Tag: Middle East Peace Process

Put Middle East Peace Process to a Vote

Always good to start out blogging with a non-controversial topic, like the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.   But just before the Israeli Knesset went into recess, they advanced a bill requiring that any land ceded in a peace process be approved  in a national referendum. The bill could become a Basic Law–tantamount to a constitutional amendment–when the Knesset returns in the fall.  My take on this is in the  International Herald Tribune/New York Times:

The argument in brief: Far from undercutting the peace process, a referendum is necessary to the legitimacy of a two-state solution. Formal public support of a potential deal could, in fact, be one of the keys to long-term sustainability of peace. Supporters of the peace process should get behind the referendum proposal.

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How Political Negotiations can be Un-Mediated but Mediatized

When delicate political negotiations are needed, perhaps journalists need to get out of the way. Gadi Wolfsfeld’s studies of peace processes have shown how journalistic discretion in Northern Ireland created space for political leaders to make individual compromises. Such compromises would probably each have been unacceptable to their constituencies if lit up by a media spotlight, but only became public once the full package of a peace treaty was reached (Bono had to wait). Past negotiations between Israeli leaders with their Jordanian or Palestinian counterparts have been less successful in part because journalists in the region have tended more towards the sensationalist and the partisan.

At the LSE tonight, Nick Anstead presented an analysis of media coverage of the 2010 UK General Elections, particularly the period between 7 May and 12 May when the three major parties were involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations to form a government, following inconclusive results. This was another instance in which journalists were denied access. Nevertheless, this occurred in a mediatized political environment, i.e. one in which media logics determine how processes work more than political logics. Following a political logic – principally, how the UK constitutional system works – if no party failed to produce a governing majority, then no party ‘won’, and a range of outcomes became possible. However, the prevailing media logic in the UK media ecology was that any election needs a winner. Further, in an ecology in which politics has been presidentialised, the winner has to be an individual: in this case David Cameron must be Prime Minister. That the office holder, Gordon Brown, was constitutionally entitled to remain in office until a governing coalition could be formed escaped many journalists. That the Labour Party could possibly be part of a new coalition government was almost as tricky to grasp, for hadn’t Labour’s man lost? Anstead illustrated these media meltdowns with some amusingly flustered questions from reporters of various TV channels.
Conceptually, this process was un-mediated but very mediatized. It was un-mediated because media could not provide a channel between the negotiations and the public, since reporters were barred from the political negotiations. But the event as a whole was mediatized, Anstead argues, because the range of potential outcomes was constrained by what the media system could find intelligible. As discussant, I was granted the chance to add a further point: it was surprising that UK political reporters were caught off guard to such an extent, given the close nature of the polls. Surely they should have provided a guide to how the constitution works and mapped the various permutations of possible coalition governments? Central to a mediatized system is premediation, the logic of mapping all likely scenarios for audiences before events happen, even if they never happen (Richard Grusin’s idea). Journalists form cultures marked by fallible expectations: in 2001 no US journalists saw another attack on the WTC coming, and in 2010 UK journalists had reached a consensus that Cameron would win outright. In each case, reporters were at a loss. The broader point is that the coalition negotiations were not as mediatized as they could have been: public responses to the various possible coalitions could have been solicited and the confusion minimised.

But what Anstead’s paper seems to suggest is this: Even if journalists are excluded from an event, the media ecology inhabited by political leaders, reporters and publics will shape what is thought possible, intelligible and legitimate, whether in domestic or international politics – an indirect but inescapable effect. Political processes can be un-mediated yet mediatized. He will present a more developed draft of his paper at the PSA Annual Convention in London in April, but if you are interested in receiving a copy please email N.M.Anstead@lse.ac.uk 


Crossposted from https://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/ 

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Bill Clinton and the Russian Israelis

Former President Clinton jumped into the Mideast Peace process earlier this week. According to Josh Rogin’s reporting at The Cable, Clinton met with a group of reporters and, when asked to comment about the current negotiations, began by saying:

“I wouldn’t say too much about this if Hillary weren’t Secretary of State and in charge of these negotiations, so I’m darned sure not going to say too much now.”

Ah, but that’s not like Mr. Clinton.

And it wasn’t.

According to Rogin, Clinton then proceeded “to go in depth on the issue for more than ten minutes.” In case you missed it, he suggested that the massive wave of Russian Jewish migration to Israel over the past two decades now makes a peace agreement much more difficult:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.

According to Clinton, the Russian immigrant population in Israel is the group least interested in striking a peace deal with the Palestinians. “They’ve just got there, it’s their country, they’ve made a commitment to the future there,” Clinton said. “They can’t imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it.”

While the comments haven’t registered in the American press, they did trigger a strong response from the Israeli right and the Russian emigre community. Netanyahu called the comments regrettable and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing (and mostly Russian emigre) party Yisrael Beitenu blasted Clinton for his”crude generalizations” about Russian emigres.

