Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Sharon (Politically) Dead?

On February 26, 2012 Ariel "Arik" Sharon will be 84, although it is very unlikely that he will celebrate his birthday. This is because he has been in a coma, probably brain dead as well, since January 6, 2006. He will probably die without ever having regained consciousness.

But imagine, for argument's sake, that tomorrow he were successfully revived and like many elderly people who suffer strokes he would be able to recover cognitive function eventually. This would at minimum probably take a year before he could speak without slurring his words and think and function at a high level. And it might be possible--even likely--that while in a coma he had developed some sort of dementia. It is doubtful that voters or party functionaries would trust someone of that age with the premiership. When Sharon suffered his stroke and was subsequently permanently relieved of the premiership he was 77-78, older than any previous occupier of his office. Previously the oldest premier at retirement had been David Ben-Gurion, the first and third prime minister who retired in June 1963 at age 76.5. So no Israeli prime minister has crossed the 80-year-old barrier and none is likely to ever do so--particularly someone who has suffered a severe stroke.  Between Ben-Gurion and Sharon Golda Meir had retired at age 76 in 1974 and Shimon Peres at age 73 in 1996.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are the Palestinians an "Invented People?"

Top-tier Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently caused controversy--mostly outside of the GOP--by stating that the Palestinians were an "invented people." He said this in an interview with a New York cable television channel, Jewish TV, that as the name implies is geared towards Jews. He also referred to the Palestinians as terrorists. Gingrich understands the Palestinians as "invented" i.e. phony because in the past they merely called themselves Arabs. In this he is correct. But this is not unique in the Middle East. The area was until the end of World War I part of the Ottoman Empire and the inhabitants of the Levant thought of themselves as Ottomans, Muslims, and Arabs (or Jews or Kurds or Turkomans). Until the end of World War II the Union of Reform Synagogues, then the largest Jewish denomination in America, insisted that the Jews were not a people but only a religion. (I couldn't provide a link to this because it is something that Reform Jews are ashamed of today, but read any standard history of the denomination and it is found.) This sentiment was shared by the vast majority of Orthodox rabbis in Europe and even Palestine at the time. It was mainly secular Jews who were Zionists. They reached back two millennia in time to a time when ordinary Jews spoke Hebrew (or at least Aramaic), lived in Eretz Israel, and regarded themselves as a nation. Are the Jews an invented people as well?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why Kadima Can't Replace Labor as Peace Party

Here are five quick reasons why Kadima cannot replace the Labor Party as the backbone of the Israeli peace camp:

1) It is led by a leader, Tzipi Livni, who has confessed that she doesn't like politics and feels that politics is like a sewer. Here is Ha'Aretz's take on that revelation.

2) Tzipi Livni barely beat out Shaul Mofaz for the leadership of the party in 2008. Mofaz has in order three ambitions: a) take over as Kadima party leader; b) replace Barak as defense minister--his old job; 3) replace Netanyahu as leader of the Right.

3) In order to nearly keep its same strength in the 2009 election as in 2006, Kadima had to cannibalize Labor and Meretz. This has left it incapable of leading a coalition on its own.

4) Kadima has no core principles or ideology--it was founded as a party of convenience like the Center Party and the DMC before it. It has avoided their fates simply because it was much more successful at the polls the first time out because of Sharon, who is permanently gone.

5) Kadima's potential Palestinian peace partner is Fatah, which is as conflicted as  Kadima.

Diplomacy Needs a Museum

On prime real estate on the Capitol Square in Madison, WI is the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. It contains exhibits on all the major wars from the Civil War to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that Wisconsin citizens have served in. There are similar, but smaller museums in Milwaukee and Oshkosh. They are funded by a combination of Veterans Administration funds, donations of old equipment by the Defense Department, private donations and bookshop sales. If we conservatively estimate that each one receives $100,000 annually in taxpayer funds to pay for rent, salaries, and display expenses that is a total cost of $.3 million in Wisconsin alone. If we conservatively multiply that by 30 to 40 times (to account for smaller New England and Eastern states that may only have a single museum each) this amounts to a total of $9 million to $12 million annually to subsidize American military history.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Israel: The Siege Tightens

I have written a number of posts in which I assert that Israel is a siege democracy along with Northern Ireland. Here is an article by veteran New York Times Middle Eastern correspondent and now columnist Thomas Friedman on Israel's environment as perceived from Israel.

Israeli perceptions may seem to outsiders like paranoia--and they definitely are not the perceptions of a normal state. But Israel is not a normal state inhabited by a normal people. It is the Jewish state called for in the UN General Assembly partition resolution of November 29, 1947 (whose 64th anniversary was marked by Friedman's article).  Jews have suffered from a basic insecurity from the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ACE/AD until the present day. There have been good periods of relative security and well being followed by periods of extreme insecurity. From 1881 to 1946 there was a period of extreme violence for European Jewry starting with a series of pogroms (incited massacres) in Russia and Romania and culminating in the industrial slaughter of two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population in the Holocaust. Not coincidentally, this is exactly the period that saw the rise of Zionism with the first Zionist theorists on anti-semitism in Europe (Leo Pinsker in 1882, Theodore Herzl in 1895) and the first Zionist immigration to Palestine. But the perceptions are perfectly rational and normal for a people that has suffered the experiences of the Jews in recent history.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Strategic Importance of Democracy for Israel

I receive a daily selection of links to articles from the Israeli Hebrew press prepared by Americans for Peace Now (sign up at links are to articles in both English and Hebrew). So I have been witnessing an ongoing assault by the Israeli Right on the structures of democracy in Israel. The Zionist Left is as weak today in the Knesset as the white South African Left was in the parliament in the 1970s. Liberalism there consisted of the English-speaking press, and in the 1980s of a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as the Progressive Federal Party. The ruling National Party made parliament irrelevant by making other venues the focus of decision making in the National Security Management System. 

The Israeli Right, led by Israel Beitenu's Avigdor Leiberman, has gone after the Israeli NGOs and the Supreme Court. This was after they started over a year ago targeting Israel's Arab minority with the talk of mandatory loyalty oaths. For a discussion of how this is playing with Israeli Arabs see the two selections by Palestinians at Bitter Lemons.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The CNN National Security Debate

I just finished watching the CNN-Heritage Foundation National Security Debate, the second foreign policy debate so far in this election cycle. I was most interested in seeing how the front runners performed: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. I thought that Romney outperformed his chief rival. Romney was cautious and played not to make any major errors as well as getting in subtle digs at his opponents. Newt was busy showing off and showing how smart he was--which left him open for attack from Michelle Bachmann and others for supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants. Romney said he was opposed to creating magnets for illegal immigration and he specifically mentioned in-state tuition rates for illegals. This was a subtle dig at Rick Perry.

Bachmann and Rick Santorum again had their moments as in the first foreign policy debate in SC about ten days ago. But neither has much chance of winning the nomination if polls are anything to go by. Huntsman also sounded intelligent, but he also is not going anywhere. Herman Cain sounded as ignorant as ever. In fact he sounds like a black male version of Sarah Palin--winging it and hoping to cover up his ignorance by his fervor.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Will Netanyahu Attack Iran?

Last week on one particular day the foreign policy and defense tollgate site Real Clear World featured two separate articles on Israel and Iran: one claiming that the former would attack the latter and the other the opposite. The case for attack consisted of reports of Israel Air Force aircraft practicing bombing attacks over Italy, statements by Israeli politicians, and the danger to Israel of Iran launching an out-of-the-blue nuclear missile attack on Israel. The case against consisted of the argument that Israel lacked sufficient aircraft to be able to thoroughly damage the extensive Iranian nuclear infrastructure--much of which is located underground--and thus any delay caused by bombing to the Iranian nuclear program would be temporary, the opposition of Washington to such attacks, and the likely blow-back damage that both Israel and the U.S. would suffer from Iranian revenge attacks. Will Netanyahu attack then? The truth is that I have no inside line into the psyche of the Israeli premier and even he probably does not know the final answer to that at the moment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Tories Prove that Northern Ireland is Different

Dervla Murphy, the Irish travel writer, entitled her 1970s travel book on Northern Ireland A Place Apart. I have long contended that one of the main things that sets it apart from both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain is its party system. Until the simultaneous collapse of the Irish economy and Fianna Fail last year, no Northern Irish party had ever been more than a minor party in Ireland. As soon as the Workers' Party started to become a medium-size party after a decade in existence, it split with almost all of the Southern Irish TDs splitting off to form the Democratic Left in 1992. By then the Workers' Party had become a minor party in the North thanks to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein itself remained a minor party until last year.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The CBS-National Journal Foreign Policy Debate

Just some random thoughts from watching the Republican foreign policy debate:

1) The most intelligent remarks are coming from the bottom-tier candidates such as Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul,  and occasionally Michelle Bachmann.

2) The top level candidates seem to be posturing to the crowd, especially Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.

