Focal Points Blog

Abbas and His Missing People at the Edge of Chaos

With passion and eloquence, holding his outrage in check and exhorting the nations of the world if they have “a shred of conscience” to support Palestinian statehood, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, submitted an application to the U.N. Security Council on September 23 for full membership in the United Nations.

In a speech to the General Assembly marked by frequent applause, Abbas urged quick approval of full nation status so that “the missing people” could join the alliance of nations “free in a sovereign and independent homeland.” Reminding those assembled that the Israeli Occupation of Palestine was continuing to bring pain and suffering to his people, he stated firmly that “the time has come for the Palestinian Spring,” a resumption of “normal lives,” where children could be assured of returning home from school, and where parents could sleep peacefully at night without fear of Israeli army raids.

In frantic last-minute meetings behind the scenes at the U.N. the Americans and some European diplomats tried to stop Abbas from presenting his submission, worried about destabilizing further the possibility for a negotiated peace between Israel and Palestine. Acknowledging the push to re-open perennially failed negotiations, Abbas suggested strongly that recognition of the Palestinian state would enhance, not hold back, a renewed peace process. The application to the Security Council will take long months of work before possible acceptance, and most diplomats agree that in the wake of the request for statehood negotiations will be fresh and lively during this period.

So why the intransigent position of the U.S.? The administration’s veto in the Security Council is good domestic politics, even if unprincipled international policy. President Obama’s team no doubt has seen the latest non-partisan Pew Research Center’s poll on the issue of Palestinian statehood. Sadly, Americans don’t know much about the issue. “In the new poll” reports Pew, fully 51% of respondents say they’ve heard ‘nothing at all’ about the planned United Nations debate over the Palestinian Authority’s statehood status. In the September interviews, only 10 % said they’ve heard a lot about it.” American Jews and a few others pay attention to this issue, and more than 50% are against Palestinian statehood. So the President gets a pass on his U.N. veto, playing it safe with Jewish voters.

Negotiations are difficult in the best of circumstances and generally fail when there is what experts call “asymmetric power”, a power imbalance at the negotiating table. The Israeli Occupation, paid for with billions of dollars in American and European aid to Israel, along with the historic failure of past negotiations, has kept the Palestinians in an impossible bargaining position, unable to accept what has mythically been sold to the public as golden opportunities for peace. Requesting full recognition as a Palestinian state is a strategy that immediately redresses some of the imbalance present in prior diplomacy. When “the missing people” are welcomed as full partners with enhanced status at the negotiating table, there might be a much better chance for a peaceful resolution of this most intractable of global conflicts.

We are at “the edge of chaos” in our relations with the Arab world. The good news is that this metaphor, used by scientists applying the new science of Complexity to global affairs, describes conditions more ripe for breakthrough than ever before. In that space between chaos and order, while some feel nothing can be done, everything is possible. Complexity scientists also tell us that like all natural systems, social systems need diversity to survive, and human beings need diversity to solve hard problems. With Abbas’s bold and courageous move, Palestinians will no longer be “the missing people” at the bargaining table. Instead, they will be newly empowered with status that signals balance and a renewed chance for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Merle Lefkoff, Ph.D. is President of Ars Publica, applying the science of Complexity to the art of diplomacy.

U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan Accomplishes Little More Than Pushing China’s Buttons

TaiwanF-16The recent decision by the Obama Administration to sell $5.8 billion in arms to Taiwan is a bit of a head scratcher, rather like the hunter who goes into the woods with one bullet. Seeing a deer to his left and a turkey to his right, he shoots in the middle. It will annoy Taipei, irritate Beijing, stir up the China bashers in the U.S., and increase tensions in a region of the world that is already pretty tense.

So what’s the point here?

The plan would upgrade Taiwan’s 140 U.S.-made F-16 A/B jet fighters, plus supply Taipei with Blackhawk helicopters and anti-ballistic missiles. The Obama administration has more than doubled the Bush administration’s arms sales to Taiwan, and this sale would bring that figure to slightly more than $12 billion.

Taipei had asked to buy 66 new F-16 C/Ds, but the White House turned that down, annoying the Taiwanese. “These years, China is showing stronger and stronger reaction to U.S.-Taiwan arms sales,” complained Taipei’s deputy defense minister Andrew Yang, and that has turned Americans “more wary with arms sales.”

While PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing “firmly opposes the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan,” China’s reaction was generally low key, certainly more so than when a similar arms sales went through in 2008. Then Beijing canceled joint military consultation with the U.S. and put capital-to-capital relations into a deep freeze for many months. After a similar arms sale in 2010, Chinese military leaders went as far as to suggest that China cash in some of American’s $1.1 trillion debt to Beijing.

While the White House can’t get bi-partisan agreement on the budget, it brought Republicans and Democrats together on this issue. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx) have joined hands to introduce legislation demanding that the administration sell the new F-16s to Taiwan. The Taiwan Air Modernization Act cites the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which calls for providing defensive weapons to Taipei and resisting any effort by the PRC to forcibly reunite Taiwan with the mainland.

Cornyn thundered that the decision to upgrade rather than sell was “capitulation to Communist China” and a “slap in the face to a strong ally and a long-time friend.” In language straight out of the Cold War, a Cornyn-Menendez letter to Obama—signed by 13 Democrats and 23 Republicans—warned that a failure to sell the new fighter aircraft means “Taiwan will be dangerously exposed to Chinese military threats, aggression and provocation, which pose significant security implications for the United States.”

A similar letter, signed by 181 House members, also demanded that Washington approve the sales of new F-16s.

Tucked in amidst the “red dragon” scare rhetoric is pork: “We are deeply concerned that further delay of the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in closure of the F-16 production line,” the letter argues. Lockheed Martin, maker of the aircraft, has a plant in Cornyn’s Texas, and the company employs 750 workers in Menendez’s New Jersey. The company is the largest arms manufacturer in the world and has a formidable lobbying presence in Washington.

In many ways the whole matter seems mired in the past, particularly the letter’s warning that Taiwan risked losing its “qualitative advantage in defensive arms.” Taipei has not had a “qualitative advantage” over the PRC in any category for the past two decades. Even the Taipei Times writes that “Taiwan would have at most only a few days to hold off China and get help from the outside, most likely the U.S., if they were going to stand any chance.”

According to the Pentagon, the PRC’s fighter aircraft fleet outnumbers Taiwan’s 1,680 to 388, and many of the latter’s planes are obsolete. Besides the 140 F-16 A/Bs, Taipei’s forces include 1960s vintage F-5s (its day is long past), 60 aging French Mirage 2000s (vintage 1982), and 130 domestically produced, but underpowered, Indigenous Defensive Fighter, the “Ching-Kuo.”

