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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dueling Narratives of Outsiders

Josef Joffe, the editor of the distinguished German newspaper Die Welt, has a commentary (in the Wall Street Journal and reproduced at Real Clear in which he denies the centrality of the Palestinian issue to the Middle East. He claims that the Arab Spring unrest demonstrates that lack of democracy, poor governance, and oppression are the real central issues of the Middle East. He claims that the Palestine issue was really a red herring used to distract Arab publics from their appalling domestic situation by autocratic and corrupt rulers. I think this is true. Nationalism usually rests not only upon a common language, territory and past but also upon a common enemy or enemies. In the case of the Arabs these enemies were Israel and colonialism, often conflated together. Israel takes up about one percent of the territory of the region--maybe two percent with the West Bank and Golan. Yet before the American invasion of Iraq it took up about 80 percent or better of the Arab media's attention. In 2004 I regularly watched broadcasts of Al Jazeera's Arab broadcasts and two items always jointly occupied about 80 percent of the news--Iraq and Israel. Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, used the network to disguise the fact that it is an American ally with an important American base on its soil.

Stephen Walt was at the same time going on about his pet hobby horse, Israel. Walt claimed that his criticisms of Israel had been oversimplified. He claims that he never said that Israel had no utility to the United States. And he claims that he never claimed that the Israel lobby is all powerful. But he did claim in his Foreign Policy article and in the subsequent book, written with John Mearsheimer, that the Israel lobby was responsible for the American invasion of Iraq. He again asserts that claim by arguing that pro-war editorials by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are proof that Israel wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq on its behalf. 

The truth is that Israel wanted the U.S. to invade Iran, which it perceived as a much greater threat to it than Iraq. Netanyahu and Barak probably placed the editorials in the American press as a way of currying favor with the Bush administration, which was determined to invade in any case. See Dan Fleshler's refutation of Walt and Mearsheimer's book in his own book on American Jewry and Israel, which can be ordered off of his website.

Walt is correct that Israel is much less of an American asset than it was during the Cold War. But so are America's other regional allies. It was Egypt and Saudi Arabia that produced the 9/11 hijackers with their political oppression and, in the case of the Saudi authorities, support for Wahhabi fundamentalism. The United States has few dependable regional allies without baggage. The peace process, used to circumnavigate the fact that Washington supported Israel while the countries of the region hated it, looks unlikely to actually produce peace anytime soon. See this interview with former long-time State Department official Aaron D. Miller for an understanding why this is so. (Or simply read the back posts of this blog.) 

This is why I advocate that we disentangle ourselves as quickly and expeditiously as possible from the region and leave Israel on its own with occasional sales of arms in order to preserve the military balance. This is basicly what Cato Institute fellow Leon Hadar advocates. Until we can do this I advocate vigorously pursuing the peace process whenever the situation appears ripe for success.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Confusion in the Obama administration

Yesterday the New York Times ran an article reporting that there was disagreement within the upper ranks of the Obama administration about its Middle East policy regarding Israel/Palestine. It was reported that both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton favored the former making a presidential speech to the nation on the Middle East that would address policy issues raised by both the Arab Spring revolutions and the stagnant peace process. J Street, the liberal pro-Israel pro-peace lobby, is lobbying Obama and Clinton to publicly set out their own terms for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement.  Senior National Security Council advisor for the Middle East Dennis Ross, who was the lead Mideast peace negotiator in the Clinton administration, is opposed to Obama making such a speech. Ross opposes such a speech because he fears that it will lead to a confrontation with Israel and is opposed to any American-Israeli confrontation. The New York Times's Israeli equivalent, Ha'Aretz, also ran an article on the subject. I agree with Ross, but for reasons that are slightly--but very significantly different.

Like Ross I believe that the situation at present is not ripe for peace. Neither Jerusalem nor Ramallah is willing to take the steps and make the sacrifices that would be necessary for concluding a peace agreement. This was demonstrated in 2010 when the PA refused to take advantage of the Israeli settlement construction freeze to return to negotiations. It was also demonstrated by PM Netanyahu's failure to renew the freeze and his manipulating of settlement construction starts as to render the freeze largely meaningless. Should Washington, at a time when it is busy fighting three wars in the region, want peace more than the parties to the conflict? 

I do not fear an American conflict with Jerusalem--I just don't want it wasted. Obama is in no position to take advantage of a confrontation. His domestic political position is too tenuous. He should wait either until he is safely reelected or until the PA gives him more leverage by declaring independence at the United Nations in September.  

