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, January 29, 2011

What are American interests in the Middle East?

In 2005 Palgrave Macmillan published a book by Leon Hadar, who like myself both has a doctorate in international relations and is a graduate of Hebrew University, called Sandstorm. The book appears to be largely a continuation of his earlier book, Quagmire, published in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War a year later. In Sandstorm Hadar argues that most of America's policies and difficulties in the region stem from a failure to reexamine the Cold War era Middle East Paradigm (MEP), which dominated from the time of the Truman Doctrine to the end of the Cold War. The MEP had three overriding American interests in the region: 1) Guaranteeing the supply of oil at a reasonable price; 2) combating Soviet expansion and influence in the region; 3) and ensuring the security of Israel. The only concession to reality since 1990 has been to substitute Al Qaeda and Iran for the Soviet Union.

Hadar reminded me of a fact that I knew but had forgotten: the United States gets ninety percent (90%) of its oil from outside the region. Protecting the oil flow from the region was largely a factor of the United States leading the anti-Soviet alliance during the Cold War. It allowed Europe and Japan to become free riders on the back of the American tax payer during the Cold War and has continued that policy since.

America's support for the peace process stems largely from an attempt to reconcile the incompatibility of the first two goals with the third i.e. American support for Israel hurts America's standing in the Muslim countries of the region. Hadar argues persuasively that it is really Europe and Japan (and South Korea) who have much more at stake in the region than the United States does. America's fixation with the region is really a symptom of Washington's imperial complex--its desire to function as a hegemon on the world stage. Europe is unwilling to back financially Washington's policies in the region without an equal input into determining those same policies. America's propensity to use military force and to back the policies of the Israeli Right in the occupied territories have been gradually causing a rift with Europe. The 2002-03 rift over the war in Iraq between "Old Europe" and America was almost a mirror image of the November 1956 Suez Crisis argument between Washington on one hand and London and Paris on the other.

I agree with Hadar that America can best reconcile its real opposing interests in the region by making a much smaller footprint. This can be accomplished through a gradual military withdrawal from the region. This would force the EU and Japan to play a greater role. It would also mean that Israel would have to make adjustments--funneling money away from settlements and into defense.

Now is a very opportune point to begin this process for two reasons. First, the publication of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera demonstrates how incompatible the Israelis and Palestinians still are. A Kadima-Labor coalition government was afraid of making concessions to match major Palestinian concessions out of fear of the Right. A Likud-led government of the Right is unlikely to be even as forthcoming, while the approach of the Palestinian Authority has been to deny that it made any concessions to Israel. Internal politics on both sides combined with the power gap prevent an implementation of the two-state solution at this time and for some years to come.

Second, the Arab world is in upheaval with autocratic Arab rulers from Tunisia to Yemen being challenged. Washington can either opt to sacrifice democracy for stability in the hope of delaying a major upheaval or risk dealing with unknown forces taking over in possibly two or three Arab countries including important American allies like Egypt and Jordan. Either result poses considerable risks for America. Better to lower our identification with the local regimes.

My own research into the peace process in Northern Ireland pointed to imitating the Anglo-Irish dual mediation in the Middle East with a peace process co-sponsored by the European Union and the U.S. Brussels has been trying to get into Mideast diplomacy since 1980 with the Venice Declaration. It played an observer role during the Oslo process. By shifting some of the burden on to Brussels, Washington can hope to accommodate its interests as well as cancel its own pro-Israel bias. Brussels can offer Jerusalem a bribe that Washington cannot match--membership in the EU in exchange for peace. But this is for the future.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Was George W. Bush really at fault?

During both the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections the Democratic nominees, John Kerry and Barack Obama, as well as several unsuccessful presidential candidates criticized Bush for not doing enough to make peace between Israel and the Arabs on his watch. In this post I'd like to examine if that criticism was justified, but I should also confess that during his term I signed several letters from Americans for Peace Now (APN) and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom calling for a more vigorous peace effort. Brit Tzedek is now the local grassroots arm of J Street.

Former State Dept. Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller in his 2008 book The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace (Bantam) described how the outgoing Clinton administration briefed the incoming Bush administration on Camp David and the Al-Aksa Intifada and blamed it all on Yasir Arafat. Everyone from National Security Advisor Sandy Berger to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Clinton himself blamed the failure on Arafat--the Liar. Bush quickly concluded that he didn't want to waste time and precious political capital on a fruitless quest for peace. A month after Bush came to power, Ariel Sharon replaced Ehud Barak as prime minister in Jerusalem. Sharon thought that peace with the Palestinians was for subsequent generations, not his. This meant that as long as either of them remained as leader of his country, peace was unlikely. Bush until September 9, 2011 as a minority-vote president had very little political capital to spend and none to waste.

Sharon and Arafat spent the first eighteen months of the Bush administration trying to get rid of each other. The Al-Aksa Intifada soon deteriorated from conventional warfare to terrorism with suicide bombings rapidly escalating as Hamas's armed wing, the Izzadine al-Kassem Brigades, and Fatah's armed wing, the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, held a body bag competition. In March 2002 the IDF reinvaded the West Bank and gradually destroyed the terrorist infrastructure there. In June 2002 Bush made a presidential speech on the Middle East in which he declared Arafat persona non grata and openly invited the Palestinians to come up with a new leadership.

In 2002 as Bush organized the upcoming invasion of Iraq with British Prime Minister Tony Blair he was urged by the latter to follow Blair's example in Northern Ireland and wage a peace process as well as a war. An American peace initiative became the price for getting Britain's involvement in the war. It also became the price of support from Jordan's King Abdullah II. As a result, in 2003 Bush announced the road map for peace. He forced Arafat to create the post of prime minister in his administration and tried to force him to turn over all executive power to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Arafat easily outmaneuvered both Abbas and Secretary of State Colin Powell and so Abbas soon resigned in frustration.

Arafat died of a mysterious ailment (some said poison, others said AIDS) in November 2004. Abbas became interim president until he was elected president in early 2005. But throughout 2005 Sharon was preoccupied with carrying out an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. This was the first major Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory since Lebanon in 2000 and the first voluntary withdrawal of Israeli settlers in Israeli history. Then, after the withdrawal, he was preoccupied with creating a new political party based on "liberal" Likudniks and a few Labor people, Kadima, which was launched in November 2005.

Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke in January 2006 and was replaced as Kadima's leader by former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert. That month parliamentary elections were held in the Palestinian Authority at American insistence, despite Israeli warnings that Hamas would improve its status and maybe even win. But Bush equated democracy with elections and wanted to be the president to bring democracy to the Arabs and the Middle East. Hamas won the election and a majority in the Palestinian Assembly. Hamas refused to accept the preconditions that the U.S. and the European Union insisted on for being involved in the peace process. Sharon now had an official excuse not to deal with the Palestinians.

During Bush's second term from January 2005 to January 2009 his new secretary of state was his former National Security Advisor Condi Rice. Dr. Rice, a former Soviet specialist--trained by Madeleine Albright's father, was new to the Middle East. She had spent much of her time since 2001 dealing with Al Qaeda and with Iraq and Afghanistan. Largely because she was afraid of her legacy, she pushed for a new peace initiative in the Arab-Israeli conflict in late 2007.

The Annapolis Conference in November 2007, like the Madrid Conference of 1991, kickstarted a peace process. But it was a peace process that was doomed from the start. Ehud Olmert and his government had been fatally weakened by Israel's poor performance in the July 2006 Second Lebanon War, which Hezbollah began by kidnapping a pair of Israeli soldiers. Olmert had the first defense minister in decades who was not a former general or defense industry technocrat, but simply a civilian novice. In the summer of 2007 Hamas had driven Fatah out of Gaza and seized control of the strip after two decades of power struggle finally boiled over into open warfare. The result was that the Palestinians were deeply-divided politically between two rival parties and two rival territories. The Annapolis initiative got nowhere as the sand ran out on the Bush administration.

Clinton administration veterans and apologists are quick to explain Clinton's failure to negotiate a peace treaty in the Middle East in terms of the failings of Arafat, Netanyahu, Sharon, and even Barak. But they don't extend the same courtesy to Bush. If Bush can be faulted for not being vigorous enough in pushing for peace between Arafat's death and the Palestinian elections of January 2006, then Clinton can be faulted for not pushing hard enough for peace between Rabin's assassination in November 1995 and Netanyahu's election in June 1996 or during Barak's first year in office.

American presidents cannot handpick the Israeli, Palestinian and Syrian leaders that they have to work with in the Middle East. Their best bet is to wait until conditions make the situation ripe for peace and then use all the influence they have to conclude realistic agreements. In order to do this they must realize what is doable--the best is the enemy of the good in the Middle East as elsewhere. An American president whose campaign biography was Why Not the Best had to learn this the hard way in 1977. But once Carter had set his sights lower and on a realistic target--a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty rather than a comprehensive peace--he went flat out until he was successful.

Presidents cannot produce the conditions for peace with an inspiring speech, or what appears to be a successful war. They must wait until the parties themselves are forced by events to seek peace. American Jewish organizations wanting to relieve the discomfort of American Jews over the actions of Israel do not have this luxury. Like other politicians or political interest groups they must appear to be constantly in motion fighting the good fight.

There is another alternative suggested by Leon Hadar in his 2005 book Sandstorm. I will discuss this in my next post.

