“Freiheit” für Gazellen.

Daß die Befreiung von Saddam Hussein den wenigsten Menschen im Irak wirklich zu Freiheit verholfen hat, ist eine Erkenntnis, der sich angesichts der letztlich noch immer – mit immer unübersichtlicheren Koalitionsstrukturen – eskalierenden Stammesfehden/ethnischen Konflikte/Verteilungskämpfe im Lande selbst und der im Lichte dieser Entwicklung zumindest nicht unproblematischen “get out yesterday”-Haltung der Heimatfront wohl nur noch die Redenschreiber im Weißen Haus entziehen können, oder – müssen.

Ein ganz besonders trauriges Kapitel der Geschichte der vermeintlichen Freiheitsverschaffung hat die FAZ gestern als Titel der Rubrik “Bilder und Zeiten” veröffentlicht. In Syrien, das sich nach dem erneuten Ausfall von Beirut als “Paris des Nahen Ostens” offenbar zum Rotlichtviertel der Region entwickelt, müssen nun Flüchtlingsfamilien aus dem Irak ihre Töchter reichen Arabern andienen, damit die Familien durch den nahenden Winter kommen.

Lesenswert: Der Tanz der traurigen Gazellen.


A Ray Of Hope?

The Jerusalem Post reports that “Leftists, Palestinians near ‘Swiss Agreement‘” along the lines of the proposed Taba compromise of early 2001, under which Israel would cede some 95 percent of the occupied territories, Palestinian control of east Jerusalem, and for the right of refugees to return to a Palestinian state, but not to Israel.

Sure, such an agreement would not have any legal effect – and it is hard to imagine how something that wasn’t truly accepted by a gambling Arafat back in 2000 could become official Israeli policy now given the tragic state of affairs). But it would certainly signal to the world that there are still people in Israel and among the Palestinians who are willing to go all the way for a negotiated agreement. Depending on press coverage, it could be an extremely powerful political signal.

No wonder Ariel Sharon already denounced any possible agreement even before its conclusion (from the Jerusalem Post):

“There is a cynical political attempt by Labor and the Left to topple the government at a time when it is fighting terror,” Sharon said. “This must be taken seriously. They did it in a time of war before, and now, too, they are cooperating with the Palestinians in a time of war.”

Of course, it is impossible to predict both peoples’ reactions in these violent times. But Sharon’s reaction somehow implies that it would help recreate hope, the scarcest resource in the Middle East these days.

Iraq, US Politics

God’s Own Agenda?

Haaretz reports that, according to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas President Bush allegedly explained at the recent Akaba summit that

“God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.”

Mr Abbas words are, according to the newspaper, taken from selected minutes acquired by Haaretz from a negotiation between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian faction leaders last week.

So God instructed Bush to strike at Saddam… [and probably allowed the use of some “white lies”]

But apparently God hasn’t spoken to Bush about the Middle East conflict, as the President is only “determined” to solve the problem.

Reading this I can’t help but wonder – assume for a moment that God would indeed speak to President Bush about the Middle East a little too close to the 2004 US elections? Would Bush tell God that, right now, he can’t really concentrate on a divine mission because of the election?

The statement is interesting in another way as well – given the substantial support Bush has among the American people and apparently record breaking donation levels for his next campaign, why would he need to concentrate on the election. Wouldn’t “solving” the Middle East suffice to win?

Maybe his camp is paranoid. But maybe, they really think they need a full-scale campaign because they stand a real chance to lose…

compulsory reading

A Common Sense Of Inevitability.

What made the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the agreement that started the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, possible? I believe, above all, it was shared expectations about the demographic future. True, there are still more problems than solutions to most practical, especially procedural questions of a truly open-ended devolution in Northern Ireland. But despite serious, sometimes violent, setbacks and the continuiing suspension of the Stormont government, mostly due to loyalist and nationalist splinter groups’ non-compliance, IRA decommissioning, and party system induced radicalisation tendencies in the run-up to any important decision, serious people on both sides – Northern Irish Unionists and Irish Republicans alike – realised that a democratically concluded reunification of Ireland can not be ruled out in the long run given current and expected birth rates. The common expectation that the current minority could well become the voting majority in the medium term, regardless of the electoral system used, has thus tempted both parties to agree on power sharing now – as well as when the tables will have turned.

