Poverty Trap

Aspiration inequality leads to a poverty trap. [dhr] [dhr] [dropcap]I[/dropcap]n recent years there has been much debate as to whether a poverty trap exists in society today, and if so, why it continues to persist. Economists are divided. Those such as Jeffrey Sachs (an aid optimist), believe that for some reason poor countries are trapped in poverty: they are poor just because they were poor in the first place. There are possibilities to extricate themselves and make steps towards affluence, however this can only come with considerable resource help (financial or otherwise). Other economists on the other hand, such as William Easterly (an aid pessimist), believe that countries have become rich after being poor just as well as rich countries have become poor: poverty is not permanent, therefore the poverty trap cannot exist. There are two dominant psychological views of poverty and the poor. The rational choice view dictates that the poor act like consistent humans with well-defined preferences. They adapt to their environment in the best way possible: they are poor but rational. The primary alternative to this is the pathology view: the view that there are psychological pathologies which are particular to the poor. This view spans many stances – from views that the poor are impatient and lack planning ability, or that they are simply irrational. These views are relatively simple to refute, however one view which has developed considerably in recent times it that the poor lack the capacity to aspire. What is central to the argument is the concept of the individual. The broad consumer has wants and desires – simple commodities such as marriage and respectability – which are derived from a more fundamental concept: that of aspirations. These aspirations, found in every human, are formed from various forms of social relations. The argument points toward aspiration inequality: inequality in people’s capacity to aspire. Those in rich countries typically will have higher aspirations whilst those in poorer countries will be less conscious of the connections between their aspirations and the commodities which are available to them. This comes about because firstly the poor have less experience than the rich – they are unable to draw aspirations and commodities together because they have little experience of doing so. And secondly, they have fewer opportunities than the rich to experience what choices they can make to fundamentally change their well-being. Essentially the poor have little choice relative to the rich, and, as such, have a limited capacity to aspire. As such, the poor find themselves in an ‘aspiration trap’ and ultimately all choices the poor individual makes may well be sub-optimal due to their inability to foresee the potential of their own preferences. It is this aspiration inequality which leads to a poverty trap. Individuals form their aspirations as a result of what they believe is feasible, and ultimately individuals may set upon their entire life with aspirations lower than what they are truly capable of achieving. This behavioural bias combined with the greater risk which the poor are susceptible suggests that a poverty trap is ever more likely to occur. Take education – children who fall behind and cannot catch up due to a lack of resources (a position which the poor often themselves in) ensure that a poverty trap persists. Of course, aspiration inequality alone is not the sole cause of the poverty trap. Market and institutional failure certainly play a considerable role in the persistence of poverty, but perhaps more important in this 21st century world are the social norms and beliefs which accompany the state and legal systems which fail to break through the poverty trap which haunts so many countries.

Gender Of Universal Human Rights

Are ‘Universal Human Rights’ Gendered?
{Department of Politics, University of Manchester}



Liberalism is no longer suitable as the principle philosophical foundation for human rights thinking.
Christian Bay

Violence against women – including assault, mutilation, murder, infanticide, rape and cruel neglect – is perhaps the most pervasive yet least recognised human rights issue in the world.
Lori Heise

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or human rights to be legitimately universal, their ontological claims, or their ‘givens’, must reflect a fixed and accessible reality. They must locate values which are meaningful to everyone at any given time. They must also apply universally by appealing to the ‘fundamentals’ of ‘human nature’. Therefore, human rights, as a practice of international politics, should locate a singular, universal morality by which to live by and should apply universally to any given life that is taking place today and in the future. In this essay, particularly drawing on the work of V. Spike Peterson (1990) and Veronique Pin-Fat (2000, 2010), I will show that this is an (im)possible pursuit. There are fundamental presumptions which shape the normative order we promote and, in varying degrees, practice. The ethos at the centre of this essay is made clear by V. Spike Peterson when she claims that ‘becoming conscious of deep structure assumptions enable us to recognise and critically examine patterns at the surface level of concrete manifestations’ (Peterson (1990:304). By understanding what we have incorrectly presumed to be universally true we are able to challenge the resulting practices. Specific to this essay, by exposing a ‘masculine’ focused gender dynamic within the presumptions of human rights discourse it becomes possible to explain why some people are not entitled to the same rights as others. Moreover, by destabilising the supposed universality of human rights we politicise their formation giving those who are currently silenced and ignored by human rights discourse a chance to speak.

This essay is therefore an attempt to expose the theoretical foundations of human rights as gendered. It will show that universal claims within human rights discourse are actually illusionary and rely on the exclusion of political difference and that it is this process which occurs across gendered lines. In order to do this it must be shown that human rights contain a masculinist ontology – an understanding of human nature imposed by taking the standpoint of men (more specifically elite, white men) as generic where a male-as-norm position is taken feminine existence is ignored. For the purpose of this essay I would like to break down this critique of human rights as masculinist by taking three areas which make up their ontology; these are ideas about ‘the individual’, ‘human nature’ and ‘rationality’ which construct our dominant notions of human rights. By focusing on the limitations of the ontology of human rights I hope to go some way to explain the methodological and epistemological failings which follow.

The Individual – securing masculine domination

Human rights are based upon a liberal notion of the individual. Feminists from different backgrounds have made significant attempts to show that this individual is ‘masculine’ (Pateman 1989, Nash 1998, Peterson 1990). It follows from this that governmental structures based upon a ‘masculine’ individual must be ignorant or aggressive towards difference. Kate Nash provides three ways in which to understand ‘masculine’ that are useful here. Firstly, it may refer to a desire to become detached and judge by rational universal principles. Secondly, it may refer to the way differences in the way the sexes have been historically positioned; as mothers or breadwinners for example. This positioning is often antagonistic concerning differences between men and women. Finally, it may also mean ‘masculine’ by association with ‘man’ or ‘men’ within the theory itself (Nash 1998:29). I will now use these three ideas in conjunction with the scholarship of feminists seeking to expose the gendered structure of the individual while referring, in a more focused way, to the ‘masculine’ individual with international human rights discourse.

Rational Man/Men

Seyla Benhabib provides a critique of classical contract theorists who wish to express the individual as an ‘autonomous self’ totally detached from context in which they exist (Benhabib 1987:159). She argues that we see this desire in Hobbes when he wishes to imagine the world in a way that women’s existence disappears from the picture. Hobbes states ‘let us consider men… as if even now sprung of the earth, and suddenly, like mushrooms, come to full maturity, without all kind of engagement to each other’ (Benhabib 1987:161). By theorising the world in this way Hobbes is able to separate sons from their mothers and free them from any form of biological or social dependence on ideas of femininity. This critique is not limited to Hobbes, it is apparent in the scholarship of many liberal theorists. An ‘ideal observer’ utilised by David Hume (amongst many others), ‘categorical imperative procedure’ undertaken by Kant, an ‘impartial spectator’ in Adam Smith’s work, Rousseau’s ‘general will’ and John Rawls’ ‘original position’ all suggest a desire to wish away context and establish a certain position as somehow ‘impartial’ when in fact they rely on the exclusion of difference (and most often require the silence of women).

Peterson argues that this critique follows through into human rights discourse. She states that a human rights model ‘presupposing atomistic individuals with equal potential for rationality is congruent with the autonomous moral agent of Kantian justice’ (Peterson 1990: 304). It could therefore be argued that the individual subject of human rights therefore relies on the exclusion of feminine difference in order to appear universal. This idea is prominent in the work of Veronique Pin-Fat. In what she terms the ‘(im)possibility’ of universal human rights she argues that all ‘universal’ thought relies on the subordination, but never quite separation, of difference. Drawing on the work of Derrida, she argues that this difference will always haunt principles which are established as universal; meaning that they are always doomed to conjunctive failure. This is because they do not depict an objective reality but a particular discursive one constructed through language at the expense of alternative thought. The ‘universality’ of human rights rely on the ability to maintain the facade that they are ‘impartial’ and ‘objective’ which, in turn, relies on the silencing of all bodies associated with difference. If all those who are subordinated remain silent then the regime appears balanced and fair. It is only be exposing the gender dynamic within human rights that they can be challenged.

Gender Roles

The liberal individual has been critiqued as ‘masculine’ by feminists because it has been associated with roles that have been limited to the possession of men. The individual of modern political theory is invariably a head of household, traditionally a position that only men have held (Nash 1998:30). Also, qualities such as ‘rationality’, ‘independence’, ‘public’, ‘political’ and ‘civil’ are associated with masculine behaviour while femininity has traditionally been associated with their binary opposites. The construction of men as possessors of these qualities make them appropriate political subjects while women are more likely to be seen as dependants or completely ignored. John Stuart Mill defines labour as a contract between two free and equal individuals. Gatens critiques this understanding as exclusionary because this is an understanding of wage relations which cannot be applied to the work that women carry out in the home (Gatens 1992:36). Through his grammar, Mill has presumed that unpaid labour by women is a natural precondition of wage-labour outside the home (Gatens 1992:34-9). Without this presumption the existence that Mill theorises would not be possible.

The priority of ‘civil and political rights’ in human rights literature relies on the same presumption of John Stuart Mill and many other classical liberal theorists. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) defines the family as entitled to ‘protection from society and the state’ (Parisi 1998: 145). This statement confirms the complete privacy of the family from international justice. This is arguably a gendered process because it is within the family that many women are abused; whether through battery, rape or domestic servitude. Feminists have claimed that civil and political rights therefore provide no protection for women who face violence in the private sphere; women’s existence is ignored and made invisible (Mackinnon 2007:43). The unequal and ‘inhuman’ treatment of women in the private sphere allows men to enjoy their relative freedom and respect in the public sphere. The individual, in practice, is male because a significant body of human rights can only be claimed by those who function in the public sphere (MacKinnon 2007:9).

Defined Against the Feminine

Just as a particular understanding of ‘masculine’ is reliant on a corresponding understanding of ‘feminine’, an understanding of the word ‘individual’ finds its meaning in relation to other words. Within this understanding the ‘individual’ is an empty signifier like all other words. Poststructuralists have shown that there is no metaphysical meaning beneath language and therefore meaning is always discursive and attempts to fix definitions are political and exclusionary (Pin-Fat 2010: ch.6). All attempts by liberal theorists to define the ‘individual’ as masculine are political moves based upon the exclusion of another. Since the scholarship of Simone de Beauvoir feminists have been keen to expose this strategy. De Beauvoir stated that ‘he is the subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other’ (De Beauvoir 1974: xix). Taking up this position Carole Pateman states that for classical liberal theorists ‘men alone have the attributes of free and equal ‘individuals’… women are born into subjection’ (Pateman 1988:41). Taken together we see the idea that men’s civil freedom is reliant upon women’s private subordination and that men’s status as ‘individual’ relies upon women’s status as ‘other’. The notion of the ‘individual’ in its current form is premised on women’s exclusion.

Under feminist analysis this relationship of masculine dominance and feminine subordination is clear within definitions of citizenship in human rights. Charlesworth argues that the structure and institutions of international legal order set up under the United Nations reflect and ensure ‘the continued dominance of a male perspective’ (Charlesworth in Peters 1995:104). This argument is supported by statistics which suggest that women are either unrepresented or underrepresented in national and global decision-making processes and are often restricted to insignificant and subordinate roles (Charlesworth in Peter 1995:104). Male domination of human rights discourse has meant that the focus when constructing what counts as a human right has been issues that affect men while ‘women’s concerns’ reflect a distinct and limited category. Within the most significant human rights declarations, courts and international political organisations women’s rights are ‘othered’ to human rights. Human rights are gendered because they rely on particular notions of masculinity in order to fill them with meaning while denying the existence or the importance of over 50 percent of the population. As Peterson argues, human rights are ‘gender specific’ in a world where they can’t afford to be (Peterson 1990:306).

Human Nature – Being (hu)man

In order to establish a fixed notion of ‘human rights’ we must make specific assumptions about ‘human nature’ and we must adopt a particular ontology concerning the social make-up of the political subjects and relations with ‘others’. This is problematic, however, because when we do this we establish particular formations of power as natural and unquestionable and therefore depoliticised. Although this is a poststructuralist feminist position, radical feminists have also tried to show that no element of human rights is ‘impartial’ and that ‘behind all law is someone’s story – someone whose blood, if you read closely, leaks through the lines’ (Mackinnon 1993: 84). Here we see relative unity (at least for feminists) over the idea that claims to impartiality and objectivity are authoritarian and rule out ways of thinking differently. Deconstructing ‘human nature’ involves feminist questioning into how the particular representation of the ‘human’ is constructed and at who’s expensive (Pin-Fat 2000:669). Postpositivist feminists have been particularly active in attempting to explain how it is the things that are taken as ‘given’ which rule out women attaining human rights and overcoming oppression (Peterson 1990:303). This position has been communicated in many different ways, for example, Mackinnon argues that ‘human rights principles are based upon experience, but not that of women’ (Mackinnon 1993: 84). It has been argued, therefore, that human rights rely on a simplistic gender binary which excludes women.

Human Nature(s)

How the dominant culture seeks to represent their lived reality constructs the ‘official’ version – the norm – by which all alternatives are assessed (Peterson 1990:217). This generates an A/Not-A model in which deviations from the norm are subordinated. Anything associated with Not-A may be punished, rejected, found amusing, ignored; Not-A is never given the same respect as A (Prokhovnik 2007:12-25). The power of the idea of ‘human nature’ is therefore in naming. Defining one’s social reality in one’s chosen image is a political move which has detrimental effects on all other alternative ways of understanding and describing how we ‘really are’. Not-A is silenced by the dominance of A’s representations of self.

This has led postpositivist feminists to claim that men have illegitimately claimed the right to define a singular ‘human nature’ and in doing so have taken control of all structures which pre-ontologically accept this masculine ‘human nature’. In Okin’s extensive review of Western political theorists, such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel and others, she argues that men are defined in such ways that overlap with the ways we prefer to understand human nature while women are defined against them (Okin 1992). For example, Kant’s model of moral agents is based upon ‘rational beings’ where women ‘lack these humanly essential characteristics’ (Okin 1992:143). Kant defines women as unable to think logically while simultaneously associating humanity with rational thought. By doing this he establishes women as ‘inhuman’; contrary to the values with associate with humanity. More explicitly Kant states that women ‘do something only because it pleases them… I hardly believe that the fair sex is capable of principles’ (in Okin 1992:152). Women are characterised as not only inhuman but also unqualified to be rights holders.

The adoption of this position is often not obvious in the ‘gender-neutral’ treaty language (although sometimes it is). It is much more obvious, however, in the practice of international human rights. When women are abused in ways that are unique to women human rights legislation does not seem to apply (Mackinnon 2007:32). This is, arguably, because human rights are defined upon a human nature that is only applicable to men. Whereas men have great reason to fear their political and civil rights being violated in the public sphere they have much less reason to worry about being trafficked as sex slaves, forced motherhood, domestic servitude and other offensive which often occur in ‘private’. This is why human rights have often done very little to help women in these circumstances. The presumptions of the men who constructed human rights based upon what they thought counted as important to humans render the lives of women ‘inhuman’. The (mis)treatment of women in human rights follows from their status as oppositional and inferior to men and therefore their identity as bodies which are not worthy of respect.

The idea that international human rights are gendered becomes apparent when we start to think in alternative ways; many which are not possible through mainstream analysis. For example, we may ask: how do human rights protect humans from gender based violations? What we find is that no international crime recognises what Andrea Dworkin calls ‘gynocide’ or what Dianna Russell and others call ‘femicide’ – the destruction of women as women (Mackinnon 1997:192). This is a practice that occurs in reality and yet is absent from law. The power of the law lies as much with what it is able to ignore as what it is able to focus upon. Although international law may not actively support violations against women, by completely ignoring this it means that these violations don’t even count as human right offenses. If human rights legislation truly saw women as humans then surely they would be protected against sex-selective abortions, female infanticide, deprivation on the basis of sex, sexual abuse in childhood, rape, battering, dowry burning, ‘honour’ killings, homophobic violence, forced sterilisations, rape/death camps in war and prostitution as sexual slavery. In their current formation human rights do not explicitly or significantly address any of these issues. By only addressing concerns that men have within current practices of international politics these issues are not relevant to human rights. In the few cases where women are able to appeal to their human rights they are forced to appeal to legislation which doesn’t quite fit to the offensive committed against them (Mackinnon 2007: ch. 3).

Rationality – Rationalising exclusion

By exposing the historical contingency and conceptual inadequacy of a ‘universal’ concept of reason, feminists such as Raia Prokhovnik have sought to destabilise exclusive notions of rationality (Prokhovnik 2007:12-25). They argue that dominant ideas of ‘rationality’ in western political theory are gendered and rely on the exclusion of women. The target of their meta-theoretical criticism has been Cartesian dualism where the body and mind are theoretically separated and preference is given to the mind. The idea that the mind can become disembodied and disembedded reflects the broader notion that we are able to reject our political context and discover rationality in its ‘pure’ form. Although this may produce a set of principles that appear universal, they are not. Principles cannot be universal if they rely on the expulsion of difference. They are merely particular principles asserted as universal above all other alternative ways of theorising. Pin-Fat has also shown that the particular can never be truly separated from the abstracted principles and that universal claims will remain haunted by the particularity they wish to expel (Pin-Fat 2000).

