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, May 31, 2011

Ratko Mladic and the Cost of Genocide

I was stationed as a military policeman with the stabilization force (SFOR) in Bosnia from October 1997 to April 1998. When we arrived in country we were given a debriefing by the outgoing unit. I was told that the members of the unit had had Serb war criminals pass through their checkpoints unhindered because the Army wasn't interested in risking the safety of its soldiers to enforce that policy. I vowed to myself that if I ever encountered any war criminals that I recognized as such (we had their faces on posters) I would risk my life and career rather than let them go. If they resisted I would give up my life rather than let them go free. This is because I knew the history of the region from intensive reading before deployment.

In World War II some 1.5-2 million people had been killed during an internal civil war within Yugoslavia as terrorist Ustashe Croatians took over control of Croatia under fascist protection and Serbia was torn between the communist Partisans of Josip Broz Tito and the nationalist Chetniks of Gen. Mihailovic. Because there were no war crimes trials or prosecutions after the war, those who had personally suffered by having had family killed, like Ratko Mladic, thought that it was alright to take personal or national vengeance by ethnic cleansing and massacres. I was determined that war crimes trials have a chance to avoid another round of genocide in the future.

Over the fifteen years since the civil war in Bosnia ended at Dayton, Ohio in December 2010 the most important successor states to the old Communist Yugoslavia have given up nationalism. First Croatia in the early 2000s as Franjo Tudjman died and was followed in office by a pragmatist Western-oriented politician rather than another Communist turned nationalist. Then Boris Tadic replaced the Serb nationalist who had overthrown Slobadan Milosevic in 2001. With the handing over of Mladic to the Hague for trial, Serbia removes the main barrier to entry into the European Union. Now only Macedonia and Bosnia remain. Macedonia with its ethnic strife between Muslim Albanians and Christian Slavs and Bosnia with its barely-suppressed conflict among Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs. The Office of the High Commissioner, the office responsible for the implementation of all economic and political reform in Bosnia since Dayton, is set to be abolished in less than a year. If that happens the chances of any further reforms being achieved becomes remote. And Bosnia will remain a ticking time bomb within Europe--if not in its heart than maybe in its groin.

While I was on leave from Bosnia in early 1998 I went on leave to Poland. I visted Oswiecim (Aushwitz). I remember distinctly looking into a display case of spectacles taken from those who had entered the gas chambers at Aushwitz. I wondered if they added up to the 6,000 then thought to have been murdered at Srebrenica in 1995. The number since then has been scaled up to 8,000. I remember thinking how short the direct distance was between Srebrenica and Aushwitz and the wonder that it had only taken half a century to travel from one to the other. Srebrenica, unlike Rwanda or Cambodia, was not located someplace in the Third World. It was in Europe. Non-Christians were still not welcome there.

The European and Western indifference to the ethnic cleansing that took place in Bosnia helped to pave the way for the fundamentalist growth in the country since 1992. As it was mainly the Arab Gulf countries and Iran that provided Bosnia with financial aid and arms, the population grew to accept that the most backward countries in the Middle East were their natural allies. Just as the betrayal at Munich in September 1938 paved the way for the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia a decade later, the Western indifference helped to pave the way for fundamentalist Muslim inroads into Bosnia and Kosovo. Hopefully, London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna won't pay the full price for their policies in the 1990s.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Speech or a Policy?

President Obama's speech was a bit of a let down after all the publicity that preceded it. Most of the speech related to the Arab Spring, and was probably just an attempt to enunciate a coherent policy. While Obama came out squarely on the side of civil and democratic rights for Arabs, he was unable to really enunciate a single one-size-fits-all policy for the myriad of American interests and local circumstances across the region. He devoted a total of eight sentences to the unrest in Syria and failed to call for Bashar Assad's removal as he had previously called for Kaddafi's removal. This is a recognition of reality--our forces can only take on so many dictators and nation-building projects at a time.

On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, about ten minutes out of a fifty-minute speech (go here for the text), he pronounced a few policy guidelines rather than announcing a new policy or a plan to achieve peace. His most controversial statement from the viewpoint of Israeli and American Zionists and their supporters in Congress was that the 1967 borders (really the 1949 armistice lines) should serve as the starting point for a peace deal with territorial swaps to take account of Israeli settlement blocs. Senator Mitchell went on the Sunday talk shows to emphasis the feature of mutually-agreed borders. Netanyahu predictably ignored this so as to be able to posture for the folks back home in declaring the 1967 borders indefensible. The speech, although not as detailed as the December 2000 Clinton parameters was perfectly compatible with them as well as with a 2005 Bush letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Arik Sharon, as Mitchell Plitnick points out.

