5 November 2012
The One-State Solution
By Gwynne Dyer
“Everybody knows how this will end,” wrote Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s best-known journalists, in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot recently. “There will be a bi-national (state).” The “two-state solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead; long live the “one-state solution.”
The two-state solution, promised by the Oslo Accords of 1993, was the goal of the “peace process” of the past twenty years. It envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state in the one-fifth of the former colony of Palestine that did not end up under Israeli rule after the war of 1948. That Palestinian mini-state, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would live alongside Israel in peace, and the long, bitter struggle over Palestine would end happily.
That Palestinian state is no longer a viable possibility, mainly because there are now half a million Jewish settlers living amongst the two million Palestinians in the West Bank and former East Jerusalem. “I do not give up on the two-state solution on ideological grounds,” wrote Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger in September. “I give up on it because it will not happen.”
The greatest triumph of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, has been to make the two-state solution impossible. Both men pretended to accept the Oslo Accords in order to ward off foreign pressure on Israel, but both worked hard and successfully to sabotage them by more than tripling the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank in only twenty years.
Now the job is done, and it is not only Israelis who can read the writing on the wall. Moderate Palestinians, never all that enthralled with the prospect of a tiny “independent” country completely surrounded by the Israeli army, are also giving up on the two-state idea. As Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords, wrote recently: “We must seriously think about closing the book on the two-state solution.”
So the one-state solution is creeping back onto the agenda, if only tentatively. The current Israeli government will have nothing to do with it, since endless, futile talk about an independent Palestinian state serves Netanyahu’s purposes so well. But one day there will be a different government in Israel, and the Palestinians will still be there. What are the odds that the one-state solution might then get real traction?
In a sense, the single state already exists: Israel has controlled the West Bank militarily since the conquest of 1967, and until recently it occupied the Gaza Strip as well. Almost 40 percent of Israelis already support a solution that would simply incorporate the West Bank into Israel permanently.
But what would Israel do with those two million extra Palestinians who would then live within the country’s expanded borders? Combine them with the million and a half Palestinians in Israel, the descendants of those who were not driven out in 1948, and there would be 3.5 million Palestinians in a one-state Israel that included almost all the land west of the Jordan River.
Add the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who will number another 2 million in five years time, and there would be 5.5 million Palestinians in Israel. That would mean there were almost as many Palestinians in Israel as there are Jews.
That unwelcome prospect is probably why Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew all Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and sealed the border in 2005: if there were ever a one-state solution, he didn’t want those extra two million Palestinians to be part of it. He did want to keep the West Bank, on the other hand – but even without the Gaza Strip, the one-state solution would produce an Israel whose population was more than one-third Palestinian.
This is precisely why an increasing number of Palestinians favour the one-state solution. They have tried guerilla war to get their lands and their political rights back, to no avail. They have tried terrorism, which didn’t work either. They tried negotiation for twenty years, and that didn’t work. So maybe the best tactic would be to change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an international problem to a civil rights problem.
So the Palestinians should just accept the permanent annexation of the West Bank by Israel, argue the one-staters. Indeed, they should actively seek it. They are already Israeli subjects, by every objective measure of their condition. If they become Israeli citizens instead, then the question of their status becomes a civil rights issue, to be pursued non-violently – and perhaps with a greater chance of success.
That is the logic of the pro-one-state argument among the Palestinians, and it is flawless if you assume that Palestinians would enjoy full rights of citizenship once the West Bank was legally part of Israel. But that is rather unlikely, as the status of Israel’s existing Palestinian citizens already demonstrates. They are much poorer and less influential politically than their Jewish fellow-citizens.
A new public opinion poll in Israel by the Dialog polling group reveals that almost 70 percent of Israeli Jews would object to giving West Bank Palestinians the vote even if Israel annexed the territory they live in. The only alternative is an apartheid-style state where only the Jewish residents have rights, but most Israelis seem quite relaxed about that. The Palestinians are probably heading up another blind alley.
