separatist ideologies based on ethnicity, language and religion.

This mindset is now ingrained and accentuated in politics. Episodic instances of communal hostility are referenced often to suit tactical political gain. Around the world today, and not just in South Asia, policies and thinking are becoming communally exclusive, localised and inward-looking.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world against this backdrop, allowing some leaders an opportunity to double down on insular thinking, ostensibly for providing local communities with better economic and social prospects, and security.

Meanwhile, governance models favoured by nations keep vacillating between fundamental freedoms-based democratic systems and quasi democratic, socialist authoritarian systems.

In this regard, the people of Sri Lanka and India have been served well by long years of uninterrupted democratic governance. This has provided long-term stability for both countries and must not be vitiated.

Sri Lanka’s strategic location makes it apparent that not only economic fortunes but the security of both countries are inextricably linked. Therefore, it is heartening that India and Sri Lanka constantly strive for excellence in neighbourly relations, recognising that a calamity in one country can adversely impact the other.

Though robust partnerships with other countries must be sought in line with the non-alliance foreign policies of both countries, such efforts must be bounded by an atmosphere needed for peace, prosperity and stability.

Among others, freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific together with a rules-based international order and peaceful settlement of disputes are of common interest. While avoiding advocacy of zero-sum solutions on crucial issues, both countries must seek to harmonise strategic and other interests in line with common values and socioeconomic compulsions.

Addressing issues and imbalances

The socioeconomic development of Sri Lanka has remained linked to India. But there are many options available to address issues of imbalance and asymmetries. For instance, Sri Lanka can encourage Indian entrepreneurs to make Colombo another business hub for them, as logistical capacities and facilities for rest and recreation keep improving in Sri Lanka.

Integrating the two economies but with special and differential treatment for Sri Lanka due to economic asymmetries can be fast-tracked for this purpose. There is immense potential to accentuate or create complementariness, using locational and human resource potential, for harnessing benefits in the modern value chains.

Robust partnerships across the economic and social spectrum can promote people-to-people bonhomie. And engagement of legislatures is essential for promoting multiparty support.

With many countries receding into cocoons due to the pandemic, this is an opportunity for both countries to focus on the renewal and revitalisation of partnerships.

This article was originally published in the Hindu, the English-language daily owned by The Hindu Group and headquartered in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/modern-tools-age-old-wisdom/article32206425.ece

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Are We Going from San Francisco?

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Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 30 2020 (IPS) – Seventy-five years ago, on 26 June 1945, before the Japanese surrender ending the Second World War, fifty nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the United Nations (UN) Charter.


UN Charter
Nations pledged “to practice tolerance and live together in peace …, and to ensure … that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Anis Chowdhury

They sought “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to … promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The Charter’s contents reflected some contradictions inherent in framing an international organization recognizing national sovereignty as its organizing principle, and various other compromises, often influenced by the convening host nation.

Although the conduct of Member States often falls short of the UN’s lofty goals, its Charter was nonetheless a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order.

San Francisco Conference
Forty-six Allied countries, including the four sponsors – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China – were originally invited to the San Francisco Conference.

The conference itself invited four other States – the Byelorussian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics, newly-liberated Denmark and Argentina. Poland did not send a representative as its new government was still uncertain.

Of the fifty participating states, only four were African and nine Asian. Latin American countries, independent since the mid-19th century, were present and active in deliberations.

The Conference was not only one of the most significant international gatherings in history, but perhaps the longest ever. The two month long Conference was attended by 3,500 people, including 850 delegates, their advisers, staff and the secretariat, plus more than 2,500 from the media and other observers.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Conference opened on April 25, 1945 with great fanfare, despite the sudden death of its principal architect and presumed host, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on 12 April. The task of carrying on fell to his Vice-President Harry Truman who had become President.

Truman often quoted English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, carried in his wallet, bewildering colleagues, senators and staffers who doubted his commitment to international peace. Tennyson foresaw that nations, realizing they could destroy one another, might agree to form “the Parliament of Man”, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Clashes and compromises
Many serious differences of opinion triggered crises, even at the preparatory stage. For example, the Soviet Union proposed that all 16 Soviet republics should have UN membership to balance the influence of US allies: the US countered by proposing membership for all its 50 states!

