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

Friday, May 16, 2014

"How the mighty have fallen." Ehud Olmert to Prison

This week former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison for taking bribes from property developers in the Holyland Development scandal when he was mayor of Jerusalem before becoming prime minister. He will be the first former prime minister in Israeli history to go to prison. Olmert served for ten years as Jerusalem's mayor, from 1993 to 2003, before becoming a minister in Ariel Sharon's second government. When Sharon broke away from the Likud in late 2005 to form Kadima Olmert went with him as his number two. Sharon then suffered a massive stroke two months later in early January 2006, which put him into a coma from which he never recovered, and Olmert became head of Kadima and then prime minister following elections in March 2006. Olmert only served as Kadima leader for 2.5 years until late 2008 when he was forced to give way to Tzipi Livni, his foreign minister, because he was under indictment for corruption. Tzipi Livni failed to form a new government and elections were called for early 2009. These resulted in Kadima winning one more seat than the Likud but going into opposition because of its inability to form a coalition government. Olmert then retired from politics.

Olmert began politics as an ambitious young political activist in the Herut Party. When Shmuel Tamir challenged Begin's leadership of the party and was suspended he split off to form the Free Center party in early 1967. Olmert went with him and at age 28 was elected to the Knesset on December 31, 1973 at age 28--the youngest ever MK. He began his career as an anti-corruption campaigner. But as mayor of Jerusalem, following the 28-year tenure of internationally-renowned Mayor Teddy Kollek of Rafi/Labor, he developed a reputation as one of the more corrupt figures in Israeli politics eating in fancy restaurants, smoking expensive cigars, and wearing tailor-made suits.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Middle East Blame Game and the Truth

After the op-ed writers and foreign policy bloggers began writing their obituaries on Secretary of State John Kerry's Israeli-Palestinian mediation effort, some began assigning blame. The chief culprits demanding on which side of the partisan divide one stood were Israeli settlement activity and Palestinian intransigence. But in this op-ed piece former State Department Middle East negotiator Aaron D. Miller, deputy to Dennis Ross in the Oslo era, dismisses this and simply states that the two sides were too far apart on all the issues. I made the same prediction for the same reason last August during the release of my most recently-published book, Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution, before the Madison chapter of J Street. In fact I made a Venn diagram to illustrate that there was no overlap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions on the aggregate of issues. In fact in the most serious previous negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians in 2008 the two sides never reached agreement on any of the four main issue areas: borders, security, Jerusalem, and refugees.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kerry Should Give Up

The fact that Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government used the Palestinian unity pact as an excuse to pull out of negotiations with the Palestinians was very predictable. In fact, Netanyahu said many times in the past that he would do so. Why is this? Palestinian unity is what Bibi fears. As long as Hamas is outside of peace talks with Israel and is reasonably strong, it will have an inhibiting factor on Palestinian negotiating positions. This will serve as a wonderful excuse for Netanyahu not to make peace--a peace that would break up his ruling coalition. In 1999 Netanyahu lost power when a limited surrender of West Bank land to the Palestinians mediated at Wye River Plantation in October 1998 by Clinton led to a collapse of his rightist coalition. When running for reelection in 2013 Netanyahu claimed that he had learned his lesson. The lesson was not, as some in Israel thought at the time, do not form a coalition with parties of the right. Rather, it was not to agree to give up territory to the Palestinians. 

What Questions Obama Should Ask About Ukraine

When I was an undergrad in the late 1970s it was taken for granted that appeasement was always a bad thing. I imagine that it is still the same today. I was surprised when I read British iconoclast diplomatic historian A.J.P. Taylor when he wrote that sometimes appeasement is a good thing in diplomacy. Then when I studied counter-insurgency theory it clicked. In counter-insurgency (COIN) warfare, as in dealing with mutinies, the idea is to defeat the enemy's military effort and then defuse the popular discontent that led to the rebellion in the first place. This was classically carried out by Britain in defeating the Arab Revolt in Palestine in 1938-39. Britain combined an alliance with Zionist forces, reinforcements from elsewhere in the Empire, and appeasement of Palestinian Arab grievances against Britain and the Zionists to end the rebellion. In the spring of 1939 Britain agreed to end land sales of Arab land to Zionists, limit Jewish immigration to 100,000 over five years and then limit it by giving the Arabs a veto over future Jewish immigration. This secured Britain relative quiet in Palestine during World War II--relative because this caused a revolt by Zionist extremists of the Lehi and Irgun. From this I took away that the key question as to whether or not appeasement would be successful was: Does the leader being appeased have finite limited goals that can be assuaged? Or does the leader have an appetite that grows with eating, as the French saying goes? Hitler is the classic example of the latter in the late 1930s and the British and French conservatives who attempted to appease him should have known this from his own book, Mein Kampf (MyStruggle) written while Hitler was in prison briefly for his 1923 attempted coup in Munich. Napoleon was another example of a leader who had expansive goals. Those who are good candidates for appeasement are nationalist leaders who have long-defined irredentist goals such as the Irish towards Northern Ireland or the Hungarians towards Transylvania. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kerry, Obama, and the Middle East Peace Process

