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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why the UN General Assembly could create Israel but can't create Palestine.

In 1947 the UN General Assembly voted to partition what was then the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. As a result Israel came into being.  The Arabs rejected the decision and no Arab state was created.
In late 2012 the General Assembly voted that "Palestine" be granted non-member observer status.  Why didn't they create a member state?

Basically the only body in the UN that can take any binding decisions  is the Security Council and the five permanent members  can veto any decisions they don't like. The other ten members are taken in turn from the various regions. As  members of the council they can put things on the agenda for discussion.

In 2011 Lebanon was briefly chair of the council and proposed that the council accept the Palestinians as a state.  The Security Council referred the issue to its membership committee for investigation and the membership committee came back with inconclusive results since the Palestinians failed to meet some of the conditions of the UN charter. The committee recommended an intermediate step of granting the Palestinians observer status by the General Assembly, which apparently is the most the General Assembly can do without Security Council backing.  The issue was thus not presented to the Security Council, but maybe at a later date. The point of this decision was, I suppose, to prevent international conflict over the issue by deferring it.

Back in 1947, the Security Council decided it couldn't be bothered with the whole Palestine thing and handed the issue over to the General Assembly. That's why Israel was created by the General Assembly.    The 1947 General Assembly decision called on the UN take various actions which the Security Council refused to take, so no one actually worked to implement the decision and the new state of Israel was forced to fight for its existence, it was eventually admitted to the UN in March 1949, following a Security Council decision:

"The  Security  Council, Having  received  and  considered  the  application  of 
Israel  for  membership  in  the  United  Nations, Decides  in  its  judgement  that  Israel  is  a  peace-loving  State  and  is  able  and  willing  to  carry  out  the obligations  contained  in  the  Charter,  and  accordingly, Recommends to  the  General  Assembly  that  it  admit Israel  to  membership  in  the  United  Nations, 
Adopted  at  the  414th  meeting by  9  votes to  I  (Egypt),  with I  abstention  (United  Kingdom 
of  Great  Britain  and  Northern Ireland)."

In those days, there were less council members and US television companies broadcast UN Security Council discussions live.

Had the Security Council decided in 2012, to accept the Palestinians into the UN, the USA would almost certainly have vetoed the decision. Vetoing decisions is embarrassing for the permanent members of the Security Council and implies they lack moral authority.  That is really the most the Palestinians can aim for, but as it was no veto was required.  While this is a bit of a failure for the Palestinians, the issue is still out there and has simply been deferred for the time being.

The Israeli press have widely quoted the  Palestinians as saying they will use their new observer status to take issues to UN's International Court of Justice (at the Hague: homepage), however they may find that it makes awkward decisions for them too and even if it decides in their favor, all the court can do is make a recommendation to the Security Council on legal matters.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making peace by statistics: Professor Maoz

A fascinating article by Professor Ze'ev Maoz in Yediot Ahronot today (in Hebrew), suggests Israel might be addicted to war. Apparently Maoz ran a statistical analysis of wars over the last couple of hundred years and found that the same states were involved in most of them. For obvious reasons the Germans, Italians and Japanese gave up warfare but the British, Russians and Americans still love it and among small states,the Turks, Greeks and Israelis were ranked highly along with Egypt, Iraq and Iran.  Israel came out as the most war-prone small country in the world since 1948.
Wow I thought, that's interesting.  But then I remembered that I attended a lecture by Maoz at Tel Aviv University around the year 2,000 and that he was running these statistics even then. In that lecture he had found that countries with nuclear weapons were far less likely to go to war: In other words Nukes had indirectly kept the peace. I remember thinking great so what do we do with that.  If I remember correctly he also found something else which was interesting:  Democracies almost never went to war with each other.
Maoz' statistics became very popular. Netanyahu gave a lecture at the University of Tel Aviv and with a broad smile told us that until the Arabs adopted democracy there would be no lasting peace in the Middle East.  At the time Arab democracy seemed highly unlikely and obviously Netanyahu liked that mantra.  I'm pretty sure he must have told it to his friend George Bush, and Bush bought into it big time.
One of the aims of the US invasion of Iraq was to forcibly install democracy and when Israel withdrew from Gaza, Bush insisted there had to be free and fare elections in the Palestinian territories, The Palestinians had free and fare elections and duly elected Hamas which rejected all peace agreements signed by the PLO. They have had no free elections since.
Bush installed democracy in Iraq, and the main result was that for the first time, Iraq's largest ethnic group,the Shi'ites, took over and they then forged an alliance with Iran.  Iraq has now managed two free elections and because no ethnic group has a full majority it is possible that some level of democracy will survive.
Maybe this contributed to the Arab spring and we have recently seen free elections in Egypt, bringing the Moslem Brotherhood to power.
 Maybe these elections are a good thing but so far they hardly seem to make peace with Israel more likely.
The Israeli governments PR  body has recently produced an ad about HIV.  It features a doctor explaining that statistically people who don't have sex don't catch Aids, therefore he says to avoid catching Aids, everyone should abstain from sex.  The ad then shows various people who never have sex, including a male mermaid, a TV star, a hysterical serial dater and a robot. The punchline is that if you do need to have sex, use a condom (in Hebrew).
Maoz statistics are a bit similar. Statistically the best way to prevent warfare is to distribute nuclear weapons to everyone.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Air-raid sirens in Tel Aviv

