Voice

A grand bargain on Palestinian multilateralism?

The Arab League's top official has suggested that the Palestinians will seek to push for UN Security Council involvement in the peace process:

“We cannot continue with the same process of the last 20 years,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said in Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “This is just a waste of time.”

He said the Palestinians will seek the help of the Security Council in resolving their conflict with Israel, though not without first consulting with governments of influence such as the Obama administration.

“We need a new approach that aims to end the conflict, not to manage it,” he said on his first visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Meanwhile, other commentators are urging the Palestinians to advance their cause at the International Criminal Court. The UN General Assembly vote last month according Palestine observer state status may have cleared the way for the ICC to consider crimes committed on Palestinian territory (the ICC had refused to open an investigation previously because of uncertainty about whether Palestine was a state).  Commentator Sharif Nashashibi wrote recently in Al Arabiya, "the time for ICC application and legal action is now." 

A trade-off might be in order. Always outnumbered and often isolated on Israel-Palestine issues, the United States has for several decades managed to keep the Security Council to a marginal role on the peace process. But Washington and Jerusalem are deeply concerned about ICC involvement in Palestine, which raises the prospect of Israel's settlement policy being deemed criminal. I suspect that concern runs deep enough that they might even be willing to consider a greater form of Security Council involvement in exchange for a  Palestinian agreement to shelve their ICC petition.

Allowing the Security Council back into the Middle East peace process in a sustained way  would be a bitter pill. But for Washington, the Council may be much safer than the court.   

The Multilateralist

Brunei takes ASEAN helm

In a few days, tiny Brunei takes over from Cambodia as chair of the regional organization ASEAN. Cambodia's leadership was controversial, and several members accused it of yielding to Chinese influence on the South China Sea dispute. Chayut Setboonsarng considers what to expect:

As chairman, Brunei's mandate will be to set the agenda and issue the chairman's statements at ministerial meetings and leaders' summits. This is a powerful tool for a country with a population of 400,000.

Observers have dismissed Brunei as a diplomatic featherweight. However, it has considerably high stakes in Asean's success. Unlike Cambodia, Brunei is a disputant in the South China Sea. This compounds the issue and suggests that Brunei may take a stronger line against China's claims.

How well it can persuade other Asean countries will hinge on the diplomatic prowess of its statesmen. Brunei's Foreign Minister, Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, has famously advocated "defence diplomacy"--a doctrine that focuses on continuous dialogue and personal relationships. This may give some indication of how the Sultanate will use its status as Asean chair to approach the dispute.

Writing in the Asia Times, Richard Javad Heydarian notes that Beijing has some important leverage over Brunei:

Like Cambodia, Brunei has considerable economic ties to China. While Beijing has leveraged multi-billion dollar concessional loans, investments, and grants to woo comparatively poor Cambodia, it has also become increasingly involved in Brunei's crucial oil and gas sector. Brunei is heavily dependent on its soon-to-be-depleted hydrocarbon resources, which currently account for around 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 90% of total export earnings....

In the absence of strong democratic institutions, Brunei's ruling royal family depends heavily on hydrocarbon earnings to prop up its security apparatus and appease the population through generous welfare and subsidy schemes. China is thus not only a major customer and source of advanced offshore-drilling technology, but also a means as Brunei's second-largest market for Brunei to diversify its highly hydrocarbon-dependent economy.