Posts Tagged ‘Politics’


“One-Eyed in Gaza”

February 5, 2009

Norm Geras posts an excellent piece. I agree with nearly everything he says here, except that, on the evidence so far available, I do not accept that Israel is guilty of war crimes.

Norm writes:

This is a post about war crimes in Gaza and the widespread public outrage over them directed at Israel. Since it is a long post, I begin by providing a brief map of what is to follow.

In Part 1 I present a sample of the angry public reaction to Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza, as gathered mostly from the British liberal press. In Part 2 I consider the source of this anger, pointing to what may be thought to be the most likely one – the great and visible suffering caused by Israel’s recent military action. I argue that the hypothesis that this was the cause of outrage against Israel is not decisively rebutted by a standard argumentative move made by Israel’s defenders: namely, that if Israel was guilty of war crimes, then so too was Hamas, for sending rockets against Sderot and other civilian centres. In Part 3 I go on to show that the claim that anger at Israel was due, or mainly due, to the suffering caused by its military action is open to question nonetheless. If we are examining this issue under the rubric of responsibility for war crimes, then public outrage about them is skewed when directed, as it widely has been, exclusively at Israel. In Part 4 I draw three conclusions from what has gone before. The first of these concerns the implication of the attitudes explored here for the future progress of international law. The second bears on the present condition of the Western liberal-left. And the third is about the alarming worldwide growth of anti-Semitism.

He concludes:

In the outpouring of hatred towards Israel today, it scarcely matters what part of it is impelled by a pre-existing hostility towards Jews as such and what part by a groundless feeling that the Jewish state is especially vicious among the nations of the world and to be obsessed about accordingly. Both are forms of anti-Semitism. The old poison is once again among us.

Read the whole thing.


The Elders live!

January 10, 2009

All along I’ve been taking orders from Jerusalem

I never knew, I never knew.

Now I do.

Dumb isn’t in it.


Soviet jokes

December 14, 2008

A taste:

‘Comrade,’ asks the secretary of the Party Bureau, ‘Do you have an opinion on this question?’

‘I have an opinion yes, but I don’t agree with it!’

Well, I thought it was funny.

More – much more – here.


Israel/Palestine: the 70% 70 year old solution

December 9, 2007

The problem of Israel/Palestine was solved 70 years ago. Amazing but at least arguably true. It was determined then that the establishment of two states within the land then known as Palestine was the only feasible or practicable way to resolve the murderous impasse between Arabs and Jews. Depressingly enough, that prospect seems as distant now as it must have been back then.

What has inspired this train of thought was a very interesting book I was reading over the weekend, Mandate Days, by A.J.Sherman, published ten years ago. Sherman based his book primarily on the hitherto unpublished private correspondence, records and diaries of British officers and other ranks deployed to Palestine between 1918 and 1948 to execute the Mandate with respect to Palestine conferred on Britain by the League of Nations following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

To my reading, Sherman is scrupulously fair, as unflinching about Jewish terrorism in the immediate post-WWII period as he is about Arab terrorism during the Arab Rebellion of 1936-39.

The Mandate, as is well known, was based on the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Over the years of the Mandatory Government, it became clear that it was impossible to reconcile the two wings of the Declaration: a national home for the Jews, and preservation of the rights of the indigenous Arabs. Yet Britain was bound by the Mandate to struggle for the achievement of both.

The British officers posted to Palestine to implement the Mandate saw clearly their task was impossible. The hatred between Jews and Arabs could, even then, be cut with a knife. It smouldered below the surface like an inextinguishable fuse.

The British didn’t care for the Zionists by much. Accustomed to the more amenable “natives” of India and Kenya (even if such existed only in their imaginations), they found the Jews — especially those born in Palestine — hard, brash, arrogant, pushy. Most of all, and quite unlike the Arabs, they lacked the proper spirit of deference. They didn’t know their place. To the upper-middle and upper classes of the Empire, effortlessly possessed of a sense of their own social and cultural superiority, this was both puzzling and offensive. In the words of Reader Bullard (see this post), the unintellectual, sport-loving British found a natural affinity with the Arabs, and reserved their distrust for the “intellectual, complicated Jew”. Sherman’s correspondents are almost universally pro-Arab.

From the first, the British on the ground tried to turn Palestine into the kind of colony they were familiar with, complete with hunts (for jackals!), parties, “at homes” and the endless social round. They seemed not to understand that the Mandate did not confer upon them imperial powers, but only administrative responsibilities.

