Russell tribunal, donors conference, H.Clinton in Israel

Press review – week from March 2 to 6, 2009

This week was marked by several events related to the Middle Eastern since it witnessed the launch of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine on Wednesday after the conference of donors for the reconstruction of Palestine in Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday, while the New U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel on Tuesday. These are for Palestine decisive events for its future reconstruction after the « Cast Lead » operation, for the possible prosecution of Israel and concerning the influence of the new U.S. administration on the future Israeli government as well.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine has been launched on Wednesday during a press conference in Brussels, the press agency Belga reported. In the spirit of the Russell Tribunal on war crimes in Vietnam, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine seeks to « reaffirm the primacy of international law as a basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. » Experts committees and witnesses are now responsible for establishing facts and legal arguments to be submitted to the Tribunal. Once the records of charges made and the witnesses heard, the court sessions will be held early 2010 in several capitals. A jury composed of personalities will then be tasked to put forward conclusions. As initiators of the project, Ken Coates, Chairman of the Bertrand Russell Foundation for Peace, Leila Shahid, General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg and Nurit Peled, Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, presented the background and the reasons which led to request the appointment of this Tribunal.
Info Palestine considers that this court is not aiming at telling what the law is since other authoritative bodies have already expressed it, including the International Court of Justice in its opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory (…) It is rather to address the failure of the application of law even though it has been clearly identified.

The blog Free Palestine of le Mouvement citoyen pour la Palestine recalls the history of the Russell Tribunal, which met for the first time under the chairmanship of Jean-Paul Sartre in Stockholm in 1967 and focused on the aggression by the U.S. government of the Vietnamese population. This court was created after the revolt of intellectuals towards the impunity of the United States after the Vietnam War (among them Bertrand Russell, Lelio Basso, Guenther Anders, Jean-Paul Sartre, James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir, Lazaro Cardenas, Stokely Carmichael, Isaac Deutscher, Gisèle Halimi, Laurent Schwartz). The objective of such a court was to “pronounce moral judgments (court of conscience) in cases where existing laws do not consent to trial and normative judgments. » The Russell Tribunal on Vietnam has had a significant impact on international public opinion by producing a work of rigorous expertise and relying on a strong media coverage generated by the intellectual and artistic personalities involved in the movement.

In the 1970’s, the Russell Tribunal II, chaired by Lelio Basso, held three sessions in Rome, Brussels and Rome for a ruling on the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Latin America.

The donors’ conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh for Palestine

The opening of the Russell Tribunal was held in a particular context since it has been closely following the donors’ conference in Sharm el-Sheikh for the reconstruction of Palestine.

On March the 2nd, Sharm El Sheikh hosted a donors conference attended by 75 delegations from the whole world in order to raise 2.8 billion dollars in aid to rebuild Gaza. However, the conference has raised almost twice the Palestinian request with no less than 4481 billion dollars for the next two years, exposes the Algerian newspaper El Watan. However, donors have promised such an amount of money, having the guarantee that it would not go to Hamas. In addition, participants agreed that there can be no reconstruction without pursuing the peace process. « The efforts of reconstruction and development remain inadequate, powerless and threatened in the absence of a political settlement, » said Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. The latter has called U.S. President Barack Obama to act to « save the peace process at a time when Israel is preparing itself to get the most right-wing government of its history. » The French president asked for a summit to revive peace this spring in Europe. « We must encourage the parties to set a timetable leading before the end of this year to the signing of an agreement and the creation of a viable Palestinian state, democratic, modern, living alongside Israel » said Sarkozy. For the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, the priority should go to the reopening of crossing points from Gaza controlled by Israel, supported by entrepreneurs and businessmen Palestinian in Gaza. A meeting of the Quartet (UN, EU, USA, Russia) was held on the sidelines of the donors’ conference to revive the idea of a national unity government of Palestine.

An AFP article recalled the reject of the conclusions of the conference by Hamas. « Participants at the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, in the lead which the U.S. administration, have used the enormous need for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip for political purposes to put pressure and blackmail Hamas », said the spokesman of the Islamist movement in a statement, AFP reported. According to Hamas, the conference did not find any agreement on the mechanisms or timing of reconstruction, nor taken any « concrete decisions to end the suffering of the Gaza Strip and the Israeli lift from the siege and opening of the crossings », cutting that territory from the outside world.

The U.S. Secretary of State in Israel

It is also about the relationship between the new U.S. administration and the future Prime Minister B. Netanyahu that the week has been particularly outstanding. Indeed, Tuesday, the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited Israel. She reiterated the need to create a Palestinian State, a solution which she presented not only as « inevitable » but « in the interest of Israel, » reports Le Figaro. Nevertheless, this is a solution to which B. Netanyahu remains opposed to the moment. However, being mindful to avoid a crisis with the U.S. ally, Benyamin Netanyahu tried during their interviews to find an expression vague enough to appease the United States without breaking with his political allies. About Iran, seen as the first threat by Israeli leaders, Hillary Clinton has sought reassurance while Israeli officials say they want to obtain guarantees on the dialogue that Barack Obama intends to engage with Tehran, Tzipi Livni saying that the economic sanctions imposed so far by the international community to Iran remain « ineffective. » The Hebrew State has also emphasized the need not to exclude any option, including a military attack against the Iranian nuclear facilities.

The Israeli daily Haaretz pointed that Hillary Clinton denounced on Wednesday the Israeli plan to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as a violation of its international obligations, unhelpful to the peace efforts in the Middle East. « The Secretary of State also reiterated her strong support to Mr. Abbas, saying that « the Palestinian Authority is the only legitimate government of the Palestinian people. » Mrs. Clinton also criticized the plan for « economic peace » advocated by Benjamin Netanyahu since an economic initiative without a political solution would have no chance of success according to her. Hillary Clinton reminded the Israelis that Israel should keep its commitments to the Roadmap, which involves the freezing of settlements construction. The Secretary of State said that Washington would continue to support Israel and its new government but would not hesitate to express its positions.

The New York Times looks to the consequences on Syria of the new Obama administration. For the newspaper, seeking an understanding with Syria, which cultivated ties with Iran, the United States could increase pressure on Iran to push it to respond to their offer of direct negotiations. Such agreements would give the Arab states and Palestinian moderates sufficient political cover to negotiate with Israel, weakening Hamas. « We have a Syrian government that wants to engage » says in the NY Times Martin S. Indyk, former ambassador to Israel and peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. However, the Israeli public opinion reflects a widespread opposition to the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.