Friday, 7 October 2016

ISRAEL: The Legal Case of ''New Settlements''

Israel is currently ignoring criticism from the West, UN and US as it continues to pursue its settlement policies in the Palestinian Territories. It is also unlikely to reverse course anytime soon. Prospects for a two-state solution are getting dimmer.

Israel's decision to build new settlements far inside the West Bank weakens prospects for peace with the Palestinians, the European Union's diplomatic service said on Friday, echoing U.S. criticism that a two-state solution was at risk.

In a statement, the European Union External Action Service said Israel had broken with public statements not to build new settlements, calling the plans "effectively a new settlement in the northern West Bank." "The decision to continue settlement building and expansion... weakens rather than strengthens the prospects for a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process, and makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote," the EEAS said in a statement.

On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the move was "deeply troubling" partly because it came after Israeli agreement with Washington on U.S. military aid designed to bolster Israel's security, he said. The United States has agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over the next decade, the largest such package in U.S. history, under a landmark agreement signed on Sept. 15.

By quickly implementing this new settlement construction, Israel intends to create a situation that will be difficult to undo. Theoretically speaking, the Israel has always avowed its willingness to give up a portion of the settlements if the Palestinians would guarantee Israel's security in a peace treaty, but practically speaking, any hope of dismantling the large blocks of settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah is unrealistic.
Numerous UN resolutions have stated that the building and existence of Israeli settlements in the West bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are a violation of international law, including UN Security Council resolutions in 1979 and 1980. UN Security Council Resolution 446 refers to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the applicable international legal instrument, and calls upon Israel to desist from transferring its own population into territories to change their demographic makeup.

The position of successive Israeli governments is that all authorized settlements are entirely legal and consistent with international law, despite Israel's armistice agreements having all being with high Contracting Parties. In practice, Israel does not accept that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies de jure, but has stated that on humanitarian issues it will govern itself de facto by its provisions, without specifying which these are.

Israel has justified its civilian settlements by stating that a temporary use of land and buildings for various purposes appears permissible under a plea of military necessity and that settlements fulfilled security needs.  It is further argued that UNSC resolution 242 calls for '' secure and recognized boundaries'', and that neither the 1946-1967 armistice demarcation lines, nor the 1967 cease-fire lines have proved themselves secure.

This argument seems to be legally acceptable because Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan but there are no peace treaties governing Israel's borders related to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Israel therefore can assert that the armistice lines, also known as the Green Line, of 1949 have no other legal status.

Under international law, Isreal could, within the framework of UNSC resolutions 446, 452, 465, 471 and 476, build settlements for military or agriculture purposes. However, even though, military and agriculture purposes might be in favor of Israel's establishment of civilian settlements, the establishment of the new settlement is inconsistent with international law and against Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Putting absolute primacy on one's own security, though, carries a dangerous seed of destruction and status quo within it. And perforating the West Bank with further new settlements to the point that a Palestinian state is no longer conceivable there -- that act serves to push off the oft-evoked two-state solution to an unattainably distant future.

But Netanyahu's government isn't thinking about the future. It only thinks about maintaining a status quo, and it continues to build settlements in the West Bank, in order to secure the settlers' votes. Israel is playing for time -- and that's a dangerous game.

Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: AFP.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

WORLD: Who's ''Guterres'': the next UN Secretary General?

The race to become the next United Nations Secretary General has reached its conclusion. After months of extensive speculation and uncertainty, the Security Council informally announced that former Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, has been chosen for the job, with a formal vote scheduled today.

Guterres secured 13 votes in favor of his candidacy in a closed-door straw poll, with two countries offering no opinion over whether he should pursue the job as the world's top diplomat. But the secret poll made it clear that the five veto wielding powers, were unanimous in their support for Guterres. The future United Nations  leader enjoys the trust of the key UN powers: China, France, Britain, US and Russia.