The PRC’s fleet features Sukhoi-27 and Sukhoi-30—the latter a match for the U.S.’s premier fighter, the F-15—and China’s domestic fighter, the J-10. A J-20 stealth fighter is in the testing phase but will not be deployed until 2017. Upgrading the F-16s, or even selling Taiwan new ones, will not alter this balance.

The PRC maintains that Taiwan is part of China (and virtually no country in the world, including the U.S., disagrees) and reserves the right to use military force if Taipei tries to establish independence. But “reserves the right” is very different than ramping up the landing craft. Indeed, China has carefully lowered nationalist rhetoric around Taiwan and cross-straits ties are warmer than they were three years ago.

Current Chinese President Hu Jintao has pushed rapprochement with Taipei, but as the Financial Times points out, “his approach to Taiwan is not uncontested within the Chinese Communist Party,” and it notes that “the Party is also preparing to elect a new generation of leaders next year.” That new generation tends to be more nationalistic than the older generation.

The PRC’s armed forces mirror currents in the Communist Party, with a wing that advocates a more assertive role—at least in local waters like the Taiwan Straits and South China Sea—and a more cautious wing that wants to avoid a confrontation with the U.S.

Similar currents exist within the U.S. military establishment, although the Pentagon’s “caution” wing has recently gone silent because of all the talk about cutting military spending. Much of the recent “China threat” talk is aimed at derailing efforts to cut the huge military budget, and, to that end, generals and admirals have closed ranks behind “the dragon is coming, the dragon is coming” gang. One suspects the American hawks have counterparts among the Chinese chiefs of staff.

The arms deal will make President’s Hu’s job more difficult, although he will probably portray the F-16 upgrade as a compromise. Of course, all bets are off if Congress throws a monkey wrench into the deal and insists on new aircraft that won’t change the military balance, but will worsen an already charged diplomatic atmosphere.

The White House is nervous about January elections in Taiwan, which will pit the nationalist Kuomintang Party against the more independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP’s leader, Tsai Ing-Wen, apparently had a recent falling out with Obama administration officials over the independence issue. One U.S. official told the Financial Times, “that while she [Tsai] understood the need ‘to avoid gratuitous provocations’ of China, it was ‘far from clear…that she and her advisors fully appreciate the depth of [Chinese] mistrust of her motives and DPP aspirations.’”

DPP leader Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s president from 2000 to 2008 pushed for formal independence and cut off formal negotiations with Beijing during his administration.

If this all seems like a terrible muddle, that’s because it is.

On one hand Washington insists on a robust military presence on China’s doorstep, and continues to supply arms to Taiwan. These are not minor matters. If there is a confrontation between Taiwan and the PRC, and it pulls in the Americans, it will pit two nuclear powers against one another.

The growth of the Chinese navy—Beijing got its first aircraft carrier this year, albeit one half the size of a U.S. flat top—is being portrayed in Washington as a threat to U.S. naval power in the Pacific and Indian oceans. But the PRC’s buildup is about protecting its oil and gas supplies—80 percent travel by sea—and recent history.

The PRC is still smarting over having to back down when the U.S. sent two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Taiwan Straits in 1995 during a particularly tense standoff between Taipei and Beijing. The increase in China’s military spending dates from that confrontation, although Beijing’s budget is still only about one eighth of what the Americans spend.

On the other hand, the White House is leaning on the DPP not to push independence and watering down the arms package to Taipei.

Bi-polar diplomacy anyone?

It is clear that Washington and Beijing are of two minds about their relationship. Both are riding conflicting internal political currents, and over the next decade, threading a path between cooperation and competition promises to be tricky. Arms sales accomplish little more than pushing China’s nationalist button. The jobs they create in the U.S. are marginal (and the same amount spent on civilian projects produce more employment), and the tensions they create are real.

It is time to revisit the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, a piece of legislation that reflects a very different world than the one we live in now.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

Is It a Mistake to Draw Solace From the Iran Bomb’s Long Gestation Period?

At Arms Control NOW, the Arms Control Association blog, Greg Theilman writes that since “we have every reason to believe that an Iranian bomb is neither imminent nor inevitable. … alarmist estimates provided earlier this month require a response regarding timelines.”

Thielman quotes Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London to the effect that Iran “‘won’t have [a nuclear weapon] tomorrow or next week or next month or a year from now.’ To predict otherwise, he added, ‘borders on the irresponsible.'”

Among the “worst case assumptions” Thielman quotes Fitzpatrick as singling out are:

That Iran would be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium before the IAEA inspectors would catch onto it. … there’s a built-in assumption that somehow Iran would be able to game the IAEA. It would be a big gamble.

… That Iran would be so foolish as to go for broke to produce just one weapon. … But what country in [its] right mind would just go for one weapon, take all of the risks of being bombed … They’d need a handful … the way North Korea did.

Thielman also cites David Albright (no friend to Iran), et al, at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which “found no reason to change its earlier breakout estimate of six months at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant. The ISIS analysis included a reminder that the U.S. Governments breakout projection is even longer (as is Fitzpatrick’s)” because of the process the United States assumes Iran would use.

As for whether or not Iran would actually build nuclear weapons, Thielman reminds us:

As recently as February of this year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper assessed that Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. … The ultimate outcome is a question of Iranian political will, not technical capacity.

Whether six months or a year or more, the timeline divests those who believe the worst about Iran of little ammunition in their calls for an airstrike. Furthermore, it makes disarmament advocates look like they’ve jammed their heads in the sand, even if they’re committed to the path Thielman prescribes:

With continued enforcement of targeted sanctions, a willingness to forego making military threats, and increased readiness to exploit opportunities for opening up a diplomatic pathway, there is ample time to solve the Iranian nuclear challenge.

Sanctions aside, paths two and three haven’t necessarily been tried in earnest. But, if we disarmament advocates wish to salvage any credibility with the bomb-Iran crowed, we need to assume the worst too. Left as well as right needs to acknowledge that Iran seems content in its reluctance to disabuse the world of the notion that it might be close to developing nuclear weapons.

We disarmament advocates cling to the belief that disarmament leadership on the part of the United States might help dissuade Iran and other states that aspire to develop nuclear weapons from actually proliferating. (Though with the United States committing at least $80 billion — subject to the cost-cutting whims of the Republicans these days — over the next decade, true disarmament leadership on the part of the United States looks like a non-starter.) In fact, while demonstrating disarmament leadership has the advantage of being the only honest response, especially since it’s called for by the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, conservatives may be correct in assuming that such initiatives would have little impact on states such as Iran.