But, Clinton is right. The one million former Soviet Jews who migrated to Israel since the end of the Cold War have significantly altered the political landscape in Israel. Israel is different today than it was a decade ago. Majorities of these immigrants now consistently vote for right wing candidates and their views on the peace process tend to be significantly more hawkish than the rest of the public. And given the fragmented nature of the Israeli political system, a coherent bloc of this size wields significant political influence. Yisrael Beitenu is the third largest party in the Knesset — behind Kadima and Likud and ahead of Labor — and, as a member of the ruling coalition, is threatening to bring down Netanyahu’s government if he doesn’t lift the moratorium on settlements this weekend.

Natasha Mozgovaya — who emigrated from Russia as a child and is now the US correspondent for Haaretz — has this assessment:

…the Russian immigrants are the sector of the Israel population which has had almost no contact with the Palestinians, and sometimes even the Arabs who live in Israel.

…Terror and the West Bank separation fence have prevented any direct positive contact with the Palestinians. Some of the immigrants lacked the nuanced knowledge about the conflict prior to their coming to Israel, but they were quick to impose the “we need to fight to win” attitude, rather than “we need to talk to solve this.”

“We saw this in Chechnya,” some would say. “We saw this in Afghanistan in 70s. It’s the same mentality. They understand only force.”

While some Israelis remember with nostalgia buying hummus in Arab cities, the “Russians” remember mainly the suicide attacks….

These developments, along with other trends in Israeli society, will only increase the constraints on future Israeli governments on the peace process. All of which make Clinton’s comments more relevant at this moment and makes Aluf Benn’s editorial yesterday in Haaretz more compelling.

But don’t hold your breath.

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Professor Fred Halliday


I was alerted this morning to the death of Professor Fred Halliday. Halliday, who specialized in the Middle East and was very much a legend around the London School of Economics. I was fortunate enough to be in one of the last classes of MSc students who sat through his IR theory lectures. These classes were a very strange tour de force – mixed with anecdotes of Professor Halliday’s meeting foreign leaders, intellectuals and peppered with outbursts in Arabic, Persian and other assorted languages. Unsurprisingly, the lectures were always packed.

The Guardian has a very nice obituary as does Open Democracy. There is no question that he was one of the most important intellectuals in International Relations in the UK. While I didn’t know him exceptionally well personally, I know that I owe a lot to him in terms of the way I think about international relations theory. Every encounter I had with him was very pleasant. (He was very tolerant – enthusiastic even – of my question regarding whether or not there were Arab comic books over a pint one evening at Goodenough College.)
I know there will be a lot of heavy-hearts around the LSE today – not to mention UK academia at large, as well as the many, many students Professor Halliday had over the years.

EDIT: The LSE tribute is here and they link to Professor Halliday’s last lecture at the LSE here.

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Shadow War comes to light

Another mysterious air strike has come to light. Via the NYT, we have links to reports that in January, a “major power” conducted a significant air strike in Sudan on a convoy of trucks supposedly transporting weapons from Sudan to Hamas in Gaza. CBS reports that while Sudanese officials have accused the US of carrying out the strike, US officials hint that Israel was behind the attack. Haaretz reports that Israeli officials, while not confirming the report, certainly are denying it. According to CBS:

In the airstrike in Sudan – said to have been “in a desert area northwest of Port Sudan city, near Mount al-Sha’anoon,” according to SudanTribune.com – 39 people riding in 17 trucks were reportedly killed….

If Israeli airplanes carried out the attack in Sudan, it would suggest that there is a shadow war against Hamas and its weapons sources that is wider than the Israeli or U.S. government has revealed.

Who could have undertaken such an attack? Its a pretty limited group consisting of mainly the US and Israel and perhaps Egypt, given the proximity to the Egyptian border. Conceding that Egypt is a stretch at best, the likely suspects include the US and Israel. Israel’s F-15I, a long range ground attack aircraft, is designed for just such missions–long range precision attack. The US has bases in Djibouti as well as carrier-based aircraft that could launch any number of platforms. The scope of the attack (17 trucks) suggest a multiple-plane strike package, probably ruling out attack by US drones.

The most significant element in this strike is the actionable intelligence that produced it. The attacking power must know that this particular convoy is carrying arms, and know where the convoy is and where its heading. That type of intelligence suggests either a very robust HUMINT capability on the ground in Sudan, or, more likely, a robust satellite surveillance capability that could identify the convoy and follow it, pinpointing its exact location at the time of the strike.

The wider implications of this strike could be significant. It shows the depth and difficulty of the Israeli – Hamas conflict. Hamas has a robust global supply network and cooperative governments willing to allow such a network to exist. It also shows the depth of involvement by Sudan and Iran in the issue. It also is a clear signal from Israel to Iran–we are monitoring your actions and have the ability to strike your activities. The F-15I’s range includes Port Sudan, and thus a good chunk of Iran as well.

Developing….