Mr Antonio Guterres entered into politics in 1976 in Portugal first democratic election after the ''Carnation Revolution'' that ended five decades of dictatorship. Following the retirement of Cavaro Silva in 1995, the Socialist Party won the general election and Guterres became Prime Minister of Portugal, with a style markedly different from that his predecessor, based on dialogue and discussion with all sections of society.

Guterres was a popular prime minister in the first year of his government. Portugal enjoyed a solid economic expansion under his tenure, which allowed the Socialist Party to reduce budget deficits while increasing welfare spending

Guterres was re-elected in 1999, and from January to July 2000, he occupied the Presidency of the European Council. This second term in government was not as successful as the first. Internal party conflicts, along with a slowdown of the economic growth damaged his authority and popularity. In December 2001, following a disastrous result for the Socialist Party in the local elections, Guterres resigned.

In 2005, Antonio Guterress was elected by the UN General Assembly to become the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees, serving for a decade until the end of 2015. As head of UNHCR, Mr Guterres led the agency through some of the world's worse refugee crises, including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and, during that time he repeatedly appealed to Western states to do more to help refugees fleeing the conflicts.

Despite his rich political credentials, Mr Antonio Guterress' success as the next UN Secretary General might not depend on his charisma. The UNSC's unspoken but unmistakable rule about the UN Secretary Generals is that they must come across as affable enough so as to be the cause of international controversies, but also flexible enough to accommodate the US disproportionate influence over the United Nations, particularly the Security Council.

At the end of their terms, the success of failure of these secretaries has been largely determined by their willingness to play by the aforementioned rule: Boutros Boutros Ghali had his fallout with the US, as Kurt Waldheim also did. But both Annan and Ban learned their lessons well and followed the script to the end of their terms.

Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: Getty Images: Antonio Guterres, the next UN Secretary General

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

AFRICA: Understanding ''Starvation'' in Africa

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 233 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were/are starved between 2014-2016. Sub-Saharan Africa is the area with the second largest number of starved people, as Asia had/has 512 million, principally due to the much larger population of Asia when compared to Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Poverty is the principal cause of starvation in Africa and elsewhere. Simply put, people do not have sufficient income to purchase enough food, as 47% of the population in Sub-Saharan lived on $1.90 a day or less, a principal factor in causing widespread starvation. Conflict, population growth and environmental factors are also certainly important causes of starvation.

Whilst Europe is fiddling and dallying on the Syrian front, sub-Saharan Africa is burning and Europe seems to be totally unable to do anything about it. By ignoring the long term consequences of the growing poverty across most of the continent we are ignoring the fact that across the Mediterranean we have not just a few million people anxious to escape the civil war, but hundreds of millions trying to escape poverty. 

There is evident starvation in many of the northern states of Nigeria, affecting at least one million people. How many people are at risk of starvation in the conflicts in South Sudan? Probably at least another million. In Ethiopia, the government seems to have accepted that there are some 6 million people who need food aid. South Africa is considered a ''food-secure'' nation, producing enough calories to adequately feed everyone of its 53 million people. However, the reality is that one in four people currently suffers starvation on regular basis. Across the whole Eastern Africa, from the Horn to Zimbabwe, some 30 million people are at risk. 

For reasons that many of us do not quite understand, longer-term solutions are not being pursued. In our determination to avoid dealing with the corruption, inefficiency and plain bad governance across most pf the continent, the EU institutions, the governments of individual European countries and the US are buying themselves longer-term problems. Everyone in Europe has aid programmes and sometimes a massive presence across the continent. Europe and America have substantial say in the politics of those countries. Yet, it appears that the lessons that have led and continue to lead to tensions within Europe are allowed to re-occur across Africa.

Since the period of neoclassical economic interventions of the 1970s, the Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by the IMF, the World Bank and the US Treasury have decimated relevant state institutions. The economies of those countries revolve around agriculture, which employs 80 to 85 per cent of all their populations. Yet they had to dismantle all the agriculture marketing boards and support systems in the face of demands from multilateral institutions. 

