Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is this the most exciting UN General Assembly Meeting?

So, its after a considerable length of time that I am writing in my blog. Many things have changed since I last wrote about Arundhati Roy and her defiance on the Kashmir issue. As of now, the international arena of diplomacy seems more exciting and thrilling than any drama could be. As I write, diplomats in the United Nations are busy in proclaiming, communicating and negotiating new and old stands on issues that are set to shape the world as we know it.

Palestine applies for full membership, 63 years after Naqba:

In 1948, Zionist migrants from Europe and other parts of the world proclaimed the Jewish Homeland of Israel in much of what was the British mandate of Palestine. Jews sought refuge in the Holy Land as they sought to escape the Holocaust and the pervasive anti-Semitism in Europe. However, the cost of resettling the Jewish refugees was unfortunately borne by an unsuspecting people, who had little to do with Hitler’s Lebensraum or Britain’s imperialist empire or American ambitions. In their bid to create a homeland for the Jews, some Zionist terrorist groups like the Irgun and Haganah drove out Palestinians from their homes, killing those who refused. Some 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948 in order to resettle the Zionist refugees mainly from Europe. The Palestinians were left to pay the price for Israel’s creation. The exodus of Palestinians from their villages is called “Naqba” (catastrophe) by Palestinians. Israel calls it the War of Independence.

For years, the struggle of the Palestinian people centred around the key question of “Right to Return”. The 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were driven out in 1948 (and now number around 5 million) have still held on to their dream of returning to their ancestral homes, braving years of international disdain and indifference towards their plight. Nevertheless, after the 1967 war, the focus steadily shifted from “right of return” to “right of statehood” for the Palestinians. However, Palestinians still retain strong views on the question of return.

Settlement construction a key roadblock to peace:

Negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian state began in 1993 and have been dragging on ever since. While many reasons can be attributed to the stalemate in the “peace process” over the years, the one major factor that has emerged as a key roadblock to talks in recent years has been Israel’s settlement construction. Israel has been constructing Jewish settlements in the occupied lands of Palestine, in contravention of international law and thus making it increasingly difficult for a viable Palestinian state to emerge in the future.

The difficulty that the settlement construction posed to Israel-Palestine peace was even recognized by US President Barack Obama. After assuming office, Obama pursued hard to revive the Mid-East peace process and asked Israel to extend it’s freeze on settlement construction. However, Benjamin Netanyanhu (Israel’s Prime Minister) eventually decided to resume settlement construction which led the Palestinian leadership to withdraw from “peace talks”. Not only is Israel’s settlement construction a roadblock to confidence-building between the estranged parties, so are the other Israeli policies of expanding Jewish residential construction in East Jerusalem (the widely accepted capital of any future Palestinian state). Moreover, Israel’s security wall that cuts through the West Bank, dividing Palestinian territory from Palestinian territory has further strengthened misgivings over Israel’s intentions toward securing a peaceful settlement of the age-old conflict.

Israel’s belligerence in Gaza does not instill confidence in Israel’s seriousness for achieving peace:

Israel’s belligerence has been further displayed by it’s activities in the Gaza Strip. Israel violated a fragile ceasefire agreement with Hamas on November 4, 2008, when the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) intruded into the Gaza Strip and reportedly killed six Hamas fighters. This incident led to the breakdown of the truce that had held for about the prior six months and paved way for the massive Israeli bombing of Gaza starting in December 2008. The Israelis called it “Operation Cast Lead” and the Palestinians call it the Gaza massacre. The confrontation between the IDF and Hamas in Gaza left some 1,166 to 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Nevertheless, the western media has the remarkable ability to portray the victims as being somehow responsible for their unfortunate fate because of some irresponsible decisions that the victims themselves made. The irresponsible decision that the victims of Gaza made was to elect Hamas as their representatives in elections in 2006, for which it was logical that they should pay a price. The Gazans deserved to die because they elected the killer and terrorist organisation of Hamas. And, the Hamas is a terrorist organisation because it resists Israeli occupation of Gaza and kills Israeli Defence Forces. It is terrorism if you kill the IDF and oppose occupation. It is counter-terrorism if you kill the Hamas, even if you have to violate a truce to kill the Hamas. It is counter-terrorism if you drop bombs from F-16s in busy and crowded refugee camps in Gaza. The civilians killed in such operations are unfortunate casualties, who suffer such fate because of the extremist group Hamas and partly because of their poor decision to elect the Hamas. The 1300-odd Palestinians killed by Israel do not make to the Western media’s list of people killed by terrorism.