Poststructuralist feminists have also attempted to show that this process is gendered. It is women who have generally been associated with particularity and context in which men must reject to find ‘pure’ rational principles. Traditionally, women have been associated with emotion while men are associated with rationality. This arrangement prevents women from being considered political agents while political agency is associated with rationality and therefore limited to men. The effect of both social practices around rationality, and ideas and discourses around reason, has been to discriminate against women and naturalise their subordination (Prokhovnik 2007:13). If this idea can be seen to permeate human rights discourse it can been shown that human rights make presumptions about gender that perpetuate women’s subordination.

Rationality and Human Rights

Richard Rorty explains how Serbian men were able to rationalise the torture and mass murder of Muslim men, women and children by distinguishing between humans and animals (Rorty 1993:112). By making claims that Muslims are ‘animals walking about in humanoid form’ they are able to treat them in ways that they would never treat people they perceived as human beings (Rorty 1993:113). This type of behaviour is not limited to those wanting to torture and murder. You and I may try to understand the behaviour of the Nazis as ‘inhuman’ or refer to individual Nazis as ‘animals’. This is a way of supporting our particular notion of how humans should and shouldn’t behave. By condemning behaviour we don’t approve of as inhuman we ‘other’ it to our own principles based upon our own particular rationality. This also shows us that ‘human’ is not a universal term, at any time someone may be accused of being ‘non-human’ and therefore subject to treatment that someone categorised as ‘human’ would have to endure. There are also other ways of doing this. For example, if the British legal system decides that you may be a ‘terrorist’ you will be treated in ways that other suspected criminals aren’t. This may include more time spent in custody and zero contact with friends and relatives. The argument here is that how we define a person allows us to treat them in different ways. If they happen to be defined in a way that we dislike then we may be legitimately able to mistreat them, torture them or even kill them.

It is possible to show that the exclusion of women in human rights discourse has been rationalised. For example, the term ‘man’ has been used synonymously with ‘human’. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights encourages us to ‘act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’ (MacKinnon 1999:42). Article 23 demands that we pay ‘everyone who works’ and goes on to state that this ensures a life of human dignity for ‘himself and his family’ (Mackinnon 1999:42). By defining humanity as masculine, women are subtly silenced and excluded. They are at best treated as dependants while at worst treated as deviants. Sometime the androcentric basis of human rights is not so obvious but it can be readily inferred. While the declaration confirms that ‘everyone’ has a right ‘to take part in the government of his county’ governments are still overwhelmingly run by men. Overall, the explicitly masculine language of these statements is not gender-neutral; it is literal and refers only to men.

It has been shown that the ‘human’ in human rights legislation is gendered and reliant on exclusion in the same way the Serbian military’s definitions of the ‘human’ have relied on the exclusion of Muslims. Women’s exclusion from human rights is therefore based upon a particular rationality which works to represent women as antithetical to humanity. Treating the abuse of women and the lack of protection for women in human rights discourse as anomalous is a mistake. It is part of the dominant discourse and stems from a particular way of conceptualising gender where before one must first be defined as male before being defined as human (Lyotard 1993:136). Being defined as female or feminine places you in a position which means you are of no real concern to international justice. You are placed in a fixed position where you are associated with characteristics, such as emotion, which are ignored, rejected or reviled which must be contained in the private sphere. You are therefore subject to treatment that those associated with dominant characteristics wish to bestow upon you. The subordination of women in human rights is, therefore, not just an emotional hatred expressed through legal structures but also a rationalised discourse in which women are systemically and systematically defined in a way which supports their subordination.


This essay has shown that the ‘givens’ of human rights discourse reflect a particular gendered discourse rather than objective and impartial values. They neither supply a singular, universal morality nor apply to all humans universally. The assertion of this particular discourse as universal rules out alternative ways of theorising and silences all those who are excluded. The excluded, in human rights discourse, are all those associated with femininity. By taking a male-as-norm position, human rights confirm women’s oppression. Only by exposing the particular foundations upon which universal thought is established can we re-politicise the formation of human rights and engage in a constant debate aimed towards inclusive human rights.

It has been shown that the construction of ‘the individual’ is premised upon the exclusion of women. By asserting the rights of the ‘individual’ liberal theorists concerned with rights have been able to silence women from the beginning. Their ‘givens’ taken as pre-ontological facilitate the priority of values which are associated with masculinity which provides the grounding for a limited set of principles which reflect the needs and demands of men. Women, therefore, become ‘subject to’ rather than ‘subjects of’ human rights. Feminist critiques of a singular ‘human nature’ have shown that women have been defined as deviant and opposition to human norms. Humanity is constructed alongside a particular construction of masculinity while a binary understanding of gender ensures that femininity is associated with inhumanity. Finally, it has been discussed how women’s subordination is essential to the particular rationality proclaimed by human rights discourse. Women are stripped of ‘human’ status in the pursuit of particular men asserting their own principles as universal. Women’s discursive ‘difference’ complicates universal principles and they are ‘othered’. This produces principles which appear rational, impartial and universal when they are really particular and stabilised by the exclusion of femininity.

[toggle title=”Bibliography”]
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De Beauvoir, S. (1974) The Second Sex. London: Vintage
Gatens, M. (1992) Feminism and philosophy: perspectives on difference and equality. Cambridge: Polity
Lyotard, J. (1993) ‘The Other’s Rights’ in On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993 by Shute, S. And Hurley, S (eds.) Basic Books: New York
MacKinnon (1989) Towards a Feminists Theory of the State. Harvard University Press: Cambridge
MacKinnon (1993) ‘Crimes of War, Crimes of Peace’ in On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993 by Shute, S. And Hurley, S (eds.) Basic Books: New York
MacKinnon, C.A. (2007) Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues. University of Harvard Press: London
Nash, K. (1998) Universal Difference. Macmillan Press: London
Okin, S (1993) Women in Western political thought. Princeton University Press: New Jersey
Parisi, L. (1998) ‘Are women human? It’s not an academic question’, in T. Evans (ed.) Human Rights Fifty Years On. Manchester: Manchester University Press
Pateman, C. (1989) The Disorder of Women. Polity: London
Pateman, C.(1988) The Sexual Contract. Polity: London
Peterson, V.S. (1990) ‘Whose Rights? A Critique of the ‘Givens in Human Rights Discourse’ in Alternatives XV 15:3 Summer
Pin-Fat, V (2ooo) ‘(Im)possible universalism: reading human rights in world politics’ in Review of International Studies. 26: 663-674.
Pin-Fat, V. (2010) Universality, Ethics and International Relations: A Grammatical Reading. Oxon: Routledge
Prokhovnik, R (2007) ‘Rationality’ in The impact of feminism on political concepts and debates by Blakely, G and Bryson, V. (eds.) Manchester University Press: Manchester
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VIP Lanes: Elitist Olympics?

VIP lanes reflect the elitist event that the London Olympics has become.



[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ollowing Channel 4’s show Dispatches: Olympic Tickets for Sale the other night, significant dispute was sparked about the designated lanes for the Olympic VIP.

With 108 miles of Olympic Route Network roads across London, 35 miles are special lanes designated only to the Olympic “Elite”. Unavailable to the general public and “normal” Olympic attendees throughout the event, the reality of this system of Olympic transportation is pure detriment to the vast majority who contributed to staging the Olympics in the first place; detrimental to taxi’s who claim journey costs will quadruple; detrimental to the London labour force who will have to adjust to endless diversions; and detrimental to every other form of essential transport that keeps London moving. It is impractical, nonsensical, and the irony of it all is that whilst the purpose of the VIP lanes is to increase mobility for the “Olympic Family”, this will certainly come at the cost of the rest of London having to experience relative immobility. With a government and bureaucracy predominantly occupied by those who bare elitist backgrounds, this attitude sadly but clearly seems to have fully infiltrated the Games, symbolised by this act of Olympic transport treachery.

The London Olympic Games is substantially symbolic of the elitist structure of this government. The Games are an expensive business that everybody pays for (contingency fund on behalf of taxpayers estimated to be 974 million pounds), but has seemingly become only available to those who can afford it. By ‘it’ I mean those who can pay not to get picked out of a hat to watch the very best events. With 75% of tickets supposedly on sale to the general public, what failed to be mentioned was the fact that the vast majority of these would not be applicable to the best seats or top events. Those tickets would be sold by companies such as Thomas Cook as £20000+ packages – packages that were said to provide use of the VIP lanes. This scandalous lack of promised tickets deeply and inveterately reflects what the Olympic Games have become; an event ran by money hungry products and slaves of capitalism – a system functioned for the gain of a few coming at the cost of sacrifice for many.

A further significantly frustrating qualm is that whilst England is the unhealthiest country in Europe, one of the biggest fast food giants in the world is the main sponsor for the London Olympic Games. Why? Money. McDonald’s is a main benefactor for the biggest sports event in the world. The London Olympic Games 2012 will cost nearly 10 billion pounds. Fast food is a main benefactor for obesity. The cost of obesity on the NHS per annum amounts to around four billion pounds. The VIP lanes exclude ambulances .Welcome to the First World vicious cycle. Welcome to London’s Elite Olympic Games 2012.

Lessons From Northern Ireland: Coping With Islamist Terrorism In The UK

Where should the line be drawn between ethical practices and protecting the population from terrorism?


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he increased threat of Islamist terrorism in the United Kingdom since September 11 in the US and the 7/7 bombings in London has had a significant impact on the UK government’s ability to relate to its Muslim communities, especially in the light of alleged human and civil rights violations, accusations of an emerging police state and highly controversial cases of international cooperation in counterterrorism operations. Yet we only have to look back a few short years to the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland to see that these issues are not entirely without precedent.

The start of the most significant period of violence associated with Northern Ireland can be traced to the wave of riots and civil rights demonstrations by the Catholic communities seeking redress from the predominantly Protestant Stormont regime. Fears of a Catholic ‘revolt’ led to major violence from both communities and the failure of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, also predominantly Protestant, to stymie a virtual civil war led to the British Army being called in as ‘peacekeepers’. Increased sectarianism and changing global politics caused the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to split at the end of 1969, leading to the creation of the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA (PIRA). PIRA represented the more significant and enduring threat. What should have only been a short few weeks or months of British military intervention, devolved into approximately thirty years of antagonism and violence.

The British treatment of the PIRA’s campaigns led to much criticism including corruption, collusion with Loyalist forces as well as PIRA informers, interrogation methods amounting to torture and other ethical quagmires in the intelligence gathering methodology. Whilst the Islamist threat is ostensibly different – a globally dispersed and structurally advanced network incorporating unpredictable individual-led attacks – the British treatment of this issue in either a domestic or international framework has been dogged by a learning curve which implies a lack of knowledge transfer from its long history of dealing with ‘cells’ of Republican terrorists.

In the early 1970s, 14 PIRA members were interrogated using internment and the techniques of sensory deprivation such as stress positions, lack of food or sleep, hooding and continuous uncomfortable noise – methods that, in a 1979 inquiry, were labelled as ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ liable to strengthen ‘the propaganda campaign […] for the enemies of society’. The balance here was sacrificing long-term legitimacy for short-term gains for intelligence and imminent threat disruption. At this time the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was the main policing body and took the brunt of these criticisms, but the United Kingdom government and security services were not exempt for allowing these methods to continue.

The same techniques have reportedly been used on prisoners accused of being Islamist terrorists. There have been reports of mutilation, forced nakedness and other tortures such as the removal of fingernails. In contrast to the case of PIRA members mistreated in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and in Britain, those such as Salahuddin Amin, Rangzieb Ahmed and Rashid Rauf were captured or detained in Pakistan by the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or the Intelligence Bureau (IB), two of Pakistan’s main security and intelligence agencies. They both confirmed, on several occasions, the presence of MI5 members. In some cases, the alleged MI5 members were aware that the detainees were being ‘processed in the traditional way’. Alam Ghafoor, detained in Dubai after the 7/7 London bombings, was so badly treated that, according to a consular official, he is likely to have signed confessions alluding to prior knowledge of the bomb plots. Another detainee, Zeeshan Siddiqui, was in such a terrible physical state that, upon being brought to court, the magistrate demanded that medical treatment be sought without delay.

Cicero once wrote ‘silent enim leges inter arma’ – ‘in times of war, the laws fall silent’ – and whilst most citizens would readily concede certain rights in a legitimate war, a ‘War on Terror’ does not fit the bill. Cofer Black, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA echoed Cicero in modern sporting vernacular, ‘after 9/11 the gloves came off’. However, more than stepping up the game, what the case of Islamist terror suspects highlights is a development from the Northern Ireland example in the ‘outsourcing’ of reprehensible methods and the virtual lack of an infrastructure for ethical international counterterrorism cooperation. This lacking was certainly an issue from the 1980s onwards when Prime Minister Thatcher attempted to work against the PIRA’s efforts to seek funding and arms from US-based support networks, European arms dealers as well as the PIRA’s troubling relationship with Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi. It would seem that, once again, history’s lesson has been ignored or misused in the creation of altogether more worrisome framework for liaison – strategic partnerships which allow tactical distancing from issues of accountability.

Since 9/11, what we have seen is a greater demand for openness in issues of national security and intelligence work. This need undoubtedly stems from the technological and fast-paced, information-sharing age we live in, but the ethical core of the issue remains the same. If embarrassing public inquiries are to be avoided, accountability and the long-term good of the United Kingdom’s citizens must be balanced with careful consideration. Many of these lessons could have been gleaned from the under-publicized and tardy Steven’s inquiry of 2003 into police and military collusion, which highlighted numerous failures in the military, intelligence and policing structures in Northern Ireland.

Whilst counterterrorism policy and scrutiny of police powers have come a long way since the 7/7 bombings, the virtual demonization of the UK’s Muslim citizens is only just beginning to be rectified. The main concerns are intrusive counterterrorism measures such as racial profiling and the monitoring of university students which prejudice Muslims as well as other ethno-religious communities in much the same way that ‘stop and search’ campaigns prejudicially target black people. It is easy to forget that Irish people were subject to the same invasive scrutiny in airports at the height of the Troubles. Essentially, the ethical problem between Northern Ireland and islamist terrorism has transferred from a national prejudice, to a racial and religious prejudice.

In addition, ethically dubious debates such as raising the maximum allowable period for detention without charge to 42 days has also, perhaps somewhat exaggeratedly, raised the concern of ‘special powers’ to hold suspects and gain large amounts of personal information. Reminiscent of internment without trial during the Northern Ireland Troubles, the social and political cost of such detention measures risk drastically outweighing the success of threat prevention which is seldom publicized.

The threat of terrorism does not constitute a trump card for governments to neglect or do away with civil liberties, but where do we draw the line between ethical practices and protecting the population?

Jerusalem: Stumbling Block For Peace

“Jerusalem is the main stumbling block for peace”. Discuss.
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}



[dropcap]J[/dropcap]erusalem has a turbulent history. It was oft the focal point of Abrahamic religious tension, bickering and violence throughout the last millennium, a regrettable trait that has continued to the modern day. However whilst in the past control of Jerusalem revolved (for the most part) around competing religiously motivated factions, the present sees the city being fought over by two broad nationalist ideologies as well. The bifurcation of hostility into both religious and nationalist has posed, and continues to pose, a distinct threat to regional stability given the capricious nature of the Middle East, ensuring that the solution of such a contentious issue will require great skill and diplomatic tact.

The title dictates that this paper should consider whether Jerusalem is the main stumbling block for peace. However, whilst this title prompts for an outline and comparison of the various other issues for peace in the question of Israel/Palestine, this paper will take a slightly different approach. In effect I will be writing with the title “Jerusalem: a stumbling block for peace”. In doing so the lens of the paper is focused on Jerusalem and an analysis of what makes the city an issue. I will refer to those other barriers to an agreement that exist – notably settlements and refugees – but only to disprove that they are the main issue. As such, this paper will introduce the recent history of the city through the prism of United Nations Resolutions before arguing the importance of the city and the options available in concluding a settlement. Having discussed intra-national issues and demonstrated why Jerusalem retains the prized position in intrastate issues, the paper will conclude that it is one of many pieces that must fit the puzzle before we shall see an all-embracing settlement strong enough to last the test of time. Jerusalem is a stumbling block for peace, not the main stumbling block for peace.

Before proceeding it is necessary to define ‘peace’ in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Oxford Dictionary provides two possible understandings of the word: either, ‘freedom from disturbance; tranquility’; or, ‘a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended’.[1] Neither of these attempts are ideal for our purposes. If there were to be a negotiated settlement between Israel and a newly formed state of Palestine this would undoubtedly not free either country from disturbance given the diversity of ideological thought within the two distinct nationalist bodies – a topic to be covered presently. Thus a solution to the Jerusalem issue would not provide peace by the first definition of the word as in all probability it would not bring about tranquility. The second is inadmissible in this context given that there is no war in Israel or her occupied territories at present therefore this definition would provide that there is already peace – the question clearly suggests otherwise.[2] Thus the effective title will change once more: “Jerusalem: a stumbling block for a settlement”. A settlement in this context meaning the enactment of a two-state solution.