But then, all the alleys are blind.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6, 10 and 11. (“So…traction”; and “Add…Palestinian”)
05 September 2012
US Foreign Policy: The Election Barely Matters
By Gwynne Dyer
There was never going to be a big debate on US foreign policy at the Democratic National Convention. It will be whatever Barack Obama say it should be, and besides, the delegates in Charlotte weren’t interested.
It’s the economy, stupid, and two months before the election nobody wants to get sidetracked into discussing a peripheral issue like American foreign policy. The only people who really care about that at the moment are foreigners and the US military – and even they are not following the election with bated breath, because few of them believe that a change of president could fundamentally change the way the US relates to the rest of the world.
Although the Republicans do their best to paint Obama as a wild-eyed radical who is dismantling America’s defences, he has actually been painfully orthodox in his foreign policy. He loves Israel to bits, he did not shut down the Afghan war (or Guantanamo), he uses drones to kill US enemies (and sometimes, anybody else who is nearby), and he tamely signs off on a $700 billion defence budget.
How can Mitt Romney top that? He could say he loves Israel even more. In fact, he does say that, promising to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But that is purely gesture politics, since almost no other countries do, and in practice Obama gives Israel almost everything it wants already.
He could pledge to spend even more on “defence” than Obama, but the United States is already pouring 4.7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product down that rathole. Obama has planned cuts over the next several years that would bring it down to about 4 percent – and Romney has promised not to let it fall below 4 percent. Not a huge difference there.
Romney does his best to disguise that fact by declaring that he would reverse certain of Obama’s decisions. US ground forces, for example, would remain at their current level under a Romney administration, rather than being reduced by 100,000 people. But changing only that and nothing else would put $25 billion a year back onto the defence budget. How do you do that without raising taxes?
The Republican candidate faces a constraint none of his recent predecessors had: a party that really cares about the deficit. In the past three decades, it has been Republican presidents who ran up the bills – Ronald Reagan never balanced a budget, and the Bush-Cheney team declared that “deficits don’t matter” – while the subsequent Democratic administrations tried to curb out-of-control spending.
Romney doesn’t have that option: the Tea Party wing of his party actually means what it says about both taxes and deficits. So what’s left for him? Well, he could promise to kill even more of America’s enemies than Obama, but he can’t get around the fact that it’s Obama who nailed Osama bin Laden, and Obama who is playing fast and loose with international law by using drones to carry out remote-control assassinations of hostile foreigners.
So Romney says very little about foreign policy because there is little he can say. The closest he has come to specific policy changes was an “action plan” he laid out during the Republican primaries last year, to be accomplished within a hundred days of taking office. It was an entirely credible promise, because none of it really involves a policy change at all.
He promised to “re-assure traditional allies that America will fulfill its global commitments.” A couple of phone calls, and that’s done.
He declared that he would move more military forces to the Gulf “to send a message to Iran,” but he didn’t threaten to attack Iran, or endorse an Israeli attack on Iran. And he can always move them back again if he gets bored.
He said he would appoint a Middle East czar to oversee US support for the evolving Arab transitions. That’s one more government job, but Romney has even less idea than Obama about where he wants those transitions to end up. Besides, the United States has almost no leverage on this issue.
He will review the Obama administration’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. Not necessarily change it; just review it.
He will also review Obama’s global missile defence strategy. He might like to change that – Republicans have loved the concept ever since Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” dreams – but he hasn’t got the kind of money he would need for a more ambitious policy.
He will increase the government’s focus on cybersecurity. Ho-hum.
He will raise the rate of US Navy shipbuilding. So far as budget constraints permit, which is not very far at all.
And he will launch an economic opportunity initiative in Latin America. As long as it doesn’t cost much money.
