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, 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.