Let's review the record of presidents who made major peace efforts in the Middle East. Nixon supported Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in the winter and spring of 1974 leading to two Arab-Israeli separation of forces agreements. Nixon was forced to resign that August to avoid impeachment. Gerald Ford supported Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in 1975 between Egypt and Israel that resulted in the Sinai II separation of forces agreement. Ford lost the presidential election to Jimmy Carter a year later. Carter spent much of his first two years in office negotiating a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. He remained a single term president. Reagan did not do any peacemaking during his first term in office and was reelected by a landslide. George H.W. Bush convened the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991 that eventually led to the Oslo process. Like Carter he remained a one-term president. Bill Clinton used the Oslo accords signing on the White House lawn as a photo op. But he didn't engage in heavy-duty peacemaking during his first term. He was easily reelected. He did make a serious effort at Camp David in July 2000 and Vice President Al Gore narrowly lost the election to George W. Bush in November 2000 (but won more popular votes). Bush didn't engage in serious peacemaking in his first term (or in his second) and was reelected.

The clear empirical law is that chances of being elected or reelected are inversely proportional to one's efforts to secure Middle East peace. While many other factors come into presidential elections including the economy, Middle East peacemaking does play a role. If the president invests serious efforts and energy and fails, he appears incompetent. If he succeeds, it is because he pressured Israel. For this he is punished by conservative single issue Jewish voters. Most Jewish voters are not single issue pro-Israel voters and will vote based on party identification. About two-thirds of Jewish voters are Democrats or vote Democratic. Obama risks losing the votes of independent voters who are pro-Israel, both Jews and non-Jews. Why take the risk now when the chance of success is very low?

Here is a post for Gershom Gorenberg backing up my analysis of Jewish voting patterns.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Learning from the Masters

Few people realize that Winston Churchill won a Nobel Prize and it was not a Nobel Peace Prize--rather, it was the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was awarded the prize for his historical writings over decades--his histories of World War I, World War II and his multi volume biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill earned his living before being elected to parliament and between the world wars as a writer. There are two writers that I would compare to Winston Churchill in both having been skilled statesmen and skilled writers: Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher.

I read Kissinger's three volumes of memoirs, which must amount to more than 2,000 pages altogether, when I was a graduate student and after receiving my doctorate. The first volume, The White House Years, deals with his period as national security advisor to Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973 during Nixon's first term as president. Most of it concerns detente, the opening to China, the arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, and the Vietnam War. It was published in 1979. Three years later the second volume, Years of Upheaval, appeared dealing with the period from Nixon's second inauguration in January 1973 to his resignation in August 1974. During this period Kissinger wore two hats: as national security advisor and as secretary of state. The book deals with detente, the opening of the SALT II arms control negotiations, the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 and the start of the Middle East peace process from October 1973 to May 1974 with Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem, Cairo, Amman, Riyadh and Damascus. I read this volume before I started graduate school and it was an education in itself about mediation, negotiations, and power politics. Kissinger explained in detail his motivations behind his policies and why they worked or did not work in practice. His third volume, Years of Renewal, covering his period as secretary of state under President Gerald Ford did not appear until 1999. I found this disappointing. It covered among other topics his involvement in the Angolan civil war in 1974-95, the negotiation of the Sinai II agreement between Egypt and Israel of September 1975 that served as a foundation for the later Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, and his mediation in Rhodesia in October 1976. I had written about Rhodesia in my doctoral dissertation and had read of Kissinger's involvement in many journalistic accounts. I found his explanations unrevealing compared to his earlier discussions of his Middle Eastern mediation.

Kissinger wrote a history of diplomacy entitled simply Diplomacy, which appeared in 1994. It is a brilliant discussion of the techniques of diplomacy used by master practioneers of realpolitik  such as Richelieu, Metternich, Cavour, Disraeli, Bismarck, Churchill, Helmut Kohl, and Margaret Thatcher. I recommend it for anyone interested in this subject. In 2001 he wrote a book entitled Does America Need a Foreign Policy? that he answered decidedly in the affirmative. It is a good short work. He also wrote essays on foreign policy for Newsweek in the 1970s and 1980s after he had left office.