My last post was picked up and reproduced by Ralph Seliger at the MeretzUSA blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Three New Developments

Three events have recently occurred, all of which would normally be worth commenting and editorializing about, but they have tended to drown each other out.

First, the IDF's internal enquiry into the Mavi Marmara boarding incident cleared the IDF. This was to be expected. The terms for the enquiry were whether or not Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legal under international law and whether Israel used excessive force. Blockade is a well established belligerent practice in both international and internal conflicts. During the American Civil War President Lincoln held that the Confederate States of America had committed an illegal rebellion and refused to recognize that they had any legitimate rights under international law. At the same time he carried out a blockade of the South as if the CSA were a recognized belligerent. As recently as the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and more recently the Tamil Tiger rebellion in Sri Lanka blockades were used.

The second point is excessive force. It has been well established that the supposedly humanitarian ship was outfitted with a number of "peace activists" well armed with riot weaponry--iron pipes, knives, edged weapons, etc. The IDF was justified in using force to protect the life of its soldiers the same as if Iranians had attacked a U.S. Navy ship carrying out search duties during the UN trade embargo on Iraq and American sailors had fired back.  What is inexcusable is that the IDF, an army descended from the prestate Hagana/Palmakh militia that carried out blockade running against the British during the 1940s, was unprepared for this resistance.

The second major event is the introduction in the Security Council of a draft resolution by the Palestinians condemning Israeli settlements as illegal. Numerous former diplomat have weighed in urging the Obama administration not to veto the resolution. Nearly everyone except Israel and American administrations--but not the State Dept.--consider the settlements to be illegal under international law, which prohibits an occupying power from deporting or voluntarily settling its population in occupied territory. Israel's claim is that the West Bank and Gaza are not occupied but rather disputed territory, because Jordan had illegally occupied the West Bank and Egypt Gaza, previous to Israel seizing them in 1967. The near universal belief is that until clear legal title to the territories is established, no foreign power may settle them. That makes sense to me. I disagree with Michael Lame at ( that this would jeopardize the peace process. Something that is already dead cannot be killed again before being revived.

In a Wikileaks-like development Al Jazeera news agency published documents that are purported to be the minutes of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations of 2008 under the Annapolis peace initiative. The leaks seem to indicate that the Palestinian side was much more flexible than the Israeli side. At the time there was a coalition government consisting of Kadima and Labor as the main parties. The prime minister was Ehud Olmert, who was effectively a lame duck due to both his performance during the Second Lebanon War of July 2006 and corruption allegations. It was nearly a mirror image of Oslo. At Oslo Arafat considered himself to be under political threat from the Islamists led by Hamas, and thus not in a position to make any concessions. Ehud Barak's Labor coalition did make substantial concessions but important gaps remained on Jerusalem and refugees. Barak was denounced by the Israeli Right for the concessions that he made. Today it is the Palestinian Right of Hamas and parts of Fatah that are denouncing the purported Palestinian concessions of 2008.

The papers, whether genuine or not, were probably leaked by someone who is either connected with the Fatah hawks or with Hamas. From 1968 until 2004 it was Palestinian policy that the conflict could only be resolved through armed conflict rather than through negotiation and compromise. The papers seem to strengthen this preexisting fundamental belief.

Even during the Oslo process Arafat was quoted several times making a reference to a truce that Muhammad had made with Arabian Jews and then broke when it suited him. The message was that what was good enough for Muhammad was good enough for him, and that Oslo would result in a coerced peace made under duress that could then be broken at will.

This illustrates the difficulties of negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For this to happen four things are necessary: 1) A Palestinian government with credibility among the people must be willing to make an offer that realistically some Israeli government could accept; 2) an Israeli government must make an offer that some Palestinian government could realistically accept; 3) an American administration must be willing to take a vigorous role in mediating the conflict; 4) most difficult of all--the first three things need to take place at the same time. So far, at least one of the players hasn't been ready when the others have been. The PLO wasn't ready in 1999-2000; Israel hasn't been ready since 2000; and the U.S. hasn't been ready from 2000 to 2009. 

In my next post I will examine President George W. Bush's Palestine policy and what it says about the Middle East conflict and American policy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Splitting Functions

Fianna Fail leader Brian Cowen resigned as party leader recently but retained his position as taoiseach (pronounced tee shuck) or prime minister. A similar division of functions occurred in South Africa under the penultimate white-minority government in 1989. South Africa converted from a parliamentary to a presidential system during the late 1970s and early 1980s. State President Pieter Willem Botha, an autocrat who had moved into the executive office from the defense ministry, suffered a stroke in January 1989. While recovering he decided to drop his leadership of the ruling National Party but continue to function as state president. Frederick Willem de Klerk was elected party leader of the National Party by the caucus of MPs. He gradually organized a revolt among the caucus, which had suffered the slights of an imperious autocrat and saw how Botha's brand of apartheid had served to further isolate South Africa over the years since Botha had taken the helm. In August a coup was launched and the caucus forced Botha to resign his position. New elections were held in September, which resulted in the opposition Democratic Party receiving a record number of seats. This influenced the new State President F.W. de Klerk to make his startling announcement in February 1990 that not only was he releasing Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years, but he was also unbanning the African National Congress, the Pan-African Congress, and the South African Communist Party and would shortly enter into talks with them about the future of the country.

With elections tentatively scheduled for March 2011, Cowen's hanging on seems to be more in the order of saving the new party leader--to be elected Wednesday--from the embarrassment of being associated with the present government. Fianna Fail's coalition partner, the Green Party, deserted the government on Sunday.

Since being formed in the spring of 1926 and coming to power in 1932, Fianna Fail has ruled for 60 out of the 78 years since then. Normally, after a stint in power of between a decade and sixteen years the electorate would elect a coalition government consisting of the opposition parties for a single term. Then the electorate would be quickly seduced by the promises and nationalist rhetoric of Fianna Fail ("Soldiers of Destiny" in Irish Gaelic) and return the party to power. Even the notorious corruption of the Charles Haughey era from 1980 to 1992 failed to dim the enthusiasm of the public for the soldiers. Maybe it was their pioneering of the Northern Ireland peace process in 1993 that served to keep them in power. FF under Albert Reynolds pioneered the peace process in 1992 and then were deposed in late 1994 by the Labour Party switching coalition partners in the Irish version of the "smelly exercise." But unlike Shimon Peres, Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Foreign Minister Dick Spring was able to pull this maneuver off smoothly. But the peace process ran into trouble and the Fine Gael-Labour Party-Democratic Left "Rainbow Coalition" was replaced by Fianna Fail once more in the summer of 1997. The peace process and the Celtic Tiger Irish economic miracle kept the party in power for the next 13 years.

The Likud, another party like Fianna Fail with paramilitary origins and a reputation for corruption, has since 1977 created a similar but less successful track record. Labor was allowed to regain power briefly in 1992-96 and 1999-2001. But the Likud has lacked Fianna Fail's "green thumb" when it comes to the economy and has not managed the peace process well, resulting in pressure from Washington. Now there is little opposition to replace the Likud.

Expect to see Fianna Fail replaced by a Fine Gael-Labour coalition in Ireland very soon. Such coalitions ran the country from 1973 to 1977 and from late 1982 to early 1987 and from 1994 to 1997. We will have to wait three or four years to see if Irish politics subsides into the usual pattern of the soldiers returning to their destiny of power. Or maybe the Irish have wised up, and seeing as Fianna Fail finally renounced its claim to Northern Ireland as part of the peace process in December 1999 and have failed miserably at reviving the Irish language as the working language of the country, maybe the electorate will allow the country to develop normal European politics. That would involve Fine Gael evolving into a centrist party so that instead of two conservative parties and a left-wing party that was much weaker, the electorate could have a real choice between Right and Center-Left. Maybe Israelis will also one day get this choice.

Update: The day after this was posted, the four main establishment parties in Ireland agreed to a deal to get a finance bill that would okay the deal with the European Union for a loan pushed through the Oireachtas (Irish parliament), so that elections won't interrupt this. It now seems likely that there will be an election in late February.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Did Ehud Barak do a Reverse Weizman?

No, the concert pianist and renaissance general has not taken up Olympic figure skating or diving. He has not even entered the World Wrestling Federation. I'll explain what a reverse Weizman is, but first I need a little background.

For nearly the first three decades of Israeli independence, military politicians stuck to the main Zionist parties--mostly on the socialist labor side for the first two decades. In 1969 Ezer Weizman went overnight from the number two position in the IDF to the cabinet. In July 1973, Ariel Sharon was finally forced to quit the army as he had reached the maximum age with little prospect of promotion to chief of staff. So he engineered, with the help of Weizman, the creation of the Likud as a common list from four right-wing parties. Unexpectedly Sharon entered the Knesset on the last day of 1973 from the Liberals--a group of middle-class businessmen with little interest in security or foreign affairs--rather than the Herut. He didn't want to compete with Ezer.