On the other hand, it’s conceivable that Israel owning up to its nuclear program and subjecting it to monitoring and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency would have some impact on the proliferation plans of Iran. Of course, Israel is even less likely to take substantive disarmament measures than the United States. As the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Global Security Newswire reports:

Any Middle Eastern nuclear weapon-free zone must be preceded by robust nonproliferation measures and an enduring absence of armed conflict from the area, Israel told the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference on Tuesday. . . . The Israeli official faulted Syria and Iran over lingering international concerns that they might have pursued atomic activities with military implications.

An “enduring absence of armed conflict from the area” more or less much guarantees that Israel won’t be soon acknowledging its nuclear weapons program soon and thus helping to make of the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone.

How Exactly Does Palestinian Statehood Sabotage the Peace Process?

Netanyahu CongressOn the face of it, statehood is an odd request to reject. But, writes Gershom Gorenberg at the Daily Beast: “The official argument is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has turned to the United Nations because he wants to evade making peace with Israe.l As Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar phrased it at a recent political rally … ‘The Palestinians have been serial rejectionists of peace—ever since the U.N. decision of 1947.'”

It’s tough to understand how the process of becoming a state could sabotage the peace process. Intuitively the opposite should be true: becoming a state suggests a readiness to assume the responsibility of global citizenship. Nevertheless, in a speech yesterday (September 20) before the UN Security Council, President Obama spelled out the unconventional wisdom on why Palestine should be denied statehood. Instead, he said

… the international community should continue to push Israelis and Palestinians toward talks on the four intractable “final status” issues that have vexed peace negotiations since 1979: the borders of a Palestinian state, security for Israel, the status of Palestinian refugees who left or were forced to leave their homes in Israel, and the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides claim for their capital.

Turns out Abbas is willing to comprise and delay statehood until more talks are held. The Guardian reports:

International efforts to forestall a showdown in the UN security council over the declaration of a Palestinian state are solidifying around a plan for the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to submit a request for recognition but for a vote on the issue to be put on hold while a new round of peace talks is launched.

In the interim, Washington couldn’t wait to show Israel how alarmed it was by Palestine’s pursuit of statehood. James Traub at Foreign Policy:

With barely a week to go before the Palestinian Authority (PA) seeks a vote on statehood at the United Nations, members of U.S. Congress have begun to stage a lively competition for the most elaborately punitive legislative response. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has prepared a bill that would withhold funds “from any UN agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO/Palestinian observer mission,” … Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat, did her one better with a measure that would eliminate bilateral military assistance for any country that voted for statehood … But Rep. Joe Walsh, a right-wing Republican from Illinois, took the cake with a resolution endorsing Israel’s right to annex the West Bank should the PA go ahead with the vote.

At New York Magazine, John Heilemann chronicles Washington’s groveling during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit in May of this year.

The next day, Netanyahu delivered his on-camera lecture to Obama. … But Netanyahu knew he could get away with it—so staunch and absolute is the bipartisan support he commands in the U.S. Garishly illuminating the point, on the night before his speech to Congress, the prime minister attended the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, where he was the headline speaker at the event’s gala banquet. Before he took the stage, three announcers, amid flashing spotlights and in the style of the introductions at an NBA All-Star game, read the names of every prominent person in the room, including 67 senators, 286 House members, and dozens of administration and Israeli officials, foreign dignitaries, and student leaders. … thunderous waves of applause … poured over Netanyahu.

The next day came his speech to Congress, in which he spelled out demands that were maximal by any measure: recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for negotiations, a refusal to talk if Hamas is part of the Palestinian side, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and absolutely no right of return for Palestinian refugees.

More on Netanyahu’s speech by Gideon Levy at Haaretz.

It was an address with no destination, filled with lies on top of lies and illusions heaped on illusions. … The fact that the Congress rose to its feet multiple times to applaud him says more about the ignorance of its members than the quality of their guest’s speech.

Back to Heilemann:

Taken as a whole, his whirlwind Washington visit provided a strong dose of clarity. … So much pandering, so little time!

Here’s an idea: when Netanyahu completes his term as prime minister, he should move back to the United States, where he lived for six years as a youth, graduating from an American high school. Cabinet members are free from birth requirements like the president of the United States. To make it that much easier for Capitol Hill to pay deference to Netanyahu and Israel, create a Department of Israeli Affairs, and appoint Netanyahu, like a Supreme Court justice, as its head for life.

Rick Perry Rallies Against Palestinian Statehood With Israeli and American Jewish Leaders

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

SEPT. 21 — Hoo boy. It was a real Israel lovefest in Manhattan as Republicans, members of U.S. pro-Israel groups and Likud politicians convened at the prestigious W Hotel in Union Square, Manhattan yesterday morning. The press conference was led by GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry and KM Danny Danon. From JPost:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry will hold a press conference with American and Israeli-Jewish leaders in New York on Tuesday in which he is expected to address the upcoming deliberations at the United Nations, MK Danny Danon (Likud), said on Saturday night.

Danon, who will participate at the press conference, said he would ask Perry ahead of the conference to adopt the initiative the MK is advancing to annex Judea and Samaria in response to the unilateral Palestinian moves at the UN.

Danon, already in the U.S. to speak at nationwide Israel fundraisers and rallies prior to the UN vote, has proposed an “Annexation for Declaration Initiative,” which would “establish full sovereignty over the Jewish communities of the West Bank . . . our historic homeland of Judea and Samaria:”

Under [my] three-state solution, Arab-Israelis residing within Israel would be welcome to join the official new State of Israel. The remaining enclaves of Palestinian towns and villages in Judea and Samaria would become part of either Egypt or Jordan, and the Egyptian and Jordanian borders would extend accordingly to these designated towns.

[Snip]

Both Jordan and Egypt have expressed strong support and concern for Palestinians living in the West Bank. If they truly care so much, then they should readily agree to a three-state solution and incorporate the Palestinian towns located adjacent to their current borders.

Perry avoided endorsing this proposal, though, proclaiming his support for a two-state solution (but not at this present time through the UN). Most of his remarks were directly or indirectly aimed at the Obama Administration rather than the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, though he said that the U.S. should consider cutting all aid to the Palestinians if the UN vote goes through, a measure already proposed by members of Congress.

