Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Friday, December 21, 2012

What are Alliance's Future Prospects?

Mick Fealty over at Slugger O'Toole had an interesting post about the middle ground of Ulster politics. As he defines it this consists of the two moderate sectarian parties, the Ulster Unionists (UUP) and the SDLP, and the non-sectarian Alliance Party. In the summer of 1998 when I was researching my first book, Native vs. Settler: Ethnic Conflict in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland and South Africa (Greenwood, 2000) I found a dearth of published information on Alliance. I did manage to find an unpublished Masters Thesis on Alliance written in the early 1990s for a politics degree in France as well as the back issues of Alliance's in-house newsletter in the politics collection of the Linen Hall library in Belfast. This book included a chapter on Alliance that then became the core of my next book, Indispensable Traitors: Liberal Parties in Settler Conflicts (Greenwood, 2002).

I learned that Alliance had actually begun life as a non-parliamentary pressure/ginger group, the New Ulster Movement, in Belfast in early 1969. After about a year it decided to form a party that was both liberal and non-sectarian. The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland was launched in April 1970 months before the SDLP. It had its best recruiting periods in its first three years in 1970-73 as The Troubles were becoming a republican insurgency against the state. Alliance reached its peak in a local election in 1977 at just under 15 percent of the total--higher than for the DUP. Then it began to slowly slide back until 1981 when it lost almost all of its vote west of the Bann River. It again had an above-average  recruiting period in the mid-1990s as the province was moving out of The Troubles following the first IRA ceasefire. But by 1997 the vote was shrinking back down to its previous high of 6.5 percent. This continued to deteriorate until it hit just over five percent.

I interviewed a number of Alliance figures including its first leader, Oliver Napier, and then Assembly Speaker John Alderdice and his brother, Lord Mayor David Alderdice, who was kind enough to give me a tour of City Hall before the interview. Noting that the party after the 1981 hunger strike had been limited largely to Greater Belfast--to constituencies with a unionist majority, I suggested to several members that the party declare itself to be a unionist party (it was on record as being pro-union) but emphasis its differences with the other unionist parties i.e. its two Catholic party leaders, high percentage of women office holders, innovative policies, etc. They replied that the party would lose many more votes than it would gain by doing this as its members regarded themselves as belonging to the Other tradition: participants in or issue of mixed marriages or simply non-religious.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Former First Minister David Trimble links protests to East Belfast Seat

In an interview published today on the Newshound site, former First Minister David Trimble, who now sits in the British House of Lords for the Conservatives, linked the flag protests and riots that have engulfed Northern Ireland over the last ten days to the DUP's loss of its East Belfast seat to the Alliance Party in the last general election. This was the seat of party leader Peter Robinson who had held it since first being elected in 1979. It was also the Alliance Party's first parliamentary seat. Trimble was implicitly criticizing his former party, the Ulster Unionist Party, which has teamed up with the DUP to protest the compromise crafted by Alliance with the two nationalist parties on the Belfast City Council. As Alliance councilor Laura McNamee points out in an interview, had Alliance not acted the two parties would simply have voted to eliminate the flag flying over Belfast City Hall altogether.

So what are the motives for the unionist parties in these protests? Peter Robinson gets to act out and extract some revenge on Alliance for taking his seat. He may even stir up the electorate enough to win the seat back for his party in the next election. The UUP by putting Alliance on the defensive may end the attrition of party members to the party that has been going on since the last general election when Alliance outperformed the party. And the tiny Progressive Unionist Party can look statesmanlike by issuing statements calling for restraint and condemning the violence while also condemning the compromise. So, the unionist parties are the winners. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Needing inferiors for self-asteem in Belfast--sectarian riots

For the last six days there has been renewed rioting by loyalists mobs in Belfast and now in Derry also ostensibly over a compromise provision that limits the flying of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall to only seventeen designated days per year. Nationalists wanted the flag not to be flown at all at the City Hall but settled for an Alliance Party compromise motion that limited it to flying on designated days only. Alliance offices have been broken into in response to the compromise and a leaflet put out by the DUP calling on constituents to let Alliance know how they feel about the measure. Unionist commentator John Coulter sees this possibly reverberating to the benefit of the struggling UUP.

This has been the second major period of rioting in Belfast since the peace process was finally bedded down in mid 2007. There were major riots two years ago in North Belfast. These riots all have ostensible local causes but the real reasons are the need for loyalist paramilitary organizations to demonstrate that they still have relevance and justify their existence and the unhappiness of working class unionists--loyalists--with the gains made by nationalists and republicans since the start of the peace process. The traditional position of loyalists was to be looked down upon by middle class unionists and to look down upon nationalists. Unionist parties neglected the educational, employment and social needs of loyalists and nationalists. Loyalists compensated by looking down upon nationalists. The gains made by nationalists to a situation of equality with loyalists is seen as a net loss by the loyalists. That at least is the analysis of Peter Shirlow, lecturer at Queen's University at Belfast.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The End of the Two-State Solution? Part II

When the two-state solution was first proposed in the Middle East in the early 1970s it was envisaged as a deal between a Labor Party-led government on the Israeli side and the PLO led by Fatah on the other. Even as it was first being proposed in 1973 it was almost too late. On December 31, 1973 elections demonstrated that the brand new Likud was a competitive challenger to the ruling Labor Party. In May 1977 Menahem Begin, the leader of the 1940s Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization) or Etzel was elected prime minister at the head of the Likud. He simultaneously went about negotiating peace with Egypt and colonizing the West Bank and Gaza with Jewish settlements. A Labor-led government without the Likud would not return to power for fifteen years. 

Labor coalitions were in power for six years out of that decade. But starting in 1996 both Labor and its more dovish coalition partner Meretz began losing seats. By 2009 they had lost three-fourths of the seats they had when Rabin formed a government in 1992. That year--1992--was the only year since 1977 that the Center-Left had more seats than the Right and the religious parties. Barak in 1999 decided to build a broad coalition with the religious parties. These parties deserted his coalition as soon as he departed for Camp David in July 2000--even before he made his radical concessions on Jerusalem and borders.

The End of the Two-State Solution? Part I

Purely by coincidence, today's edition of Real Clear World has three very pessimistic articles on the Middle East peace process only about a week or two after I mailed in the manuscript for my latest book, tentatively titled Why the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Remains Unsolved: the Politics of the Two-State Solution, which will probably be published by McFarland Publishing of North Carolina sometime late next year. These three articles here, here, and here, tend to blame the Palestinians and Arabs in general rather than Israel. The first is by a noted Italian commentator on international affairs, Emanuele Ottolenghi (eight tongues); the second by The New Republic's longtime columnist Leon Wieseltier; and the last by a writer at a conservative Israeli tabloid, Yediot Aharonot (confession: this was the paper I usually read when I was a student in Israel over three decades ago because of its relatively easy Hebrew). 

The problem with the two-state solution since it was first proposed by West Bank Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals in the 1970s was that it required both sides to go way out of their comfort zones and take real risks for peace. The risks on the Israeli side--at least until Rabin's assassination by a radical religious law student in November 1995--were mainly political rather than physical; on the Palestinian side they were both. Plus these two sides had to be ready to take these risks at the same time and while the United States administration was prepared to vigorously mediate between them to reach a solution. Since the early 1990s the two sides were out of sync. First, Arafat was most desperate for a deal in 1992-93 at the start of the Oslo process when the PLO was bankrupt due to a cutoff of Gulf state contributions following Arafat's embrace of Saddam's annexation of Kuwait. But Rabin wanted to take it slow and test Arafat and develop support for a final settlement. Plus, it was not all that clear that Rabin supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Under Netanyahu from mid-1996 to mid-1999 Israel pursued a go-very-slow policy. By the time that Ehud Barak was ready to negotiate with the Palestinians in early 2000, Arafat was suspicious of his motives and ready to appease the Islamists and reject Israeli compromise proposals at Camp David. In October 2000 the Al-Aksa Intifada broke out with both Arafat and Arik Sharon bearing heavy responsibility for it. After that a solution was precluded until the Palestinians had a new leader. But this resulted in Sharon replacing Barak as prime minister in February 2001. A settlement now awaited a new Israeli leader as well. This did not occur until March 2006 when Kadima leader Ehud Olmert followed Sharon two months after Sharon's massive stroke.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gaza: Winners and Losers

Eight days of fighting or rather mutual bombardments between Gaza and Israel changed little. Apparently the fighting began because Hamas decided to violate the unwritten rules and not only be more permissive of another jihadist organizations attacking Israel from the Strip but make some attacks of its own. In an election campaign this was intolerable for Israel and Jerusalem decided to respond by a targeted killing of the Al-Kassem Brigades (Hamas's military wing) commander Ahmed Jabari. This in turn provoked Hamas into responding with an all-out barrage of rockets and missiles including the long-range Iranian Fajr missile. This resulted in Israel responding by bombing suspected rocket storage sites and other Hamas military targets as well as tunnels used by smugglers.  

