Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking at the last year through new eyes

Having shivered my way through subzero temperatures in Vienna last week for the purposes of knocking heads and putting together a research proposal that will hopefully see funding for up to three years, I also had time to reflect on public perceptions to the first outing of the paper related to the conflict and development project I’ve spent the best part of a year working on. The report itself is very long and full of quotes, but the version I read and we discussed was a fifth of the size.

Essentially, the two main options that I proposed facing international donors in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) are a choice between working to end Israel’s occupation or finding programmes and projects that tinker at the edges. The latter is clearly sub-optimal, but it’s probably also the most likely.

What was most striking for me was the extent to which I’ve internalised some assumptions from nearly a year on these issues and seeing how a European audience reacted to some issues that now seem ‘normal’ to me. For example, I felt that there was a bit if a struggle from my student and faculty audience regarding Hamas’s position as part of the furniture. Too often the party is seen as out of the ordinary in Europe. At the same time, because of the Fatah-Hamas split, I was asked whether it was possible for the two – and by implication, both wider Palestinian society and foreign donors – to find some areas where possible consensus was achievable. This might provide scope beyond the one area of joint thinking, namely an end to the occupation – and which is arguably least likely.

It brought it home to me that I feel that I am finally starting to get a real sense of how things are perceived by the community as a whole here, rather than trying to make a set of externally developed assumptions fit from without. So in a strange way, I found that instead of journeying to Europe in my trip to Vienna, I was actually brought back to the OPT.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A gulf of misunderstanding?

One of the most striking things about the ‘process’ in this part of the world is the disconnection between Israelis and Palestinians when it comes to envisaging the future. This was most visibly brought home to me during the German-sponsored IPCRI conference, ‘Peace Begins with Jerusalem?’ at the Ambassador Hotel yesterday afternoon. It was during the final session, with presentations from Sonia Najjar, Gilead Sher and Hilia Tsedaka, that I especially noted this.

Gilead Sher was Ehud Barack’s co-chief negotiator at Camp David. His presentation on Jerusalem was that the issue of Arab and Israeli neighbourhoods wasn’t the sticking point. Rather it was the Old City and how to govern the Holy Sites that caused the greatest headache. He felt that on Jerusalem the Clinton parameters that were proposed at Camp David 10 years ago are still relevant today, with the one caveat that the separation of neighbourhoods on the basis on population and majority groups should not be applied within the Old City. Instead he favours a form of independent third party administration, headed by an international and with Palestinian and Israeli input – effectively the Jerusalem Old City Initiative that was launched in May this year.

There is a catch though. Sher claimed that the time is not right for this measure to be put into place. He criticised the current process as one that is waiting for everything to be agreed between the two sides and he suggests an alternative of dealing with those issues that are feasible now and putting into place all those that can be agreed. On the surface this looks reasonable. But what is staggering is that he overlooks the fact that this has been the way that the process has taken its course since the early 1990s. In fact the whole Oslo process has been one of leaving the most insoluble issues to the end, with the aim of building confidence and trust between the two sides through smaller-scale measures in the intervening period.

It was therefore pertinent that Sonia Najjar’s presentation reminded attendees of the current and systematic process of Judaisation that is going on in East Jerusalem. She noted that Israeli laws and policies in the city are diminishing the Palestinian presence through settlement building (which as of today, there are reports that the US has abandoned efforts to try and restart the settlement freeze – outside of Jerusalem though) and the takeover of Palestinian neighbourhoods. Even if there is a ‘negative’ form of peace (i.e. no violence), this comes nowhere near any attempt to build trust between the two sides – or Sher’s vacuum.

That said, to what extent can Najjar’s own suggested course deliver results? Having cited various international obligations that Israel is a party to – and isn’t upholding – she favours international pressure on the Israeli government. But as the US failure over the settlement freeze has shown on the one hand and the Brazilian and Argentine recognition of Palestinian sovereignty within the 1967 borders has shown – there is as yet no teeth to enforce this. That said, it is not unreasonable for us internationals to pressure our governments on this issue, as Mandy Turner pointed out at her Kenyon lecture last week. Nevertheless, given the absence of international pressure to date, why should the future be any different?

So if the external environment is not conducive, what about on the ground? Hilia Tsedaka is with ‘Win-Win Jerusalem’, an organisation that wants to transform the zero sum game (‘win lose’) between Palestinians and Israelis in the city into one that benefits both. To achieve this requires greater citizen participation in decision making and she cited various examples of where this has happened from the top (e.g. Cyprus constitution) to the bottom and through mid-level players (e.g. the participatory budget in Porto Alegre). She feels that the more participation there is, the more trust will be generated between the two sides. Her method is to run facilitative workshops that ‘support’ and ‘empower’ Palestinians on the one side and transform Israeli minds on the other. This will create the conditions for greater trust, including shared interest projects, greater communication skills and better awareness of how to use the system.

Following the conference’s end, I said to her that I was still uncertain as to how trust was to be generated through the methods she suggests. Surely in the case of the Jerusalem municipality a more ‘empowered’ Palestinian is a threat and therefore someone to be denied greater participation rather than the other way around? I was still lost as to how the leap is made from win-loss to win-win.