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Condoleezation

Almost live Panel Blogging:

I’m sitting (or at least was, when I started this post) in a rather interesting panel that’s running at AU right now: The Obama Administration and the Palestinian / Israeli Conflict. It’s a pretty intense, thoughtful, and insightful discussion, featuring Aaron Miller, Yoram Peri, Amjad Atallah, and moderated by our own Boaz Atzili. On the schedule but not able to make it today was Joshua Muravchick.

Aaron Miller has quite a lot on his mind and is very talkative and is quite passionate about his points. Its clear that he has a lot that he wants to say—not just here, but in his recent writings, his book, and his other recent commentary. Its the I worked at this for 24 years and got nowhere because you crazy people can’t get over your inane mythology and appreciate the world as it is, not how you want it to be (he didn’t actually say the crazy people part, but he did drop the realism line at one point in his remarks).

Two-plus points, reacting to what I heard.

1. Both Atallah and Miller prefaced their remarks: “Speaking as an American…” Aside from the obvious use of this rhetorical device to preface remarks about the status of the negotiations, the frame also allows them to raise a very critical issue that has been absent from the recent dialogue of US involvement in the Middle East Peace Process. Both noted that the US has very vital National Interests at stake in resolving this conflict. The Obama administration has some major items on its plate: withdraw from Iraq, deal with Iran, the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan, and terrorist networks who might seek to attack the US directly. The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is connect to all of these and as it degrades, it further complicates the US’s ability to resolve its most vital interests in the region. Resolving the Israeli – Palestinian issue, beyond any Israeli or Palestinian interests, beyond any alliance with Israel, is important to the US achieving key goals on its own. Atallah recalled the way the US dealt with Bosnia—for a while, it was a horrible problem but one where the deep, ancient hatred and longstanding conflict rendered it impossible for the US to do anything. Then, at a certain point, the Clinton Administration decided that resolving the conflict was in the US interest, and they got involved and pushed a resolution (not that the Balkans is the Middle East, his point being that when the US decides its in its interest to act, it can and will take action).

The new “reality”* of the situation might now be an American National Interest in ending the conflict—not solving it to the liking of any one side, but ending it so that it is no longer a problem to the US advancing its other key interests in the region. At this point, the US decides what it needs, and what its worth, in terms of willingness to invest / pay, to get these needs, and makes it happen. Now this is not to capitulate to the inane Walt argument that Israel is somehow dragging down the US in the region (interestingly, Miller referenced the Walt / Mearshiemer book, trashed it, and then called for a more realistic understanding of the US – Israeli relationship, both by the general public and by American Jews that moves beyond some sort of mythology of fear.)

The difference here is that the subtle change of role for the US that they suggest—no longer protector of any one side, no longer “honest broker” but rather concerned great power able to see a workable solution that is good for the US and apply appropriate pressure to both sides to get there.

2. Its very interesting to hear the different analyses of what the barriers are to peace. On the one hand, Miller says the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians is large, while Atallah and Peri say that these gaps are less substantive and more process-oriented. The one thing that is clear from this (and, honestly, any discussion you ever listen to by anyone with any familiarity with the issue) is that the basic issues are still the same basic issues, the general terms of an agreement have a straight genealogy from the Roadmap to the Mitchell Plan, to Camp David, to Oslo, to Madrid, to Camp David. Its essentially the same plan, the same issues. So where’s the problem? Miller says that nothing will happen until there is a unified Palestinian political order, one organization controlling violence over its territory. Now, that’s a state (cue Weber), and as Atallah points out, they aren’t a state yet. Peri says the problem is a lack of trust and leadership on both sides. Miller also faults poor leadership. Peri notes the interesting dynamic in Israeli public opinion: he references surveys that show the Israeli public as more supportive of trading land for peace and closing settlements, but also shifting to the right politically, with Likud expected to win the upcoming elections. No trust in the leadership to actually deliver these long term goals.

Other interesting tidbits:

Atzili noted a new word making its way around Israeli slang: Condoleezation, to work long and hard and accomplish nothing.

There was general consensus that the idea that the Bush Administration was in any way good for this region or this conflict, or any of the parties, is mythology. To say you support a 2 state solution and then do nothing about it is no help to the Palestinians. To say you support Israel and then disengage from the peace process is no help to the Israelis. No one had much nice to say about the Bush Administration. Muravchik might have altered that dynamic, but he was apparently sick or something.

There was also general consensus that a peace deal with Syria was perhaps more likely than anything else. Its doable, its easy—no existential issues, it has support from the Israeli military (Peri reported), and it would actually help a bit with the other tracks.

Atallah noted that Arab leaders now feel they can engage the US again. The Bush Administration, with Iraq, Abu Gharib, Gitmo, and the like, was impossible to talk to. Obama offers a fresh chance. This holds out the promise that the Obama administration could engage and bring about the regional support necessary for an Israeli – Palestinian process.

Overall, a very interesting panel. There was audio and video taken, I’m told there might be a podcast, and if there is, I’ll try to link to it.

*MEPP commentators always like to talk about “realities” the changing realities, the new realities, the realities on the ground. Sorta makes you wonder how “real” they are, and if they are so real, how they keep changing all the time.

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