But Sharon's real ambition was still to be chief of staff. So he got an appointment as the commander of a reserve armor division from Rabin. And he also served as Rabin's security advisor (as if Rabin--a former chief of staff--needed one). Labor MKs passed a bill in the Knesset that forbade MKs from holding command positions in the reserves. Sharon made the decision and resigned from the Knesset. By 1976 it was evident that Sharon had no chance of advancing militarily. Liberal leader Simha Erlich made it clear that he wasn't willing to take Sharon back and there was opposition to his inclusion on the Herut list from both Weizman and traditional Herut MKs. So Sharon invented the concept of the general's party--a list headed by a general and a group of loyal followers. Sharon took positions all over the political map. He adopted the name Shlomzion--the peace or wellbeing of Zion--for the party's name. But former chief of staff and world-famous archeologist Yigael Yadin had also started his own list chock full of former generals and industrialists. On election day in May 1977 Shlomzion won only two seats to Yadin's fifteen. Sharon promptly entered into talks with Begin to enter Herut. Begin used Sharon as a foil to play against Weizman and allowed Sharon in as agriculture minister in the government while Weizman, who had been a loyal Herut supporter the whole time he was in the IDF, was made minister of defense. Less than three years later Weizman resigned from the government and the Knesset after he became upset with Begin's approach to the autonomy talks, which he thought endangered the peace treaty with Egypt.

Weizman spent four years in the private sector earning money in the import-export business with Ya'akov Meridor, a former head of the Irgun Zvai Leumi before Begin and Weizman's connection with Herut during the latter's army career. In 1984 Weizman cobbled together a general's list, which included Fuad Ben-Eliezer. Yahad, not to be confused with Yahad-Meretz, won four seats. A year later it became part of Labor and Weizman entered into a second political career, which, including his time as president, lasted longer than his first. Both Sharon and Weizman had successfully engineered mid-career political transitions by means of the general's party.

Barak now appears to be engineering such a transition, but in the opposite direction politically from Weizman's transition--hence, the name reverse Weizman. Political opinion has been shifting from left to right in Israel since 1973 and much more sharply since 2000. Barak is no doubt hoping that he can arrange either his future inclusion high up on the Likud list or the creation of a new centrist party with Netanyahu. In the past Ha'Aretz has written about the possibility of a "zipper party" consisting of alternate MKs from Labor and the Likud in a common list. This seems increasingly unlikely considering the trajectory of Labor. But an inclusion of Barak and former general Matan Vilnai, who followed Barak into Atzmaut, within the Likud appears quite possible.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Peace Without Labor?

For thirty years the Israel Labor Party was the Israeli partner of Washington in negotiating peace with the Arabs. The partnership began with the Nixon administration in 1969 when Secretary of State William Rogers tried to negotiate a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement by getting Israel to commit to withdraw completely from all the Sinai and the West Bank. Rogers was in touch with Nasser's government in Cairo and King Hussein's in Amman, but not with the Syrian government in Damascus. Israel demurred with the secret support of both President Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. Rogers had been given the Middle East as a harmless issue to play with while Kissinger dealt with Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China. In August 1970 Rodgers managed to negotiate a ceasefire ending the War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel, which Cairo promptly violated by moving SAMs up to the Suez Canal.

From 1973 to 1975 it was Labor that was the Israeli partner to Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy. Kissinger dealt with Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin and with Defense Ministers Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres, and Foreign Ministers Abba Eban and Yigal Allon. All except Peres are now long dead and Peres is no longer in the Labor Party, having been elected president from Kadima. Labor demonstrated its basic characteristics in the peace process: unable to start initiatives but able to act and come up with solutions under pressure. This was generally due to the influence of Dayan. Labor was ready to make concessions in the Sinai but not on the West Bank, and King Hussein was too weak politically to demand less than the total return of the West Bank.

From 1977 to 1984 Labor was out of power, but it was Labor's votes in the Knesset that helped to pass the Camp David accords in 1978 and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979 when key Herut members of Likud either abstained or voted against. Most of the negotiating for the peace process during this time was done by former Labor minister Moshe Dayan as foreign minister and future Labor minister as defense minister.

It was Labor under the leadership of Peres and with Rabin as defense minister that managed Israel's withdrawal from all but the narrow security zone in Lebanon in 1984-85.

And of course it was Labor--again under the leadership of Rabin and Peres--that initiated the Oslo process with the PLO in 1993. This didn't work out so well either because Arafat had no intention from the start of making concessions on either of the two main issues--refugees and Jerusalem--or because he felt Hamas prevented him from doing so. In 2000 Barak showed his strengths and weaknesses. He balked at honoring the "Rabin deposit" of withdrawing from all of the Golan in early 2000 in exchange for normalization. And then at Camp David he went beyond any previous Israeli government in proposing concessions to the Palestinians. Barak ended with a failure to make peace and a failed political career that he has now attempted to revive by carefully aligning himself with his former army subordinate, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now Labor is left in single digits in the Knesset for the first time in its history, and as a midsize rather than a major party.  The only hope for salvation is Kadima, the bastard child of the Likud fathered by Sharon who was himself a child partly of the Mapai tradition. But before I examine Kadima, I want to look at the precedents for a party of the Right making peace in native-settler conflicts. There are three.

In February 1990, President F.W. de Klerk surprised the world and many within his own National Party by announcing that he was freeing the Rivonia trialists (Mandela et al) from prison, unbanning the liberation movements and preparing to enter into negotiations about the future of the country with them. He did this in response to two stimulae. The first were the economic trade sanctions voted by both the European Economic Community, forerunner of today's European Union, and by the U.S. Congress. The second was that the peace agreement signed in Brazzaville in December 1988 forced Angola to expel the ANC's military camps from its country along with the Cubans in exchange for Namibian independence. The National Party and South Africa were at a position of strength and he had learned from the Rhodesian experience that it is better to negotiate from a position of strength. By the late spring of 1994 South Africa experienced majority rule elections. De Klerk knew that to wait until the blacks were strong enough to drive the whites from power would have meant leaving the Afrikaner people with a ruined national home, ruined by decades of internal strife and economic sanctions.

In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionists of Ian Paisley in late 2006 agreed to power sharing with Sinn Fein after the IRA had finally decommissioned its arms in September 2005. Paisley was basically agreeing to the Good Friday Agreement with very minor modifications, which the rival Ulster Unionists had done all the heavy lifting for over five years. Neither the conditions of South Africa or Northern Ireland yet apply to Israel.

The third example is that of the dominant Fianna Fail party in the Republic of Ireland. This party ruled for 60 out of the 78 years between its first coming to power in 1932 and the present. In 1937 the party's leader, Eamon de Valera, was responsible for writing a new constitution that claimed the entire island of Ireland for the country. Lip service to a united Ireland and to reviving the Irish language were standards of Fianna Fail's election appeals along with an economic pragmatism. In the 1990s Fianna Fail helped to sponsor the Northern Ireland peace process and agreed to amend its constitution to end the territorial claim to Northern Ireland in exchange for power sharing in the province and a North-South dimension. The constitution was duly amended in December 1999 after power sharing was implemented in Belfast. Fianna Fail has in common with the Likud (and Kadima) paramilitary roots, irredentism, a princes phenomenon, a position of dominance in the political system, and a history of corruption.

Kadima demonstrated last year that it is split almost evenly between supporters of leader Tzipi Livni and former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. It is the third and most recent centrist party cobbled together from elements of the two main parties and prominent non-politicos from the civilian world. The first, the Democratic Movement for Change, lasted less than five years--formed in 1976 it split in 1978 and its main wing folded in 1980. The second, the Center Party, lasted from 1999 to 2003. Kadima has outlived both partly because he received many more seats than either: 29 in 2006 compared to 15 for Dash in 1977 and 7 for the Center Party in 1999. Kadima could easily split in two or disintegrate completely with much of its Knesset caucus returning to the Likud. In 2009 its electorate seems to have switched from Sharon supporters in 2006 to many Labor supporters. But Labor and Meretz are both too weak to serve as viable coalition partners for Kadima. Kadima needs the Likud as a partner. Such a centrist coalition depends on the results of the next election and how much the Likud can continue to evolve under Netanyahu.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Is This the End of the Israeli Labor Party?

I saw this morning that former Prime Minister and present Defense Minister Ehud Barak, chairman of the Israel Labor Party, announced that he was quiting the party along with four other MKs to form a new faction known as Atzmaut or "Independence." This leaves the Labor Party with only eight MKs, its smallest caucus ever, and leaves Prime Minister Netanyahu with a smaller majority of 66 rather than 74. But it will be a more dependable and coherent coalition without Labor. And it leaves him with Barak, who since the government was formed as acted as its de facto foreign minister at least to the West. Barak is fulfilling the same function today that Moshe Dayan did for Menahem Begin's first Likud government in 1977-80 and that Shimon Peres did for Sharon's government after 2001.

I would argue that this is the most serious split in the history of Mapai/Labor. It is without a doubt the most serious split since former Chief of Staff Yigael Yadin formed the Democratic Movement for Change, known in Hebrew as Dash, in 1976 out of a number of former generals and personalities associated with the Labor Party and with the Free Center Party of the Right. But it is as least as serious as the Rafi split from Mapai in 1965 when former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, former Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, and Shimon Peres split off to form an independent list. This was largely about Ben-Gurion's need to spite the Old Guard of Mapai. Dayan, Peres and most of Rafi rejoined with Mapai and Ahdut Ha'Avoda to form the Labor Party three years later in 1968. Rafi never really established an independent infrastructure. Barak's split is likely to be more permanent. It may be as serious as the Faction B split from Mapai in 1944 that eventually led to the creation of the Ahdut Ha'Avoda (ironically it means the Unity of Labor) party a decade later.