And this is where I have the biggest problem with these proposals. Ironically, it was Sher that put his finger on it in the discussion when he said it was necessary to combine both top-down and bottom-up approaches to the process (and I assume he means more than just Jerusalem here). He said it’s necessary to condition people’s hearts and minds as well as proposing these ideas and projects, which lack detail of how they are to actually built trust. Unlike Najjar, he opposes third party intervention as a stick to beat Israel with, but supports it to help the negotiations along (a subtle way of shifting the terms of the debate, I feel). That said, he remains frustrated that there has been no movement forward since Camp David – and more to the point, no sign of any response from the Israeli leadership about the Arab Peace Initiative, which has been reiterated every years since it was first proposed in 2002.

To me this suggests that if confidence-building is to start somewhere, it has to be with the Israelis. Najjar’s analysis of a disempowered people being forced out of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, with the complicit support of the municipality and state, not only highlights the lack of trust between both sides, but also which side is stronger in this struggle. It’s time to stop pretending that the two sides are equal; indeed, Sher praised the institution building and degree of security that has occurred in the West Bank over the past few years – but he stopped short of suggesting that Israel offer something in return as a (confidence building) gesture.

The Israelis like to talk about Yasser Arafat having missed an opportunity at Camp David. Yet it often seems that it is they who are doing so. To conclude, contrary to the official rhetoric that Jerusalem is a united city, the pollster Dahlia Scheindlin (who spoke earlier) revealed that Israeli Jews recognise Jerusalem’s divided nature and neighbourhoods and are pragmatic enough to accept partition if their government present them with it. Rather than making public opinion, Israelis are following their leaders. Now is therefore the time for them to take the chance. Although I suspect they will miss it.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

No change

Despite the hiatus on this blog, I have been writing elsewhere, for the LSE Ideas Centre and the online Spanish magazine, Global Affairs. Much of the reason for the silence here is the absence of any seminars or presentations that I have gone to over the past few months. Much of this is the result of bad timing for me, having other commitments, visitors, etc. In fact, when I arrived at the Kenyon Institute last night for Naseer Aruri’s and Mandy Turner’s presentations, I noticed that the last event I had attended was back in August – at least one where I took notes (there was also a conference at the end of September where I was both participant and scribe – I hope one day to write something more substantial than a blog piece on those issues there).

The Kenyon event took place last night and was a follow on from their own two day conference on Monday and Tuesday – which I wasn’t able to attend for the above reasons. That said, I suspect that both Aruri and Turner were able to give a flavour of what that event must have been like, since both presented there as well.

Aruri chose not to present the same paper that he had done at the conference – a great shame for me, since it was sought to put Palestinian development in historical and political context. Instead, he offered an alternative paper called ‘The Ongoing Erasure of Palestine’ which was extremely bleak. Essentially his argument was that there can be no two-state solution when Zionism is the Palestinian’s adversary. Zionist colonialism he considers to be unique as a movement, offering no territorial concessions and expanding Israel’s control of historic Palestine. He talked at length about ‘politicide’, the term that Baruch Kimmerling had fashioned to describe what was happening to the Palestinians, with the dissolution of Palestinian political identity through the use of ethnic cleansing.

Aruri was scathing both about external actors such as the US (who he has called a ‘dishonest broker’ in a previous book and who has gone against the global consensus fashioned after 1967 – i.e. end of occupation, withdrawal to the Green Line, East Jerusalem to be Palestinian, etc) and the Palestinian leadership. The latter he deems to have colluded in its own destruction, offering no alternative. Ultimately, the diplomatic paralysis that currently exists is embedded in the failed Oslo peace process for him.

Turner also presented a very compelling argument with her paper on ‘Creating “Partners for Perace”:Aid, humanitarianism and the international donor community in the OPT’. The term ‘partner for peace’ has become increasingly used and she has tried to understand what it means. Essentially, there are three elements associated with the concept: (1) an attempt by donors to support and impose the ‘right’ type of Palestinian political elite, (2) pressure the ‘right’ type of Palestinian elite to make peace with Israel on the grounds set out by Israel and (3) marginalise and/or remove the ‘wrong’ type of Palestinian elite.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that what this means is the fragmentation of Palestinian politics and society, a process has been in place since 2006 and Hamas’s electoral victory that year. Whereas Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah and Salam Fayyad are seen as ‘partners’, Hamas are clearly not. Turner believes that the Road Map period which emerged in the wake of the Second Intifada met its end in 2006 and has been replaced with the ‘partners’ paradigm, whereby the US has increased its financial commitment to the PA (as have all donors – although interestingly, this may be more to do with better tracking than actual sums) and sought to isolate and defeat Hamas by focusing on building up the West Bank.

