WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

The World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference, will run until Feb. 26 to March 1, 2024, in Abu Dhabi. (X: @NOIweala)
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Updated 26 February 2024
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WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

ABU DHABI: The world’s trade ministers gathered in the UAE on Monday for a high-level WTO meeting with no clear prospects for breakthroughs, amid geopolitical tensions and disagreements.
The World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference (MC13), scheduled to run until Thursday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the first in two years.
The WTO is hoping for progress, particularly on fishing, agriculture and electronic commerce.
But big deals are unlikely as the body’s rules require full consensus among all 164 member states — a tall order in the current climate.
“I don’t have hopes that a very substantive agreement will be announced,” said Marcelo Olarreaga, Professor of Economics at the University of Geneva.
“My impression is that the negotiators are dealing with tactical positions — how to make it look like it is the other (side) who is blocking negotiations,” he told AFP.
Even WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said she expects the meeting to be challenging due to the “economic and political headwinds” — from the war in Ukraine, attacks in the Red Sea, inflation, rising food prices and economic difficulties in Europe and China.
Her team is working around the clock to draft agreements for the talks, she told journalists this month, noting that “negotiating positions are still quite tough,” notably on agriculture.

During the WTO’s last ministerial meeting, held at its Geneva headquarters in June 2022, trade ministers nailed down a historic deal banning fisheries subsidies harmful to marine life and agreed to a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines.
They also committed themselves to re-establishing a dispute settlement system which Washington had brought to a grinding halt in 2019 after years of blocking the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appeals court.
“Replicating the success, the miracle, of MC12 in 2022 will be extremely challenging,” European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said this month.
“Negotiations on the big-ticket items” — such as fisheries, agriculture and the e-commerce moratorium — will “remain open until the final phase of the conference,” he added.
“Negotiations on dispute settlement reform and potentially some parts of the outcome document will also be challenging.”
However, the WTO faces pressure to eke out progress on reform in Abu Dhabi ahead of the possible re-election of Donald Trump as US president.
During his four years in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump threatened to pull the United States out of the trade body and disrupted its ability to settle disputes.
“There will be the US elections in November...so this is the last chance,” a diplomatic source in Geneva told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Postponing anything until after MC13 is not a good strategy.”
Earlier this month, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai underlined Washington’s “commitment to reforming the WTO and creating a more durable multilateral trading system.”
But Olarreaga of the University of Geneva said the other members of the WTO “cannot expect huge concessions” from the administration of US President Joe Biden in an election year.

While there is doubt over progress at the WTO on major issues such as agriculture, there is hope for small advances on other fronts, particularly aid for developing countries.
On Monday, two new countries, the Comoros and East Timor, are expected to be accepted as WTO members.
More than 120 countries and regions, including China and the European Union, but not the United States, issued a ministerial declaration early Monday, marking the finalization of an agreement aimed at facilitating international investments in development.
They also issued a submission requesting the official integration of the deal into the WTO, but some diplomats fear opposition from India, which rejects any agreement that does not include all member states.
But amid the difficulty of obtaining full consensus, more and more plurilateral agreements — deals with a narrower number of signatories — are being reached, applying only to the participating countries.
Adding to the challenges for those gathering in the UAE, is the ongoing war in Gaza and related attacks by Yemeni rebels on ships in the Red Sea, a campaign that has disrupted global maritime trade.
“The current situation is characterized by geopolitical tensions,” said a European diplomat who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity.
“High expectations from developing nations following the financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as economic tensions due to inflation... (add to the) risk of fragmentation of the global economy,” the diplomat said.

