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

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.