The Resolutions: Jerusalem From 181

UN Resolution 181 (29th November 1947) dictated the terms under which the British Mandate of Palestine would come to an end, which it duly did on the 14th May 1948 prompting the first Arab-Israeli war. Resolution 181 called for independent Arab and Jewish States with Jerusalem a corpus separatum under the control of a special international regime.[3] This was not to be, for during the Arab-Israeli war Israel occupied the area to the west of Jerusalem, Transjordan the area east (including the Old City and consequently the majority of religious sites) with a slither of no man’s land separating the belligerent forces. The subsequent truce between the two nations was signed on the 3rd April 1949 on the island of Rhodes, Greece, cementing Jordanian hold over the Old City and thus limiting access to holy sites for Israelis.

UN Resolution 303 (9th December 1949) reaffirmed Jerusalem as a corpus separatum under neither Arab nor Jewish control. Given that there is no principle in legal theory that repudiates a United Nations resolution in the case of its violation, under international law Jerusalem remains a corpus separatum – ‘the only “status” or “legal status” or “specific status” which Jerusalem possesses is that laid down in resolution 181’.[4] Resolution 303 was passed by the General Assembly despite Ben Gurion’s attempts to soothe international fears: in a statement to the Knesset on the 5th December he upheld that Israel would ‘guarantee freedom of religion and conscience, of language, education and culture. It will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions. It will be loyal to the principles of the United Nations Charter’.[5] He continued, ‘we cannot imagine, however, that the U.N. would attempt to sever Jerusalem from the State of Israel or harm Israel’s sovereignty in its eternal capital’ (emphasis added).[6] The 13th December 1949 saw the Israeli Prime Minister emphatically reiterate this point: ‘for the State of Israel there has always been and always will be one capital only – Jerusalem the Eternal’.[7] The meaning, potency and relevance of this quote is clear: in the Israeli eye Jerusalem is the only Israeli capital.

Following Jordanian involvement in the Six Day War of June 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank, effectively annexing Jerusalem in the process. The government worked to unite east and west of the city, in doing so attempting to ensure that Yerushalayim would never see division reoccur: Jerusalem was to be Israel’s ‘eternal capital’.[8] The U.N. General Assembly responded with a statement calling for Israel to ‘rescind all measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any action which would alter the status of Jerusalem’.[9] The United States similarly publicly denounced the Jewish-majority state, its representative to the United Nations announcing that his ‘government regrets and deplores this pattern of activity’ and that Israel is bound to act under the provisions of international law that would ‘bind any occupier’ (a reference to the illegality of obtaining territory through war).[10] However Israel was unresponsive, she possessed her capital and she fully intended to keep it. The formal annexation was passed by the Knesset on July 30th 1980 under Israel’s Basic Law which dictated that ‘Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel’.[11] The move was castigated by both the Security Council and the Conference of Islamic States shortly after, the general consensus of world opinion being that the move ‘created a highly explosive situation which [would] threaten world peace and security’.[12]

The Importance of Jerusalem

Al-Quds, Yerushalayim, Jerusalem: three names for three severed religions that each hold sites within the city’s precincts as sacred. This is further complicated not only by mutual veneration for certain people and places, but by the difficulties presented by certain areas housing multiple holy sites – Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif being a case in point.[13] Members of each doctrine have a decided interest in the city owing to its spiritual and theological values; indeed it has been argued that Resolution 181 endowed ‘Jerusalem with an inter-national legal status compatible with its historical character and religious significance to the world’.[14] Thus, point one, the details of a settlement of Jerusalem are intrinsically an international affair.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict often has the effect of driving interested parties to the extremities of the opinion continuum, particularly the case with regard to the Muslim populations of the Middle East. Primarily the animosity felt towards Israel is a result of the numerous defeats of Arab forces at the hands of the Israeli Defence Force, but similarly due to the belief that the Israeli political system imitates an herrenvolk democracy – an issue owing to Palestinian solidarity. To complicate matters further, Muslims, especially those of Middle Eastern states, are far more likely to view their religion as an integral, requisite part of their life.[15] Given that Israel is surrounded by Muslim states whose populations have a heightened sense of faith, and given their antipathy towards the Jewish-majority state, it is clear that Middle Eastern leaders have a distinct political interest in Jerusalem. Should a settlement be perceived as denigrating to the ummah such leaders stand to lose a significant amount of prestige – there is no recourse for them to take in such a situation owing to Israel’s military might and its political support from the United States. Thus Jerusalem is unavoidably a regional affair.

Further scrutinization of the city’s importance leads us to ponder over its standing within the two broad nationalist movements. We have seen that Ben Gurion regarded Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘eternal capital’, that for Israelis it has been and will always be their cardinal city. And this is a vision shared by the Palestinians, for they regard the conurbation as the beating heart of a future Palestinian state politically, economically, culturally and spiritually.[16] Both peoples are equally as stubborn when considering the concessions needed for the stalemate to dissolve due to the importance they attach to the result of a settlement on the city. Thus, thirdly, Jerusalem is a national affair.

The final piece in this puzzle concerns those that reside in the holy city as the potential for a re-division of the city will affect both Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites. It could be argued that they represent a microcosm of all of the above; they possess concern for their respective religious sites, they are aware of the impact of a political fallout from a one-sided resolution of the issue, but more so they are in the economic firing line should things turn sour. There are various studies considering the impact of a re-division of the city; Michael Dumper’s examination focuses on the effect of a split on service and utility provisions. He posits that whilst such a split is not technically impeded, it would require significant investment in East Jerusalem and a cordial relationship between the two sides at least until the Palestinians are able to support themselves unaided.[17] Thus, to conclude this section, the issues inflicting on a settlement on the city are fourfold: international, regional, national and local.[18]

Intra-national Divisions

The purpose of this section is to demonstrate the divisions within each nationalist body with regard to the solution of the broader conflict by focusing on the Haredim – ultra-orthodox Jews – and Hamas. It is worthy of mention as whilst Jerusalem is inescapably a predominant issue in an intrastate settlement, certain developments must occur within each national body before such a settlement is viable.[19]

In 2002 Shlomo Hasson considered the power struggle between secular and ultra-orthodox Israelis in Jerusalem’s municipal elections of 1993 and 1998. He concluded that a ‘local democratic deficit’ was born, that whilst the elections fulfilled democratic criteria the resultant councils that they formed failed ‘to adequately fulfill the needs of non-Haredi groups’.[20] The Haredim are similarly becoming increasingly influential on a national scale, aided by the use of an electoral system based on proportional representation. The low qualifying threshold of 2% ensures that a wide variety of parties win seats at government, significantly reducing the prospect of a single party government and therefore precipitating the formation of a fragile coalition – Israel is in a perpetual state of hung parliament. Given the diversity of opinion within each coalition they are prone to premature break-ups, especially over vital domestic issues such as the future of Jerusalem.[21] More important is the prominence that such a political system gives to marginalized parties: they become the keystone of the alliance and therefore possess considerably more power than the electorate voted to bestow upon them.

Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination provides a clear example of the conflicting opinion within Israel over concessions awarded to Palestine. It also demonstrates the need for the government to counter the ‘ideo-theological cleavages’ in Israeli society in anticipation of a settlement to the conflict. Clive Jones asserts that ‘religious-based opposition to the Oslo Accords… among Haredi… increased markedly’ following the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, in contrast to their previous anti-Zionist stance.[22] He emphasizes that if these pockets of Israeli society are to be satisfied there must be two developments. Firstly the religious right must be brought on-board the settlement bandwagon through the use of ‘religious discourse condoning territorial compromise’, and secondly, to avert the ‘atavistic monopoly over hermeneutical interpretation exercised by religious nationalists towards the peace process’, the centre-left must partake in discourse relating to the ‘ideo-theological cleavages’.[23] In short, there must be greater effort placed on solidifying support for a settlement among the differing political and religious groups. Without such a development it is highly improbable that a religious-right influenced Knesset will make the necessary overtures.[24]

Of course it is not just the Israelis who suffer from a fragmented communal psyche: the partition among Palestinians is equally as pronounced. There are arguably only two groups that have the potential to derail a settlement program: Hamas and the al-Aqsa Brigades. Given the latter’s affiliation with Fatah, it is likely that it will be brought to heel as and when needed – as has happened in the past – and thus I shall focus solely on the former.[25]

Hamas is representative of the minority of Palestinians that align with the use of violence as the sole path to the realization of a Palestinian state. This belief is born out of two notions. Firstly, given Israeli emphasis on security, the continued use of violence affords the Palestinian cause a bargaining chip.[26] Secondly, it firmly considers Israel’s motivation to partake in a settlement as an attempt to consolidate territory by ulterior means,[27] a viewpoint that has garnered support among certain regiments of the pro-Palestine academic lobby.[28] The organization has on numerous occasions stated that no settlement process can be initiated until Israel ‘first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; [and] repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem’.[29] Whilst this distinctly gives the impression that there is no hope for optimism – Israel would never agree to such preconditions – it is notable that Hamas has suggested that a two-state solution ‘may be the only realistic way forward’.[30] Consequently there are grounds for hope that the militant body may be brought into the fold of a settlement, though such a development is only feasible should Israel commit to diplomacy with the radicals, an action which will only occur following Israeli consolidation among its ‘ideo-theological cleavages’.

The Options

Temporarily disregarding the divisions within each body, we should consider the different options for a solution of the issue at hand. Chad Emmett proposes that a system of shared sovereignty in Jerusalem – based on Suri Nusseibah’s ‘scattered sovereignty’ –[31] is the only ‘reasonable solution’ to the issue, that the city has long been occupied by different faiths and peoples who have, for the most part, been able to coexist peacefully.[32] He proceeds to give examples of such communal coexistence – both in the past and the present – attempting to demonstrate that the status quo can be duplicated and adapted to fit the modern ethno-religious conflict. The settlement of a shared city presents numerous problems and whilst this paper concurs with his assertion that it is the most realistic outcome given the situation that has presented itself, it should be noted that it is not the only recourse available.

We have seen that under international law Jerusalem was to be established as a corpus separatum, a body separated from both Israel and a Palestinian state and under the administrative control of the United Nations. One option would be to further this line of thought. Instead of placing the city under the control of an international consortium, perhaps gather elected politicians from Arab and Jewish communities, as well as representatives from each religion that has an interest in the city, to govern in a Jerusalem Council. This option would entrust power to numerous communities thus safeguarding the sacredness of Jerusalem to each, in doing so preventing any one community from acquiring a strangle-hold on the city.[33] As a consequence of multiple sites being holy to more than one doctrine and the resulting intransigence of both Palestinians and Israelis that these sites be under their own respective sovereignty, such a proposal would, unfortunately, be unlikely to be realised.

Another option would be for the city to remain undivided under Israeli authority. Clearly this would appease the Jewish-majority nation given their fear that should Israel concede sovereignty it would tempt a return to the physical division of the 1948 to 1967 period.[34] Indeed Emmett argues that this would, ‘from the standpoint of the most efficient governance and the spatial integrity of the city’, represent the optimum arrangement.[35] However thanks to Israeli policies of land appropriation, institutional separation and demographic alteration in order to Judaize Jerusalem – processes justified by the fear of a physical division of Jerusalem – the resultant distrust felt by Palestinians towards Israel prohibits such a recourse from being enacted.[36] A settlement that provides for Israeli control over the city would never be accepted by any Palestinian diplomatic delegation. Thus, in summation, there are three general solutions: Jerusalem as a modified corpus separatum; as a united Israeli city; and most feasibly as a shared city with dual ownership.[37]

The Issues of Dual Ownership

There are those who argue that as Jerusalem represents the most divisive matter it should be the first to be considered in any negotiations. The alternative proffered is that as Jerusalem is such a thorny issue it should be relegated to the bottom of the list to ensure that negotiations manifest themselves.[38] The second of these judgements was deemed to be the more appropriate given the need to attain some form of progress and thus the Oslo Agreement of 13th September 1993 excluded the topic. Instead the accord affirmed that permanent status negotiations were to commence as soon as possible, such negotiations to cover the remaining issues (including Jerusalem, refugees and settlements).[39] It would be unwise to disregard the importance of this affirmation, for the Declaration of Principles was the first document that specifically avowed that Jerusalem would be negotiated.[40]

Following the failure of the Declaration of Principles to bring about any meaningful permanent status negotiations – continued violence brought about the election of Netanyahu in 1996 and a subsequent break down in relations – a further round of talks began in July 2000.[41] The 2000 Camp David Summit, to become known as the ‘Jerusalem Summit’, was attended by Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak under the auspices of President Clinton. It brought two watersheds: not only was it the first time Israel had officially negotiated over the sovereignty of Jerusalem but it marked the first time that an Israeli Prime Minister officially considered the political split of the city, thus certifying Israeli and American recognition of Palestinian political interests in Jerusalem.[42] When one considers the lengths at which successive Israeli governments sought to ensure that Jerusalem would remain Israel’s sole capital one cannot fail to comprehend the magnitude of such an event – especially given Barak’s previous dictum dissenting to divide the holy city.[43]

There are differing accounts as to why the summit concluded inconclusively – even from within the same delegations – however it is generally accepted that Arafat rejected Barak’s ‘generous offer’ due to its suggestions on Jerusalem.[44] The two sides had agreed on Palestinian sovereignty over the Old City’s Muslim and Christian Quarters as well as control over Jerusalem’s outer Arab districts, and Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, the Wailing Wall and Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. The stumbling block: Temple Mount. Barak offered Arafat custody of the site but refused to concede sovereignty, a proposition that Arafat refused to consider, thus a settlement remained elusive. President Clinton refrained from losing sight of the objective, initiating a new round of talks in December 2000 which again resulted in failure – Arafat was offered sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif at the expense of the right of return.[45] Such a dismissal would appear to lend credence to the argument that the right of return assumes the primary negotiating aim of the Palestinian leadership, which leads us to a comparative consideration of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem: A Comparative Consideration

This paper considers there to be three chief intrastate hurdles to be clambered over before we shall see a two-state solution enacted: Jerusalem, refugees and borders/settlements. As discussed in the introduction to this paper, the inclusion of this chapter is solely to argue that Jerusalem is the principle of the three.

The preceding chapter suggests that the Palestinian leadership viewed the Palestinian refugees’ right of return as paramount in any settlement. Whilst this may have been the case under Arafat’s hegemony, it is certainly not the case now. January of last year saw The Guardian and al Jazeera release reams of Palestinian documents pertaining to talks with Israel and the United States over the path to a conclusion of the conflict. Amongst these documents were references to the right of return as a ‘bargaining chip’ by Dr. Saeb Erekat, who later confirmed to the United States Middle East Envoy George Mitchell that ‘on refugees, the deal is there’.[46] The documents provide further details of the settlement anticipated: Erekat is on record as commenting that, ‘Olmert [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] accepted 1,000 refugees annually for the next 10 years’.[47] Furthermore Mahmoud Abbas, current President of the Palestinian National Authority, is recognized as having acknowledged the illogicality of endeavoring to force the return of refugees to Israel proper given the Jewish-majority state’s demographic concerns.[48]

These papers clearly reveal that for the Palestinian hierarchy the right of return is of relatively minor concern. This is not so clear-cut among the population of the Occupied Territories. Appendix 1 reveals that a majority – 53% – of Palestinians are disinclined to agree to a deal whereby Israel would be required to absorb a similar amount of refugees as third countries would. There are two points to elucidate from these figures. Firstly that this majority has fallen by 4% over the last year, purporting to unveil that Palestinian attitudes are becoming more susceptible to the idea, and secondly, the figures detail a greater Palestinian emphasis on attaining sovereignty over Jerusalem – a difference of 6%. Thus we can deduce that from both the perspective of the leadership and the population, the issue of Jerusalem takes precedence.

Of course I have neglected to mention the final status of borders. This is something of a non-issue comparatively to Jerusalem, for not only has the final status of a Palestinian border been agreed upon numerous times (thus we can deduce that both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are content), but, as shown in Appendix 1, a majority of Israeli and Palestinian populations agree with the formation of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders with a 3% land-swap. Thus neither borders or the right of return are of comparatively greater significance to either the Palestinian leadership or the Palestinian population.

In Summation

With its plethora of doctrinal artefacts and holy sites, Israelis and Palestinians view Jerusalem as paramount to the eminence of their respective national identities. The lack of altruism displayed by both sides of this dispute ensures that in order to bring about its resolution a great amount of tact and diplomatic finesse will be required, especially when factoring in the city’s international and regional relevance.

