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

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.