While Perry sought to present himself as a pro-Israel centrist, members of Congress have approved a resolution that mirrors Danon’s. The annexations would include the settlement areas “as a start,” and expand to encompass the “empty land” of Area C, a designation for almost 60% of total West Bank territory (less than 10% of the total Palestinian population resides in Area C). The land, susceptible to drought, is at least partly underpopulated by Palestinians because under the Oslo Accords, Area C has seen:

Demolition of livelihood structures — including commercial structures, educational facilities, wells, water cisterns, water storage tanks, farmland and animal pens — by Israeli authorities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem increased by about 85 percent in 2010 and so far in 2011.

[Snip]

In Area C, Israel retains military authority and full control over the building and planning sphere, while responsibility for the provision of services falls to the PA.

About 70 percent of Area C is classified as a firing zone, settlement areas, or nature reserves, and is inaccessible to Palestinians.

Danon argues that all this is right and proper because the land constitutes what was “Judea and Samaria”: there’s no Palestine, he insists, never was and certainly won’t be on the Jews’ God-given property. So while it is right for South Sudan to pursue statehood, in Danon’s opinion — “just like Israel, its people live with a sense of resolve and confidence that their existence is a God-given right,” he has said, and “the creation of this new nation deserves the attention and admiration of the entire international community” — it is not right, not God-given and certainly not admirable for the Palestinians to attempt to do so now or ever, as it will just lead to the establishment of an Iranian-backed “terrorist state” like Gaza.

All this will no doubt garner a robust “Amen!” from Perry, since he is all too happy to project past onto present, Israel onto Texas, Arabs onto Mexicans, and the “struggles” of Texan pioneers in the 1830s and 40s onto the “struggles” of Israeli settlers in the the 21st century. As he rather famously wrote in The Jerusalem Post last week: “historian T.R. Fehrenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies.”

So it’s exactly the same — except for the part where Texans actually participated in a referendum over their annexation by the U.S. (granted, it was a referendum that whoeheartedly endorsed slavery). The non-Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria will presumably not have the luxury these (white) Texans did, though they will certainly be welcome to vote with their feet on whether they remain in Greater Israel or not.

Yet, as Max Blumenthal has pointed out, Perry’s remarks are in fact, too clever by half. According to Blumenthal, what Fehrenbach actually said in his work Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans was this:

The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land.

With that in mind, Danon is even more deserving than Glenn Beck is of an honorary Texan citizenship. Hell, make him an honorary Texas Ranger. Make everyone in Likud (among other parties) an honorary Texas Ranger. They could then do some whistlestop campaigning in the West Bank wearing official badges.

Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman would probably look good in a bolo tie, and I think spurs would not look out of place on Im Tirtzu jackboots. But I shudder to think what Perry would wear to such a West Bank rally . . . especially as a U.S. president.

Perry will also be hosting a fundraiser targeted at Jewish donors in Manhattan this week (which may or may not be part of the venue with Danon on 9/20).

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Elbowed Out of Spotlight by 9/11, Anti-Globalization Movement Endures

FTAA Protests in Miami, 2003

FTAA Protests in Miami, 2003

Cross-posted from the Dissent Magazine blog Arguing the World.

Did the attacks of 9/11 end the movement against corporate globalization?

A number of reflections written for the ten-year anniversary of the attacks have raised this question. And I think it presents some interesting challenges for those of us who think about social movements.

In an essay at Truthout journalist Dan Denvir, a friend and colleague, calls the global justice movement a “political casualty” of the War on Terror. Likewise, in the magazine’s ten-year-anniversary symposium on 9/11, fellow Dissent contributor Bhaskar Sunkara notes, “The attacks on September 11 had an unforeseen consequence for the Left. The ‘anti-globalization’ movement abruptly entered public consciousness after the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle and disappeared just as quickly.”

In their respective essays, Dan and Bhaskar consider the global justice movement as something that effectively existed for less than two years, and then had, in Dan’s words, a “quick and sudden end.” I think there is a kernel of truth to this idea—there is some reason to look at the period between November 1999 and September 2001 as a unique time. Yet this periodization, I would argue, also has some significant limitations. It skews how we think about the legacy and the impact of the movement—as well as its potential for revival.

Let’s start with how that period was indeed a special one—particularly for activists within the United States. As Bhaskar writes, “for a moment, radical politics appeared pregnant with possibility.” Dan elaborates:

A rapid-fire series of mass demonstrations forced secretive financial institutions, corporations (and political parties) to make their case to the American people for the first time in a very long time, and there was a sense of incredible optimism and power. Older activists were amazed to see people back in the streets and I felt like it was an incredible time to be a young activist. We expected major social change and so did everyone else.

I think both writers are correct that anyone involved in global justice activism at the time felt that it was an exciting and exceptional moment. Importantly, it was the first time in which the fickle mainstream media in the United States and Europe paid attention to the protests against corporate globalization as a new and significant force. This attention helped the different groups mobilizing for protests think of themselves as part of a single, collective effort. And it helped create the momentum needed for any mass movement to grow. After 9/11, the mainstream media sent its spotlight elsewhere, and global justice advocates would have to struggle to draw attention to their campaigns.

Dan’s piece is, in large part, a personal reflection about being radicalized as a student activist during this time. And his experience points to another way in which the period immediately prior to 9/11 was distinctive. Young people coming to left politics in the late 1990s and very early 2000s—particularly on campuses in the United States—were likely to be exposed to critiques of neoliberalism, to campaigns targeting multinational corporations as dominant actors on the world stage, and to challenges to the Democratic Party’s acceptance of a new “free trade” orthodoxy. After 9/11, student activists were more likely to be radicalized around a different set of issues—war, torture, and the elimination of civil liberties—and were likely to direct their anger at Bush administration neoconservatives. The dominant tone changed from possibility to despair. As Dan writes:

[T]he anti-globalization was not just a movement against. It was a statement that, as the World Social Forum puts it, Another World Is Possible. The movements that followed were defensive maneuvers against a Bush administration that was truly more dangerous than anything we could have envisioned.

Bhaskar adds, “A common sentiment among those who took part in the [anti-globalization] movement is that of a historical moment cut short.”

In a variety of respects, the beginning of the “War on Terror” created real changes for activists, and I think that noting these is valid. Yet while there were some unique qualities of the period between N30 and 9/11, trying to contain the global justice movement entirely within this timeframe involves replicating some of the mainstream media’s bad habits. Since social movements neither appear as instantaneously nor disappear as abruptly as news reports would regularly seem to suggest, it’s worth taking the longer view.