3) Herman Cain denied that waterboarding is not torture but merely an enhanced interrogation technique. What are the odds that within 48 hours he will be claiming that he was just kidding or that he was misunderstood?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alasdair McDonnell New SDLP leader

On Sunday Alasdair McDonnell, the member of parliament for the Social Democratic and Labour Party from South Belfast, was elected the new leader of the party beating out three other candidates including Deputy Leader Patsy McGlone and Environmental Minister Alex Attwood. His tenure got off to a rough start when he decided to give an acceptance speech from a lecturn without notes using a teleprompter (autocue in UK speak) that was badly positioned so that he was blinded by the glare of the lights and couldn't read his speech. Some commentators took this as a bad omen.

Dennis Ross Resigns

Obama's special advisor on the Middle East, Dennis Ross, announced his resignation from the Obama administration yesterday only months after Middle East envoy George Mitchell, his predecessor, resigned. He resigned in order to spend more time with his family. The Palestinians considered him to be Israel's representative within the administration, and he was considered a hawk on Iran. When he agreed to join the administration it was initially only for two years, and then he agreed to extend for another year. His resignation can be taken as another signal that the peace process is stalled until after the November 2012 election. It may also signal a disagreement within the Obama administration on how to deal with Iran's nuclear efforts that Ross lost. When he joined the administration it was to concentrate on Iran, rather than on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He also gave advice on how to deal with the Arab Spring.  Dennis Ross was said to often have been at odds with George Mitchell, whose job Ross had previously filled in the Clinton administration. But he took over for Mitchell, once Mitchell had resigned. Here is an Israeli article on the resignation. And here is a more critical look at his tenure from the National Journal.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Danger of Economic Collapse in Europe

No one in the punditocracy has raised the issue yet, but their are drastic dangers in the collapse of the Eurozone in Europe. The European Union (EU) voted an austerity rescue package for Ireland and Dublin accepted it. It then voted one for Greece, and Athens accepted it, but with the proviso of first holding a referendum on it. Commentators have even come up with an acronym for the danger of a Southern European collapse: PIGS--Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. If any of the three other PIGS defaults then Europe will be plunged into a depression, the Euro will collapse, and the effect will likely be felt across the Atlantic in America. Go here for a timeline of the debt crisis as it developed from late 2009 to the present. Go here for an article on the dangers of Italian default on their debt.

This is then the opposite of the Great Depression of the 1930s when the depression began on Wall St. and very quickly moved across the Atlantic to Europe and South Africa. America was providing the financing for the system of revolving finance in which America loaned money to Germany, which then paid that same money to the Allies as reparations for World War I, and then the Allies repaid American war loans. Once America could no longer provide the funding to Germany the system collapsed.

Friday, November 4, 2011

American Jews and the 2012 Election

Next to blacks, Jews have been the most consistently loyal ethnic constituency of the Democratic Party. And considering that until 1965 blacks could not vote in the South, and that many in the North do not vote, Jews have been a more electorally important one. Jews are concentrated demographically in the states with the largest electoral votes: New York, Illinois, California, Florida, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Texas (in roughly that order). Jews are only between two and two and a half percent of the American population, but because they vote in much higher numbers they are about three or four percent of the electorate on election day.  Jews have voted consistently Democratic since the Progressive Era when they voted for Woodrow Wilson.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Irish Presidential Election Analysis

Last Thursday, October 27, Ireland held a presidential election and the results were officially published on Saturday. According to the Irish Times the results were a follows for the three leading candidates: Michael D. Higgins (Irish Labour Party) 39.6%, Sean Gallagher (Independent but unofficial Fianna Fail candidate) 28.5%, and Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) 13.7%. The remaining four candidates together received 18.2% with none of them reaching seven percent. 

Martin McGuinness proved to be the kingmaker by accusing Gallagher on Monday night during a candidates' forum of taking a Fianna Fail contribution from a rich donor at an event a few years before. The accusation caught Gallagher off guard and he seemed to obfuscate in front of the cameras. He immediately went from being the frontrunner at 40 percent in the polls to the leading challenger. But by doing so McGuinness probably embittered a core Fianna Fail electorate, which will not forgive him nor Sinn Fein in the future. Sinn Fein slightly improved its standing over last year's general election, but received much less than the 14-18 percent that Mary Lou McDonald was predicting in the final week or the 20 percent that McGuinness polled at the start of the race. In comparison, Fianna Fail's unofficial candidate attracted a significant improvement in those constituencies that both FF and Sinn Fein contested last year.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Does trauma inhibit Netanyahu?

During apartheid South Africa's real period of siege from 1974 to 1994 there were three white rulers: John Vorster (1966-1978), Pieter Willem Botha (1978-1989), and Frederick Willem de Klerk (1989-1994). South African political scientist Dan O'Meara, who chronicled the apartheid years of the ruling National Party in Forty Lost Years: The National Party in Power 19448-1994, wrote about John Vorster that division within the party during the first half of his rule inhibited him from making necessary reforms during the second half. From 1966 to 1970 the party was torn by an ideological division between conservatives--verkrampte--literally cramped--and moderates--verligte--literally enlightened. This led to the split in the party with a small portion of the verkrampte forming the Herstigte Nasionale Party--Reconstituted National Party--under the leadership of Albert Hertzog. Hertzog was the minister of mines and, ironically, the son of the first leader of the National Party who had ended his career in ignominy rejected by Afrikaner nationalists during World War II. Except for appointing a pair of commissions late in his period of rule Vorster made no attempts at domestic reforms. O'Meara contends that this was in order to avoid the trauma of another ideological battle and another possible split. The HNP did not elect a single MP until 1985 in a by-election and then this MP lost his seat in the next general election in 1987. By calling a snap election in 1970, Vorster largely destroyed the HNP as an election threat to the National Party.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Opposition Strategy for the Northern Ireland Assembly

This past weekend the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) held its annual conference. With the party no longer running the Assembly, nor possessing even a single Westminster MP, the issues at stake seemed to be much less weighty than in previous years and this was reflected in the coverage--or lack thereof--that the conference attracted in the Ulster press. The most important event at the conference did not actually take place inside it, but rather outside when a group of members held a discussion on an opposition strategy for the party.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Irish Presidential Race

On Thursday October 27 voters in Ireland--the Republic of Ireland--go to the polls to elect a new president. The presidency in Ireland is largely a ceremonial office devoid of any powers except for deciding on which party to turn to in order to form a government following an election. The presidency was created by the 1937 constitution written by Eamon de Valera. Until 1990 it was largely the property of Fianna Fail to hand out to worthy cultural figures and former senior party politicians. In 1990 Mary Robinson, a human rights lawyer running as an independent with the backing of both the Irish Labour Party and the Workers' Party, took the presidency away from Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail won it back in 1997 but ran Mary McAleese, a Northern nationalist and law professor at Queen's University of Belfast. She is now retiring.

In this election the main candidates have been four: Michael D. Higgins, a poet backed by the Labour Party; Sean Gallagher, a reality show star and former Fianna Fail member running as an independent; Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and number two in Sinn Fein; and David Norris, a former senator and gay rights activist. Norris has been badly damaged by the revelation that he wrote a letter on behalf of a former lover, an Israeli wanted for statutory rape of a Palestinian. He hasn't recovered. Martin McGuinness was off to a strong start but has faltered as victims of the IRA have stalked him and the Irish Independent and the Irish Times newspapers as well as TV questioners have openly challenged his version of his past. A poll from the Irish Times has Gallagher at 40%, Higgins at 25%, and McGuinness at 15%, with the other four candidates making up the remaining 20 percent.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gaddaffi is Dead! Now what?

The 42-year reign of power and terror of Muammar Gaddafi/Kaddafi  came to an end yesterday with the fall of Sirte and his death. It is unclear at this point whether he died from wounds received in his capture or was executed afterwards. Here is a link with an embedded video purporting to be the confession of a Libyan rebel who executed him.  It makes little real difference. Gaddafi (I'm seen probably a dozen different spellings of his name in English) was one of the world's longest-serving heads of state. His reign goes back to the Nasserist era when pan-Arabism was king in the Arab world and military dictators were all the rage. His fall is also the biggest victory of the Arab Spring (or al-intifada al-Arabiya or al-thawra al-Arabiya if you prefer) to date. Previously the heads of state had changed in Egypt and Tunisia, but at least in the former the military regime remains in place.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Progressive Unionist Party has a new leader. Will it make any difference?

It was announced yesterday that Billy Hutchinson, a former member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) arrested for a double murder in 1974 and a former member of the Assembly, will be the new leader of the sole remaining loyalist party, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). He takes over from Brian Ervine, the brother of David Ervine, who was the leader of the party during its glory days from 1998 to 2003 and who served in the Assembly with Hutchinson. Hutchinson will be the fourth party leader in 18 months. After David Ervine's death Dawn Purvis took over as party leader and managed to retain his East Belfast seat in the Assembly. But then the UVF carried out a murder of a former Red Hand Commando prisoner who had criticized the continued criminality of the organization. Purvis then resigned from the party when its leadership refused to break the link with the UVF. There was a temporary interim leader before Brian Ervine took over. Now Ervine is giving up the position because he cannot afford to give up his job.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Israel's Defense Partners

Last year Sasha Polakow-Suransky, an American Jew whose parents were from South Africa, published a book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, based on extensive interviews with Israeli and South African officials, generals and anti-apartheid activists. According to Polakow-Suransky the relationship, which began in 1974 and lasted until the early 1990s, was based largely on commercial considerations on Israel's part. In the early 1970s Israel had developed a major domestic arms industry as a result of France having suddenly cut its arms sales to Israel. Because of economies of scale it made more sense for Jerusalem to manufacture more than it needed for the IDF and sell the surplus abroad on the open arms market or through country-to-country arrangements. Jerusalem was also looking for a rich uncle that could subsidize its research and development efforts in certain key areas such as missile development. Israel had a deal with the Shah's Iran to co-develop a missile that abruptly ended in 1979 with the Iranian revolution. Pretoria was able to take up the slack.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

South Africa and Israel: What is the Lag Time?

