Friday, January 15, 2010

Israel and International Justice: the Irony

Haaretz features today an essay by Gerald Steinberg and Anne Herzberg (Gerald Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor; Anne Herzberg is NGO Monitor's legal advisor), titled "Israel and the illusion of international justice," in which they argue:
Speaking at a legal conference on January 4, former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak suggested that Israel would benefit from participation in bodies such as the International Criminal Court in order to fight for "its positions and justice." In endorsing Barak's recommendation, a Haaretz editorial ("Join the Court," January 6) contended that such participation would "place Israel on the side of the enlightened nations." Similarly, the argument goes, Israel erred in refusing to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council's Goldstone Commission and the International Court of Justice proceedings on the security barrier.

While surely well-intentioned, in practice this line of thinking is pure folly. The dominance of nondemocratic and Islamic nations in international organs, and the increasing politicization of these bodies, virtually guarantees that no justice will be done when it comes to Israel or even NATO countries. In such morally corrupt frameworks, international law and human rights have become political weapons, disconnected from legitimate judicial processes and legal systems in democratic societies.

Isn't it ironic, though, that so many of the "nondemocratic and Islamist" nations they spotlight have been so long sustained in power by Israel's principal patron, the United States?  The list is long and, in its own way, distinguished: Saudi Arabia, Egypt (the second-leading recipient of US funding), Jordan.  And despite all the neocon touting of it as a new cradle of Arab democracy, it truly remains to be seen whether democracy will flourish in Iraq.  The current president, Nuri al-Maliki, has for many months been building up a security force, predominantly Shii, that enforces his will, especially against what his Shii-dominated regime identifies as Sunni threats.  Meanwhile, as the Washington Post reports, his government's Independent High Electoral Commission has decided to
uphold bans recommended by the Justice and Accountability Commission, tasked with barring Hussein loyalists from government and security positions. At least 700 people will be blocked by Sunday, including Saleh al-Mutlak, a popular Sunni member of parliament. . . .  The announcement comes days after the Justice and Accountability Commission said it would ban Mutlak and 14 parties from running in the election. The commission has now expanded the list of people who will be excluded from contesting. . . .  The move is a blow to efforts to bring marginalized factions, some of which turned to weapons, into the political fold.
"Marginalized factions" here means Sunni groups who have found themselves increasingly disenfranchised by the Maliki government. Some of them have Baathist ties, yes - but not all Baathists were advocates of, or participants in, the extreme measures to which Saddam Hussein resorted.  They were  a legitimate component of the broader secular Arab and Iraqi nationalist movement, and as such, they need to be allowed a place in Iraq's electoral politics.  Otherwise, Iraqi democracy is doomed, and the US may be yoked to another nondemocratic, Islamist regime of the kind that Steinberg and Herzberg point to.

And we can add still another such regime to the list of those that Israel's US patron supports.  As McClatchy's Jonathan Landay reports, Obama's aid to the Saleh regime in Yemen could ignite a backlash in the Arab world, in that it . . .
 . . . risks tying the U.S. more closely to an autocratic ruler whose repression of economic and political grievances is strengthening the terrorists and pushing his impoverished nation toward breakup.  "Any association with the (Yemeni) regime will only confirm al Qaida's narrative, which is that America is only interested in maintaining corrupt and despotic rulers and is not interested in the fate of Arabs and Muslims," warned Bernard Haykel, a Princeton University professor.  The State Department's latest international human rights report cited allegations that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime tortures and assassinates suspected opponents, operates secret prisons and muzzles independent media.  Security forces run by Saleh's close relatives and reportedly advised by former officers of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard are accused of using "excessive force" against a four-year-old Shiite Muslim rebellion in north Yemen, uprooting thousands of civilians. . . .

"The United States is increasingly shifting support to the Saleh regime at a time at which it is increasingly losing (popular) support," said April Alley, an expert at the National Defense University in Washington. "A popular view within Yemen is that the U.S. is supporting an increasingly unpopular regime and buttressing autocracy."

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