For me as a development analyst (!), Turner’s presentation was extremely useful, since you can see a double-edged game being played in the present period. On the one hand donor aid is being used to reduce the impact of the occupation for all Palestinians, but there are differences between that provided to ‘partners’ in the West Bank and the ‘wrong’ type in Gaza. That to the West Bank aims to promote ‘appropriate’ actors while that in Gaza is more humanitarian is scope, being designed to take care of those who do not comply with the ‘partners’ model. Borrowing from a researcher in Africa (whose name I missed), Turner ends up with donor aid as a means of managing a surplus population, where Palestinians are fed but not free. (indeed, Turner also commented on the shift in conceptualising sovereignty in the Palestinian context, away from natural rights of statehood for a nation and the creation of governments to one that is primarily concerned with state capacity and governance – i.e. statehood only comes if you can prove that you can carry it out rather than demanding it as a right)

Both presentations present very bleak prospects in my view. For neither presenter is there a visible alternative to the prevailing situation, whether internal or external. Internally, the options looks extremely limited. The choice seems to be either one of being on the quisling side of supporting the US/Israeli Oslo model or being against it. In the subsequent Q&A I asked where domestic resistance was to come from and Aruri was unable to provide an answer. He said there were three choices, neither of which were realistic: (1) end the current peace process and internationalise it (but this won’t work because the Palestinians are too insignificant to challenge the international balance of power and force participants to the table), (2) maintain the status quo (which is not attractive – and besides the Palestinians are running out of any more concessions they can make) or (3) another intifada (which is not really an option given the demobilised nature of Palestinian society).

Externally, the prospects are not great either. Both Aruri and Turner concluded that the US position is unlikely to change. Turner offered some suggestions as a British and European citizen for the EU (we had a few representatives last night). She said that the EU should consider the following: (1) sue Israel for damages as a result of its destruction of EU-funded projects, (2) pull the EU (and the UN as well) out of the Quartet, since it’s effectively an American enterprise) and (3) make effective use of the human rights conditions within the EU-Israel agreement.

While this may all seem like too proposals though, what are the chances of that happening? The more I think about it, the more I feel that the current situation is like the calm before a storm – yet I don’t know what form the storm will take. It can’t be another intifada since neither the first or second achieved the removal of Israel. If anything it brought about excessive and disproportionate violence in a effort to break Palestinians’ will. In neither case did that happen, but neither did it achieve its goals of an end to occupation. So here we remain, both sides circling and eyeing each other suspiciously, with no clear end in sight. A rather grim vision.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Border assumptions

A bit late in coming, but an interesting discussion last week between Nizar Farsakin and David Newman regarding the future borders of Israel and a Palestinian state – the most recent IPCRI event. Farsakin used to work at the Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah and is now at the JFK School fo Government in Harvard (a place I can only dream of working at!) while Newman is based at Ben-Gurion University. So what were the main points I took from the event?

1. Farskakin’s neat little point about fixing the border not being the solution. Rather the key to a good boundary is engagement between the two sides.

2. The Palestinians believe they have made countless concessions, from the 1947 proposed borders on the basis of demography to the 1967 lines for political reasons. They want to see a comprehensive final status deal put before them, because they see themselves compromising but to little effect.

3. Both Newman and Farsakin note the ‘open-ended’ nature of the Israeli approach. Farsakin pointed out that for the Israelis, the Oslo process started from the assumption that they would see how Area A worked out and then add additional results from it, rather than setting out their intentions from the start. Newman distinguished between the two sides as the Palestinians having a clear endgame in sight (i.e. the 1967 borders) and the Israelis’ absence of one. To my mind that makes the Israeli position far more flexible and fluid – and reflects the nature of Israeli policymaking since before 1948. Even though they officially accepted the 1947 partition plan Ben Gurion always saw it as a tactical rather than final solution.

4. Both presenters felt that the bulk of the territorial division is already in place and what’s up in the air is around 10-15% - which Newman argues would be decided on the final day of any negotiations. That’s just the nature of brinkmanship. Farsakin pointed out that the latest Palestinian overture was to approach the US mediator, George Mitchell, and ask the Israelis through him to lay out what land they would be willing to swap – effectively getting it on the table rather than just having an ambiguous starting position.

5. Newman noted the rise of the one-state solution as being talked about among the settlement movement. Of course it has nothing in common with the idealistic, leftist vision. Moreover, he argued that the two-state solution remains the most pragmatic and closely associated with public opinion.

6. That said, even though borders remain in the public consciousness, the discourse is being hijacked by ‘facts on the ground’. Newman pointed out that even though the Wall was unilaterally imposed and presented as a security measure, increasingly Israeli public opinion is coming to see it as the ‘border’. At the same time Farsakin commented that refugees’ attitudes to their right of return shifted depending on what they were offered. This has been shown in surveys that phrase the details of a final agreement differently.

7. Newman also observed the re-emergence of borders in wider discourse. He said a decade ago the discussion was about a ‘borderless’ world as a result of globalisation. Since 9/11 borders have become more relevant and discussed about, although they aren’t necessarily territorial. I have to concur: crossing the Green Line in Jerusalem you get a mental shift whether you walk from East into West or vice versa.

8. Speaking of discourse, Newman also noted that Israelis may be increasingly likely to accept land swaps. Since 2005 there has been discussion about this in the Israeli street, especially regarding how to resolve the challenge presented by territorial contiguity on both sides as a result of the settlements.