The main results are that Jabari left his position as commander possibly sooner than he expected, but in the manner that he anticipated, and that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to take another break from politics, this time possibly a final one. Hamas was not able to decisively intimidate Israel and vice versa. In fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may conclude from this that the response from Iran's allies to an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would be tolerable. 

Here is APN analyst Yossi Alpher's summary of the winners and losers.

A majority of the Israeli public, (article is in Hebrew) by an almost two to one margin, was disappointed by an early Israeli ceasefire and wanted an invasion of Gaza by the IDF. Expect these voters to vote for the Israeli Right in January--for Likud Beitenu, National Union, and the Jewish Home parties. The use of moderate force never seems to benefit centrist Israeli politicians because it simply demonstrates that there is no military solution to Israel's Arab problem and much of the Israeli public refuses to accept this and so supports those parties that promise the use of even greater force. In the February 2009 elections it was Kadima that lost out. Now it is Barak and Netanyahu. Barak split from Labor to form his own faction as so many military politicians have in the past ranging from Sharon in 1976 and 2005, Dayan in 1980, and Weizman in 1981. Barak probably expected to end up in the Likud, but with it moving further to the Right, this was impossible. So Barak returns to the private sector to make large speaking, consulting and influence peddling fees. Having served in all the top positions in government for which he is qualified (PM, defense, foreign, interior) he is forced with the choice of either stepping down in the future to take lesser posts or retiring permanently. Rabin gave him a precedent for stepping down to be defense minister after having served as prime minister, but any lower might be considered to be beneath his dignity. Netanyahu has been left isolated in the Likud as the settler representatives of the Radical Right triumphed in internal Likud elections to win the realistic seats. Gone are Benny Begin and Dan Meridor.

What next? Don't expect much action in Gaza in the next few months as Israel goes to the polls on January 22 and then has to form a new government from the resulting parties. (Here is the latest Ma'ariv poll in English.)  If Netanyahu really does plan to attack Iran he will keep things quiet with Hamas and Hezbollah, but if he is merely bluffing or trying to maneuver the U.S. military to do Israel's job for it, he will probably come down heavily on Hamas for any ceasefire violations once his new coalition is established after the elections. Hamas will probably attempt to rebuild and benefit from its new status of respectability in the Arab world.

I would like to congratulate Stratfor for their free analysis of the war to those getting their weekly free articles and to American for Peace Now's News Nosh daily compilation of the Hebrew press in Israel.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Will Sinn Fein and the DUP slim away a few UUP MLAs?

Liam Clarke reported on a study done by the Belfast Telegraph in which present voting trends were projected on to a future Stormont assembly with only five or four seats per Westminster constituency rather than the present six. He reported that the UUP would be the biggest loser--reduced to only nine seats from its present 16. This is only one seat ahead of Alliance at present. If the UUP drops down to nine seats it will lose its second minister and be reduced to a single minister on the Executive like Alliance and the SDLP.

Alliance would not lose any seats because its members are all among the top four in each of its Greater Belfast constituencies. All the other parties would lose, but none to the same extent as the UUP.  The big loss would occur in the reduction from six to five seats and not from five to four. This is because the party now has many marginal seats scattered around the province, as opposed to Alliance, the SDLP and Sinn Fein who have their seats concentrated in a few geographic areas. The UUP has multiple seats--two each--in only two constituencies: Strangford and Upper Bann (David Trimble's old seat).

Alliance is concentrated in a "donut" around Belfast taking in Strangford, East Antrim, South Antrim and North Down. The SDLP is concentrated in Foyle, the former constituency of both John Hume and Mark Durkan; South Down, the former constituency of Eddy McGrady and Brid Rodgers; and in South Belfast.  The DUP is spread around the country but most concentrated in Co. Londonderry, Co. Antrim, and in Lagan Valley. Sinn Fein is most concentrated in the southwest of the province--west of the River Bann that splits the province in two and south of Co. Londonderry--and  in West Belfast. 

This would give the DUP incentive to reduce the number of seats per constituency, ostensibly as an economy measure. Sinn Fein could probably be talked into going along because of the marginal improvement it would give it over its rival, the SDLP. And Alliance could be counted to go along. The UUP and SDLP would not be strong enough by themselves to block such a reduction and there is a very good case to be made that the Stormont assembly is indeed much too large compared to other regional parliaments in the UK.  This is all the more reason why the two former leading parties should go into opposition. The Northern Ireland Office might be more opposed to weakening the official opposition than to weakening a few superfluous parties in the Executive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Support for an opposition role in the SDLP?

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) held its annual party conference in a hotel in Armagh this weekend. Two things were of significance. First, Party Leader Alasdair McDonnell managed to give his conference address despite the teleprompter (auto-cue), which was imported from England for the conference, not working properly. He apparently learned something from his last major performance. Second, the party addressed the need to consider going into opposition at some point. Deputy Leader Dolores Kelly called for the party to do this. This call and discussion was considered a positive sign by former UUP Deputy Leader John McCallister. He figures that the more discussion there is of this idea among senior party officials in both the SDLP and the UUP the greater the chance is of new legislation being introduced to support an opposition role at Stormont.  McDonnell, like St. Augustine, asked to be principled but not quite yet. He does not want the party to give up its single Stormont minister, Alex Atwood, who might then become his competitor for the leadership. So he wants to hold the other parties to account, but do this from the Executive rather than from the opposition benches.  No wonder Sinn Fein continues to dismiss the SDLP as irrelevant. 

Here is BBC Northern Ireland politics correspondent Mark Devenport's take on the conference.

Liam Clarke is reporting in the Belfast Telegraph that there  is considerable support for the opposition idea within the party. Former party leader Mark Durkan echoed Kelly's call for opposition and the SDLP's sole minister, Alex Atwood, said the idea should be debated. Clarke also reported considerable support among party activists for the idea. And here is Jim Allister, head of the far-right Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) praising the opposition idea.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Second Term Foreign Policy Challenges for Obama

Last week IR theorist and foreign policy commentator Stephen Walt published his "to do list" for Obama's second term.  He essentially deals with five topics: the rivalry with China, the Arab Spring, the demise of the two-state solution for the Middle East, dealing with Iran's nuclear bid, and demilitarizing American foreign policy.  As this blog deals with the Middle East and not East Asia, I won't deal with the first topic.  But I'll consider the next three and stipulate that I'm in agreement on his final item.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is Netanyahu's real competition internal?

Read the first paragraph of this article by veteran English-language Israeli reporter David Horovitz and see how dismissive he is of Netanyahu's real competition from the Center-Left. And then go on to read the rest of the article where he discusses the chances of Likud Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, who it is rumored is planning to run as a socialist from the Right.  Horovitz doesn't claim to have any answers, merely questions.  But the first weeks of any Israeli general election campaign are always a circus as polls appear and every Israeli salivates over the prospect of someone replacing the "usual suspects" to use a line from Casablanca. But then the truth begins to dribble out about the new boy wonders who are made of flesh and blood after all. And Israelis resolve themselves to picking one of the lesser evils. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

A return to 1965? Is this the year of the blocs in Israel?

