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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Sharon (Politically) Dead?

On February 26, 2012 Ariel "Arik" Sharon will be 84, although it is very unlikely that he will celebrate his birthday. This is because he has been in a coma, probably brain dead as well, since January 6, 2006. He will probably die without ever having regained consciousness.

But imagine, for argument's sake, that tomorrow he were successfully revived and like many elderly people who suffer strokes he would be able to recover cognitive function eventually. This would at minimum probably take a year before he could speak without slurring his words and think and function at a high level. And it might be possible--even likely--that while in a coma he had developed some sort of dementia. It is doubtful that voters or party functionaries would trust someone of that age with the premiership. When Sharon suffered his stroke and was subsequently permanently relieved of the premiership he was 77-78, older than any previous occupier of his office. Previously the oldest premier at retirement had been David Ben-Gurion, the first and third prime minister who retired in June 1963 at age 76.5. So no Israeli prime minister has crossed the 80-year-old barrier and none is likely to ever do so--particularly someone who has suffered a severe stroke.  Between Ben-Gurion and Sharon Golda Meir had retired at age 76 in 1974 and Shimon Peres at age 73 in 1996.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are the Palestinians an "Invented People?"

Top-tier Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently caused controversy--mostly outside of the GOP--by stating that the Palestinians were an "invented people." He said this in an interview with a New York cable television channel, Jewish TV, that as the name implies is geared towards Jews. He also referred to the Palestinians as terrorists. Gingrich understands the Palestinians as "invented" i.e. phony because in the past they merely called themselves Arabs. In this he is correct. But this is not unique in the Middle East. The area was until the end of World War I part of the Ottoman Empire and the inhabitants of the Levant thought of themselves as Ottomans, Muslims, and Arabs (or Jews or Kurds or Turkomans). Until the end of World War II the Union of Reform Synagogues, then the largest Jewish denomination in America, insisted that the Jews were not a people but only a religion. (I couldn't provide a link to this because it is something that Reform Jews are ashamed of today, but read any standard history of the denomination and it is found.) This sentiment was shared by the vast majority of Orthodox rabbis in Europe and even Palestine at the time. It was mainly secular Jews who were Zionists. They reached back two millennia in time to a time when ordinary Jews spoke Hebrew (or at least Aramaic), lived in Eretz Israel, and regarded themselves as a nation. Are the Jews an invented people as well?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why Kadima Can't Replace Labor as Peace Party

Here are five quick reasons why Kadima cannot replace the Labor Party as the backbone of the Israeli peace camp:

1) It is led by a leader, Tzipi Livni, who has confessed that she doesn't like politics and feels that politics is like a sewer. Here is Ha'Aretz's take on that revelation.

2) Tzipi Livni barely beat out Shaul Mofaz for the leadership of the party in 2008. Mofaz has in order three ambitions: a) take over as Kadima party leader; b) replace Barak as defense minister--his old job; 3) replace Netanyahu as leader of the Right.

3) In order to nearly keep its same strength in the 2009 election as in 2006, Kadima had to cannibalize Labor and Meretz. This has left it incapable of leading a coalition on its own.

4) Kadima has no core principles or ideology--it was founded as a party of convenience like the Center Party and the DMC before it. It has avoided their fates simply because it was much more successful at the polls the first time out because of Sharon, who is permanently gone.

5) Kadima's potential Palestinian peace partner is Fatah, which is as conflicted as  Kadima.

Diplomacy Needs a Museum

On prime real estate on the Capitol Square in Madison, WI is the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. It contains exhibits on all the major wars from the Civil War to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that Wisconsin citizens have served in. There are similar, but smaller museums in Milwaukee and Oshkosh. They are funded by a combination of Veterans Administration funds, donations of old equipment by the Defense Department, private donations and bookshop sales. If we conservatively estimate that each one receives $100,000 annually in taxpayer funds to pay for rent, salaries, and display expenses that is a total cost of $.3 million in Wisconsin alone. If we conservatively multiply that by 30 to 40 times (to account for smaller New England and Eastern states that may only have a single museum each) this amounts to a total of $9 million to $12 million annually to subsidize American military history.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Israel: The Siege Tightens

I have written a number of posts in which I assert that Israel is a siege democracy along with Northern Ireland. Here is an article by veteran New York Times Middle Eastern correspondent and now columnist Thomas Friedman on Israel's environment as perceived from Israel.

Israeli perceptions may seem to outsiders like paranoia--and they definitely are not the perceptions of a normal state. But Israel is not a normal state inhabited by a normal people. It is the Jewish state called for in the UN General Assembly partition resolution of November 29, 1947 (whose 64th anniversary was marked by Friedman's article).  Jews have suffered from a basic insecurity from the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ACE/AD until the present day. There have been good periods of relative security and well being followed by periods of extreme insecurity. From 1881 to 1946 there was a period of extreme violence for European Jewry starting with a series of pogroms (incited massacres) in Russia and Romania and culminating in the industrial slaughter of two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population in the Holocaust. Not coincidentally, this is exactly the period that saw the rise of Zionism with the first Zionist theorists on anti-semitism in Europe (Leo Pinsker in 1882, Theodore Herzl in 1895) and the first Zionist immigration to Palestine. But the perceptions are perfectly rational and normal for a people that has suffered the experiences of the Jews in recent history.