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, May 22, 2013

The Fate of Northern Ireland's New Pro-Union Party

Back in March I had a post about a new party being formed by two defectors from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Basil McCrea and John MacCallister, who had left the UUP over its decision to support an agreed unionist candidate in the mid-Ulster by-election. In May the party had its formal launch, but it still has yet to come up with a name for itself. Its main niche marketing distinction is that it advertises itself to be "pro-Union" rather than unionist, thus hoping to position itself somewhere between Alliance, which is agnostic or neutral on the border question, and the UUP. 

The Northern Ireland/British Isles blog Slugger O'Toole did a post on the launch of the party. The consensus on the thread was that in the next election McCrea would be reelected but MacCallister would lose to a UUP or DUP candidate. This in because McCrea seems to have a strong personal following in his constituency, whereas MacCallister was elected on the strength of the UUP as a party and will now lose to the party's replacement nominee. This will make the new party a one-man affair like Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). The TUV represents the old DUP under Paisley before he did a 180 and entered into the Executive with Sinn Fein. The PUP represents a socialist unionism aimed at the loyalist working class. It is also vaguely connected with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paramilitary organization out of which many of its representatives and leadership emerged, such as the late David Ervine and present leader Billy Hutchinson. Can the new party under McCrea find enough of a niche to survive?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Moscow Wants in Syria

There is a general consensus among Russian watchers that in many ways the Putin regime is a watered-down version of the Soviet regime. Here is Nikita Khrushchev's gread-granddaughter making just such a comparison about the show trials in Putin's Russia and those in the Soviet era of her ancestor. It allows for elections, but the electronic media that ordinary people use to evaluate the candidates and parties remain firmly in the hands of the ruling party. The regime is basically staffed by the siluviki --those from an intelligence services or Soviet Communist Party background during the Soviet era. But what about Russian foreign policy?

During the Soviet period the Soviet Union was one large ideological empire with three different levels. First, was the core--the old Russian Empire minus Finland and Poland and the Baltic States rechristened the Soviet Union in 1922. In 1939-40 with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939 the Soviet Union reabsorbed the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) and part of eastern Finland and eastern Poland. Second, in 1944-45 as a result of the victory over Nazi Germany the Soviet Union reabsorbed the Baltic States (lost in 1941) and took over what eventually became the Warsaw Pact: Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. The third level consisted of all of those overseas ideological allies that were deemed to be Communist or merely socialist or even just anti-Western.

Monday, May 20, 2013

No Water Brought the Spring to Syria

New York Times columnist and former Middle East reporter Tom Friedman had a fascinating article in this Sunday's paper. He basically argued that it was the incompetence of the crony/Mafia Ba'athist regime in Syria that led to the Arab Spring uprising there in the spring of 2011. But it had some help from Mother Nature. By letting rich supporters of the ruling party overuse the water table to irrigate their farms, the water level was lowered enough to make farming impossible for the class of ordinary peasant fellahin (farmers). These had in any case greatly increased in number due to improved health care that reduced infant mortality. So this caused a major migration from the countryside to the cities and the regime did not supply any basic services to deal with the migration. Suddenly these farmers were turned into day laborers being paid a pittance just to keep from starving and with no education and no real housing. This made Syria a tinderbox ripe for revolution. And rather than trying to dampen the kindling, Bashar Assad fanned the sparks by firing on the protesters in the city of Dera'a in southern Syria. With climate change expect many more of these types of connections in the upcoming decades.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Beginning of the End in Syria?

There are signs that the Assad regime is caring out ethnic cleansing in the coastal area between Tartus and Latakia, Syria.  According to Syria specialist Joshua Landis this is strategic ethnic cleansing similar in purpose to that carried out by Israelis against Palestinians in 1948. But I contend that Israeli ethnic cleansing was carrying over a European norm from World War II, where only two years before massive ethnic cleansing was carried out by Central Europeans against Germans as revenge and protection against future depredations by German aggressors. The Jews thought that they were protecting themselves against future Palestinian attempts to snuff out the newborn state. Thus, ethnic cleansing in 1948 was not only defensive in nature but conformed with contemporary European, if not quite Western, norms. 

But others suggest that the Assad regime is now winning the war. There has been a shift in power in recent weeks away from the rebels in favor of the regime. Since the start of the war, massacres of rebel-leaning populations or suspected rebel-supporting populations have been the norm. Bashar al-Assad, like Saddam Hussein, is like a Mafia don who uses violence to intimidate. Even as the tide of war seems to turn in his favor, he is making contingency plans for the event that power shifts again. He is preparing alternative scenarios: remain in power in Damascus or create a statelet on the Alawite coast of the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Intervention in Syria?

The op-ed columns of the quality newspapers have been full of columns arguing for and against American intervention in Syria over the last several months. I have yet to see an argument that explains credibly how it would be in the American national interest to intervene in Syria. This lack of logic is pointed out in a piece from The Nation, which I normally do not find myself in agreement with. Most that attempt this sort of argument explain that we need to intervene in order to buy influence at the bargaining table. They claim that the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs who are now backing the opposition in Syria are not interested in democracy and human rights. This is true. But anyone who knows Islamists or even ordinary Muslims knows that they are like those pious Christians who ignore all the direct causes of anything that happens and attribute it all to God. If Washington gave arms to the Free Syrian Army or another outfit, the group would be happy to claim credit for Allah. Washington would be only a conduit. Is it really necessary to be grateful to a mere conduit?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yakhimovich admits that her stand cost Labor Party seats

972 blogger Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf had a short item about Israeli Labor Party leader Shelli Yakhimovich telling party activists that her refusal to campaign on the Palestinian issue (or the diplomatic issue as she puts it) cost the party four seats in the January 22, 2013 election. She assigned these four as two to Meretz and two to Tzipi Livni's haTnua (the Movement) party. Why did she make this admission and is it true?