I recently had the experience of reading an authorized biography of Pik Botha, the long-serving South African foreign minister during the 1970s and 1980s who was also a leading leadership contender in the National Party because of his combination of liberalism (or what passed for it among most whites) and defiance of the West and the world. As I read his chapters on the dark days of apartheid in the mid-1980s I was struck by the parallels with Israel today. Botha fulfilled the same role in National Party governments as Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak have filled in Likud coalitions since 2001--the respectable face of the government that deals with the West.

So I started to think, what is the lag time between developments in South Africa and their equivalents in Israel? South Africa was initially ruled by the centrist Afrikaner South Africa Party (SAP). The National Party split from the SAP in 1913 and came to power for the first time in 1924. It then alternated with the SAP's successor, the United Party, until 1948 when it began an uninterrupted period of 46 years in power. The Likud first came to power  forming a coaliton in 1977, some 53 years after the National Party came to power. Twenty four years later--the same period as in South Africa--it began a period of uninterrupted rule of the Right, first the Likud under Sharon then the splinter Kadima under Sharon's successor Ehud Olmert, and finally the Likud again under Netanyahu.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The presidential race in Ireland heats up

The presidential race with only about three weeks left, is getting tighter. And some are getting worried. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, is now in second place behind the Labour Party candidate.

Until 1992 the presidency was a retirement home for old successful politicians who had finished their careers. And because until last year Fianna Fail was the dominant party in Ireland, it was a rest home for Fianna Fail politicians. The first president, Douglas Hyde, was a literary figure, one of the few Protestant revivers of Irish. Then came Sean T. O'Kelly, who served for two terms from 1945 to 1959, he was the deputy prime minister or tanaiste under Eamon de Valera. Then in 1959 Eamon de Valera finally retired from the premiership after 27 years and was made president when he was nearly blind. He finally retired from the presidency in 1973 after two terms. Then came Erskine H. Childers, the son of an Anglo-Irish literary figure who ran guns for the Irish rebels before the Easter Rising of 1916. The son served as a deputy in the Irish Dail. After he died in office after only 17 months there was an all-party nomination of Cearbhall O Dalaigh, a Fianna Fail politician. But because by then a Fine Gael--Labour Party coalition was in one of its periodic spells in power, he had problems and ended up resigning after only two years. He was followed by another Fianna Fail politician, Patrick Hillery, who served two terms from 1976 to 1990.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Republicans and Foreign Policy

About a month or two ago--I never saved the article--Real Clear World ran an article on the foreign policy experts advising the candidates. The only one to have many names I recognized was then frontrunner and establishment favorite Mitt Romney. He had three names I recognized: Richard Haass, Stephen Hadley, and Mitchell Reiss. Richard Haass was/is an expert on regional conflicts especially the Arab-Israeli conflict and Northern Ireland. He served as a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council in the George H W Bush administration. For Dubya he served as the first American envoy to Northern Ireland, where he played a major role in convincing Gerry Adams that the IRA was actually disarm. Upon leaving there he took up a position with the Council on Foreign Relations that puts out the establishment Foreign Affairs magazine. Stephen Hadley served as Condi Rice's assistant at the National Security Council and then took over during Dubya's second term as National Security Advisor to George Bush. Mitchell Reiss was an expert on nuclear proliferation and a country expert on North Korea. When Haass left Belfast for New York, Reiss became his successor as American envoy. Reiss recently wrote a book exploring the question of when terrorist movements should be co-opted by negotiation and power sharing and when they should be shunned.

Perry relies on figures that he met while serving as governor of Texas. I did not recognize any names. The other candidate who had some recognizable names is Ron Paul. Paul has Leon Hadar, a former journalist working for the Jerusalem Post and the author of two books on American policy in the region, Sandstorm and Quagmire. He advocates an American military and political disengagement from the region. The opinion would be considered mainstream in the Democratic Party but is unsaleable to the Republicans. Because Paul is a libertarian running in a conservative party--a square peg in a round hole--he has no chance of being nominated.

Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and American ambassador to China, basically serves as his own foreign policy advisor. He was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan as a young man, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, and is quite knowledgeable about trade matters and economic policy. But he registers at about two percent in the polls and is betting his whole future on New Hampshire, where he will have to compete with Romney, the other Mormon.

So far foreign policy, as distinct from immigration, has hardly registered in the Republican debates. The party is agitated by economic and social policies: abortion, immigration, health care, tax levels and debt. By slowly withdrawing from Iraq and continuing to oversee the assassination of leading Al Qaeda figures around the Middle East, Obama has effectively removed terrorism as a major political issue. Democrats still debate the American presence in Afghanistan; Republicans do not. It is almost a repeat of Vietnam forty years ago, but with the roles of the two parties reversed. The Democrats got us involved in Vietnam and then Nixon oversaw the withdrawal and the GOP spent twenty years talking about the Democrats as the party that was unreliable on national security. Maybe the Democrats can do the same about the Republicans for the next twenty years.

Should Perry or someone else other than Romney end up as the nominee, he (or she) can inherit the establishment foreign policy advisors by default. After all, Kissinger was never a Nixon advisor in the 1960s. He was a Nelson Rockefeller advisor whom Nixon inherited after he won the election in 1968. Obama inherited Clinton's stable of foreign policy advisors once he named her as his secretary of state. But he could have done so even without naming her--anyone who wanted to serve in government in a senior position had nowhere else to go in the short term. 

In American politics the conservatives determine who the Republican nominee is; the progressives determine who the Democratic nominee is. It is then up to the independents, who rarely vote based on foreign affairs, to determine which party's foreign policy establishment serves in office.

As a postscript let me add that on Friday Oct. 7, 2011 Romney gave his first foreign policy address of the race. Here is a link to a commentary on it. (See the article by  James Joyner in the Atlantic on the Sat. Oct. 8 panel.)                        )

Friday, September 30, 2011

Netanyahu: A Tale of Two Bothas

Because of the very small number of whites who immigrated to the southern tip of Africa some three centuries ago, just as with Latinos in the Americas, there is a limited number of surnames among Afrikaners in South Africa today. One of the most important in politics in the late twentieth century was Botha. In the 1980s there were two Bothas in the cabinet--State President P.W. Botha and Foreign Minister Roelef "Pik" Botha--and the head of the National Party in Natal was Stoffel Botha. Reporters and politicians alike had to be careful to specify which Botha they were talking about. In the 1978 contest for National Party leader Pik and P.W. faced off with another candidate, Connie Mulder. Pik emerged as the favorite of all races nationally (we are talking about the head of the National Party not the country's leader in a majority rule election), while P.W. won the election because of the backing of the powerful Cape Province caucus.

Pik was a lawyer who had entered the diplomatic service out of law school. In the mid-1970s he was simultaneously ambassador to Washington and ambassador to the UN at a time when there was serious discussion of expelling South Africa permanently from that body. Pik was popular both because he told the world to mind its own business and leave South Africa alone and because he spoke out in favor of eliminating at least some of the race discrimination involved in apartheid. During the 1980s it was his job to negotiate with the West over the occupation of Namibia and buy time for South Africa to reform internally.

P.W. (Pieter Willem) Botha was a limited reformer in terms of the National Party who had been defense minister from 1966 to 1978. Before that he had been a professional National Party activist and the longest serving member of parliament. He advocated a policy of punishing South Africa's external enemies with cross border raids and invasions. Internally he brokered a new constitution that gave voting rights and limited powers to the mixed-race "colored" population in the Cape and the Transvaal (descendants of whites, Indonesians, and the local Khoisan population) and the Indian population in Natal. When elections were held in 1984 about 85 percent of Indians and coloreds didn't bother to vote as they considered the power insufficient to warrant antagonizing the African majority who were left out. P.W. also favored limited reforms in "petty apartheid" or the type of discrimination that was common in the American South before and during the Civil Rights Era.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blends the characteristics of both the Bothas. Like P.W. he was from a distinguished political family. His father had been the editor of the Revisionist Party newspaper in Palestine and the Herut Party paper before moving to America to pursue an academic career. After serving in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit in the late 1960s, Netanyahu returned to the U.S. where he had grown up to study business. He then started a business career in sales. Afterwards he served as ambassador to the UN in the late 1980s after having apprenticed under Moshe Arens, a man thought to be a future prime minister. When Arens abruptly resigned from politics in 1992 along with Yitzhak Shamir, Netanyahu was elected leader of the Likud. 

