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

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.