A compromise was struck, allowing membership for the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine; the Soviet Union then withdrew its opposition to Argentina, which had supported the Axis powers.

The most important deliberations concerned the UN Security Council (UNSC), initially composed of five permanent members (US, UK, USSR, China, France) and six elected members. The P5’s right to veto provoked a long and heated debate.

Others feared that when one of the P5 threatens the peace, the UNSC would be ineffectual. But the P5 collectively insisted that as the main responsibility for maintaining world peace would fall most heavily on them, the veto provision was vital.

Australia proposed that no permanent member should be allowed to veto when involved in a Chapter VII dispute over threats to peace. The US delegation blocked this and a Soviet proposal allowing P5 vetoes on procedural matters, e.g., discussion of disputes in which it may be involved.

While US officials saw the UN General Assembly (UNGA) primarily as a ‘talk shop’, the USSR tried to limit it from discussing sensitive political matters. However, recognizing its importance for legitimacy, the compromise reached permits the UNGA to discuss any issues “within the scope of the Charter”.

Colonialism was not supposed to be discussed at the Conference to avoid alienating the European imperial powers, whom the US needed to isolate the Soviet Union. But the handful of Asian and African countries attending wanted countries still under the colonial yoke to attain freedom and independence as soon as possible.

Although not on the original Conference agenda, after much debate, Chapters XI, XII and XIII provided some norms for colonial administration and pathways for decolonization. Nonetheless, these ambiguous, at best, pronouncements greatly disappointed anti-colonialists around the world.

US hegemonic from outset
Despite some compromises inherent in framing such an agreement, the UN Charter favoured the US. It promised to protect freedom of action and national sovereignty, as desired by the US, but contained no open-ended commitment to preserve other countries’ territorial integrity, like the League of Nations Covenant’s Article 10.

Article 2(7) placated American sovereigntists and nationalists, declaring: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

The US and the UK also got what they wanted for existing and new regional and plurilateral arrangements, including defence and mutual assistance organizations.

Some US officials were concerned the UN might threaten the Monroe Doctrine privileging the US in the Western hemisphere, while limiting its ability to intervene elsewhere. Some clever drafting of Chapter VIII provided blanket endorsement to regional organizations, also seen as reflecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Article 51 enshrined the principle of “self-defense against armed attack, either individual or collective”. Although not fully appreciated in 1945, such provisions later helped legitimize various US and other post-colonial security pacts in Europe, Asia and the Americas against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Conference participants also considered a proposal for compulsory jurisdiction for a World Court, but the US Secretary of State recognized this would jeopardize Senate ratification. Delegates compromised, agreeing to let countries decide whether to accept the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s jurisdiction.

Unsurprisingly, the US has had an uneasy relationship with the ICJ from the outset, never submitting to its authority, and reacting negatively to Court decisions seen as adverse to the US.

From Truman to Trump
Presiding at the closing ceremony, Truman cautioned that the success of the new world body would depend on collective self-restraint. “We all have to recognize – no matter how great our strength – that we must deny ourselves the license to do as we please. This is the price each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

Truman is probably turning in his grave watching Trump’s jingoist ‘America First’ policy undermine the UN and multilateralism. Are multilateralism and the UN now doomed as Trump belies Tennyson’s hope and leads the US to up-end the Roosevelt-Truman legacy?

 

Coronavirus Worsens Yemen’s Long Tale of Woe

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Opinion

Abdul Mohammed is a humanitarian worker for Oxfam Yemen

Credit: United Nations

SANA’A, Yemen, Mar 26 2020 (IPS) – In every room in Yemen’s Al-Saba’een hospital, patients in critical condition waited on chairs, and still others laid on the bare ground. I saw women and girls sharing beds in pairs, and children laying close together being treated.


This is Sana’a, Yemen’s best-supplied and capital city, on what has become an ordinary day. Coronavirus hasn’t arrived in Yemen yet.