It was announced this weekend that the two main parties of the Israeli Right, the Likud and Israel Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) have formed a joint list to run in the Israeli election on January 22, 2013. The new list is named Likud Beitenu (Likud is Our Home). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will head the list and Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman will be the number two man on the list and will have his pick of ministries after the coalition is formed: foreign minister, defense minister, or finance minister. Last night the Likud by a large majority approved the merger, without Netanyahu having revealed the number of seats that each party would receive on the joint list. To see Netanyahu's acceptance speech (in Hebrew) go here.

The immediate reaction on the Center-Left was one of shock. Everyone in Israel was pretty much resigned to Netanyahu continuing as prime minister after the election, but the thought that the merger might become permanent and leave Lieberman as Netanyahu's successor as the new party leader has people in shock. Many in Israel claim that Lieberman's role model is not any of the figures on the secular Right such as Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Menahem Begin, or Yitzhak Shamir but rather Vladimir Putin, the semi-democratic and semi-authoritarian leader of Russia. Leiberman immigrated to Israel from Moldova--Soviet Romania--in 1978 at age 20. After serving in the army, he worked as a bouncer and entered politics as an aide to Netanyahu during the latter's first term as prime minister. He then left the Likud to found his own party of Russian immigrants to compete with Natan Sharansky's Israel B'Aliya (Israel on the Rise/Israel in Immigration) party. Lieberman has taken his party through a series of mergers and splits on the Right as he searched for a winning formula. This formula was eventually to attack Israel's Arab minority as disloyal and demand a loyalty oath.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Desperation of the Israeli Center-Left

It is with some surprise that it was announced recently that Shaul Mofaz, leader of the Kadima Party, has agreed to step down in favor of former party leader Ehud Olmert. Ehud Olmert, a veteran of the Free Center Party and the Likud on the Israeli Right, followed Sharon into Kadima as his deputy in November 2005. Two months later he took over as party leader when Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke that has left him in a coma since. In the summer of 2006 he led Israel into the Second Lebanon War this time against Hezbollah and the civilian population of southern Lebanon. Following Israel's poor performance in that war he emerged as a virtual lame duck prime minister with an approval rating of only three percent. In late 2008 he was forced to resign because of corruption allegations against him from his time as mayor of Jerusalem in the 1990s. Some of the charges proved to be politically motivated and he was acquitted of the worst allegations. But he did not emerge from the trial with his reputation intact, as this op-ed piece in the free newspaper Israel Hayom indicates.  This is the man that the Kadima Party is now pinning its hopes upon? 

After the collapse of Labor starting in late 2000, following the outbreak of the Al-Aksa Intifada in October, Kadima became the new hope of the Israeli Center-Left. The new hope of all those who supported a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Now it looks to receive less than 10 seats in the next Knesset. The Israeli Left should pin its hopes on the Labor Party and the strategy of its leader, Shelli Yachimovich. The Middle East is not yet ripe for peace. Labor should pin its future on other issues so that when the Middle East is ready, Labor and Israel will be ready as well.

Update: Chemi Shalev, the U.S. correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz, has reported in a briefing call with Americans for Peace Now that there is talk of Olmert heading up a Center-Left bloc consisting of Yair Lapid's new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, Kadima, and the Israeli Labor Party. Shalev said that nearly all Israeli journalists and political analysts are convinced that no one can stop Netanyahu from forming the next coalition government in January. Here is APN's analyst Yossi Alpher's take on the elections in his usual Q & A column for APN.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Nobel Peace Prize: What Does it say?

Many commentators, especially Europeans, have commented upon the award of the 2012 peace prize by the Nobel Committee in Oslo to the European Union. Here is one by former war correspondent, military historian, and defense expert Max Hastings.  I don't agree with many of the things that Max Hastings wrote about previous winners. Here is an op-ed piece in the Ottowa Citizen that is more in line with my thinking. The Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel who donated part of his fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes left only one criterion for awarding the price--that it should go to whomever did the most to create peace during that year. To my mind there are two categories of recipients who should have first call on peace prizes: those national leaders who make compromises in order for peace to be achieved and mediators who facilitate peace agreements.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

No peace for Syria; no peace process for Obama

This article by Tony Karon indicates that the war in Syria is at a stalemate, with the Sunni rebels lacking the heavy weapons to contest the planes and tanks of the regime in the cities. Those who can remember the civil war in Libya will remember the important role played by NATO air forces. NATO has no plans to get involved in Syria, which has a serious air defense system. Bashar al-Assad also did not support terrorism in Europe the way Muammar Kaddafi did. For Britain, France, and the U.S. intervention was a means of settling scores with an old foe and possibly deterring future terrorism by demonstrating that Western democracies have long memories. The only outside country showing any interest in getting involved militarily in Syria is Turkey, but the Turkish population is not up for the cost of a major war. Thus, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will have to limit himself to running refugee camps for Syrian refugees and supplying a few small arms and other aid. If he did intervene it would enhance the political role of the Turkish military, Erdogan's main domestic political foe. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

David McNarry's Exodus

Former Ulster Unionist MLA for Strongford David McNarry announced yesterday that he was "bringing national politics to Northern Ireland" by joining the fringe United Kingdom Independence Party. The UKIP is known for opposition to Britain's membership in the European Union and is opposed to Britain's open immigration policy. It has seats mostly at the local council level on the British mainland. UKIP claims to be the only British party to openly contest seats in Northern Ireland. Most parties in Northern Ireland are unique to that province and are not organized in either Britain or the Republic of Ireland, the notable exception being Sinn Fein. Although many have links to British parties and attend their party conferences and vise versa. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Is Mike Nesbitt ready for a Mid-Ulster By-Election?

Two days ago Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt announced that he was thinking about scrapping the position of deputy leader in the party. This was after he fired Deputy Leader John McCallister after McCallister publicly disagreed with the goal of unionist unity.  This follows the resignation of MLA and party veteran Ken Maginnis from the party after a public disagreement with Nesbitt over party policy towards homosexuals. And that followed upon earlier resignations. A refugee from one of those, David McNarry, has just announced that he is joining the UK Independence Party. Here a BBC story looks at the McCallister sacking and recent party controversies. The UUP is beginning to become a fair imitation of the party who couldn't shoot straight to paraphrase the name of an old Hollywood movie. Here Newsletter columnist Nick Garbutt defends John McCallister.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Is the UUP finally getting realistic?

The UUP held its annual conference this weekend and newly-minted leader Mike Nesbitt wanted to present a new face to the media. First, he spoke about the party going into the role of the official opposition if such a role were created within the consociational power-sharing structures that have been in place since 1999. Second, he declared the party to be non-sectarian and open to Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, and atheists alike. This is certainly a different party than that of Lord Brookeborough who spoke of a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people. But how much of a difference is this likely to make in the short term?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Israel's leading columnist declares that a two-state solution impossible

Last month, Nahum Barnea, Israel's leading columnist for the most-circulated newspaper Yediot Aharanot, announced that the settlers had won by making the Israeli de facto annexation of the West Bank irreversible. He is only the latest in a series of Palestinian and Israeli figures who have recently come to this conclusion. First, Sari Nusseibeh, who was one of the top organizers of the first Intifada in the late 1980s and a philosophy professor, announced this conclusion in a 2011 book entitled What is a Palestinian State Worth? Then taking his cue from this, Ha'Aretz blogger Carlos Stenger, a psychoanalyst by profession, concurred in Nusseibeh's judgement.  This is to be expected from a liberal like Strenger, but Barnea has a reputation as a centrist and a solid journalist who has received a number of journalism awards. Just google him.