Those who joined in protests against corporate globalization around the turn of the millennium frequently invoked the slogan, “It didn’t start in Seattle.” Although the November 1999 actions against the World Trade Organization meetings in the Pacific Northwest seemed to the mainstream media to come out of nowhere, protest participants identified with a lineage of activism that had been brewing for years and that was very internationalist in nature. Antecedents included mobilizations against NAFTA and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), the Zapatista uprising in southern Mexico, the rise in the 1990s of anti-sweatshop activism and culture jamming, and numerous protests in the global South against privatization and corporate exploitation. Bhaskar nods to this when he notes, “While the fight for Seattle’s streets caught the media by surprise, it was the result of months of planning and organizing, and underpinned by broader historical shifts.”

Just as there are important reasons to point out that “It did not start in Seattle,” I think there’s value in the argument that “It did not end on 9/11.”

I have written before about the important impact of global justice mobilizations on the trade and development debate. Here I would just add a few notes about timeframe that run contrary to the “ended on 9/11” storyline.

The World Social Forum, which is considered a key institution of the global justice movement, was only in its infancy in 2001. The first global forum, held in January of that year, drew around 12,000 people. In contrast, the first post-9/11 forum back in Porto Alegre, which took place in late January and early February of 2002, drew many times more—somewhere around 60,000 attendees. By the mid-2000s, several incarnations of the World Social Forum brought in as many as 150,000 participants. Such crowds were significantly larger than the one that amassed at the Seattle protests (estimates for which range between about 30,000 and 90,000 people). Although U.S. groups were not dominant at the social forums, they were decently represented.

While focus in the United States did shift to anti-war activism during this time (and away from globalization-focused campaigns), there were efforts to link critiques of corporate power with an analysis of U.S. militarism. Highlighting the connections between movements, the call for a February 15, 2003 global day of action against war in Iraq originated at the November 2002 European Social Forum.

Following 9/11, some meetings of multilateral bodies were relocated to remote or repressive locales (such as Doha) to preclude protests. Nevertheless, activist gatherings continued to form outside G8 and WTO meetings, with notable dissident contingents confronting the latter organization in Cancun in 2003 and in Hong Kong in 2005.

Within the United States, significant protests gathered in Miami around negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)—a protest in many ways comparable to the pre-9/11 protests at the IMF and World Bank on A16, although not nearly as well covered in the press. (Indicative of the ongoing radicalism at the gatherings, I had the pleasure of watching a major U.S. union leader in Miami publicly denounce the city’s security deployment as a “police state“—something you don’t see every day in labor circles.)

The FTAA subsequently collapsed altogether, a major movement victory. Dan notes that this was “thanks in large part to Latin America’s leftward swing.” I agree, and I would contend that this swing was not wholly unconnected to global justice constituencies. (Furthermore, I would disagree with Bhaskar if he suggests that the example of Lula da Silva’s left-leaning government in Brazil necessarily delegitimizes the arguments made by critics of corporate globalization.)

Looking at a single issue central to the anti-corporate globalization movement, we can see debt relief—the demand that countries in the global South should have their international debts eliminated—follow a promising trajectory in the wake of 9/11. The debt relief movement gained momentum through July 2005, when it scored a breakthrough win with an international agreement signed at the Gleneagles, Scotland meeting of the G8. For the occasion, as many as 250,000 protesters (many times the number present in Seattle) marched in favor of eliminating unjust debts.

Now, looking at this activity, one could argue that the global justice movement continued internationally after 9/11 but ceased to exist within the United States. My response there would be that we need to look more carefully at the groups that made up mass mobilizations such as N30 or A16. The global justice movement has long been described as a “movement of movements.” One of the exciting aspects of the gatherings outside WTO or World Bank or FTAA meetings was the ability of a common enemy to bring together a broad range of constituencies—labor, environmentalists, indigenous rights groups, family farmers, anarchists, pro-immigrant advocates, faith-based groups.

The extent to which all of these groups were united into one seamless movement was probably overhyped by hopeful activists in the post-Seattle moment, radicals who might have imagined that long-standing ideological divisions could be overcome and differences in organizational cultures bridged. On the other hand, it would be equally wrong to assume that all cooperation between the diverse constituencies ended promptly upon the launch of the “War on Terror.” Labor, for one, remained far more internationalist in its stances on trade than it had been in the early 1990s and before, and its connection to immigrant rights groups were very relevant when that movement exploded into public view in 2006. Something like “slow food” was a very rare idea in 1999, but movements around food issues have only grown since then, and they continue to make fruitful links with indigenous rights activists and anti-corporate campaigners.

Institutions are important. During their heyday, the global justice activists were criticized for merely hopping from summit to summit, not building local structures. In his essay, Bhaskar rightly criticizes Seattle-era excitement over ad hoc spokes-councils and movement spaces that emerged seemingly spontaneously and left “virtually no trace behind.”

But there’s a certain “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” quality to some of these arguments. During the time activists were able to capture media attention with mass summit actions, their movement was considered viable. When the summit stalking died down, it was taken as evidence of the movement’s demise. Those who took on the difficult task of creating lasting activist vehicles—take, for example, anti-sweatshop organizers’ development of the Worker Rights Consortium, an impressive and largely post-9/11 institution—got little credit for their efforts.

The constituent groups of the global justice movement did not disappear. Nor did they lose their ability to come together as a creative, unified, and internationally minded force to challenge corporate power and oligarchic privilege. The landscape of American politics and the state of the global economy have changed plenty in the past ten years. They have changed in ways that do not always favor such unity. But the great potential, and great need for it, remain.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website Democracy Uprising. You can follow Mark on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mark-Engler-Democracy-Uprising/117982368212095

Probing for Soft Spots in a Terrorist’s Irrational Armor

Suicide vest“Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many senior U.S. government officials and national security experts argued that terrorists were undeterrable. After all, how do you deter people who are irrational or willing to give their life for a cause?” ask Barry Pavel and Matthew Kroenig at Foreign Policy.

It’s become conventional wisdom: troubled suicide bombers look ahead to the afterlife for rewards denied them on earth as surely as European serfs did in the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, al Qaeda and the Taliban are unconcerned with casualties to civilians caused by their operations or by retaliation against them.

In fact, Pavel and Kroenig maintain that militant leaders of the likes of al Qaeda and the Taliban can be deterred. First, as is becoming common knowledge, terrorists

… value tactical success … the United States can deter terrorism by. … convincing the adversary that the action is unlikely to succeed or result in substantial benefits. … Any terrorist, even a suicide bomber, will be reluctant to jeopardize resources, reputation, or martyrdom on a failed attack. … Ideally, Washington should aim to persuade them that terrorism entails high costs and minimal benefits and that, on balance, it doesn’t pay.