All these points lead neatly to tomorrow’s event, which I’m really looking forward to: about Israeli and Palestinian public opinion and the prospects for changing them (that said, a friend’s recent piece on Israeli and Palestinian taxi drivers’ attitudes towards the process in Jerusalem suggests that ordinary people just want the thing resolved – so maybe the gulf isn’t as great as I thought. Then again, it may just be wishful thinking on my part...).

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.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coalition comments

Watching a British election from abroad is strange and never more so than now. If ever Britain seemed foreign, this would be the time.

I have mixed feelings about watching the Lib Dems entering into coalition with the Tories. Although I’m a largely detached member of the party and less tribal these days, I do identify myself as on the left. So watching the deal being struck between the two has been uncomfortable to say the least.

But it seems that at least some of the constitutional objectives of the Lib Dems have been secured. Fixed term parliaments will go a long way to ensuring a more level playing field between parties, by removing the prime minister’s right to call an election. They also managed to get a referendum on the electoral system. OK, it’s only a referendum – and a free vote at that, which will mean the right-wing Tory press will oppose it for all it’s worth. But it’s still an improvement over Labour’s abandonment of the Jenkins inquiry.

And let’s face it: even if we did get a more proportional electoral system (which I know AV is not) the reality would be that the horse-trading that has taken place over the past week would become commonplace after every election. In such circumstances ideological purity may be a nice thing, but in terms of government formation it’s unlikely to happen (hence my preference for sitting as a critic on the side!).

Beyond the constitutional commitments, I’m less convinced that there is much overlap between the two parties on issues such as public spending, immigration and foreign policy. I’m particularly concerned that that Vince Cable won’t be able to make much headway against the banks in terms of regulation. And already the Lib Dem amnesty on illegal immigration has been watered down along with support for the euro (which after Greece would anyone in the party still be advocating entry?!) along with partnership of a party that has its friends with some of the more undesirable elements of the homophobic and anti-semitic east European Right.

And finally, why exactly did the party focus so much on one particular education policy of the pupil premium? Surely it should have had a broader remit to review the curriculum, teaching methods, etc?

Either way, for the first time political discussion around the Burton dinner table will no longer be divided and enter uncharted territory; both father and son will have some sympathies for the same government.  I just wonder whether this means that the Telegraph will be replaced with the new house newspaper, the Guardian?!
Rich man, poor man

Israel’s accession to OECD membership on Monday may be seen as a defeat for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It lobbied hard to prevent Israel’s entry. If nothing else, it demonstrates the importance of picking those battles that are winnable. That the OECD member states were largely silent in the months before the decision was ominous.

At the same time, Israel’s diplomatic victory may be double-edged. Alongside it were also the successful candidacies of Slovenia and Estonia on the same day. To these three may be added that of Chile, which joined earlier in the year. This may do much to downplay that success.

Although both Slovenia and Israel may have similarly high levels of per capita income (around $24,000 – although the Israeli one may not be entirely accurate given the exclusion of the full West Bank population), the same cannot be said for Estonia and Chile. Both these two countries are middle-income countries, with per capita levels of around $14,000 and $9000 respectively.

In other words, the inclusion of middle-income countries may well undermine the status of the OECD as the ‘rich countries’ club – and therefore make membership much less desirable. As a suggestion then, the BDS might consider reversing its opposition to Israeli membership and instead campaign for the entry of other middle-income countries as well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Observations on Hamas
I attended a lively discussion on Italian journalist Paola Cardini’s new book, Hamas: From Resistance to Government, last night. Providing comment and questions were Amirah Hass (Ha’aretz) and Joharah Baker (MIFTAH).

While the presence of women on the panel was encouraging, it was unfortunate that Cardini didn’t provide a brief overview of her book. The nature of the discussion assumed that the large crowd who attended had already read it. Fortunately for me, I knew something of the topic to be able to follow; I can’t say the same of my colleague who accompanied me.

I took some notes, but only those about those aspects of Hamas that most interested me. First, there seems to be uncertainty about whether Hamas has really made a clean break and transition from resistance to government and the implications of this for it as a party/movement. There was no consensus among the panellists about whether Hamas has become one or the other or remains stuck between the two. In part this may reflect Cardini’s observation that Hamas militants themselves didn’t expect to win power in 2006. Although they campaigned in those elections, they expected that they would only have a larger share of the vote and mandate to seek reform within the Palestinian Authority and parliament. Hass questioned this and noted the internal debate within the party prior to 2006 to reject the military (and suicide bombing route) prior to the campaign as evidence that they were aware of the different role they were about to play.

While the panellists noted that there is some degree of internal participation within the party regarding policymaking (despite its more authoritarian and conservative policy output), that has changed since the mid-2000s. The main components that provided internal deliberation prior to the 2006 elections were the party in the West Bank, Gaza, the prisoner population and abroad (especially in Damascus). Although decisions were previously decided on majority vote between the different sections, political developments since 2006 has transformed the relative strength of different sections. Given Hamas’s position in Gaza it therefore has greater administrative clout that means its position is relatively stronger to that of the leadership in Damascus; meanwhile the military wing is demanding a greater role.