Labor has been ailing for decades. First, its 29 years of continuous rule as Mapai/Labor from 1948 to 1977 led to its replacement by the Likud after several corruption scandals were exposed in the year before the election. Then its lack of a real serious policy on the Arab question led it to remain in the political wilderness until 1984, when it was forced to form a National Unity Government with the Likud. Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres remained locked in a bitter 20-year personal feud from 1974 to 1993, which they had inherited from their mentors, Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan, a few years before. Labor has been riven with major factional and personality splits since before its foundation. First there was the Tzeirim ("youngsters") versus the Old Guard within Mapai in the early 1960s. Then came Allon versus Dayan after Dayan was selected as defense minister over the more worthy Allon in June 1967 with outside support. Then Rabin and Peres took over the feud. Then Rabin agreed to the electoral "reform" of 1992 that gave all Israeli citizens a double vote. This severely weakened the dominance of the Israeli party system by the two major parties.

Labor has suffered from three main weaknesses that have killed other major parties in settler societies. First, Labor has over relied on former generals to provide it with electoral charisma at the expense of policy development. This trend began with Moshe Dayan back in 1959. It accelerated when the Labor Party was formed because Ahdut Ha'Avoda was basically a paramilitary party for the old Palmakh/Hagana leadership. After Rabin joined the party as ambassador to the U.S. there was a flood of former generals joining. Of all these generals four have stood out: Dayan, Allon, Rabin, and Barak.

Two foreign parties have relied on generals for electoral charisma: the American Whigs and the South African South Africa Party. The Whigs had three former generals in their stable. The first two, William H. Harrison and Zachary Taylor, were talented politicians. The third, Winfield Scott, was by far the best general but an incompetent candidate. He ran as the party's nominee in 1852 as the sectional split between North and South was beginning to split the party. He lost and two years later the party split on sectional lines without ever again running an independent candidate for president.

The South Africa Party was dominated by former Boer generals in the decade of 1910 to 1920. But after the National Party was formed in 1913 and SAP leader Louis Botha died of illness in 1919, the party was left with only a single general, Jan Smuts. Smuts led the party for thirty-one years and there was no satisfactory replacement for him. The party never developed a viable policy on the race question that could compete with the National Party's slogan of apartheid. The party, as the United Party after 1934, became a "me-too party" in opposition with too much stress on the word loyal in loyal opposition.

Second, related to the first was the party's domination by Peres and Rabin for two decades. Many talented potential leaders ended up either quitting politics altogether or defecting to the liberal Meretz party. What began as a trickle of talent in the early 1970s with Shulamit Aloni became a torrent by the 1990s. Then in 1995 Rabin was assassinated and Peres took over and lost another election. Peres had been regularly losing elections since 1974 because of his image as an unscrupulous schemer and a visionary dreamer who was naive. Barak temporarily changed this dynamic but he dropped out of politics, temporarily, after the failure of his premiership in 2000.

Third, because of Arafat's resort to violence with the Al-Aksa Intifada in October 2000, Labor was seen as a party that had naively trusted terrorists. The Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland suffered from this same image after the IRA refused to disarm in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. By the time the IRA finally disarmed in 2005 the UUP had been electorally broken and replaced by the DUP as the main unionist party. The UUP went from ten MPs in the late 1990s to none today largely because of this.

In the mid-2000s it seemed possible, at least to this observer, that the Israeli Center-Left might resurrect itself through a merger of Meretz with Labor and a concentration on domestic policy. This was a successful formula in 1854 when the antislavery Free Soil Party merged with the Northern Whigs to form the Republican Party. The Republicans then spent the next six years attracting antislavery Democrats and Americans (from the nativist Know Nothings) to become the dominant regional party in the North. In 1860 they won a presidential election by running a centrist from a battleground state and focusing on a few battleground states that the party lost in 1856. But it now appears that the rot has set in too far for this simple merger to work. Plus, the anti-Barak faction that remains in Labor is hopelessly divided among several different wannabe leaders.

Israel needs a new Center-Left party that will concentrate on domestic matters while having an openness to negotiate with the Arabs under certain conditions. If the party appears too eager to negotiate it will fall into the same trap that Labor and Meretz fell into. Maybe Kadima can fill that role?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Start of the Northern Ireland Peace Process

This post will look at the conditions that existed in Northern Ireland in the late 1980s and early 1990s that gave rise to the peace process there. I will then compare them to the situation in the Middle East today.

The start of the peace process is usually dated to the Hume-Adams talks in 1988. The peace did not stabilize until the implementation of power sharing for a third time in May 2007--19 years later. This illustrates that making peace in native-settler conflicts is a long process. The Hume-Adams talks were a dialogue between the leaderships of Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the two nationalist or Catholic political parties in Northern Ireland. They came about initially because both of the two party leaders, John Hume of the SDLP and Gerry Adams of the SDLP, wanted to convince the other of the validity of his view of the conflict. Adams blamed the conflict on the "illegal British occupation of the North of Ireland" whereas Hume saw it as a result of the division among the people (or peoples) of Ireland. Hume, like the Fine Gael party in the Republic, believed that it was up to the nationalists to reassure the unionists of their position within a united Ireland. Adams wanted to drive the British out and the unionists in.

The six rounds of dialogue in 1988 ended without a conclusion, but with both parties having exchanged formal position papers several times. The two leaders renewed the dialogue in 1992. By that time Hume had convinced the Northern Ireland Secretary to formally state in a speech that Britain had no selfish economic or military interest in Northern Ireland, a contention that Hume had argued during the talks with Adams. The dialogue in 1992 was exposed by a nationalist journalist who saw Adams emerging from Hume's home one day. The two leaders agreed to write the draft of a memorandum that Dublin could then show to London as the basis for a peace process sponsored by the two governments.

It has since been revealed that by the late 1980s the IRA was honeycombed with British double agents either working for the Special Branch (intelligence) of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or for the British army. These agents were either blackmailed by the British into working for them, went over to the British to avenge punishment beatings administered by the IRA or joined the organization in order to serve as double agents. As a result of their efforts most of the IRA's (and INLA's ) military operations failed with many members being either arrested and imprisoned or killed in ambushes. At the same time the political wing of the movement, the IRA, was held back from achieving its potential electoral return due to public opposition to the armed struggle in general and to IRA atrocities and operations gone bad. Adams and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator and today the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, wanted to cash in their chips and attempt to reap as much benefit as they could from ending the armed struggle.

Sinn Fein's main problem was the IRA' s rank and file activists, who had been recruited to fight and go to prison for a united Ireland. So Adams and McGuinness argued to the unsophisticated but dedicated members that Sinn Fein would establish itself as a viable party in both parts of Ireland and then work to force a united Ireland on the British, the unionists, and Dublin. The argument was that Sinn Fein would grow large enough in the Republic that it could force the two main parties to include it in any coalition government and it would then force the main coalition party to carry through with a united Ireland. This was a case of hope prevailing over reality. Adams and McGuinness also assured the IRA that it would never have to disarm as it had not surrendered or been defeated.

The IRA called a ceasefire at midnight on the last day of August 1994 in response to the joint declaration (Downing St. Declaration) of the two governments laying out the principles of a peace process in December 1993. Six weeks after the IRA the three main loyalist paramilitary organizations (UDA, UVF, Red Hand Commando) also called a ceasefire and offered an apology to the families of their victims. The Ulster Unionist Party under the leadership of Jim Molyneaux was reluctant to enter into negotiations. Under British pressure, Molyneaux resigned as party leader after 16 years and was replaced by David Trimble, who at the time was seen as the hard-line candidate. Following elections in June 1996 negotiations began among the two governments and the main unionist parties, Alliance, and the SDLP. Sinn Fein was excluded because the IRA had broken its ceasefire in February 1996 with a massive bombing in London. After both the British and Irish governments were replaced in the summer of 1997 by governments seen as more sympathetic to the Republicans, the IRA declared a ceasefire in July 1997. In September 1997 Sinn Fein entered the negotiations. The Democratic Unionists of Ian Paisley and the UK Unionists both walked out of the talks when Sinn Fein entered.

Serious bargaining took place for about six weeks from late February to early April 1998. On April 9, 1998 an agreement was signed known formally as the Belfast Agreement and informally as the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement called for power sharing in Northern Ireland between unionists and nationalists in exchange for Dublin giving up its claim to Northern Ireland and cooperation between Belfast and Dublin on a number of matters ranging from tourism to fisheries and forest management. Prisoners of all paramilitary organizations that had gone on ceasefire and recognized the agreement were to be released within two years. All parties were to use their maximum influence to ensure that decommissioning came about by the time prisoners were released. The IRA claimed that it would never disarm as it was not a party to the agreement.

In December 1999 power sharing began on a tentative basis and Dublin amended its constitution to end its territorial claim to Northern Ireland.

It would appear that at this point in time Hamas has not given up its belief in the political utility of armed struggle--a combination of guerrilla warfare and terrorism. Neither for that matter have many elements within the rival Fatah party. Neither have the parties on the Israeli Right such as the Israel Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) party and the Beit Israel party and parts of the Likud. They are all opposed to a two-state solution of the conflict. Washington insists on mediating the peace process solo, with only a token role for the Europeans, the Russians, and the UN. The SDLP has no equivalent party in terms of strength (during the 1990s) among the Palestinians and the Israeli equivalent of the Ulster Unionist Party, Labor, has been rapidly shedding members of Knesset (MKs) since 1996. The Labor Party is incapable of heading a coalition government. It was Washington's Israeli peace partner from 1969 to 2000.

