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Victims of Obstructionism at the Security Council

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The international community is gearing up for a political battle in September at the United Nations over the issue of the promised Palestinian statehood while anticipating possible surprises in August, coming from either Syria, Libya or Yemen, where the revolutions are yet to be settled either in favor of the people demanding change or in favor of the regimes clinging to power.

The Security Council will most probably remain shackled during India's presidency of the UNSC throughout August. The atmosphere at the UNSC is reminiscent of the Cold War period as major Third World countries position themselves with a slight inclination towards the Russian and Chinese mostly to protest what they view as a 'monopoly' of decision making by the United States, Britain and France. Yet by doing so, these countries are aligning themselves in a 'defiant axis' that uses obstructionism to prevent the UNSC from tackling important developments that should get its attention, such as the ones transpiring today in Syria. This axis comprised of Russia, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa often hides behind Lebanon -- a country that is already powerless on the Syrian issue -- in order to justify failure to shoulder responsibilities. These countries' indulgence in defiance will eventually prove harmful for them and for their relations with the Arab future.

The tripartite Western axis, comprising Washington, London and Paris -- frequently supported by Germany and Portugal -- acts on the basis of mutuality rather than identical views on issues of the Middle East. While there indeed is uniformity in this axis's views over the Libyan issue, the same does not apply with regard to Syria -- though this has recently changed as the American position evolved and converged, if not exceeded, the European stance. On the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, differences between American and European positions are clear and explicit but will not turn into a dispute. Neither is there much enthusiasm on the part of Russia, China or the ISAB (India, South Africa and Brazil) to confront the American obstructionism at the Security Council with regard to Palestine, whereas they remain fervent in obstructing discussion of the Syrian issue at the UNSC. This is indeed odd, especially as India prides itself in its democracy while South Africa's independence came as a result of support of the people of the world and through the UNSC itself. Why then? And what is happening to the relations among the UNSC members in the context of the events in Libya, Syria and Palestine?

On Libya, all UNSC members started to converge progressively in the wake of the fierce battle led by Russia against what it considers to be excesses perpetrated by NATO in both the interpretation of resolution 1973 and its military operations in Libya. It was this very resolution that reinforced the intransigence of Russia, China and the ISAB forbidding the UNSC to adopt any stance towards the Syrian government -- even a toned down position that would criticize the crackdown against the protesters. Or at least, this is how the 'defiant axis' explained and justified its stances, while threatening to counter the 'monopoly' of resolution 1973 and the West's going too far in interpreting its prerogatives. Noteworthy here is the fact that Russia now seems less stringent than South Africa and India with respect to the Libyan issue. For instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is now speaking in terms of a 'post-Gaddafi' Libya, while the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma has opted to visit Tripoli several times but did not bother to visit Benghazi- the headquarters of the National Transitional Council opposed to Gaddafi. Zuma has thereby made it clear that he is on the side of Gaddafi's regime rather than the side of the revolution for change in Libya. As for India, its officials are sharply criticizing the rebels, the quick UNSC granting the International Criminal Court (ICC) the authority to issue arrest warrants against Muammar Gaddafi and his son, as well as the operations carried out by NATO against pro-Gaddafi troops in aid of the rebels.

What has taken place this week regarding the Libyan issue indicates that the bet on Gaddafi's good intentions is a losing one, even when the purpose of the mediation or the initiative was for him to save face by stepping down but remain in Libya immune from prosecution. Gaddafi is clinging to the African initiative because its main gist is reform, not change. This means reforming the regime while maintaining Gaddafi at its helm. Gaddafi has also chosen to interpret the French initiative that allows him to stay in Libya after he steps down as being consent to his remaining in power. He also understood UN special envoy Abdul-Elah Al-Khatib's talk of a transitional authority to be a vehicle for him to remain in power while Khatib meant for his ideas to instead be a vehicle for Gaddafi to step down in a dignified manner. Gaddafi also found the international support for Khatib's efforts to be an opportunity for him to buy more time.