Richard Nixon between the appearance of his memoirs in 1978 and his death in 1994 wrote a series of books dealing with foreign policy that were aimed at rehabilitating his image as an elder statesman of the Republican Party. In seven books he discussed the Cold War, Vietnam, Soviet and Chinese Communist leaders, and American interests. In my opinion the best of these was Leaders, which dealt with various foreign leaders that Nixon had dealt with during his career in politics. The book is well written and offers genuine insights into the figures and their policies. His other books are good for those interested in the general subject, but not as well written as Kissinger's writings and suffering from Nixon's attempt to dumb them down for a general audience. He also lifted and repeated entire sections from earlier books--something much easier done in the computer age than earlier.

Thatcher, the longest-ruling British prime minister in the twentieth century, was also the most controversial and, after Churchill, the most important. She wrote two volumes of memoirs, the first dealing with her period as prime minister and the second with her life before Downing St. In 2002 she published  Statecraft, her primer on international affairs and foreign policy from a British perspective at the start of the twenty first century. In it she covers the end of the Cold War and America's role in ending it victoriously, the Middle East and terrorism, the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Asia, Russia, and Europe. This is a tour de horizon or overview of international affairs during the end of the Cold War and the New World Order by a realist and Euroskeptic. I find it to be both eloquent and convincing. In terms of British politics if I were British I would probably be a floating voter between being a "wet" Tory and a Liberal Democrat. So I'm not a Thatcherite at all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Israel and the American Diaspora: A Troubled Relationship

Israel has long had a troubled relationship with American Jewry. I believe that this is primarily due to three reasons. First, Zionism as an ideology was conceived in late nineteenth-century Europe--a rather hostile environment for Jews. Hence, it conceived of the natural state of the diaspora (a Greek word meaning dispersion or exile) as anti-semitic. So Israel has problems relating to a country that is philo-semitic, that is one that is welcoming of Jews. This has been the case since the American Revolution and is due to America being both a democracy and being Protestant and not Catholic or Orthodox Christian. Second, most affiliated Jews in America are either Reform or Conservative, two denominations that do not receive official recognition as Jewish in Israel. This is because religiously Israel is like Europe before the Reformation or like Islam today. Most of these Reform and Conservative Jews would be secular Jews in Israel with no attachment to a synagogue. In America synagogues function as community centers and rabbis as community leaders. Third, under Labor Zionism the ruling ideology was anti-capitalist and thus opposed in class terms to the most successful Jews in America--the capitalist businessmen. The Labor Zionists were happy to take American money but thought that the Jews who earned it were somehow to be looked down upon.

Traditionally Israel has demanded three things from American Jews. First, that they glorify Israel and thereby promote aliya (immigration to Israel) by its members. Second, that they support a number of welfare projects within Israel through donations. Third, that Jews use their clout politically to vote for American governments that were and are pro-Israel.  They were to do all of this without having any real input into Israeli policies. American Jews were supposed to lobby for Israeli policies like professional diplomats, making no distinction between one government and the next. They were to embrace limited settlement in the occupied territories, then unrestricted settlement, then peace with settlements, and then military repression against the Palestinians.

What was impermissible and beyond the bounds for Breira in the mid-1970s became kosher for Israeli governments in the 1990s. Figures like Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir who were deemed to be terrorists by the Zionist establishment in the 1940s became the establishment in the late 1970s and 1980s. After having seen various Israeli governments fail to make peace with the Arabs, some American Jews became impatient and have now started lobbying for their own American Middle East policy in Washington. The establishment American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) now has competition in the form of J Street, and organization with 40 local chapters and 170,000 supporters after only three years in existence.

American Jewry and the Israeli government are moving in opposite directions. American Jewry is becoming more assertive and the Israeli government is becoming more closed off. Israel is becoming less democratic and American Jews are remaining defiantly Democratic.  Expect fireworks in the near future.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is America Becoming a Monarchy?

I just finished watching yesterday the miniseries The Kennedys. Made for an approximate budget of $12 million it had very good acting by the principle stars--who not only looked but sounded like the characters that they portrayed. Barry Pepper should win an Emmy for his portrayal of Bobby.  Having failed to meet the fine artistic standards set in recent years at the History Channel by such fare as Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Shop, Axemen, and Pickers the series ended up being broadcast on Reelz Channel, a small channel specializing in showing Hollywood films of recent decades and running movie reviews.

The miniseries, like previous Hollywood efforts on the subject, was torn between dealing with the Shakespearean elements of the Kennedy clan and the actual events of the Kennedy administration. It compromised by covering Joe Kennedy Sr.'s career in the first hour along with some flashbacks and then dealing with the Kennedy administration in five hours. John F. Kennedy's rise is shown in the second episode. The one episode that dealt with the subject matter of this blog was the sixth episode on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although the Bay of Pigs invasion is the subject of part of the third episode and Vietnam is briefly mentioned in the seventh episode.

