//
archives

Gwynne Dyer

Gwynne Dyer has written 1776 posts for Gwynne Dyer

The Trump-Netanyahu Peace Deal

The peculiar thing about the ‘peace deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians that was announced in Washington on Tuesday was obvious at a single glance.

There was President Donald Trump and his good buddy Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, together at the podium, and an audience of US and Israeli officials who clapped at every opportunity. They were talking about a ‘two-state solution’, and one of those states would have to be Palestinian – but there wasn’t a single Palestinian in the room.

The after-life of the ‘two-state’ principle has already been much longer than its real life. It was born in the Oslo Accords of 1993, which were based on the belief that although Israel had conquered all of historic Palestine by 1967, it could not go on ruling over millions of Arabs forever.

Peace and prosperity could only come, therefore, if the Palestinians had their own state too. So the Oslo principle was that there should be two equal and democratic states living side by side, one Israeli and one Palestinian: the ‘two-state solution’. But that solution didn’t even survive the 20th century.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who signed the Oslo deal, was assassinated by a Jewish right-wing extremist in 1995. His successor, ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, had strangled the deal in its cradle before his first term as prime minister ended in 1999.

The Oslo Accords died because Palestinian nationalists didn’t want to accept a state that included only one-sixth of former Palestine, and Israeli nationalists didn’t see why the Palestinian Arabs should have even that much land. Indeed, since the whole area was controlled by the Israeli military, Jewish settlers were already building towns throughout the occupied zone.

Yet even two decades later almost nobody admits publicly that the two-state solution is long dead, because to say that commits you to a discussion of the remaining alternatives – and none of them are good. That’s why even this bizarre sham ‘deal’, cooked up by Trump and Netanyahu without any Palestinian participation, still talks about two states.

At every turn of the wheel, the size of the imaginary state on offer to the Palestinians dwindles. With Israel on the brink of formally annexing all the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, it’s down to about 10% of former Palestine, and it will never actually happen. Yet the fictional destination of a Palestinian state must still be maintained. Why?

When people saw the ‘concept’ of a Palestinian state unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, consisting of several dozen little enclaves linked by overpasses and tunnels, many were irresistibly reminded of the ‘Bantustans’ of South Africa.

The Bantustans were created by the apartheid regime to give the illusion of freedom and self-determination for South Africa’s oppressed black populations. They never fooled anybody, but they allowed the regime to claim that it did respect the democratic rights of black people. They just couldn’t vote in South Africa, which was a country for white people.
Kushner’s map is trying to do the same trick.

A real two-state solution is politically unsaleable in Israel, partly because of the Jewish majority’s security concerns but mainly because the Jewish settlers want too much of the territory such a Palestinian state would be built on.

But the Palestinians are not going to go away, and there are around five million of them. They have already lived under Israeli military rule for more than fifty years. Can you really defend leaving them under military occupation for another fifty?

If not, then the remaining alternatives are a two-state solution or a ‘one-state solution’ in which Israel annexes all the occupied territories. But if Israel annex them then those five million Palestinian Arabs will be able to vote in Israeli elections – and Israel ceases to be a ‘Jewish state’, although it remains a democratic one.

Or else you don’t let them vote, in which case Israel becomes an apartheid state. This is why the zombie two-state solution keeps rising from its grave. Israel doesn’t actually have to get the Palestinians to agree, but it must keep talking about some sort of Palestinian state or else resign itself to being simply an ethnic tyranny.

Is this a sustainable long-term policy? It may well be. Israel is the regional military superpower, unbeatable by any imaginable combination of Arab states, and in any case the rest of the Arab world has largely lost interest in the plight of the Palestinians.

That’s why there was no need to have any Palestinians at the great unveiling of the Trump-Netanyahu ‘peace deal’ this week. Palestinian consent is not necessary, and when they reject it they can be vilified for rejecting ‘peace’. Netanyahu understands this perfectly. Whether Trump understands it doesn’t even matter.
____________________________________
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 10. (“When…trick”)

Coronavirus

In an emergency, the good thing about a dictatorship is that it can respond very fast. The bad thing is that it won’t respond at all until the dictator-in-chief says that it should. All the little dictators who flourish in this sort of system won’t risk their positions by passing bad news up the line until the risk of being blamed for delay outweighs the risk of being blamed for the emergency in the first place.

You can see how this works if you consider China’s response to the emergence of nCov-2019 (novel coronavirus 2019), a new viral threat potentially as serious as the SARS virus of 2003. Some things it has done well, but others it did very badly, and the odd that the virus will spread globally are now probably evens or worse.

The local health authorities in Wuhan, the 11-million-strong city in central China where the virus first appeared, spotted it on 31 December, when only a few dozen cases had come to their attention. That’s as fast as you could ask, and they promptly shut down the seafood and wild game market where the victims caught the disease. Score: 9 out of 10.

China’s national health authorities also acted fast. On 9 January they announced that they had a brand new coronavirus on their hands, and just one day later they released its full genetic sequence online so medical researchers worldwide could start working on it. Elapsed time: eleven days. Known deaths at that point: one. Score: 10 out of 10.

