Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two cheers... but still missing something

I haven't mentioned yet how pleased I am with the BBC's new website.  Not because it's more spaced out, bu the fact that they have finally separated the Americas in two, with Latin America and the Caribbean separate from the US and Canada.

My main grumble with the previous version had been that too often Latin America was overshadowed by 'American' news.  However, just changing the format isn't enough.  There's a broader problem with Latin American coverage in Britain and just looking at the news today demonstrates that.  What counts as news from Latin America for the BBC constitutes the following: football, poverty, violence, drugs, crime (and if drug-related crime can be presented, so much the better), animals and Hugo Chavez.

Out here in the Middle East Edward Said's work on 'orientalism' was very instructive about the way that the 'West' has perceived and shaped impressions of this part of the world.  Maybe there's a similar word to describe how the West shapes its views about Latin America?  If so, I'd really like to know it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Securing Security?

Another IPCRI event on ‘Israeli and Palestinian Security Concerns in the Peace Process’, at which the panellists were Rami Dajani of the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit and Shlomo Gazit, a former IDF general in charge of running affairs in the occupied territories after the 1967 war.

I tend to think that both sides know full well what the others want and that what’s holding them back are there willingness to make concessions and other factors like not preparing public opinion. However, it seems that the issue of security in any agreement is going to be painfully drawn out. Dajani saw the ‘endgame’ as involving the following: a full Israeli military withdrawal, a Palestinian state with a monopoly on the use of force within its territory, a third party to support differences between the two sides and bilateral and regional security arrangements.

Gazit painted a far more pessimistic picture, seeing little chance of an ‘ideal’ peace as Dajani had laid it out. At best there was likely to be a ‘cold peace’ between the two sides and others that would last for a generation. Moreover, he couldn’t accept settlers being under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state (at least not immediately), which rather poses problems for the notion of the Palestinians having complete control over force in the West Bank. He later went on to say that it was only a highly ideological and active minority that was a problem so would require Israeli presence during an interim period. He also alluded to some legislation in the Knesset which would see a referendum on settlements. A rejection of the settlement policy would weaken the movement and reduce its capacity to be the tail that wags the dog [I may need to go away and find details about this referendum, since this was the first I’d heard about it].

Gazit also sees a future West Bank rather like Gaza today, where Israelis security concerns will be less about high level, technologically advanced weapons than homemade, small scale ones – but ones that have strategic risks, since places like Ben Gurion airport would be brought within range. He was also less confident about a third party role. It would only work if both sides shared the same rules and agreed to abide by it. That hasn’t always been the case in this part of the world.

One especially interesting question in the following discussion was about how to prepare Israeli public opinion for Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state. At the moment they are very happy with the current situation, since there have been fewer security risks or problems since the end of the second Intifada. Dajani said that Israelis had to realise that the current situation was only an illusion of security and that Israel needed to be made accountable for its actions. That could be done by imposing a cost on it, rather than providing incentives and rewards for it to change its behaviour (its OECD membership might have been on way). This means pressure from outside rather than from within.

Gazit meanwhile saw three possibilities surrounding a two-state solution – and how they should be set out to the Israelis: either an agreement between the two sides, a unilateral Israeli withdrawal or recognition that the current situation could explode into violence again [really? I’m not so sure. After all, what did the second Intifada really achieve?]. As for Gershon Baskin of IPCRI, his conclusion is that there’s no point trying to change public opinion directly. Instead the focus should be on influencing decision-makers, since the public are likely to support a settlement as long as security issues are ensured. He also noted that the recent legislation that imposes a penalty on Israelis (whether Jewish or Arab isn’t specified I think) that act against Israel is one way that the state has hit back at trying to achieve the imposition of a cost, as Dajani suggested (the legislation is directed at the BDS movement, which I’ve talked about in previous posts).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

After the freeze

It’s been awhile since I updated this blog and almost a week since I attended the IPCRI event in Jerusalem regarding what happens after the Israeli settlement freeze policy comes to an end. Along with the ever present Gershon Baskin, the Palestinian negotiator, Khalil Toufakji, and the Ha’artez journalist, Akiva Elder, were on the panel.

The central message that came out of the discussion was the narrow window available for the US to take a lead. The settlement freeze comes to an end (although this is on new settlements, not ones that were already under construction – so it was never a complete freeze) in September which poses an awkward – in Gershon’s words, a ‘dangerous’ – time until the American congressional elections in November. That’s about two months were the American position is likely to be (ironically) frozen.

Elder suggested that if the Democrats lose the House this will show that AIPAC has been working overtime to weaken their vote. If they win that would give Obama about a year to be free to act in a more independent manner on Israel-Palestine without any interference with the Jewish lobby. Gershon has picked up on the one year point in his piece in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post, in which he points out that from November 2011 Obama will be focusing attention on his re-election campaign.

So timing seems to be everything. But in the post-panel discussion afterwards, I asked for some reflections on the previous reversal in terms of settlement policy, during the ‘disengagement’ in Gaza (I call it ‘disengagement’ because while the settlements are no longer there, the siege remains in place). Elder wasn’t that positive about the decision, saying that it had been a unilateral one and that for many Israelis the attitude has been mixed, with many seeing the removal from Gaza as giving something up for nothing.

Meanwhile, Gershon pointed out that the disengagement showed that things that are done can be undone, including the removal of settlements. He said it was telling that the head of the settlement movement had accepted the need for withdrawal from Gaza but that there were also lessons to be learned. In particular this included not pulling down the houses, since they could have been bequeathed to the Palestinians and that the Israeli state has largely forgotten the settlers, with many of them still homeless today. The same mistakes shouldn’t be made in the West Bank – if it comes to that.