The three distinct options for an agreement over the future state of Jerusalem converge to one when the practicalities of the situation are acknowledged; it is apparent that Palestinians will not accept Israeli sovereignty over the city, and unlikely that either of the two factions would succumb to a modified corupus separatum. Therefore Barak’s aforementioned offer to Arafat will form the basis of the eventual settlement. However, in order for said settlement to have a chance of success and for the curtain to finally fall on this conflict – resembling as it does something of a Shakespearean tragedy – each protagonist must erode their intra-national divisions in anticipation of the realization of an intrastate settlement. Thus, whilst Jerusalem is the predominant intrastate hurdle, before either side prepares to leap they must first ensure that they are capable of landing: the internal issues must be resolved before the attempt to realise the external. A settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has failed to arouse significant domestic support will ultimately flounder. As such, Jerusalem is a stumbling block for a settlement but it is not the main stumbling block.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

1 Oxford Dictionary (2012)
2 I have discounted the continuing war – or rather the lack of a peace agreement – with Saudi Arabia, Syria etc. given that the question implicitly insinuates peace with the Occupied Territories.
3 See Cattan (1981), pp. 7-8 for a consideration of the corpus separatum
4 Cattan (1981), p. 9
5 State of Israel (2003)
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Albin (2005), p. 344
9 United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/2253 (ES-V), 4 July 1967
10 US Permanent Representative to the U.N. Charles Yost, before United Nations Security Council, 1 July 1969
11 Israel’s Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, 30 July 1980
12 Cattan (1981), p. 4
13 Emmet (1997), p. 19
14 Cattan (1981), p. 8
15 Ipsos Mori (2011)
16 Albin (2005), p. 345
17 Dumper (1993), pp. 93-94
18 Albin (2005), p. 344
19 See Barak (2005) for an affirmation that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles an intrastate conflict as supposed to interstate or international.
20 Hasson (2002), p. 9
21 Rowley & Webb (2007), p. 9
22 Jones (1999), p. 10
23 Ibid., p. 10-11
24 Rowley & Webb (2007), p. 10
25 Gunning (2004), p. 233
26 Ibid., p. 243
27 Ibid., p. 243
28 See Harris (2001), p. 3513
29 Al-Zahar (2008), p. 165
30 Gunning (2004), p. 241
31 Emmet (1997), p. 17
32 Ibid., p. 16
33 Emmet (1997), p. 16
34 Albin (2005), p. 345
35 Emmet (1997), p. 17
36 Abowd (2004), p. 6; Albin (2005), p. 346
37 Emmet (1997), p. 16
38 Koshy (1995), p. 1289
39 Article V, Olso Agreement, 13 September 1993
40 Albin (2005), p. 346
41 Kydd & Walter (2002), p. 263
42 Albin (2005), p. 348
43 Ibid., p. 346
44 Abowd (2004), p. 9
45 See Peace Monitor (2001), pp. 127 for a consideration of the ‘layered sovereignty’ proposal put before Arafat. Whilst the PA feared for the safety of the Haram should Israel proceed to excavate underneath it, the foremost worry was the political retribution that would occur should Arafat publicly announce the dissolution of the Palestinian right of return.
46 The Guardian (2011), ‘Palestinians agreed only 10,000 refugees could return to Israel’
47 The Guardian (2011), The Palestine Papers: ‘Clinton told us to be quiet’
48 The Guardian (2011), ‘Palestinians agreed only 10,000 refugees could return to Israel’

Al-Zahar, Mahmud [Hamas Foreign Minister] (2008), ‘No Peace Without Hamas’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 165-166

Abowd, Thomas (2004), ‘Carving up the Capital’, Middle East Report, No. 230, pp. 4-11

Albin, Cecilia (2005), ‘Explaining Conflict Transformation: How Jerusalem Became Negotiable’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 339-355

Barak, Oren (2005), ‘The Failure of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process’, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 42, No. 6, pp. 719-736

Bell, Christine (2006), ‘Peace Agreements: Their Nature and Legal Status’, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 100, No. 2, pp. 373-412

Biton, Yifat & Saloman, Gavriel (2006), ‘Peace in the Eyes of Israeli and Palestinian Youths: Effects of Collective Narratives and Peace Education Program’, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 42, No. 2, pp. 167-180

Cattan, Henry (1981), ‘The Status of Jerusalem under International Law and United Nations Resolutions’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 3-15

Dumper, Michael (1993), ‘Jerusalem’s Infrastructure: Is Annexation Irreversible?’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 78-95

Emmet, Chad F. (1997), ‘The Status Quo Solution for Jerusalem’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 16-28

The Guardian (2011), Palestinians agreed only 10,000 refugees could return to Israel, [online] Available at: http://guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/24/palestinians-10000-refugees-return-israel [Accessed 22 January 2012]

The Guardian (2011), The Palestine Papers: ‘Clinton told us to be quiet’, [online] Available at: www.guardian.co.uk/world/palestine-papers-documents/4660 [Accessed 21 January 2012]

Gunning, Jeroen (2004), ‘Peace with Hamas? The Transforming Potential of Political Participation’, International Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 233-255

Harris, Nigel (2001), ‘Collapse of Peace Process’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 36, No. 37, pp. 3513-3517

Hasson, Shlomo (2002), The Struggle for Hegemony in Jerusalem: Secular and Ultra-Orthodox Urban Politics (Jerusalem: The Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies)

Ipsos Mori (2011), How Much Does Religion Matter?, [online] Available at: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/newsevents/latestnews/810/How-much-does-religion-matter.aspx [Accessed 22 January 2012]

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1997), Jerusalem Urban Development – Economic Characteristics, [online] Available at: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1990_1999/1998/6/Jerusalem%20Urban%20Development%20-%20Economic%20Characteris [Accessed 20 January 2012]

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1997), Jerusalem Urban Development – Tourism in Jerusalem, [online] Available at: www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1990_1999/1998/6/Jerusalem%20Urban%20Development%20-%20Tourism%20in%20Jerusalem [Accessed 20 January 2012]

Jones, Clive (1999), ‘Ideo-Theology and the Jewish State: From Conflict to Conciliation?’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 9-26

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Koshy, Ninan (1995), ‘New US Policy on Jerusalem’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 30, No. 22, pp. 1288-1289

Kydd, Andrew & Walter, Barbara F. (2002), ‘Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence’, International Organization, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 263-296

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Peace Monitor (2001), Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 126-146

Rabbani, Mouin (2008), ‘A Hamas Perspective on the Movement’s Evolving Role: An Interview with Khalid Mishal: Part II’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 59-81

Rowley, Charles K. & Webb, Michael J. (2007), ‘Israel and Palestine: The Slow Road to Peace or the Fast Track to Mutual Annihilation’, Public Choice, Vol. 132, No. 1/2, pp. 7-26

Shamir, Michael & Arian, Asher (1999), ‘Collective Identity and Electoral Competition in Israel’, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 93, No. 2, pp. 265-277

Sharkansky, Ira (1997), ‘The Potential of Ambiguity: the Case of Jerusalem’, Israel Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 3/4, pp. 187-200

State of Israel (2002), The Electoral System in Israel, [online] Available at: www.knesset.gov.il/elections16/eng/about/electoral_system_eng.htm [Accessed 20 January 2012]

State of Israel (2003), Statements of the Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion Regarding Moving the Capital
of Israel to Jerusalem, [online] Available at: http://www.knesset.gov.il/docs/eng/bengurion-jer.htm
[Accessed 20 January 2012]

Wald, Kenneth D. & Martinez, Michael D (2001), ‘Jewish Religiosity and Political Attitudes in the United States and Israel’, Political Behaviour, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 377-397

Yousef, Ahmed [Hamas Political Adviser] (2008), ‘Open Letter to U.S. Secy. Of State Condoleezza Rice on the Annapolis Conference, 7 December 2007’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 204-206

[toggle title=”Appendix 1″]

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research & Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace (2011), Increase in Palestinians’ and Israelis’ willingness to compromise amidst climate of feud and mistrust, [online] Available at: http://www.pcpsr.org/survey/polls/2011/p42ejoint.html [Accessed 22 January 2012]
  • East Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state, West Jerusalem the capital of the Israeli state. Arab neighbourhoods under Palestinian sovereignty, Jewish neighbourhoods under Israeli sovereignty. The Old City bar the Jewish Quarter and the Wailing Wall would come under Palestinian sovereignty, with the two named exceptions under Israeli sovereignty.
December, 2011 December, 2010
Palestinians 40% support, 59% oppose 36% for, 63% against
Israelis 38% support, 60% oppose 38% for, 58% against
  • Refugees would be able to choose from: the Palestinian state and the Israeli areas transferred to the Palestinian state as mentioned below; no restrictions would be imposed on refugee return to these two areas. Residency in other areas (host countries, third countries, and Israel) would be subject to the decision of these states. As a base for its decision Israel will consider the average number of refugees admitted to third countries like Australia, Canada, Europe, and others. All refugees would be entitled to compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.
December, 2011 December, 2010
Palestinians 45% support, 53% oppose 41% for, 57% against
Israelis 42% support, 51% oppose 36% for, 52% against
  • Israel to withdraw completely from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip except for several large blocks of settlements in 3% of the West Bank which would be annexed to Israel. Palestinian state to form in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza and will in turn annex approx 3% of Israeli territory.
December, 2011 December, 2010
Palestinians 63% support, 36% oppose 49% for, 50% against
Israelis 51% support, 44% oppose 49% for, 43% against


Human Rights As A Tool For A Palestinian State

Human Rights Instrumental Efficacy for the Palestinian struggle for national independence: The Case of Contemporary Gaza
{Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University}



[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the nakba of 1948, Gaza is both “exceptional and paradigmatic of the broader Palestinian condition” (Feldman 2007: 129). One million refugees in Gaza account for two thirds of its population (Id.). Being included in no state, its population falls into a citizenship vacuum. Understandably, the Palestinian struggle for national independence is a central theme of political mobilisation in Gaza. It has developed amongst Gazans in a co-constitutive relationship with international humanitarian practices and politics. This essay will consider the instrumental value of human rights as a tool for the Palestinian struggle for national independence. In order to undertake a thicker analysis, I shall almost exclusively focus my attention on the contemporary Gaza strip.

Human Rights: An Integrative Legal Discourse Founded on Human Dignity

An integral and important part of the problem is in the definition of human rights, “a complex of concepts and practices” (Allen 2009: 164). A definition depends primarily on the description of the existing relationship between humanitarian law and the international human rights law. Generally speaking, humanitarian law refers exclusively to “the conduct of military operations (methods and means of combats) as well as the protection of victims of armed conflicts (wounded, sick, prisoners, civilian population, and so on)” (Gros Espiell 2000: 351). More strictly, it is based on the Geneva Convention (1949), and its additional protocols (1977). These documents all share article 3, which is identical or similar to an article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948) and of the International covenants on Human Rights (ICCPR 1966 and ICESCR 1966).

Humanitarian law has always been a central tool in safeguarding human rights through the third article of the Geneva Convention. In contemporary legal theory, humanitarian law and human rights are becoming more and more interdependent, although they remain two distinct branches of international law. Previous debates about this distinction have been transcended since this interdependence has been accepted in international practice on the basis of the recognition “of the common fundamental principle of the dignity of the human person” (Gros Espiell 2000: 347, 352). Therefore, humanitarian law aims at protecting human rights in situations of war, and is included in the objective principles and rules of “international human rights law” lato sensu. I should also mention that the same logic applies to the collective right to self-determination (see Declaration of Alger 1976) since it is included within the main human rights covenants (UDHR art. 15, ICCPR art. 1, and ICESCR art. 1). In this essay I will use “human rights” as an all-encompassing expression that refer to all these interdependent legal regimes, including humanitarian, self-determination, and senso stricto human rights law, as they have all placed human dignity as their universal bedrock.

Finally, it is essential to specify that human rights are more than the objective sets of principles and rules mentioned in the covenants. For the purposes of this essay, they also include the subjective discursive constituents of all these rights (Symonides 2000). Therefore, I situate human rights in line with Isaac’s interpretation of Hannah Arendt’s conceptualization:

She believed that human rights were not a problem of moral speculation or legal philosophy so much as a problem of politics, a matter of mobilizing new and effective forms of solidarity and concern
(Isaac 1996: 61)

The instrumental value of the human rights discourse (i.e. its mobilizing and legitimizing capacity) lies in its potential to undermine politics that are not funded on the principle of human dignity. As I shall discuss, it is this central characteristic that makes it such an efficient tool for the Palestinian struggle.

The main political actors of the Palestinian struggle for national independence in contemporary Gaza are the Hamas and Israel.1 They enunciate their political claims through a chimera of the modern discourses of national security or religious faith, and the alternative discourse of human rights. Before considering the broader context, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of the practices of human rights organisations (HRO) and international organisations (IO) on the Palestinian mobilisation since they shape the relationship between political actors, the international community and the population.

Humanitarianism: the Pernicious Effects of some Human Rights Practices

As part of an assessment of human rights efficacy in the Palestinian struggle for independence, it is essential to understand the impact of its practices on Gazans’ political claims and practices of resistance.

As Feldman demonstrates in the case of Gaza, the category of refugee emerged as a structuring category in the “rearticulation of Palestinian political identity in the aftermath of dispossession” (2007: 132). By arbitrarily dividing people into two categories, refugees and natives, half a century of human rights practices transformed the identities and discourses from which stemmed the political claims of the Gazans.

On the one hand, the humanitarian distinction had an impact on the “natives” in the Gaza strip. In the post-nakba economic context, the very fact that they remained at home was the only feature distinguishing them from the refugees. It “would later become an explicit facet of Palestinian citizenship—the notion of steadfastness (sumud), the value of staying put” (Feldman 2007: 152). For the natives, remaining in place was, therefore, an integral part of political action in the struggle for national independence. On the other hand, the humanitarian practices redefined the role of the refugee to that of a victim. Access to the rights to relief, compensation, and return was consequently dependent on extra-legal performatives of victimhood (Malkki 1996: 384), dependent on the status of a “non-agencive victimized community” (Jeffery and Candea 2006).

As Feldman (2007) and Malkki (1996) argue, administrators of humanitarian aid need to establish objective conditions to identify victims. The universal humanitarian subject of aid is imagined as the historic victim that is portrayed in the images of physical suffering (Malkki 1996: 378). Following Malkki’s (Id.) argument, the visual proof of suffering exclusively determined the possible claims of refugees to aid, relief, and return. Symptomatic of humanitarianism, B’Tselem reports are based on many descriptive accounts restricted to violence against civilians. They are classified under different categories, such as torture and abuse during interrogations, beating and abuse, etc. (e.g. B’Tselem 2009b, see also HRW 2009 and Al-Haq.org). The images of pain and mutilated bodies were the only ways to reach and to relate to the international in order to receive consideration and help (see Allen 2009: 173).

All in all, universalized as suffering refugees, Gazans were detached from their situated socio-historic context.2 Human rights practices became humanitarianism in Gaza when it depoliticizes the refugees, and when “political activism and refugee status were mutually exclusive […], as in international refugee law more generally” (Malkki 1996: 385). Humanitarianism, in this form, silenced the refugees’ capacity to express their political claims, and only allowed space for them to share their suffering (Ibid.: 378). However, claims’ enunciation is limited into this specific discourse and only appeals for decontextualised and apolitised restorative responses. Dialectically, international response has been constructed around correcting a violation or returning a right. Human rights practices have had significant consequences for the Palestinian struggle in Gaza since humanitarianism is “able to keep people alive but entirely incapable of changing the conditions that have put them at such great risk” (Feldman 2007: 139).

Beyond Humanitarism: Contextualizing Human Rights’ Role in a Complex Struggle

In the humanitarian apolitical space, Gazans claim access to services through an objective proof of physical grievance such as displacement, mutilation, or homicide. Following this analysis, victimhood establishes itself as apolitical:

Victimhood thus makes a claim for a non-political space, and this is a claim to which many anthropologists have attended. … One might argue in fact that while the suspension of politics was until recently achieved by appeals to “impartiality”, “objectivity”, or “science” (cf. D’Andrade 1995), it is increasingly being achieved by appeals to the ontological primacy of victimhood or suffering.
(Jeffery and Candea 2006)

This theoretical argument issued as a critique from within the anthropological perspective is important to consider (on this topic see also Allen 2009). It allows for the understanding of many of the inherent limitations of contemporary OIs and HRO’s practices in Gaza. It unveils the pernicious consequences of humanitarianism which positions victimhood as the objective or the apolitical cornerstone that is required to legitimize both action and support.

However, this approach does allow space for assessing the role of the human rights discourse and practices outside humanitarianism. In a complex dynamic, other discourses based on politics, such as realpolitik or Jihad,3 are competing with human rights for hegemonic acceptance amongst Gazans and other political organizations. The efficacy of the human rights discourse for the Palestinian struggle can only be appreciated when considered with respect to these competing discourses.

Therefore, an alternative perspective on the intertwining relationship between human rights and political struggle is to consider the discourses as opposing performative entities. Their collision suggests a struggle for hegemonic positioning within their respective discursive foundations. Conceiving politics and victimhood as competing discursive contexts is “to recognize that not only does victimhood attempt to suspend or trump politics, the reverse is also the case” (Jeffery and Candea 2006). Stating the ontological primacy of power politics is as engaging as claiming the universal (and metapolitical) status of human rights politics. From this radical anti-foundational perspective, performatives are not false or just, but can only be considered to be either successful or not at asserting themselves.

These are not two “readings”, but rather two alternative configurations of reality: the question is which alternative manages to establish itself at any given point. … The problem is thus reduced from a metaphysical to an ethnographic one—with a twist. For in this approach, we are forced to recognize the performative power of our own ethnographic accounts
(Jeffery and Candea 2006)

From this perspective, human rights’ practices take on another dimension. In line with what Hannah Arendt conceptualized as political action, human rights’ practices are “intended to secure an elemental human dignity that is systematically jeopardized by the imperatives of national sovereignty” (Isaac 1996: 63). In other words, they have the potential of undermining alternative discursive foundations, which as an instrumental assessment impacts actors’ legitimacy and mobilisation capacity. With respect to the Israeli State, the structuring effect of competition between discourses plays a crucial role in successfully mobilizing support from the international community. In this respect, human rights are integral for Palestinians.