This week commentators in Israel, the Arab world, and the United States have been writing the obituaries for Secretary of State John Kerry's attempt to negotiate some sort of peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. I was one of those commentators who wrote the obituary on the talks when they began last summer. I did this because the situation was not ripe for peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads a party and a coalition that still supports the idea of a Greater Israel created through the ongoing settlement of the West Bank. In 2009 he mouthed his acceptance of the two-state solution in a speech at Bar-Ilan University. But since then he has done nothing to indicate that he really believes in the necessity of such a solution or of Israeli territorial concessions in order to arrive at one. Members of his coalition such as Deputy Defense Minister Dani Danon have spoken out openly against a two-state solution with no punishment from Netanyahu. Meanwhile the Palestinians are divided between the corrupt Fatah Party ruling the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas ruling in Gaza. Hamas, and resistance within his own Fatah prevents PA President Mahmoud Abbas from making the necessary concessions on such things as a right to return to Israel for Palestinian refugees that would be necessary to reciprocate territorial concessions from an Israeli government interested in peace. Both Netanyahu and Abbas were content to rule in peace with no thought towards peace until Kerry came to disturb their tranquility.

What to Watch For in India's Elections

Elections for the lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, began yesterday in India. The elections are in stages across the country starting in northeast India near Bangladesh. They don't end until May 15 when counting begins. The purpose of the staggered dates is to allow police and poll workers to move from one state to another. Here Peter Bergen explains some of the unique features of Indian elections. 

In the nineteenth century the United States also held elections on different dates according to when the various states decided to hold them in September through November. This way the president could monitor the results and see if he was likely to be reelected or not. But in the twentieth century elections were reduced to a single common Tuesday in November and the president in a close election would spend an anxious evening watching or listening as the returns came in to the White House over the radio or television. If you watch the election results on one of the networks or on a cable station like CNN, the command center has an array of fancy electronic screens to display the data and the political correspondents advise the viewers on what key indicators to watch for in the battleground states during the evening.

Here is my list of things to watch for during the next five weeks.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Alliance Party and the Unionists

Last week there were two events that highlighted what unionists care about or, more accurately, what they fear. First, the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), a loyalist paramilitary party linked to the Ulster Volunteer Front (UVF), Billy Hutchinson, gave an interview in which he said that he did not regret the two murders for which he was convicted and served time in prison because they helped prevent a united Ireland. The murders were of two Catholic teenagers, picked out at random and killed for being Catholic. Both the UVF and its smaller satellite Red Hand Commandos and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had a strategy of killing random Catholics as reprisals for republican terrorist and guerrilla actions on the theory that this would put pressure on ordinary Catholics to not cooperate with republican paramilitaries. Here is some nationalist reaction to the interview.

A few days later Anna Lo, the Alliance member of the Assembly for South Belfast and its candidate in the upcoming European Parliament elections, gave an interview in which she said she was in favor of a united Ireland and that she saw Northern Ireland as an "artificial colonial entity." Guess which of these two interviews was more upsetting to unionists?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The 3:00 A.M. Call and the Crisis Test

During the 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton famously challenged then Sen. Barack Obama's readiness for the presidency with her "3:00 phone call" ad about a president receiving a call in the middle of the night waking him up to deal with a crisis. Crises have traditionally been the real test of a president since 1945. All presidents feared being labeled as "soft on Communism" during the Cold War or appeasers and so many failed the test by over-reacting. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The foreign policy of the 1980s--South African style

