Thoughts about contemporary troubles.

This will be s short post. It stems from observations I made elsewhere about what might be characterised as some macro and micro aspects of contemporary collective violence events. Here goes.

The conflicts between Israel and Palestine and France and Kanaks in New Caledonia are two post-colonial legacies born of reneged settler promises and betrayed agreements leading to dispossession, occupation, poverty, alienation and generational hatreds. Israel and France must recognize this for peace to obtain. So far they have not. Israel has opted for its own version of the final solution, something that, if not a “full” genocide in the formal sense of the word, sure has the looks of ethnic cleansing. That includes the West Bank, where the IDF is demolishing 2,500 Palestinian homes safeguarded under a previous pact in order to clear land for more Israeli settlements. Given Israel’s defiance of international norms and conventions, it appears that it has gone full “rogue” in its quest to drive the Palestinians from their ancestral lands.

Israel’s support in the West derives from its history and strategic location and orientation. It is a major provider of intelligence to Western governments and is a nominally pro-Western bulwark in the Middle East. Its patrons and supporters do not want to alienate it for fear of losing access to its formidable intelligence collection capabilities in the Middle East, which until recently meant casting blind eye on the increasingly apartheid-like behaviour it exhibits towards Palestinians. Israel operates with impunity against Palestinians and other antagonists because, in a sense, it has a Western insurance policy or “get out of jail free card”because of its geostrategic role. This has turned it into lightening rod for Global South versus Global North confrontation.

With that as the bottom line, peace in the Levant does not look possible anytime soon.

In another North-versus-South friction, France has opted for a different path but with a similar, albeit less catastrophic result. With the 1998 Nomuea Accords it proposed an incremental, referendum-based 20 year process towards national independence, or at least considerable political autonomy for New Caledonians. Instead, the French encouraged mass immigration by French mainlanders, (including ex-police and military members) before each referendum (three in total, in 2018, 2020 and 2020). 40,000 French immigrants entered New Caledonia between 1999 and 2021. This skewed the electoral demographics in favour of the anti-independence blocs, something accentuated in the final referendum when representatives of the indigenous Kanak people, particularly the FLINK political movement, boycotted the plebiscite because of disagreements about post-Covid impact on Kanak turnout. The 2018 and 2020 referenda saw 56, then 53 percent of the vote go to the anti-independence bloc. in 2021, with the boycott and an overall turnout of less than 44 percent of eligible voters, the anti-independence vote climbed to 91 percent, opening questions about its legitimacy. This did not deter France from moving ahead with drafting a new political charter for this “sui generis” overseas territory.

With independence rejected, France continues to control the military, police, justice, immigration, higher education, Treasury and civil service under the Noumea Accord, with limited autonomy conferred to the New Caledonia government in diplomatic affairs, taxation, border control and local governance. It is now in the process of drafting a New Caledonian constitution that gives recent immigrants more voting rights in local and provincial elections (diluting Kanak voting influence) and consolidating French administrative control of core aspects of public policy. That is the cause of the current troubles.

Incidentally, for a very good independent source on South Pacific issues, see Prof. David Robie’s Asia-Pacific Report. Here is a sample article but there is lots more.

It appears that France never intended for New Caledonia to achieve independence because the sui generis territory is too strategically important for it to relinquish full control. It is the home to the French Pacific Army (5,000 troops) and military aviation and naval units now increasingly engaged in anti-PRC containment operations in the Southwest Pacific. With PRC inroads made in other Melanesian countries such as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, France and its Western partners (also former imperial powers or servitor imperialist allies) fear a type of domino effect occurring should New Caledonia “fall” under Chinese influence. This concern is compounded by the fact that New Caledonia is the 4th largest producer of the world’s nickel, accounting for 20-30 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, 90 percent of New Caledonia’s non-tourist export revenues, 20 percent of the country’s GDP and 40 percent of its employment. Given the taxation revenues accrued to France as a result of the nickel sector and the fact that the sector does not (yet) have a dominant Chinese presence in it, France has strategic reasons to want to retain control of the territory in which it operates.

The bottom line of the French position vis a vis New Caledonia is geostrategic, and its approach to the issue of independence a cloak for its real intent. Here too, the prospect for a long-term peaceful resolution seem distant even if the amount of violence is much less than in Palestine.

On a micro level, video has surfaced of young female IDF soldiers captured by uniformed Hamas fighters after an assault on an IDF base in Southern Israel. The video was released by families of the soldiers in order to exert pressure on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate their release. To be clear, the soldiers and their male counterparts are prisoners of war and therefore protected by the Geneva Convention. They might be freed in a POW exchange but Hamas must abide by the Convention in any event. It is in Hamas’s self-interest to do so, both for negotiation purposes but also as a sign of its accepting international norms as part of its claim to legitimacy as an agent of the Palestinian people. It is then up to the global community as to how to respond, and in this regard the move by Ireland, Norway and Spain to recognise a Palestinian State is a step in the correct direction because it might encourage moderation in the Hamas leadership with an eye towards that end.

On the other hand, although the international criminal court (ICC) charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Israeli and Hamas leaders is salutary albeit largely symbolic given the geopolitical realities of the moment, it adds a complicating factor in any attempts to get Hamas to moderate, much as is the case with the hardliners in the Israeli government. But if used as a coercive negotiating tool (i.e., as a stick rather than a carrot) to encourage moderation on both sides in pursuit of a durable ceasefire in exchange for dropping of the charges (known in the human rights literature as an ethical dilemma), then perhaps it too can help construct the bounded rationality in which moderation, negotiation and compromise is seen as the best option by both sides.

In the meantime we can only hope that when it comes to the treatment of poisoners held by Hamas and the IDF, the rules outlined in the Convention are respected. I shall not hold my breath on that.

Media Link: The French are back, and in a big way.

I spent some time talking with a Radio New Zealand reporter, who I must say is very well versed in the politics of the region, reflecting on the de facto admission of France into the Pacific Island Forum. Unlike the usual media sound bites, he gave me some room to reflect.