Their argument is that the settlement grid has advanced so much and that Israel and the settlements are so intertwined that separation will be impossible. Israeli-American academic Ami Pehazur has a book out this month, The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right, in which he argues that the Radical Right is now mainstream and a two-state settlement is no longer possible. I agree with their conclusion but come at it from a different angle. The Al-Aksa Intifada in October 2000 was the tipping point in making the two main Center-Left parties of the Oslo era of the 1990s unviable as a governing coalition. Since 1992 these two parties have lost over three-fourths of their Knesset representation. This made champions of the two-state solution pin their hopes on the Kadima Party, created in November 2005 by Ariel Sharon. The party led a Center-Left coalition from 2006 to 2009, which failed to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians and was involved in two wars. The party is now in the process of contracting significantly. The Likud has finally replaced Mapai/Labor as the dominant party.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Among the Alawites

Here is a link to a post by Iraqi journalist Nir Rosen  that appeared in the London Review of Books on the future of the Alawites in Syria. During the Iraqi civil war he reported for Western agencies on the war. (From his name it is likely that he is a Jew, but he has never raised the issue in his reporting.) He tends to discount the idea of an Alawite enclave on the coast, an idea I've discussed here in the past. He does this for two reasons. First, the Alawites have in recent decades seen a pan-Arab/Syrian nationalist identity as their project and ticket to advancement. Second, the Mediterranean coast of western Syria populated by Alawite villages offers few employment opportunities and little infrastructure to maintain a modern state. So for Rosen the big question is what happens to the Alawites once the Assad regime is toppled and they lose a privileged place in Syrian society.  Do they go back to being the despised minority or are they allowed to integrate into the society and live like other Syrians? The answer to that depends upon the identity of the leaders that will emerge from the fighting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Splits in Assad Regime in Syria

Israel Hayom, the free Israeli newspaper financed by Sheldon Adelson, is reporting today that Bashar al-Assad's sister Bushra has fled Syria with her children out of fear of an internal coup. According to the story she left because she feared that her family would be the target of retribution if the coup were successful. Her husband, Deputy Chief of Staff Assef Shawkat, was killed several weeks ago by the Free Syrian Army.

If true, this would indicate that this might be the beginning of the end for the Assad regime. Recent weeks have seen a successful bombing within military headquarters in Damascus, the defection of Brigadier General al-Tlas, a prominent Sunni supporter of the regime and the son of Hafiz al-Assad's defense minister, Mustafa al-Tlas, and intensified fighting within the city of Aleppo.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dublin's role in IRA split now causing embarassment

A group of IRA victims organized by  unionist south Armagh activist Willie Frazer has been attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to get the Irish government to apologize for the the Kingsmills massacre in January 1976, when an IRA gang stopped a van full of workers and lined them up and shot them killing ten. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that terrible as it was, it was the work of the IRA and not Dublin. Kenny is the leader of the Fine Gael party, which never had any time for the IRA or violent republicanism. But the dominant Fianna Fail party was full of "sneaking regarders" (secret admirers) of the IRA such as former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, former Agriculture Minister (1966-70) Neil Blaney, and former Local Government Minister (1966-70) Kevin Boland who helped create the Provisional IRA in 1969-70.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Conflicted feelings of Israeli Palestinians

Israeli Arabs aka Israeli Palestinians or Palestinian Israelis have always had a complicated identity. They are the remaining remnant of Palestinians who did not leave or were not expelled when the state of Israel was created in 1948. And for most of their existence they have been the only Arabs in the Middle East with genuine democratic rights. So it might not be much of a stretch when the Israeli Democracy Institute's annual survey for 2012 found that although 74 percent of Israeli Arabs felt that they were being discriminated against, 45 percent were still proud of being Israeli. So for many of these 45 percent--at least 19 percent--there is a perception that even with discrimination it still pays to be an Israeli. I think we can thank the Arab Spring for this realization. Incidentally, 58 percent of Israeli Jews did not think that Arabs were discriminated against in Israel.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Is Ahmedinajad another Hitler?

For several years now it has been for the Israeli government and its American supporters the contention that President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad of Iran is the reincarnation of Hitler and Iran is another Nazi Germany. Having just finished reading the initial chapters of Ian Kershaw's Hitler Nemesis 1936-45 covering the 1936-39 period, I would like to review the main traits that Hitler exhibited in 1938 in dealing with Austria and Czechoslovakia:
  • Hitler was head of a great power with well-led armed forces equipped with modern weapons.
  • Hitler was a dictator with no real internal opposition after late 1937.
  • Hitler was convinced that he had a great personal mission of giving Germany lebensraum in the East through "the sword" and destroying the imaginary Jewish threat to Germany.
  • Hitler's health in 1939 was starting to go (largely because of his self medication with quack remedies) and he was convinced that he had little time left to him.
  • Hitler was a natural gambler with a high tolerance for risk.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How an Independent Votes

Often in the media political independents who do not vote consistently for one party or the other are presented as "low-information voters" who don't really follow politics and who make up their minds for whom to vote based on watching political ads or one or two debates. While that is true for many--and can even be defended as a rational allocation of time for a decision in which the individual voter has little influence, it is not how all independents operate. Many of us are civilly engaged and pay a great deal of attention to politics at one level or another, whether it is at the local, state or federal level.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Riots in Belfast: Nothing new under the sun

There was news in today's newspapers of rioting over the last two nights in North Belfast. This has been a regular periodic occurrence by both loyalists and dissident republicans or even Sinn Fein Republicans over the last two decades. Historians, in fact, record that riots have occurred in Belfast on a regular basis since the 1830s when sectarian conflicts between established Protestant and newly-arrived Catholic workers in the linen industry led to ethnic riots. Than in the period of the first troubles (1912-23) coinciding with the mobilization of the Ulster Volunteer Force as a Protestant paramilitary force with establishment backing, World War I and the Dublin Easter Rising in 1916, the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) and the Irish Civil War (1922-23) there were riots in Belfast as well. During the second troubles (1968-2002) rioting by youths egged on by their paramilitary elders became a regular occurrence. It was a way of enjoying some craic (fun--not to be confused with that other crack) with one's mates while fighting the "orange bastards" or the "fenian bastards." 

During the late 19th century industry in Belfast switched from the textile manufacturing to shipbuilding. Titanic was built in the Harland and Wolff shipyard before sinking in the ice fields of the North Atlantic off of Newfoundland. During the Home Rule crisis in 1912-14 Protestant workers violently forced Catholics out of the shipyards. Afterwards most Catholics preferred to go into other professions. In the late 20th century the Harland and Wolff shipyards drastically reduced the size of their workforce as the Royal Navy reduced its orders for ships and Asian shipyards became a cheaper alternative for building commercial vessels. This was one factor behind The Troubles as workers went on the dole and youths grew up spending their free time on the streets.  

During the peace process of the 1990s and 2000s loyalists perceived that violence had paid off for the Republicans as the British government was in the process of appeasing them with power sharing, jobs, and European money for projects. They reasoned that if it worked for the Republicans it should also work for the loyalists. The youths were encouraged by figures in the paramilitary organizations who wanted to protest pressure on them to decommission their weapons, and the release of IRA figure Sean Kelly who had been returned to prison for violating his release conditions under the Good Friday Agreement. As it was, the worst rioting in decades occurred in East Belfast and North Belfast the week before the IRA decommissioned in September 2005.

Earlier this year rioting occurred in republican ghettos in which dissident republicans were said to have been involved. Riots create a good atmosphere in which to stage ambushes of police dealing with rioters. Both dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries are heavily involved in organized crime selling drugs, extorting protection money from legitimate businesses in their communities and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Rioting can be a way of showing that they are not purely criminal organizations, but are also dedicated to the "cause." In a way these riots can also be an attempt to deal with local and provincial governments as they deal with business--pay us or else. 

Riots are also a symptom of the segregated existence that the two mainstream communities live in Northern Ireland. The city of Belfast and major towns like Derry are divided into a quilted patchwork of ethnic neighborhoods. Neighborhoods have been overwhelmingly of one ethnic flavor since loyalist mobs began driving Catholics out of mixed neighborhoods in Belfast in August 1969 and republican mobs retaliated against Protestants in Catholic neighborhoods. Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998--almost fifteen years ago--neighborhoods have grown even more segregated due to the violence that accompanied the peace process in the 1990s. A whole generation of working class youths has grown up without having met anyone of the other community. Schools have remained largely segregated with nationalists going to parochial schools run by the Church and unionists attending state schools. Only children of the middle and upper classes attend private integrated schools, and then usually only if their parents support either the nonsectarian Alliance Party or the moderate SDLP and UUP parties, which are themselves shrinking drastically. Unless mixed schools are introduced for the working class these ethnic riots will likely continue for another 150 years.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Critical mass and the UUP

While in America we can see the usual cycle as political parties decline, go into opposition and then renew themselves in opposition before regaining power--a cycle that is played out throughout the West and the wider democratic world, in Northern Ireland a different process is at work. This is illustrated by the present crisis that the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) finds itself in as it loses a former contender for the office of party leader, Ken Maginnis, who is also the leader of its largest constituency in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Maginnis represented the UUP at Westminster for 18 years until he retired in 2003 to remain merely a councillor.