The IRA finally decommissioned its weapons (or the bulk of them) in September 2005, some 36 years after it split from the Official IRA. Fatah did not come under moderate leadership dedicated to a two-state solution without the armed struggle until 2005--some 47 years after it was created in Kuwait. Hamas was created in 1988. Don't expect a major change in policy for another 20 or 25 years at least.  Remember the Provisional IRA and Fatah were/are secular organizations; Hamas is religious--its name means zeal.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Northern Ireland Troubles

Not only is Northern Ireland internally the closest settler and foreign society to Israel, the Northern Ireland Troubles that lasted from late 1968 to 1998 are the closest native-settler conflict to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The other two contenders are the conflicts between the Native American Indians (or Amerindians) and the United States and the conflict between the ANC and the South African government from 1961 to 1994.

The conflict between the Indians and the settlers can be instantly dismissed as not very comparable because Indians are a racial group rather than a people--they are composed of hundreds of peoples. These peoples fought individual conflicts with the settlers, often aligning themselves with various of the European powers: the French, the British, the Spanish, and the United States itself. At best they formed small alliances or confederations of peoples to take on the British and the Americans as during Pontiac's Rebellion of 1759 during the French and Indian War, during the early 1790s in the Ohio Valley, during the War of 1812, during the Red River War of 1874-75, and during the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. After the end of the War of 1812 the Indians lacked a powerful foreign ally--the Spanish were a weak ally until 1819. Thus, after the American Revolution the Indians rarely proved to be an existential threat to the American settlers as the Arabs were until 1982.

The South African liberation struggle is a much closer fit. But the whites in South Africa were always a small minority. The ANC was never a serious military challenge to the South African government. In fact internally within South Africa it was the paramilitary South Africa Police rather than the South Africa Defense Force that was responsible for fighting the "terrorist" threat. And although there were divisions among both the black majority and the white minority, these were never nearly as deep as the divisions on both sides that characterized the Northern Ireland and Middle East conflicts.

The Northern Ireland conflict can be said to have had four or five logical start points: the oldest was the Ulster plantation of 1607 when entrepreneurs began settling Scots and English families in Ulster; the next is 1886 when the unionists first organized in opposition to the first Home Rule Bill; the next is 1912 when the Ulster Covenant was signed by nearly all the unionist families in the province in opposition to Home Rule and the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force was organized; the next was the creation of Northern Ireland through partition in 1921-22; and finally October 1968 when a march of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was attacked by Paisleyites. The last is the conventional starting point of The Troubles.

The Troubles began as a reactionary unionist backlash to a nationalist and liberal drive for reforms that would end the inequality in the province. This soon escalated into major interethnic strife in August 1969 that led to intervention by the British army in order to restore order. The interethnic strife was accompanied by widespread ethnic cleansing of Catholics from mixed neighborhoods in Belfast and Derry and some ethnic cleansing of Protestants from Catholic neighborhoods in retaliation. The Provisional Republican Movement was created as a traditionalist "splinter" group from the mainstream Irish Republican Army (IRA) in December 1969 and January 1970 with some assistance from a group of rebel ministers in the Dublin government. (The ministers offered to provide arms to the splitters as long as they did not operate in the Republic of Ireland.) In early 1971 the Provisional IRA began an insurgency against the British state in Northern Ireland and the Official IRA soon followed suit. The two groups competed for over a year until the Official IRA declared a ceasefire in May 1972 that soon became permanent. In late 1974 the splinter Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) split from the Official IRA and it began an armed struggle in 1979 with the assassination of the Conservative Party spokesman on Northern Ireland, Airey Neave, in the parking lot of the House of Commons.

Over the thirty years of The Troubles there were some 3500 deaths due to conflict violence and thousands more wounded, many maimed for life. The majority of those killed were killed by republicans with the vast majority of these killed by the Provisional IRA. Republicans were responsible for more Catholics killed than were the British security forces. The prostate loyalists killed over 900, mostly nationalists but a few unionists--some killed in intergroup feuds and others in cases of mistaken identity, as well as a few members of the security forces. The loyalist paramilitaries were heavily involved in criminal activities such as protection rackets and building fraud. The republicans were also involved in criminal activities but mainly as a means of funding their anti-British armed struggle. With the loyalists the struggle was more used as a cover to legitimize criminal activities.

The unionists were a majority of over 60 percent of the province's population at the time of partition and this has dropped to just over 50 percent by the end of the century. But on the island as a whole the unionists are about a fifth to a quarter of the total population. Thus there is a situation of a double majority/double minority--the nationalists are a majority on the island, but a minority in Northern Ireland; the unionists are a minority on the island but a majority in the province. This is similar to the status of Arabs and Jews within Israel and the region. But unlike the Middle East or Southern Africa there is no regional core and periphery in the British Isles.

The goal of the republicans had always been politicide--the destruction of the British province on the island of Ireland. This is similar to the Arab goal of destroying Israel before 1979. And this is still the goal of many Palestinians, especially the Islamists of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. If Northern Ireland were destroyed as a British province the unionists would have the choice of either living under Irish rule or emigrating across the Irish Sea to a Britain that is in many ways culturally foreign to them. This is the same dilemma that whites faced in South Africa and that Jews face in Israel. The main difference is that as British citizens the unionists have a guaranteed refuge in mainland Britain, whereas many Afrikaners lack a natural refuge (many English-speakers have emigrated to Britain and Australia), and many Jews would lack a natural refuge.

In Northern Ireland the republicans backing armed struggle were always a minority within the nationalist population of the North as a whole. Sinn Fein never polled more than 40 percent of the nationalist vote and usually polled about a third. The remainder went to the SDLP, which was opposed to armed struggle but did support Irish unity through persuading the government in London to coerce the unionists into a united Ireland. Among the Palestinians armed struggle has since 1948 always been a position with majority support as far back as surveys have been taken. There is no real Palestinian equivalent of the SDLP in terms of the support that it received. The closest thing is Abbas's Palestinian Authority after he took over following Arafat's death in November 2004.

The Good Friday Agreement of April 1998 was essentially a negotiation among the British and Irish governments, the Ulster Unionist Party, and the SDLP. The republican and loyalist paramilitary parties were restricted to largely negotiating terms for prisoner releases and decommissioning of weapons. Throughout the negotiations the UUP refused to speak directly with the Sinn Fein delegates, whom they regarded as terrorists and murderers.

In my next post I will examine the conditions that led to the Northern Ireland peace process and compare them to those that prevail in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Northern Ireland and Israel Compared

Today I'm going to begin a series of posts that compare Northern Ireland to Israel: first, as states or polities; second, as native-settler conflicts; third, the lessons of the Northern Ireland peace process for the Middle East; and finally, I'll compare the conditions that led to the Northern Ireland peace process to the Middle East to ascertain if it is ripe for peace.

Let's examine Northern Ireland using the six criteria that I claimed characterized Israeli politics. First, Northern Ireland has a proportional representation--single transferable vote (PR-STV) franchise system. This system gives each voter multiple preference votes in any election (except the Westminster parliamentary elections where it isn't used) but only one vote per voter is counted. Each voter rank orders his preference for the candidates running then the counters count each of the ballots to see if any of the candidates in the multi-member constituency have captured the "quota" (total number of votes divided by number of seats plus one) on that count. If one has all of his preferences are then disregarded on future counts and the next preference is transferred to one of the other candidates that (s)he expressed a preference for. This system is just as easy as the proportional representation-list system used in Israel for voters, but a little bit more complicated to administer so that results take a little longer to be compiled.

The system results in roughly the same number of parties as seats in a constituency. Because parties have to also compete in first-past-the-post Westminster elections there are normally only two viable parties for each of the two main communities in Northern Ireland. These are traditionally known as the Big Four: the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP); the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP); the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP); and Sinn Fein (SF). In the most recent parliamentary election in 2010, the non-sectarian Alliance Party gained a parliamentary seat for the first time in its history--in East Belfast, where it also came close to winning in 1979. The UUP also lost its sole remaining MP when she refused to participate in the alliance with the Conservative Party. Whether she can be lured back to the party is an open question. But for this year's Assembly election there will probably be six parties represented: the Big Four plus Alliance and the Traditional Unionist Voice, a splinter group from the DUP representing its traditional position before 2007.

Of the Big Four, two can be considered to be religious parties. The SDLP has a close traditional relationship with the Catholic Church in Ireland (churches on the Island are organized on an all-Ireland basis) as the SDLP supported its positions on non-violence and Irish unity. The SDLP also has a pious religious character.

The DUP has been a religious party in the Israeli sense--its longtime leader, Ian Paisley, was also the leader of the Free Presbyterian Church, a breakaway Evangelical church that he established in 1951, or two decades before he established the DUP. Until the end of 2007 he was both the moderator (or head) of the Free Presbyterian Church and the leader of the DUP. In this way he was the unionist Protestant equivalent of Aryeh Deri and Shas's spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef combined with a bit of Menahem Begin thrown in. Because power sharing with Sinn Fein was upsetting to many in the church Paisley was forced to retire as moderator in 2007. Since his retirement as party leader in 2008 the party has become more secular but it still has a powerful religious wing.