Dan Fleshler declared this to be a "gutsy, principled speech"defying the Israeli government. It was nothing of the sort. It was in reality an attempt to demonstrate that Washington is still relevant to the region after the start of the Arab Spring. It was also an attempt to keep liberal Zionist groups and their supporters on board for Obama's reelection without endangering his support among Democratic and independent supporters of Israel who are more hawkish, by attempting another peace initiative. J Street, APN and Ameinu can all claim to their supporters that they are relevant and pressured Obama into acting. Meanwhile, Obama will be free to concentrate on his real priorities (the economy, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Russia) until after the 2012 election.  Call it Cairo 2009 Mark II.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Siege Democracies

Israel is a unique type of society.  It is a siege society that is also a democracy--a siege democracy. Siege societies are quite common among autocracies as these usually embody the concentration of power in the hands of a single tribe, ethnic group or religion in a society that unites--at least temporarily--the other elements in that society against it. In the Middle East examples of this type of siege society are found among the various military dictatorships especially the present Ba'athist dictatorship of the Alawites in Syria, the former Ba'athist dictatorship of the Sunni in Iraq, the Ghaddafi clan in Libya, and the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain. But because free elections preclude a minority group from permanently perpetuating itself in power, these societies are rare among democracies. They are only found when a tribe or ethnic or religious group constitutes a majority in a state but a minority in the region--part of the periphery in constant conflict with the regional core.

I can think of only four instances of modern siege democracies in the twentieth century. The first was in South Africa where the white settlers established a herrenvolk (master race) democracy where the franchise was restricted to members of the herren volk, in this case the whites. No doubt many Afrikaners would have opted to restrict the franchise to Afrikaners as was the case in the Boer republics in the previous century. But that had ended in disaster and military conquest at the hands of the British Empire. Until decolonization in the 1960s the British Empire (renamed Commonwealth) was fine with democratic rights being restricted to whites. But when former colonies made up the majority of members of the Commonwealth that all began to change.

The real siege in South Africa began after the Sharpeville massacre of March 1960. And it really did not become an effective physical siege until the dissolution of the Portuguese Empire in Southern Africa in 1974-75. Faced with the collapse of white rule in neighboring Rhodesia in December 1979, the ruling National Party began a two-track strategy of offering independence to Namibia and building its own internal settlement there with subordinate ethnic parties. In the mid-1980s the West signalled its impatience with the ruling white minority by voting for largely symbolic trade sanctions in 1985-86 in the U.S. and the EEC. After fifteen years of applying a Total Strategy to cope with the Total Onslaught the securocrats under President P.W. Botha lost power to the traditional conservatives in the National Party. President F.W. de Klerk negotiated an end to white rule from a position of great strength.

The second instance is in Northern Ireland where the Protestant British settlers who had arrived in the early 17th century used gerrymandering and corporate votes to perpetuate their rule over the native Catholic Irish. Under autonomy within the United Kingdom the Protestant unionists ruled for fify years from 1922 to March 1972 when they were forced to finally close down their provincial parliament. From March 1972 until December 1999 they experienced direct rule from London through the Northern Ireland Office. This was a second-best solution that most unionists and nationalists could live with. Irish republicans could not live with it and continued an insurgency until August 1997. There are still small groups of fringe republican extremists that attempt to continue a terrorist campaign against British rule today, but they lack popular support for this.

In 1970 a new multiparty political system was started when a small group of liberal unionists created the Alliance Party in April. This was followed four months later by the Social Democratic and Labour Party, an uneasy alliance of moderate nationalists and Catholic trade unionists to replace the ineffective Nationalist Party. In 1971 the Rev. Ian Paisley, a firebrand Protestant preacher with his own church, the Free Presbyterian Church, created the Democratic Unionist Party. These three parties competed with the former ruling Ulster Unionist Party and with occasional new unionist parties. In 1982 they were joined by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, as competition for the SDLP. In 1973 the Northern Ireland Office, at the urging of the Alliance Party, changed the franchise system from the first-past-the-post to the Single Transferable Vote (STV), a type of proportional representation, for assembly and local council elections. The DUP and SDLP are in many ways religious parties representing fundamentalist Protestants and the Catholic Church respectively.