I have a particular interest in Maginnis because he represents unionism's sole example of the native-fighter politician i.e. the Indian fighter in America's 19th century, the African fighter in the volksraade of the Boer Republics in the late 19th century in South Africa, and the numerous generals in the Israeli Knesset since 1948. Maginnis was only a major in the Ulster Defence Regiment, the large home defense regiment of citizen soldiers who were on the frontlines of The Troubles and were the most vulnerable of the British security forces because they could targeted while off duty.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Romney's Foreign Policy

Obama's success in killing Osama Bin Laden, pursuing the war against Al Qaeda and ending the war in Iraq while preparing for an exit from Afghanistan has left the Republicans with few opportunities to criticize him on foreign policy grounds. This combined with unemployment stuck at over eight percent and record high deficits has meant that Romney has kept his campaign focused on economics. But because it is their job, foreign policy and security/defense writers have written articles speculating about Romney's likely foreign policy if he were to be elected. Several have been featured at RealClearWorld, because this is their job.

Take for instance this article from Foreign Policy by Jacob Heilbron. Sunday there was an article from Joe Klein of Time speculating on Romney's real foreign policy tendencies. And before that from a month ago an article from the American Interest by Walter Russell Mead on Romney's foreign policy address.There was also an earlier Mead (?) article on American foreign policy since World War I that unfortunately I can't find. But don't expect to find any foreign policy talk at the GOP Convention this week--that might scare off the voters or worse, send them to Obama.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The many ideologies of Greater Syria!

In Ecclesiastes it is written that there is nothing new under the sun. This certainly seems to apply to ideology in the Middle East. Ed Husain writes at National Review Online (reposted at RealClearWorld) that the Al-Qaeda jihadis in Syria are now promoting the concept of Bilad al-Sham literally the country of the North (al-Sham is also another term for Damascus) or Greater Syria. Bilad al-Sham consists of all the countries of the Levant and the interior behind them: Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Husain writes that Syria could wind up as Al-Qaeda's first Sunni Arab base in the Middle East if they are successful. 

It was first promoted as an ideology by King Abdullah I of Transjordan who dreamed of creating a Greater Syria under his control and so began by conquering the West Bank during the 1948 war and adding it to the East Bank to form the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This was after he made a pact with the Israeli government through Golda Meir, who traveled to Amman in disguise to meet with him. Journalist Sandra Mackey wrote in Passion and Politics that there was a joke in Amman that Abdullah's one-eyed cat would yawn every time he mentioned Greater Syria or Bilad al-Sham (maybe the cat like the Hashemite monarchs was bilingual).  He never got any further than that and the concept went out of favor with his grandson King Hussein, who did not want to alarm his Western patrons or Israel.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Big Four without the UUP?

Traditionally Northern Ireland/Ulster party politics has been described in terms of the Big Four since the early 1980s thirty years ago: the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionists (DUP), the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Fein. The first three had been active at least since the early 1970s; the UUP had been active since before World War I and had been the ruling party from 1922 to 1972 when London initiated direct rule. 

The UUP traditionally represented the interests of the wealthy upper class in Northern Ireland: the landed gentry and the manufacturers. In 1969-71 they were suddenly challenged from two directions at once. First, by the Alliance Party in April 1970, which had started out a year before as a pressure group pushing for more liberal and inclusive policies that would take into account the interests of the nationalist population, and from Ian Paisley's Protestant Unionist Party, which was opposed to that very inclusiveness and wanted that traditional unionist rule but with a fundamentalist Evangelical fervor. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

A new deal for Northern Ireland?

When the Good Friday Agreement aka Belfast Agreement was negotiated in April 1998 the emphasis was on getting the various paramilitary organizations to give up their weapons in exchange for a share of power in provincial and local government in Northern Ireland. Small parties, like the loyalist Ulster Democratic Party and the Progressive Unionist Party that represented the loyalist paramilitaries UDA and UVF respectively, were over-represented in the 1996 election that served to create the parties to the talks. The idea was to be as inclusive as possible. Now five years after the agreement was finally bedded down in 2007, many residents of Northern Ireland think that the agreement created an inefficient monster. The only real changes to the agreement were made in late 2006 at the resort of St. Andrews in eastern Scotland in order to allow the Democratic Unionist Party to claim it was signing up to a new agreement, but this was mere tinkering.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two views on chances of Israeli strike against Iran

There were two interesting articles today about the chances of an Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear infrastructure in the fall. First, is Yossi Alpher's weekly Q&A column for Americans for Peace Now. His column this week concentrates on the chances of such an attack occurring this fall.  Alpher is a former senior regional political analyst for the Israeli Mossad and a political advisor to Ehud Barak.

Next is an article in the blog of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, reprinted here in the Proliferation News electronic newsletter. Both list several reasons why an attack could come this fall, but neither is willing to hazard a prediction of whether or not such an attack will occur.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is Israel's Second Republic Like France's Third Republic

George Friedman of Stratfor, the private intelligence firm for the private sector, had a piece today looking at Israel's present strategic environment and possible future trends. Friedman, the company's founder, usually pens the company's articles on Israel.  Part of Stratfor's approach is usually to conduct analysis at the nation-state level rather than at the internal party or individual level except when dealing with civil wars/insurgencies.

Monday, August 13, 2012

An Egyptian coup?

After Mohammad al-Morsi won the election to be Egypt's first elected ruler in a real election, Egyptian military Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) carried out a coup by stripping him of power by essentially making the presidency a figurehead in a military government equivalent to the queen of England. This week al-Morsi pushed back by sacking the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein al-Tantawi, and the Egyptian chief of staff, General Sami Annan. He replaced them with his own candidates.  Here is a link to an article from The Daily Beast on the latest power struggle. 

It may be quite some time before it is clear who holds real power in Cairo. After all, following the July 1952 Free Officers coup in Egypt it took two years before Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser emerged from behind the curtains to take real power from a general who was a hero of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence or an Nakba (the catastrophe) as the Arabs referred to it. Don't expect any Israeli government to make any peace moves on any track until it is clear how things stand in Egypt.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Eric Margolis--Wrong from the first sentence

Eric S. Margolis had an opinion piece recently that was wrong from the first sentence. It starts out speaking of the "Polish Zionist ideologue Vladimir Jabotinsky." Jabotinsky was born in Odessa in what is today the Ukraine and was Russian and Jewish by culture, not Polish. He seems to be confusing Jabotinsky with Begin, who claims to have been Jabotinsky's disciple but in many ways deviated from the teachings of the founder of Revisionist Zionism.

Later on he writes of Syria being as close to Russia "as northern Mexico is to the United States." Northern Mexico borders the United States from California to Texas. Syria borders on Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey but not on Russia. Maybe he was thinking of Guatemala instead. Or maybe he thinks that Russia has a problem with illegal Syrian immigrants.  He writes, "As a veteran correspondent...who has covered Syria since 1975..." Apparently that coverage didn't include what countries it borders on or maybe he needs a refresher in the geography of the Western Hemisphere.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Grading Obama's Foreign Policy

Here is a link to a review from the New York Review of Books that reviews new books by David Sanger and James Maan (author of Rise of the Vulcans on the Bush 43 administration) on the Obama administration's foreign policy. Sanger gives Obama a B +, the reviewer thinks that he is being stingy and too strict a grader. I think B+ is about right, with the stipulation that no president since Eisenhower has merited an A. (Carter probably merited an A- for the Panama Canal treaty, Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, upgrade of ties with China, handling of the Rhodesian peace process and mishandling of the Iran rescue attempt in 1980 and leaving the embassy staff in Tehran to be kidnapped after a previous temporary takeover of the embassy.) I am also a tough grader and regularly failed to vote for reelection of presidents whom I'd voted for in the first place because of their foreign policy. Obama will be the first president that I'll vote for twice since Reagan. I hope that he has a better second term than Reagan did.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Second major Sunni figure defects from Assad's regime

Two days ago the Syrian prime minister,   Riad al-Hijab, a Sunni, defected to Jordan with a number of aides and a pilot. He had only been in office for two months and was not a key figure in the regime but was one of the few remaining figures from the Sunni majority as opposed to one of the religious minorities such as Alawites, from which the ruling Assad family comes, or Christians. Here is a link to an article on the defection from the Washington Post.  This of course led to speculation about whom would be next to leap. But how will the defection affect the Assad regime's hold on power?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Evidence for notion of Siege Democracies

This post by Ralph Seliger at Partners for a Progressive Israel (formerly MeretzUSA) is in response to a post by Ha'Aretz blogger psychiatrist Carlos Strenger in his blog Strenger Than Fiction. Both posit the notion that a combination of events and demographics have moved Israel's political system to the right since 2000 and the start of the Al-Aksa Intifada.  Here is the link to Seliger's post. It is in line with my previous claims that both Israel and Northern Ireland are siege democracies.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Were Romney's remarks in Israel a gaffe? And were they true?

