Tag Archives: Israel

Sustainable but inconvenient – Two more folkways slide closer to the edge

by Rhodri C. Williams

Two feature stories in BBC World help to remind us how we are our own worst enemies. In two very different parts of the world, as we all go about our daily business of accumulating exotic and unsustainable consumer goods and producing carbon and toxic garbage, two traditional, sustainable and harmonious ways of life are quietly being snuffed out by the forces of globalization and politics.

First, BBC reports on the fate of the nomadic reindeer herders of the Yamal peninsula in Siberia. Sound like the kind of implausible lifestyle that sensible people would have thrown over long ago for office jobs? Turns out they have been more stubborn than you might think: Continue reading

Mixed signals on citizenship

by Rhodri C. Williams

The last few weeks have brought a confusing spate of reports that predict the demise of traditional, monogamous one person-one passport citizenship along with others that indicate that states are more determined than ever to retain its essence. So what does this have to do with this blog? Well, for one thing, citizenship is the glue that governments have traditionally used to bind particular populations to the territories they control, completing the triangle of statehood. But the issue also has personal overtones for me as part of the great global expat class. I’ve got two dual citizen kids, and could probably use a bit of dual citizenship myself, at the very least as a matter of administrative convenience.

Should administrative convenience count? The Economist argues yes in an editorial the week before last, noting that traditional citizenship was never an ironclad guarantee of loyalty, and nor is it particularly relevant to security in an age of professional militaries. Although significant complications involving voting rights are acknowledged, the magazine sees and applauds a trend toward routine multiple citizenship as an economic win-win situation, and one in which tax residence can serve as a new and more practical signifier of political loyalties:

Rather than making a fetish out of passports, a better approach would be to use residence (especially tax residence) as the main criterion for an individual’s rights and responsibilities. That encourages cohesion and commitment, because it stems from a conscious decision to live in a country and abide by its rules.

However, an article in the same Economist outlines new restrictions on the acquisition of dual citizenship imposed by EU states such as the Netherlands and Germany. Meanwhile, citizenship law expert Peter Spiro posts on Opinio Juris on how the US – which is already virtually unique in imposing double taxation on its better-earning expat citizens – has now piled on burdensome reporting requirements on assets held abroad. Spiro notes that the requirement may make it impossible for the 4-6 million Americans abroad to open local bank accounts and speculates that many with dual citizenship will go underground or renounce their US citizenship.

However, Israel appears to have gone furthest in bucking the trend toward more liberal citizenship rules, with its  Supreme Court deciding last week that Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens may be categorically excluded from citizenship. Sound a bit … oh, well … hard to square with fundamental non-discrimination norms?  Israeli judge Asher Grunis will no doubt long be remembered for his pithy response:

Human rights do not prescribe national suicide.

Well, don’t they now? In a separate and fascinating survey of trends in citizenship law, Peter Spiro argues in the latest American Journal of International Law that perhaps they do. Sadly, the full article lurks behind a subscription-wall, but the abstract can be read here:

State practices relating to nationality and citizenship have historically been insulated from international law. That is beginning to change as citizenship moves into a human rights frame. Citizenship practices relating to naturalization, birthright citizenship, and dual citizenship are being measured against anti-discrimination and self-governance norms. These developments will expand access to citizenship, though the new international law of citizenship may also contribute to the erosion of state solidarities that are important to liberal governance.

In essence, Spiro argues that human rights norms are inexorably curtailing the the traditional prerogative of states to ‘self-define’ their membership through the discretionary grant of citizenship. Given that human rights advocates have focused on forbidding the arbitrary denial of citizenship to long-term residents, liberal theory would ordinarily hold that those eligible for citizenship under such terms would likely have integrated over time and made the type of “conscious decision to live in a country and abide by its rules” the Economist lauds (above) in promoting tax residence as a sort of contemporary proxy for what citizenship has been.

However, Spiro cites the scale of current migration and the nature of globalization in questioning whether such bonds can still be said to automatically result from residency. Ultimately, he raises the question of whether “internationally mandated membership” may not only reduce the levels of solidarity in states, but also – and as a result – their actual capacity to continue acting as the primary guarantors of human rights. Death of states? Not necessarily. Default devolution of some of the central attributes of sovereignty to supranational institutions that will hopefully have the legitimacy and capacity to pick up the slack by then? Well, stay tuned.