The role of human rights for the Palestinian struggle for national independence was clearly exposed during the last Gaza crisis. Both Israel and the Hamas referred to the different competing foundations for legitimacy.

Israel’s Legitimacy: Human Rights as a Challenge to National Security

Israeli claims of benign interference in Gaza to re-establish order rapidly faded due to the disproportionate use of force. This left the national security principle of self-defence as the last foundation for the legitimacy of IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009). HROs denunciations against the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were central in exposing the humanitarian law violations (see HRW 2009). According to the Palestinian HRO al-Mezan (cited in B’Tselem 2009: 3-4), weeks of bombardments and fighting resulted in 1342 Palestinian and 13 Israeli causalities (including 10 soldiers). From the vantage point of human rights discourse (Isaac 1996: 63), the legitimacy this operation relying exclusively on national interest can be challenged.

This approach highlights how the human rights discourse is an instrumental tool in weakening hardliner politics in Israel. Israeli state sovereignty, as a legitimate ground for military action, is limited if (and only if) the ontological primacy of human dignity is successful in asserting itself as the foundation of this competing discourse. Proportionality restraints emanate from this discourse. Therefore, the human rights discourse poses limits to the appeal of national security in order to legitimize bellicose actions or to mobilize international (and Israeli) support.

IOs and HROs have a clear role in restraining IDF’s asymmetric military advantage. It impedes the IDF from applying an unlimited strategy of tabula rasa in the Gaza strip. However, HROs response is symptomatic of the humanitarian flaws since it neither reveals the political consequences of the IDF operation, nor considers the strategic consequences of its violence on Gazans’ acts of resistances. However, it did limit the magnitude of the destruction of this operation on civilians’ lives and assets.

In brief, considering Israel, the existence of legitimate competing discourses per se makes it possible to consider legitimacy and violence from an alternative vantage point. The efficacy of human rights as a tool is not limited to the relief of pain; it allows for an international reconsideration of the legitimacy of military action.

The Hamas: a Jihadist organisation or a vehicle of Palestinians rights?

“the Islamic Resistance Movement erupted in order to play its role in the path of its Lord. In so doing, it joined its hands with those of all Jihad fighters for the purpose of liberating Palestine”
(Hamas Charter 1988)

This initial Jihadist discourse of the Hamas remains relevant while considering the hardliners. However, as counter-intuitive as it may appear, it seems that Hamas political leadership has recently narrowed its ambitions and rearticulated the discourse of the human rights around its religious foundation. Hamas’ incapability to consolidate international support in the West while conserving jihadist rhetoric was a central cause of this shift. The Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre (JMCC 2005) noted the incommensurability of Palestinian political claims with the international discourse: the “Palestinian narrative […] makes little sense in the dominant news agenda of the ‘war on terror’. Journalists feel great pressure to conform to this news agenda.” Micheal Oatley (2008)4, former head of the MI6, noted how the war on terror label of terrorist organization is dangerous for political actors such as the IRA, the Hezbollah, and the Hamas. It impedes negotiations by taking away a priori from these actors the rational capacity to compromise. To tackle this issue, the Hamas has significantly adapted their discourse to the international vocabulary of human rights. This discourse transcends the Jihadist-terrorist dead-end and allows them to engage the international community on a commensurable ground.

In early 2004, Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and a senior Hamas official, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, declared that armed confrontation could be ended. A ten years truce could be achieved on the basis of the creation of a viable Palestinian state delaminated on the borders of the pre-1967 Six Day war; therefore, calling for the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories (Amayreh, Al-Ahram weekly online, 2004). The terms of this proposal for truce almost implicitly acknowledged the two states solution. Abruptly, Yassin and al-Rantissi were killed in two IDF’s air strikes in March and April 2004. Despite their deaths, the pragmatic stand taken by Yassin and al-Rantissi continued to be present in the discussions from within the Hamas in 2005 and 2006 (on internal tensions see Levitt 2009). During 2006 election, Hamas declarations revealed a human rights approach towards national independence. The introduction of its political programme is emblematic of this discursive adaptation when it referred to the collective right to self-determination and to live free from oppression. Hamas also referred to resolution 194 when claiming that Palestinians have the right to return (Hamas cited in JMCC 2006).

Breaking with Diplomatic Isolation: Post-crisis Hamas Capacity to Mobilise International Support

Due to the rigidity of the terrorist label in 2006, it seemed that the international community was not ready to endorse Hamas officials as legitimate political actors even after being elected (see BBC, 7 April 2006 on the Quartet’s decision to cut aid). As a result of this Hamas made some efforts to make the new government more acceptable for the international community through the formation of a unitary government with the Fatah and other parties. Since then, the human rights discourse has become increasingly influential in acting as an efficient tool for mobilizing international support.

However, this process was halted following degradation of Gaza’s situation and the military operation Cast Lead. This last crisis was an epitome of the dynamics of competition between human rights and other discourses, and its consequences. This military confrontation appeared to have weakened human rights discourse and moderated opinions within the population in Israel and Gaza. Symptomatically, Palestinian support for the Sudanese plan of the latter dropped from 64% in December 2008 to 58% in March 2009, while Israelis support dropped from 36% to 33% for the same period (PSR 2009).

It is also most probable that both hardliners within the Israeli government and Hamas organisation have increased their influence as a result of the confrontation (The Herald, February 1st 2009). Israeli politicians, such as actual Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are opposed to the two states solution (BBC News, 30 March 2009). This political force has based their claims on the nationalist project of a Jewish state, thereby excluding Palestinian return. Hamas political leadership is also divided between hardliners and moderates in Gaza (Levitt 2009). In this context, Ismail Haniyah represented the moderate voice from within the Hamas but “is not believed to hold significant sway” (Id.). A few days prior to the end of the Gaza crisis, he restated the right to self-determination and return as the ultimate goal of the Palestinian struggle in amessage published in The Independent (15 January 2009).

This last episode has confirmed that the actual Hamas political leadership is committed to formulating claims into more legalistic terms of national auto-determination and return. This discourse allows for some international openings that were denied to the Hamas within the war on terror mind frame. It allowed the Hamas to get out of diplomatic isolation since many government representatives have initiated contact with its officials (see The Independent 22 and 28 April 2009 and the BBC news, 23 April and 22 March 2009). While the US still designates it as a terrorist organization, the newly elected Obama administration asked for legal changes in order to allow aid to be administered by the Palestinian Authority even if “Hamas backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government” (Los Angeles Times, 27 April 2009). EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner “said Netanyahu should commit to talks with the Palestinians” (BBC News, 30 March 2009). Following international pressure, Netanyahu may bend and approve a two state solution (The Independent, 28 April 2009).

In conclusion, human rights, considered as an all-encompassing discourse, remains an efficient and pragmatic tool for Palestinian independence struggle. Human rights, beyond their pernicious impacts on Gazans’ forms of mobilisation, have prevented Israel from using its overwhelming military power to seek an expedited solution. The human rights discourse also allowed the main political actor in Gaza, the Hamas, to start to break away from international isolation. This is a crucial development since the Palestinians face a humanitarian crisis resulting from reduction in aids. Moreover, partial rechanneling of aid through UN and civil society agencies weaken the Palestinian Authority viability and further deteriorate the probability for Palestinian independence. In contemporary Gaza, the Palestinians need the human rights to mobilise support.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

1 Hamas will be considered as the main actor of Palestinian independence struggle in Gaza since I will focus on the period of 2004 to the present.
2 Similarly, Ferguson (1994) analyses development’s discourses. He underlines its linear and apolitical treatment of the poor as an unidimensional human.
3 The diversity of discursive practices can hardly be reduced to these labels. However they represent local manifestation of some of the main discourses (see Der Derian 1987, 2001).
4 Argument reported by the author.


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Targeted Killing: Justice Is Served?

Legally, the issue of targeted killing is a minefield.



With an open policy of targeted killing, Israel killed approximately 387 Palestinians between 2000 and 2008 (with 234 of these being targets, the remainder collateral casualties) and in the past two years, has been blamed for the deaths by targeted killing of 4 Iranian nuclear scientists. Using the same tactic of targeted killing, the United States has killed Osama bin Laden and an exceedingly difficult to determine number of alleged militants and civilians; figures range from between 1,680 and 2,634 people between 2004 and 2011 in Pakistan alone. Considering that the US is known to carry out targeted killings in countries including Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, the true figure of those killed in such operations by the US is likely to be much higher.

Whatever the uncertain death count, one thing is clear- the policy of targeted killing is here to stay.  Israel openly acknowledged its policy of targeted killing in 2000 and since then the number of these operations has increased, with the Obama administration making targeted killing a central component of its ‘war on terror‘.

What exactly is a ‘targeted killing’? A relatively new addition to the lexicon of international security, it has no precise definition in international law and did not come into popular usage until used by Israel in 2000. It has wrongly been equated with the terms ‘ extra-judicial execution’ or  ‘assassination’, both of which are, by definition, illegal, whereas targeted killings can, in extraordinary circumstances, be legal.  According to the report of the Special Rapporteur to the UNHRC on targeted killings, a targeted killing is:

‘…the intentional, premeditated and deliberate use of lethal force, by States or their agents acting under colour of law, or by an organized armed group in armed conflict, against a specific individual who is not in the physical custody of the perpetrator.’

Some might say ‘so what? The US kills some bad terrorists; Israel kills a few nuclear scientists, big deal.’ But it is a big deal. Not even counting the scores of innocent civilians killed in such operations, a policy of targeted killings poses numerous problems, both ethical and legal.

Trying to ascertain which body of law is applicable to any given targeted killing is very difficult. As stated above, in extraordinary circumstances targeted killing can be legal. This would usually hold during an international or non-international armed conflict, in an instance in which one was faced with a kill-or-be-killed type situation or in a situation of self-defence in which the threat from the target is known to be imminent. Generally, this is not the circumstance that prevails in cases of targeted killing. Consider for example the bin Laden case: a 1am operation by an elite team of 25 US Navy Seals into a compound in Pakistan. Bin Laden, unarmed, is shot dead on sight, when he could almost certainly have been captured. Although described as a kill/capture operation, as targeted killing operations often are, capture is never seriously considered.

Similar questions arise when taking other cases into account. On the 11th January 2012, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was the latest Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed; in the past two years, 5 scientists have been attacked (with only one surviving). It should be noted here that Israel has refused to confirm or deny that they are behind the operations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists, though in February of this year there were reports that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, had trained Iranian dissidents to carry out the attacks. Israel is not in an armed conflict with Iran, and so the law of armed conflict would not apply. Even if we pretend for the sake of argument that Israel was in an armed conflict with Iran and the law of armed conflict applied, justification for the killing is still difficult. Assumptions have to be made, primarily that the scientist was working on a nuclear bomb, in which case he would be a military target so long as he was directly participating in hostilities, but as soon as that participation ended he would be afforded civilian status and all the protections that go with it. Here, there is the question of when direct participation begins and ends, what amounts to direct participation, and so on.  Legally, the issue of targeted killing is a minefield.

Ethically speaking, targeted killing finds itself in murky waters. First, there is the issue of collateral civilian casualties. Whilst the use of drone strikes has certainly increased precision in such operations, civilian casualties have not been eliminated. The June 2011 statement by John O. Brennan, counterterrorism advisor to President Obama, in which he stated that there had been no civilian casualties from US drone strikes in a year warrants a hefty dose of scepticism. There is the issue of who decides who is targeted, and why- how ‘bad’ do you have to be to be the target of such an operation, and on what scale is this ‘badness’ measured? Many would argue that a terrorist who has caused the deaths of many civilians deserves no better than to die themselves, but should States be able to decide this? On the other hand, isn’t it better to target and kill a known terrorist who has killed many people rather than wait for him to do so again and hope he will be caught by local authorities who often don’t have the capability to do so?

Targeted killing is not a black and white issue; it requires a more nuanced understanding and a deeper discussion that goes beyond a question of good-or-bad. Difficult though it may be, the international community must not let the questions that arise from this discussion go unanswered, or its consequences go unexamined.

Scotland? Whose Scotland?

Salmond’s proposal for the referendum on the future of Scotland and self-determination.



[dropcap]B[/dropcap]eing a Scot I have been enthused by the recent press coverage granted to the proposed referendum on independence. Naturally, one cannot help but become caught up in the emotion of it all, and feel the surge of almost nostalgic pride for Scotland. Putting emotions aside it seems clear that this peaceful push for independence, whilst perhaps a reasonable model, lacks coherence and legitimacy. The current referendum proposal lacks substance and has potential to be divisive to the entire Scottish community. I do not suggest that Scots should be denied the right to Walzerian self-determination, but believe the present proposal goes some way to denying such a right.

The proposal put forward by the Scottish Government makes for an interesting read to those Scots who do not presently reside in their ancestral homeland. While the SNP claim that they are driven by a democratic desire to enable Scots to have the power of self-determination, the proposal smacks of political manoeuvring that will exclude a large section of Scottish society. It may be electorally functional to maintain the same electorate as was eligible to vote in previous Scottish elections, but this has bizarre consequences. The criteria for eligibility to vote entitles EU citizens to vote in the referendum provided they have resided in Scotland for a sufficient period of time and are enrolled on the electoral register. Such criteria enables a German colleague of mine to vote on the future of Scotland whilst not having firm intentions to stay. Scots who have chosen to pursue Higher Education in England, however, will not be eligible to vote should they be registered in their university town (the author being case in point). This is a strange form of democracy that dilutes the notion of self-determination by excluding members of the particular national group seeking self-determination, whilst affording voting rights to those who are only temporary residents. This is particularly potent when considering those who have enrolled in full-time higher education outside of Scotland are excluded, whilst there are those residing in Scotland for the purpose of education alone are eligible to vote.

The proposal also seeks to extend the vote to those aged 16 and 17. While there have been long-standing debates over the extension of the franchise, it seems baffling to those who do not presently reside within the borders of their homeland that people deemed too young to be able to judge the hazards of alcohol or tobacco are eligible to determine whether said land should sever itself from the rest of the UK. The entire proposal is politically insensitive and reflects the populist posturing of the current Scottish Government – extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds is in itself a political act that could win favour for the pro-independence camp. This brings into question the fairness of such a referendum. While the content of the proposal itself remains questionable the debate over the implications of independence cannot truly be considered.

Where self-determination is concerned it seems clear that the current proposal has potential to exclude vast swathes of Scots who have a vested interest in the future of their nation. While the current rules regarding the referendum are questionable, the peaceful route taken to secure secession is most definitely something that represents the views of all Scots. The question now turns towards the EU – will a Scotland under the EU be any different to Scotland under Westminster? It is too soon to tell what the implications for Scotland would be, but also what the implications will be for the EU as a whole, given the secessionist movements in the Basque territories and in Cataluña.

For more information on the debate see the Guardian.

Or for more on the discussion on ex-pats’ voting rights see the Scotsman.

An Iranian Nuke Is No Threat – An Arab Nuke Is

Israeli fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon has far more to do with the probability that it would provide the catalyst for an arms race among Arab states than the actual Iranian weapon itself.



[dropcap]D[/dropcap]aniel Vanello recently wrote a piece arguing that Israel’s fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon was illogical, that the reasons behind a pre-emptive strike on the Islamic Republic were negligible and fallacious.

Whilst I fervently believe that an Israeli strike (with probable American involvement) would have disastrous consequences not only for the region, but for Western interests at large, I do think that his arguments fail to accept the probable consequences of an Iranian nuclear capability and the very real Israeli fears.

I do not adhere to the Israeli rhetoric that Iran poses an existential threat to the Jewish-majority state. Many academics have posited that Iran, since the 1979 revolution, has adhered to a pragmatic foreign policy as supposed to an ideologically-based foreign policy. A nuclear-capable Iran would not divert from this path. If anything a nuclear Iran would become more sensible owing to the greater responsibility that she holds (as every other nuclear state has done over the course of the last 60 odd years).

The Ayatollahs are well aware of the Israeli second-strike capability and they would be foolish to assume that none of Israel’s current submarinal nuclear second-strike capabilities would be – or already are – focused on Tehran. Should Iran appear to be involved in the supply of a nuclear weapon to Hamas, Hezbollah or any other state or non-state proxy, she would be subject to the full, unhesitating retaliation of the Israeli Defence Force.

Thus I agree with Daniel’s assertion that “it seems absurd that the Iranian regime actually intends to nuke Israel”.

However I do believe that Iran could pose an existential threat to various Arab states (most notably Saudi Arabia) in the region. An Iranian nuclear weapon would provoke such states to work towards their own nuclear capability and this is the predominant issue for Israel.

Saudi Arabia already possesses intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and aircraft capable of delivering a nuclear payload over the entire Middle East. The Sunni state has a strong relationship with nuclear-armed Pakistan and it would be likely that the Saudis would utilize this connection to bring about the rapid production of their own bomb.

Should such a development take place, we would undoubtedly see numerous other Arab states developing their own capability. These states, especially given the fact that many of the old Middle Eastern elites have recently been deposed from power, are those that could pose an existential threat.

