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Entries tagged "United Nations"

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Sometimes a Veto Means Victory

February 19, 2011 ·

Sometimes a Security Council vote can mean a victory for human rights no matter which side wins. Today’s vote on a resolution mildly condemning Israeli settlement activity is one example. If the U.S. had voted for the resolution, or even abstained and allowed others to pass it, it would have strengthened the international opposition to the Israeli occupation, and perhaps helped set the stage for greater UN and international engagement in ending the Israeli occupation and challenging Israel’s apartheid policies and other violations of human rights. It would have been a great victory. 

But instead, the U.S. vetoed the resolution – the vote was 14 to 1, with no abstentions.  On this issue once again, the U.S. stood absolutely isolated.  And ironically, that was a victory too.  Because the unity of other countries – Britain, Russia, Brazil and others spoke after the vote, expressing stronger than usual support for the anti-settlement resolution, and referencing (Britain most strongly) their recognition of a Palestinian state that may be declared in September.

In actuality, that recognition by itself is unlikely to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation; the PLO’s 1988 declaration of an independent state quickly won close recognition from close to 100 governments and the occupation intensified. But the recent moves towards greater recognition – especially from a number of Latin American countries who had not previously recognized Palestine – may foreshadow greater UN involvement in holding Israel accountable for its violations.

The U.S. had been threatening the veto for weeks. But in the last few days there had been rumors of a possible shift.  A bribe was offered: if the Palestinians would withdraw the resolution, the U.S. would accept a “presidential statement” from the Council; a diplomatic step-down from the power and enforceability of a resolution.  The Palestinian diplomats, backed by global support for the resolution and facing massive popular discontent at home because of concessions offered to Israel during peace negotiations, stood firm.  Then there was another rumor, maybe the U.S. would abstain, allowing the resolution to pass.

In the end, the Obama administration’s early threats proved accurate. The U.S. stood alone. Ambassador Susan Rice’s statement was astonishingly defensive – she went to great lengths to claim that the U.S. actually agrees with the resolution, that no one has done more than the U.S. to support a two-state solution, that the U.S. thinks settlement activity (not, we should note, the continuing existence of longstanding settlements now home to 500,000 illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, only new settlement activity) violates Israel’s international commitments and more.  She tried to convince the world that “opposition to the resolution should not be misunderstood” to mean that the U.S. supports settlement activity – only that the Obama administration “thinks it unwise” for the United Nations to try to stop that settlement activity.  She defined settlements as one of the “core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” not as a violation of international law and a host of specific UN resolutions – therefore, she claimed, the issue was just one of the wrong venue for this debate. 

We’re really against settlements, she pleaded, we just want to end them our way. On our terms.  In our peace talks.  And we all know how well that’s gone so far.

In fact, the U.S. veto in the Security Council was consistent with a long and sordid history. As of 2009, fully half of the vetoes ever cast were to protect Israel from being held accountable in the UN for violations of international law and human rights. Another -third were to protect racist regimes in southern Africa -- South Africa and pre-independence South-West Africa -- from the same accountability.  Taken together, fully five out of six or more than 80% of U.S. vetoes have been cast to protect Washington’s allies accused of apartheid practices.

The Middle East is in the throes of a new wave of democratic revolutionary motion, and it is high time Palestinians were able to be part of that wave. While the U.S. use of the veto remains part of a sordid history, this time the veto may be different. It may actually help set the stage for much greater international engagement in the United Nations that, if combined with the mobilization for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as well as growing opposition to U.S. military aid, could move once and for all to end the Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Is the UN the Right Place to Talk About Climate?

June 8, 2010 ·

UN Climate Change conference, Bonn Germany.BONN, GERMANY – When I told my friends that I was heading to Bonn, Germany for a session of the UN climate talks, they bemoaned the general lack of anything interesting to do here. Why not go to a city with verve, like Berlin — or at least one with some culture, like Munich?

But Bonn has at two compelling things going for it.

1)     There is a killer museum honoring the life and work of Ludwig von Beethoven.

2)     The world's governments are gathered here for two weeks deciding how to carve up the atmosphere — one of the greatest remaining global commons.

The meeting here in Bonn is a follow-up to the better-known climate negotiations that took place in Copenhagen last December, where little consensus was reached within the official UN spaces.

At the same meeting, President Obama pushed through what has become known as the Copenhagen Accord — a statement that largely reflects U.S. positions and interests, which has gained signatures, if not support, from a growing number of countries.

But the accord’s very existence, the secretive manner in which it was drafted and the process for getting governments’ endorsement, have generated fierce debate about the efficacy of the UN as the forum in which to solve the climate crisis.

On one side of the debate are developed countries and NGOs that tow their line (invoking the need to remain politically relevant in battles over domestic climate and other legislation back home). These guys are generally of the belief that it’s impossible to get consensus among 192 countries, and so the UN is at best irrelevant and in the worst case, fumbles any hope of an effective negotiating process (as evidence they recount the image of long lines of freezing delegates locked outside conference halls in Copenhagen).

The proposal by this camp is to pull the key issues — targets, money, legal commitments — out of the UN and into smaller group discussions whose outcomes could be fed into the official negotiations — or not.

On the other side of the spectrum are many of the social movements from the anti-corporate globalization struggle calling for an overhaul of the way we think about climate change and its solutions. This camp sees the UN as a space where political positions are easily swayed by business lobbyists and undemocratic global institutions like the World Bank. They reject the UN as an illegitimate space in which to make decisions on the behalf of those most impacted by climate change — very often the same people who are marginalized by their own governments.

These movements are calling for peoples solutions manifested on the ground in each community, woven together in networks of solidarity and social justice.

But there’s a sweet spot between these two poles. While recognizing the UN’s limitations as a facilitator of negotiations with so much at stake, and that the process which they are attempting to facilitate is between parties that are not truly representative (or necessarily democratic) — the UN is the only forum were all countries that have signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change have equal representation. And as the People’s Conference on Climate Change recently hosted by the Bolivian government in Cochabamba shows, civil society can ally itself with progressive governments to make political and substantive policy interventions in these multilateral processes.

The question that still lingers is whether the chairs of the relevant UN working groups will incorporate people's proposals — in the form of official party submissions — into the global discussion this week in Bonn.

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