For their part, the Zionist Jews were uninterested in becoming the subjects of Empire. They busied themselves, instead, with fulfilling their part of the Mandate — the construction of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. They bought land from absentee Arab landlords, usually domiciled in Damascus or Cairo, drained the swamps, rescued the sand dunes and, as even the British grudgingly recognised, really did make the deserts bloom. They built a state within a state, with its own schools, language (Hebrew), administrative machinery and taxation to fund their education and health infrastructures. Undoubtedly this was in preparation for the formal establishment of a Jewish state (as opposed to a mere “homeland”).

Meanwhile, the Arabs of Palestine too had their aspirations. Like Arabs elsewhere, they longed for national self-determination. This they had been promised by the British in return for their help in defeating their overlords, the Ottomans. By the late 1930’s, Syria and Iraq were on the verge of achieving it. But in Palestine, the terms of the Mandate made it impossible, for their land had, perforce, to accommodate a national home for the Jews. This the Palestinian Arabs hated above all else. They watched the increasing pace of Jewish immigration and land acquisition with fury and fear, as their land was sold from under them, and the remorseless logic of demographics foretold they would soon be a minority in their own land. The dream of self-determination would be gone like drifting smoke.

The British in Palestine, torn between pro-Zionist policy directives from Whitehall and a profound local conviction that both the Mandate and the Declaration upon which it was based it were profoundly mistaken and unworkable, tried hopelessly to keep the irreconcilable parties apart. Violence erupted throughout the 1920’s, with a series of massacres perpetrated against Jewish populations of Hebron and and other towns in 1929, and culminating in a serious, territory-wide uprising by the Arabs beginning in 1936, urged on by the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini.

It was then, in 1937, that the solution to Israel-Palestine was proposed: partition. Lord Peel was appointed to lead a Royal Commission into the causes of the Arab Rebellion. The Commission’s report is a model of impartiality, diligence, good sense and good governance. The summary of the report is here.

In short, Peel concluded that the Mandate had failed, that the differences between the peoples were irreconcilable, and that the only feasible solution was the establishment of two states, one for the Arabs, and one for the Jews.

The problem cannot be solved by giving either the Arabs or the Jews all they want. The answer to the question which of them in the end will govern Palestine must be Neither. No fair-minded statesman can think it right either that 400,000 Jews, whose entry into Palestine has been facilitated by the British Government and approved by the League of Nations, should be handed over to Arab rule, or that, if the Jews should become a majority, a million Arabs should be handed over to their rule. But while neither race can fairly rule all Palestine, each race might justly rule part of it.

Seventy years later, now as then, it remains the only solution. And seventy years later, now as then, the Jews accept it, and the Arabs do not.

Other highlights of the Peel Commission’s findings are below the fold. They’re rich in insight and well worth reading.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Chavez goes down

December 3, 2007

Hollywood’s favourite full-on-dictator-in-waiting, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez —

Graphic via Gateway Pundit.

— has lost his attempt to change to the constitution to allow him to be president for life (and other important measures).

Venezuela celebrates.

The BBC grits its teeth.


Middle East apocalypse

November 28, 2007

I happened on this 55-year old quote today, from a man long dead — legendary British diplomat Sir Reader Bullard — which really struck me:

It is through the Middle East — Cairo, Baghdad and the Arab shore of the Persian Gulf — that the great airlines run connecting Europe with India, Australia and the Far East. Ancient and modern commerce join when the pipeline which carries oil from Iraq to the Mediterranean forks at the Euphrates and embraces along the coast, a territory which was in ancient times Phoenecia. Not far away, in Palestine, is the traditional site of Armageddon, where those who read prophecies into the Book of Revelation look for a battle to be waged in which evil will finally be overthrown. If an ideological war will satisfy them, let them know it has begun in the Middle East already.

Sir Reader Bullard
Britain and the Middle East
Hutchinson’s University Library, 1952

Something to ponder in the wake of Annapolis. Maybe.

Interestingly, Bullard described himself, at the time of his diplomatic posting to Stalin’s Soviet Union, in 1930, as a ‘former rebel and socialist’. Gosh, there were some of us around even then.


War and peace in Annapolis

November 27, 2007

Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is a very beautiful town. In the old downtown districts, the 18th and 19th centuries survive with surprising grace and resilience. It’s the best town I’ve ever known just for walking around. I’ve been a few times: eaten good food there, and bought some great books, too, at Briarwood Book Shop on Maryland Avenue.

This week in Annapolis there will be a gathering of hawks and doves. Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be there, as will Syria and Saudi Arabia, under the hopeful, watchful eye of President George W. Bush, eager to rescue his reputation as international statesman with some kind — any kind — of breakthrough in the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be there too, equally anxious to influence history’s verdict on her secretaryship.