Furthermore, an Iranian nuclear weapon would drastically alter the balance of power within the region. Israel would no longer maintain total military domination; her power would be drastically curtailed and she would be prevented from being as bolshy as she has been.

Israeli fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon has far more to do with the probability that it would provide the catalyst for an arms race among Arab states than the actual Iranian weapon itself. And of course, why would she not want to maintain her hegemony over nuclear capability in the Middle East? I would.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad & The Futility of Violence

While non-violence hasn’t worked for the Palestinian cause, Islamic Jihad would make some political progression should they adopt the tactic.



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is the second largest armed group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas. It was founded in 1980 due to the disillusionment of some members of the Muslim Brotherhood within Gaza with the society’’s lack of violent struggle against the Israeli occupation. In fact, the PIJ’s distinctive characteristic is its unwavering involvement in armed struggle, consisting of firing rockets into southern Israel, suicide bombings of Israeli buses and armed infiltration into Jewish settlements. Although the organisation prides itself on this, there are good reasons to show that actually it would gain from a more pacifist approach.

First, attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets give Israel an excuse to retaliate using disproportionate force. Although these retaliations are claimed by the IDF to be aimed at the source of the attack, namely at the PIJ militants, many times they include the death of innocent civilians (“collateral damage”). According to a recent study on the relationship between the Palestinian use of violence and popular support for such Palestinian factions during the Second Intifada, an increase in Palestinian fatalities not only shifts public support away from all the political factions but, specifically, PIJ-claimed fatalities raise significant disaffection at the expense of the PIJ itself.

Furthermore, although it is widely believed that claiming responsibility for Israeli fatalities increases political support, this is not the case for the PIJ. In fact, statistics show exactly the opposite: Israeli fatalities claimed by the PIJ cause a decrease in public support for it. The authors of the study conjecture that the root cause of this trend is that the PIJ employs a “spoiling strategy” in its attacks: the PIJ commits its attacks when there are on-going negotiations between a Palestinian political group and Israel in order to spoil the negotiations. What this shows also is that, on the contrary to Selin Kavlak’s piece, at least a significant part of the Palestinian public is against the disruption of negotiations and thus is in support of them.

Second, the renunciation of violence on behalf of the PIJ would make the brutality of the Israeli occupation more conspicuous. Israel justifies its continued occupation in terms of security: it cannot give up the territories unless it is certain it is safe. In fact, one of the pre-conditions for recognition of a future Palestinian statehood is that it be demilitarized. If the PIJ keeps on firing rockets into Israel it only serves to make the Israeli position more convincing.

Third, the PIJ’s international reputation would ameliorate, and thus earn more credibility, once it gave up armed struggle. This is what happened with the PLO. Before Arafat’s speech at the UN in 1988 where he denounced terrorism, the PLO was considered a terrorist organisation. After the speech, the PLO earned credibility and with it the Palestinian cause earned more international recognition.

Fourth, if we look at some of the most important Islamic organisations which gave up armed struggle and pursued a more reformist approach, we see that they made considerable gain. Within Gaza, Hamas, once it accepted to take part in the PA’s democratic election in 2006 and the same year give up its call for the destruction of Israel, it won an internationally recognised fair electionThe Egyptian Brotherhood won the parliamentary elections and, once the military junta decides to step down, will rule the country (though there may be problems on the horizon with such a development).

Fifth, acts of violence on behalf of Islamic political factions on Israeli targets encourage the Israeli public to vote for right-wing parties who believe in the historical right of the Jewish people to the whole of “Judea and Samaria” and who support government policies to increase settlement construction and to not give back land to the Palestinian people, precisely what the PIJ is fighting for.

Having said this, the PIJ would probably retort that peaceful and reformist policies on behalf of Palestinian political factions never achieved anything. Israel is expanding settlement construction daily and keeps the Gaza Strip in a painful humanitarian crisis. Whilst non-violence patently doesn’t work, violence will only exacerbate the Israeli approach to the Palestinians.

Slaves In The 21st Century

Indonesian palm oil and the modern bond slaves of export-led development.



Palm oil is everywhere. It’s used in hundreds of supermarket products and increasingly, for biofuel production, nevertheless it is one of the most devastating crops for the environment. Palm oil is not just ecologically damaging but ethically unsound, its production reinforces abject poverty which is amplified and consolidated by the most novel manifestation of late-modernity; globalisation. Consumerism drives demand for palm oil rich products in the global North, but simultaneously ‘modernisation’ and ‘development’ can promote extreme inequality in the South – even via the very economic instruments purportedly in place to assist such countries escape deprivation, namely export-led growth.

Indonesia was born of global trade and has always been a source of cheap raw materials and even cheaper labour for foreign powers. The great-grandparents of today’s Indonesians originated from Java and came to work under contract on the Dutch cocoa and rubber plantations. These workers, although technically free, were tied into 3 year contracts to pay off their initial boat trip from Java. Their wages were so low that the majority of their salary went towards debt repayments and were therefore forced to borrow further from the plantation owners, in order to pay for living costs during these 3 years. This forced them into even more debt and thus longer contracts to repay ever increasing loans. They essentially became bond slaves to the Dutch, trapped by cycle of debt repayments and extended loans. This was hundreds of years ago, surely the lot of the average Indonesian must have improved since colonial times?

In 1965 the communist leader Sukarno attempted to re-nationalise the country’s wealth and natural resources, withdrawing Indonesia from the World Bank and IMF. Within one month a US and UK supported military coup overthrew the government placing General Suharto in power, a position he held for the next 33 years. The dictator allowed the IMF and World Bank to re-enter Indonesia, securing billions of dollars of loans – in 2006 the total outstanding debt stood at $144b (domestic debt of $76.8b and external debt of $67.7b). It is estimated that just under a half (around 4/9) funded military equipment, one third remains unaccounted for/missing and just under one fifth (2/9) was spent on enticing big business to ‘develop’ Indonesia. During this period of ‘modernisation’ it is estimated the regime massacred between 1-2 million civilians.

Today the big money is in palm oil. Indonesia is the largest producer of the oil but its agricultural workers are some of the lowest paid in the world at between $1–$1.50/day, the dominance of the regional trade forces millions into low paid, unsecure plantation jobs. They are required to sign 30 year contracts, with no sick pay, holiday entitlement or health and safety protection as these are not required under WTO regulations, despite pesticides poisoning and killing 40,000 agricultural workers globally per annum. Gramoxone, the brand name for Paraquat, is used on the palm oil plantations. The chemical is the primary ingredient in Agent Orange. The plantation worker barracks have mud floors, metal roofs, regularly no plumbing or drainage, and can sleep between 5–8 workers. Each worker’s daily picking quota is 1 tonne of palm fruit, and worth around $32.38 to the company, yet the workers receive around $1.14/day. As such their families regularly help out to meet the quota at no extra wage. Weekly the rainforests are felled and levelled to make way for plantations destroying complex ecosystems, even expanding into ‘conservation’ peat flats which, once disturbed, release hundreds of tones of CO2 into the atmosphere – all paid for by the World Bank in the name of ‘development’.

These loans are intended to encourage economic growth from palm oil exports, but on the ground the reality is very different. For these workers, globalisation, modernisation and development has meant infinitely more spent on tanks, fighter planes, helicopters and landmines to suppress social movements than on education or housing. The loans taken out by the Indonesian government expand big business but destroy smaller competitors and local economies. Workers become both the bargaining chips and the means to pay back the debt. New loans are taken to repay the interest on the debt alone, increasing national debt further and perpetuating the cycle. The instruments of globalisation have essentially made Indonesia and its people bond-slaves to the international market, as their ancestors were to the Dutch. They are forced to accept whatever conditions their creditors impose with no prospect of ever paying-off the debt or improving their own individual prospects.

“ ...we often hear that globalisation and free-market politics will bring good fortune to all humanity. That’s what you hear big businesses and governments say – in their opinion globalisation is our inevitable fate. But actually, globalisation is their creation, their own language, a system they have created to further their own interests and profits.
Palm Oil Plantation Worker, Sumatra.

Israel: Security & Foreign Policy

Israel on the International Stage: A Security or Foreign policy?
{Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds}



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Israel, security is a “dormant war” (Rabin, 1967, 195).  Although internal political evolution and external international developments has seen changing stimuli, the direction of Israel’s international policy has remained the same: entirely subservient to the perceived need to maintain security. An examination of Israeli-US and Israeli-Middle East relations, coupled with understanding of internal influences on the foreign policy elite, will demonstrate that foreign policy is a continual response to security threats, presenting “remarkable agreement within the Israeli body politic on essential foreign policy themes,” (Reich, 1988, 17). Security is the dominant policy concern, and when there are other goals, which have had to be pursued for reasons domestic electoral supremacy, they have always been implemented or assessed through the prism of security.

For this essay, considerations of the external appearance of Israel are central. Whilst the considerations of leaders internal power dynamics and Israel’s domestic political fabric provides some account of why security has consistently dominated foreign policy, it does little more than assume the premise. And before the discussion can begin justifiably, the security focus must be proven. Thus, the internal rubric, which aggregates the influences on internal foreign policy creation, holds little significance for this treatment.

Moreover, there is a tendency to explain the security focus as one institutionalized in “a restricted process” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 94), created by people “socialized in the defense establishment” (Inbar, 1998, 63). Amongst others, examples of the Knesset’s regular conflations of foreign and security policy give credence to such analysis. Evidenced by meetings of the cross party forum of foreign policy and defense issues, the overlapping of foreign and military spheres are rife and well-documented. However, a fierce internal debate rages, where the former is rebutted by examples of limited security significance, such as Netanyahu’s hamstrung National Security Council (Makovsky, 1999) which has given ammunition to reformist writers. Ultimately though, the internal foreign policy decision matrix “comprises: (a) societal factors […] which derive from cumulative historical legacy; and (b) personality factors […] those aspects of elite attitudes which are not generated by their role occupancy,” (Brecher, 1972, 11), or in logically equivalent terms: “the military and social aspects of national security are closely interrelated,” (Horrowirz-Lissak, 1989, 197). The result has been the formation of a unique Israeli narrative that pervades the following investigation, and will show how each aspect of foreign policy has been slanted by Orientalist conceptions of ‘us vs. them’ security policy. 

Untangling the strands of Foreign Policy

In claiming one policy can be subservient to another, one generally assumes foreign and security policies can be segregated and balanced against each other. However, appealing critiques argues that in Israel the two areas converge far too regularly, or are too inextricably linked, to be considered separately. In most 21st century states, especially since the advent of the War on Terror, this approach seems tenable. Indeed, as threats to most liberal democracies have become more domestic so too has foreign policy become more centered on national security: traditional lines of delineation don’t work. In reality, it is still possible to see different foreign policy directions. In Israel, where domestic and foreign security threats exist inseparably, it is more accurate to say national security has been the dominant focus of foreign policy rather than usurped its significance entirely: security is dominant amongst equals, a supreme sub-section of traditional foreign policy. To such ends, “issue area focuses” (Rosenau, 1967, 11-50) are vital.

Foreign policy can be split into four overlapping areas: security, political/diplomatic, economic/developmental, and cultural. Importantly, the groups are divided by substantive content rather than motive, largely because “choice of content derives from the fact that is self-evident, whereas motivation emerges after analysis has been completed,” (Brecher, 1972, 13). The first, security, is defined here as, “Issues which […] pertain to violence, including alliances and weaponry,” (Brecher, 1972, 13).

This definition is vague, “the study of foreign policy is underdeveloped: […] and analysis for the most part lacks rigor,” (Brecher, 1972, 1). However, for our purposes, the sentiment rings true. In Israel, security policy, as distinct from its rivals, amounts to those areas where ‘violence, including alliances and weaponry’ are designed to alleviate or divert threats, and has been seen most commonly in country-to-country relationships. In line with Brecher, who defined his seminal research around “the selection, among perceived alternatives, of one option leading to a course of action in the internal system,” (Brecher, 1974, 1), there will be a macro focus to our evaluation. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ policies to other countries will be considered as complimentary rather than separate, whilst the former is often more obvious in its security focus, the latter underpins the broader aims.

However, the aims themselves are unclear. Whereas, in most cases one could locate the dominant considerations of foreign policy by consulting a stated doctrine – such as the Bush administration 2001 NSS document – this for Israel is impossible. The lack of a clear national security doctrine to which one can refer is a problem that has plagued most of the literature, justifying stunted comparisons.

In Israel carefully evolved strategy remains ad hoc, developing sporadically upon a combination of peacetime principles and wartime necessities (Rodman, 2011), election patterns and international circumstance. Therefore to argue that foreign policy in Israel is subservient to security policy the signifiers must be reductively identified. Whilst “determining […] national interest […] remains a vexed question,” (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 93), history has suggested some insoluble aims. Such as: the stabilization of troublesome borders and defensive geography with the use of limited manpower; the creation of military superiority and deterrence (Bowker, 1996, 114), either by self-reliance, great power patronage or, historically, the maintenance of divisions within the Arab world (Telhami, 1990, 400), and dispersal of Middle Eastern threats.

The pursuance of these aims, born from weak borders, limited manpower and historical ostracisation, is our focus here, starting with a dependency on a global Hegemon. Our first consideration, the US-Israeli relationship, came from the broader Israeli foreign policy principle that “Israel should always have at least one great power patron,” (Rodman, 2011). Historically, the fit has been uncomfortable. In fact, Ben-Gurion’s awareness of a large Jewish Diaspora behind the iron-curtain, and the influence of socialist Zionism on political institutions, meant the USSR offered more ideological symmetry (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 97). However, in light of their malaise towards non-liberal-democracies, Israel originally turned to France for a relationship culminating in the Lavon Affair. This scramble for a great power patron, and the thaw of a frosty relationship between the US and Israel in the 50s and 60s, provides a key example of Israel’s security focus that is often under analyzed. The building of such relationships (Eytan, 2006, 169-182), regardless of socio-cultural symmetry, indicates an Israeli foreign policy concerned less with ideology than with arms. Where America failed to supply weaponry, commit troops or develop research-links, France succeeded, creating close ties between Jerusalem and Paris. Where such assurances of security faltered (e.g. the Suez/Egyptian quagmire), Israel deliberately cooled relations, turning to a new patron. Whereas most liberal democracies are expected to temper realist intent with ideological motive, Israel’s great power patrons have been decided, with perceived legitimacy, by security maintenance. Even before specific alliances are formed then, we see options considered through a security prism.

Parasitic Interests and The Lobby 

The subsequent progression of academic evaluations of Israel and its great power – from co-beneficial to parasitic – has been retarded by strange systematic oversights. Special relationships like these, by definition, recognize the supremacy of one country over another, thus academic analysis has often discounted the policies of the lesser party as reactive: informed by the desire to maintain the patron at any price. Mearsheimer and Walt (2009), for example, concerned themselves with those of America exclusively, dismissing the complexity of Israel as a ‘strategic liability’ since the close of the Cold War. However, if we ignore the host temporarily and consider the parasite, a more equitable distribution of aims emerges. In fact, “since the end of the Cold War, Israelis have become concerned regarding the role and capabilities of the United States,” (Steinberg, 1998, emphasis added); a concern nurtured by a Republican Congress and the policies of the Senator Jesse Helms (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Once we recognize the aims of the client it is easier to see the commonality of Israel’s security focus. Indeed, only the reality that even a reduced American role is still vital to Israel (Steinberg, 1998) has kept the patrons’ clientele. Israel’s relationship towards the US is one dependent on real strategic value, and its prioritization over any other foreign policy concerns has marked a belief within the electorate that disengagement is possible, if not currently desirable.

US-Israeli relations, and specifically the lobby, have been largely separated from consideration of the Israeli national security doctrine: fifty years after the formation of AIPAC, the academic debate is stagnant. Most considerations survive by their interaction with the seminal work of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, and thereby fail to constitute alternate interpretations. Their central argument largely holds true, despite contemporary difficulties and weak academic criticism (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 61),  but the debate regarding US benefits has been had, an evaluation of the Israeli motivation is needed.

Such evaluation posits that every available example of the lobby exerting influence has been for security ends (below). Moreover, it was the realization of threats from surrounding Arab nations, rather than the desire for cultural or political global assimilation, that proved the main instigator of an Israeli policy to court “the US more assiduously, a process that included supporting more vigorously lobby groups of Capitol Hill,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 100).

For example, Martin Indyk, the former Deputy Director of research at AIPAC, was given a senior position in Middle Eastern policy formation in the Clinton administration (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65).  The background of the appointee is less significant than his destination. This was not a victory for the Israeli lobby in cultural or economic spheres, but in security. Likewise, in Spring 2002, when the IDF resumed control of Palestinian settlements of the West Bank, Bush’s demand that Sharon “halt the incursion and begin withdrawal,” (Bush, 4th April 2002) went unheeded and without enforcement. The Israeli lobby, through Tom Delay (D-TX) and Richard Armey (R-TX), forced the administration to back down with the passing of two resolutions (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65). The significant weight of the Israeli lobby was again bought to bear on security aims before any other.  It is worth noting, though, that security aims may have been facilitated by unregulated socio-cultural hegemony between the two countries. A large Jewish Diaspora, and similar patterns of political evolution, has allowed other issues area to fade in significance, maintained as they are by informal cultural influences.

