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, October 28, 2011

Does trauma inhibit Netanyahu?

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Opposition Strategy for the Northern Ireland Assembly

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Irish Presidential Race

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gaddaffi is Dead! Now what?

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Israel's Defense Partners

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

South Africa and Israel: What is the Lag Time?

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

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The presidential race in Ireland heats up

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

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

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Republicans and Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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