The third siege democracy was Maronite Lebanon, which as a democracy controlled by the Maronite Christians lasted from independence in 1943 until the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in April 1975. The Maronites ruled by a form of consociational democracy in which every important public post as well as the seats in parliament were parcelled out to the various sectarian ethno-religious groups on the basis of the 1932 census. Demographic changes took place in the four decades since the census was conducted, but the Maronites refused to allow a new census to be held out of fear that they would lose power. The result was civil war followed by three decades of Syrian occupation and since then five years of Syrian control through Hezbollah.

The fourth siege democracy is Israel. It has a split personality. It behaves like Northern Ireland internally and like apartheid South Africa externally. Like South Africa, it rules over a foreign territory captured in a defensive war and refuses to give it up. Like South Africa, it had a strategy of alliances with other friendly countries--non-Sunni Arab countries or groups: Turkey, the Shah's Iran, the Kurds in Iraq, the Africans in Southern Sudan, and the Maronites in Lebanon. South Africa had its detente policy under Prime Minister John Vorster in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pretoria made common cause with conservative African leaders like those in Malawi, Gabon, Zaire and with Israel in the Middle East. Like South Africa, it conducted air and ground raids into neighboring countries that allowed Palestinian guerrillas and terrorists to operate from their territory. In fact Israeli generals taught this strategy to South Africa in the 1970s. 

Jerusalem will in the next decade face a fundamental choice of identity. Will it choose the route of negotiated solution like the unionists in Northern Ireland? Or will it choose the route of herrenvolk democracy and minority rule like the whites in South Africa? Maybe the ruling Likud will be able to disguise this like the Maronites in Lebanon by making half-hearted attempts to negotiate. As the siege tightens the choices will grow starker. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lessons from Alliance for Meretz

In 1998 during a research trip to Belfast Northern Ireland I was told by leading members of the Alliance Party that the party would now come into its own with peace. I was very skeptical. So when I returned three years later, I asked Sean Close, an Alliance member of the legislative Assembly, about these predictions. He qualified the prediction by saying that it would take an entire term of the Assembly, without interruptions, for people to begin to change their political thinking.

The Northern Ireland party system has five main parties: two unionist (the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party), two nationalist (Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party), and the non-sectarian Alliance Party, which draws votes from both unionists and nationalists as well as from those who don't consider themselves part of either tradition. Alliance was founded in April 1970 as the first new party of Northern Ireland's party system followed four months by the SDLP.

Close has now been vindicated by the results of the local council elections. Although Alliance gained only a single extra MLA for a total of eight (out of 108) and improved its share of the vote in the Assembly election, it showed major gains in the council elections, gaining 22 seats. Most of these were at the expense of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which has now become a rural party most dominant in the western half of the province. Alliance along with the ruling DUP and Sinn Fein dual, was the major party winner. It posted its largest total of council seats in 30 years--since 1981. Its record was in 1977 when it gained over 14 percent of the vote in council elections, ahead of the DUP (Sinn Fein was not then contesting elections). 

What struck me from my research into the party in 1998 was two things. First, Alliance's natural arena was the local councils. It could not hope to compete in most Westminster constituencies with their first-past-the-post voting system. And Assemblies from 1972 to 1998 had been more noted for their long absences than for their occasional temporary presence. Second, Alliance had the most innovative policies of any party in Northern Ireland. But sectarian voting habits prevented the party from reaping the benefits. The 1981 Hunger Strike, which led to the prolonged suicide of ten republican prisoners, resulted in the party dying out west of the Bann River. After 1981 it was a Greater Belfast party flourishing only in those constituencies with a pronounced unionist majority. In these it would receive votes from liberal unionists and from liberal nationalists who thought that the SDLP did not have a prayer of winning.