Northern Ireland, because it is a province rather than a sovereign independent country, has no army and no class of military politicians. The closest thing to a military politician was probably Ken Maginnis who was a major in the Ulster Defence Regiment and became a UUP spokesman on security affairs during the 1980s and 1990s. He lost in a bid to become party leader in 1995 to David Trimble, but then became a big Trimble supporter during the peace process. He is in many ways in the tradition of the Arab-fighter politicians in Labor like Dayan, Rabin, Allon, and Barak who supported peace for pragmatic reasons. Maginnis had excellent relations with SDLP politicians.

Northern Ireland had three paramilitary parties: Sinn Fein, connected to the Provisional IRA; the Ulster Democratic Party, connected to the Ulster Defence Association; and the Progressive Unionist Party, connected to the Ulster Volunteer Force. The UDP failed to have any of its candidates elected to the Assembly in 1998 and abolished itself in late 2001. The UDA then began receiving political advice from its own internal think tank. The PUP was reduced from two Assembly members (MLAs) in 1998 to one in 2003. Its leader, David Ervine, died in January 2007 and was replaced by Dawn Purvis. She quit the party in 2010 after the PUP was implicated in the murder of a former loyalist prisoner. The new party leader was David Ervine's younger brother. So loyalist parties are even more marginal today than they were at their height in the mid-1990s. The IRA decommissioned its weapons in 2005 and the loyalists followed in 2009.

In Israel both Labor and the Likud have paramilitary roots. Herut and Ahdut Ha'Avoda were both continuation paramilitary parties that extended the existence of a paramilitary group as a political party. But within Labor the factions quickly became personal camps organized around Allon and Dayan and then around Rabin and Peres. Yitzhak Shamir was the last paramilitary figure in the Likud and he retired from active politics in 1992.
Increasingly paramilitary links are a historical rather than a contemporary issue in the party systems of both Israel and Northern Ireland.

In both Israel and Northern Ireland the distinction between parties of the Left and of the Right is based on their position on the "native" question. In Israel after June 1967 it became the position on the occupied territories that determined whether or not a party was a member of the Left or Right. In Northern Ireland it was the position on power sharing with nationalist parties that determined whether a unionist party was Left or Right. Donald Akenson in his book God's Peoples first noticed the link between the native question and position on the political map, but he did not label it as such because he was using a different paradigm (peoples of the book) to compare Israel, the Afrikaners, and the unionists.

 After London became directly involved in administering Northern Ireland in March 1972, ethnic or religious discrimination was outlawed and measures were taken to redress the discrimination suffered by nationalists in the province over two generations. From 1922 to 1972 unionists discriminated against nationalists in terms of housing, employment, and the franchise. The latter was accomplished both through gerrymandering the legislative boundaries and by a system of corporate voting that allowed the wealthiest to have multiple votes. The PR-STV franchise system was eliminated for Stormont provincial and council elections in 1929 and not reinstated until 1973. Unionist premiers encouraged firms to discriminate against Catholics who were seen as inherently disloyal and potentially subversive. This was most pronounced when James Craig and Lord Brookeborough were the prime ministers of the province--for all but two years until 1963. Things improved under Prime Minister Terence O'Neill from 1963 to 1969, but the real break was when London took over in 1972.

By contrast, Israel has, if anything, strengthened discrimination against the Arab minority as the Left has become weaker. Under Mapai Arabs did not even freedom of movement until November 1966 as they lived under martial law. Menahem Begin as opposition leader liked to portray himself as a champion of civil rights, so the situation for Israeli Arabs did not worsen when Begin became prime minister in 1977. But as settlement of the West Bank (and Gaza) intensified, practices from the territories began to be imported into Israel proper. And during the 1990s Israeli Arab party leaders increasingly identified themselves with Yasir Arafat, the PLO, and the Palestinian cause. This has meant that increasingly Arabs are seen by the Israeli Right as disloyal and even subversive. Attacking Arabs is a means for ultra-Orthodox and national religious Jews to identify themselves with their secular Jewish countrymen while separating themselves from the Arabs. It is also a way for Russian Jews (and non-Jews) to do the same thing.

Israeli law has traditionally discriminated against Arabs in terms of land allocation and rights and in terms of rights derived from national service.

Thus Northern Ireland has either in the recent past or present displayed five out of six traits of Israeli politics. The biggest difference between the two is that Israel is sovereign and Northern Ireland is not. Northern Ireland is a province of the United Kingdom that has always been administered under unique laws. In the early 1970s anti-terrorist legislation was passed that allowed the British government to exclude Northern Ireland residents from the rest of the UK by simply naming them. Ordinary British citizens, especially in England and Wales, tend to think of Northern Ireland as either foreign territory or a colonial possession rather than as part of the core territory of the country. Thus, Northern Ireland is almost a no man's land--neither truly Irish nor truly British but a mixture of both, a frontier territory.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

South Africa and Israel

In recent years it has become almost compulsory for those on the Left to speak of Israel in terms of either apartheid or South Africa or both. This has reached the point where Jimmy Carter, who ran for president as a conservative Evangelical Christian, entitled his book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. Carter admitted that he was deliberately attempting to be provocative; it's a pity that he was also not analytical as he nowhere in the book explains what he means by the title. In interviews he explained that he was referring to the Palestinian territories and not to Israel. In this case the natural comparison would be with South West Africa/Namibia, the former German territory conquered by South Africa in World War I, a defensive war on Britain's part. After the war South Africa was awarded a class C mandate from the League of Nations, which entitled South Africa to rule the territory as part of its own territory as long as it provided regular reports to the League. After the League's demise in 1946, the UN began to challenge South Africa's application of apartheid to South West Africa on behalf of Ethiopia and Liberia. Eventually in the 1970s the UN and the International Court in the Hague revoked the mandate. After a twenty-plus-year war of liberation by SWAPO, backed by Angola and Cuba, Pretoria finally agreed to withdraw from the territory in December 1988. But SWAPO never said that it would use Namibia as a springboard from which to liberate South Africa. And in any case there are hundreds of miles of barren desert wasteland between the border and South Africa's closest major cities. This is a major difference with Israel/West Bank where the PLO and Hamas have both spoken of liberating all of Israel and Israel's capital--the city in which its government is located--is on the border of the West Bank with half of the city claimed by the Palestinians.

In my opinion there are three valid bases on which to compare Israel with South Africa:

1) both had similar regional defense policies stemming from a similar geopolitical situation of being isolated siege societies;
2) both had a system of migratory labor from conquered territories that were/are economically integrated into the economy of the labor-requesting country;
3) both had major roles for military politicians in elected politics (see my previous post on this subject).

Jerusalem developed a policy of raiding and occupying neighboring countries or territories and supporting ethnic minorities in these countries in order to survive in the region. This strategy was then copied, with some advice from Israel, by South Africa in the period from 1975 to 1989 when P.W. Botha was the leader of South Africa. Israel first developed this strategy under David Ben-Gurion in the mid-1950s from 1953 to 1956 and applied it to Egyptian-ruled Gaza and the Jordanian West Bank as well as Syria. Then from 1972 to 2000 this strategy was applied in Lebanon. And Israel has over the decades supported rebels in Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq while allying itself with non-Arab countries like Iran and Turkey.

South Africa applied a similar strategy to Southern Africa under Botha. Pretoria first intervened in the Angolan civil war on behalf of the U.S. and France in October 1975. Then in 1978 Pretoria copied the Rhodesians and began raiding SWAPO base camps in Angola. Finally in 1981 South Africa invaded and occupied southern Angola. There are many parallels between Israel's Lebanon policy and South Africa's Angolan policy. The SADF also carried out against SWAPO and ANC base camps in Zambia, Mozambique, and Lesotho. Pretoria supported rebel movements in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

The main strategic lesson that comes from all of this activity over fifteen years is that at the end of the day Pretoria had to deal with the political problems stemming from apartheid and white minority rule. All its military activities did was to buy it time to negotiate with the ANC in a situation that was favorable to Pretoria--after Angola had expelled the ANC's armed wing from its territory and after the Cold War had ended. When applied to the Middle East this means that Israel after regularly beating the Arab armies will still have to deal with the Palestinian problem. All the IDF can do is buy it time to do this under favorable circumstances. But this lesson should have been obvious without reference to South Africa in the aftermath of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon thought that he could redesign the politics of the region by defeating the PLO and Syria in Lebanon. The PLO, after its defeat by the IDF and a Syrian-sponsored rebellion within Fatah, was forced to withdraw completely from Lebanon in 1982-83 and no longer had a viable military option. Yet Israel soon found that there was no more moderate Palestinian negotiating partner. The main effect of the war (besides sending Sharon into political obscurity for 15 years) was to possibly speed up the PLO's thinking in regard to negotiating with Israel.

Since 1967 Israel had reshaped its economy to become dependent on Palestinian manual labor in the construction and agricultural sectors among others. It was only with the serious Islamist terror of the mid-1990s that Israel had second thoughts about the utility of this labor source. Israel began importing labor from Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe to replace many of the Palestinian workers who were increasingly seen as potential terrorists. Thus, this common feature is increasingly an historical one.