So where do my loyalties (or at least my sympathies) lie? I pay taxes and consume services in Sweden, and enjoy a quality of life here that would be the envy of a vast proportion of my fellow global citizens. I participate most emphatically in the culture of Finland, or rather Åland, at least since I got involved in the slightly manic ritual of wrestling the annual midsummer pole up along with the other (and better qualified) yeomen of my wife’s ancestral village. And whenever I get back to the  States again, its like I’ve woken up from a dream. Not a bad one, mind you, but one that has you scratching your head because it seemed so plausible at the time, but could it really have been like that?? I guess a bit of cultural vertigo is the sign of our times.

Week in links – week 44/2011 – restitution in Libya, privatization in Cuba, assimilation in Israel

I’m a little behind this week having been in Cyprus, where I participated in the launch of the paper on property issues I co-wrote with Ayla Gürel for PRIO. The local feedback was very helpful as we are planning to expand the scope of inquiry a bit beyond the fallout of the Demopoulos case in the coming months.

Much of interest from the net this week, including one of the first really good reports on the transitional housing, land and property (HLP) issues in post-revolution Libya from the Guardian. This new article goes well beyond the expensive but relatively tractable reconstruction issues described by BBC last week and enters into the far more fraught territory of what to do about the great transfer of assets that resulted from the Ghaddafi regime’s selective nationalization of property.

Quite a few familiar dilemmas arise, including lurking historical claims (in this case, those of expelled Jews), multiple subsequent purchases by third parties, weak courts, unclear rules, the suspicious 1982 destruction of the land registry, and the fact that the expropriations had (in many cases) a genuinely distributive element, meaning that reversing them would disproportionately worsen the situation of marginalized groups.

In the area of belatedly getting with the times, the New York Times reports that Cuba has now formally adopted a new property law allowing far less restricted transactions in homes than was previously the case (see earlier observations on these developments here). After decades of state control, no one seems to be able to predict where this will go, although some positive economic affects and quick attempts to buy in to the property market by exile Cubans seem like safe bets.

In the area of never getting with the times, the Guardian reports that Israel has proposed a bill to allow the near wholesale resettlement of Bedouin nomads from (what remains of) their traditional territories in the Negev desert to planned new towns. All in the name of modernisation and progress, all undertaken without consulting those affected or paying any heed to the fact that previously forcibly urbanized Bedouins have hardly benefited. Very 1960s. A brief excerpt from the article reads like a compendium of discredited colonial and post-colonial assimilation policies:

Before 1948, the Bedouin tribes lived and grazed their animals on much of the Negev, claiming ancestral rights to the land. In the following decades, the state of Israel took over almost all of the land; the Bedouin lost more than 3,200 land ownership cases in the Israeli courts in the early 1970s, rejected mainly on the grounds there was no proper documentation. Now the Bedouin are claiming ownership of about 5% of the Negev as traditional tribal lands.

Three years ago, the government commissioned a retired judge, Eliezer Goldberg, to make recommendations for dealing with the Bedouin. He advised that many of their villages should be recognised, acknowledging their “general historic ties” to the land.

A committee chaired by the planning policy chief, Ehud Prawer, was tasked with looking at how to implement Goldberg’s recommendations, and proposed the immediate transfer to the state of 50% of the land claimed by the Bedouin, minimal compensation for the remaining land with severe exclusions and the demolition of 35 unrecognised villages. The Bedouin were neither represented on nor consulted by the committee.

As my soapbox is only so big, I’ll leave aside the issue of Israel’s apparently retaliatory expansion of its West Bank settlements this week.

And a last note, the Guardian also reports on the aftermath of the Dale Farm evictions in the UK (see previous WiL)

Week in links – Week 37/2011: Palestinian statehood and other matters

With Mahmoud Abbas’ (by all accounts rather persuasive) affirmation today that Palestine would seek full membership in the UN, the stage is set for a showdown in the most dramatic and controversial attempt to exercise the right to self-determination in some time. This development has been bemoaned by a ‘pro-Palestinian anti-statehood’ school of thought perhaps best expressed in a recent legal opinion by Oxford professor Guy Goodwin-Gill. The New York Times editorial page and other observers have also raised concerns that a vote for statehood will also derail the possibility of negotiations entirely, delaying yet further a sustainable end to the conflict. And as noted by Robert M. Danin at Foreign Affairs, the decision to seek de jure status may also lead to the abandonment of a project of de facto state building that appeared to be working:

By focusing on state-building, the PA had improved living conditions and strengthened security for Palestinians. All along, one of its aims was to create a peaceful and conducive environment for negotiations, rendering Israel’s occupation unnecessary and ultimately unjustifiable. And indeed, slowly and without fanfare, Israelis have taken steps to lift the burden of the occupation on Palestinians, opening the West Bank a little more to the movement of people and goods and allowing Palestinian security forces to expand their control over larger parts of the West Bank. The under-the-radar approach made such tangible improvements possible.

