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.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
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
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.
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.