Second, there was discussion about how Cardini could be sure that her interviewees were speaking the ‘truth’ and not using her journalism as a tool to get their message out. This was especially interesting to me, given the near obsession with achieving rigour in academic circles that I’ve been a part of over the past few years. I was mildly amused to hear a distinction drawn between scholarly work which emphasises documentation on the one hand and journalism on the other, which focuses on interviews and face-to-face dialogue. I was amused since I don’t see the distinction as sharp as that. In my own research I used both kinds. I assume that Hass was especially vocal in distinguishing between these two approaches given her own experience of the type of material that she comes across from Israeli academics, where documents are presented in their books devoid of any context. Although she didn’t call it as such, Cardini described the use of triangulation (i.e. comparing and contrasting documents with interviewees’ comments and recollections of specific events), a method with which I concur – and as far as I can tell it’s the only way of doing qualitative work (I faced the same question of how I knew my informants were telling me the ‘truth’ in interviews that were inevitably retrospective during my viva last year).

Third, panellists didn’t share any consensus over whether the embargo on Gaza has strengthened or weakened Hamas. Cardini said that it had weakened the party, since it made delivery of public services for which they (as the government) are now responsible. As a result there was an increasing awareness that they were losing public support and remained in power through repressive means and control of the administrative apparatus. By contrast Hass suggested that on the contrary, the embargo had strengthened Hamas. Being rejected by international donors and rejecting their aid anyway, they had shown their independence, which appealed to society. At the same time, the Israeli siege couldn’t be blamed on Hamas and instead provided a degree of solidarity between governor and governed. Women were relevant in this regard as well, with both Cardini and Hass noting that female support was important for Hamas’s rise. As secular-oriented women themselves, they noted that female participation couldn’t be seen as always progressive and that given the context of Palestinian society the acceptance of a conservative movement such as Hamas should be understood.

Fourth – and this is where I had the hardest time accepting the proposition – Hass talked about the capacity of Palestinians to accept sacrifice and long-term struggle at the expense of any immediate and individual benefit. She based this idea on her own work and study of Palestinians, the sentiment of which could be tapped into by Hamas. This idea of denial permeates both society and the party itself, meaning that Hamas has strong roots within the communities that it can found. As a result they are able to publicly oppose the Israeli occupation and accommodate the impact that it brings in terms of economic blockade, movement restrictions, etc while drawing on social support for their position. Personally, I find this hard to believe: it sounded much too like a self-interested justification. Although the people suffer and cope as best they can, I find it hard to imagine that they do so without some concern; outwardly, Hamas brooks little opposition and is relatively authoritarian both politically and socially. So to what extent the public’s ‘self-sacrifice’ is consensual or pragmatic remains uncertain.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

What's left of the peace camp?
I’m not sure that I learned much from yesterday’s IPCRI meeting on rebuilding the Left in Israel (at least that was the original title, but it was changed to rebuilding the ‘peace camp’ after media protests from as far afield as New York questioning why the Finnish government was paying for such events).

Although all claimed to be speaking in a private capacity, there were representatives from Meretz (Mossi Raz), Kadima (Ran Feingold), the Greens (Rami Livni) and Young Labour (Erez Abu) as well as two Palestinians: Iskander Najjar (al Quds University) and Hanna Siniora (journalism).

The main themes that I got from the presentations was that the Left is in crisis, especially following last year’s electoral defeat. Abu was especially forceful in flagging up the need to rebuild the movement as a whole, including paying greater attention to the social agenda (which Labour has neglected in recent years). Livni made similar points, noting that the Left has largely failed in terms of its ideology, level of activism and organisation and funding (as an aside Gershon Baskin noted that the Right has plenty of dynamism through think tanks and ideas whereas the Left doesn’t).

Beyond these themes, there seemed to be plenty of debate about whether or not the Left – and whether Kadima constitutes a part of the centre-left in this respect – has sufficient numbers in the Knesset to make a difference.

That said, all seem agreed that unity between the different political groups and movements is necessary, although to my mind it was not entirely clear on what basis this should be. Where I wanted specifics I found the presenters to be lacking, largely limiting themselves to lip service references to the ‘two-state solution’. But this was precisely where I wanted them to expand. Indeed, it seemed that only Livni tackled this in part, by highlighting some commonly-held assumptions that he wanted to see overturned as ‘myths’: that there is no Palestinian partner for peace, tackling the issue of right of return for refugees and Jerusalem, Hamas’s influence (or not) among Palestinians and the supposed gaps between the two sides.

During the discussion I asked what each of the Israeli parties thought about the points that Livni raised. Through a combination of political point-scoring and justification none answered my question. Which was a shame, since (at least to me!) if you’re going to build a consensus you should at least agree broadly over these points.

As for the other side (the Palestinians), I was similarly disappointed. Both Najjar and Siniora claimed that all Palestinians were in the ‘peace camp’, but only the latter really distinguished between Fatah, Hamas and intellectuals’ positions. Both also said that growing frustration that peace wasn’t being realised was leading to re-evaluation of the two-state solution in favour of demanding their civil (and later political) rights from the Israelis in a bi-national state. While I would hardly claim to have my finger on the Palestinian pulse, that claim seems to be stretching the truth somewhat; I’m sure there is discussion going on about it, but I don’t yet see it as a generally accepted maxim. Perhaps it was just for Israeli public consumption to encourage a speedier solution?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Choosing between boycotts
It’s a bit slow I admit, but I may as well provide notes on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) meeting organised by the Carter Center that I attended last month. The two presenters, Hazem Jamjoun and Hind Awwad, provided the context for the current BDS movement and its achievements and developments to date.