This means that there is now no effective mechanism in any sub-Saharan African country to support agriculture. The only projects that work are those that are destined for exports-coffee, coco, tea, fruit, vegetables, and flowers. This because there is a secure market and therefore considerable investment and intervention by buyers. There is considerable support by governments desperate for foreign currency, Meantime, ordinary people starve.

But the unwillingness we see across Europe of governments to tackle the need for solid, basic, fundamental infrastructural investment in roads, railways, houses, schools, is not being replicated--it is being amplified across Africa. The policy of attracting foreign investment in the hope that it will lead to a trickle-down effects is simply not working. 

China is the only entity that is being consistent in its investment and will reap the results, and it will not be necessarily to the benefit of the African populations. Europe is not applying the most basic lessons that Keynesian economics taught us during the second world war and in the immediate post-war period. It is not applying any of that at home and it is not applying it in Africa. In so doing, we are simple making it unavoidable that some of the poorest and most marginalized people on earth should be trying to escape the poverty to which we and their governments, in their inability to escape our directions, are condemning them.

There is a range of measures that could be taken in the short term that would arrest the flow of migrants to the shores of Europe over the longer-term. More direct aid to communities at village level would make life more bearable to rural communities. That means more primary schools and clinics, not universities and major hospitals in the metropolises. 

Climate mitigation measures must mean enabling local people to cope with the change of seasons, not seconding more experts from the North. The distance that OECD countries everywhere are experiencing between their elites and ordinary people, which is leading to populist policies , is being replayed in Africa, albeit in different terms. Creating a fortress Europe is not the answer. Sensible aid for development, not just for trade, might be.

Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert


Monday, 3 October 2016

RELIGION: What can make Islam sustainable for the future?

Islam doesn’t need a reformer. Islam also doesn’t need an Age of Enlightenment. Those who make such demands or appeals on the Muslim community, in the belief that these two key movements characterize the path towards the higher ground on which our Western World stands as result, are grasping for nonexistent straws.

Islam has enough of these two things in its current form. The religious Schism in the West brought about a hundred years of war, devastation, and famine across an entire continent – something that nobody could wish for in this day and age. Also, Islam today isn’t plagued by the same problem as the Christians of the Middle Ages, who were bossed around by a exuberant church hierarchy, but rather there is something missing in its fundamental structure, just like in Christianity, which is something modern church critics tried to resolve.

Who in Islam has the final say about doctrine? Which theologian, which magisterial authority? The longing for a benevolent caliph to rule over all the faithful may come out of this absence of a person at the top of the spiritual hierarchy. Aside from the wrath of ISIS, which certainly does not reflect the goodwill of a benevolent God, the desire for unity in faith is manifested in the idea of a central figure. It is a pious hope on the part of the believers to think that all Muslims may one day sit under one roof, just like the Christians of the ecumenical movement sought to unify their religion.

Now on to our notions of Enlightenment: it isn’t something that comes in a soup packet, bought off the supermarket shelf, added to hot water, stirred until it’s done. Enlightenment is a process, not a fixed state. Every generation must learn the principles of the Enlightenment anew, just as every generation must learn about the principles of democracy and tolerance anew. Also, here in the West, we’re not as enlightened as we may think; if, in a continent like Europe books about “angels” sell like hotcakes, one who makes public statements professing their skepticism of religious ideas like, for example, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, can only barely conceal the truth that not all that much has changed in the continent since a time of superstitions, when Europeans believed in witches and goblins.

Given that we are ever fighting amongst ourselves, often unsuccessfully, with new interpretations of the Enlightenment, we should stop smothering Muslims with calls for “enlightenment now!” Every form of phobia, be it directed towards foreigners in general, Muslims or Jews specifically, homosexuals, transsexuals and whatever other minority appears to serve a hollow majority as a prop in a superiority fantasy, shows that the European Enlightenment in any case is not yet fully complete.