As I watch the destruction that the novel coronavirus is wreaking on wealthy and peaceful countries with developed health systems, I fear for Yemen. If cholera, diphtheria, and malnutrition can overwhelm our war-stricken health system, I can only imagine the devastation that this fast-spreading, uncurable virus could unleash.

The impact of COVID-19 would mirror the impact of the war to date: no one would be safe, but the most vulnerable would bear a disproportionate share of the burden.

Credit: UNOCHA

The world is now getting a glimpse of the reality we have faced in Yemen for the past five years since war here escalated: life-threatening illness, deepening economic pressure, fewer and worse options for parents and caregivers, and a dizzyingly constant change in routine.

Millions now live in overcrowded shelters, without safe water, proper nutrition or proper health care. The basic steps others are taking to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are virtually impossible here. Should it take hold, the results would be unthinkable.

Public health crises don’t just threaten the well-being of the afflicted; their impacts ripple widely across families and societies. I think about Ahmed, a young man from Ibb, who lost his father to cholera, and then was suddenly thrust into the role of sole provider and caregiver for his entire family.

“I am not ready for this,” he shared in desperation. Feeling ill-equipped but required to take on extraordinary responsibilities – and with little time for grief or sentiment – is one that most Yemenis can identify with.

As we mark five years since a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened and escalated the war in our country, we find ourselves defenseless against even basic maladies like diphtheria and cholera. These stone-age pathogens are held at bay in most societies by taking basic public health measures, drinking safe water, and eating nutritious food.

But parties to this on-going fighting since 2015 – have damaged or destroyed more than half of Yemen’s hospitals and other health facilities through bombing and shelling. The fighting has destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure in an already water-poor country, leaving more than two-thirds of the country with only unsafe water to drink.

As a result, Yemen now has the unenviable distinction of having experienced the world’s worst diphtheria outbreak in 30 years and the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded.

Even when it comes to critical patients who can be saved, this protracting war shown no mercy. Tens of thousands of Yemenis with life-threatening but manageable conditions have sought medical treatment abroad.

But the Saudi-led coalition, which has controlled Yemeni airspace on behalf of Yemen’s recognized government, has shut down commercial air traffic in and out of Sana’a. Only this year did the government and coalition consent to allow a long-promised medical air bridge to Cairo. 24 patients have been transported thus far. Tens of thousands have died waiting.

Credit: United Nations

Millions of Yemenis have already been forced from their homes, some of them multiple times to escape violence or pursue scarce opportunities for work. But even basic sanitation and health care in camps for displaced people are often unavailable.

Even with a massive aid response, as the conflict continues, we are fighting a rising tide. It goes without saying that in these cramped quarters, where social distancing is a fanciful notion and suppressed immunity the norm, a single infection would lead to countless deaths. The coronavirus epidemic would write new stories of suffering in Yemen’s already long tale of woe.

The conflict in Yemen must end before it claims any more lives. Yemen’s military and political leaders have shown too often these past five years that they are not willing to make even small compromises for the sake of their country and its people.

And the international community, so far, has failed to muster the resolve to demand the ceasefire and political settlement that can bring the life-saving peace that Yemen’s people demand.

With coronavirus knocking on Yemen’s door, we need humanitarian aid to restore our health systems, tackle the diseases currently ravaging our people, and prevent a new catastrophe. We cannot afford to wait for the next crisis to hits.

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The 2020 NPT Review Conference: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

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Opinion

VIENNA, Mar 12 2020 (IPS) – This year marks the 50th anniversary of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and coincidentally the tenth quinquennial (five yearly) review conference is scheduled to be held at the United Nations in New York from 27 April to 22 May.


With 191 States parties, the NPT is the cornerstone of the global regime for nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

An unexpected complication is that of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on the NPT review conference – thus far, there is an inexplicable thundering silence from the UN regarding the postponement of the conference.

COVID-19

Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 to be a global pandemic affecting more than 114 countries with 118,000 people infected, 4,291 fatalities and many thousands more fighting for their lives in hospitals.

The WHO stated that this is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus and that never before has there been a pandemic that can be controlled.