However, the quantifiable evidence available shows a relationship between soft power influences in, hard policy output of, the US administration that has allowed the importance of security in Israel to bleed out of the American lobby. The US response is a tacit assurance of the supremacy of security policy in Israel, evidenced by American conduct during the 1995 NPT conference (Steinberg, 1996). Such timidity from the US is the result of security rhetoric of a more obvious kind: “we made it clear to the United States that Israel had its own considerations which are unique to its situation in the region,” (Netanyahu, 1998). Investigations into the role of soft Israeli policy in the United States, shows clearly that, whilst other considerations exist, they do so in the shadow of security concerns. 

Quantifiable Support for Security

Harder relations are easier to quantify. Almost all official trade and intelligence agreements have been focused, at least on Israel’s part, on the enhancement of national security. Acting upon Kissinger’s historic commitment to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative edge” (Gold, 1992), and beginning, during the expansion of the Cold War arms race in the Middle East, with the first sale of Hawk missiles to Israel, the official US-Israeli relationship was founded amid a plethora of security threats that have refused to abate. The result has been a series of financial trade agreements and intelligence alliances that have dwarfed other Israeli foreign policy concerns in output alone. Even after economic aid ceased, military aid continued uninterrupted, facilitating the creation of the preemptive doctrine (Ovendale, 1999, 195-205) and demonstrating renewed prioritization of security policy at the turn of Israeli fortunes. For example, from 1971-76 Israel was able to secure $6.9 billion in aid (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 104-105), the majority of which supported their mammoth defense expenditure (Mintz, 1985, 9-28). The Joint Political and Military Group (JPMG), in addition, met twice yearly to “provide a forum for ongoing co-ordination” in response to “regional threats,” (Steinberg, 1998).

However, clearly not every aspect of the relationship is concerned with security. Israel’s “willingness to forgo” retaliatory strikes against Saddam Hussein (Steinberg, 1998), for example, is levied as evidence that Israel sacrifices security for patron maintenance. However, given that restraint led directly to the American pledge for security against WMDs (Steinberg, 1998), a more compelling interpretation is that Israel sacrificed short-term security vulnerability for long-term security assurances. That said, the Middle Eastern peace process remains one level upon which Israel’s foreign policy towards the US doesn’t fixate on security exclusively. Tellingly though, in this area unlike others, although differences and tensions have been rife (see Steinberg, 1998), “strong disagreements have not resulted in any visible decline in the level of strategic co-operation,” (Steinberg, 1998). Why? Often disagreements within the peace process are ignored or relegated due to inconvenience.

For foreign policy elites, maintenance of security with a great power patron has trumped rivalries in Middle Eastern diplomacy.  The ensuing relationship has been vital to Israeli security, too vital to see squandered on bargaining positions, not least of all in its ability to force a tacit concession amongst most Arab states that Israel has a right to exist, (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 115). 

The Focus of Security

Whereas Euro-American relations see security founded on amicable terms, in reality, “… all aspects of foreign policy are skewed towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and are overshadowed by the focus on the security and the survival state,” (Reich, 1988, 1).

The priority of national security due to perceived necessity rather than societal preferences is born internally from the longevity of the threat, beginning with regular raids on the Yishuv (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 198). The reason for, and understanding of, security dominance arises from the lack of perceived development away from such threats; few open lines of dialogue and fewer cultural or intelligence exchanges, has created “a region where the use of force is widely considered a policy option and one which receives popular support […] Israel’s predicament has hardly changed,” (Inbar-Sheffer, 1997, 156). If Inbar’s claim holds true, Israeli foreign policy has inevitably withdrawn to security focus.

As a policy option in the wider Middle East the threat can be considered real, whilst to be seen to be the security candidate is vital, as was the case this year with Netanyahu’s negotiation of Gilad Shalit’s return (Levy, 2009). Such an equation is confounded by the perceived reality of the elite (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 113; Brecher, 1972, 12; Sprout, 1961, 109), and would therefore fit realist and neo-liberal interpretations alike.

Israel’s response to historical vulnerabilities demonstrates security policy supremacy in itself. Emerging with porous and conflicted borders from the War of Independence in 1949, policies evolved as attempts to secure these. “Strategic depth”, to fight the ease with which Israel could be divided, for example, led to a key emphasis on preventive (1956) and preemptive (1967) war (Rodman, 2011; Handel, 1973, 1-36), and to IDF retaliation against bandit incursions on Israeli land. However, debate arises, post-1967, with the acquisition of the Occupied Territories (OT) (Horowitz, 1975, 13-41) and the passing of ‘strategic depth’ into relative obscurity.

However, to argue that security was a focus that existed only while necessary is naïve for two reasons. Firstly, most threats are now low-intensity, requiring different tactics that would present less aggressively. Pre-emptive and preventative wars were, to illustrate, substituted for settlement re-housing and the creation of ‘the wall’. Secondly, most other threats now come from long-range missiles and WMDs (Cohen, Eisenstadt & Bacevich, 1995, 78), and as a result border security specifically has a less noticeable impact of foreign policy (Rodman, 2011). Indeed, the threat of WMDs has consistently caused security concerns which usurp Middle Eastern policy. Now, the “primary concern among Israeli decision makers centers on the threat […] of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 117), but the sincerity of this threat is questionable. Sprinzak proves the dominance of security in response to WMDs by political force of habit, rather than genuine threat response. On this question, modern Israeli identity is manipulated by “the constant presence of an enemy at the gate”, the absence of which would instigate an “identity crisis” (Sprinzak, 1998).  The rationality of the response is insignificant here (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 118), but the way it has fostered an unalterable approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy undeniably indicates security’s dominance. The results of which are clear (see Beres, 1986 and Cohen, 1998). 

Diplomatic Evolution

The more potent threats of state and non-state terrorism have been alleviated, in part, by exchanging acquired territories for peace. However, the pervasiveness of security concerns in this new OT policy direction has not diminished. Direct public meetings between Israelis and Arabs have been, and are still, almost always handled by “military men” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 209), suggesting a more security-focused approach. In explanation, a ‘security’ rather than ‘foreign/diplomatic’ policy towards the OT’s is necessary because the reverse would be a tacit concession that they constitute a foreign land rather than a national security dilemma. And despite developments, considerations have remained unchanged, “Palestinian territories were to be dealt with by Israel’s security forces as a security problem,” (Reich, 1988, 9), and still are.

For progression, the political future of Palestinians, which is a “more complex matter” (Reich, 1988, 8), must divorce itself from exclusively security concerns.

The general lack of that progress is in itself indicative of the supremacy of security policy. Whereas continued effort by the international community has failed to broker political settlement, Israel’s national security is maintained ruthlessly through IDF prevention and retaliation. Even conflation of politics and security sees the latter dominate, evidenced by governmental attempts “to limit the settlements to those that could serve a security function,” (Reich, 1988, 10). The OTs remain the single most important consideration of Israeli foreign policy, and they have been approached will almost unanimous security focus.

The election of the Rabin-Peres administration is the only anomaly, presenting brief moment of public disenfranchisement from the security rhetoric (Kimche, 1996, 139-40). The freezing of settlement building, (Reich, 1988, 6), as well as circumstantial developments in diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Tunisia (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 116), are often offered as evidence of diminished security focus. However, the change was limited and reactive. It provided at best an interlude, and worse “continuity” (Reich, 1988, 15), to a security focus in the OT and wider foreign policy directions.

The current stance towards the OTs, like that of the wider Israeli foreign policy elite towards America and the broader Middle East is one dominated by security, colored incidentally by “the incursion of political and ideological considerations,” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 202). The result, however, has been friendly to the security agenda, bolstered by a powerful force “based on an Orientalist view of the Arab world,” (Cypel, 2006, 80). Israeli foreign policy, which has been examined here in its external context in order to compliment extensive work on internal considerations elsewhere in the academy, proves subservient to security policy: its primary and secondary goals remain evaluated through the prism of security.


[toggle title=”Bibliography”]


Bowker, Robert (1996). Beyond Peace: The search for Security in the Middle East (London: Lynne Riener).

Brecher, Michael (1972). The Foreign Policy System of Israel: Setting, Images, Process (London: Oxford University Press)

Brecher, Michael (1974). Decisions in Israel’s Foreign Policy (London: Oxford University Press).

Cohen, Avner (1998). Israel and The Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press).

Cypel, Sylvian (2006). Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (New York: Other Press).

Handel, M (1973). Israel’s Political-Military Doctrine (Cambridge: Occasional Papers).

Horowitz, Dan (1975). Israel’s concept of Defensible Borders (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Horowitz, Dan and Lisak, Moshe (1989). Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel (New York: State University of New York Press).

Inbar, Efraim and Sheffer, Gabriel (1997). The National Security of Small States in a Changing World (London: Frank Cass).

Jones, Clive and Murphy, Emma C (2002). Israel: Challenges to Identity, Democracy and the State (London: Routledge)

Overndale, Ritchie (1999). The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Wars (Harlow: Longman Press).

Reich, Bernard (1988). ‘Israeli National Security Policy: Issues and Actors’ in Reich, Bernard and Kieval, Gershon (ed), Israeli National Security: Political Actors and Perspectives (London: Greenwood Press).

Rene Beres, Louis (ed) (1986). Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, MA; Lexington Books).

Rosenau, James N (1967). Domestic Sources of Foreign Policy (New York: The Free Press).


Cohen, Eisenstadt and Bacevich (1995). ‘Knives, Tanks and Missiles’ in Cohen, Stuart A, ‘Small States and Their Armies: Restructuring The Militia Framework of the IDF’ in The Journal of Strategic Studies (Vol. 18, No. 4).

Boulding, Kenneth (1959). ‘National Images and International Systems’ in The Journal of Conflict Resolution (iii).

Gerstenfeld, Manfred (2007). ‘European-Israeli Relations: Between Conclusion and Change?’ in Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Eytan, Freddy (2005). ‘French History and Current Attitudes to Israel; An Interview with Freddy Eytan’ in Manfred (2007, above).

Gold, Dore (1992). ‘US Policy Towards Israel’s Qualitative Edge’ in Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies (Report No. 36).

Inbar, Efraim (1998) ‘Israeli National Security, 1973-1996’ in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Vol. 555, No. 1).

Inbar, Efraim (1998). ‘Israel Strategy’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 2, No. 4).

Jones, Clive (1997). ‘Ideotheology: Dissonance and Discourse in the State of Israel’ in Israel Affairs (Vol. 3, No. 3 & 4).

Kimche, David (1996). ‘The Arab-Israeli Peace Process’ in Security Dialogue (Vol 27, No. 2).

Laswell, H. (1941). ‘The Garrison State’ in The American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 46, No. 4).

Mearsheimer, John and Walt, Stephen (2009). ‘Is It Love or Lobby? Explaining America’s Special Relationship with Israel’ in Security Studies (Vol. 18, No. 1).

Mintz, A (1985). ‘Military-Industrial Linkages in Israel’ in Armed forces and Society (Vol. 12, No. 1)

Rodman, David (1997). ‘Patron-Client Dynamics: Mapping the American-Israeli Relationship’ in Israel Affairs (Vol 4. No. 2).

Rodman, David (2011). ‘Israel’s National Security Doctrine: An Introductory Overview’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 5, No. 3).

Steinberg, Gerald M (1996). ‘The 1995 NPT Extension and Review Conference and The Arab-Israeli Peace Process’ in Non-Proliferation Review (Vol. 4, No. 1).

Steinberg, Gerald M (1998). ‘Israel and the United States: Can the Special relationship Survive the New Strategic Environment?’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 2, No. 4).

Telhami, Shibley (1990). ‘Israeli Foreign Policy: A Static Strategy in a Changing World’ in Middle East Journal (Vol. 44, No. 3).

Websites, Articles and Original Sources

Levy, Gideon (22nd December, 2009). ‘Gilad Shalit Must be Released at Any Cost’ in Ha’aretz. Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/gilad-shalit-must-be-released-at-any-cost-1.1639 [Last accessed 08/01/12]/

Makovsky, David (8th March, 1999). ‘Government Approves National Security Council Concept’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)

Makovsky, David (13 April, 2010). ‘Obama and Netanyahu can’t afford to disagree’ in Ha’aretz. Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/obama-and-netanyahu-can-t-afford-to-disagree-1.284148 [Last accessed: 08/01/09]

Rabin, Yitzhak (21st September, 1967). Lecture printed in Academy in Memory of Yitzhak Sadeh (Hebrew, English translation).

Shiff, Z (June 24th, 1979). ‘Whose Professional Opinion Prevails?’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)

Sprinzak, Ehud (29th September, 1998), ‘Revving up an Idle Threat’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)


America’s Global Decline

‘America’s global decline in the twenty-first century is neither desirable nor likely.’ Discuss.
{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science}



[dropcap]A[/dropcap]merica, by many accounts, is already experiencing decline yet shall not be replaced by another power at any point soon. The resilience of the liberal order, the material and structural advantage accumulated by America has ensured that decline will be gradual. ‘Decline’ has manifested itself in cautious and pragmatic US foreign policy both economically and militarily, but there is little to suggest that there will be significant change to the status quo. Contenders to US hegemony, such as China, India and the EU, lack the material resources or political will to make American decline of paradigmatic magnitude. While in gradual decline, America will retain the mantle of global leadership for the remainder of this decade and beyond. Such decline may seem undesirable, but it has potential for good as the liberal economic order underwritten by the US has proven its instability since the turn of the millennium, leading to an uneasy balance in which American perpetually borrows to lend.[1] This system is unsustainable and needing reform. American decline is desirable as it could open discussion on replacing or reforming this economic order. The true extent of American decline will be explored below, examining the cases put forward regarding the America’s economic and military decline, and the ‘rise’ of other powers. It will become clear that while a marked decline in projection of power can be observed, no other state poses a credible challenge to America’s position as hegemon. While America remains the dominant power in the international system the case will be made below that there are grounds to be cautiously optimistic about a decline in American power.

Since Kennedy’s suggestion of imperial overstretch, the discussion of decline has cyclically arisen, it has been stated that ‘[e]very ten years, it is decline time in the United States.’[2] Quinn suggests that this time is different – that decline can be observed through American military and economic power.[3] Since the end of the Cold War America has faced several challenges to its economic preponderance from both Asia and Europe resulting in its share of global economic output declining.[4] The 2007/8 financial crisis added weight to the declinist argument, with American national debt reaching unprecedented levels in 2011.[5] Dependence upon Asia, particularly China, to maintain global stability demonstrates a shift in economic power away from the US.[6] As the financial crisis broke it was not America, but Japan who rallied to bolster the position of the IMF while China became lender of last resort – contrasting with the American post war preponderance demonstrated through economic rescue efforts in Europe and Japan in 1945.[7] America has faced its greatest challenge to economic preponderance from China, which has maintained the most intense period of growth in economic history, some measures suggesting that it has leap-frogged America to become the world’s largest economy.[8] The crisis tested American resolve and capacity to lead, with mixed results. Obama spent the first six months in office preoccupied with the US economy, attempting to prevent its collapse.[9] This quasi-isolationism detracted from America’s role as global leader. The multipolarity of the global economic order in the twenty-first century contrasts with the US dominance of the latter twentieth century – demonstrating decline vis-à-vis its earlier preponderance. The response to the global financial crisis of 2007/8 signifies a shift from the hands-on leadership of the US that had become the norm the previous decade, and a potential shift towards Asia.