In a snarky retort during the 2012 presidential campaign Obama told Republican nominee Mitt Romney that the 1980s wanted their foreign policy back after Romney said that Russia was America's greatest national security threat. Obama should have told Benjamin Netanyahu that Pretoria wanted its 1980s foreign policy back. From 1978 to 1989, during the period of State President P.W. Botha, the ideology of the ruling National Party in Pretoria was that of the Total Onslaught/Total Response. This was a sort of neo-apartheid gloss on traditional apartheid. All of Pretoria's critics and enemies were clumped together as one threat led and controlled from Moscow: this meant the Western anti-apartheid movement advocating economic sanctions against South Africa in the United States and Europe, the white liberal opposition Progressive Federal Party, the liberal English-language press, the Third World countries supporting sanctions and voting against Pretoria in the United Nations (UN) and the African National Congress (ANC) liberation movement and its de facto internal wing, the United Democratic Front, and the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) liberation movement in Namibia and its Angolan and Cuban protectors in Angola. All part of the same conspiracy. Part of a vast left-wing conspiracy--it would almost make Hillary Clinton blush.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Two Reflections on Ukraine

The present standoff in Ukraine makes me think of two things. First, in 1994 Ukraine voluntarily gave up its control of Soviet nuclear weapons then stationed on its territory under American pressure. Kiev wanted to please Washington, which wanted only one nuclear successor state for the Soviet Union rather than four (Belarus and Kazakhstan were the other two republics with nuclear weapons). For the sake of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, Washington wanted Moscow to assume complete control of all Soviet nuclear weapons. I remember thinking that given Russian history, Ukraine was crazy to give up control of its deterrent to Moscow--the capital that had twice in the past strangled Ukrainian sovereignty. Had I been an adviser in the Clinton administration I would have urged Clinton not to pressure any of the three republics to give up their weapons for a few years until Moscow had proved its good intentions.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Putin the Bumbler

Putin once said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the Twentieth Century. Putin was a man formed by the Soviet Union, by the secret police that he spent his career in. Unlike Boris Yeltsin who appointed him prime minister in December 1999 he was never comfortable with the idea of freedom. Unlike Aleksander Solzhenitsyn who looks back to Russian history before the Soviet Union, Putin's scope of history is limited to the period after November 1917. So which Soviet leader does Putin see as his model? There are several who might come to mind. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Next Step in Ukraine

President Viktor Yanukovych, the ally of Vladimir Putin of Russia, signed an agreement with the opposition that provided for anmesty for the protesters, freed political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, and generally eased the way towards a genuine transition to democracy--if the Ukrainians are capable of it. At last report Yanukovych was said to be in Kharkov (Kharkiv in Ukrainian), the main city in the eastern half of the country, which is home to the Russian-speaking population. He fled his palace in Kiev (Kyiv in Ukrainian). Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is likely to try to return to power. But many of the protesters from Maidan square in Kiev reject her as both corrupt and autocratic. She was also closely linked to Putin.

I remember years ago a conversation with a fellow military linguist who had just returned from some time spent in Ukraine shortly after independence. He was Polish-American and a Russian linguist and told me that Ukrainian seemed to be about halfway between Polish, a western Slavic language, and Russian, an eastern Slavic language. The same thing could be said of Ukraine itself. Poland is clearly a western country that has identified its place with the West. Russia is a mixture of Asian and European influences and culture. Ukraine is somewhere in between these two (and Belarus, which is like Russia) in terms of readiness for democracy and political culture.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Polls Point to a Change in Government in India and a Stable Coalition

Two recent Indian polls point to a change in ruling coalitions in the Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament in India. A Times Now-CVoter poll projects 202 seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which ruled India from 1998 to 2004, and 25 additional seats for its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for a total of 227 seats in the 543 seat lower house. By contrast the now ruling United Progressive Alliance is projected to win a little over a hundred seats with its leading member, the Congress Party, winning 89 seats.  If this holds true, an NDA coalition should prove to be quite stable.