Meretz, the liberal Zionist party in Israel, would do well to imitate Alliance. Alliance never abandoned its support for power sharing and for negotiations and the rule of law. But when the situation was not ripe for peace it concentrated on other issues: the economy, civil rights, policing, etc. Meretz should not abandon a sincere commitment to the two-state solution. But it should emphasize other issues when the situation is not ripe for peace--opposition to religious coercion, support for Arab civil rights within Israel, opposition to human rights violations by the IDF and Shin Bet. These in the long run may do more to advance the cause of peace than crying in the wilderness.

George Mitchell--the canary in the mineshaft

George Mitchell has given up on Middle East peace and returned to a well-deserved retirement. He was coaxed out of retirement in 1994, after a career in the Senate, by President Clinton to chair a board looking at economic ideas for Northern Ireland. He spent the next five years working on the problems of Northern Ireland as the head of a commission investigating the problem of decommissioning, then as a mediator chairing the political talks and finally in the fall of 1999 heading a review of the working of the Good Friday Agreement that came up with a temporary fix to the decommissioning problem. Clinton again called on him in late 2000 to head an investigation into the causes of the outbreak of the Al-Aksa Intifada at the start of October. President Obama, to much acclaim by Jewish liberal groups, brought him out of retirement during his transition to advise on his Middle East policy. He ended up as Obama's Middle East envoy, the position once held by Dennis Ross in the Clinton administration.

His pending retirement has been rumored for about eight months since the renewal of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was dead on arrival. Neither side was particularly interested in incurring the political costs of peace--concessions that would endanger its domestic standing. Netanyahu refused outrageous bribes to renew a settlement freeze and Mahmoud Abbas used this as an excuse to refuse to enter into talks.

Obama was too engaged with domestic problems dealing with the economy and with managing two--now three--foreign wars to put his own political future on the line. Why should he risk his presidency when Abbas was not prepared to risk his or Netanyahu his premiership?  The next big problem for Obama will be finding someone of sufficient stature to take on this thankless task for the rest of his first term. Dennis Ross is unacceptable to the liberals even if he wanted the job. Most of those qualified to take on the job are smart enough not to want it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Northern Ireland's Agreement parties and the lessons for Israel and Palestine

Unionist commentator John Coulter was slightly off in his predictions--the Ulster Unionists did win more seats than the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) but fewer votes. Thus, in terms of votes the UUP is now in fourth place. In first place is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) with a record 38 seats--up two from the previous election. In second place is Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, with 29 seats--one more than the winning UUP had in 1998. In third place is the UUP with 16 seats and in fourth place the SDLP with 14 seats. In fifth place is the non-sectarian liberal Alliance Party with 8 seats.  Three others round out the 108 members of the Assembly--one for the splinter Traditional Unionist Voice and two former UUP members elected as independents.

The biggest message of the election is of the consolidation of the dual rule of the DUP and Sinn Fein who have together managed the peace process since early 2007. Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, despite having lost his Westminster seat to the Alliance Party in the 2010 general election a year ago emerged triumphant as his leadership was credited with his party's victory. Meanwhile the Traditional Unionist Voice, a splinter party from the DUP representing the DUP's traditional hardline anti-republican and anti-nationalist politics, was reduced to a single seat won by its leader in Ian Paisley's former constituency of North Antrim. This demonstrates that there is very little constituency for unionism to the right of the DUP.

UUP leader Tom Elliott immediately landed himself in hot water by denouncing Sinn Fein supporters as "scum" at the vote count in his constituency. Elliott in the video did not appear angry--so the remarks appear to be part of a deliberate strategy to position his party to the right of the DUP. While the DUP speaks quite fluently with a forked tongue, the UUP is still floundering around trying to find a role for itself. Under David Trimble it bled support to the DUP in a principled support of the Good Friday Agreement. Then under Reg Empey, a close associate of Trimble, it aligned itself with the Conservative Party in a merger that lost the party its only remaining Westminster seat. Now it is abandoning its former moderation in favor of the remaining backwoods vote in rural constituencies. Elliott is setting himself up for either a swift retirement as party leader or a massive bleed of members to the DUP and Alliance.

Northern Ireland's multimember Assembly and council constituencies with the PR-STV franchise marries the characteristics of both the first-past-the-post franchise system used in most English-speaking democracies and the proportional representation system used in Israel. Voters can rank up to six preferences, but their votes are only counted once so that no vote is wasted, as in the PR system. But there are 18 separate elections taking place that determine the results of the overall election, as in a first-past-the-post system. This allows for some distortion between the percentage of votes and the percentage of seats won--but not nearly as much as with the first-past-the-post system. The trick for a party is to carefully manage its voters so that their votes are spread among the maximum number of candidates that can win. This way each is assured of attaining the quota of votes necessary to be elected. Sinn Fein is a master of voter management and the DUP is rapidly learning the game. The SDLP and UUP are still amateurs by comparison. 