During the 1990s and 2000s his P.W. side came out. He was opposed to the Oslo process and wrote a famous book arguing the importance of retaining the West Bank to ensure Israeli security. As prime minister from 1996 to 1999 he attempted to fulfill the commitments he inherited from the Labor government before him while not making any new territorial sacrifices to satisfy the Palestinians. After he pledged to withdraw from a further 13 percent of the West Bank in October 1998, his coalition revolted and his government collapsed. He lost the subsequent election to his former army commander, Ehud Barak, in May 1999. Netanyahu then took a break from politics and made money while Ariel Sharon took over control of the Likud. About three years later he returned as foreign minister under Sharon and then became finance minister. In 2005 he resigned from the government in protest over Sharon's disengagement from Gaza.

After Sharon quit the Likud in November 2005, Netanyahu became the new party leader. He became opposition leader while the Kadima-Labor coalition was in power from 2006 to early 2009. In February 2009 he returned to power as the head of a right-wing coalition--the most rightwing since 1992. Netanyahu told reporters and foreign leaders that he had learned his lessons from his first tenure in power. But he formed a right-wing coalition rather than a centrist coalition with Kadima. In a famous speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009 he came out in favor of a two-state solution--the first Likud leader to ever do so. But he argued that the Palestinians must first recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a condition designed to significantly reduce the chance of a two-state solution occurring. He later implemented a settlement freeze for ten  months, but the Palestinians refused to enter peace talks because the freeze did not apply to Jerusalem. 

In South Africa P.W. Botha made the fatal mistake of divorcing party leadership from the presidency after he suffered a debilitating stroke. F.W. de Klerk mounted a coup against him in the party caucus and forced him to retire. Pik Botha helped to see through the transition to majority rule but never gained the top post. In Israel it looks like Netanyahu has left his Pik Botha past behind in order to pursue power as P.W. P.W. was a reformer in white South African terms during the first half of his tenure as executive and then became frozen and leaned on the military during his second half. Maybe Netanyahu has reversed the order here? He was more rigid in the mid-1990s and more open in the second term. But because of fear of Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman he has become rigid again.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Israel Labor Party Has New Leader

The Israel Labor Party, America's partner for peace in Israel for three decades from 1969 to 2000, has a new leader--Shelli Yachimovich (pronounced Yakhimovich). She defeated former leader Amir Peretz in a runoff election after the two led a field of four candidates. Yachimovich is a former journalist who joined the party in 1999. She advocates a return to emphasizing social and economic issues rather than the peace process. In other words, she wants to return Labor to its more centrist position on defense and security issues that it held up until Oslo, while taking it slightly to the left on economic matters.

I think this is a very good idea. Politically she has to restore the party's brand among Israeli voters. During and after Oslo it became too identified with Meretz and this led to brand confusion to the detriment of Labor. Labor has lost some four-fifths of its Knesset seats since Rabin was elected prime minister for the second time in 1992 (from 44 to 8). This decline is due to a number of reasons including the fallout from the peace process, the lack of policy development, the failure to develop a successor generation of leaders during the Peres-Rabin rivalry from 1974 to 1994, and the over-reliance on former generals to provide the party with electoral charisma.

And finally there was the split earlier this year when leader Ehud Barak left with a third of the party's MKs. Barak was said to be the protege of Yitzhak Rabin but he behaved more like Moshe Dayan or David Ben-Gurion at the end of their political careers. Ben-Gurion split from Mapai (the main predecessor of Labor) to form Rafi in 1965. When Rafi recombined with Mapai and another socialist party, Ahdut Ha'Avoda, to form Labor in 1968 Ben-Gurion stayed out and eventually his tiny splinter party became part of the Likud when that camp was founded in 1973. Dayan left Labor as an independent in 1977 and joined the new Likud government as foreign minister. He then formed his own private list in 1981 for the election shortly before his death. Barak just wants to be defense minister as Dayan wanted to be foreign minister.

Yachimovich's key challenge will be to find a comfortable working relationship with Kadima without letting her party be swallowed up by the larger party and lose its identity. If Yachimovich can take Kadima to the left on social and economic issues there may be eventually grounds for a merger of the parties. This would be a historic reconciliation between the descendants of the nationalist Revisionists of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky and the descendants of Mapai.  

Palestinian Statehood Is About Domestic Politics

There are three key players in the issue of Palestinian statehood: Mahmoud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Barack Obama. All three made speeches at the UN ostensibly designed to convince and justify their actions before an international audience. But all three speeches were really aimed at domestic audiences. Abbas was presenting the Palestinian narrative and demonstrating that he can stand up to the Zionists and their American backers. Netanyahu was showing his coalition that he was not making any concessions to the Palestinians and that the lack of a solution was their fault. Obama, by adopting for the first time the Israeli narrative, was protecting himself in the 2012 general election from the charge that he was pro-Palestinian and soft on the enemies of the Jewish state. Here is a column by Jewish blogger M J Rosenburg on Obama's motives and the likely results of his speech. And here is a column by Thomas Friedman basically echoing my observation and pointing out its dangers.

Abbas was trying to defend himself from attacks by Hamas, while going around the Likud government in Israel that plays lip service to a two-state solution while opposing it with all of its might. Abbas mentioned the connections of Jesus and Mohammad to Palestine, but failed to mention Moses, Abraham or any other Jews.  Netanyahu through his pro-settlement policies was pushing the Palestinians to go for statehood before all of their territory is swallowed up by religious Zionists and right-wing settlers. And Obama was demonstrating again that his political bank account is empty--he withdrew everything to pay for the health care bill and the stimulus packages.

U.S. Veto on Palestine Statehood Returns America-Middle East Relations to the pre-Yom Kippur War Era

On Friday President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority put in an application to statehood at the UN. Normally the Security Council handles requests for membership. Washington has indicated that the U.S. representative will veto the application in the Council if it comes to a vote. The General Assembly can vote to upgrade Palestine's status from observer to non-member state. This would legally have the effect of making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a conflict between two states. On the ground nothing much will change. Israel will still remain the occupier of the West Bank with its checkpoints, by-pass roads and other signs of occupation. Hamas will still remain in charge of Gaza.

What will change is the illusion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be resolved diplomatically anytime soon. This is because in the most blatant fashion Washington has demonstrated that American Middle East policy, or at least the policy regarding Israel and the Palestinians, is a captive of domestic politics. Obama by not engaging the Palestinians to pass a statehood resolution that protected Israel's interests, has left the Palestinians with proof that even a right-wing coalition government like the present Likud-Israel Beitenu government has more clout in Washington than does the Palestinian Authority.

Lebanese journalist Rami Khouri (look up Sat. Sep. 24) refers to this as demonstrating that "Israel-America" is "our new South Africa." Most Arab press tends to be much more based on opinion than fact--prescriptive rather than descriptive. Khouri is trying to demonstrate that Israel and America are one entity when it comes to Middle East policy and that this entity is as diplomatically isolated as Pretoria was in the 1980s under the apartheid regime. While this is demonstrably true of Israel, it is not true of Washington. Jerusalem under the present Likud coalition government has returned Israel to the diplomatic isolation that Israel suffered from before the Oslo era of the 1990s. While Washington is not there yet and probably never will be, Washington could go back to the era of the "Arab cold war" as Arabist Malcolm Kerr dubbed the period from 1964 to 1975. This was the era when the region was bitterly divided on ideological grounds between the pro-Soviet radical military dictatorships like those in Egypt, Iraq, Libya Syria, and the Yemens on one hand and the pro-American monarchies such as Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia  on the other. The Palestinians remained in the radical camp until Oslo in 1993. Egypt switched sides under Sadat in 1975. And Lebanon was convulsed by a civil war in 1975 that served as a proxy battleground for the various contenders for power in the region including Israel and lasted for fifteen years.

The Islamists have effectively replaced the fascist pro-Soviet military dictatorships as Washington's main regional opponents. If the Palestinian issue would once more become a rallying cry, as it threatened to do in late 2008 during the Gaza War, we could see proxy wars in either Lebanon or Iraq. This would have the effect of permanently derailing the Arab Spring.

While the Israeli-Palestinian issue is far from being ripe for resolution, it could be handled in such a way that would make it less attractive to would-be arsonists.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Martin McGuinness, candidate for Irish presidency

Last week Sinn Fein (SF), the all-Ireland party and political half of the Republican Movement, announced that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is its candidate for the Irish presidency.  SF's thinking is that with Fianna Fail not running, the party now has the opportunity to by-pass the once dominant Irish political party. McGuinness could conceivably come in as runner up in the election, thereby further mainstreaming SF within the Republic of Ireland. The election is to be held on October 27, 2011. McGuinness will have to take a leave of absence from his job as deputy first minister in Northern Ireland during the campaign. In Ireland the presidency is a largely ceremonial position.