A second poll of Indian youths who are smartphone users had 72 percent stating that politicians' children should not themselves enter politics, suggesting that they will not be allowed to vote for Rahul Ganhi, the prime ministerial candidate of Congress.  According to the Economist magazine there are 120 million new voters aged 18 to 22.  These new voters and other young voters are likely to vote for the BJP, led by Narendra Modi. The Clinton administration got along well with the BJP, as did the Bush administration. But Modi may be a different matter. Modi is considered responsible for sparking an anti-Muslim riot/pogrom in his native state of Gujurat several years ago. As a result he has been barred from entering the United States. Now after the recent diplomatic spat between Washington and New Delhi over the arrest of an Indian consul official in New York who allegedly lied on paperwork about the salary of her Indian domestic servant, the United States will likely face the prospect of dealing with a new prime minister who likely will not be well disposed towards Washington. Interesting times are ahead.

Here Jonah Hill in The Diplomat points out the limitations and shortcomings of Indian political polling.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Cultural Faultline in Ukraine

The recently ended anti-government demonstrations against the government of President Yanukovych in Ukraine points out the existence of a major religious and cultural fault line that runs through Eastern Europe. Europe is divided by religion into three cultural zones: a Catholic zone in southern Europe and Ireland, a Protestant zone in northern and Western Europe, and an Orthodox zone in Eastern Europe. The differences between Orthodox Christians on one hand and both Catholic and Protestant Christians on the other are much greater than those between Catholics and Protestants. This is primarily due to two causes. First, the split between the Orthodox and the Catholics predates that between Catholics and Protestants by nearly five centuries: the former occurred in 1054 and the latter in 1517. Second, democracy has been present in Western and Central Europe much longer than it has in Eastern Europe, so Christian denomination no longer serves as quite the marker for political differences in Western and Central Europe that it does in Eastern Europe.

Ukraine is divided both on religious and national grounds. Western Ukraine is predominantly composed of ethnic Ukrainians who are Catholics; eastern Ukraine is predominantly composed of ethnic Ukrainians who are Orthodox and ethnic Russians. Although it is true that pockets of all three groups exist in both areas. Thus, the majority Catholics in the West are culturally oriented towards their fellow Catholics in Poland and Hungary. Both of these countries are today successful democracies and their populations were on the front lines fighting for freedom during the Cold War. In the East the Orthodox are oriented towards Russia. I want to emphasis that these differences are not due to theological differences between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism but rather due to cultural orientations. The border between Orthodoxy and Catholicism/Protestantism runs horizontally through Eastern Europe and then vertically through the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine. Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Croatia are all mainly Catholic or mixed Catholic and Protestant. Bosnia, and Macedonia feature a three-way religious split among Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims. Albania and Kosovo are predominantly Muslim but have Catholic minorities and even a small Orthodox Serb minority in the case of Kosovo. Greece, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Belarus and Russia are Orthodox. Ukraine is divided between Catholics and Orthodox.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jordan and Lebanon: The Next Dominoes in the Arab Spring/Winter?

Earlier this month I predicted that there will be more countries affected by the drive for freedom in the Arab world. I predicted that in my humble opinion Lebanon and Jordan are the two most likely candidates. This is not because I'm an expert in the internal workings of either country. My knowledge of Jordan relates mainly to its foreign policy and my knowledge of Lebanon is historical--from the period of the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-90. So on what basis do I make my predictions? 

Both countries are neighbors of Syria and both are affected by the civil war in Syria. A 2007 Jordanian estimate was that there were 450,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, and small numbers of refugees continue to arrive in Jordan each month due to continued fighting in Iraq. This puts strains on Jordanian resources and Jordan has never been a rich country in terms of natural resources. It lacks oil and natural gas unlike Iraq and the Gulf countries and even Syria, and its main natural resource is phosphates in the Dead Sea region. Jordan's economy is based primarily on agriculture, tourism as part of the Holy Land, and light industry. Jordan provides free health care and education for the Iraqi refugees. Now it has to provide for Syrian refugees as well who number more than 600,000 or almost a third of the more than two million Syrian refugees who have fled since 2011. The Jordanian Central Bank has already noted that their presence is a strain on the economy.  Here is a recent LA Times article that echoes the above analysis.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sharon and De Gaulle

My article comparing Ariel Sharon's Gaza disengagement with Charles de Gaulle's exit from Algeria is now up at 972 Magazine.

