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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What to call Basil's New Party?

Now that it has been officially announced that Basil McCrea and John McCallister, the two rebel former Ulster Unionists and former unsuccessful UUP leadership candidates, will be forming their own party, I offer this blogpost as an open strategy memo to the two.

The two of you have three main tasks between now and the official launch of your party. First, you must decide on a name. This will presumably reflect the party's identity as both non-sectarian and pro-union. The BBC headline announcing your decision illustrates the dilemma that you face. It said that you weren't just forming a new party, but a new "unionist party." To any nationalist voter this means automatically that you are not non-sectarian, but sectarian--the mirror image of the SDLP. (If you don't believe me think of a splinter party from the SDLP that described itself as a "non-sectarian nationalist" party.) You can declare yourself to be pro-union all you want as long as you don't have unionist in the name. That means that you should concentrate on your ideological message: something with either liberal or progressive in the name. But the PUP may have spoiled the label progressive as much as the existing unionist parties have spoiled the label unionist. I suggest you take a hint from the English-speaking "white" colonies in Southern Africa. In 1910 when a group of moderate Afrikaner parties came together to form a moderate Afrikaner nationalist party they called it the South Africa Party. This became the ruling party and then as the United Party the official opposition to the National Party, which invented apartheid. In Rhodesia in 1974 when a new moderate party was formed in opposition to the pro-apartheid Rhodesian Front party of Ian Smith, it called itself simply the Rhodesia Party. I suggest you call yourselves simply the Northern Ireland Party. This name will suggest that you are pro-union without all the negative connotations for nationalists of either the words unionist or Ulster. An alternate name is the Liberal Party or the Liberal Party of Northern Ireland. One of the predecessor parties to the Alliance Party was the Ulster Liberal Party, which relied on the corporate vote at Queen's University.

Second, I suggest you come to a de facto strategic agreement with the PUP and TUV to stay out of their areas if they will stay out of your core area. This is in order not to waste votes. Each of these other parties is competitive in only one or two constituencies. The Assembly with six seats in each constituency can support a maximum of six parties in any single constituency. The more realistic figure is five or even four. There are already five well-established parties and you will be competing for that last slot. Ideologically your logical competitors are the UUP, Alliance, and PUP. If you agree to stay out of East Belfast and North Belfast you should be able to neutralize the PUP so that you can concentrate on the UUP and Alliance. You must then decide on which districts to spend your limited resources in contesting. This should be based on your existing presence, the seats that the UUP is weakest in and Alliance has done well in. But you are in a better position to judge this for yourselves than I am.

Your third task is to come up with a party platform stressing your ideological positioning and innovative ideas. You might want to imitate Sinn Fein and steal boldly from Alliance or the PUP as the Shinners have stolen from the SDLP. But your positions should reflect your identity: pro-union and non-sectarian. I imagine it will be a mixture of the ideology of the PUP--without the paramilitary connection--and Alliance, something that will appeal to both working-class and middle-class unionists and pro-Union Catholics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Syria's Future

Two articles that were on Real Clear World yesterday suggest that Syria's war will be long. The first in Time by Rania Abouzeid is the story of a group of rebels. In it one speaks of an upcoming civil war among the rebel factions once the Assad regime is disposed of. This suggests a future like that of Afghanistan following the jihad against the Soviet occupation, or Somalia after the fall of the Siad Barre regime in the late 1980s. Both countries essentially became failed states leading to the situation where the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, inviting in Al Qaeda leading to the present war between the United States and its allies and the Taliban.

The second is an article by former Time Middle East correspondent Tony Karon in the UAE The National. In it Karon makes the argument that Washington should intervene in the unfolding civil war, but not necessarily militarily as so many are urging in Washington and the Arab world. Instead Karon argues that Washington should help mediate a solution to the present civil war as he sees neither side having the power to prevail. This creates a situation of inertia, which in turn leads to an ever higher death toll, more physical destruction, and the destruction of the country politically as different sectarian groups are pitted against one another either in support of or in opposition to the ruling regime.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Iranian and North Korean nuclear cooperation?

