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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iran's New President

Iran held a presidential election last weekend to replace outgoing incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinajad. Here Ian Bremmer explains why this is not all that dramatic a change. Basically, as I explained to people several years when all the excitement began over Iran's nuclear potential and Ahmedinajad, the presidency is largely a ceremonial position in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The real power is invested in the Supreme Leader. There have only been two so far in the Republic's history: founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his handpicked successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

In the presidential elections the Supreme Leader and his cronies on the leadership council first vet the candidates and eliminate all who are considered not reliable enough. Imagine in the United States if first Ronald Reagan and then Dick Cheney determined who could run as presidential candidates in the Republican primaries and there were no Democratic Party. That is what Iran is like! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon Reveals the Truth

This week Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told the Times of Israel that the ruling coalition was opposed to the two-state solution and would vote against it if it ever came up as a government proposal. This is important because in June 2009 in a speech at Bar Ilan University, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Likud leader to officially embrace the two-state solution. He made it conditional, however, upon the Palestinians officially recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which Danon said Netanyahu knew they would never do. If they did accept this he would come up with a new condition.  Here is a Jerusalem Post editorial on the confusion.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NI21: Northern Ireland's Newest Party

Last Thursday June 6, John McCallister and Basil McCrea finally officially launched their new political party with the name of NI21, meaning Northern Ireland for the 21st century. The crowd at the launching Thursday night was mostly young and seemed to indicate that the party was going to grow by going after new voters and those who had never voted in the past or had stopped voting. The party has already declared itself to be pro-Union i.e. favoring Northern Ireland's continued status as a province of the United Kingdom. This means that it is not appealing to nationalists--those supporting a united Ireland--but like Alliance is seeking the vote of Catholics who want a non-sectarian Northern Ireland. The biggest challenge will be to motivate those known as "garden center Unionists" or "garden center Prods" because they spend their leisure time gardening rather than worrying about the security of the Union, to vote. The last time many of this crowd voted was in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in May 1998. NI21 hopes to do this by playing up the need for an official opposition at Stormont to serve as a watchdog on the Executive.

I'm still going with my earlier prediction that McCrea will be reelected in the next election and McCallister will not be, freeing him up to become the political manager of the new party.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Secretary Kerry and the Middle East

The Middle East has been the one region outside of Western Europe that American foreign policy and secretaries of state have been involved with since the Eisenhower administration. Sure, other regions have occupied the attention of Washington for an administration or even a decade or two: South East Asia from 1954 to 1975; Latin America and the Caribbean in the Kennedy administration, early Johnson administration and then again Central America during the Carter and Reagan administrations; Southern Africa from 1976 to 1989; and the Balkans in the 1990s. Now the Korean peninsula is a region of concern. But continuously throughout this period the Middle East has been of importance: as an arena for containment of the Soviet Union through regional alliances in the Eisenhower administration; mediating the Arab-Israeli conflict to reconcile contradictory national interests in the region from the Nixon administration through end of the second Bush administration; spreading democracy in the Bush administration and Obama administration. 

The situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is such that peace is not available in the near term. The Palestinians are divided between Hamas and Fatah, and so Fatah functions under the restraining influence of Hamas and cannot drastically modify its positions until Hamas is neutralized. This can be done either through defeat or merger. But merger or a national unity government is likely to be at the expense of any moderate tendencies in Fatah. In Israel the Center-Left is too weak to form a government without input from parties that are ideologically opposed to the two-state solution. Thus, we are left with the two parties to the conflict being dominated by political parties that are ideologically opposed to the two-state solution--or at least on terms that the other side can accept. This leaves Secretary of State John Kerry with solving the civil war in Syria as his main chance to make a mark in the region.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Special Advisors and Political Advice: Problems of the SDLP

The last week has seen a number of problems with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Northern Ireland's moderate nationalist party that was opposed to the use of violence during The Troubles, largely of its own making. The Traditional Unionist Voice's sole Assembly member and leader Jim Allister proposed a bill to make it illegal for a party to appoint a special advisor who has a criminal record for an offense for which the penalty is five years or more in prison. This was in order to eliminate Mary McArdle, who was the sole person convicted in the murder of Mary Travers, the daughter of Northern Ireland judge, who was murdered during an attempt to murder the judge and his family after they left mass.

Sinn Fein wanted to file a motion of special concern against the bill, for which it needs 30 out of 108 MLAs. Sinn Fein has 29 MLAs, just one short of the total needed. But with all of the unionist parties supporting the bill, and with Alliance and the Green Party unwilling to side with Sinn Fein despite reservations about the bill, it looks like Sinn Fein will lose. But will it really lose? Since the start of The Troubles the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein--first as the publicity bureau of the IRA and then as its political wing--have been engaged in a process of ethnic outbidding as Duke University Law School Professor Donald Horowitz has labeled the process. The two each use the threat of the other to lure voters away from more moderate parties within their respective communities. For the nationalists the threat is seen as the return to the bad days of Stormont when the nationalists were second-class citizens discriminated against in employment, housing, and the franchise. For the unionists the threat is seen as both republican terrorism and a united Ireland in which they will be the minority. On the Northern Ireland/British isles blog Slugger O'Toole Sinn Fein supporters are already spinning this as discrimination against the nationalist community because it only applies to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein is already spinning it as such.  No one enquires as to why the unionist parties do not appoint former terrorists as candidates or special advisors.

Ann Travers, the surviving sister of Mary Travers, has been an advocate of victims' rights and a natural candidate for Jim Allister because she is Catholic. When former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, who was also deputy leader of the SDLP under John Hume, came out of retirement to criticize his party for doing something that would be so offensive to unionists his party did an about turn. Sinn Fein will not get its bill and, if this bill is applied retroactively, Ms. McArdle will simply be appointed to another position within the party and a new special advisor will share his or her salary with the party. But Sinn Fein will have another issue with which to attack their nationalist rivals whom they regard as collaborators with the British.

It is about time that the SDLP's leadership got together and decided on a strategy for the party based on its natural electoral base: traditional Catholics who follow the lead of the Church hierarchy, middle class professionals, and nationalist democrats who oppose a party with a fascist ideology serving as the ruling party in the province. It must decide how to bridge the contradictions among these groups and how to attract new supporters. If it does not the middle class nationalists will either drift away to Alliance, Sinn Fein, or their Protestant equivalents in the "garden center party" of non-voters.