But these are medical professionals, doing their duty according to internationally agreed protocols. We don’t know what they recommended to China’s political authorities at that point, but they must have called for widespread testing, and probably also for travel restrictions to control the spread of the virus. But nobody dared to rock the boat: nothing was done.

A pause here to recall how you control the spread of a new infectious disease for which there is no vaccine, nor any effective cure. You isolate the victims as soon as they are identified, and give them what medical support you can: some will die, but most will usually survive. And if you do that soon enough and thoroughly enough, the global pandemic never gets going.

There are often complicating factors. The spread will be far faster if the virus can pass from one person to another in the air. It will be much harder to isolate the people carrying the virus if they become infectious before they develop visible symptoms. But the methods available to slow or stop the spread are still the same: identify the carriers and isolate them.

Now, back to what happened in China. The medical people did their job; the political people did not. It was two more weeks before the city of Wuhan was cut off from the rest of the country and the world. Lunar New Year, the biggest holiday in China’s calendar, was coming up fast, but nothing was done although half the population goes home for a visit at this time every year.

Now Wuhan is in lockdown, and the regime has even extended the New Year holiday by three days to keep people where they are a little longer. That doesn’t really help – people still have to go home eventually, and Wuhan’s mayor, Zhou Xianwang, admits that 5 million people left the city for the New Year celebrations. But it LOOKS decisive. Score: 2 out of 10.

We now have two pieces of bad news that would have made it even more urgent to seal Wuhan off if they had been known at the time. The new virus does propagate through the air, and people carrying it do become infectious before they display any symptoms.

Zhou didn’t dare advocate isolating the city, and neither did anybody else, until the Great Panjandrum Himself had spoken. President Xi Jinping finally spoke last Saturday (25 January), saying that China faces a “grave situation”, and now the system is racing to do what it should have been done two weeks ago.

Too bad, but this pandemic (if that is what it becomes) will probably be on the same scale as the Sars virus, and that is not really horrific: deaths in the high hundreds or a few thousands worldwide. The mortality rate among those who catch it appears to be about 2%, compared to 1 % for ordinary seasonal influenza. And ordinary ‘flu kills about 400,000 (mostly elderly) people every year.

But one of these days something like the 1918 virus that caused the ‘Spanish’ influenza will emerge again. That killed around fifty million people worldwide, out of a global population only a quarter of what it is now.

Since Chinese food markets now seem to be a prime source of dangerous new ‘flu-related viruses, the Chinese government has a particular responsibility to contain them early. The Chinese doctors will do their duty, as always, but it would be nice if China had its political act a bit more together before then.
_________________________________________
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 10. (“There are…them”; and “We…symptoms”)

Time to Start Shredding?

Donald Trump’s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos on Monday contained no surprises: half an hour of chest-thumping self-praise, although without the usual xenophobia and dog-whistle racism. It was, after all, an audience of the ultra-rich and powerful in which most of the movers and shakers were not American.

There was no point in insulting them, and he didn’t. Presumably for the same reason, he downplayed his climate denial at a conference whose theme this year is sustainability: just two minutes denouncing climate scientists as “the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers,” and then back to the boasting. But you couldn’t help wondering what the audience was thinking.

Most of them are owners or senior managers of businesses with a global reach, and their views on economic issues often chime with Trump’s. In the past they echoed his views on climate change as well, because taking it seriously threatened their business models, but they are not stupid.

Some of them always knew the science was right, and just muddied the waters deliberately to win a few more decades of profit. Others drank the Kool-Aid and truly believed for a while that it was a Chinese-sponsored hoax, but they know it’s not the Chinese who are melting the glaciers and setting Australia on fire.

So a majority of the people in that audience now realise that the climate threat is very real, and some are starting to take serious action against it. One of the world’s three biggest asset-management firms, BlackRock, has just started pulling its investments out of the coal industry. It’s a small start, and it’s very late, maybe too late, but the wind is clearly changing.

Over the past few months Goldman Sachs, Liberty Mutual, and the Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., have all taken similar steps. The European Investment Bank has announced that it will stop lending to fossil-fuel projects altogether. But beyond wondering when and how to take their own businesses in the same direction, a lot of the CEOs at Davos will be asking themselves: is it time to start shredding the evidence?

I am speaking metaphorically, of course. There are doubtless still megatons of paper documents that contain incriminating material about how companies deliberately subsidised climate denial campaigns in the past, but much of it was ‘restricted circulation’ and never saw a photocopier. Just call in the shredders. But the real problem is the electronic evidence.

The most damning evidence for how Boeing slid the now grounded 737 Max past the FAA regulators is not the official documents but the internal email chat about the plane that Boeing has now had to release. “This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys,” said one. “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” said another.

There will be metaphorical tons of damning internal email chatter about how a great many companies conspired to cast doubt on the scientific evidence for global warming over a period of several decades. Tracking it down and killing it will be very hard. In fact, it will be close to impossible.

People do what they have to in order to make a living. Many people who profoundly disapproved of what the guilty companies were doing nevertheless took the job and kept their mouths shut. But a few of them, at least, will have been quietly saving documents and emails for the day when the lawsuits start.