In fact, the Israeli response has been to warn of the ‘harsh and grave consequences’ of UN recognition of Palestine, fuelling speculation that this could lead to outright annexation of parts of the West Bank. And lest anyone forget the complications involved in the territorial question, David Makovsky has provided a fascinating graphic of the current proposals as an Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Meantime, perhaps the parties to the Middle East conflict may be inspired by Belgium, which has finally resolved a deadlock focused on three contested municipalities near Brussels and may get a government 15 months after elections.

In less uplifting news, the ramifications of the oil pipeline fire in a Nairobi slum that killed scores of residents continue to unfold, with competent officials passing blame back and forth. To make a long story short, it reads like the fact section in the Öneryildiz case before the European Court of Human Rights several years back, in which Turkey was held responsible for violations of the right to life and property for having failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the foreseeable explosion of a garbage dump located near a slum. Perhaps some jurisprudence for the fledgling African Court of Human and People’s Rights to consider.

Finally, the New York Times provides some timely political analysis of the land struggle currently shaking the Bajo Aguán valley in northern Honduras.

Week in links – Week 30/2011

Discerning TN readers will have noted that the blog has now clearly gone into summer mode (even if its slightly workaholic administrator has, regrettably, not entirely managed the same trick). In any case, I’ve tried to keep track of a few interesting items, below, for what should now properly be called the ‘month in links’.

It’s also my pleasure to announce an upcoming guest-posting by Veronica P. Fynn, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Internal Displacement. Veronica will introduce the journal and highlight some of the property issues covered in its first edition (full disclosure: my recent NRC report on Liberia is under consideration for reprinting in a forthcoming edition).

And now, some HLP highlights from July 2011:

– Beginning with UN Special Mechanisms, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter has published an article in the Harvard International Law Journal on “The Green Rush: The Global Race for Farmland and the Rights of Land Users“.  Mr. De Schutter introduces the piece with a nice summary in Opinio Juris, in which he suggests the need to move beyond decrying the global land rush phenomenon to seeking ways to minimize its negative impact on local communities. However, Katharina Pistor’s response in OJ highlights significant obstacles to such approaches, both at the level of politics and of theory.

– Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik recently followed up on her report on the right to housing in the wake of conflict and disasters (posted on here) with a trip to Haiti in which she appealed for an end to forced evictions and endorsed a proposal by UN-HABITAT for a “comprehensive strategy for reconstruction and return”. A further report on post-disaster housing issues is said to be shortly forthcoming.

– UNHCR recently called for the creation of “new tools” to address the effect of climate change-induced displacement. The agency also released a report noting the 80% of the world’s refugees now find themselves in developing countries and that protracted displacement is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

– Although the most recent coverage of Kyrgyzstan on TN related to the defensive and unconstructive reaction of the national government to a critical report by an international Commission of Inquiry on last summer’s violence in the country’s south, the local response apparently continues to deteriorate as well. EurasiaNet now reports that the authorities of the city of Osh, where the violence against ethnic Uzbeks reached its peak, have rediscovered their infatuation with an urban master plan from 1978. The failure of the authorities to stop a heavily armed mob from demolishing centrally located Uzbek neighborhoods, while regrettable, now presents an opportunity to build  high-rise housing, and reconstruction – even with the prospect of Asian Development Bank funding – is not on the agenda.

– Keeping on the theme of bad behavior, Israel gets the latest award for innovations in forced evictions (previous honors went to Cambodia for the use of dredging machines). BBC reports that Bedouins in the Negev Desert now not only face regular demolition of their homes but will also be expected to foot the bill for this important public service.

– On a more positive note, BBC has also reported on a recent decision by the Cuban government to allow open sales of homes and cars in Cuba. In a follow-up piece, the BBC described the pressing need for such reforms in a setting where the previous system of exchanges with government approval and without money changing hands fostered informality and corruption. As noted previously on TN, BBC coverage has not addressed the issue of historical claims by exile Cubans that may exist against some of the properties involved. Thus, it is only possible to speculate on whether Cuban privatization now may serve a similar dual purpose to Cambodian privatization in the late 198os, where investing current users with greater rights also served to dilute the claims of exiled historical owners.

Week in links – Week 22/2011

– A Guardian investigation shows that British firms have now secured more land in Africa for biofuels than those of any other country. Unwanted publicity, it seems, particularly in light of Oxfam’s simultaneous citation of biofuel production as a factor in an ongoing food crisis that may see the prices of staples double in the next two decades.

