Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Thoughts On Israel & Palestine – Early Thoughts.

Lots in the news lately about Israel and Palestine, given President Barack Obama’s recent speech where he referred to the need for negotiations based on a starting point of the pre-1967 borders, with what he called “mutually agreed upon swaps”, meaning that there would likely need to be some exchanges of territory to reflect where people have setter since that time.

President Obama’s speech brought a strong response from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He strongly dismissed the President’s statement saying that it would leave Israel “indefensible”. The statement isn’t totally off-base, in simple terms. The Golan Heights region seized from Syria offers some significant strategic advantages which Israel would be understandably loath to relinquish.

That said, the real controversy seems more to stem from President Obama’s explicit enunciation of what has long been a US policy regarding a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. Netanyahu seems to be some kind of darling among a set of the American right that seems to have an innate ability to suspend any form of rationality when it comes to Israel, and his bluster against Obama apparently made them very happy.

What I want to try to do is explore this obsession with Israel and its implications for any form of lasting peace. I’m not any sort of expert on the matter but I’m just going to sort of audibly ponder the situation.

While I think the world meant well in giving assistance to the Zionist movement in establishing the State of Israel, particularly in the aftermath of the Holocaust, I have come to wonder if it was really a good idea.  Divorce, for a moment, the religious fantasies that played a role (not least of which is the dominionist Christian eschatology) in the location of the state, and consider this: carving a new state which immediately set about bringing settlers from all over the world into land that had been occupied by another group for many years, and surrounded by nations which stood little chance of abiding this new neighbour, and the nightmarish flood of refugees it created.  In any reasonable context of consideration, it makes absolutely no sense.

Being someone who follows this blog I will take some license in assuming that you have at least some background in the history of the State of Israel, including the Nakba, the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973, and Israel’s involvement in the Lebanese Civil War.  If you aren’t up to speed, may I suggest Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut To Jerusalem as a primer?  Israel’s borders have expanded each time these conflicts have happened, including holding territory in the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank at various points.  They’ve made some pull backs, but still hold the Golan and effectively control the Gaza Strip and the West Bank even though they “withdrew” in 2000.

To get peace, I have to just consider two states bickering regardless of the other issues.  One is militarily mighty but considers itself to face a constant existential threat.  It also has a stronger economy, and some friends in high places.  The other is militarily weak, faces a stagnant economy, and lives under the boot of the other, finding the situation uncomfortable enough as it is, but made worse by the fact that vast swathes of its population have been forced into third countries, and that there’s no prospect for improvement as the other country continues to encroach on the land.  Oh, and adding to the misery, the former party, well, they just showed up.

So what can I presume the average Palestinian divorced from politics wants?  I’ll hazard a guess that it’s similar to what Israelis want – and more importantly, what any human likely wants – to live peacefully, to be able to make a decent living, to provide for their children, and to see them grow up wealthier and better off.  To do that, it strikes me, isn’t hard, but that’s why Israel needs to make the rather reasonable concessions that were essentially articulated by President Obama a few days ago, but are nothing new.  They don’t need to capitulate on everything, and they’ll still remain militarily quite strong.  They do, after all, have quite a nuclear arsenal among other things, but I’d hazard a guess that on the Arab Street a reasonably negotiated two-state solution will probably be enough to make most people accept the existence of the country.

There’s a lot more to it, but I just wanted to start somewhere.

My Early Musings on #elxn41

So, the 41st Canadian Federal Election is now passed into history, with some results that are simply described as historic. Conservative Stephen Harper finally won his long coveted majority government, winning 167 of the 308 seats in the Canadian House of Commons with 39.6% of the popular vote. The Bloc Quebecois was all but extirpated, wining just 4 seats as Quebec voters shifted their support to the New Democratic Party primarily. This was the shocker – the NDP for the first time becomes the Official Opposition, winning 102 seats and 30.6% of the popular vote. The Liberal Party of Michael Ignatieff was walloped as well, falling to just 34 seats with 18.9% of the popular vote. Another interesting twist, the Green Party’s leader, Elizabeth May, won her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, giving them their first ever seat in Parliament.

Not shockingly, as is the custom in Canadian politics, both Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc resigned. Neither of them won their seats, either, so it is fairly safe to say their Canadian political careers are more or less over.

It seems the results shocked a lot of people – it certainly surprised me because I had figured most of the polls I was watching were fairly accurate, and they were suggesting a Conservative minority. That to me was probably the only palatable option.

This election seems to be an excellent demonstration of why the First-Past-The-Post system isn’t great, but it is worth reminding Canadians upset about the results that the last time a Canadian election was won by a leader who got more than 50% of the popular vote was in 1958 when John Diefenbaker was re-elected. Even Pierre Trudeau never got over that hurdle. The popular vote is essentially irrelevant, it’s where the votes are cast that mattered. In the 40th Parliament, for example, the NDP had double the Bloc’s share of popular vote count in the 2008 Federal Election, yet 11 fewer seats. While the Greens took almost 4% of the popular vote they got one seat of 308.

I used to think that FPTP was great because it allowed for majorities that could actually “get things done”, but I think they as parties become more polarized, the sort of “permanent minority government” status that some form of proportional representation would create is becoming more attractive to me. It is the fear of this that had Stephen Harper’s attack ad machine cranking out the fear of coalitions, because if Canadians came to believe they worked, then Harper’s Conservatives, who lie to the right of the ideas of most Canadians, would never, ever be able to get a majority.

With his majority, Harper will probably get to work right away on his priorities, passing the budget introduced before the election and a series of law and order bills which contain some ideas that, having been failures in the US already, are idiotic. Things like building new prisons when crime rates are falling don’t make a lot of sense. I don’t see a bright future for Canada under a Conservative majority sadly (or under any majority, for that matter), so hopefully I’ll be proven a pessimist. In the meantime, I’m going to start dusting off all the stuff I have about PR systems, and get involved in consigning FPTP to history.