Frustrated Palestinian leadership finally applies for statehood in UN:

Thus, the aforementioned Israeli policies – aggressive policies in Gaza (including maintainaing a blockade on Gaza), settlement expansion in West Bank, Jewish construction in East Jersulaem – have all added to growing frustration of the Palestinian leadership with the so-called “peace talks”. Therfore the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to apply for full member status in the 66th UN General Assembly 2011 being held at New York. Abbas submitted the formal request to UN Secy. General Ban Ki Moon on 23rd September 2011. The statehood bid is doomed to fail as the United States of America is likely to veto it down in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Israel’s stature diminished in international community:

Nevertheless, the statehood bid has been largely endorsed by almost all the countries in the world expect only the US and Israel. This alone stands as a great diplomatic victory for the Palestinian leadership and Mahmoud Abbas. Thus, we have Israel’s status being steadily pushed to that of Apartheid-era South Africa. Israel is turning out to be the pariah state in the international community, some full 10 years after Isreal itself started a campaign to liken Yasser Arafat (Palestinian leader) to Osama bin laden in the aftermath of September 11 attacks in New York. That was 2001 and now its 2011. Its amazing how tables turn and how perceptions change.

India defies USA in the UN:

No less interesting has been the diplomacy being played out by Indian officials in the UN. India took two important diplomatic decisions which have firmly affirmed the Government’s commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy and to go against America’s positions. The two decisions are;-

  1. to endorse Palestine’s statehood bid
  2. to diplomatically engage with Iran

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his UN Assembly speech said,

"India is steadfast in its support for the Palestinian people's struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognizable borders side by side and at peace with Israel. We look forward to welcoming Palestine as an equal member of the United Nations…"


Manmohan’s speech stood in stark contrast to Obama’s speech, where the US President urged the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiating table with Israel rather than seek “unilateral declaration” of statehood. Obama remains concerned that such a “unilateral declaration” of statehood (never mind that the supposed “unilateral” declaration is supported by almost all countries in the UN except the US and Israel) will jeopardize the non-existent “peace talks” that have been dragging on for years and which seem to serve only one purpose – prolong Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Meanwhile, India also differed from the US on one more important foreign policy issue – Iran. PM Manmohan Singh held a bilateral meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York in the sidelines of the UN meet. (It maybe noted that PM Manmohan Singh is not meeting US President Obama in the current trip, however much should not be read into it) While Iran has been subjected to economic sanctions and virulent accusations of human rights violations and nuclear proliferation from the West, it is a very contrasting picture to see the Indian PM (the head of Government of a G-20 country) holding a bilateral meeting with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad who has been widely reviled by the Western media. The meeting underscores that India views Iran as a stabilizing factor in Afghanistan, contrary to Western perceptions. And we have reason to hold such perceptions because Iran was one of the few countries (along with India and Russia) that backed the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan prior to 2001. Indian foreign policy understandably remains committed to limiting the influence of Taliban and like extremist outfits in post-NATO Afghanistan.

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Thus, as events pan out, we see greater international isolation of the US and Israel. Fewer countries in the world are today ready to endorse Israel’s seeming impunity from international law. Meanwhile, India’s defiance of Washington over the question of Iran should be welcomed as another positive development towards creation of a multi-polar world order.