In the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the total number of cases as of 11 March is 938, total deaths 29, in 38 states and the District of Columbia). The New York State Department of Health is reporting 52 cases in New York City and 164 in the State.

Thus, it is clear that New York City is affected by COVID-19 and there is a high risk of the further spread of the virus. Add to this, the expected arrival of more than 400 delegates from all parts of the world, to attend the NPT conference, including obviously from countries and regions already afflicted with the corononavirus.

Should this transpire, it would not take a virologist or a rocket scientist to predict a rapid transmission of the virus to many of the delegates all concentrated in the UN General Assembly chamber for several days and in other large meeting rooms for another three weeks.

Furthermore, the US may restrict entry to delegates coming from countries afflicted with coronavirus and either deny visas or place them under quarantine for two weeks or more? In fact, President Donald Trump already has suspended all travel from mainland Europe for 30 days starting on Friday.

So, why has not the UN ordered the postponement of all large conferences till the virus infections subside and the environment is safe again for large and small congregations of people drawn from all corners of the world?

And, why have not the diplomats accredited to the UN in New York, from States parties to the NPT, already decided to postpone the NPT review conference? What is it about COVID-19 that they do not understand and why are they delaying taking the common sense decision to postpone the event?

The UN Secretary-General’s “Message on COVID 19” is limited to bulleted points such as, “All of us face a common threat – the coronavirus – COVID 19. Today’s declaration of a pandemic is a call to action – for everyone, everywhere”, which is not reassuring!

UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, on the other hand, has stated that the coronavirus will only be tackled “through a multilateral response” in which the UN “must lead by example” and that the UN should take a “coordinated and coherent approach” regarding decisions on whether major meetings can go ahead.

He added that at the UN Secretariat “we have started the process looking at scaling down, postponing and/or cancelling meetings, as appropriate”. Well, it’s high time to do so – the sooner the better!

Options for the NPT Review Conference

Reportedly, “options” are being considered but no decision has been taken as yet. One option seemingly gathering support, and reportedly pushed by some States, is to convene the NPT Review Conference as scheduled on 27th April but then to immediately prorogue (or adjourn) it to August or later this year after possibly adopting a statement or declaration commemorating 50 years of the NPT.

The stated rationale being that the NPT conference is a scheduled quinquennial event according to the Treaty and therefore must be convened – if only for a day under present circumstances – going from the sublime to the ridiculous!

The logic of such a bizarre “option” can only emanate from New York and capitals, as oftentimes they tend to be oblivious to the calendars of events and meetings in other UN capitals that deal with nuclear matters, namely Vienna (Austria) and Geneva (Switzerland).

Not surprisingly, the reaction in Vienna and Geneva has tended to be one of shock and disbelief. What were these diplomats/officials thinking? Are they not aware that the third session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva is scheduled for 3 August to 18 September?

And, do they not realize that in Western Europe the civilized practice of annual vacation in August is nearly sacrosanct! Just because in the United States the concept of taking an annual vacation is generally frowned upon is no reason to subject others to this stress of giving up their vacation time.

Postpone to 2021 and Convene in Vienna

As I have recommended earlier this month, there is only one sound course of action: that to postpone the NPT review conference to 2021 (possibly 26 April to 21 May) and to convene it from then on in Vienna. The following are the reasons for my recommendation, which is beginning to get some traction:

