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?
Monday, September 24, 2012
Friday, September 21, 2012
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.