Also, the authors state, a seed can be planted in the terrorist’s mind about whether a planned operation is truly in accord with Islamic teachings.

By working with mainstream Muslim clerics and employing other measures to … sow doubt about whether killing oneself and other innocent civilians is consistent with Muslim theology, the United States can convince would-be terrorists to choose a different career path.

In an aside, yes, the authors actually refer to terrorism, apparently with a straight face, as a career path. Okay, it does pay and if you can manage to avoid being sweet-talked into becoming a suicide bomber, it’s likely that room for advancement exists. Meanwhile, Pavel and Kroenig also write

While it might be difficult to deter people willing to die for a cause, many of the most important members of a terrorist network are not suicide bombers. State sponsors, financiers, logisticians, radical clerics, and even some leaders highly value their lives and material possessions; they can, therefore, be deterred by simple threats of imprisonment or death.

Or, presumably, closely targeted sanctions. It isn’t long, though, before the authors stumble into dangerous terrain.

… the U.S. government can seek to deny publicity to terrorist groups. When cable news stations broadcasted the images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center over and over again in the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, they played into al Qaeda’s hands by amplifying the terror of the event throughout American society. To avoid repeating this mistake, the United States should follow Israel’s lead in developing a private-public partnership in which media outlets agree to limit the amount of coverage devoted to terrorism. These purely voluntary agreements should aim to strike an appropriate balance between the public’s right to know and government efforts to combat terrorism. …

U.S. policymakers should do more to work with friends and allies to put laws on the books (where they do not already exist) to punish terrorist activity, develop capabilities and partnerships to increase the probability that those participating in terrorism are identified.

Put laws on the books? Sure, the Patriot Act has worked like a charm in conjunction with the embarrassment of national-security riches we enjoy with our legion of intelligence agencies. Not to mention the warrantless electronic surveillance blanketing our phones and computers.

If much of that were rolled back, maybe then we could start talking about “voluntary” (wouldn’t consensus require a vote by the public?) censorship. As national security is presently constructed, asking news organizations to limit our exposure to terrorist acts only adds insult to our civil liberties injury. Also, aside from the impossibility of constraining the Internet, the terrorists will take credit for the disruption to the American way of life that censorship represents.

While Islamist violence is a fire that can never be stamped out, it can be deprived of fuel by admitting that there’s some merit to their grievances, such as U.S. presence on their soil and our reluctance to address Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

Did the U.S. Capitalize on the Murder of Pakistani Journalist Shahzad?

Not everyone found the reporting of the late Pakistani investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad one hundred percent credible. But that may have just been a function of how incredulous they were at the extent to which he was able to insinuate himself with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

One of his most impressive contacts was long-time militant Ilyas Kashmiri, who fought in the Kashmir until President Musharraf wound down fighting there. Kashmiri then moved to Pakistan’s tribal areas and turned on the state, once trying to assassinate Musharraf and later named as a mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

In a thought-provoking — to put it mildly — article on Shahzad’s murder for the New Yorker, Dexter Filkins writes: “Muhammad Faizan, Shahzad’s colleague, said, ‘The militants used to call him, not the other way around.”

Some background by Filkins:

Bruce Riedel, the former C.I.A. officer, said, “After the Abbottabad raid, the Pakistanis were under enormous pressure to show that they were serious about Al Qaeda.

Four days after Shahzad’s body was found,

… a C.I.A. officer, operating a pilotless drone, fired a missile at a group of men who had gathered in an orchard … in South Waziristan. … Among the dead was Ilyas Kashmiri. Given the brief time that passed between Shahzad’s death and Kashmiri’s, a question inevitably arose: Did the Americans find Kashmiri on their own? Or did they benefit from information obtained by the I.S.I. during its detention of Shahzad?

… If the C.I.A. killed Kashmiri using information extracted from Shahzad, it would not be the first time that the agency had made use of a brutal interrogation. … The evidence is fragmentary, but it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Pakistani intelligence agents gave the C.I.A. at least some of the information that pinpointed Kashmiri. Likewise, it seems possible that at least some of that information may have come from Shahzad, either during his lethal interrogation or from data taken from his cell phone.

If the I.S.I. supplied the C.I.A. with the whereabouts of Kashmiri, it probably didn’t reveal to the C.I.A. where it obtained that information. Nevertheless, the C.I.A. should have been aware, as the I.S.I. was, that Shahzad was the go-to guy on Kashmiri. After all, as Filkins also reports, British intelligence officers asked Shahzad to help them contact Taliban leaders (he declined).

If this scenario is true, writes Filkins

… Shahzad’s death would be not just a terrible example of Pakistani state brutality; it would be a terrible example of the collateral damage sustained in America’s war on terror.

Shahzad’s reporting was one of the best and most dependable conduits to al Qaeda and the Taliban available to the United States. If the C.I.A. accepted the fruits of their interrogation of Shahzad from the I.S.I. for the sake of killing just one terrorist leader, thus did it signal that it condoned the I.S.I. shutting down the Shahzad pipeline for good. Worse, the C.I.A. is encouraging the I.S.I.’s use of Pakistani journalists as disposable human GPS units.

Libya’s Relationship With Italy Expected to Survive Regime Change

Berlusconi and Qaddafi

Berlusconi and Qaddafi

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

An item in the Wall Street Journal reminds us that the ties between Libya and Italy’s elites are very, very deep, and, as benefiting the lives of the rich and famous, sometimes produce strange little stories that illustrate much larger forces at work — in this case, the economic future of Libya following the National Transitional Council (NTC) and NATO’s military successes:

ANTRODOCO, Italy — Maurizio Faina, mayor of this small Italian town, has for three years been planning the construction of a lavish spa here thanks to one deep-pocketed financial backer: Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Now that Col. Gadhafi is being ousted from power by his own people, “the whole plan is over, and it’s sad,” says the mayor, who had hoped to employ hundreds of people thanks to the €16 million ($22 million) resort.

Antrodroco’s longing for Col. Gadhafi’s largesse is a small, but significant, window into the vast economic ties between Italy and its former colony — a network that generated about $17 billion in annual trade before the conflict broke out.

No zenga-zenga for Antrodoco.