In fact, the class-action lawsuits are already getting underway, especially in the world’s most litigious country, the United States. It’s unexplored legal territory, and it may be some time before one of the cases makes it in court, but the model everybody has in mind is the Tobacco Master Settlement of 1998, in which the four major cigarette companies ended up paying out $206 billion over 25 years.

They were also legally obliged to stop advertising aimed at young people, limit their lobbying, and fund anti-smoking campaigns. That was a case where the main victims were people who actually used their products. The public pressure to punish companies whose activities have harmed everybody’s future will be far greater: if new and retrospective legislation is required, it will be passed.

In this case, we are not just talking about fines, although they may ultimately be immense and even crippling. We are also talking about criminal liability.

Even if we finally start taking serious measures against global warming now, a lot of people are going to die from the damage that has already been done: millions at least, and possibly a great many more than that.

Most of them will live in developing countries, and have no access to the legal systems of the countries where the headquarters are. But enough people will die in the rich countries that those who led or financed the denial campaign will almost certainly end up facing criminal charges ten or twenty years from now. Time to get shredding.
_________________________________
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 12. (“The most…another”; and “They were…passed”)

Putin the Immortal?

Five years ago somebody posted photographs on the internet showing a man who looked a lot like Vladimir Putin in photographs from 1920 and 1941. In both shots he was in military uniform, defending the interests of the Russian people then as he still does today.

But how can this be? He wasn’t even born until 1952. So the wave of faux speculation starts that Putin is an immortal hero who returns at intervals to save Russia. Or maybe just that he’s an immortal vampire. At any rate, he’ll be around forever. It was nonsense then, and it’s nonsense now.

Last week the Russian president announced a wave of constitutional reforms, and the vast majority of foreign observers, especially in the West, immediately jumped to the conclusion that Putin is changing the system so that he can stay in power forever.

Twenty years in power (his current term as president expires in 2024) is not enough for Putin, the foreign pundits insist. He can’t risk leaving power, they explain, or Russians would start asking where his vast illicit wealth came from. And then the pundits spin off into lengthy tirades about how he is Evil Incarnate, even comparing him to Stalin.

Joseph Stalin, who ruled the old Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, was a mass murderer without a conscience. Nobody was safe from his paranoia: he even killed most of the other heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution. He was probably responsible for the deaths of ten million Russians.

And Vladimir Putin? Here’s Simon Tisdall, columnist and former foreign editor of The Guardian: “Like Stalin, (Putin) has made many enemies and caused untold misery….cronyism and corruption on a vast scale…military aggression and disruption abroad…..Again like Stalin, retirement is not a safe option for the ex-KGB spy who normalised assassination as a modern-day tool of state policy.”

Where to start? Perhaps with the obvious point that Stalin killed tens of thousands for every death that can be attributed to Putin. Moreover, corruption in Putin’s Russia is far less than it was in the 1990s under the first post-Communist president, the Western-backed Boris Yeltsin, a drunken puppet who made ordinary Russians cringe.

‘Military aggression and disruption abroad’? Guilty as charged, in the illegal restoration of Crimea to Russian control (though most people in Crimea welcomed it), and in backing anti-government rebels in eastern Ukraine.

But there is a litany of Western invasions and military interventions (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, Syria, Yemen) that didn’t meet the highest legal standards either, and had equally messy outcomes. Nor do Western governments lag behind on the assassination front.

More importantly, Russia’s western border is a thousand kilometres east of where it was in 1914. It is a minimum of 300 km. east of where it was as recently as 1991. Putin has not challenged that new frontier once (with the partial exception of Ukraine) in 21 years in office. You could have a much more frightening and disruptive person than Putin in the Kremlin.

The old KGB was a ruthless organisation, but also a rational and realistic one. Putin is a man steeped in that tradition, not an adventurer or a fantasist, and we should probably be grateful for that. So what are the odds that he will still be running things after 2024?

He will be 72 years old in 2024: definitely time to start thinking about what happens after he’s gone. And I’m going to make a bold assumption here: that he is a Russian patriot.

Being Russian means that he fears disorder above all else: Russians sometimes call themselves “Italians of the North”, and they don’t mean it in a good way. So he wants a strong state, run with a firm hand, even after he has retired, which means that a clear and orderly succession is very important.

However, living on under somebody else’s firm hand is not an attractive prospect for Putin. He may or may not have fabulous sums of stolen money tucked away – the evidence for that is unclear – but you make a lot of enemies in a quarter-century in power, and they could hurt you badly after you have relinquished it.

So what Putin needs is a position that gives him the final constitutional say when big changes loom, but lets him withdraw from the daily exercise of power. Something like the chairmanship of a strengthened State Council that can overrule both president and prime minister when necessary (but does so very rarely).

And lo! That appears to be exactly what he has in mind. The details of his proposed reforms are not yet clear, but a weaker president, a stronger prime minister, and a State Council presiding serenely from afar are all part of the package.

I’m not saying that’s what will actually happen, but I think it’s what he’d like to happen.
____________________________________
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 1 and 2. (“Five…now”)