As mentioned in my previous post, Israel's class of military politicians can most usefully be compared to the Indian-fighter politicians of the antebellum period in America and to the Union of South Africa. From 1840-60 the United States had a three-party system in the North (the South only developed a three-party system from 1854-57). In antebellum America as in Israel the military politicians were native-fighter politicians who had fought the indigenous population and this fighting continued into the late 1850s in Florida and Texas. But the United States has never had coalition governments. By contrast South Africa had two two-party coalition governments in the Union period (1924-29, 1933-34). But the two governments were so stable that in the first instance the National Party stole the electorate of the Labour Party and in the second merged with the South Africa Party to form the United Party. And its military politicians were not native-fighter politicians during this period and the African population was quiescent then. Also, I would argue that the Whigs were closer to the Israeli Labor Party than was the United Party for purposes of comparison. The United States was also very corrupt in the 1840s and 1850s like Israel today (by Western standards) and from 1846-50 had a debate over occupied territories. And South Africa completely lacked a liberal party during this period. Although with the collapse of Meretz this last point is less relevant. But overall, I would argue that the United States of the 1850s is marginally a better case for comparison with contemporary Israel than was the Union of South Africa. Apartheid South Africa is useful for comparing with Israel at the regional level, but not at the internal level.

The main problem with comparing Israel and South Africa is that although the latter has many of the features of the former they are spread out over several time periods. The Boer republics had many African-fighter politicians and an ongoing conflict with the native population. The Union of South Africa had a genuine multiparty system with competitive white political parties. And apartheid South Africa had an interventionist regional defense policy. But South Africa never had these three major features at the same time.  Apartheid

South Africa's main utility to analysts of Israeli politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as a warning of the international isolation that is the fate of a racially-European population that rules a territory by force in which it is a minority. This is much more relevant for Israel's future than for its present.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Future of Israel's Military Politicians

After my second book, on liberal parties in settler societies, was published in 2002 I thought about what I wanted to research and write about next. I decided to do a comparative study that would cast light on the phenomenon of military politicians--former senior military officers elected to serve in the Knesset--in Israel. I figured this subject was worth writing about for two reasons. First, serving generals or former generals in government had negotiated every agreement reached with the Arabs from the armistice agreements of 1949 to the Oslo accords. Second, since 1967 military politicians had a virtual lock on the defense ministry and also played a dominant role in the Labor Party and the Likud. So I wanted to be able to make an educated guess as to how much longer the phenomenon would last in Israel.

I knew as a student of American history that the United States had such a class and from doing research in South Africa I knew that it also had a class. Not wanting to rely on such a narrow base of examples I read histories of all the former British settler colonies to see if I could find a trace of any additional groups. My minimum standard was at least four military politicians who had served in parliament or the central government with a minimum of two each during two separate periods to constitute a class. Less than this would not allow me to make conclusions about the country. After I failed to turn up any candidates among the former British settler colonies I expanded my search to include all the European colonial powers that were democracies during their colonial period or within 20 years of its end (i.e. Weimar Germany). I also failed to turn up any cases.

After taking my American and South African cases I was able to divide them into three separate periods each for a potential of six cases to examine: 1) the early American republic 1780s-1790s; 2) the antebellum period 1824-1860; 3) the postbellum period 1869-93; 4) the Boer republics period 1859-1900; 5) the Union of South Africa 1910-1948; 6) the apartheid period 1975-1993. For comparison I was looking at a multiparty system with at least three parties that could be readily compared to Israeli parties and a minimum of at least two major military politicians. Only two periods fit this minimum requirements: the antebellum period and the Union of South Africa. The early American republic and the Boer republics had two-party systems and the Boers also lacked standing armies and had less than 20,000 voters in any election. And during the apartheid period South Africa had only a single elected military politician, Defense Minister Magnus Malan.

America's Indian-fighter politicians of the antebellum period ended with Zachary Taylor. Four presidents (George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Harrison, Zachary Taylor) and one vice-president (Richard Johnson) had been Indian fighters. Washington had been an Indian fighter in the French and Indian War (1754-63); Jackson and Harrison in the War of 1812; and Taylor in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War. Except for Harrison they were mainly famous for victories over conventional armies, but the Indian fighting had significantly advanced their military careers and made their subsequent victories over the British or Mexicans possible. The same can be said of Arab-fighter politicians in Israel from Israel's first two generations of military politicians such as Yigal Allon, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon.

The postbellum Indian wars in the West produced no major politicians because the wars involved a professional army rather than a popular militia system and the few settlers in the West were remote from the population concentrations on the East Coast, in the Great Lakes Region, and in California. Thus the link between the serving soldiers and the politicians/war heroes were broken. But this Indian-fighter politician class was replaced by first heroes of the Mexican War and then of the American Civil War.

In South Africa the African-fighter politicians of the South African (Transvaal) Republic came to an end with the conquest of that republic by the British in 1900. They in turn were replaced by politicians who were senior officers in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). These politicians were quite numerous during the decade of 1907-1917. But many were forced to retire from politics for having sided with the Afrikaner rebels in 1914 who fought on the side of the Germans/neutrality in order to prevent South Africa from siding with the Allies. Louis Botha died in office as prime minister in 1919. This left just two members of the class: Jan Smuts, Botha's assistant, and James Barry Munick Hertzog. Smuts and Hertzog remained rivals until 1934 when their two parties fused. Hertzog retired from politics in 1942 a broken man and Smuts retired in 1950 after having lost the 1948 election to the National Party. The two world wars failed to produce any military politicians largely because the Union Defense Force was a professional army and it fought in East Africa and France in World War I and in North Africa in World War II.

So based on the experiences of the United States, South Africa, and Israel in the 19th and 20th centuries I concluded that three things are necessary to produce a class of military politicians. First, there must be a conscript or militia system rather than a professional army. Second, there must be settler self-rule within twenty years of the end of serious fighting with the native population. Third, there must be a serious if not existential threat posed by the resistance of the natives to the settlers. The other settler colonies lacked military politicians for three main reasons. First, the imperial army was responsible for the defense of the colony. Second, the settlers lacked self rule during the period of fighting with the natives. Third, the native resistance never posed a serious threat to the settlers during the 19th and 20th centuries. In several colonies two or even all three of these conditions applied.

Israel's military politicians, like those of the United States and South Africa, belong to several different political parties and have a range of political beliefs. The main difference among the groups is that the Afrikaners and Americans had intertwined political and military careers rather than sequential careers as in Israel. For example, Washington served as a British army officer, then as a politician in Virginia's House of Burgesses, then as the commanding general in the American Revolution and finally as the president. Jackson had an early political career in the 1790s. He then withdrew to concentrate on a career as a planter and as a general in the Tennessee militia. He then became a regular U.S. Army general in 1814 and served for a decade before quitting to run for president in 1824. Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, and Barry Hertzog all were professional politicians before serving with the Afrikaner commandos in the Boer War. Botha became commander of the Boer forces in early 1901. After the war he served as a politician again before once more donning a uniform to fight the Germans in South West Africa in 1915. He then returned to Pretoria to continue as prime minister. Hertzog never wore a uniform in the field again after 1902. Smuts served as a general in both World War I and World War II. In the United States only Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant had conventional Israeli-style consecutive careers. Taylor retired from the Army in 1848 after over forty years and ran for president. Grant retired in 1868 after some 17 years of service over a quarter century period.

So my prediction is that for some fifteen to twenty years after Israel signs a peace treaty with the Palestinians, if such a peace treaty is ever signed, Israel will continue to have military politicians. This is important because among the center-left parties only former generals have the security credentials to be able to sell a peace deal with the Arabs. Dayan, Allon, Rabin, and Sharon all had those credentials. Without Rabin, Peres would not have been able to sell the Oslo agreements to the Israeli public. So this phenomenon of Israeli militarization should be embraced by supporters of peace rather than deplored.

Since June 1967 only two politicians have served as defense ministers in Israel who were not either former generals or professional military industry technocrats (Shimon Peres and Moshe Arens). These three were: Menahem Begin (1980-81), and Amir Peretz (2006-07). Begin deferred to whatever the Israeli general staff wanted. Peretz ended up in charge during the Second Lebanon War with a new inexperienced prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and a chief of staff from the Israeli Air Force rather than the ground forces. The next year he was quietly replaced by Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israeli history, and his political career seems to have come to an end.

Comparable military dominance of civilian institutions existed in the United States where former Civil War generals had a lock on the Republican nomination for president from 1868 to 1892, with the exception of James Blaine who was nominated in 1884 and lost to Grover Cleveland. Grant served for two terms and Ruthorford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison each served for a single term as president. In South Africa former Boer generals had a lock on the premiership from 1910 to 1948. But because the South African case involves fewer politicians who were more skilled, the U.S. example is a better one to compare with Israel.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Are Zionists settlers?

Zionists have traditionally seen Israeli Jews as "returned natives"--a people that has reconstituted itself as a nation and returned to its homeland after two millenia starting in the early 1880s. Arabs and their supporters have simply seen them as settlers, no different morally or even conceptually than the white settlers who have settled around the world from Europe since the early 16th century. In this post I will demonstrate that Israel has the characteristics of a modern settler society and then offer my perspective on the returned native vs. settler controversy.

In the summer of 1998 I went to Belfast to examine what was taking place there after the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement. I was fresh off a tour in the Army in Kosovo and finally had the savings for research and writing. After spending some time in the Linenhall Library's political collection reading up on the history of The Troubles--the period of Northern Ireland history from late 1968 that was then still continuing--I saw many similarities with both Israel and South Africa. I ended up writing my first book, Native vs. Settler, which examined the three conflicts in a range of categories. My book, published in 2000, joined a growing literature that had compared the three conflicts since 1989. Mine was I believe the first to compare all three conflicts on a settler/native basis.