Hazem noted that the Oslo process and second intifada had caused confusion amongst a formerly united solidarity front, resulting in different types of actions and activities both within the oPt and outside. There was a change from around 2005 on when civil society became increasingly disconnected from the PLO and vocal in their demands. The Palestinian leadership soon followed with selective forms of boycott being promoted and initiated from 2007 on.

While Hazem acknowledge the impossibility of an absolute boycott on Israel he argued that Israeli and Palestinian societies have become so separated by the mid-2000s that selective forms of boycott are possible – most especially regarding food sold in Palestinian supermarkets. Hind echoed Hazem’s comments about the BDS movement being a selective rather than all-encompassing one. Its national committee is willing to accept solidarity organisations’ picking and choosing of certain types over others.

I have to admit to being more sceptical about this approach. I asked how there could be coordination and effectiveness if different organisations ‘cherry-picked’ their favoured form of boycott. My feeling was better articulated by Rosemary Hollis in her presentation yesterday, who noted that boycotts can be counter-productive, by punishing the wrong people (e.g. Israeli academics, who are arguably more sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations than wider society). Looking at my notes, I didn’t really get an answer to that question.
No jobs for the boys

I have another observation to make about the boycott movement, namely what forward thinking is actually going on. My sense is very little.

My other question to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement at last month’s meeting concerned the options available to Palestinian workers after this year when they are going to be stopped from working in the settlements. While this may seem like a good idea, I’ve yet to read in any report what the Palestinian Authority, or PA (which proposed the idea), plans to do with the resulting unemployment. If there were other jobs for these workers to take they would presumably have done so by now. But there aren’t and unemployment remains high in the West Bank.

For the BDS representatives, the PA’s answer will probably be these workers’ absorption into the public security apparatus or their employment in industrial zones similar to maquilas that dot Central America. Their distaste for the latter seemed apparent. And, more to the point, the private sector (which presumably would be the main driver of these zones) is in a sorry state at the moment, so the prospect of job creation is quite remote.

But what the BDS would do itself wasn’t that clear either. Instead I was treated to Hazem Jamjoun answering his own question which I didn’t ask. That involved his pointing out that during the 1990s there had been plenty of ‘normalisation’ projects done between Israelis and Palestinians and which downplayed political differences. The BDS was opposed to such actions and aims to stop them.
To and how to engage?

There were two points that I found interesting about the discussion following Rosemary Hollis’s presentation.

The first came from a Palestinian who arrived late and was critical about Britain’s role (or rather non-role) in the Middle East and on the peace process. Actually it was rather hard to follow, if not contradictory. I think I can summarise his points as follows:

1. Britain has historical responsibility for the mess that we’re currently in (the mandate, etc).
2. Britain has present day responsibility for the mess that we’re currently in (association with Washington, Iraq, etc).
3. We’re disappointed that the Middle East doesn’t figure more prominently in British policymakers’ minds (other than as an extension of broadly global concerns).
4. Britain should play a more ‘active’ role in the Middle East – although it wasn’t clear what he meant by ‘active’.

Given Britain’s past performance in the Middle East, why on earth would anyone want the British to become more involved?!

The second came from a Palestinian woman who Rosemary appeared to know. She wanted to know what scope there was for domestic pressure on British policymaking regarding the Middle East. Hollis responded there was very little (e.g. the anti-Iraq war march made little impact). She also noted that there is currently a debate going on in Britain about sanctions against Iraq, but contrary to what many Palestinians may think, this will probably have less impact on government thinking than how British Muslims feel.

In other words, notions of international law and boycotts will have less effect than that of social stability in determining policy. This is to be expected, although I am constantly amazed at the emphasis placed by commentators here on international law and the legal obligations that Israel must uphold in relation to the West Bank and Gaza rather than grappling with the social and political realities of why they won’t – or how those might be exploited to encourage their implementation.
It's the fault of New Labour?

Rosemary Hollis’s presentation of Britain in the Middle East in the 9/11 era felt odd. I’m not used to Britain being presented as a strange and foreign country, but that was certainly the case last night in Jerusalem.

She noted that contrary to what many might feel in this part of the world, the Middle East is not at the centre of Briton’s political attention, either generally or indeed now, during the election. Her main point was to note that British policy has been greatly influenced by the creation of ‘New’ Labour. As well as seeking to rebrand Britain as a force for good in the world (which then shifted to combating evil after 9/11), those at the head of New Labour (as opposed to old Labour) not only saw globalisation as the main driver of change (and so global issues were merely an extension of domestic considerations), but also believed Britain’s imperial past was at an end.

This ahistorical perspective is evident in the failure of British policy in Iraq (e.g. the lack of any historical awareness of Britain’s previous forays in that country) and Blair’s close association with Bush compromising any room for manoeuvre.