The British decision this week to expel Libyan diplomats and to raise the level of recognition of the NTC from an "interlocutor" to a "governmental authority" is an important development that will impact Al-Khatib's future efforts. There is no longer any need for the transitional authority as mentioned among Al-Khatib's ideas now that pivotal countries have begun to consider the NTC in effect the official alternative government. Subsequently, what the mediating envoy should do now is to think of a comprehensive initiative with mechanisms -- and not mere ideas that gradually lead to a concession here or even to a distortion of ideas there. A compromise is out of the question, something that renders the task of the "mediator" nearly impossible. The reason for this is that Benghazi's starting point, as a primary precondition is that Gaddafi steps down, while Tripoli's starting point, as a precondition is the refusal to step down. Al-Khatib therefore has only the choice of either to say to the rebels "No" to regime change and "Yes" to regime reform, or to firmly and resolutely tell Gaddafi that stepping down is the fundamental precondition to any talk of a safe exit. However, Al-Khatib will most probably not be able to say this unless the Security Council reaches unanimity over such a language. There is therefore a need for Al-Khatib to rehash his ideas into an initiative that neither resembles an open-ended peace "process" nor opens the doors for maximizing demands on the part of either Gaddafi or the rebels. For this he needs the Security Council members to be serious about urgently resolving the Libyan issue especially that the head of Libya's intelligence, Abdullah Senussi, is threatening to enter into an alliance with al-Qaeda for the purpose of revenge, and at a time when Muammar Gaddafi is increasingly entrenched in his siege mentality and hunkered down. While it is true that India has interests in Libya, especially in the oil sector, India is making the wrong bet in pitting itself against the NTC and those rebelling against Gaddafi's oppression. It is harming itself by becoming an enemy of the Arab future, whether in Libya or in Syria.

The common denominator among the three ISAB countries is that each one of them is seeking a permanent seat at the Security Council. South Africa has nearly become a permanent member (without the right of veto) by holding the African seat every two years, bearing in mind that Africa has three seats at the Council while Arab countries alternate between an African and an Asian seat. Brazil sees itself as a leader and a pioneer in South America yet, just like India, it also seeks to play the "Third World" card to say to the countries of the Third World: I am your representative and I am your voice. Both of them view the issue of Libya at the Security Council as central to the decision-making process within the UNSC. They both have massive interests in the United States. Yet they seem to separate these from their political stances. They are both upset at the fact that Japan enjoys complete American support for its permanent membership at the Security Council while content with simply not opposing India's membership with a lukewarm welcome. The permanent seat at the Security Council represents a fundamental national interest for India who views herself as a "political giant" not just as an economic giant. Similarly, such a permanent seat is central to the ambitions of both Brazil and South Africa. All three countries in the ISAB adopt positions at the Security Council on the basis of their own political interests- be it in their alliance of defiance when it comes to the Syrian issue, or to objection when it comes to the Libyan issue, or evasiveness on the Palestinian issue. Nevertheless, neither ISAB nor Russia and China are alone in placing their own interests above values and above justice. The United States, too, has always placed its own interests first- sometimes overstepping international laws- and has excessively supported Israeli impunity at the expense of the Palestinians subjected to bitter occupation. Today, the Obama Administration finds itself in the same position that previous administrations had found themselves in, forced to backpedal on its promises to the Palestinians to satisfy Israel and for considerations pertaining to elections.

Dennis Ross, the architect of U.S. policy on the Middle East at the National Security Council, has become known by the nickname "Mister Process", i.e. the man who suffices himself with a mere peace "process" rather than achieving peace per se. Barack Obama has put him in charge of this issue, as had before him Presidents Bush Senior and Junior and Bill Clinton between them. Ross tells the Europeans that they are dead wrong to warn of consequences to the United States blocking the recognition of the Palestinian State at the United Nations. He tells them: You warned us of dire consequences if we veto the resolution on Israeli settlements, yet our veto cost us nothing by either government or people in both the Arab and Islamic worlds. The Europeans will not, on their own, be able to help the Palestinians -- neither within the Quartet on the Middle East nor at the Security Council or the General Assembly. The Obama Administration is banking on the preoccupation of the Arab people with achieving change in their respective countries and does not fear any reactions as long as the Palestinian "street" does not erupt inside of Israel. Dennis Ross first came into the limelight with the task of containing the first Palestinian Intifada. He successfully accomplished the mission -- as he himself admits and boasts.