Even with shared expectations of the fundamental trends there are innumerable obstacles on the way to build the most important prerequisute of true peace – trust – just as the the British and Irish governments stated in paragraph 3 of their April 2003 joint declaration intended to overcome the current suspension of the Good Friday agreement.

“A key impediment to completing the evolution to such a society in Northern Ireland is that both major traditions have lacked confidence and trust in each other. A major factor contributing to the erosion of the confidence and trust of law-abiding people throughout the community has been the continuing active manifestations of paramilitarism, sectarian violence and isorder. While it would not be possible to complete the transition to longer-term peace and stability by dwelling forever on the undoubted wrongs and associated hatred of the past, neither is it possible to create a new beginning without taking account of, and addressing, its legacies.”

Now imagine a situation in which the opposing parties/peoples do not (yet?) believe in the same version of the future. Welcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A conflict in which neither party is absolutely sure that the “two state” solution will be the eventual outcome of conflict, and, moreover, a conflict, in which perceptions of the discounted future are highly volatile.

Too many Palestinians in charge as well as on the streets still believe that demographics are on their side. After all, the population of the occupied territories tripled over the last thirty years to more than three million now. Even within Israel, the percentage of the Arab population doubled from 10 percent in the 1950s to 20 percent today – quite achievement given the Jewish population of Israel rose tenfold from only about 500,000 in 1948 to about five million today. Too many Palestinians are poor, hopeless and fanatic. And they don’t have any real political leadership or civil society.

Seeing this, it is not too surprising that the mainstream Israeli society is eternally undecisive and devided about how to deal with the ongoing threat of being blown up simply for boarding a bus or shopping at the wrong store at the wrong time beyond “tightening security”, which is, in turn, strangling the Israeli economy, thereby also hurting the prospects of the many Palestinians who need this economy to earn a living for their families. Sealing of “the territories” means less Palestinians in Israel and is thus probably increasing security in the short term, but withdrawing even the slightest benefit of cooperation is probably not going to do the same over the long term.

Will there ever be true peace based on the UN resolution 242’s mantra – “Land For Peace” – that has been repeated innumerable times since 1967 – including the latest effort, the Akaba agreement? Or to frame the question differently, in the way most Israelis will see it – will there be peace,after a Palestinian state has been founded? Not knowing the answer to this question is not a good reason for any Israeli politician to even contemplate taking on the fanatic settler movement – a move that would very likely lead to intra Israeli sectarian violence.

Why risk this if even the most influential “external” party in this conflict is not (at least publicly) clearly signalling which way to go?

Sure Mr. Bush boldly said that Akaba (ie UNSC 242) is the way to go. But then there are other powerful Americans like Dick Armey, the former US House of Representatives Majority Leader, who, apparently without any real political consequences, called for an ethnic cleansing of the occupied territories on US television last year, assuming that Jordan would be the better Palestine anyway. Given the electoral importance of American Evangelical Christians for the Republican Party as well as their obession to have a biblical size Eretz Jisrael in order to speed up the “Battle of Armageddon” (and thus the annihilation of all but 144,000 Jews), this ambivalence might be explainable – but it is certainly not helpful.

However, any two state-solution needs two states, and governments. And that is a problem.

Currently, the Palestinian authority resembles a government to the extent that the West Bank and Gaza resemble a state. Clearly, a state’s “monopoly of power” will have to be interpreted differently in the Middle East, but as long as other, more radical groups are seriously able to challenge the authority’s authority, there’s no need to negotiate. On the other hand, even if the Palestinian Authority were materially able to seriously fight extremist groups, this would clearly not increase its popularity among the Palestnian people, many of whom still are not so sure about the benefits of a political process, as outlined above. So, and I am serious here, the Israeli government has to weaken the more extremist groups because it is necessary to have a true Palestinian government at some point, but the Palestinian authority could not do it for political reasons, even if it technically could, which is very much in doubt.