    1. The year following an NPT review conference always is a gap year; hence there should not be any impediment to moving it to next year. No important decisions need to be taken this year and the 50th anniversary of the NPT can be marked by speeches and statements by ministers in capitals, New York, Geneva and Vienna.
    2. At present, there are no prospects for any progress on nuclear disarmament – a key element of the NPT. Both the Russian Federation and the United States are engaged in modernization of their nuclear weapons; and the United States is pursuing a policy of steadily abandoning treaties, multilateralism and striking out in favour of unilateral nationalistic policies. Last year, the United States abandoned the 1987 Intermediate- and Shorter-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as well as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) limiting Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme; earlier in 2002 it pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that formed the basis of strategic stability between Russia and the United States. In addition, thus far, the United States has not indicated any interest in extending the 2010 New START Treaty limiting strategic nuclear weapons that will expire in February 2021, and in preserving the Open Skies Treaty that permits confidence-building aerial overflights. In addition, some officials now are openly verbally attacking those in countries who promote fulfilling the nuclear disarmament obligations under the NPT. Thus, postponing the NPT conference to 2021 provides a respite of a year with the possibility of an improved climate in 2021?
    3. The technical and policy expertise for nuclear verification, safety and security, and peaceful uses always has resided in Vienna (Austria) at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA provides secretariat support and expertise to the NPT review conference on two of the three pillars of the NPT – nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful uses.
    4. The expertise and experience for negotiating multilateral nuclear arms control resides at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (Switzerland) – the third pillar of the NPT.
    5. UN New York has no diplomatic or technical expertise related to the NPT; it is basically a political talk shop. Negotiations on resolutions on nuclear arms control matters in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, as well as in the UN Disarmament Commission, normally are conducted by diplomats coming over to New York from Geneva and from capitals.
    6. Staff from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) in New York, together with IAEA staff form the “secretariat” for NPT review conferences and their preparatory committees. UN ODA New York staff travel to Vienna and Geneva, respectively, to service the preparatory committee sessions held there along with UN ODA staff based in these two European cities. Thus, UN ODA New York staff can easily support the review conference held in Vienna.
    7. The claim that participation in NPT review conferences held in New York is higher as all Member States of the United Nations are represented there is not credible. Of the 191 States Parties to the NPT, generally not more than 150 attend review conferences and then too small delegations only make a showing on the first and last days in order to be listed in the official list of participants. It need not be a burden for small States to attend review conferences in Vienna.
    8. Given concerns about the effect on the climate from air travel and current tendency to minimize long distance travel by air to reduce the carbon footprint; convening the review conference from 2021 onwards in Vienna also can have a positive impact in reducing the carbon burden of attendance. The geographic location of Vienna in Central Europe will greatly reduce distances to be travelled by delegates from Asia, Africa and Oceania, as well as of course by European countries – these regions put together comprise the largest number of countries in the world. Only the North and South American delegates will have increased travel distances, but these obviously are a minority compared to those from the regions noted above.
    9. It is obvious that costs of hotel accommodation in New York are inordinately high with tax upon taxes, as are the high costs of food and meals. Hotel and food costs in Vienna are much cheaper than in New York or Geneva, as are hotel costs. Thus, significant savings can be incurred by foreign ministries in connection with participation in the review conference held in Vienna. Such savings would be even more beneficial for civil society representatives, who obviously cannot draw upon tax payer funding as can official delegates.
    10. Finally, there is now no rationale to hold NPT review conferences at any location in any nuclear-weapon State (NWS), especially since 25 years after the indefinite extension of the NPT the deficit in nuclear disarmament remains significant, nuclear weapons are being modernized in some NWS, the threshold of possible use of nuclear weapons has been lowered, and existing treaties are under threat. Better to hold review conferences in a “neutral” country such as Austria that is a strong champion on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

Decide Now

The longer this decision is delayed to move the NPT review conference to 2021 in Vienna, the higher the costs incurred this year in cancelling New York flights and hotel rooms. While government delegates may well be able to afford such penalties as tax dollars pay for their expenses, for civil society participants cancellation costs would be onerous and unaffordable as they either self-finance or rely on charitable donations.

Thus, as I have described in some detail above, there are no compelling reasons at all to convene the presently scheduled NPT review conference in New York this year. It makes eminent common and fiscal sense to convene it next year in April-May and to hold it in Vienna – the historic capital location of important conferences for more than two centuries and imbued with the intangible “spirit of Vienna” that encourages harmony and compromise.

* Tariq Rauf has attended all nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings since 1987 as a delegate, including as senior adviser to the chair of Main Committee I (nuclear disarmament) in 2015 and to the chair of the 2014 preparatory committee; as alternate head of the International Atomic Energy Agency delegation to the NPT; and as a non-proliferation expert with the Canadian delegation from 1987. Personal views are expressed here.

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