East Belfast witnessed on Saturday a parade by some 10,000 commemorators of the centenary of the founding of the original Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913. Over thirty flute, fife and drum bands marched in the parade along with those in period costumes dressed as soldiers and nurses of the UVF. This is part of the centenary decade of commemorations dealing with the creation of Northern Ireland as a province within the United Kingdom separate from the rest of Ireland. At the ceremony the granddaughter of James Craig aka Lord Craigavon, the first prime minister of Northern Ireland, spoke as did Billy Hutchinson, a former double-murderer, loyalist prisoner and present leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has a single member in the Assembly. Click here and here for stories on the parade. The parade seems to have been also intended as a show of force by the modern-day Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a terrorist group founded in 1966 and the main loyalist paramilitary organization during The Troubles.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
In my most recently published book, When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East, which was published in 2010 by McFarland Publishing of Jefferson, NC, I stated that the dual mediation used in Northern Ireland by London and Dublin would be a good model for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other ethnic conflicts. I wrote that the two partners in the Middle East should be Washington and Brussels (EU), as each had good connections and bias towards one of the parties in the conflict and yet very good relations with each other. This is the Northern Ireland model. It was reported in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv (in Hebrew) that EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton received a letter from 19 distinguished European statesmen and politicians including one former president (female), four former prime ministers and seven former foreign ministers calling on her to assert a more active role for the EU in mediation of the conflict challenging the traditional solo role of Washington and also criticizing the way Israeli settlement has been allowed to perpetuate the occupation. Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf discusses the letter on his joint blog, 972. He reproduces the text of the letter and the names of the signators. The most prominent are probably: Miguel Moratinos, the former EU representative to the Oslo talks and former foreign minister of Spain; Giullio Amatto, the former prime minister of Italy; and John Bruton, the former prime minister (taoiseach) of Ireland during the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s. Bruton was in office (1994-97) when the peace process was frozen because the IRA had broken its ceasefire over the decommissioning issue.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Those wondering what Obama's policy towards Israel will probably be in his second term should read Peter Beinart's 2012 Jewish bestseller The Crisis of Zionism. Although the subject of the book is the crisis within American Judaism (emptiness of communal life) and in Israel (loss of democracy and the occupation) he does devote a full three chapters out of ten total to Obama. The first of these is entitled "The Jewish President," and in it Beinart attempts to do for our first actual black president what black novelist Toni Morrison famously did for Clinton when she declared him "America's first black president." Beinart argues that Obama as an adult was most influenced by his association with Jews in Chicago, most of whom were either liberal or radical and critical of Israel. But as a candidate Obama was a cautious politician who picked Jewish advisors more for their reputation with the Jewish community than for their academic or policy credentials. This is why he replaced Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer with Ambassador Dennis Ross as his main advisor on Israel and the peace process during the 2008 campaign and for his first term. Beinart ends the chapter with a quote from one of Obama's key Jewish influences, Rabbi Arnold Wolf, "He's going to go very cautiously and not do anything that shakes up the Jewish community." That turned out to not be quite accurate.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Today I went to see the new Israeli documentary film, The Gatekeepers, about the reminisces of six former heads of the Israeli General Security Service, better known by its acronym as Shabak or Shin Bet (Sherut haBitakhon haKlali). The interviewer asked the six individuals a series of questions--some the same and some different for each individual--and then received the answers. The talking heads were interspersed with news footage, some of cars being tracked and destroyed by Israeli aircraft or buildings being hit by Israeli bombs and footage of the aftermath of bomb explosions. The film is in Hebrew with English subtitles and for those with a good grasp of Hebrew easy to follow without the subtitles
Monday, April 1, 2013
After Pakistan and India both acquired nuclear weapons in the 1990s, nuclear non-proliferation efforts focused on a trio of autarkic rogue states: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. George W. Bush identified them famously as the "axis of evil" in his first State of the Union speech in January 2002. Bush was faced with the dilemma of choosing which of the three should he make an example of in order to encourage the others to back away. Bush naturally enough chose the weakest of the three, Iraq, which had already been defeated a decade before in a war presided over by his father. In 1994 Clinton faced the task of deciding what to do about a North Korean regime that was bent on developing a nuclear weapons capability. Pentagon forecasters estimated that a war on the Korean peninsula would cost up to one million lives including 100,000 Americans. Instead, Clinton decided upon a regime of arms control talks between the two Koreas, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia. A scheme was developed to bribe Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for a South Korean civilian nuclear reactor, food aid and financial aid.