During the peace process, SF's leadership spun a scenario to the Republican Movement's rank and file of a united Ireland coming about peacefully because the party would use its influence both within the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive and the Irish government in the Republic to bring this about. The projected date of unification was sometime in 2016, the centennial anniversary of the declaration of the Irish republic on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916 at the start of the Easter Rising. Until recently this was a fantasy because SF was a marginal party within the Republic and shunned by the other parties as a coalition partner. Hypocritically Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would urge Northern unionists to share power with Sinn Fein while the IRA still had its guns, while excluding it from power in the South for the same reason. Then last year the collapse of the Irish economy and of Fianna Fail's dominant status within the Irish party system seemed to make this dream feasible. But ironically, the same collapse made a majority of Northern nationalists opposed to unity with the Republic in the forseeable future.

McGuinness's nomination is also another sign of the eclipse of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. It was speculated after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that Adams remained outside of the Executive because he was being groomed for the bigger prize of the Irish presidency. Throughout the peace process Adams was the most popular politician in the Republic in public opinion surveys because of his role. But three things changed. First, the robbery of the Northern Bank in Dublin on December 20, 2004 exposed Adams to the scrutiny of the Irish press and his credibility was tarnished. He claimed not to have known any details of the robbery while he had been negotiating with the Democratic Unionists and British government on a power-sharing deal. Second, Ed Moloney's Secrets From the Grave tied Adams to the disappearance of Jean McConville, a young Belfast mother of ten, in the early 1970s when Adams was reputed to be a senior figure in the Belfast Brigade of the IRA. Moloney interviewed a number of senior republican and loyalist figures for Boston College's Troubles project with the stipulation that the interviews would only be made public upon the death of the subjects. When this occurred with Brendan Hughes, Moloney published. Third, in 2010 it was revealed that Gerry Adams was lying about his patronage of his younger brother, Liam, a suspected child abuser, within SF. Adams had kept his knowledge of Liam's sexual problems to himself allowing Liam to find work with young people. The press then exposed these lies. 

Adams was elected a TD (deputy in Irish Dail) last year from the border county of Louth. So he is still a marketable commodity. But if McGuinness someday ends up as Irish president, it will be like the guy who saves himself for his one true love only to have his best friend wind up with his girl. 

McGuinness was a 20 or 21-year old butcher's apprentice in Derry when he joined the IRA in 1971. Ironically, he originally joined the Official IRA but left it for the Provisional IRA after a few months because he was not interested in politics but in action. By the time of the Bloody Sunday massacre in January 1972 he was second in command of the Derry IRA. The Official IRA went on a permanent ceasefire in May 1972--22 years before the Provisionals did. After 1976 he and Adams wrested control of Northern Command from more moderate figures and made it the dominant force in the IRA. In the latter half of the 1980s he was IRA chief of staff and remained in that position well into the 1990s guiding the organization through the peace process. He also became Gerry Adams's deputy within SF and its chief negotiator during the Good Friday and subsequent negotiations. He also became education minister during the period of the First Assembly from December 1999 to October 2002. In the spring of 2007 when the peace process was resurrected it was McGuinness who became the partner of the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP--the infamous Dr. No of Ulster politics. The two were dubbed the "chuckle brothers" by the media for their public shows of affection. McGuinness has always been more open about his past IRA background than Adams who to this day denies every having been a member of the IRA.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why Sinn Fein and the DUP can both afford to lose a seat

In my most recent post, on UK redistricting and Northern Ireland, I stated that both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists (DUP) could afford to lose a seat as a result of redistricting. This post explains why this is the case.

If one looks at a map of Northern Ireland after the most recent UK Westminster parliamentary election, one sees that the entire west of the province--except for the northwestern corner-- is colored green for Sinn Fein. The exceptions are the Foyle consituency around Derry, which the SDLP won, and the County Londonderry seat, which the DUP took. Now if one looks at the east of the province one sees the orange color of the DUP except for the light green of the SDLP in South Belfast and in South Down, and the yellow of Alliance in East Belfast. The DUP has eight of the provinces eighteen seats or just under half; Sinn Fein has five; the SDLP has three; and Alliance one with independent Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down. We have already said that the South Belfast seat is going away leaving the SDLP with only two seats.

If as a result of the redistricting in the west the DUP loses one seat it will still have more seats than any other party. If Sinn Fein loses a seat it will still have twice as many seats as its nationalist rival, the SDLP. In 2010 Sinn Fein retained the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat by only four votes against an agreed unionist candidate drawing votes from both UUP and DUP voters. The UUP has broken its formal link with the Conservative Party, thus opening the door for a possible return of Hermon to the UUP, putting it once more on the Westminster map. If the two main unionist parties can again agree on a comprise candidate for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat and the SDLP again goes its own way, it is conceivable that the seat could flip to being unionist. 

In any case, the Good Friday Agreement with its consociational structures of division within the Assembly and Executive of all parties into unionist, nationalist, and other categories has effectively made the real competition intracommunal rather than intercommunal. That is, no party gains a real advantage for being the largest party in the province, but only for being the largest party within its sectarian community. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister are de facto co-first ministers because one needs the support of the other. Sinn Fein had in fact proposed that the titles be formally changed to co-first ministers but the DUP objected. The DUP did this so that it could milk extra votes out of the danger of Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein becoming first minister from the UUP. The controversy over the name and cap badge change from Royal Ulster Constabulry to Police Service of Northern Ireland at the turn of the century demonstrated how much unionists are hung up on symbols. The unionist voters need to be reassured over the loss of their hegemony in the province with symbols. That is what much of the annual marching/parades controversy is about every year.

In reality, since the Good Friday Agreement was implemented on a stable basis in 2007 following IRA decommissioning of weapons in 2005, the province has been run as a sectarian carve-up with Sinn Fein running the west and center and the DUP running the north and east. The other three main parties are left to fight over the crumbs. In the Executive and the Assembly the two parties cooperate to run the province smoothly, much more smoothly than the UUP and SDLP ever did between 1999 and 2002. This is because the DUP and Sinn Fein don't have to worry about their own sectarian agitation, or that of their sectarian rivals who were amateurs at the sport.

If in the Middle East Israel and Palestine are ever transformed into a single state as a result of the inability to implement a two-state solution, expect much the same type of symbolic conflict between Jewish extremists and Muslim extremists along with much real conflict.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

UK Redistricting: How it Will Affect Northern Ireland

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to use the formal title of the entity that most people refer to simply as the UK or Britain (not so great any more), is redistricting in a bid to make its parliamentary representation more uniform. Boundaries will be redrawn to organize about 72,000 eligible voters in each constituency and reduce the total number of seats from about 600 to 550. As its share in the loss Northern Ireland is expected to part with only two of its present eighteen seats. Until the 1980s the province had only a dozen seats, then add one and then another five. Here is a detailed article on the proposal by Liam Clarke of the Belfast Telegraph.

What will be the effects of this on politics in Northern Ireland? As I see it there will be two main effects. First, the two seats being sacrificed are in western Ulster--west of the Bann River that is mainly controlled by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists (DUP)--and South Belfast. The South Belfast seat is being divided between West Belfast--a longtime Sinn Fein fiefdom--and East Belfast--presently held by Alliance, but traditionally held by the DUP. The SDLP, already in trouble because of its outdated electoral machinery and lack of a clear message, is about to lose one of its three remaining Westminster seats. In the past Belfast, as the province's capital and main city, has had four parliamentary districts: North, West, South, and East. South is now being split between West and East; West will lose its main loyalist area (the Shankill) to North. I haven't yet seen any maps showing the redivision of districts in the west of the province, but the net effect will be that either the DUP or Sinn Fein will lose one of its seats. Both can afford to take the hit. None of the three smaller traditional parties (UUP, SDLP, Alliance) can afford to take a hit. The real contests in the province take place within its sectarian divisions: Sinn Fein versus the SDLP among the nationalists, and the DUP versus the UUP among the unionists. The DUP has all but won its battle against the UUP. The SDLP is still hanging on but this will make the job of the new leader that much more difficult.

The second main effect is to reduce the size of government in the province down to a more appropriate size. For the Assembly each parliamentary district elects six representatives--thus the total size of the Assembly will be reduced from 108 to 96. If the number elected in each district were to be reduced further to only five the Assembly would end up with 80. This is about the size of the Assembly in the 1970s and 1980s. A unitary state like the UK does not need such an elaborate provincial legislature for its smallest province.  Northern Ireland, after all, consists of only six counties (which accounts for the old republican name for the province--the Six Counties). The Assembly has traditionally handled the three b's: bins, bogs, and burials. That is to say it has handled garbage collection, sewage, and burials as well as policing since 2007. It has a number of other administrative functions, but the most important ministries such as defense, foreign affairs, and the treasury are handled at the national level in London. Most Ulstermen and Ulsterwomen whether nationalist or unionist think that far too much is already spent on local and provincial government. The further reduction to 80 in the Assembly would probably be very popular.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ripeness and the Arab League

In international mediation theory, ripeness is the key theoretical concept. I.William Zartman, an Africanist and a negotiations expert posits that three conditions are necessary for ripeness, which will allow foreign mediation between two or more warring parties to succeed. These are: 1) a hurting stalemate; 2) representative parties; and 3) a way out or formula. Most theory since then has worked on further defining the characteristics of a hurting stalemate. But I believe that representative parties is at least as important. The parties in the negotiations must represent the sides involved in the conflict.