Conservative journalist (specializing in the Middle East) Lee Smith last week raised the possibility that Iran and North Korea have a technological partnership or alliance in developing nuclear weapons and  missile technology as well.  He compared it to the Anglo-American nuclear cooperation agreement that called for American testing of joint designs. Smith thinks that North Korea in its recent nuclear test may have actually been testing an Iranian or joint design. This means that Tehran would never actually have to conduct its own nuclear tests to ensure that it has a reliable design. Mark Fitzpatrick in an article in the UAE's The National seemed to back Smith's basic thesis.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A new unionist party in Northern Ireland?

There have been very interesting developments in Northern Ireland in the last week. The Ulster Unionists decided to go ahead with a joint candidate for the mid-Ulster parliamentary seat that Martin McGuinness is resigning from. They have chosen a candidate,  Nigel Lutton, who is the son of a man whom the Sinn Fein candidate allegedly helped to murder years ago. Judging from the results in the 2010 election when the Sinn Fein polled twice as many votes as all the unionist candidates combined, the seat is unwinnable by a unionist candidate.  This decision by Mike Nesbitt led both former Deputy Leader John McCallister and MLA Basil McCrea to resign from the party. There is now speculation that the two intend to form a new liberal unionist party.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Coalition formation problems in Israel

Sheldon Adelson's free newspaper, Israel Hayom, is reporting that Benjamin Netanyahu told Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that the foreign ministry is being reserved for Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman to return to once his legal problems have gone away. Israel Beitenu ran in a joint list, Likud Beitenu, with Likud in the recent election. Netanyahu is leaving Yesh Atid the choice of the finance ministry or another major economic ministry.  He is also offering the party the defense ministry. Netanyahu has also indicated that he wants the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) parties in his coalition government. This will make it much harder for Yesh Atid to join as it ran in opposition to the ultra-Orthodox immunity from military service and religious coercion on personal identity issues such as marriage, divorce, and conversion.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Union is Secure, so why are unionists insecure?

A recent public opinion poll in Northern Ireland established that only 17 percent of the voting-age public is in favor of a united Ireland (UI), compared to 65 percent in favor of continuing the union with Great Britain--the United Kingdom. That total goes up to 79 percent of committed voters and a majority of Catholics in favor of NI remaining part of Northern Ireland.

So why have working-class unionists been protesting and rioting for the last ten weeks across the province? Ostensibly they are protesting the decision taken on December 3, 2012 to limit the flying of the Union Flag (commonly known here as the Union Jack) to 17 or 18 designated days (public holidays) instead of everyday.  It makes little difference to the protesters that this is in fact the policy in Britain and until recently was the declared policy of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). This involved the two nationalist parties, the SDLP and Sinn Fein, voting for British official guidelines as a compromise. So what is really going on here? 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Syria's Possible Futures: An Israeli View

Former head of Israeli military intelligence, Aman, Amos Yadlin, laid out five possible outcomes to the ongoing and escalating civil war in Syria in a briefing to the public at the Institute of National Security Studies in Israel yesterday. He is presently the director of the institute. Here are the five scenarios:  First, the regime could survive by working out its problems with Turkey and winning more support from Russia. Second, the civil war continues forever as a low-level conflict of the type that is common in the Third World. Third, Syria disintegrates into three sectarian states: Alawite, Sunni, and Kurdish. Fourth, a Sunni-dominated state emerges. And lastly, a failed state emerges reminiscent of Somalia after the fall of Siad Barre or of Congo after the collapse of the Mobutu regime. Yadlin did not indicate which of these scenarios was most likely to occur or even rank order them. He simply pointed out that all of them was less threatening than the status quo ante in which a powerful centralized Alawite regime legitimized its rule through maintaining a verbal conflict and tension with Israel. A senior Israeli security official, possibly Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking anonymously took the exact opposite viewpoint arguing that the border had become more dangerous since the start of the civil war in Syria.