The spread of the Arab Spring to Palestine will represent the greatest challenge for him. He assumes that this is impossible. That is why he does not fear consequences to the American opposition to the fulfillment of the pledge to establish the State of Palestine and to American declared intent to obstruct movement in that direction at the United Nations in September. Will August become the month of surprises or will September become the month of confrontation and frustration? Members of the United Nations are anticipating with a mix of defiance, obstruction, vigilance, nervousness and fear of surprises.

On the issue of Libya, the stances of all UNSC members have started to converge progressively, in the wake of the fierce battle led by Russia against what it considers to be excesses perpetrated by NATO, in the course of the latter body's interpretation of Resolution 1973 and its military operations in Libya. In truth, it was this resolution that reinforced the non-cooperation of Russia, China and the ISAB with regard to allowing the UNSC to adopt any stance on the Syrian regime, even a toned down position that would criticize the crackdown against the protesters -- or at least this is how the 'defiant axis' wants to explain and justify its stances, while threatening to counter the 'monopoly' of resolution 1973 and the West's going too far in interpreting its prerogatives.

Noteworthy here is the fact that Russia now seems less stringent than South Africa and India with respect to the Libyan issue. For instance, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is now speaking in terms of a 'post-Gaddafi' Libya, while the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma has opted to visit Tripoli several times, but did not bother to visit Benghazi -- the headquarters of the National Transitional Council opposed to Gaddafi. Zuma has thereby made it clear that he is on the side of Gaddafi's regime, and not that of the revolution for change in Libya. As for India, its officials are sharply criticizing the rebels, the efforts underway at the UNSC to grant the ICC the authority to issue arrest warrants against Muammar Gaddafi and his son, as well as the operations carried out by NATO against pro-Gaddafi troops in aid of the rebels. What has taken place this week regarding the Libyan issue indicates that the bet on Gaddafi's good intentions is a losing one, even if the purpose of the mediation or the initiative is for him to save face and step down, while remaining in Libya immune from prosecution. Instead, Gaddafi is clinging to the African initiative, because its main gist is reform, not change. This means reforming the regime while maintaining Gaddafi at its helm. Gaddafi has also chosen to interpret the French initiative to allow him to stay in Libya after he steps down, as being consent to his remaining in power. He also understood Abdul Ilah al-Khatib's talk of a transitional authority, to be a vehicle for him to remain in power, while Khatib meant for his ideas to instead be a vehicle for Gaddafi to step down in a dignified manner. Gaddafi also found the international support for Khatib's efforts to be an opportunity for him to buy more time.

Meanwhile, the fact that the UK has expelled Libyan diplomats and raised the level of its recognition of the NTC, from that of a party to dialogue to that of a governmental authority, is an important development that will give a boost to Khatib's future efforts. There is no longer any need for the transitional authority or transitional government mentioned among Khatib's ideas, now that pivotal countries have begun to consider the NTC to be in effect the official alternative government. Subsequently, what the mediating Envoy should do now is to think of a comprehensive initiative that would function according to a certain mechanism -- and not mere ideas that gradually lead to a concession here, or even to a distortion of ideas there. A compromise is out of the question, something that renders the task of the "mediator" nearly impossible. The reason for this is that Benghazi maintains that Gaddafi stepping down is its primary precondition, while Tripoli says that refusing to step down is its own main precondition. Khatib therefore has only the choice of either saying to the rebels "No" to regime change and "Yes" to regime reform, or firmly and resolutely telling Gaddafi that stepping down is the fundamental precondition to any talk of a safe exit. However, Khatib will most probably not be able to say this unless the Security Council reaches unanimity over the language in which to inform of this. There is thus a need for Khatib to rehash his ideas into an initiative that does not seem like an open-ended peace "process", and one that does not allow for making difficult demands on the part of either Gaddafi or the rebels. For this he needs the Security Council members to be serious about urgently resolving the Libyan issue, at a time when the head of Libya's intelligence, Abdullah Senussi, is threatening to enter into an alliance with al-Qaeda for the purpose of revenge, and at a time when Muammar Gaddafi is increasingly entrenched in his siege mentality and hunkered down.