In 2002 after my second book, Indispensable Traitors, was published, I was thinking about what to write about next. I decided to write about Israel's military politicians and I started looking for cases to compare them with. This is how I began researching antebellum America, about which I will write further in my next post. It was not until 2004 that I wrote an article, published in 2005 in The Journal of Conflict Studies in New Brunswick, Canada that I set out systematically to demonstrate that Israeli politics were settler politics. What follows is the essence of that article.

Israeli politics in 2004-05 exhibited six salient features:
1) Because of the proportional representation--list franchise system, Israeli elections result in multiple parties and all governments are coalition governments, most of them weak and unstable.
2) Israel has powerful religious parties that are more akin to the system Islamist parties found in Turkey and Indonesia than to parties found in Western Europe or North America.
3) Former senior military officers have played a major role in electoral politics since at least 1954.
4) Both the Labor Party and the Likud have paramilitary roots to their parties--both have one component party at the time of their formation (1968, 1973) with paramilitary origins.
5) Since the June 1967 Six Day War the territorial question has been the dividing line between parties of the Left and the Right, rather than economic policy. Before 1967 other aspects of the Arab question were the main dividers between the Revisionists/Herut and Mapai.
6) Israel has a legal differentiation in status between Arabs and Jews.

The first two features are the subject of most texts on Israeli politics (at least in English--I own three of them). Traits three through six are traits typical of self-governing or autonomous settler societies such as the United States, Northern Ireland, and South Africa under white rule. It is not a single one of these traits but their combination that makes it possible to speak of Israeli politics as settler politics. Although all three of the above mentioned societies had traits five and six, they either had traits three or four but not both. Thus, Israeli politics are more settlerlike than most settler societies.

Because Israel's multiparty system is so defining of the Israeli political system, comparisons should best be made with settler societies that have a similar party system. Unfortunately, however, most British settler colonies used the first-past-the-post franchise resulting in two- or three-party systems. Only Northern Ireland is a settler society that has a form of proportional representation. Its party system, however, is normally made up of five parties: two unionist British Protestant (settler), two nationalist Irish Catholic (native), and a small liberal non-sectarian party. So normally when examining settler politics in Northern Ireland one is looking at a two-party system. But when the system is put under pressure by pressure from London to reach a solution to the Irish question, a breakdown in unionist unity results. Unionist politics were multipolar from 1973 to 1978 and from the mid-1990s to 2003. Fortunately the latter period was during the peace process and resulted in a weak two-party coalition that can be usefully compared to Israeli governments.

Northern Ireland has five of the six salient features of Israeli politics. It is only missing a major role for former senior military officers. This is because Northern Ireland is a province of the United Kingdom rather than a sovereign entity. Although throughout the 19th and 20th centuries unionists from Ulster contributed greatly to the senior ranks of the British army, they did not go on to serve as politicians after Northern Ireland became autonomous starting in 1922. This is because there is no tradition of former senior officers having a second career in politics as there was in the United States in the 19th century or in South Africa among Afrikaners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To make comparisons on this very important feature of Israeli politics we will have to turn to these two societies, and that will be the subject of my next post.

Many Jews for ideological reasons, and many Arabs as well, are incapable of seeing Israeli Jews as both returned natives and settlers--they must be one or the other. About 90-95 percent of Israeli Jews are descended from at least one parent whose ancestors arrived in Palestine/Israel after 1880, most after 1917. After 1917 Palestine was administered first by the British army and then by the Colonial Office. Palestine was de facto a British settler colony with some loose supervision by the League of Nations. The Palestine mandate was run for its first two decades until 1939 primarily for the benefit of the Zionists--to encourage immigrant absorption and Jewish economic development, although adjustments were made periodically to assuage Arab resentment and resistance. During the last decade the mandate was run on a more equal basis as Britain backed away from its commitments to Zionism under the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the League of Nations mandate. This is the period that is largely used by the Zionists to create an anti-colonial mythology.

So are Israeli Jews only settlers? DNA testing has established that they have ties to the Holy Land and are related to the Palestinian population. The only other group of settlers that claims to be returned natives are a few of the Ulster-Scots of Northern Ireland who claim that they are the descendants of the ancient Picts who were driven out of Ireland by the Gaels in about 1,000 AD and then returned some six hundred years later. And this is very much a minority position among unionists raised some 350 years after the original Ulster plantation.

Arabs and anti-Zionists take two different, and contrary, positions on Israelis as returned natives. First, some say that their exile from the land resulted in the Jews losing any political rights to the land as a separate people. Among Arabs and Muslims this is made easier by the belief that Jews cannot be both a religion and a people (or nation) and so are only the former. This ignores the traditional Jewish religious position on this question. The second position is to simply deny any connection to the land. In July 2000 at Camp David Yasir Arafat denied that there had ever been a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He claimed that the temple had been in Nablus. After all, he was an expert on Judaism. Palestinian children are taught in Palestinian schools that the Jews have no historical link with the land.

So, if the historical connection is irrelevant, why go to great lengths to deny it? This is the question that anti-Zionists must answer.  The League of Nations and the British certainly thought that it was relevant. Americans as a whole continue to believe that it is relevant.

The other question is: Are all settler societies automatically illegitimate? Zionists certainly seem to believe that this is the case, which is one of the prime motives for denouncing any talk of Zionists as settlers. Yet we find settler societies throughout the world: Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific; Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile in South America; Costa Rica in Central America; the United States and Canada in North America. In many other countries in Latin America the descendants of settlers constitute a large minority of the population as in Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Cuba. All of these countries are considered legitimate.

I believe that by engaging solely in a hasbara campaign on this issue, the Jewish Right is foregoing much valuable analysis that can be used in the struggle for peace. Maybe this is because the Right does not believe in the possibility of peace.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blog Introduction: Who am I and what this blog is about

This is a blog devoted to discussing foreign affairs and in particular foreign affairs and politics dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Middle East.

The immediate impetus for this blog is that it is a requirement for a journalism degree that I'm pursuing. But I've been considering it for some time as for the last five years I've been a regular contributor to a number of blogs on this subject (APN's The Conversation by Leonard Fein; Dan Fleshler's Realistic Dove; the MeretzUSA blogspot; Michael Lame's Rethink the Middle East; and the Promised Land). I've written several guest blogs at both the Realistic Dove and MeretzUSA.  Although I'm quite aware that one doesn't need qualifications in the blogosphere, I think that I should lay out mine for my readers so that they can judge them for themselves. I have a doctorate and masters degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California and a bachelor's degree in the same subject from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I have had five books published: three dealing with comparative politics comparing and contrasting Israel, Northern Ireland and South Africa; and two with antebellum American politics. Over the last dozen years I've focused on researching conflicts and societies that I believe can cast light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on Israeli politics.  I've focused on looking at settler societies--and I'll explain my rationale for doing so in detail in my next post--not in order to delegitimize or stigmatize Israel but rather in order to learn from other conflicts that have already reached a stage that Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have not, and thus learn from them. As a student of history, I believe that it is possible to learn from the past, but that few people rarely do because most people see history as an exercise in self-validation and legitimation rather than as a means of learning. This is because this is the way it is normally taught in school and in popular works.  It is also because much of what we learn from the past is not really very flattering.

The name of my blog comes from a combination of the two reflexive "insults" that the Israeli and Jewish nationalist right use to shutdown any discussion that is outside of their box. The terms are: self-hating Jew and anti-semite. Thus one can either agree with them or be dismissed as either an anti-semite or someone who hates one's own cultural background or ethnicity. Over the years I've been labeled both based on whether the name-callers thought that I was a Jew or a Gentile. Some thirty years ago I was labeled a self-hating Jew by Midge Decter after I wrote a letter in to Commentary magazine disagreeing with an article that attacked Shalom Akshav/Peace Now. More recently I've been called a Jew hater for asserting that Israeli Jews can be most objectively seen as BOTH returned natives and settlers. I'm a Hebrew-speaking gentile who admires Jews for their cultural achievements and learning over the centuries. Also in Italian gentile means nice and kind, and I like to think that that meaning also fits me.

Most of my comparative work has involved comparing Israel to four different societies: South Africa, Northern Ireland, antebellum America and the French Fourth Republic. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on internal settlements in Southern Africa (Namibia, Rhodesia, South Africa) and I conducted doctoral and post-doctoral research in Natal, South Africa in 1988 and 1990. I also served as a volunteer in the Rhodesian Guard Force and Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs leading African troops in the bush war in 1978-79 because I believed then that no good could come from a self-proclaimed Maoist ruling the country. I believe that Robert Mugabe's performance over the last thirty years has more than proven my instincts correct. I conducted research in Belfast, Northern Ireland on The Troubles and on the Northern Ireland peace process during the summer of 1998 and the summer of 1991. I availed myself of the opportunity to collect a small library of books on the sectarian conflict there. When the Northern Ireland peace process collapsed between 2002 and 2006 I took advantage of the opportunity to research Indian-fighter politicians in American history and then anti-slavery parties in antebellum America. Incidentally, the term antebellum America refers to the North as well as the South, and it was mainly the former that I compared Israel to. I have also read about the party system during the French Fourth Republic, but have not published anything on the subject.  During 2010 I researched the process by which Dublin renounced its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland, but I have yet to publish on the subject.