It’s not surprising that the rest of the world doesn’t care much about the US election. Most foreigners, on both the right and the left, are more comfortable with Obama than Romney, but US foreign policy will stay the same whoever wins. They might not like all of it, but they’re used to it.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6, 15, 16 and 17. (“Romney…taxes”; and “He will increase…money”)
12 August 2012
Egypt: Clean Sweep for the Civilians
By Gwynne Dyer
Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s spokesman did not mince words. He said that the “retirement” of all the senior military commanders in the country represented the completion of the Egyptian revolution. And guess what? The rest of the officer corps accepted Morsi’s decision.
Even as the spokesman was announcing that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the Defence Minister, and General Sami Enan, the army chief of staff, were being retired, state television was showing other military officers, Generals Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi and Sidki Sobhi, being sworn in by President Morsi as their successors.
You could not ask for clearer evidence of the Egyptian officer corps’ collective decision to accept the results of last year’s popular revolution and the subsequent election that brought Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Especially since the heads of the air force, air defence system and navy were removed from their posts at the same time.
Tantawi, 76 years old and defence minister for the past 20 years, was probably surprised to find himself practically alone in trying to sabotage the newly elected civilian government. He was chosen by former dictator Husni Mubarak to keep the military on top, and he worked hard for that goal. However, most Egyptian military officers are between thirty and fifty years younger than him, and they see the world differently.
Egyptian military officers are a privileged caste who enjoy a far better living standard than other government employees of comparable education and skills, but nobody (at least for the moment) is trying to take that away from them. So if their lifestyle is secure, why risk it all by attacking an elected government and bringing the mobs back out into the streets?
Egyptian officers are also, in most cases, patriots who want to see their country become a prosperous, honestly run place. They knew very well that the old regime (whose remnants, like Tantawi, still controlled all the senior military posts) had failed dismally in that regard. Many were reluctant to let an Islamic party like Morsi’s take full control of the country even though the voters chose it, but they now seem willing to take the chance.
Just two months ago it looked like game, set and match to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), led by Field Marshal Tantawi, which was essentially the old regime minus its former head, Hosni Mubarak.
Only 48 hours before the results of the presidential election were to be announced last June, the Supreme Constitutional Court (whose judges were all appointed by the old regime) issued a decree dissolving the parliament that was elected eight months ago. They said the rules on the eligibility of candidates had been misinterpreted in some districts, but their real aim was to get rid of a parliament where the Islamic parties had won most of the seats.
Then, as the presidential votes were being counted and it was becoming clear that Morsi would win, the SCAF issued decrees that gave it the sole right to call a new parliamentary election and to write the constitution under which it would be held. It also stripped the incoming president of any right to control the armed forces, and in particular to appoint or dismiss military officers in senior jobs.
Morsi refused to recognise the legality of these decrees, but he did not openly confront the military either. He just waited for the military high command to make a really embarrassing mistake – which it duly did.
Islamist fanatics had taken advantage of Egypt’s revolution, which distracted everybody’s attention from keeping the militants under control, to create bases in the Sinai peninsula, near the country’s border with Israel. On 5 August, they attacked an Egyptian border post and slaughtered sixteen guards.
In their own fevered imaginations, they were justly killing collaborators who were hindering true Muslims like themselves from making attacks on Israel. In the minds of most Egyptians, they had murdered sixteen innocent young Egyptian men whose only crime was serving their country. Morsi seized the opportunity to dismiss General Murad Mowafi, the head of military intelligence, for failing to forestall the atrocity.
Mowafi’s post made him one of the most powerful men in the country, but nobody wanted to defend him after such an abject failure of intelligence. He went quietly – and by this action Morsi had successfully asserted his right to remove military commanders despite the SCAF’s June decree to the contrary.
The most important political skill is remembering your ultimate objectives, but biding your time until some passing event creates an opening for getting what you want. When the officer corps did not resist Mowafi’s dismissal, Morsi knew that he could win a head-on confrontation with Tantawi and his cronies. They knew it too, and so they went quietly.