The recent mini-war with Gaza caused a few air-raid sirens in Tel Aviv. The first caught me and the kids in the playground next to our apartment block. It's a popular playground and it was very busy.
The siren went off and there was a second when everyone looked stunned and then everybody in the playground scattered - except me who stood there wondering how seriously I should take this thing.
As luck would have it, my partner was just returning from the shops at that moment. "Come on" she said, "We have 90 seconds to take cover". So we scooped up the girls and ran over to our block, pausing to collect a man and his crying daughter, who had taken cover behind the local Likud branch, a tiny building next to our building.  We told them to join us in our stairwell.

The stairwell turned out to be packed.  There were various people who happened to be passing along and most of our neighbors. Its an old building and we have no "security rooms" which are now built as standard on new Israeli buildings and are chemical weapon and missile proof.  Our building has a bomb shelter in the basement but its dank and unpleasant and we were advised to hang-out in the stairwell on one of the lower floors, so the whole building was hanging out together.

The man and his crying daughter turned out to be tourists from Morocco of all places.  After what seemed like 90 seconds we heard a very distinct "boom", which may have been the missile defense shield blowing up the incoming missile or the missile hitting the ground. When the siren ended we went up to our apartment.

There were a few sirens in Tel Aviv, fortunately they all occurred at convenient hours of the day, mostly when I was at work and not at night.

Last week my daughter Shani (who is three years old), turned to me and said "When will there be a siren again?" I told her that was it, we'd done.  "Oh" she said, "Well in that case I'll be the siren" and she proceeded to make a fair imitation of the siren.







Sunday, December 9, 2012

What I'm reading

I'm trying a book diary... Feels like a primary school exercise.

May 2013 -

April 2013 - Righteous Victims by Benny Morris.  The most comprehensive account of the Middle East conflict, but I think it loses it a bit after Sadat comes to Jerusalem and the conclusion was a bit weak.


January 2013 - The Chosen Few - Eckstein and Botticini - An amazing book about Jewish demographics between the first century CE and the 15th century.  The authors argue that in the second century the Rabbinical leaders of the Jews took a decision to make literacy compulsory, even ordering that illiterate Jews be boycotted.  As a result there was a massive movement of Jews into Christianity (which made no such demands) while the structure of Jewish occupations switched to a focus on trade, manufacture, money lending and other occupations where literacy was an advantage. In particular there was a massive movement of Jews out of agriculture.
a lot of the material they use is based on the Cairo Geniza.


26 December 2012 - Five to Rule Them All - David Bosco - Few people seem aware that the UN Security Council pretty much runs the UN. I got his book because I felt I needed to better understand how it works, at first look I thought it was a mistake (I got it from Amazon) but its proving a real eye-opener.

9 December 2012 - The Most Human Human - Brian Christian - Nettie passed this on to me, apparently she got it following Fabiano's recomendation. A brilliantly original book and an excellent insight into making conversation by analyzing how computers fake human chat.

30 November 2012 - Bible and Sword - Barbara Tuchman - A re-read, I read this years ago. This time I particularly noticed the superb conclusion explaining why the British took over 'Palestine'. she thinks the Balfour Declaration was basically a justification for conquest. The British needed a strong justification for such a contested land and their real interest was protecting Suez and the route to India. Its interesting how many different explanations one gets for the Balfour declaration (anti-semitic influences,  desire for Jewish support, Weizmann's chemistry, evangelical influences).  I think the variety of explanations reflects how many different needs the declaration met and that juxtaposition is what led to it being made.