-In the long gap since my last postings on Haiti, the basic dynamic of urban IDP camps settling into informal settlement status is little changed, but the resulting tensions appear to be coming to a head. By November last year, tenure insecurity in IDP camps had become so rife that a coalition of rights groups sought and received a directive from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordering the Haitian authorities to “stop evicting earthquake survivors from camps unless they are provided safe and adequate shelter.” However, last week Beverly Bell of Other Worlds reported on a series of violent and systematic forced evictions of IDPs in the Delmas district of Port au Prince. The evictions were ordered by local mayor Wilson Jeudi, who justified them by disputing the humanitarian vulnerability of the residents:

Jeudi called the camps “disorderly” and claimed that many of those in the tents did not actually live there. “They just come to do their commercial activities [thievery and prostitution] and go back to their homes in the evening.”

The mayor said that no compensation would be offered to those ousted from their temporary shelter. “We were all victims of the earthquake,” he added.

-Meanwhile, a leaked USAID-commissioned report appeared to give some support to Mr. Jeudi’s diatribe, alleging not only that the death toll from the quake was less than one-third of the officially reported 316,000, but also that only 895,000 IDPs moved into the IDP camps after the quake with 375,000 remaining now (compared with IOM’s numbers of 1.5 million original residents and 680,000 current). Most interesting to Mr. Jeudi, the report also “suggests many of those still living in tent cities did not lose their homes in the disaster.” The report is not yet officially released due to the need to address apparent inconsistencies.

– The BBC carries a rather sad story about Palestinian refugees engaged in a lawsuit not be able to return to the village they fled in 1948 – a point they appear to have largely conceded – but to prevent others from living there in its proposed reincarnation as a luxury housing development.

The week in links – week 41/2010

This week’s food for thought:

– Continuing the nervous drumbeat on the upcoming Southern Sudan referendum, here is Open Democracy on the apparent new delay to the Abyei referendum, and a good news-then-bad news analysis by Phillipe De Pontet at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

– The International Law Observer notes that the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is now official – a recent decision by the Human Rights Council brings the number of states that have gone on the record to 178.

– Meanwhile, the FAO Right to Food people are about to release a guideline on responsible land tenure management and the right to food (it is available now in Spanish).

– Lyric Thompson reports in Open Democracy on the whiff of UN politics behind the anticlimactic tenth birthday party in the UN Security Council for Resolution 1325.

– In case anyone forgot the link between land and identity, here is a comment in the Jerusalem Post on what the construction ban and its absence is seen to signify by some in the Middle East. In the meantime, the NYT reports on the resumption of construction plans in East Jerusalem, and Open Democracy has news of a possible response, with the Arab League apparently considering whether to “appeal directly to the UN to recognise the state of Palestine.”

– From the US, Paul Krugman reports on the ongoing fallout of the mortgage crisis and the fact that it now appears that the USA, one of the world’s great proponents of rule of law and the sanctity of property, is witnessing foreclosures by banks that are unable to actually document the mortgage agreements they are enforcing.

– And in the unremarked on but terrifying land violence category, IRIN reports on inter-clan skirmishes over land in northeastern Kenya that displaced 600 families.

– Finally, the ECFR has issued a new short comment and report on the ‘spectre of a multipolar Europe with a fairly provocative set of findings:

  • The post-Cold War order is unravelling. Rather than uniting under a single system, Europe’s big powers are moving apart. Tensions between them have made security systems dysfunctional: they failed to prevent war in Kosovo and Georgia, instability in Kyrgyzstan, disruption to Europe’s gas supplies, and solve frozen conflicts.
  • The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions. Russia and Turkey may complain more, but the EU has the most to lose from the current peaceful disorder.
  • A frustrated Turkey still wants to join the EU, but it is increasingly pursuing an independent foreign policy and looking for a larger role as a regional power. In the words of foreign minister Davutoglu, Turkey is now an ‘actor not an issue’. Its accession negotiations to the EU should be speeded up, and it must also be engaged as an important regional power.
  • Russia never accepted the post-Cold War order. Moscow is now strong enough to openly challenge it, but its Westpolitik strategy also means that it is open to engagement – that is why Dmitri Medvedev suggested a new European security treaty a couple of years ago.
  • Obama’s non-appearance at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the latest sign that the US is no longer focused on Europe’s internal security. Washington has its hands full dealing with Afghanistan, Iran and China and is no longer a European power.