Sharon and De Gaulle: A Comparison
Ariel Sharon was Israel’s most politically successful military politician. His political career was a full decade longer than those of Yitzhak Rabin, who entered the Knesset at the same time as Sharon, and Dayan, and a half-decade longer than those of Yigal Allon and Ezer Weizman. But what have Sharon and Israel to show for it? Sharon’s political career had four major accomplishments in terms of deeds: the disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, the crushing of the Al-Aksa Intifada from 2002 to 2004, and the Gaza disengagement of 2005. The Gaza disengagement, unilateral rather than negotiated, led to Hamas rule and the Palestinian duality that has let Israel off the hook from negotiating seriously with the Palestinian Authority on statehood.  The settlements remain on the West Bank. Sharon settled the territories as agriculture minister while Begin and Shamir gave him political cover. And as prime minister he gave cover for a massive expansion of the settlements during his five years in office.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Israel's Leadership Vacuum

Veteran Israeli political reporter Ben Caspit, who has co-authored biographies of both the recently deceased Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, had this interesting column for the Israel Pulse of the Al Monitor of the  Christian Science Monitor. I agree with it in general with one major disagreement: Caspit groups both Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir together with the Likud princes. The Likud princes were the children of prominent Revisionist Zionist and Herut figures and include figures like Netanyahu, Benny Begin, Ron Milo, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni. Shamir and Sharon were from a different generation--that of the princes' parents who served in the underground and founded Israel. Shamir was a contemporary and colleague of Benny Begin's father, Prime Minister Menahem Begin, and arrived in mandatory Palestine several years before Begin did. Shamir became of the trio leading the Lehi underground from 1943 to 1948 when Begin was leader of the Etzel (Irgun) underground. Shamir did, however, head the faction within the Likud that the princes belonged to. Sharon was in opposition to that faction as the head of his own faction within the Likud after 1983. 

Caspit's thesis is that the demise of the generation of Israel's founding fathers (and mothers in the case of Golda Meir and some other women) due to mortality has left Israel with a leadership gap. Actually the founders consisted of three separate generations: that of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister from 1948-53 and 1956-63, who arrived in Palestine during the Second Aliya or wave of immigration following the abortive Russian revolution of 1904-05; the generation of Moshe Sharett, Pinhas Sapir, and Golda Meir, who arrived in Israel in the 1920s; and finally the 1948 generation that fought Israel's War of Independence and were born in Israel from 1915 to 1930 or who arrived in Palestine as children during the 1930s in the case of Shimon Peres. The first two generations ruled Israel and the Zionist Yishuv from 1935 to 1974. The third generation took over in 1974 when Yitzhak Rabin was elected leader of the Labor Party and prime minister to replace Meir. Sharon and Peres are the last members of that generation. Sharon left office due to his stroke in March 2006 and Peres was elected president by the Knesset in July 2007 and is set to leave office later this year at age 90.

Ariel "Arik" Sharon, 1928-2014

Ariel 'Arik' Sharon, 1928-2014: Hardliner Who Ended Otherwise
By Thomas G. Mitchell and Ralph Seliger

After almost exactly eight years in a coma, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finally succumbed on Jan. 11, 2014.  He was known for bold, even reckless moves, both as a career military officer and as a politician.  Reviled by the Left as a hawk and worse, for most of his life, he ended up seen as a traitor by the extreme Right, while considered a moderate and potential peacemaker by many others. Over decades, he championed Israel's extensive settlement of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (viewed by most of the world as illegal and counterproductive to peace), but also stunned the world by unilaterally evacuating settlers and soldiers from Gaza and part of the West Bank in August 2005.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014 Predictions for International Relations

Having previously enjoyed myself immensely on New Year's Eve when on ABC's Nightline various pundits had their political predictions played back to them before blithely charging once more into the breach of ignorance, I will now entertain anyone willing to read this blog with my own predictions for 2014.

1) Narendra Modi will defeat Rahul Gandhi in national elections in India later this year. This will be the third electoral defeat for a member of the Gandhi dynasty--Rahul's grandmother Indira was defeated in 1977 after having declared a state of emergency in 1975 and ruled for 18 months in a highly-autocratic fashion. She came back to win again and served as prime minister from 1980-84. Her son Rajiv, Rahul's father, followed her as prime minister following her assassination in October 1984. He was defeated in 1989 and campaigning for a come back when he was himself assassinated in 1991 only a week before the election. If the Congress Party in 1989 was like the Israeli Labor Party in 1977, today it is like the Labor Party in 2001. Merely having another Gandhi on the ticket will not be enough to save Congress from defeat this year. Here is why.