Trying to beat Palestine on a technicality

Steven Rosen has a piece up on the site today arguing that the impending U.N. General Assembly vote recognizing the Palestinian state will be illegitimate, as Palestine doesn't meet international law's minimum standards for nationhood:

According to the prevailing legal standard, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, a "state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states." Both the Hamas-controlled Palestinian entity in Gaza and the rival Fatah-governed Palestinian entity in the West Bank can be said to meet all four of these criteria of the law of statehood. The one on which the United Nations will vote does not.

I'm enough of a dork to be gratified that someone besides me on this site is writing about the Montevideo Convention, but I don't think this is a particularly strong case for supporters of Israel to make. Montevideo is a rather quaint set of criteria with little actual relevance in the Calvinball world of contemporary sovereignty disputes. This is doubly true when it comes to U.N. recognition.

This is a body, after all, that took the geographically absurd position of recognizing the government in Taipei as the legitimate governing authority of mainland China until 1971 and today doesn't recognize Taiwan -- despite it clearly meeting the Montevideo standards. There are a handful of "Limbo World" states that do meet the criteria but are not members, and plenty of member states that don't -- how defined are Georgia or Serbia's borders these days? Not to mention Somalia's or new member South Sudan's?

As for the fact that there are competing centers of power within what would be Palestine, that's not really a realistic standard to apply. I was recently in Liberia and had the chance to travel to the city of Gbarnga, Charles Taylor's capital for much of the country's civil war. Should the United Nations have recognized a second Liberian government based in Gbarnga, or expelled Liberia altogether, because the government in Monrovia had lost control of much of the country? It doesn't seem a very practical or advisable way to conduct international diplomacy.

U.N. member states come into being not because they meet an objective standard for nationhood. As I've written before, if that were true, the Palestinian state would probably have been admitted long before South Sudan. Countries become member states after two-thirds of the General Assembly votes for them and the Security Council approves. It's a political process, not a legal one, and wishing it away with a technicality is unlikely to be effective.


The video Bashar al-Assad wants you to see

In the last few days, supporters of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria have been circulating a video that they claim shows regime opponents in Syria dumping the bodies of soldiers into the Orontes River in or near Hama, where the Syrian Army is currently engaged in a brutal punitive campaign against civilians who say they're defending themselves only with rocks and wooden sticks.

Syrian TV has made great hay from the clip, citing it as devastating proof that the protesters are in fact "armed gangs" bent on sowing destruction and chaos and terrorizing law-abiding, patriotic citizens who love their wise leaders.

Here's the video, which is not for the squeamish, as aired on Russian propaganda channel Russia Today. Someone has added English subtitles to this version:

And here's CNN's report on the same clip:

CNN cites a Syrian activist who confirmed the video, but other Syrian activists strongly dispute that it is from Hama. One of them, who goes by the pseudonym Edward E. Dark, summarizes the local coordinating committee's complaints about the video here:

1) The Assi river has been dry for a month and a half now because the dams at Rastan have not been opened to allow water to flow.

2) There is no such bridge in Hama.

3) There is no background noise whatsoever in the video Not even a splash. Nothing.

4) the way this video was distributed by unknown sources and the timing, suggests that it was released by the regime to justify an attack on Hama. This video was most likely taken in Jisr el Shughur, and shows pro-regime militia disposing on civilian bodies.

They go on to say that after four months, the regime can come up with no valid accusations against Hama, so they have resorted to making some up. 

Pro-government Syrians reply that there is such a bridge, located at the coordinates 35.151942,36.733099 in Google Earth, just north of town. Here's an image someone uploaded to Panoramio:



It's hard to tell if it's indeed the same bridge, but the fence is similar to the one in the video. It also appears to be about the right height, but what about the sheer cliffs shown in the video?

And even if it is the same bridge, how can we take the regime's story at face value? The Syrian government has very little credibility at this point. It's entirely possible that the bodies shown are those of protesters -- they are in civilian garb, after all -- and it's the security forces dumping them into the water. Another point skeptics of the video make is that phrases heard on the recording like "fuck your religion" are words Islamists would be unlikely to use. They point out that in June, Syrian state television told a similar story, claiming that armed gangs "mutilated some of the bodies [of security forces] and threw some into the river" near Jisr al-Shughour, but never provided any persuasive evidence.

In the end, it's simply impossible to confirm either side of this story without being able to report freely from Syria, something the Syrian government manifestly does not allow. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that a massacre is underway in Hama, with tanks now occupying the city's central square and civilians reportedly fleeing in large numbers. The overwhelming bulk of protests in Syria have been peaceful, precisely because the activists know that taking up arms would give the regime an excuse to slaughter them -- though it's perfectly capable of fabricating one out of whole cloth.