Thus, fighting extremist violence, even through coordinated assassinations of sectarian leaders, is probably creating more anger in the short term, but in the long run, it is taking extremist organisations apart, hopefully, without seriously undermining the standing of the Palestinian authority among its people. If Hamas offers a ceasefire, it’s probably not because they have suddenly begun to believe in a UNSC 242 resolution, but because they need a break from fighting to restructure and redeploy.

But while weakening the more extreme forces of Palestinian resistance could strenghthen those on the political front, they still need real hope for a real solution. After all, there is no guarantee those supporting a political process today will still do that tomorrow should they believe it to be ineffective along the lines Ignatz Bubis, the former chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, explained to me back in 1993 with respect to the nascent Oslo agreements – that any Likud government would negotiate them to death: The Palestinians could always decide to revert to the current status quo: conflict management by cradle & stones.

Real hope for a real solution would include not only the cessation of illegal settlement construction along the familiar lines of creating facts by building three initially illegal settlements, and later destroying only the two more problematic one. It would have to include a real “step back”, a removal of a substantial part of “legal” settlers from the West Bank, a move that, again, is certain to lead to Jewish extremist violence. Thus, any real removal would have to be backed by a broad coalition within the Knesset as well as “on the streets”. For such a coalition to emerge, there must be faith that a real Palestinian government and state will really lead to peace, or, at least, absence of violence. In the course of the last 55 years, Israel’s Defense Forces have successfully managed to ensure the Jewish state’s existence against outside enemies. The next important conflict – hopefully not too violent – will be an internal one.

Only Nixon can go to China, some said when he went to Bejing in 1972 – meaning that only a true conservative was able to politically survive ending two decades of silence with the People’s Republic. Now one might be tempted to argue that it only a hawk with Ariel Sharon’s credentials could believe that he stands a chance to survive such a battle – should he indeed have come to the conclusion most people around the world have long arrived at – that a Palestinian state is indeed inevitable.

I hope he did.


My Gentle Readers,

I would like to inform you that recent hardware rescue efforts have been rather successful.

As a fortunate consequence I am now able to post again. So in my next entry, I will try to explain why I – contrary to most German commentators – believe the Israeli policy to militarily weaken Hamas and other extremist groups could actually be helpful for a peace process in the Middle East, should it ever be complemented by one crucial ingredient – real hope for a real solution.

almost a diary, quicklink

Israel endorses road map.

Deutsche Welle reviews the European newspapers’ reaction to Israel’s endorsement of the latest plan for peace in the Middle East. For one, The Independent wryly notes that “[p]eace may be on the horizon, but it is not yet around the corner.”

A personal note – in early 1993, I interviewed the late Ignatz Bubis, then head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, for a school paper I had to write about the Middle East conflict. To my question what he thinks would be the outcome of the rumours about the “Oslo process” that were emerging at the time he said something like “there will be peace eventually … in 25 years or so.” The horizon may well be some 15 years down the road (map). Does *anyone* believe there will be a Palestinian state in 2005?

compulsory reading

Political Correctness, ad 1920.

In light of the spiral of violence that has once again engulfed the peoples living in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, Spiegel Online has published a feature containing articles covering the main stages of the conflict in the course of the last fifty-five years.

Of course, for well known reasons, they could not go further back to cover the – non religious – roots of the conflict. So I checked the online archives of “The Atlantic” and found some interesting articles dating from a time when the Osman rule of the area ended, and Britain and France divided the area among themselves (with a league of nations cover…), a few years after the famous “Balfour declaration” calling for a Jewish homeland in the British mandate area, when there was no Palestinian nationalism to speak of and when the clans previously ruling the area were only too happy to sell largely uninhabitable land to Jewish settlers with the dream of living in Zion.

The dynamics of the eternal conflict to be were quite different at the time. So was political correctness – I suppose – as the following quote from a 1920 article from “The Atlantic” demonstrates –

“Any practical experiment toward the attainment of a contented Jewish people would be welcome. At present, large communities of Jews never live in perfect amity with Gentile neighbors; and it would be instructive to see whether, in a self-contained Jewish state, they could live in amity with one another. It would also give them a chance to show whether they possess the attributes of a ruling people — a question to which the answer is, at present, largely uncertain.”