 


Iran opens registration period for the presidential election after Raisi’s helicopter crash

Updated 55 min 26 sec ago
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Iran opens registration period for the presidential election after Raisi’s helicopter crash

  • The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash
  • The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates

TEHRAN: Iran opened a five-day registration period Thursday for hopefuls wanting to run in the June 28 presidential election to replace the late Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash earlier this month with seven others.
The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash, as well as heightened tensions between Tehran and the United States, and protests including those over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini that have swept the country.
While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, maintains final say over all matters of state, presidents in the past have bent the Islamic Republic of Iran toward greater interaction or increased hostility with the West.
The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates. All candidates ultimately must be approved by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and jurists ultimately overseen by Khamenei. That panel has never accepted a woman, for instance, nor anyone calling for radical change within the country’s governance.
Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, won Iran’s 2021 presidential election after the Guardian Council disqualified all of the candidates with the best chance to potentially challenge him. That vote saw the lowest turnout in Iran’s history for a presidential election. That likely was a sign of voters’ discontent with both a hard-line cleric sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in mass executions in 1988, and Iran’s Shiite theocracy over four decades after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Who will run — and potentially be accepted — remains in question. The country’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, a previously behind-the-scenes bureaucrat, could be a front-runner, because he’s already been seen meeting with Khamenei. Also discussed as possible aspirants are former hard-line President Mohammad Ahmadinejad and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami — but whether they’d be allowed to run is another question.
The five-day registration period will close on Tuesday. The Guardian Council is expected to issue its final list of candidates within 10 days afterwards. That will allow for a shortened two-week campaign before the vote in late June.
The new president will take office while the country now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a drone and missile attack on Israel amid the war in Gaza. Tehran also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
Meanwhile, Iran’s economy has faced years of hardship over its collapsing rial currency. Widespread protests have swept the country, most recently over Amini’s death following her arrest over allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf to the liking of authorities, A UN panel says the Iranian government is responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.
Raisi is just the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb blast killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the Islamic Revolution.


Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’

Updated 30 May 2024
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Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’

  • El-Sisi’s comments come after the Israeli army said it had gained “operational control” over the strategic Philadelphi corridor along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt

Beijing: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Thursday urged the international community to ensure Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are not displaced from their war-ravaged territory.
“I... call on the international community to immediately provide for long-term humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip and to end the Israeli siege,” El-Sisi told a forum of Arab leaders and Chinese officials in Beijing.
He also urged the international community to “stop any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
China is this week hosting El-Sisi and several other Arab leaders for a forum at which discussions on the war in Gaza were expected.
El-Sisi’s comments come after the Israeli army said Wednesday it had gained “operational control” over the strategic Philadelphi corridor along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
The corridor had served as a buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt, and Israeli troops patrolled it until 2005, when they were withdrawn as part of a broader disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
Its seizure comes weeks after Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on May 7 as their ground assault on the far-southern Gaza city began.
El-Sisi on Thursday said there was “no pathway to peace and stability in the region” without a “comprehensive approach to the Palestinian cause.”
He called for a “serious and immediate commitment to the two-state solution and a recognition of the Palestinians’ legitimate right to an independent state.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

Updated 30 May 2024
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French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

  • In a statement, Macron said France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories"

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron urged Palestinian Authority chief Mahmud Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine” during a phone call Wednesday, his office said.

Macron “highlighted France’s commitment to building a common vision of peace with European and Arab partners, offering security guarantees for Palestinians and Israelis,” as well as “making the prospect of recognition of a state of Palestine part of a useful process,” Macron’s Elysee Palace said.
The readout of the call with the chief of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank follows Tuesday’s official recognition for a Palestinian state by fellow European nations Spain, Ireland and Norway, which drew ire from Israel.
Macron’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne earlier Wednesday accused France’s neighbors of “political positioning” ahead of June 9 European elections, rather than seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Macron had said Tuesday that he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment” and not be based on “emotion.”
France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories, including in the Gaza Strip, for the benefit of the Palestinian people,” Macron told Abbas on Wednesday, according to the Elysee Palace readout.
Abbas’s office said in a statement that he expressed the Palestinian government’s commitment to “reform” during the talks with Macron.
He called on “European countries that have not recognized the state of Palestine to do so.”
Current fighting in Gaza, controlled by the PA’s rival Hamas, was sparked by the militant group’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel.
That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Macron called civilian casualties “intolerable” and offered his “sincere condolences to the Palestinian people” for the bombing of a displaced people’s camp in Rafah in southern Gaza.
He told Abbas that Paris was “determined to work with Algeria and its partners on the UN Security Council” so the body “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
Algeria’s draft resolution calls on Israel to immediately halt military action in Rafah.


Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank

Updated 30 May 2024
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Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank

  • Videos posted on social media showed Israeli security forces subduing the suspect, and the vehicle was confiscated by Palestinian security forces.

JERUSALEM: A car ramming attack killed two Israelis near the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Israeli army said.
The army had earlier reported a car ramming attack near an Israeli settlement outside Nablus. It then told AFP “two Israeli citizens were killed.”
According to Israeli media, the army launched a manhunt for the suspected attacker, as violence in the West Bank flares during Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The deadliest Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Hamas welcomed the attack near Nablus, saying in a statement it was a “natural response” against the “crimes of the enemy.”

 

 

 

 


Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

Updated 30 May 2024
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Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

  • International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan hopes to bring senior Israeli and Hamas leaders to trial
  • Some experts think the move is intended to nudge the warring parties toward a hostage deal and a ceasefire

LONDON: By applying for arrest warrants for senior Israeli ministers and Hamas commanders, Karim Khan, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, has thrust the court itself into the spotlight, raising questions about the move’s likelihood of success and timing.

Calling it “totally absurd” and “a travesty of justice,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants against him and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, together with several Hamas commanders, for war crimes.

A protester shows a sign bearing portraits of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu transformed to Nazi Germany's leader Adolf Hitler during a demonstration called by French organization "France Palestine Solidarite" in Paris, on May 27, 2024. (AFP)

For his part, Gallant labeled the proposed warrants against him and his prime minister as “disgraceful,” claiming that it was motivated by a desire to reverse the foundation of the state of Israel.

Considering the scant likelihood in this case of an ICC arrest warrant being acted upon — a move Hassan Imran, a senior legal adviser at human rights organization Law for Palestine, told Arab News would be “precedent-making” — it raises the question: What is motivating Khan?

Exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on April 30, 2024.  (AP/File) 

Julie Norman, a senior associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, believes the proposed arrest warrants could be intended to nudge the warring parties toward a deal.

“Supporters of the move are hoping the charges will add pressure for both sides to end the conflict, for Hamas to release the hostages, and for Israel to increase access to humanitarian aid in Gaza,” said Norman.

Although some have said the ICC’s action would complicate any ceasefire negotiations, Mark Kersten, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Canada’s University of the Fraser Valley, told a Middle Eastern news outlet that “complicated” did not necessarily equate to “worse” negotiations.

FASTFACTS

• The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and tribunal seat in The Hague, Netherlands.

• The ICC is distinct from the International Court of Justice, a UN organ that hears disputes between states.

• The ICC was established in 2002 in a follow-up of the multilateral Rome Statute.

“Take Colombia, where the ICC had a decade-long preliminary examination,” he said. “Accountability processes negotiated during the peace process there translated into meaningful justice for many of the wartime atrocities committed by the government and the rebels.

“Moreover, for the ICC to undermine negotiations, there must be a realistic prospect of a peace process. If such negotiations do not exist, the claim that pursuing accountability will ruin them is likely a red herring — an argument intended to shield the perpetrators of atrocities.”

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp area housing internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27. (AFP)

Khan’s request has gone to the ICC’s pre-trial chamber, where it will now be down to the three sitting judges — Romania’s Iulia Motoc, Benin’s Reine Alapini-Gansou, and France’s Nicolas Guillou — to determine whether to take action or not.

After seven months of fact-finding, lawyers believe Khan’s case is strong: Netanyahu and Gallant have been accused of using starvation as a weapon of war, willfully causing suffering, willfully killing, intentionally attacking civilian populations, extermination and persecution.

Sergey Vasiliev, associate professor of law at the University of Amsterdam, told Turkiye’s Anadolu news agency that the ICC judges now have to decide whether there are reasonable grounds the accused committed the crimes and if an arrest, as opposed to a summons, is necessary.