Romney's trip abroad has gotten much more coverage than he and his top planners probably thought it would. But working off of the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity (which is definitely not true for presidential candidates, at least those who are nominees of major parties), possibly it was intended this way. While Romney's remarks about the Olympics in London were possibly clumsy, they are unlikely to lose him votes in America. The same can be said of his remarks in Israel that culture was responsible for the difference between the Israeli GDP and the Palestinian GDP. But is the last remark true?

Monday, July 30, 2012

New IRA merger doesn't increast threat say experts

On Thursday dissident Republican activists in Northern Ireland announced the creation of a new organization that they are calling the IRA from the merger of three smaller organizations: the Real IRA, the largest of the various dissident groups; Republican Action Against Drugs, a republican vigilante group in Derry; and a group of independent republican activists who have carried out a number of terror attacks in the last decade.  But most analysts seem to feel that by centralizing the new group simply presents a juicier target for counter-intelligence efforts. Why is this?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Must peacemakers love Israel?

Aaron David Miller, a respected State Dept. Middle East veteran recently wrote a column for Real Clear Politics in which he predicted a tumultuous second term for the Israel-U.S. relationship if Obama is reelected. He referred back to another column, this time for the LA Times in which he noted that Obama had an emotionless relationship with the Jewish state. 

But is a close emotional tie with Israel necessarily beneficial for a president who wants to play mediator? Let's examine the historical record of presidents since Nixon became involved in the Mideast peacemaking business (or is a racket?) in 1969.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Not the "Beginning of the End, but the end of the beginning" in Syria

Israeli Arabist/Mizrakhan Barry Rubin only a few short months ago pooh-poohed any talk of Assad being overthrown. Rubin was not a great friend of the Assad regime. In his book The Truth About Syria he claimed that Hafiz al-Assad in addition to being a brutal dictator never wanted peace with Israel. He has now conceded that his overthrow is a distinct possibility.  If it occurs, it will have ramifications for its neighbors and internally as well. Rubin deals with the internal ramifications. Dov Zackheim a former senior defense official in the Bush 43 administration, discusses the effects on Iraq. Mainly he links it to the fortunes of senior Shia politician Nouri al-Maliki, who became one of the most successful Iraqi politicians after the fall of Saddam. Here is an opinion piece by Thomas Friedman comparing Syria to Iraq. I think it is safe to say that it is meant as a warning.

Romney is now behaving like a typical politician and being wise after the fact. He and his acolytes are criticizing Obama for not being more involved in calling for Assad's fall. Expect this to be about as sophisticated as the foreign policy discussion will get over the next few months. Romney has decided to stay on message and his message is the economy and jobs. Everything else for him is a distraction.

I'm not a fan of intervening in internal Arab power struggles for several reasons. First, we usually lack the detailed knowledge of the players to be able to make meaningful predictions about both their chances of success and their policies once they get in power. Second, we have a tendency to see Arab culture, which is a very different culture from Western culture--at best like Western medieval culture overlaid with the non-democratic regimes of Central and Eastern Europe from the mid-20th century, and expect outcomes based on Western values and rules of the game rather than on indigenous ones. Third, we have few real interests tying us to these countries. Our main interest is the flow of oil, which is also in the interest of the rulers in the region. In 2002-03 I supported the war in Iraq because I believed that Saddam Hussein, based on his actions, possessed chemical and possibly biological weapons. I also expected the Bush administration to devote proper resources to the war and not try to win it on the cheap. They learned nothing from Hitler's mistakes nor from Vietnam.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kadima begins to disintegrate

Yesterday it was announced that former Justice Minister Tzakhi Hanegbi is leading a group of seven Kadima MKs back into the Likud. Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised them bribes in the form of offices. These bribes will be expensive, but Netanyahu probably figures that it will be worth the cost--which is being footed by the taxpayers--in order to destroy Kadima before the next elections. Netanyahu has been plotting the destruction of the party and attempting to arrange just such a major defection at least since the end of 2009 when rumors first surfaced in the Israeli press.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Death of Syria, Death of Pan-Arabism?

With last week's bombing at the National Security Headquarters in Damascus that killed four leading figures in the Ba'athist regime, many commentators and other observers are now writing the obituary for the House of Assad that began 42 years ago this November. While I would be very worried if I were sitting in the presidential palace in Damascus, the regime is not necessarily over yet. The Islamic Republic of Iran, Syria's patron, suffered various grievous attacks from the Mujahideen al-Khalk (People's Holy Warriors and the Fedayeen al-Khalk (People's Sacrificers) during its first two years in power before it turned the corner.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Old coaliton, new elections?

It was announced by Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz yesterday that he was pulling out of the coaliton after Prime Minister Netanyahu caved in to the ultra-Orthodox parties and rejected the findings of the Plesner Commission on military service. When Mofaz agreed to go into the coalition just over two months ago it was for the purpose of finding a solution to draft dodging by the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) section and to implement electoral reform. The two issues are related. It is Israel's present proportional representation list system with its low (2%) entry barrier that allows the ultra-Orthodox to blackmail those mainstream secular parties competing to form the government into giving their voters special status. When Kadima entered the coalition the Knesset was debating a bill for new elections.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obama's Second Term and the Peace Process

Back in 1986 William Quandt, who had served as Jimmy Carter's Middle East specialist on the National Security Council, wrote in his book Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics that presidents have basically five years to work on Middle East peace, provided that they are reelected. In their first term presidents spend the first term acquiring expertise about the area and learning the ropes and their last year running for reelection. In their second term--for those lucky enough to have one--they have the first three years because in their last year they are a lame duck. Quandt based his calculations on his experience in the Carter administration and his academic observations of the Johnson and Nixon-Ford administrations. I agreed with this when I read it and I still do some 26 years later. Obama has already used up his first two of five years. What will he do in his remaining three?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Every July Twelfth is 1969 in Northern Ireland

Every summer in Northern Ireland is the marching season when the three main Protestant marching orders (the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys, the Royal Black Institution) hold parades  to commemorate important events from the past. The most important of those three orders by far is the Orange Order (every Northern Ireland premier between 1922 and 1972 was a member) and the most important parade is held annually on July 12th to commemorate King William of Orange's victory over the forces of King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 that guaranteed Protestantism in the United Kingdom and also kept Catholicism as a minority religion. The Orange Order was founded in 1795 to fight the Defenders, a Catholic organization, for control of areas in Ulster. What happens on the Twelfth is a good barometer of the atmospherics in the peace process and ethnic relations in the province.