In the Q&A I asked whether her emphasis on New Labour meant that might be significant differences in terms of whichever party or parties form the next government. Other than some nuances she couldn’t see much change, since British Middle East policy is largely driven by broader, global concerns (i.e. its relations to Washington, the EU, etc).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Was 2009 really an 'Obamanation'?

Launch of the Transatlantic programme’s first year report on Obama and US foreign policy and some insightful observations from the panellists last night. Chatham House’s Robin Niblet’s said that any US president would find engagement difficult. Even American allies are not as willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. Rob Singh pointed out that Obama has struggled between being more consultative and engaged on the one side and not strong enough on the other. Justin Webb of the BBC highlighted Obama’s failure to connect with the American public (noting a couple of public occasions where he said the wrong thing).

To the first three’s pessimism and gloom was LSE’s Mike Cox who brought up precisely the question I would have raised: what would have been the alternative? We’re perhaps too quick to forget that the Republicans had run out of steam by late 2008 and that we were on the precipice of a financial disaster. Would John McCain and Sarah Palin really been able to offer anything different?

Also interesting were the observations made by the panel about Hilary Clinton, having turned defeat into partial victory both in her end-of-primary recovery and making it as Secretary of State. Perhaps she’s biding her time as Obama’s successor if his presidency doesn’t work out?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Joined-up thinking, comparatively speaking

Launch of the Institute for Government’s report on achieving more joined-up and effective government this morning. It does provide a useful contribution with new material and research, including cases from other countries (of particular interest to me as a comparativist), even if though its conclusions and recommendations reflect common wisdom.

That we face the question of how to get from A to B was highlighted in the discussion and the importance of politics: who is going to take charge for pushing these recommendations through? I would have liked to have heard a comparative answer to this question and how it has been done in other countries, especially in the second and third chapters on departmental boards and cross-departmental collaboration (by contrast the first chapter on the centre dealt with this somewhat on pages 34-38).

There’s also the question of how to get buy-in from beyond government, to include the opposition. One way is to include cross-cutting and joined-up topics in select committees. But is there a way of building cross-party consensus on this as well?
Accounting for Brazilian migration

To a workshop/seminar on Brazilian migration in the UK last night: some interesting statistics, including indications that around 60% of the population is here illegally and that the number entering really began to increase from 2002 on. This would make sense, especially given Brazilians’ greater visibility beginning in that year through the new media and easier availability of Brazilian products in London.

But I had to ask why it’s only been in the last decade that Brazilians began coming to the UK in such greater numbers. Cathy McIlwain of Queen Mary who presented the data said it had much to do with US borders becoming much tighter, especially in the wake of 9/11 on the one hand and London becoming more open to migrants.

Yet I find it odd that this is the case: why wasn’t there a boom after 1994 when the real plan led to a current revaluation – and therefore making it relatively cheaper to buy a plane ticket. Similarly, shouldn’t the economic tightening of the later 1990s and especially the 1998-99 financial crisis have also encouraged migration? (one participant suggested that the devaluation may have made it more difficult for Brazilians to buy a plane ticket). But then I’m also bemused why more middle class Brazilian migrants would choose to leave for the UK and experience (initial) downward mobility (another finding by Cathy), given the boom in the domestic economy after 2002.

So many questions...

Monday, January 18, 2010

A return to 1970?

Sebastian Piñera has been elected as Chile’s next president. For the first time since democracy returned in 1989 the Right has finally managed to win a majority share of the vote. Alongside the expected internal criticism within the centre-left Concertación coalition and demands for the heads of the Christian Democrat and Socialist parties to resign, questions will be asked about the ability of the centre-right Alianza coalition parties to work together in Congress with an ideologically similar president.

Piñera and the Right have been getting closer to electoral victory has been some time coming. Following first round defeats in 1989 and 1993, it was able to push the centre-left into second rounds in 2000, 2006 and 2010.

But what already seems to be overlooked in the Chilean media is the effect that abstentions and electoral registration may have played in the result. Since 1989 both figures have been in decline, with yesterday’s poll the lowest yet with around 87% of voters voting and 67.5% of the voting age population registered respectively. In 1989 the turnout was 94.5% and fell to 91.3% in 1993, 90.6% in 2000 and 87.1% in 2006 while registered voters fell from 88.5% in 1993 to 79.2% in 2000 and 71.9% in 2006.

That voting turnout and registered voters have fallen may well be due in part to growing public disillusion with the Concertación-dominated government of the past two decades. The coalition will therefore no doubt spend the next few months reviewing why that is and how they might reconnect with the public, especially as the education and Trassantiago protests and demonstrations during the last presidency demonstrate.

But while they do that they might also spare a thought for the last time that Chilean politics took such an electoral re-direction – then to the Left. Following the highly turbulent 1960s and deep antipathy between the Left, Centre and Right, Salvador Allende’s election as president in 1970 was achieved with a similarly low turnout of 83.7%. In the years that followed until the 1973 coup, opponents claimed that Allende did not have a sufficient mandate and failed to represent the population sufficiently. One can only wonder whether similar yardstick will be applied to Piñera.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Anticipating a Piñeira victory

By this time next week Sebastian Piñeira could be Chile’s president-elect. If so this would be the first time in 20 years that the country had a right-wing politician in that position.