“I expect the judges to grant the request. I assume the investigation has been conducted thoroughly over the past seven months, the evidence amply sufficient to meet the threshold and it to be a concise yet compelling legal narrative,” said Vasiliev. 

Judges of the committee of the International Criminal Court Committee are assembled at the ICC headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. (ICC file photo)

Justifying his position, Vasiliev said the standard for “reasonable grounds” was not as demanding as the more onerous “substantial grounds to believe,” adding that applications for arrest warrants were not “generally expected to provide elaborate analysis of the evidence.”

As to the timeline, some commentators expect the judges will make their decision in the near future.

“I think it is a matter of days until we know if the arrest warrants will be issued and then all 124 states that are members of the court are obligated to take action on them,” Gershon Baskin, Middle East director at the International Communities Organization, told Arab News. 

Children enjoy the luxury of riding atop a vehicle as many other Palestinians travel on foot along with their belongings to flee Rafah on May 28, 2024 , due to an Israeli military operation on May 28, 2024. (REUTERS)

Given that the ICC neither carries out arrests nor tries people in absentia, the question then becomes one of enforcement. There has been little sign of Israel handing over its own people, with Gallant stressing “it is not a party and does not recognize its authority.”

Nor do Gallant and Netanyahu have to worry about the US turning them over to the ICC. Khan’s move has engendered a rare moment of concord across the aisle, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham pushing to censure the ICC.

Graham received a positive response from Secretary of State Antony Blinken after asking: “I want to take actions, not just words. Will you support a bipartisan effort to sanction the ICC — not only for the outrage against Israel but to protect, in the future, our own interests?”

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gives a statement to the press during his visit in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 29, 2024. (REUTERS)

Catching some off-guard, particularly given its vocal support for Israel and having echoed other European states in describing the ICC move as “deeply unhelpful,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed Germany would not defy an ICC arrest warrant were one to be issued.

On Monday, Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Israel’s legal system is actively investigating allegations of possible criminal misconduct during the war in Gaza and that Khan’s request for arrest warrants was therefore hasty and inappropriate. 

“The states that established the court saw it as a tool for dealing with situations where there is ‘no law and no judge.’ That is not our situation,” Baharav-Miara told a conference of the Israel Bar Association.

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“It would have been more correct for the prosecutor to wait until the internal state procedures were completed before making a decision. It would have been right to give the state of Israel a fair opportunity in this regard.”

Julia Roknifard, an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics, History, and International Relations, says that in all likelihood, the ICC will not see a case actioned given the lack of jurisdiction it has over Israel itself.

“Netanyahu liked to travel to the US, but I don’t think he is welcome there now, and I don’t think he is in the mood right now to travel at all, so I think it is very unlikely that we would see an arrest were a warrant issued,” Roknifard told Arab News.

Echoing Roknifard, Baskin said it was highly unlikely that Gallant and Netanyahu would travel to any country in which they had any concern of being arrested and handed over to the ICC, describing warrants as “kind of a moot point.”

Roknifard does not believe Khan is pursuing warrants for mere symbolic reasons. “I wouldn’t read into the ICC motion more than it is supposed to be — to charge individuals with the crimes they have (allegedly) committed,” she said

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan. (AFP)

Instead, like Imran, Roknifard touts the importance of the case brought by South Africa to the International Court of Justice, which last week ordered Israel to cease its offensive in Rafah — an order that Israel has ignored.

Commenting on Khan’s proposed arrest warrants, Imran said he saw it as less about a particular case and more about the future, or lack thereof, of the ICC.

“European states, I think, now have to make a choice between the institutions they have been supporting financially and their calls for a rules-based order modeled around international law and their support for Israel,” Imran told Arab News.

“We have seen many of them criticize the court in the wake of Khan’s announcement, and now we see some stating they will respect the decision, but it’s hard to tell what they will do were Netanyahu to actually travel to their territory with an arrest warrant out for him.

“Some will try and beat around the bush. But if they did not apply the decision, they would be essentially disowning this international institution and basically disintegrating the ICC and, if they do, that means they will have to change their policy goals.”