Netanyahu's True Views Revealed

Last week a committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Levy Committee, to look into the future of the West Bank made its recommendation. Not surprisingly considering the composition of the governing coalition made up mainly of parties from the secular Right and religious Right, the committee did not recommend either leaving the territory or ending settlement, but rather argued that the occupation does not exist. This was straight out of Neo-Revisionist ideology. The argument is that because Israel conquered Judea and Samaria i.e. the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 and only two countries (Britain and Pakistan) had recognized Jordan's annexation of the West Bank in 1950, then Israel has as much right to the West Bank as the Palestinians who rejected the 1947 partition plan. The trouble with this logic is if one thief steals from another thief that does not make him the legal owner under the law.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The War of 1812

The War of 1812 was also known as the Second War of Independence and last week we celebrated the bicentennial of the start of it. It is largely a forgotten war today for the two main belligerents, the United States and Great Britain. It is forgotten in the U.S. because it achieved little--the peace basically restored the status quo ante. It is forgotten in Britain because it was a sideshow, in entertainment parlance a spinoff, of the Napoleonic wars that were the main action. Only in Canada, where it was partly fought, is it remembered today. This is for several reasons. First, it is the last major war to be fought on Canadian soil. Second, the war also ensured that Canada would not be swallowed up by its southern neighbor. 

The war did have several important effects for the young American republic. First, it led to the destruction of the last Indian coalition capable of limiting the growth of the Republic--at the Battle of the Thames on Lake Ontario in October 1813. The Treaty of Ghent basically abandoned the North American Indians to the settlers. Second, because the Federalist Party was centered in New England, which was opposed to the war, it led to the destruction of that party and the end of the First Party System. There was approximately a decade of pause until the start of the Second Party System as the Republican Party split into opposing factions in 1825--the National Republicans, later to become the Whigs, and the Democratic Republicans who became the Democrats.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The New Israeli National Unity Government

About two weeks ago I was getting ready to do a post about the upcoming early Israeli elections in Israel. All the pundits had decided that Netanyahu would go to the polls in September--some even mentioning September 4 as the date. Several even attributed this to a decision by Bibi and Barak to strike Iran before the American election in early November. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the election...As a bill to dissolve the Knesset and set a date for new elections had passed its first of three mandatory "readings" or votes in the Knesset, things suddenly began to slow down as Kadima members began to delay. Behind the scenes new Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz was negotiating a new coalition government with Netanyahu that would delay elections possibly until they were required by law in mid-2013. The new government was announced as ostensibly being motivated by the need to pass a new law on national service for the ultra-Orthodox and by the need to pass electoral reform. But what really motivated the two main protagonists and what are the chances of their proclaimed agenda being enacted?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Future of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

Alliance Party leader David Ford opened a new political can of worms when he attacked the sectarian politics of the province at his party's general assembly this weekend. This is an old theme with the party, which was founded in order to end sectarian politics.  Although the bulk of Ford's criticism was directed at the ruling duopoly of the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, it was the other two Big Four parties, the Ulster Unionists (UUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), that reacted most fiercely to the criticism. Why is this?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is Shaul Mofaz for Real?

Last week the Partners for a Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA) blog reposted a NY Times Profile of new Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who decisively defeated Tzipi Livni the former leader in the leadership primary at the end of March. Mofaz appeared much more dovish than one would expect for a former West Bank settler and former Likud defense minister.

Mofaz appeared to be attempting to paper over the disagreements between himself and Livni before the election. Whether this is because he wants to lead a Center party that is sincerely in favor of a two-state solution or merely wants to increase the value of his stock before he enters into merger or coalition negotiations with Netanyahu is anyone's guess. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Synthetic Liberal Zionism

Last week I picked up a 1985 biography of Zionist leader Haim (traditionally spelled Chaim but pronounced Khaim) Weizmann covering his early period as a Zionist leader up to the outbreak of World War I. I read it with one eye on the past and one eye on the present and future--looking for what Weizmann could teach me about leadership and policy.

Weizmann was a young man when Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, first emerged on the scene as a charismatic savior for Eastern Jewry in 1895. Weizmann joined the new Zionist movement and soon emerged as the first internal Zionist opposition leader to Herzl while he was a leader of Russian Jewish students in Central Europe. He founded the Democratic Faction, which unfortunately soon collapsed because of a lack of common ideology and policy. Weizmann sided with the Russian Zionist opposition to Herzl in the Uganda controversy of 1903-04 when Herzl proposed that the Zionists accept a British offer to settle Jews in British East Africa (today's Kenya) as a "night shelter" to avoid any more being killed and injured in pogroms in Russia. Weizmann sympathized with Herzl's reasons for accepting the British offer, but realized that lacking his own base he would have to settle with the Russian Zionists who opposed the offer. By the time of Herzl's premature death from a heart attack in July 1904 Britain was in the process of withdrawing the offer due to opposition from white settlers already within the colony.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mike Nesbitt elected new Ulster Unionist leader by 80% margin

Saturday evening former Ulster Television anchor Mike Nesbitt was elected the new Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader over farmer John McCallister by a margin of 407 votes out of a total of 665: 536 to 129. That computes to roughly 80 percent to 20 percent, a larger margin than most had predicted. Nesbitt had neutralized his opponent's call for the party to go into opposition by calling for a committee to investigate the issue to be chaired by McCallister.  But the real thing that Nesbitt had going for himself was name recognition--probably the most crucial factor in politics. As a former news anchor/presenter he was well known to party members where McCallister was not, particularly east of the Bann River. Nesbitt's first challenge will be to stop the rot by deciding on a clear course of action for the party and an identity that the party has lacked since the rival Democratic Unionists stole the UUP's policies in 2006.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tzipi Livni: The Latest Great Western Hope

Tzipi Livni was best friends forever with Secretary of State Condi Rice during the second Bush term and appeared on many lists of influential women. Tzipi Livni, the former leader of Kadima, was the latest but not the last of a string of Great Western Hopes in Israel who are more loved in America and Europe than in their own country. They are polyglot and erudite men and woman known for their reasonableness and learning. They explain Israel to the world and attempt to explain the world to Israel. All have been foreign ministers at one time or another and two have been prime ministers and a third--Livni--nearly became prime minister.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shaul Mofaz decisively beats Tzipi Livni in Kadima Primary

At about midnight Israel time this morning with about 90 percent of the vote returned, challenger Shaul Mofaz had beaten incumbent leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party in Israel by a margin of 62 to 38 percent--the same margin by which Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972. There was a turnout of about 45 percent for the internal election indicating that many who had voted for the party in 2009 had abandoned it. Mofaz, who emigrated from Iran as a boy in the 1950s served as chief of staff of the IDF and then as Likud defense minister under Ariel Sharon. Initially when Sharon bolted the Likud to form Kadima, Mofaz remained behind in the Likud but then was persuaded by Sharon to follow. Tzipi Livni, who served as Kadima foreign minister under Ehud Olmert from 2006 to 2008 before becoming party leader, has not indicated what she will do now. Mofaz called on her to remain in the party. But many have speculated that she will either withdraw from politics entirely or form a new party with Ehud Barak's Atzmaut (Independence) faction.  This is because both Kadima and Atzmaut are parties without developed ideologies. Both Mofaz and the media were very hard on Livni for failing to form a governing coalition in late 2008, which forced elections, and then for refusing to join Netanyahu's ruling coalition. There was also speculation that Mofaz might return to the Likud if he lost his second bid for the party leadership.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

J Street, Post-Zionism and the Two-State Solution

This weekend J Street, the liberal Zionist pro-peace lobby, will be holding its third conference since its founding in 2008. In 2009 it attracted 1500 people to its first conference, this expanded to over 2,000 at its second conference last year, and it is expected to have over 2500 attendees for its third conference. This has worried the Zionist Right in America, aligned behind the dominant Likud Party and the other parties of the ruling coalition. They have been very inventive in the ways they attack it, which mainly amounts to guilt by association and obfuscation.  But J Street may not be much of a threat to their Greater Israel project.

Bertie Ahern to be expelled from Fianna Fail?

There were two stories of interest today in Irish Central's Newshound site dedicated to Northern Ireland politics. One is that an official Irish commission, the Mahon Commission, has found that former Taoiseach (Prime Minister pronounced teeshuck) Bertie Ahern, was less than honest about the source of his wealth. The other is that his party that he led to victory three times (1997, 2002, 2007) as the most successful party leader since Eamon de Valera, the party's founder, is seeking to expel him for corruption. Ahern collaborated with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in bringing peace to Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2007. Stephen Collins, the Irish Times political reporter and the author of a very good book on Fianna Fail from the 1970s to 2000 as well as a biography of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, writes that expelling Ahern will be the easy part for the party. It will be much harder for the party to recover its reputation that it lost as a result of the economic collapse in 2010. A disclosure, two years ago I was researching Fianna Fail for a project to compare it with Israel's Likud Party. I turned to Collins to advise me on bibliography.