All too often, one side will refuse to negotiate with the other and instead picks a more acceptable or palatable negotiating partner. This happened with Israel and the Palestinians from 1967 to 1988. It happened in Northern Ireland in 1973 during the Sunningdale initiative. And it has happened elsewhere. In Northern Ireland both the violent Protestants--the loyalists--and the violent Catholics--the republicans--were excluded from a power-sharing experiment. Both conspired against it and after only five months it collapsed. In the Middle East the Israelis refused to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) both because it used terrorism and because it refused to accept Israel's right to exist. Only after the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in December 1988 did Israel finally choose to negotiate with it in 1993 in Oslo, Norway.

Today, some twenty years later there is a similar problem. The PLO/Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza have been in competition since the founding of the latter in 1988. In January 2006 Hamas defeated Fatah, the main component of the PLO, in open elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Eighteen months later Hamas staged a coup in Gaza and ejected Fatah from power. Since then the split has been an aggravating factor in the so-called peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Fatah has been unwilling to offer concessions similar to those demanded of Israel out of fear that Hamas will exploit these concessions in inter-Palestinian politics. When Al-Jazeera published reported minutes of 2008 Israel-Palestine negotiations the PLO was quick to denounce the reported concessions made by it as false slanders.

There may be a solution to the problem posed by competing nationalist organizations. In African nationalist politics in what was then Rhodesia and now is Zimbabwe, there were four veteran nationalist leaders competing for domination in the mid-1970s. The leaders of the Frontline States (FLS) that bordered on Rhodesia and Namibia or provided sanctuary to the guerrillas fighting against the white minority regimes in these two countries, formed an organization in late 1974. This was in order to facilitate negotiations between the ruling white minority Ian Smith regime and the African nationalists. The FLS recognized the problem posed by the lack of nationalist unity and attempted to provide a solution. This was not only to facilitate negotiations but to avoid a repeat of the civil war in Angola between rival liberation movements fighting over power once Portugal decided to pull out of its colony.

First the FLS forced four rival organizations to consolidate within one larger umbrella organization, the African National Council, in December 1974. Eight months later the negotiations with the Smith regime had collapsed before they really started and two rival leaders, Joshua Nkomo and Bishop Abel Muzorewa, had split the ANC into rival wings. Then the FLS attempted to organize a joint guerrilla army out of the armed wings of the veteran ZANU and ZAPU movements. This organization lasted for about eight months before it broke down as a result of inter-organizational fighting in the camps and desertions by ZAPU guerrillas from the joint army.

In October 1976 the two rival leaders of ZANU and ZAPU, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, formed a diplomatic alliance ahead of a Geneva conference on the territory hosted by the British government, which had official legal sovereignty over the territory but no real power. For seven weeks three competing nationalist delegations and the Rhodesian government delegation talked past one another. A few weeks after the conference ended without result in mid-December, the FLS recognized the Patriotic Front as the sole legitimate representative of the Zimbabwean people. A month later the Organization of African Unity (OAU) recognized this decision.

Thirteen months after this the two nationalist leaders without guerrilla armies signed an agreement with the white minority regime in Rhodesia for a form of majority rule with extensive powers reserved in the hands of the whites. The war continued and escalated. Finally in December 1979, exactly seven years after the war began, the war ended after three months of negotiations between the the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian government and the Patriotic Front. With the support of the FLS who were suffering from attacks from the Rhodesian military, the British government forced a settlement based on elections.

In the future, the Arab League, which first recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in October 1974, might perform a similar function of arbitration between the secular nationalist Fatah/PLO and the Islamist Hamas. This could be by forcing Fatah to admit Hamas into the PLO. Or if support for Fatah significantly weakens due to continuing corruption, it could simply delegitimize the PLO in favor of Hamas. 

In the past the authoritarian Arab regimes favored secular Sunni Arab movements supported by them over allies of the Shi'ite Iran. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are seen by both Israel and the Arab regimes as Iranian proxies. But if as a result of the "Arab Spring" more democratic and Islamist governments come to power, then the Sunni Hamas could benefit. Arab regimes supported anti-Zionist and anti-semitic rhetoric but many preferred de facto peace with Israel as a means of ensuring regional stability and their own survival. This was true of Syria and Lebanon as well as Egypt and Jordan. Now with Egypt having deposed its president under popular pressure and the Syrian regime facing significant internal unrest, things could change. We could return to an era in which Palestinian nationalist organizations received regime support from surrounding countries that were competitors to rule the Arab world. This will be a trend that will be worth watching. One potential result of genuine revolutions--regime changes--in either Egypt or Syria or both--might be the Arab League stepping in to play a role like that played by the FLS in Southern Africa over twenty years.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tehran in Cairo? That's How it Appears to Israelis

This weekend a mob of Egyptian rioters invaded the Israeli embassy in Cairo, (see the Aluf Benn story from Ha'Aretz) forcing a hurried retreat by plane to Israel. The Israeli flag was torn from the flagpole and shredded by the mob. To Americans seeing footage of this, it brings back memories of the capture of the "nest of spies" that the Iranian revolution claimed was the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. That same period saw the regime of the mullahs take over the Israeli embassy and turn it over to the PLO. Many Israelis may well wonder if that is the fate that is in store for the Israeli embassy in Egypt. With the military regime still in charge in Cairo, this seems rather unlikely--unless economic conditions require a foreign scapegoat.

Since Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the prime minister's office in Jerusalem in 2009, the region has seen the makings of a future tinderbox. The elevation of an uneasy coalition of the Right in Jerusalem coincided with the shift in foreign policy by the Tayip Erdogan government in Ankara. The Turkish government, wishing to return at least in terms of influence to the areas of the former Ottoman Empire, started to vigorously compete with Iran for influence in the Arab world. It did this by supporting the demands of Palestinians to have the Israeli blockade of Gaza lifted. Ankara assisted in the dispatch of a flotilla of blockade-busting ships to Gaza last year. They were intercepted by the Israeli army in international waters and boarded when they refused to pull over for inspection. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in clashes with the lightly armed passengers of the ships who offered resistance to the takeover. A recent UN report vindicated the Israeli blockade and criticized the Israeli government for using too much force. Jerusalem has refused to apologize to Ankara as demanded, leading to a break in diplomatic relations.

This followed an incident in which an assistant of Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman attempted to humiliate the Turkish ambassador by delivering a diplomatic demarche over programming on Turkish television that was anti-semitic in the most humiliating way possible. Ankara was quite happy to have its revenge.

So now we have a dynamic in which the Egyptian and Turkish governments can exploit the feelings of humiliation at the hands of  a non-Muslim people and government that is seen as foreign to the region. This in turn reinforces the siege mentality of the Israeli electorate who have now lost their closest ally in the Muslim Middle East, Turkey, and risk losing their strategic anchor, Egypt, of their security policy. The only thing worse would be if suddenly the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown by the Palestinians. Fortunately for Israel, such a contingency appears rather remote. 

Expect in turn an even further-right government following Israel's next election either later this year or in 2012. How different this is from the first Likud government that came to power in 1977 and made peace with Egypt.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Troubles of the SDLP

Yesterday Margaret Ritchie announced that she would be stepping down as leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland after less than two years on the job. The party had performed poorly in the election for the Northern Ireland Assembly in May and her deputy, Patsy McGlone, had announced that he would be challenging her in the mandatory leadership election. Her previous challenger, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, is expected to also contest the election.

Ritchie is the fourth leader of the SDLP. The party was formed in August 1970 out of the remnants of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), the body that formulated the strategy of civil rights marches as a means of protesting anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland at the start of The Troubles in 1968. The SDLP was a de facto shotgun marriage of NICRA and two representatives from two other parties, Republican Labour and the Northern Ireland Labour Party, to unite all six of the nationalist members of the Stormont Parliament (the forerunner of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was closed down in March 1972). The party advocated a united Ireland and non-violence as well as an end to discrimination and social democracy. The first leader chosen was Gerry Fitt, who was the only Westmister (British parliament) MP out of the six founding members. But the de facto leader of the party during its first decade was John Hume. In 1979 Fitt was ousted after he advocated cooperating with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in support of voluntary power sharing. Hume took over the party and remained the leader for the next 22 years. During that time he launched the Northern Ireland peace process with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the Irish government in Dublin.

Hume voluntarily retired as leader of the SDLP in 2001 and named his protege, Mark Durkan, as his successor. Durkan presided over the decline of the party as the other nationalist party, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, overtook it. This first occured in local government elections in 2001 and was then confirmed in the next Westminster election. Durkan benefitted from being the annoited successor to the charismatic Hume. Durkan then stepped down as leader in early 2010 at age fifty to concentrate on serving as MP for his Foyle constituency that he had inherited from Hume. Ritchie, the MP for South Down, beat McDonnell to emerge as the new leader.