Egypt now has a democratically elected civilian government that exercises real control over both domestic and foreign policy for the first time in its history. What Morsi will do with that power remains to be seen, but he has certainly won the chance to use it.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“Egyptian…chance”)
2 July 2012
The Oil Sanctions Against Iran
By Gwynne Dyer
There are cynics among us who would argue that the European Union’s oil sanctions against Iran, which went into full effect on 1 July, are a double triumph for Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
If you assume that the real reason for his apparent hysteria over the alleged threat of Iranian nuclear weapons is to divert international attention from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, then his strategy has been a spectacular success. The main reason that Israel’s allies are imposing these sanctions is to head off an Israeli military strike against Iran that would destabilise the entire region – and in the meantime, nobody is talking about the Palestinians.
In addition, the wily Netanyahu gets a bonus, for these sanctions really are going to hurt Iran economically. Iran is Israel’s most dangerous and implacable enemy, and suddenly its oil exports, and with them its hard currency earnings, are going to be cut in half. Not a bad return on an Israeli policy that cost nothing except some threatening rhetoric.
To be fair, not everybody is convinced that Netanyahu’s wild talk about attacking Iran is just hot air. A whole parade of senior Israeli military and intelligence officials has gone public to say that there is no imminent threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, and that attacking Iran “pre-emptively” would be deeply stupid. Clearly, they think Netanyahu really is a mad dog – but many others remain unconvinced.
In any case, the question of the moment is not Netanyahu’s strategy. It is whether these sanctions will hurt Iran so much that it will have to give up its cherished programme for an independent capacity to enrich nuclear fuel in order to make the pain stop. The answer is: probably not, but they’re going to hurt a lot.
The European Union normally takes about one-fifth of Iran’s exports. If Iran cannot find new markets elsewhere, the loss of those exports would be serious but not crippling. However, at the same time the United States is imposing punitive measures on countries elsewhere in the world that continue to buy Iranian oil, and Europe has banned its maritime insurance companies from selling cover to ships carrying Iranian oil.
European companies still dominate the global market for maritime insurance, so that matters: South Korea, for example, will stop buying Iranian oil this week. And while the most powerful countries outside Europe can safely defy the American threat of punitive measures, knowing that they can negotiate exemptions for themselves, many weaker countries have no choice but to obey the American demands.
A week ago (27 June), an Iranian official admitted privately that the country’s oil exports had already fallen 20 to 30 percent from the normal level of 2.2 million barrels a day. It is estimated that by 1 July, the day all the sanctions came formally into effect, lost sales of Iranian oil amounted to more than a million barrels a day – that is to say, about half of the usual total.
This is not a trivial matter for Tehran. Given that the price of oil is also significantly down, and that Iran is now discounting oil sales to its traditional customers heavily to keep them from defecting, its ability to pay for imports is going to be severely constrained – this in a country where the average price of ten basic foods has already risen 70 percent in three months.
And there is another matter as well. Iran is already storing oil offshore in tankers, but that is clearly only a short-term solution to the problem of what to do with the unsold surplus. It is also cutting back on how much oil it pumps: the latest figures from the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries say that Iranian production is already down by 720,000 barrels per day.
But after a certain point Tehran can no longer deal with the problem by just cutting production at all its wells; it has to start shutting some of them down completely. Re-starting production later can be tricky, and some wells will be permanently damaged by the shutdown. The longer the sanctions last, the more difficult it will become for the Iranian regime.
Yet there is almost no chance that Iran will back down. You do not have to assume that the regime really wants to build nuclear weapons to explain its defiance. This is a country that has faced a century of exploitation and humiliation at the hands of the West, and even those Iranians who loathe the regime will close ranks in defence of their nation’s right to enrich its own nuclear fuel.
On the other side, President Barack Obama will go on tightening the screws, because he dares not gamble that Netanyahu is only bluffing about attacking Iran at least until he has won re-election this November. There is no sign that other oil-exporting countries are going to show solidarity with Iran, and there is enough oil on the market at the moment that nobody else is going to go short of the stuff because of the embargo.
So it is going to be a long confrontation, and a miserable experience for the average Iranian. But for the rest of the world, it will just be a news story.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 11. (“And there…Iranian regime”)