International law and politics collide…
Seumas Milne has a rather excellent piece on The Guardian’s Comment is Free pages arguing that the impunity which Israel is given from international law will have far-reaching and uniformly bad consequences for the Middle East and also, potentially, Western powers if the situation ‘spilsover’. Much of what Milne said should go without saying and it has certainly long been my view that Israel is viewed too fondly by Western powers and that its carte blanche with regard to international law is damaging for it, us and the whole region.
David Miliband’s comments following the issue of an arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were frankly embarrassing in how fawning they were;
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Israel was a “close friend” of the UK’s and stressed he was keen to “avoid this sort of situation arising again”.
Notions of Israeli exceptionalism and an inflamed sense of hurt national pride even extend to those within Israel normally critical of how things are done as Haaretz shows in the tone of its reporting of the Livni affair;
Britain pledged Tuesday to reform the peculiar legal power that lets judges order the arrest of visiting politicians and generals – a threat currently focused on Israeli visitors that, one day, might be invoked against Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin.
The universal jurisdiction system was tested out by Britain when General Augusto Pinochet was held under house arrest for 16 months and pioneered by Britain and Spain though Spain has subsequently dropped the system because it encountered similar criticism that it was ‘acting like a global policeman’.
However, the contradiction between what Miliband is prepared to rhetorically commit too and his (and Gordon Brown’s) fawning dash to sooth ruffled Israeli feathers is shown by his committment to a document that said;
“The European Union will continue to do its utmost to promote an international order where no state or individual is above the law and no person is outside the protection of the law.”
Of course, the problem with a consistent application of international law is the complications of international politics and alliances which in practice; until the two are separated properly will see the latter ensuring the former is the most obvious double-standard. For example, if universal jurisdiction is suspended what right did the Western world have to say to the Taliban that they must legally handover Osama Bin Laden (since there were no Afghani victims of 9/11)?
International law cannot be subject to the restrictions imposed on it by international politics; while there are occasional good reasons for the former to be subject to the latter, the hurt feelings of a ‘good friend’ like Israel is not one of them….