The SDLP's decline is due to a number of factors. First, it has never developed an efficient electoral machinery for fighting elections. This really hurt when going up against Sinn Fein, which benefitted on election day from the help of the military wing of the Republican Movement. Sinn Fein and the IRA had developed a very efficient party machinery that had people impersonating voters--the old, sick, and alcoholic who didn't vote--at the polls. Second, once the peace process got going many nationalists wanted to reward Sinn Fein and the IRA for ending the war. So they lent their votes to the Republicans, and eventually the loan became permanent. Third, the British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair had a policy of appeasement toward the Republicans in order to keep the peace process on track. Sinn Fein became expert on extorting tribute from London in exchange for doing what they had already signed up to do in the Good Friday Agreement. As a result the two moderate parties who had negotiated the GFA, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists, suffered at the hands of the electorate. Unionist voters punished them for the IRA's failure to disarm and the British policy of appeasement; nationalist voters rewarded Sinn Fein for the benefits that they extracted at (offstage) gunpoint from the British. Here is an article (go to the link on the site for the Belfast Telegraph article by Liam Clarke) discussing the problem's of the party under Ritchie's leadership.

The UUP has actually declined in recent years more sharply than has the SDLP. The only real solution to the problems of both parties is by their weaning themselves from the teets of the Northern Ireland Office and the Executive by going into opposition. This is difficult because the Good Friday Agreement was designed to get all parties to participate and share power rather than to provide voters with efficient democratic government. The way to do this is to form a pact between the two parties in which both go into opposition and present themselves to voters as an alternative government with their own policies. This might prove difficult, as, according to Clarke, those who elected Ritchie last time wanted the party to remain the same and not adapt to new circumstances. The GFA should also be modified to allow for an official opposition as at Westminster. The mother of parliaments has given birth to a bastard child and it needs to be restrained and reformed.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

APN: Those in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones

As a past major donor to Americans for Peace Now, I regularly receive solicitations from them. I sympathize with the Israeli Peace Now/Shalom Akshav and think that it does very valuable work particularly when it comes to settlement monitoring, a task that is desperately needed. I also am a big fan of Yossi Alpher's weekly column "Hard Questions, Tough Answers." This week I received in the mail from APN solicitation and two pamphlets. One of these was entitled Indefensible: Misrepresenting the borders issue to undermine Israeli-Palestinian Peace. While I agree with the general tenure of the pamphlet and its conclusions I have a major problem with one statement in it. "They are also trying to eras the fact that Israel long ago agreed with the U.S. an the entire world that the 1967 lines are the basis of negotiations, when it accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (of 1967), which requires Israel to withdraw from 'territories occupied in the recent conflict.'"  This is a gross misrepresentation of Israel's position at the time and of the historical record.

The resolution was authored by the then British ambassador to the UN in consultation with American, Israeli, and Arab ambassadors. As Henry Kissinger makes clear in the first volume of his memoirs, The White House Years, 242 had something for everyone. It called for the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force" in the preamble--which was the key clause for the Arabs, The Israelis have traditionally ignored this claiming that it is not part of the operational text of the resolution. For Israel it spoke of "secure and recognized borders," which the 1949 armistice lines never were in the Middle East. And for both sides it calls for withdrawal from "territories occupied in the recent conflict." Note that it does not call for withdrawal from "all of the territories occupied in the recent conflict" or even "the territories occupied in the recent conflict." This choice of words was very deliberate, although it was muddied by the mistranslation in French that does include the definite article. But the English translation has always been the authoritative one.

Israel could literally claim in 1974 that it had fulfilled this requirement by withdrawing from the east bank of the Suez Canal (not to mention the west bank occupied in October 1973) as part of the January 1974 Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement and in June 1974 from Quneitra and surrounding villages on the Golan Heights as part of the Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement. It had withdrawn from territories occupied in June 1967. Since then it has gone on to withdraw from all of the Sinai--by far the largest territory captured in June 1967 as well as from Gaza and from major portions of the West Bank.

The Israeli interpretation under the Labor government stated very clearly at the time was that this meant some withdrawal on all fronts. Later the Likud modified this to mean withdrawal on some fronts. The American interpretation was withdrawal with minor mutually-agreed border modifications on all fronts. The Arab interpretation was that Israel should withdraw and the Arabs were not required to do anything to make the borders secure and recognized. It was this latter attitude that was responsible for facilitating Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan. Only because President Sadat of Egypt modified his attitude did Israeli withdrawals take place from Sinai and from the Golan.

Those who do not believe me can take a look at the maps on the inside covers of Michael Breecher's The Foreign Policy System of Israel where he illustrates the territorial plans or ambitions of the Alignment (Labor), Mapam, and the Likud. It was partially because different borders were envisaged by different factions within the Labor Party (Ahdut Ha'Avoda and Rafi were much more hawkish than Mapai), not to mention other parties that the resolution was so vague. In fact the Resolution was authored several months before Ahdut Ha'Avoda, Mapai and Rafi merged to form the Labor Party in the summer of 1968.

While I agree that Israel should withdraw from the vast majority of the West Bank (95% plus) and all of Gaza, I do not think that APN should be in the business of distorting the historical record. Resolution 242 was deliberately worded so that it would partially appeal to all sides, while remaining ambiguous and cloudy in its overall interpretation. This is what allowed Henry Kissinger to use it as the basis of his shuttle diplomacy following the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Arab Spring or Revolution? A Reply

Beirut editor Rami Khouri published this piece in the Toronto Globe & Mail this week on the Arab Spring. The article is full of typical Arab attitude about Western condescension towards the Arabs. Supposedly the term Arab Spring is implying that the Arab movement against Arab authoritarian and totalitarian regimes is doomed to failure. Khouri castigates Western journalists and opinion makers for not using the term thawra (plural thawrat) meaning revolution for the various movements. But Khouri knows very well that this is the term used by those very same authoritarian and totalitarian regimes for the coups d'etat that put them into power in the first place. In Arab usage, copying the Soviets, a revolution is termed to be a military putsch followed by a banning of political parties, an arrest of political opponents, and the creation of a new class of nomenklatura or those with influence. On the other hand the term spring was applied by historians both to the failed popular revolts in Europe ("springtime of nations") and to the reform movement in Czechoslovakia in the spring and summer of 1968 ("Prague spring"). It has almost always been a positive reference by Western historians.

Had Western journalists applied the term revolutions to these popular movements, Khouri and his ilk would likely have castigated them for tarring them with the vocabulary used by Arab autocrats. Instead of posing and simpering Khouri should spend his time analyzing why the Prague Spring and the 1848 revolutions failed and passing this information along to his Arab readers. He then might analyze why the revolutions in Eastern Europe in the fall of 1989 were successful. Just as mature people take their fate in their own hands and make what they can of their lives, mature nations must act under the circumstances that they find themselves in instead of continually blaming outsiders.

As George Friedman has pointed out, so far the only successes of the Arab Spring, Tunisia and Egypt, are well short of revolutions. In both cases the militaries stepped in and removed the presidents. In Egypt it was the military regime that had placed Mubarak in charge in the first place. The military has ruled Egypt since 1952. The military decided that the octogenarian leader was more of a liability than an asset and removed him. He was also partially toppled by American pressure. 

The Arabs are now confronted by two Arab regimes, the products of the Libyan and  Syrian thawrat, that are fighting back instead of going quietly into the night. Both of these were Soviet clients during the Cold War. It was NATO that took it upon itself to neutralize Kaddafi's military advantage by grounding his air force. It is now up to the Libyan opposition to either succeed or fail. In Syria the West has acted through economic sanctions aimed against the leadership of the regime. The success or failure of the revolution or intifada--a name that until now has been reserved for Palestinian revolts against the Israeli occupation--in Syria is now up to the Syrian people. Maybe that is what Khouri is worried about.

For a much more nuanced take see James Traub's piece in Foreign Policy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Arab Spring Hits Israel

The Arab Spring has hit its first non-Arab society--Israel. For a month now there have been tent camps in Tel Aviv of protesters demonstrating against Israel's housing shortage. Because much of new housing construction by the government has been beyond the green line (the 1949 armistice line) in the West Bank and Gaza, there has been a housing shortage in Israel. Then add to this the fact that many wealthy Jews from abroad maintain second homes or apartments in Israel that they use only for a few weeks or months out of the summer, and there is a serious problem for ordinary Israelis. So far the demonstrations, which reached a peak of 300,000 in Tel Aviv last Saturday and have spread to major cities throughout the country and include Arabs in Haifa, have ignored the "Arab question." They are thus deemed to be non-political. In modern Hebrew the term politics is often interchangeable with "high politics" meaning issues of war and peace, diplomacy, etc.

Here is an analysis by American Jewish political scientist Michael Walzer on the movement. There is a definite connection between the settlement enterprise in the territories and the lack of housing within Israel. But if the movement's leadership and that of the parties of the left are smart they will avoid going beyond the immediate demands. Meretz has drastically shrunk since 2000 because it was focused solely on the Arab question in general and the Palestinian question/peace process in particular. There is a big opportunity for center-left parties to rebuild their base by expanding their issue focus. By developing a critique of the laissez-faire capitalism that Benjamin Netanyahu has imported from America, and attacking the special privileges that have been granted to settlers and ultra-Orthodox groups (housing subsidies, draft exemptions) they can build up a following among ordinary Israelis. They can then latter use that to convert these new supporters into supporters of the peace process over time. But they must not rush. This is like a courtship with a psychologically-damaged woman--it must be taken slowly. If it is rushed there will be no marriage and no birth to a successful peace.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Siege Democracy Confirmed

This week the Israeli Knesset confirmed my characterization/classification of Israel as a siege democracy by passing legislation allowing any Israeli company that is the target of a boycott call to sue in civil court without having to prove that it was actually damaged economically. This has so far backfired by forcing many Israeli liberals who disapprove of boycotts to defend the free speech rights of others to call for them. This has left the Right in Israel even more isolated as many Jews in the diaspora have opposed the legislation. Either this easily-foreseen consequence was simply overlooked, which means that the originators of the legislation are incompetent, or secretly desired, in which case they want to damage Israel's interests while appearing patriotic.

