Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Truth, Justice and the American Way

This week UNESCO voted with a majority of 93 votes to recognise Palestine as a separate entity for the purposes of the organisation's work:

The United States voted against, along with 13 other countries including Canada, Germany and Australia.

107 countries voted for the motion including France, Russia, China and Austria.

The United Kingdom abstained along with 51 other countries including Denmark and Georgia.

Comments from the source of these numbers:

'Most of these are no surprise, although it is worth noting the division in Europe, with Spain, France, Ireland, Austria, Finland and Greece voting “yes,” Germany, Czech Republic and Sweden voting “no,” and the UK, Italy and Denmark abstaining. It’s also probably worth noting that the US didn’t manage to get a “no” vote from such solid supporters as countries like Latvia (which voted “no” to bringing the motion to the General Assembly earlier this month but abstained today) and Tuvalu, Nauru and other island states that almost always support the US in international forums. Another formerly stalwart US supporter who voted for Palestine is Iceland. I remember chatting with an Icelandic diplomat during the Bush administration who had told me that after one particularly egregious instance of Washington dictating terms on what should have been a bilateral decision between Reykjavik and DC the US could no longer count on their automatic support in international forums.'

The United States has since cut off $60 million funding to UNESCO. The spokeswoman at the press conference stated that the USA criticised this unilateral move, which undermined their efforts at brokering a peace settlement in the Middle East.

Wikileaks (strongly attacked by the US government as a hostile force working against democracy) released the Palestine Papers earlier this year, revealing the true nature of this 'peace process'.

They revealed that the Palestinians had made concessions requested of them repeatedly, only to be greeted with indifference by the Israeli/US parties to the negotiations, who then demanded more:

Other papers revealed communications between Israel and the US describing policy to keep Gaza on the brink of economic collapse, without tipping it over to the abyss completely:

Noam Chomsky has been critical of US support for Israel, posing as an honest broker in peace negotiations, when its role is firmly partisan. Part of the problem is the economic benefit to the US arms industry that flows from the huge amount of aid given to Israel. The US government has promised $30 billion in military aid over the next decade. He also believes that the US contributes to a PR offensive to soften public opinion to accept an attack on Iran. The principal rationale is the allegation that Middle Eastern people want such a military offensive, when the idea comes from Middle Eastern dictators (allied with the US) rather than ordinary people:

What do you do when you want to enforce policies, but find yourself in the minority?

Bully and coerce by withdrawing funding. Go on the offensive with mis-information.

Who abstained?

Countries that rely on good relations with the USA... such as UK, Denmark and Georgia. It's easier to remain neutral than vote against and risk public ridicule.

When Israel voted against the motion, other delegates laughed.

The United States and some other western governments have taken action to starve Wikileaks of funding. They have targetted online payment conduits, banks and other financial institutions to ensure that money does not flow in for further revelations.

Professor Chomsky believes that the US government reveals itself as defiantly anti-democratic in its foreign policy action. He also thinks that the scare tactics about the threat to security by the leaks is a smokescreen. He cites the example of a study from a medical journal in Falluja (attacked by US forces in November 2004). They found levels of cancers, leukemias and other diseases higher than in the aftermath of Hiroshima. This was not covered in the US media, which focussed on Iran and Afghanistan:

From a Palestinian viewpoint it seems fruitless to continue negotiating with two parties, who have huge economic interests in delaying a resolution or allowing concessions from their side. It makes more sense to take another route and seek acceptance by a UN body responsible for humanitarian aid and cultural heritage. Trust networks within the UN have built up over time and recognise some of the attempts made by Israel to erase Palestinian territory, homes and culture. UNESCO has censored Israel several times for its treatment of Arab sites of archaeological significance (to little effect.)

It will be interesting to see what happens when the UN resolution is tabled to recognise Palestine as a separate state.


Israel has today decided to speed up building 2000 new settlement homes in the West Bank and withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians are appealing to the UN to intervene.

The USA and Israel have long criticsed Middle Eastern governments and held Israel as a prime example of democracy in the region.

How strange that their response to democratic election processes is to punish people for 'voting the wrong way.'

Perhaps the world does not share a common perception of democracy and dictatorship.

Update 2

Canada has also announced a cut to its UNESCO funding. It would be fascinating to have heard this week's conversations across North America between US and Canadian diplomats and politicians.

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