Economic challenges may have exposed America’s relative decline in global power, but its military capabilities have also been called into question. Military power is inherently linked to economic strength, as it funds research and development, hardware, and the wages of the armed forces personnel. Thus, in experiencing economic decline it is not unfeasible to experience military decline. Obama announced cuts to the number of US troops in the defence review unveiled in January 2012, changing America’s scope to lead militarily.[10] This is the latest in a series of foreign policy moves under Obama that reflect recognition of the limitations of US military capability. The pragmatic shift under Obama resulted in withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan contrasts with the proactive Bush Doctrine of the early 2000s.[11] Reluctance was demonstrated in response to calls for intervention in Libya, failing to commit ground troops to avoid ‘another Iraq’.[12] The Iranian nuclear threat is another instance of failure by America to resolve a threat to international security, with the nuclear affair continuing over more than a decade without resolution.[13] Quinn also points to the failure by the Obama administration to take advantage of Iranian vulnerability in 2009 to neutralise the challenge of this middle power.[14] Coupled with a weak approach to the development of China’s deep sea capabilities and the testing of nuclear weapons in North Korea, it is clear American military power no longer holds the weight and reach it once had. Such a bleak view of American military capabilities combined with the above view of economic decline suggests that America may indeed be losing its position as global leader. The inability to manage its own economy and the continuing situation in Iran only serves to undermine any claims of US leadership in the global order brings into question America’s credibility as leader.[15] Further to the question of capacity to lead, America’s moral standing is questionable. Its actions have been perceived as increasingly imperial and militaristic, with great discord between its emphasis on liberal values and its treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, or its support for authoritarian regimes in order to combat terrorism.[16]

While the above indicates that American decline is presently occurring, there is much evidence that suggests that, while losing some credibility as leader, America will still continue to dominate the international system. Declinist arguments often overlook some key factors that will contribute to the continued success of America in retaining its position as the global superpower. Regardless of the economic challenges outlined above, all major world powers are operating within the liberal economic framework established by America.[17] The Chinese government may claim to follow a communist doctrine they are playing America’s game, their strength has increased through liberal economics. Global governance through institutions such as the WTO, IMF, World Bank and UN helps maintain American influence. Within these institutions the United States still retains the mantle of leadership. This allows America to have a structural reach and power unrivalled by any other state. Being founded on American liberal ideals they project the American liberal model onto international society, promoting the Americanisation of members of international society. This structural power is most clear economically where the Dollar-Wall Street system is the international norm, making America the global economic centre.[18] China may be rising, but it is rising on US terms. Due to its foreign policy outlook and domestic ideology, it is highly unlikely that China will lead within such institutions, making it unlikely to truly challenge America’s global dominance.[19] Other Asian powers are also unlikely to take the mantle of leadership for they either lack the political will or resources. The EU also lacks the political will, and arguably resources, to lead as it combats the fallout of the sovereign debt crisis with several members being downgraded in Standard & Poor’s January 2012 credit rating. The Eurozone’s financial crisis, and the lack of common security policy, means that the social-economic model of northern Europe could not truly pose an alternative to the dominant American model.[20]

The lack of hard power behind the economy is not only a European phenomenon. Most challengers to American hegemony remain militarily inferior. The American military budget still exceeds the sum of the next fourteen powers combined, while US armed forces still remain the most technologically advanced in the world, retaining military hardware that is superior to other states.[21] The reach of America’s military far exceeds its nearest rivals, with bases in over 120 countries and a naval presence that spans the globe.[22] Recent events demonstrate the US position as military hegemon – the covert operations in Pakistan to eliminate Osama Bin Laden, the call for American support in Libya, and covert operations in Iran attributed to the US and Israel.[23] These activities all demonstrate the global reach America has maintained, though they also reflect a shift towards new forms of military dominance. The lack of challenger to American military dominance indicates that it is still the global superpower, though it may be unable or unwilling to project its power in such as it had in 2001 and 2003.

While American decline is not sufficient enough to lead to its replacement as the global superpower, it may be desirable for it to decline further. Proponents of the liberal world order may argue that the decline of the US could allow for the rise of illiberal China, which will assert its influence in an illiberal manner. This would not be a desirable outcome as a coercive hegemon could potentially lead to large-scale conflict. Proponents of the English School would suggest that it is undesirable as the great power underwriting international society will decline and leave a managerial void.[24] Such a decline could result in the rise of a regionalised world in which Neomedievalism would be the order of the day, though this may be preferable.[25] This could, however, undermine the security of smaller states and result in them becoming vassals of regional hegemons.26 Another argument against decline is that it may create a domestic backlash within America, in which the public become more inclined to elect right-wing governments who are driven by the same imperial ideological tendencies as the Bush Administration in the early 2000s.[27] In order to resist decline such governments could employ more radical policies, and cause further instability and violence within the international system. While these arguments hold a degree of truth and foster caution in arguing for American decline, their bleak outlook seems to neglect some of the more desirable outcomes.

The decline of America in the twenty-first century is not as undesirable as it may be portrayed through the above arguments. The global economic order has proven itself to be volatile and unsustainable.[28] The bursting of the ‘dot-com bubble’ in 2000 and the 2007/8 financial crisis are two recent reminders of the fragility of this economic order underwritten by America. Further to the international implications of the Americanised economic order, the domestic arrangements of the United States are not promising. The degree of economic disparity within America is staggering, and does not reflect well on liberal economics.[29] With millions living below the poverty line without basic healthcare, it is a wonder that the ‘American Dream’ has such magnetism. American decline is desirable as it would allow for greater discussion over the future direction of the global economic order and may allow for the growth of a more social economy, not unlike the Scandinavian model. Not only would a declining America allow for potential restructuring of the global economic order, it could also reduce the imperial tendencies of America, restoring a balance of power. The creation of a more regionalised world would limit America’s ability to carry out as many imperialistic endeavours as it has carried out throughout its hegemonic reign. America has invaded countries against the will of the international community; refused to participate in international institutions that were not perceived to be in its interests; and hypocritically bolstered dictatorial regimes in order to further its own interests.[30] Thus the rise of a regionalised world is desirable for its potential to limit such actions, and allow for a system in which states do not have to fear interference from a preponderant power. American decline is not as undesirable as has been suggested by many American commentators as it will allow for the potential transformation of the global economic order, and a more peaceful international system in which one state is not able to act in a manner contrary to the stability of international society.

While the liberal order is still the modus operandi of international society, America is in decline vis-à-vis its position of preponderance in the post-Cold War period. This decline has been managed by the network of global institutions it had created to manage the international system. The contrast between the ideologically driven Bush Doctrine and Obama’s pragmatic foreign policy seems to have accentuated this decline, making commentators suggest that this time it is different. The US is in relative decline, though it still retains its position as global leader, with Obama working hard to restore credibility in its position as leader after the damage caused by the Bush administration.[31] The reluctance and lack of material capacity of other powers has further ensured that America will retain its position as global leader. It is too soon to tell whether a declining US is indeed desirable, but what is clear is that the current international order hangs in fine balance, teetering on the edge of catastrophic economic breakdown. The decline of America is desirable to the extent that it would open up discussion that could lead to a more sustainable international order. American decline is, therefore, inevitable in the sense that it is already occurring and desirable as it could lead to much needed reform of the international economic order.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

1 Robert Hunter Wade, ‘Bringing the Economics Back in’, Security Dilemma 35 2004: pp.243-249; Adam Quinn, ‘The Art of Declining Politely: Obama’s prudent presidency and the waning of American Power’, International Affairs 87: 4, 2011, p.806.
2 Josef Joffe, ‘The Default Power: The False Prophecy of America’s Decline’, Foreign Affairs 88: 5, 2009 p.21
3 Quinn (2011), p.805
4Michael Cox, ‘Is the United States in decline-again? An Essay’, International Affairs 83:4, 2007, p.652-3; Harold James, ‘International order after the financial crisis’, International Affairs 87: 3, 2011 pp.525-537; Quinn (2011), p.806-8
5 James (2011), p.530-2
6 Amitav Acharya, ‘Can Asia Lead?’ International Affairs 87: 4, 2011, p.860
7 Ibid. p.530-2; Michael Cox, ‘Empire by Denial? Debating US Power’, Security Dialogue 35, 2004, p.233
8 James (2011) p.530, for figures to the contrary see Table 1 in Amitav Acharya, ‘Can Asia Lead?’ International Affairs 87: 4, 2011, pp.852-869
9 James M. Lindsay, ‘George W. Bush, Barack Obama and the future of US Global Leadership’ International Affairs 84: 4, 2007, p.776
10Department of Defense, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012: http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf last accessed 21st January 2012, 17.18 GMT
11 Lindsay (2007) p.770-2; Quinn (2011) p.814-816.
12 Quinn (2011) p.821-2
13 See Wyn Q. Bowen and Jonathan Brewer, ‘Iran’s Nuclear Challenge: nine years and counting’, International Affairs 87: 4 2011, pp.923-943
14 Quinn (2011) p.818
15 Barry Buzan, ‘A Leader Without Followers? The United States in World Politics after Bush’, International Politics 45, 2008, pp.554-570
16 Ibid. p.556-558, 563; Cox (2004) p.232-234; Cox (2007) p.647-651, 652; Peter Gowan, ‘Empire as Superstructure’, Security Dialogue 35, 2004, p.258-261; Peter Hurrell, ‘Power and the International System’, Security Dialogue 35 p.255
17Wade (2004) p.244-248
18 Gowan (2004) p.259; James (2011) p.533; Peter Saull, ‘On the ‘New’ American ‘Empire’’, Security Dialogue 35 p.252; Wade (2004) p.245-249
19 Acharya (2011) p.859
20 James (2011) p.529-530
21 Cox (2004) p.229, Joffe (2009) p.29
22 Ibid. p.233
23Quinn (2011) p.811, 814; Frederik Dahl, ‘IAEA rejects Iran accusation over scientist’s killing’, Reuters 20th January 2012: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/20/us-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUSTRE80J13H20120120 last accessed 21st January 2012 22:05 GMT
24Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, Third Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002: p.200-206
25Bull (2002) p.245, 254-5, 266, 275
26 Buzan (2008) p.565-7
27 Ibid. p.557-558
28 Cox (2007) p.652; Quinn (2011) p.806; Wade, (2004) p.245-6,
29 Buzan (2008) p.558
30 Buzan, (2008) p.558,565; Cox (2004) p.231; Cox (2007) p.647-649; Gowan (2004) p.258; Hurrell (2004) p.255
31 Buzan (2008) p.558


Acharya, Amitav, 2011. ‘Can Asia Lead?’ International Affairs 87: 4 pp.851-869
Bowen, Wyn Q. and Jonathan Brewer, 2011. ‘Iran’s Nuclear Challenge: nine years and counting’, International Affairs 87: 4 pp.923-943
Bull, Hedley, 2002. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, Third Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Buzan, Barry, 2008. ‘A Leader Without Followers? The United States in World Politics after Bush’, International Politics 45: pp.554-570
Cox, Michael E., 2004. ‘Empire by Denial? Debating US Power’, Security Dialogue 35: pp.228-236
Cox, Michael E., 2007. ‘Is the United States in decline-again? An Essay’, International Affairs 83:4, pp.643-653
Dahl, Frederik., 2012. ‘IAEA rejects Iran accusation over scientist’s killing’, Reuters 20th January 2012: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/20/us-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUSTRE80J13H20120120 last accessed 21st January 2012 22:05 GMT
Department of Defense, 2012. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012: http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf last accessed 21st January 2012, 17.18 GMT
Gowan, Peter, 2004. ‘Empire as Superstructure’, Security Dialogue 35: pp.258-261
James, Harold, 2011. ‘International order after the financial crisis’, International Affairs 87: 3, pp.525-537
Joffe, Josef, 2009. ‘The Default Power: The False Prophecy of America’s Decline’, Foreign Affairs 88: 5, pp.21-35
Lindsay, James M. 2007 ‘George W. Bush, Barack Obama and the future of US Global Leadership’ International Affairs 84: 4, pp.765-779
Quinn, Adam, 2011. ‘The Art of Declining Politely: Obama’s prudent presidency and the waning of American Power’, International Affairs 87: 4, pp.803-824
Saull, Peter, 2004. ‘On the ‘New’ American ‘Empire’’, Security Dialogue 35 pp.250-253
Wade, Robert Hunter, 2004. ‘Bringing the Economics Back in’, Security Dialogue 35: pp.243-249;


What Role Will The United States Take In An Iranian Attack?

An attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities would take hundreds of sorties over several weeks. Eventually Israel would require the support of the United States.



[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith the mounting covert war between Israel, the United States and Iran, tensions are on the rise. It is worthwhile to examine how an attack on Iran would unfold. While a conflict between the two isn’t inevitable yet, this post assumes a war will happen and will look particularly at what role the United States is likely to play.

If there is an attack, it is probably going to be a unilateral one by Israel. There is a closing window in which Israel can strike. Israeli officials have described Iran as being on the verge of entering a “zone of immunity”, after which the Iranian nuclear program will be hard to destroy. Iran is currently building an underground installation at Qom. Once it’s completed Israel won’t be able to attack it without American help. Israeli leaders are very conscious of this fact, hence the heightened chatter in recent months about launching an attack. Israel believes that their air force can probably destroy the current installations, but once construction at Qom is completed, they would need American help. Israel isn’t willing to bet its future survival, which in their view is threatened by Iran, on the possibility of American support. Israel appears to know that they won’t get American support for launching an attack and won’t tell Washington beforehand. They have stopped sharing intelligence about their military preparations for a possible strike, which is probably fine by the United States. That way they will have plausible deniability about foreknowledge of Israeli plans.

The United States will not involve itself in the outset of a conflict between Iran and Israel. President Obama himself seems to expect Israel to strike soon, reportedly telling Chinese officials that America can’t hold back Israel indefinitely. Additionally, the presidential election is an important factor that must be considered. Obama has high approval ratings for his handling of international affairs. It is unlikely that he would jeopardize one of his strongest cards against the Republicans in order to fight a war that he doesn’t view as essential to America’s national interest. It would also be devastating on the economic front, as a war with Iran would unsettle the financial markets and raise the price of oil, which would only halter the precarious global economic recovery. An attack would also impact the Arab Spring, possibly turning it anti-American. The regime in Syria would be strengthened, and Islamist political parties throughout nascent democracies would increase their anti-American rhetoric. There is also the strong possibility of counter attacks on Americans stationed in the region. The failed attacks in India, Thailand and Georgia in the last week have shown that Iran, through proxies like Hezbollah, has a global reach (albeit not a particularly competent one). The risk to the lives of American troops will surely have an important weight on the Commander-in-Chief’s decision making.

As a recent Newsweek article pointed out, it is likely that the United States would have to complete any action against Iran that Israel started. Israel doesn’t have the capacity to to wage a long drawn-out bombing campaign. An attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities would take hundreds of sorties over several weeks. Eventually Israel would require the support of the United States. This would include providing Israel with refueling planes, help with combating Iranian air defense and replenishing Israel’s bomb supply. This is the only scenario in which the United States is likely to involve themselves, knowing that a half finished strike on Iran would be the worst possible outcome. There would be fear that Tehran would then quickly develop a bomb, and having already been attacked, would be more likely to use it. In such a scenario the United States would surely involve itself and join in the campaign.

Israel & Egypt: War On The Horizon

With the prospect of war between Israel and Egypt, peace with the Palestinians is needed now more than ever.



[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e in the West have been vociferous in our support of the transformation taking place in the Middle East; democracy is finally coming to the Arabs. The bleak mid-winter autocratic landscape is thawing, the green shoots of pluralism, freedom of speech and equality are tentatively climbing their way up the twine that we in the West so carefully and delicately prepared.

Is that not, in essence, what we infer when we use the phrase “Arab Spring”? Does it not conjure up images of a return to an ‘Arab Summer’ and the cultural and technical advancements of the Caliphate, a time where the Islamic world bowed to none and distributed knowledge to all?

There are numerous issues with such a label, not least that no-one partaking in the uprisings would contemplate calling the movement as such. But more important is this insinuation that the Middle East (and North Africa) are to move into an era reminiscent of times gone by, a time of prosperity and success. Such an eventuality, in the short-term, is highly unlikely; the destruction of many of the old oriental elites has the potential for a catastrophic collapse of regional stability.

If any region can be described with any element of certainty as capricious it is without doubt the Middle East. The region has seen violence uninterrupted throughout the 20th century, much of it related to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. And it is Israel that will inevitably provide the stumbling block for regional stability in this forthcoming period, even if we leave the Iranian issue well out of the equation.

The Arab-Israeli peace process made its first hesitant steps in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War with the Disengagement Treaties of 1974 and 1975 between Egypt and Israel. Egypt wished to regain control over the Sinai peninsula, and a hesitant Israel was enticed to the negotiating table following an unrefusable offer by the United States; the scene was set for the Camp David framework for peace in 1978 and the peace treaty itself the subsequent year.

The Camp David agreement is to become increasingly important as the internal politics of Egypt undergo dramatic change. The Arab Spring has resulted in the Arab ‘street’ possessing a far greater hold over the direction in which Arab states will develop, and given the antipathy towards the Jewish-majority state we should expect this to materialize on some level in a breakdown of bilateral relations.

Thus the change within Egypt, given her relationship with, and proximity to, Israel, should be of great concern. The Muslim Brotherhood have already threatened to change the terms of the 1979 peace treaty should American aid to Egypt be revoked, arguing that such a move would violate the terms of the 1979 Treaty. But the Brotherhood is equally as able to negate the agreement given the lack of development in regard to the Palestinian conundrum.

The preamble to the 1979 peace treaty affirmed both parties resolve to adhere to the framework for peace agreed upon at Camp David. Section A of that framework called for full autonomy for the inhabitants of the occupied territories following the free election of a self-governing authority. It dictated that Israeli military forces and civilian administration of the West Bank and Gaza would be withdrawn following a transitional phase of no more than 5 years following such elections. Given Israeli failure in regard to this aspect, the Brotherhood is – and within their rights – able to claim that Israel has failed to adhere to the pact. A unilateral abrogation of the treaty would create a distinct lack of confidence in the region, especially if it became apparent that an Iranian hand was at play.

Fortunately whilst the military still exert power and influence over the Arab republic it seems unlikely that such a dissolution will be permitted to occur. The old Generals remember well the horrors of war and they are unlikely to permit a liquefaction of the 1979 treaty. However, as and when the SCAF lose political hegemony within Egypt we will undoubtedly see a government that does not possess experiences of the brutality of war. They will reminisce romantically over “glorious” war with Israel and may well lead Egypt into another.

There are many reasons why Israel should resolve the Palestinian issue by the end of this decade. The growing threat of settlers to the Israeli demographic being high on this author’s list, but external factors must be brought into account. Israel wishes for two things: 1) no more violence, and 2) no more Arab claims. If she wishes to achieve any lasting version of the first she must act now to bring about a resolution of the Palestinian issue, the second should be exactly that: secondary.