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?