The religion of the West, Christianity, has not made it into the Modern Era due to either ''The Reformation'' or ''The Enlightenment'', but rather due to the historical-critical method of Bible interpretation. That sounds like stuff for symposia, but it must be the case: Since the late 18th century, the appropriation of the Holy Scripture through the work of past generations and with the aid of instruments and findings from the different sciences, such as archaeology and linguistics, have opened the door for new interpretations of the Christian tradition and legacy.

This process was long and painful. And in the Christian world today it also remains unfinished. Primarily there are churches and Christian communities in the United States, who due to a literal interpretation of the bible, are unwilling to synchronize the biblical account of creation with the discoveries of modern science. By the way: here all Christians are guilty by association. The statement from Pope Francis that Evolution is compatible with Christian beliefs was heralded by the uninformed press as a major breakthrough. The reporters did not bother to research that both his predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, had already said the same.

There are already Muslim theologians who are daring to operate with a historical-critical methodology, but they are still too few. We can’t fool ourselves: It is a long and painful journey. Of course today several scholars can risk the assumption, that for them the Quran appears edited in such way that the long sutras are at the beginning and the short ones are at the end. An editorial process would naturally shake the faith of the people who act on the assumption that the Holy Quran was sent down by God, in Arabic, just the way it is.

At the same time analyses of the text suggests that the Quran, unlike the books of the Bible, is the work of a single author. This would support in some way the belief that the Quran only knows one drafter, and that the unique beauty of the Quran’s language is self-contained and brought about by this (divine) author. There is, in the Islamic world, a great love for the linguistic greatness of the Quran.

There is a dispute raging in the Muslim community about the validity of faith, which not necessarily relates to the questions about God and the Heavens, but rather how Muslims should live here on earth. We, Christians, know about the depth of imbalance that such changes can bring with them – changes that can be either destructive or beneficial, paving the road for faith into the future. It is up to Muslims to read their holy text and interpret in a new light. Are we here unable to join them in this conversation, because we aren’t Muslims? No, not at all! It is our duty even, as kindred spirits of another book religion, to point to the path that has lead towards the Modern Era in the Christian world.

Aside from the historical-critical method, there is yet another means that we, in all our friendship and religious fraternity, can recommend to our Muslim brothers and sisters: a religious council. It was an encouraging sign that over 130 scholars from the Islamic world and their diaspora threw down a small bull at the altar of the self-named Caliph of the Islamic State, on which the word “Excommunication” was written in large, bold lettering. The scholars have condemned the ideology and the actions of ISIS for not being in accordance with the true teachings and tradition of Islam. The councils in the Christian world convened with similar goals: to articulate, clarify, consolidate and also protect church doctrine and the validity of their faith in a particularly trying time.

In the ancient world the Christian emperor of Rome insisted on these events, because he was fed up with the fact that Christians were splitting into smaller and smaller sects that believed in this or that. With the early ecumenical councils were the anointed heads of faith able, through argument and discourse in a theological capacity, to first formulate the doctrine. Why shouldn’t the Ummah, the world-spanning collective of the Muslim faithful, call for the same? Here we are again at the question of unity under faith, though Muslims live today from Morocco to Malaysia in vastly different environments and societal realities.

The Five Pillars of Islam may apply everywhere in the world, but the religion is, like every other religion too, more than just the sum of its commandments and restrictions, more than just the letters of its holy text. A global panel that reflects this diversity would help the Islamic community. As theologians from the Islamic world and the diaspora meet at a council, they would additionally stop the way Islam has been held hostage by politics, where it is seized in many places around the world.

The Muslims around the world today are nearer yet more estranged from one another than ever before. The prevailing denomination of Islamic Puritanism (Wahhabism), which leads to terror, violence, and Stone Age theology, also leads, as many Muslims feel, to a dead end. At the same time, the present is a great unknown and a time for fear and not for optimism about the future for many Muslims. Christianity in Europe has already gone through this process. It is for the Muslims to decide as to whether or not they wish to learn from their monotheistic brothers and sisters.

What Islam is lacking is neither Reformation nor an Enlightenment. Rather, there are two neglected measures that could make Islam sustainable for the future. The model has already been tested in the Christian world.

Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert