Qaddafi No!-But Bibi Si!
Williams, Ian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
On Friday, Feb. 25, Col. Muammer Qaddafi was collaterally and inadvertently instrumental in re-invigorating the U.N. Human Rights Council. The Council unanimously condemned apparent human rights violations in Libya and, in an unprecedented move, recommended its expulsion from the body. It was aided by the defection of the members of the Libyan delegation to the Council who, in common with many of their compatriot diplomats, had abandoned the sinking ship in Tripoli.
Of course it also helped that Qaddafi's eccentricities, rather than his barbarities, had alienated all his neighbors. You know you're in trouble when your only friends in the world are similarly wayward caudillos like Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega.
Washington and some, at least, of its allies in the West also were hoping that everyone would forget that it was Western oil company checks made out to the Qaddafi regime that had kept him in power all these years, especially when he made a geopolitical switch from his former reflexive anti-Western position.
The West now is sternly condemnatory of a regime ordering its air force to bomb civilians-so long, of course, as it was not Israel flying sorties into the crowded alleys of Gaza.
Closer to Tripoli, the Arab League, hitherto so tenderly solicitous of the Sudanese government's sensibilities, already had rescinded Libya's membership, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference joined in the condemnation of Qaddafi.
Libya's suspension from the Human Rights Council would not have been necessary had it not been for the complaisance of the African and Arab countries that persisted in running a rota system for important positions-not only membership on the Human Rights Council but on the Security Council as well, and even the presidency of the African Union, all of which Qaddafi's Libya has recently occupied.
It is not that they loved the colonel, who has consistently been a sandfly chewing away under the tail of his neighbors, but rather that they were prepared to go along with such a flagrant ethical breach of procedure in order to ensure that they in their turn would have their regular place at the rostrum.
Human rights advocates carefully crafted the rules for the revised Human Rights Council to reconcile African and non-aligned objections, so that there would be contested elections. However, the African states, recidivist rota makers, frustrated that move by either nominating only the same number of candidates as seats, or by putting up stalking horse candidates that ran to lose.
Those member states and the NGOs that genuinely pursue human rights should take this opportunity to ensure not just elections, but also elections which ensure that only properly qualified states are elected. This debacle might do just that.
However, its expulsion of Libya should do something to revive the prestige of the Council, which has been battered with varying degrees of credibility by sundry enemies. The action proved that it was not just Israel that could make the Council's agenda-even if there were those special circumstances that took away the benefit of Arab and African omerta. Of course, it will not change the minds of those who consider any scrutiny of Israel to be ipso facto unbalanced if not anti-Semitic, but it will at least deprive them of their traditional lament that the Council never considers the violations of Arab states.
Over at the Security Council, Qaddafi's alienation factor overcame even Russia and China's traditional and self-interested reluctance to countenance action against human rights-offending states. Realpolitik helps, of course. When one of the world's largest oil suppliers is about to change government, it is expedient to jump on the bandwagon no matter how belatedly.
One of the crucial and fascinating aspects is that Resolution 1970 refers events in Libya since Feb. 15 to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although it eventually was passed unanimously-albeit with face-saving caveats that the U.N. would not pay the costs, and that nationals of other non-signatory states would not be arraigned-the geopolitics is interesting. The Libyan delegation had again supported the resolution, which might have mitigated some concerns about sovereignty on the Council that became the subject of a day-long wrangle behind closed doors.
China and India for example, have consistently held hands across the Himalayas to oppose the ICC as a breach of sovereign rights. Russia is, for reasons not unconnected to incidents like Chechnya, equally unhappy. And, of course, under former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton's baleful reign, the U.S. "unsigned" the Rome Convention that brought the court into being.
The lesson is clear: Do not alienate other member states, particularly permanent members of the Security Council, and then massacre civilians.
Talk Is Non-Binding
That lesson was brought into stark relief by events a mere two weeks earlier, when in the same chamber U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice castigated Israeli settlement activity in the strongest terms-and then vetoed a resolution saying exactly the same thing!
"We reject in the strongest terms possible the legitimacy of the continued settlement building," inveighed Rice, while ferociously condemning them as "folly," bad for Israel as well. Her words, however, only reinforced the international message that U.S. foreign policy is decided in the Israeli cabinet.