This election also demonstrated that the two leading parties are rapidly losing their traditional character as working class parties by attracting ever larger numbers of middle-class voters. Traditionally the UUP was the home of respectable middle-class moderate unionists and the SDLP was the home of respectable moderate non-violent Catholic nationalists. Since 1998 both the DUP and Sinn Fein have been rapidly attracting  middle-class voters. Sinn Fein attracted them by having the IRA abandon armed struggle and then by decommissioning. The DUP attracted them by promising security until the IRA decommissioned and then by managing the relationship with Sinn Fein.

The UUP's plight is similar to that of the United Party in South Africa after 1948. After the National Party was elected to power and introduced apartheid many younger Afrikaner voters started voting for it as a more exciting alternative to the more respectable policies of the United Party. Gradually the Afrikaner electorate of the United Party slowly died off and it became predominantly an English-speaking party. The same thing may well happen with unionists (and nationalists) but on a class rather than an ethnic basis. As this process accelerates more will be tempted to flock to the Alliance Party, which has had a consistent moderate and innovative set of policies over the decades.

In Israel this is likely to take the form of increasing numbers of former Labor Party voters defecting to Kadima and the Labor Party remaining the party of older social democrats. Labor will continue to flounder in search of a role and a policy.  The problem in the Middle East is that the moderate parties on both sides have collapsed before a settlement was reached. Except for the Clinton parameters, the parties lack an agreement to rally around.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

New Assembly Election in Northern Ireland--Lessons for Israel

On Thursday May 5, the UK held a referendum on replacing the current first-past-the-post franchise with the Alternative Vote (AV) for Westminster elections. The proposal was defeated by slightly better than a 2:1 margin throughout the UK. The referendum was held in conjunction with local council elections and in Northern Ireland an election for the Fourth Assembly. This has slowed the counting so that I don't have the final results in time for this post. 

Commentator on unionist politics John Coulter (scroll down to access May 5) predicted that the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the former ruling party in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1972 in the original Northern Ireland parliament and the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 under the leadership of David Trimble, would sink to fourth place in the Assembly with only 15 seats, only one seat behind the third-place Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). The UUP and SDLP were the ruling parties along with Sinn Fein in the First Assembly from December 1999 to October 2002. In the elections to the Second Assembly in November 2003 the Democratic Unionists (DUP) and Sinn Fein replaced the UUP and SDLP as the main unionist and nationalist parties respectively.

This was largely because the IRA had refused for several years to decommission its weapons as called for in the Good Friday Agreement. This made the First Assembly and the peace process an on-and-off affair. David Trimble resigned in July 2001 in an attempt to force Tony Blair to stand up to Sinn Fein and force the IRA to decommission as Blair promised in a side letter to Trimble in April 1998 when the Agreement was signed. Blair refused. Trimble's credibility both within his own party and within the wider unionist community was at stake over the decommissioning issue. Finally, in September 2005 the IRA decommissioned the bulk of its remaining weapons--but in a very secretive fashion that provided little assurance for the unionist community. By then the DUP had already decimated the UUP in the 2005 general election reducing it to a single seat in the Westminster Parliament. The UUP lost that seat, North Down, when it formed a common ticket with the Conservative Party for the 2010 election. If the UUP does come in fourth behind the SDLP it will demonstrate that it has not yet begun to recover from the shift in unionist politics.

What occurred in Northern Ireland is that the unionist electorate shifted rightward from 1998 to 2005 and then leftward as the DUP also shifted to steal the political clothes and policies of the UUP. The nationalist community also shifted rightward as nationalists began defecting from the SDLP to Sinn Fein starting in 2001. The SDLP has stopped the downward slide by hanging on to three Westminster seats in 2010, but has yet to begin to recover the ground occupied by Sinn Fein. The latter has unashamedly appropriated SDLP policies for itself as from 1982 to 1998 it was only concerned with the constitutional issue of Northern Ireland's subordination. Like the SDLP, Sinn Fein favored Irish unity but was prepared to support armed struggle, a euphemism for a combination of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, to achieve this.

