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

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?