Significantly, the spa deal began with a personal effort by Colonel Qadhafi (conducted alongside the Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi, who has cultivated close ties with the deposed leader) and was, according to Italian sources, being managed by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), whose multibillion dollar assets were frozen several months ago. These assets include stakes in UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank (whose largest foreign owner was, until recently, the Libyan government); Eni, the state energy company that produces the lion’s share (60%) of Libya’s oil exports; and Finmeccanica, a partly government-owned conglomerate with interests in Libya ranging from infrastructure to defense. The regime also had smaller stakes in various Italian sports, automotive, media and telecom interests – and was reported to be eying another, even larger, resort project in the Italian spa town of Fiuggi (so the Colonel would have a choice of resorts, presumably).

Faina is quoted in the Journal as being bitterly disappointed with NATO’s actions in Libya, reflecting divisions within Italy over the effort to remove Qadhafi. Although Italy acquiesced to the NATO intervention, the government was very reluctant to become too deeply involved with the campaign, though it did come to support the NTC.

Tangled colonial and WWII history have something to do with this reluctance to intervene, of course, but so too do the awkward TV images showing destroyed military hardware that Italian firms sold to Qadhafi in the 1980s. Italy’s defense ties with Colonel Qadhafi – stalled during the 1990s because of an arms embargo – revived after 2004, as did those of other EU defense firms. Those ties are sure to resume, along with a bevy of other financial and political ties, as the NTC settles into Tripoli and tens of billions of dollars in assets held by the LIA are unfrozen by Western nations.

The spa deal is indicative of the connections between the Qadhafi regime and Western politicians and corporate executives. Qadhafi’s discovery of Antrodoco may have been accidental – he is said to have serendipitously stopped at the town on a state visit to Italy – but his further association with the town after that was anything but serendipitous. Colonel Qadhafi flew Antrodoco notables to Tripoli to discuss the venture, and the LIA was negotiating contracts with the town’s officials up until April 2011. Faina says that in the process, he got to rub elbows with Italian political heavyweights like the former chief executive of UniCredit, Alessandro Profumo, whose bank is now inextricably associated with the LIA’s wealth mismanagement.

Profumo left Unicredit in September 2010 partly because of controversy surrounding the LIA. At that time, the LIA had purchased a 2.6% stake in UniCredit, alongside the purchase of a 5% stake by the Libyan Central Bank, making the Libyan government, through these agencies, UniCredit’s largest stakeholder. According to the Financial Times, Profumo’s decision to not announce this to shareholders “triggered” his removal, especially because some of Berlusconi’s political allies in the ultranationalist Northern League objected to “Arab” investment in Italy on (xenophobic) principle. UniCredit did not renege on the deal with the Libyan Central Bank and LIA, but did freeze their assets at UniCredit several months ago. Now the Italian government (in addition to most EU governments) are pressing for the funds to be unfrozen and given to the NTC for reconstruction purposes.

But, despite the airing of dirty laundry in public (including the revelation that Berlusconi himself has business ties to the LIA through a French telecom called Quinta Communications and Tunisia’s Bourguiba family), the awkward recent past will likely be overcome as Italy and the NTC seek a modus operandi, which will be fueled by petroleum products.

Eni, the biggest oil major in Libya, draws 13% of its total revenue from its Libyan operations and has been moving quickly to restart and shore up its operations in Libya, which were halted in February 2011. Despite its formerly close ties with Qadhafi, it moved to establish ties with the NTC as the fighting intensified. The NTC has, in turn, signaled it willingness to adhere to preexisting export agreements with Italy (the revenues from those agreements make up 95% of Libya’s foreign revenue receipts), and is now depending on Eni, and the French firm Total SA, to get oil production up and running again. As Italy’s Foreign Minister put it, “the rebels in Benghazi immediately understood that Eni would have been a reliable partner in a post-Gadhafi Libya.”

Some Italian papers are already editorializing that Italy must seize the initiative to regain clout in Libya over EU interlopers. From the center-right daily La Stampa comes a call-to-arms for all able-bodied men with suits and briefcases to preserve Italy’s sphere of influence. It is certainly forthright and accurate in its description of Italian, and, by extension, EU motives in postwar Libya:

The factor on which the North African Great Game (a term given capital letters by historians of colonial rivalry) still pivots is the instability of a Libya which, while devastated, still owns immense energy assets and has a heritage of economic ties with several wealthy countries in the world. It is basically a huge resource market open — indeed more open than ever, amid its smoking wreckage — to the craftiest and, at the same time, the firmest bidder and protector.

[Snip]

No more squadrons of [French] Mirages or of Rafales, no more nuclear aircraft carriers like the Charles De Gaulle, but engineers, technicians, geologists, and managers hunting for crude oil in the deserts, and fighting a cold war to prevent Italian companies from winning back their priority positions in the network of oil wells nurtured and fitted out by [ENI founder Enrico] Mattei’s heirs. We should not forget that the “Libya game” was worth a turnover of at least 12 billion [euros] a year to Italy.

The editorial shows that the NTC can count on a somewhat sympathetic voice in the EU (Italy, like France, will object to just about any Anglo-American move in its postcolonial African spheres of influence). Meanwhile, a shrewd NTC leadership can look to manipulate potential foreign investors as firms rush to participate in postwar reconstruction efforts.

And despite the hiccups in the Italian economy that the war caused, so far, the NTC victory bodes well for Italian businesses. Although plunging over the summer because of the fighting in Libya, the stock values of Italian firms in Libya – especially those with infrastructure and energy portfolios – rallied when the NTC seized Tripoli, which prompted audible signs of relief from these firms. The Italian government (in addition to most EU governments) are pressing hard for the funds to be unfrozen and given to the NTC for reconstruction purposes.

Italy may have lost a spa, but it may yet gain an even better luxury package from the NTC in return for political and economic support. But like the abortive spa, it remains to be seen what – if any – tangible benefits Libya’s populace will gain from these dealings.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

House Reps Reach Across the Aisle to Block Palestinian Statehood

If one thing has the potential to unite the fractious U.S. House of Representatives, it is the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN. First up, we have Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Chairwoman of the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, pushing a bill that would make U.S. funding of UN agencies conditional on how the body votes this month on Palestinian statehood. But the bill, which was just presented in the House, would also allow the U.S. to suspend financial support to the Palestinian Authority. It certainly has some interesting suggestions. Three stand out in particular, from a summary of the 153-page bill released by the Chairwoman’s office:

Title IV – Status of Palestinian Entities at the United Nations: Opposes efforts by the Palestinian leadership to evade a negotiated settlement with Israel and undermine opportunities for peace by seeking de facto recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN (through gaining membership for “Palestine” in UN agencies or programs). Withholds U.S. contributions from any UN agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO/Palestinian observer mission.