We have noted before that Ambassador Rice usually has the good sense to deputize someone else to sing to the AIPAC hymn sheet at the U.N., but President Barack Obama's veto of everything he had stood for in his speeches at Cairo and Istanbul obviously was too important to leave to others, not to mention effectively raising the white flag to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and AIPAC.
The sincerity and ferocity of Rice's attack on Israeli settlement policy was presumably some form of penance for the veto of a resolution with 130 sponsors and which was voted for by all other members of the Council, including substantial allies such as Britain, France and Germany that actually support American security concerns rather than laying the U.S. open to attack, as the alliance with Israel does.
The attack was not noticed in Israel, however, which thanked Obama for the veto-even though that was noticed by the motley crew of die-hard Likudniks, "Obama is a foreign Muslim," and Christian Zionists who found in Rice's speech scarcely needed additional reasons to vote against the president's re-election.
The events leading up to the settlements resolution were almost as damning for American dignity and ethical standing as the veto itself. In the face of defiantly redoubled settlement activity by the Israelis, Washington did not threaten to cut back aid to the perpetrators. Not at all. Instead Hillary Clinton went to the victim and threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinians unless they stopped complaining and withdrew the resolution.
In the current context, it is as if the U.S. continued sending financial and military aid to Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi and threatened sanctions against the protesters on the streets.
Lowering its dignity even more, the U.S. had tried to avert the resolution with an ineffectual and in any case non-binding statement that tangentially admitted to the "illegitimacy" of settlements in the West Bank, but spent more space condemning ineffectual rocket attacks from Gaza. As several observers said, it read like a floor statement from an AIPAC-manipulated representative in Congress. Unsurprisingly, it found no takers.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas had no option but to go ahead and put the resolution to the vote. With elections announced for this year, he and his administration have been badly burnt with the leaked documents showing their supine negotiating posture and the WikiLeaks revelations that they had connived under American pressure to keep the Goldstone Report out of the U.N. Human Rights Council. More importantly, the U.S. had lost the additional leverage of Hosni Mubarak, a reliable ally in restricting Palestinian ambitions, and had done so under circumstances which sent a stark warning to Palestinian, and indeed all Arab, leaders.
At any time, voting for the resolution would have sent a clear message to Netanyahu that his defiance carried a price tag-and would not have involved a budget battle with AIPAC supporters in Congress. Indeed, if truth be told, if Obama wanted a confrontation combining budget and foreign policy matters, what could be better than a very loud public proposal to cut off aid that the GAO has estimated at costing more than $5 billion for a so-called ally that not only defies American interests but seriously damages them?
Now that the layer of bribable kleptocrats surrounding Israel is being peeled off by popular action, however, the veto and continued American support for its obdurate policies is going to erode its support in the region even more precipitately.
It's not as though the veto makes the issue go away, after all. Moreover, Obama also has yet another crisis coming. In the debate on the vote, the UK, on behalf of France and Germany as well, promised to do all it could to welcome Palestine as a U.N. member by this September, thereby pushing yet another hot button for AIPAC-and thus the administration. President Abbas, with the elections coming, has every incentive to take the vetoed resolution to a resumed Emergency General Assembly under the Uniting For Peace procedure originally moved by Washington to overcome the Soviet veto during the Korean War.
Obama's new outreach to the Muslim world would there be weighed in the balance and found wanting-not by 14-1, as in the Security Council, but by 190-2.
Even nearer to hand, the Feb. 26 Libyan resolution did not mention the no-fly zone that had been discussed to stop Qaddafi's air force strafing his own citizens. One can only presume that at least one reason was that, since the settlement veto, Obama administration has lost most of the bona fides his administration had established once he had replaced George W. Bush, and who could countenance yet another attack on any Arab country by a recidivist U.S.?
The U.S. will regret its veto-as will the rest of the world.
Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations and has a blog at
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Qaddafi No!-But Bibi Si!. Contributors: Williams, Ian - Author. Magazine title: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Volume: 30. Issue: 3 Publication date: April 2011. Page number: 27+. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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