For observers of Irish politics what happens to Fianna Fail is of great interest. It should, however, also be of interest to those interested in the future of the Middle East peace process. Here is why.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ulster Unionist Race is a Two-Man Contest

I was wrong--or at least premature--when I said in my last post that the Ulster Unionist Party leadership contest would be a three-man race involving Danny Kennedy, Mike Nesbitt, and John McCallister. Kennedy announced on Friday that he would not be filing nomination papers for the position and would instead be backing Mike Nesbitt. Nominations for the race closed yesterday with only McCallister and Nesbitt having filed. The former UTV anchor/presenter has emerged as the establishment choice for the leadership with backing by three out of four UUP lairds (UUP members elevated to the House of Lords) including former liberal faction leader Ken Maginnis, now Lord Maginnis, and former Good Friday Agreement skeptic John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney. Because former party leader David Trimble is now a Conservative peer, he is not among the four lairds. Nesbitt has also been endorsed by the Belfast Telegraph, the paper of the unionist establishment. 

Kennedy's main aim was to protect his ministerial position in the Executive, which was threatened by McCallister's call for the UUP to form the opposition. Kennedy is not a personality who relishes confrontation and so was happy to make an implicit deal with Nesbitt, after having been approached by a number of party figures, under which he will keep his ministry and Nesbitt will get the leadership. Had Kennedy remained in the race he would have risked splitting the non-liberal vote within the party and throwing the election to McCallister and thereby losing his ministerial position in the long run.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The UUP Leadership Contest

It is official--there are three candidates to fill Tom Elliott's shoes as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in Northern Ireland. They are: Deputy Party Leader John McCallister; Rural Development Minister and MLA David Kennedy; and MLA Mike Nesbitt, a former UTV anchor/presenter.  McCallister leads the liberal wing of the party and is being supported by his friend Basil McCrea who lost to Elliott in the previous leadership election in September 2010. The election will be at the end of the month.

Traditionally liberal candidates have not done well in UUP leadership elections. The last closest thing to a liberal was Terence O'Neill who resigned as prime minister in April 1969 at the start of The Troubles. Typically the right wing reactionaries also do not prevail in the UUP, although Lord Brookeborough who was prime minister for twenty years from 1943 to 1963 would fit that category. Bill Craig, the leader of the Vanguard paramilitary movement and faction within the UUP failed to win the election to succeed O'Neill in 1969 and the election to succeed the successor, Robin Chichester--O'Neill's cousin, in 1971.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Ulster Unionist Party's Leadership Problems

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Tom Elliott announced Thursday evening that he would be stepping down at the end of the month as party leader. Elliott was elected after the general election in mid-2010 after the resignation of former leader Reg Empey, who had been leader for five years. Empey resigned because the merger with the mainland Conservative Party under the label of Ulster Conservatives and Unionists--New Force  cost the UUP its only remaining MP, Sylvia Hermon, who identified more with the British Labour Party than with the Tories. The party lost a number of its voters either because they didn't like the Tories, or because faced with a new party name they opted for the more familiar label of the rival Democratic Unionists (DUP).  The same thing had occurred in South Africa in the mid-1970s when the venerable United Party gave up its familiar name after merging with a paper party. Many voters in Natal, its heartland, defected to the rival ruling National Party. The New Republic Party lasted for less than eleven years before it went out of business.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kadima: The Problems

This weekend, Ha'Aretz ran an interview with Kadima and opposition leader Tzipi Livni that revealed many of the problems present in the party. What it reveals is a party with no defining or uniting ideology and a party leader so scared of losing her leadership position that she is unwilling to defend any vision for the party. She was afraid to denounce undemocratic initiatives that threatened the basic foundations of democracy in Israel. And according to the interviewer polls indicate that if elections were held today, half of the party's 2009 voters would vote for other parties. This would make Kadima a medium-sized party comparable in size to Avigdor Leibermann's Israel Beitenu party or to Labor. And there is clear fear that if she loses the leadership and former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz becomes party leader that he will return the party to the Likud after breaking it up. Mofaz emerges from the interview as the typical Israeli general politician--interested in holding a ministry in the government whatever its ideology and makeup, not interested in ideology and with no real vision, in other words a security technocrat.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kadima: Last Hope for the Two-State Solution?

Kadima has announced that it will hold primary elections for leader on March 27--about eight weeks from now--in anticipation of an Israeli general election in late 2012 or early 2013. Kadima is the centrist party that supporters of the two-state solution have pinned their hopes on since it was founded in November 2005. Since the June 1992 election that brought Rabin to power, Labor and Meretz have both lost three-fourths of their Knesset representation. But the creation of Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset by one seat, leaves the hope that there is a party that can replace Labor and serve as an anchor for a center-left peace coalition as an alternative to the Right.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The DUP Moves to Consolidate

Two items of recent interest in Northern Ireland. First, the DUP and Sinn Fein got together and agreed to abolish the one department controlled by Alliance in the Executive, as of right. Presently Alliance controls two departments, Employment and Learning (DEL) and Justice, with the first being on the basis of the d'Hondt distribution and the second because when Justice was devolved to Northern Ireland the Big Two could only trust giving it to Alliance. Employment and Learning has been divided between two other departments (Education, probably Regional Development). Both the UUP and the SDLP only have a single ministry and they both have many more Assembly members (MLAs) and councillors than Alliance.

Now Justice Minister and Alliance leader David Ford is seeking a guarantee from the Big Two that his ministry will remain in Alliance hands for the remainder of this Assembly's life. This may seem like he is going a tad too far. But it should be remembered that the first time that Alliance was in a power-sharing government, back in 1974, the DUP and the Shinners--or rather the armed wing of the Republican Movement (as the Republicans refer to it or SF/IRA as the unionists refer to it)-- de facto colluded to bring down that government. The IRA went on a bombing offensive and the three main unionist parties cooperated with the Loyalist Association of Workers to bring down the government through a general strike. Former UUP leaderDavid Trimble and his former IRA advisor Sean O'Callaghan used to reminisce about how they both operated against the power-sharing government of 1974. So it may be natural on Ford's part to doubt the veracity and good intentions of the Big Two.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Predictions for the Middle East and Irish Politics

After years of amusing myself by watching the pundits having their ignorance played back to them on Nightline and in rival press columns, I am publicly putting my predictions forward. As my crystal ball has been in the shop for decades I claim no special insight into the future. My predictions are based only on the future being like the recent past and present.

One, Netanyahu will call elections this year and will emerge as prime minister again. Whether he calls them before attacking Iran in order to gain a popular mandate for such an action or after is anyone's guess. I'm guessing that being cautious he will be reelected then move to attack Iran.

Two, continued Islamist victories in Arab Spring elections in Egypt and elsewhere will make Israel more cautious than ever (except towards Iran) and make Hamas and Hezbollah provocative.

Three, Egypt will attempt to unilaterally alter the peace treaty with Israel by ending diplomatic relations.

Ranking Israel's Prime Ministers

As an American centrist who in Israel would be considered a leftist (which shows how far to the Right Israel's democracy is), I will now rank Israel's prime ministers. I rank them primarily on their contributions to Israeli security and to peace with Israel's neighbors, but also on their contributions to Israeli democracy. I will not rank those prime ministers whose term in office was less than two years, as less than half a term is too little to fairly judge a prime minister by.

First, David Ben-Gurion (1948-1954, 1955-63)  Ben-Gurion had the historic understanding of his environment, of what history demanded and of timing to build the framework for a state during the 1930s and 1940s as head of the Jewish Agency. He then managed to divorce the Jewish Yishuv from Britain in 1945, without provoking a fatal reaction. He conducted a victorious war strategy in 1948-49 after having wisely accepted the UN partition plan. Later he built an alliance with France to replace the British connection. I could write a column about all of his faults, but in the largest matters he was correct.