I first studied the Cuban Missile Crisis in high school and subsequently studied it at university as an undergrad and in graduate school because, along with the start of World War I in June-August 1914, it is the classic crisis in international relations. Previously Hollywood has portrayed the crisis in the 1973 made for television Missiles of October, with William Devane as Jack Kennedy and Martin Sheen as Bobby, a 1980s miniseries on the Kennedys in which Martin now becomes Jack, and the 2000 Kevin Costner film Thirteen Days. I would say that this most recent version is superior to that of The Missiles of October but inferior to that of Thirteen Days. This is primarily because I liked the actors performance more in The Kennedys, but it lacked the budget to portray the action outside the White House taking place in Cuba and elsewhere. 

The Kennedy administration only became Camelot after the assassination in Dallas and it was in retrospect that JFK was instantly transformed by the media into a second Lincoln and the family into America's royal family. I have never believed in the Kennedy assassination theories, partly because most of them make very little logical sense and ignore the evidence of the case and partly because never having been a great fan of Kennedy I never required a villainous conspiracy to give his death proper meaning. And so I do appreciate this latest effort's sticking to the facts and portraying Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin.

America has always had an aristocracy of powerful political clans that dominated politics in different eras. For the first century of American independence it was the Adams dynasty--which produced one vice president, two presidents, a secretary of state, and the vice presidential nominee of an antislavery third party. It achieved this record largely due to merit rather than due to any royalist tendencies on the part of the American people. Competing with the second and third generations of the Adams dynasty were the Harrisons of Virginia and Ohio. This clan produced two generals and two presidents: William H. who died after a month in office in 1841 and grandson Benjamin who was president from 1889 to 1893 after having served as a general in the Civil War. The next powerful family was the Roosevelts who dominated the first half of the twentieth century. They were following by the Kennedys and the Bushes. Prescott Bush was a contemporary of John F. Kennedy's in the senate and George H.W. Bush's and George W. Bush's careers coincided with the remarkable senate career of Teddy Kennedy. Incidentally the latter was never seen nor even mentioned in the miniseries, which seems a very strange omission. 

The United States began as a constitutional republic populated by people who rejected a monarchy and did not want to be involved in a series of foreign wars for raison d'etat.  Starting in the second half of the twentieth century with our new status as a superpower we abandoned both these beliefs. It is now about time that we abandon our two royal families, the Kennedys and the Bushes, return to a politics based on merit and wars based on real need.

So when our royal court in waiting, Hollywood, begins making miniseries about the Bush dynasty, I just ask it to use the same standards as they used in portraying the Kennedys. This should make for at least two or three movies about the ending of the Cold War, the liberation of Kuwait, and the fall of the Butcher of Baghdad. After all, the Kennedys engaged in a war against Castro and he is still in power.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Israel's new peace plan

A private group of former leading security officials including three former heads of the Shabak internal security service, a former chief of staff of the IDF and a former major general and head of the Labor Party, have released an Israeli Peace Initiative nine years after the launch of the Arab Peace Initiative. It, however, like the Geneva Peace Initiative of 2003 and the Ayalon-Nusseibeh initiative is an unofficial rather than an official plan. The aim of the release is apparently to get Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima party, to embrace the new plan. The fate of the plan, however, will depend on other actors such as the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

If they keep quiet the plan may have a chance of getting traction with the Israeli public and developing an influential following. Most likely, however, some incident will cause tensions to escalate and emotions will take over and the news cycle will become occupied with other events. The intervention of Washington could possibly make a difference, but with Washington bogged down in three Middle Eastern wars and Obama potentially facing a tough reelection challenge next year, this seems unlikely.

The plan calls for a return to the 1949 armistice lines with territorial swaps, no significant return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and Palestinian administration of the Temple Mount without possessing actual sovereignty over it. It is in many ways an extension or repeat of the terms of the 2003 Geneva Plan, that was negotiated between the Israeli opposition of the time and members of the Palestinian Authority. The plan generally respects the red lines of both sides and makes trade offs among them so that neither side gets all or even most of what it wants, but both sides get what they need to sell the deal to their publics if they are willing to get out in front of it.