Why does a blog devoted to the Middle East pay attention to Northern Ireland? Because Northern Ireland is the closest society to Israel. Northern Ireland shares five of the six salient features of Israeli politics, lacking only a class of military politicians because it lacks its own armed forces. Both Israel and Northern Ireland are siege societies and democracies--siege democracies--caused by being ruled by minorities within the region. The Jews are a minority within the Middle East, a region where Sunni Arab Muslims constitute the political core, where non-Arab Sunnis and non-Sunni Arabs constitute the next ring, and non-Arab Shia Muslims like the Iranians in the third ring, and the Jews are left in a group by themselves as both non-Arabs and non-Muslims. On the island of Ireland things are simpler with the only two significant groups being Irish Catholics and British Protestants. The unionists are the besieged majority within Northern Ireland, and a minority on the island and within the UK. Just as Arabs denied Israel the right to exist, the Irish state in the South claimed the territory of Northern Ireland from 1937 to 1999 as part of its constitution. The main difference is that the Irish state never supported the armed struggle of Irish republicans in the North.

The collapse of the UUP parallels the collapse of the Labor Party in Israel. But there is good news--Coulter predicts that the liberal Alliance Party will pick up an extra Assembly seat in the election for a total of eight. Too bad that this does not seem to be occurring in Israel with Meretz. The UUP's fortunes seems to indicate that it is very hard for a former ruling party to recover once the electorate has lost confidence in it. The Likud under first Ariel Sharon and then under Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to pay lip service to the policies of the Labor Party. Netanyahu has declared he supports a two-state solution, while doing everything in his power to avoid negotiations on one. So even as the electorate in Israel shifted to the right, Netanyahu may be shifting the Likud to the left to meet it in the center as the DUP has done in Northern Ireland. But because Israel has straight proportional representation (PR) franchise rather than the hybrid PR-STV (single transferable vote) system used in Northern Ireland and Ireland, trends will be less clear in Israel.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ossama Bin Laden and Palestine: the Ramifications

Two important events for the Middle East took place within days of each other. On April 27, Fatah and Hamas signed a unity agreement that will lead to the formation of a government of technocrats. Eventually, if everything goes right, it will lead to the reemergence of a united Palestinian polity with Gaza and the West Bank once more being under one authority rather than under two. Almost immediately Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu denounced the agreement and said it made the Palestinian Authority unfit as a negotiating partner. His former top foreign policy advisor Dore Gold had similar comments. This exposes, as if anyone needed further exposure, the disinterest that Netanyahu and the Israeli political leadership in the present coalition have in negotiations and peace.

Such an agreement can lead to two likely outcomes: either Fatah eventually converts Hamas and the way is open for peace negotiations with Israel. Or Hamas converts Fatah and the possibility of peace recedes until decades from now Hamas realizes that it cannot destroy Israel. Which is the more likely outcome may not be clear for years. After all, if we use an Israeli analogy, has the cohabitation made Labor more like the Likud or vice versa? The answer has been that there has been movement in both directions. The Likud was split, creating Kadima, a more flexible and pragmatic party. But Labor was also split creating Atzmaut, a smaller and more hawkish party to serve as Ehud Barak's personal vehicle, possibly for a trip eventually into the leadership of the Likud. It may take years before it is established which camp, the Left or the Right, was the winner in the co-habitation sweepstakes. It will take even longer with Palestinian unity.

But this may help to set up a Middle East peace initiative in Obama's second term, if he has one.

Ossama Bin Laden's death in combat ensures three short-term effects. First, it raises the profile of the Navy Seals and gives them a good slice of the elite forces budget for the military. Second, it makes Obama's job of withdrawing from Afghanistan easier as it eliminates partially a good deal of the rationale for remaining there. Third, it visibly improves Obama's chances of reelection. Timing wise, if this had occurred a week before the election instead of 18 months before it, it would have been much better for Obama. People tend to have short memories when it comes to voting. But Obama has demonstrated that he is capable of decisive action, of keeping a secret, and of waiting until the proper moment to strike. I'm sure that Obama's reelection manager will have a few ads featuring Obama and the announcement of his death to show the electorate in the fall of 2012.