In any case Israel is swiftly moving into the territory of the South African regime during the late 1980s. The National Party regularly spoke of a "Total Onslaught" against South Africa that could only be fought by a "Total (totalitarian) Response." In the 1987 election campaign the opposition Progressive Federal Party was demonized as collaborating with the outlawed African National Congress. The tactic worked in the short term and delivered a big electoral victory for the National Party and made the nationalist Afrikaner Conservative Party the official opposition. This in turn increased South Africa's opposition internationally. In Israel's party system there is no real "official opposition" but rather parties that take turns as coalition partners with the Likud. Avigdor Liebermann is aiming to be the new head of the Israeli Right by replacing Netanyahu. Bibi is running scared. He reacts short term to the danger from the Right. He learned his lesson from his first premiership--don't provoke the Right.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

J Street's misdirected activism

On Sunday I attended a house party for the Madison chapter of J Street. There were about ten of us there to listen to the Midwest coordinator from Chicago explain J Street's strategy for the "two-state summer" to pressure the Obama administration to reengage in Middle East diplomacy on the Palestinian track. I spoke to him for about a half hour before the meeting and although we agreed on many things, we had a fundamental disagreement about American policy. I hold that the situation is fundamentally unripe for another attempt to renew Israeli-Palestinian direct talks. The Israeli government is opposed to a further settlement freeze or any substantial concessions to the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas is opposed to making any substantial concessions to the Israelis and has already committed himself to the UN route of seeking UN sanction and recognition for a declaration of Palestinian independence. Until he plays this hand out he is very unlikely to try to engage in another game with different rules in which he has always been dealt a losing hand.

Several of us at the meeting spoke of the possibility of J Street attempting to persuade the Obama administration to shape the Palestinian initiative by making UN recognition and pressure on Israel to end the occupation conditional on Palestine fulfilling certain conditions such as giving up the right of return. But apparently J Street believes that that is too dangerous a course. In other words Obama is politically healthy enough to be pressured into engaging in another high-profile round of the peace process, as in 2010, but not healthy enough to take on the UN and a unified Palestinian government. I fail to understand the logic here.

Either engaging in a peace process will cost Obama valuable political capital when he is gearing up for a reelection campaign or it won't. If it will it should be avoided. If it will not then he should spend that capital in a process that has not yet failed and has a slim chance of succeeding.

Aaron David  Miller wrote a very interesting article on how the Arab Spring has affected American Middle East calculations. Here is the link.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Europe and the Middle East Peace Process

For a number of years I have advocated that the United States enter into a partnership with the European Union for the purpose of sponsoring a non-biased peace process in the Middle East that can engage with both the Palestinians and Israel and bring pressure on both of them. The model for this dual mediation is the Anglo-Irish peace process in Northern Ireland from 1993 to 2007.

But recently an article on the Real Clear World website pointed out that Stephen Wall, a former senior British Finance Ministry official responsible for policy towards Europe and author of a book on British European policy, said that as a result of the Euro crisis in Europe with both Greece and Ireland in trouble and Spain and Portugal threatening to go bad, he expected to see the whole European economic and political project to unravel within his lifetime. He is 64. So figure some time within the next 20 years at the outside. This is partly because Europe is forever trying to run before it can crawl properly.

It has instituted a common currency without having a common monetary policy or economic policy binding on all member states. This has led to the present crisis.

Since 1979 it has been issuing policy statements on the Arab-Israeli conflict and trying to get its foot into the door of regional diplomacy. But in the early 1990s when a crisis--or more correctly, several interrelated crises--occurred in Europe's backyard in the Balkans, Brussels was asleep at the wheel. The Bosnian civil war was finally resolved by American mediation in late 1995 after Washington grew tired of Europe's empty claims of preeminence. Tens of thousands died in the killing fields of Bosnia--many under the noses of European peacekeeping troops--while Europe struggled unsuccessfully to come up with a common problem. This was because Germany supported the Croats in Bosnia and Croatia while Britain and France favored the Serbs for historical reasons dating back to World War I.

It may be another decade before the region is again ripe for a peace process. Before the Palestinians are united around a common negotiating position that would allow a solution with Israel. A decade before the Arabs in the surrounding countries have dealt with the issues arising out of the Arab Spring. That will give Europe and the United States a decade to work out a solution and implement it before Europe collapses. In Northern Ireland it took nearly fourteen years to do this, and the conflict in Northern Ireland is much simpler than that in the Middle East without hundreds of thousands of refugees, without holy sites in Belfast sacred to three of the world's major religions, and without a massive ongoing settlement effort by unionists on nationalist land. 

So maybe all the pessimists are right and the conflict is unsolvable.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The green shade of nationalism versus the plaid of unionism

Peter Robinson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and first minister of Northern Ireland, recently announced (go to the BBC article for June 25th) that his party would begin a new drive to attract Catholic members. When one considers that for decades the DUP was the political arm of the Free Presbyterian Church, with Ian Paisley in the role of both leader of the former and moderator (leader) of the latter, this is a major change. The Free Presbyterian Church was an independent fundamentalist evangelical Protestant denomination with its theology stuck in the 16th--17th century reformation era when Scotland changed from being largely Catholic to mainly Presbyterian. Paisley used to preach sermons condemning any ecumenical activity between Catholicism and Protestantism. His party newspaper specialized in scandalous and sexually-charged stories about the activities of nuns in Catholic convents and the activities of priests.

Robinson, however, did not belong to the FPC and represented the "secular" wing of the party along with Sammy Wilson that was based in East Belfast and had supporters in urban areas of Northern Ireland as opposed to the more rural supporters of the fundamentalist wing of the party. Paisley and the DUP represented the wing of unionism that was suspicious of all nationalists as an alien fifth column and that advocated their suppression rather than assimilation. This tradition was also well represented in the ranks of the former ruling Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

Due to the IRA's failure to decommission its weapons in a timely fashion, IRA activities in Colombia and in Northern Ireland that violated the ceasefire, and Protestant ambivalence about power sharing with nationalists, the DUP replaced the UUP as the main unionist party between 2002 and 2005. The UUP was marginalized in the Westminster parliamentary election of 2010 and the Northern Ireland Assembly election of 2011. The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV),  a DUP-splinter party representing traditional DUP thinking was left with only a single Assembly seat. So Protestant voters generally are left with a choice between three parties as relevant: the DUP, the UUP, and the non-sectarian Alliance Party--which does not define itself as unionist but supports Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom as long as a majority of its citizens feel that way.

In the last year a number of prominent activists and candidates in the UUP have defected to both of the other two parties leaving the continued existence of the UUP as a viable party in doubt. The center ground in unionism is now being combated between the DUP and Alliance. Like Republicans who tout the non-racist credentials of the GOP in the hope of attracting white suburbanites rather than large numbers of blacks and Latinos, the DUP may be attempting to attract potential moderate unionist voters away from the UUP and Alliance by appearing more plaid and less orange (the traditional color of unionists after William of Orange).

Meanwhile the fight among Catholics is largely between Sinn Fein and the SDLP with the latter losing much more ground to the former than to Alliance. Thus the SDLP may attempt to appear more green by emphasizing its commitment to Irish unity rather than attempting to win over closet Catholic unionists.

A recent survey  (go to the June 19th articles in the Belfast Telegraph and Irish News) showed a large majority of Northern Irish Catholics as supporting the province remaining a part of the United Kingdom rather than uniting with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west. This is the first time that a majority of Catholics have indicated a preference for the UK over the Republic. This is no doubt a reaction to the recent crash of the economy in Ireland and the discrediting of the main Irish nationalist parties in the Republic.  But it is likely that most of these voters will continue to support Sinn Fein over the SDLP in the believe that Sinn Fein does a better job of protecting their rights (never mind the hundreds of Catholics that the IRA killed and thousands that it maimed during The Troubles).

Maybe the SDLP should go back to its roots as a party--implied in its name--that emphasized social democracy as well as Irish unity? The party probably cannot compete with Sinn Fein's unity credentials (its leaders went to prison and killed for their beliefs), but can compete in terms of delivering social policies based on social democracy rather than corporatism. 

And maybe Alliance should think about starting a membership drive among Catholics not just in its traditional Greater Belfast heartland but also in areas like the Ulster Midlands and west of the Bann--the dividing line between nationalist Ulster and unionist Ulster. It might find that some voters starved of innovative policies for decades may prefer these to identity politics based on the border and past history.