In September 1982 the Reagan administration publicly announced the so-called Reagan Plan based on negotiations between Israel and Jordan over the West Bank and Gaza. The plan was basically a restatement of Labor Party policy--the Jordanian option. Likewise, Obama in a second term (or a future president, most likely a Democrat) could use this new Israeli plan as the basis for its own plan. The new plan is compatible with the 2002 Arab plan and an American administration would just have to finesse the differences. This means that the Israeli electorate would have to cooperate by giving Kadima a mandate. 

Here are links to a news article discussing the plan and commentary on it by Israeli journalist Gershon Gorenberg. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Playing the Blue Card

Long before the term "playing the China card" was coined there was "playing the Orange card." The term was invented in 1886 when Secretary of the Exchequer (treasury secretary) Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston, went to Ulster Hall in Belfast and made an anti-Home Rule speech. Home Rule was the proposal to grant political autonomy to all of Ireland proposed in a bill by Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister Gladstone with the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The pro-British Protestant unionists in Ulster were entirely opposed to what they dubbed Rome Rule i.e. the Catholics would take orders from Rome. Churchill ended his speech to tremendous applause with the line "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right!" It was called the Orange card as orange was the Protestant color in honor of King William of Orange the victor of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 over King James II. "King Billy's" victory kept Ireland Protestant and British.

This ended up as the start of a relationship between the Ulster Unionists and the Conservatives that lasted for over a century. It stymied attempts by Liberal politicians to reach a political solution to the Irish question. After the Home Rule Bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1886, it was reintroduced by Gladstone in his final government in the 1890s and defeated in the House of Lords. In 1911 the Liberal Party finally passed a bill that allowed the Lords to only hold up legislation for three years rather than vetoing it permanently. Home Rule was set to be introduced in Ireland in 1914, sparking a mutiny by Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish officers at Curragh Barracks in the summer of 1914. The officers refused to be used to put down armed resistance by Protestants to the imposition of home rule in Ireland. The Conservatives supported the mutineers.

The Irish question was then put on hold for four years by the outbreak of World War I. The attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland resulted in a massive alienation of the Irish population and the question was eventually solved in December 1921 by Britain granting commonwealth status to Ireland after a low-casualty guerrilla war that lasted for two-and-a-half years. The government granting this was a coalition government made up of both Liberals and Conservatives.

The last Conservative politician to attempt to play the Orange card was Enoch Powell, the politician opposed to immigration to Britain from the British Commonwealth. He was forced to leave the Conservatives and join the Ulster Unionist Party as an MP for South Down in order to back the unionists.

When it came to Middle East diplomacy it used to be the Republican Party that was the grown-up party that supported compromise and negotiation while the Democrats pandered to Israel. This began to change under Reagan and really changed under Bush Jr. Now Sarah Palin has played the Blue card by calling Obama's anti-settlement efforts "interference in an internal Israeli zoning dispute." As if an international border were merely a zone boundary!  The Tea Party has imitated the Conservatives in adopting the Blue card (or blue and white card) as the way to both oppose the national interest and win elections.  Palin the patriot. Palin the Kremlinologist and foreign policy expert.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What is at Stake?

During the Cold War from the outset the United States had strategic and economic interests throughout the Third World. For anyone who doesn't already realize it there are few democracies in the Third World. We found ourselves supporting a bunch of unsavory characters against another bunch of similar characters throughout Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Franklin Roosevelt once famously said of the dictator of Nicaragua, "He's a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch!" This logic was soon transferred from Central America to Africa and the Middle East. We supported royalists against populists and Communists. Then we supported colonial powers against Soviet-backed local players striving for liberation. After the wave of decolonization in the 1960s we were at least spared from that embarrassment again. In the Angolan civil war the main difference between the three liberation movements that fought each other was their ethnic affiliation and the Portuguese word that they used for comrade as a greeting.

But that could be justified in terms of keeping the Free World free. Since the end of the Cold War we have been faced in the Muslim Middle East with secular national socialists (Ba'athists, pan-Arabists) and fundamentalist Islamists. It was announced on CNN on Wed. evening that the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya consisted of only about a thousand "warriors" with little military experience or expertise. To win they will require major training and arms supplies. Before we attempt to turn them into the next Northern Alliance, we should be sure that they are better than the last lot.

I can well imagine aspiring foreign policy advisers sitting the following exam for their license. The exam question is: The Spanish inquisition has just gone to war against Fascist Italy. We are not at war with either. Whom should we support? Discuss and bring examples from American history.