Title V – Goldstone Report: States that it is U.S. policy to lead a high-level diplomatic campaign calling for the revocation and repudiation of the Goldstone Report and its follow-on measures by the UN General Assembly. Also states that it is U.S. policy to consider the Goldstone Report, which falsely accused Israel of deliberately attacking Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead, to be irredeemably biased and unworthy of consideration, legitimization, or support. Also states that it is U.S. policy to strongly and unequivocally oppose any consideration, legitimization, or support of the Goldstone Report or measures stemming from the report in multilateral organizations, and to encourage other nations to repudiate the report. Would also withhold U.S. funding from the Goldstone Report and its preparatory and follow-on measures.

Title VIII – UNRWA: Prohibits U.S. funding to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees. Despite failing to meet the requirements under U.S. law to obtain foreign assistance, UNRWA has received about $500 million in FY 2009 and 2010 alone, with over $230 million in further funding included in the Administration’s FY 2012 budget request. The prohibition on funding would remain in place until UNRWA: vets its staff and aid recipients through U.S. watch lists for ties to Foreign Terrorist Organizations; stops engaging in anti-Israel propaganda and politicized activities; improves its accountability and transparency; and stops banking with any financial institutions under U.S. designation for terror financing or money laundering.

So yes, while it’s little we have not heard before (“Second verse, same as the first!”), it is demonstrative of conservative opinion these days towards Israel, the Palestinians and the UN (and, arguably, “internationalism” in general).

But we also have House Democrats, despite Obama’s vow to exercise the U.S.’s veto power in the UN Security Council against the Palestinian effort, joining with Republicans in proposing punitive actions against the Palestinians. Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia have introduced a (non-binding) resolution, drawing hundreds of signatures, which would strip the Palestinian Authority of the US$600 million worth of aid payments it receives from the U.S. government. Democratic Congressman of NJ Steve Rothman, who sits on the powerful House Appropriate Committee, and who supports cutting aid to the Palestinians if they proceed at the UN, had the following to say to Washington Jewish Weekly:

The P.A. is acting irrationally and against its own interests. These resolutions are unambiguous, and when put into effect . . . will have a devastating impact on the Palestinian economy. Most of the Palestinian leadership has decided to turn a blind eye to the terrible consequences that will result upon their own people.

Another Democratic-backed resolution is aimed at U.S. allies who have expressed support for the Palestinian initiative. It would “prohibit Foreign Military Financing Program (FMFP) assistance to countries that vote in the UN General Assembly in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a negotiated border agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” So far, it’s main supporters are all Democrats — Steve Israel and Eliot Engel of NY, Robert Brady of Pennsylvania and Steve Rothman of NJ. None of these individuals are no-name Congressmen: Israel, a member of several Israeli caucuses in the House, was appointed by Nancy Pelosi to serve as the head of the 2012 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and, along with Rothman, sits on the House Appropriations Committee. Engel is a member of the aforementioned House Foreign Affairs Committee. Brady has a seat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The multibillion-dollar FMFP is overseen by the Department of Defense but ultimately answers to Congress because it was established during the Cold War by Congress through a law called the Foreign Assistance Act. The bill, first reported on by Washington Jewish Weekly, is based on the rationale that foreign countries that oppose Israel should no longer receive U.S. military assistance.

One presumes that the bill is primarily aimed at Egypt and Jordan, who are, respectively, the second and third largest FMFP recipients in the Middle East, with Israel being the number one beneficiary of the program (the numbers for 2009: Israel, US$2.55 billion; Egypt, US$1.3 billion; Jordan, US$335 million).

This is the Department of Defense’s description of the FMFP (kind of reads like a press release for General Dynamics, doesn’t it?):

The principal means of ensuring America’s security is through the deterrence of potential aggressors who would threaten the U.S. or its allies. Foreign Military Financing, the U.S. government program for financing through grants or loans the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services, and training, supports U.S. regional stability goals and enables friends and allies to improve their defense capabilities. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) is made available under the authority of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). Congress appropriates FMF funds in the International Affairs Budget, the Department of State allocates the funds for eligible friends and allies; and the Department of Defense executes the program. FMF helps countries meet their legitimate defense needs, promotes U.S. national security interests by strengthening coalitions with friends and allies, cements cooperative bilateral military relationships, and enhances interoperability with U.S. forces. Because FMF monies are used to purchase U.S. military equipment and training, FMF contributes to a strong U.S. defense industrial base, which benefits both America’s armed forces and American workers.

Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkey also benefit from FMFP assistance.

Considering that the list of proscribed recipients would include valuable U.S. “allies” in the Mideast, it is not an idle threat (whereas, say, China, the EU and Russia could care less — more arms sales opportunities for them worldwide).

Then again, the Democratic-written bill would allow the president to review the suspensions on a case by case basis, so maybe it is an idle threat after all. Still, it sends an inescapable message: you’re expendable when it comes to Israel.

It says a lot about U.S. politics that while an international small arms treaty cannot win Congressional U.S. support because of Second Amendment concerns, a bill that would suspend all military aid to human rights violators such as the Egyptian, Turkish, Pakistani and Saudi Arabian militaries only exists because of the U.S. commitment to blocking a UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, which, according to the U.S. Government, is conditional on the following:

Palestinian State: No aid is permitted for a future Palestinian state unless the Secretary of State certifies that the governing entity of the state

1. has demonstrated a firm commitment to peaceful coexistence with the State of Israel [NB: this would exclude Hamas as it stands today];

2. is taking appropriate measures to counter terrorism and terrorist financing in the West Bank and Gaza in cooperation with Israel and others; and

3. is working with other countries in the region to vigorously pursue efforts to establish a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East that will enable Israel and an independent Palestinian state to exist within the context of full and normal relationships.

This restriction does not apply to aid meant to reform the Palestinian governing entity so that it might meet the three conditions outlined above. Additionally, the President is permitted to waive this restriction for national security purposes.

These bipartisan Congressional efforts show just how much Washington is willing to gamble on Israel’s behalf this September. While some Democrats have announced their opposition to the GOP’s UN-targeted bill, the FMFP and aid suspension resolutions may yet be one “liberal” defense-slashing bill we might see many Congressional Republicans supporting.

Might. After all, the defense industry sells many of the same weapons to both Israel and countries like Saudi Arabia. Who cares who recognizes who as long as both keep buying!

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

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