While it is true that India has interests in Libya, especially in the oil sector, India is betting the wrong way by pitting itself against the NTC and those rebelling against Gaddafi's oppression. It is harming itself by becoming an enemy of the future Arab world, whether in Libya or in Syria. The common denominator among the three ISAB countries is that each one of them is seeking a permanent seat at the Security Council. South Africa has nearly become a permanent member (without the right of veto) by holding the African seat every two years, while bearing in mind that Africa has three seats at the council, while the Arabs hold an African seat at times, and an Asian seat at others.

Brazil sees itself as a leader and a pioneer in South America. Yet, just like India, it also seeks to play the "Third World" card, to say to the countries of the Third World: I am your representative and I am your voice. Both of them view the issue of Libya at the Security Council as central to the decision-making process within the UNSC. They both have massive interests in the United States. Yet they seem to separate these from their political stances. They are both upset at the fact that Japan enjoys complete American support for its permanent membership at the Security Council, while believing it not to oppose India's membership and to be forthcoming to it. The permanent seat at the Security Council represents a national interest, and one that is among the fundamental positions firmly held by India, the country which sees itself as a "political giant", not just as a major economic player. Similarly, such a permanent seat is central to the ambitions of both Brazil and South Africa. The three countries in the ISAB axis thus adopt their stances at the Security Council on the basis of their own political interests, whether in the framework of the axis of defiance regarding the Syrian issue, the Libyan issue, or even their evasiveness on the Palestinian issue. Nevertheless, neither ISAB nor Russia and China are alone in placing their own interests above values and above justice. The United States, too, has always placed its own interests first, sometimes overstepping international laws, and has excessively supported Israeli impunity, at the expense of the Palestinians subjected to bitter occupation. Today, the Barack Obama Administration finds itself in the same position that previous administrations had found themselves in, being forced to backpedal on their promises to the Palestinians that is, in order to gain Israel's approval and also for considerations pertaining to the elections.

Dennis Ross, the architect of U.S. policy on the Middle East at the National Security Council, has become known by the nickname "Mister Process", i.e. the man who suffices himself with a mere peace "process" rather than achieving peace per se. Barack Obama has put him in charge of this issue, as had before him Presidents Bush Senior and Junior, and between the two, Bill Clinton. Ross tells the Europeans that they are wrong to warn of the consequences of the United States blocking the recognition of the Palestinian state at the United Nations. The Europeans will not, on their own, be able to help the Palestinians -- neither within the Quartet on the Middle East, nor at the Security Council or the General Assembly. The Obama Administration is banking on the preoccupation of the Arab peoples with achieving change in their respective countries, and does not fear any reactions, as long as the Palestinian street does not erupt in the direction of Israel. In fact, Dennis Ross first came into the limelight when he sought to contain the First Palestinian Intifada, and he successfully did so, as he himself admits and boasts. But the Arab Spring spreading to Palestine will represent the greatest challenge for him, even though he currently assumes that this is impossible. This is why he does not fear reactions to the American stance in opposition to the fulfillment of the pledge to establish the state of Palestine, and the efforts in this direction at the United Nations in September.

Will August be the month of surprises, or will September be the month of confrontation and frustration? The United Nations is watching and waiting, with a mixed sense of defiance and vigilance.