Hopes are not high. So far, the parties cannot even agree on a framework for discussions. The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, with her customary incisiveness, sails into the whole process here:

The mood is dark in the IDF’s General Staff ahead of next week’s “peace” conference in Annapolis. As one senior officer directly involved in the negotiations with the Palestinians and the Americans said, “As bad as it might look from the outside, the truth is 10 times worse. This is a nightmare. The Americans have never been so hostile.”

On Thursday a draft of the joint statement that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are discussing ahead of the conference was leaked to the media. A reading of the document bears out the IDF’s concerns.

The draft document shows that the Palestinians and the Israelis differ not only on every issue, but differ on the purpose of the document. It also shows that the US firmly backs the Palestinians against Israel.

And Carl in Jerusalem, an Israeli blogger I check out every day, has been arguing against the conference for weeks now.

These guys are a lot smarter than me and are much more likely to be right than I am. But I have a slightly different take on Annapolis.

For decades, the problem of Israel vs. Palestine has been helplessly awaiting its solution. Many things have been tried, and they have all failed. Wars have been won and lost, and none has made any difference. Oslo was a hugely unproductive bribe, proffered by the US and Europe to induce Yasser Arafat to say, in his broken English, something that could be construed as conceding the right of Israel to exist (in Arabic, he said exactly the opposite). Limited democracy — and the grant of a free vote in the absence of the institutions and the expectations of a democratised polity can only be limited in its democratic effect — has brought about no more than the ascendancy of a terrorist clique (Hamas) over a criminal kleptocracy (Fatah). Disengagement, whether from Lebanon or Gaza, has achieved nothing for peace — rather its reverse — in the desperately troubled and traumatised strip of land on the Mediterranean littoral.

So why on earth should anyone entertain the remotest optimism about the possible outcomes in Annapolis?

The principals involved certainly don’t inspire confidence. Olmert leads the weakest Israeli government that I can remember, and is its weakest ever leader. Abbas has a suspect past, to say the least, and is as powerless as Arafat was reluctant to rein in the terrorists in his own ranks. And, rightly or wrongly, Bush wears the legacy of his Iraq adventure like a poisoned crown of thorns he will never be free of, regardless of Annapolis.

The reasons for optimism, then, lie not in the players but in the patterns. Not in the men (no disrespect, Dr Rice), but in the moment. We have seen before, in the case of the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the collapse of the old Soviet Union, that a ‘problem’ long seen as intractable and irredeemable somehow proved to be its opposite, much to the world’s astonishment. Some would say it was the man, and not the moment: it was Mandela (and de Kierk), and Gorbachov who wrought those protean changes.

But maybe not. In both those cases there came a time when it became starkly clear that it was impossible to go on; it was impossible not to change. And the right men, at the right time, recognised the fact and seized the day. I think that day may have come in the Middle East — and it has come precisely because everything else has failed up to this point. It can’t go on as it has done any longer.

Israel cannot go on as before. The summer war in Lebanon demonstrated the limits of its military power. It cannot defeat a terrorist army dug into the bedrock and protected by the civilian infrastructure. Whether it’s fair or not, world opinion will not allow Israel that victory. We saw that at Qana, when Israel’s moral case for war evaporated in the wake of a few minutes’ coverage on CNN. We see it every day that the Qassams fall on Sderot and the world pays no mind until Israel strikes back.

Nor can Palestine. The only thing that holds the West Bank back from becoming the disaster that has enveloped Gaza is the Israeli security presence. Somehow Palestine has to shake off the dreadful legacy of Oslo, which established it as a perpetual beggar state bereft of dignity and self-respect, eternally beholden to outside funding, and eternally resentful for such. It needs an economy, infrastructure, jobs, growth, wealth. And Israel could teach it such a hell of a lot.

I don’t know that the time has come, but I hope it may have. I hope that the strange, unexpected and mysterious confluence of forces that resolved the problems of South Africa and Eastern Europe will configure itself again above this lovely port city on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, and fall like the rain.

It may be, precisely because of the weakness of each of the key players, that this is the time of the moment. It may be, according to the principles of game theory as applied to the theatre of politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, that now, more than at any time before, the principals may realise that it is inescapably in their own interests to seek peace rather than war. Few politicians could withstand that particular siren’s call.

We shall see. But somewhere, in these unpredictable and conflicted spirals of strength and weakness, hope and fear, hate and joy, there may — just — be a distant chance that each side will agree to forgive the other for the blood of the past and the pains of the present. No catalogue of the possible can include a perfect future for Israel and Palestine, but at least we can envisage one that does not require a constant and continual investment in death.

Maybe Annapolis will bring us closer to that state.

Carpe diem.

More, and countervailing, from Carl, Melanie Phillips. I’m a bit closer in opinion to Dalia at Good Neighbours.