Piñeira’s leading position for the second round should not be surprising. Although President Michelle Bachelet continues to receive good approval ratings, she has not been able to transfer them to the Concertación candidate, Eduardo Frei. That this is so shows how much Chile has changed since 1990.

The past 20 years has seen a generational change in Chilean politics, with the Pinochet era an increasingly distant memory for older voters and a chapter in the history books of the young. Significant in this respect were the mass protests against the education system in 2006, which were led by secondary school students. That moment marked an end to fear of repression. In addition the Concertación government had become increasingly disconnected from the electorate, as the Transsantiago fiasco demonstrated.

But the implications of the Piñeira victory go beyond Chile. 2010 may see the election of other presidents of the Right, including Alvaro Uribe in Colombia in May and José Serra at the head of an increasingly right-wing coalition in Brazil in October. Added to this is the decline of the Left in both Peru and Argentina, which might presage its defeat in 2011.

Indeed, over the past year there has been increasing interest and concern about the Right in Latin America, especially following the coup in Honduras in June 2009. Indeed, the manner of President Zelaya’s departure and the moves against him following his declaration to hold a non-binding public consultation to change the constitution had echoes in Salvador Allende’s own call for a referendum before the 1973 coup.
The rise of the Right in both Chile and Honduras highlight diverging trends in Latin America. On the one hand the Honduran example was similar to events in those states practicing ‘21st century socialism’, through a failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 and a potential one in Bolivia in 2008. On the other hand Chile seems to conform to the ‘loyal’ Right which exists in social democratic states including Brazil and Uruguay, where confrontation is limited to the electoral arena.

The reason for the differences in the Right’s development in Latin America owes much to the so-called ‘pink tide’ that swept the region during the last decade. This was a reaction to the unrepresentativeness of representative democracy and the rising economic uncertainty and vulnerability resulting from structural adjustment and liberalisation. Whereas social democratic governments in Brazil, Uruguay and Chile sought to mitigate those changes through the introduction of targeted social programmes, 21st century socialism in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela coincided amid high levels of social polarisation and pressure by the Left to ‘refound’ the state through constitutional reform on the other.

But even if the Right differs in its political strategy across the region, what are its constituent parts? Regardless of where it is based, it does seem accurate to talk of a Latin American Right. On one hand it shares a commitment to its previous 1980s-90s incarnation through continuing support for liberal economic and socially conservative positions (e.g. being against abortion and freely available contraception). On the other hand it differs from that version by being inclined to maintain many of the social programmes of the Left, particularly the cash conditional transfers paid to families to send their children to school or to feed them. The reasons for doing so not only include the support that governments gain as a result, but that such programmes are cheap, at around 1% of GDP. In addition, their foreign policy, especially in relation to the US, is likely to be similar to that of social democratic governments by being both nationalist and independent. In part this is due to changes in Washington as well, following the more confrontational Bush by the relatively enigmatic Obama.

This then, would seem to the parameters of a Piñeira government: it would not mean a return to the unrestrained capitalism of the 1980s, but rather a development or reimagining of the Concertación model of the 1990s and 2000s. In other words, just as the Concertación inherited the structure of the military regime and adapted it, so would Chile’s first right-wing president since 1989 face a similar situation.

(Posted here since I don't expect anyone to take it up in the Chilean newspapers this week)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The viva: a year on
In a couple of days' time it will have been a year since my PhD viva.  How much have things changed since then!  My new year goals for 2009 effectively ended after that date (OK, a few days later, when I finished making the revisions that needed doing), since I hadn't made any plans beyond completing the PhD (so really the viva should count as a 2008 holdover...).

In the absence of any other plans, I quickly had to make some new ones (I started 2008 with the aim of finishing my PhD and 2007 with being well on the way to completing the research for it - and 2006 with just getting through the upgrade...).  Consequently, I reoriented myself and for the rest of the year I directed myself to applying for jobs (academic and otherwise), initially in the full glow and flush of a job well done and self-confidence.  Increasingly though, that confidence took a battering, to the point that by mid-2009 I wasn't sure I'd accompolished much.

A few months later, the situation was even more grim.  From September I had entered into the second (academic) year of applying for post-docs and teaching positions.  And as with the period around submitting and finishing my PhD, I had no success.  In fact, even less than last year: at least I was asked for additional materials and managed one or two phone interviews last January.  This year I've heard nothing or had rejections, including from post-docs.

This should be a source for concern, but I'm becoming increasingly reconciled to my fate.  Getting an academic job - even a post-doc - at the best of times is difficult.  And in the current climate even more so.  I've mentioned to a few people that I'm contemplating pulling out of the process altogether and benn told to give it time, that things will pick up.  Be that as it may, this was before the government's announcement before Christmas that it would be reducing funding for higher education.  This won't mean job losses but there will probably be a hold on hiring into the future - by which time I'll be several years down the line and competing with other new PhDs.

And the situation in the US isn't any better, as this article shows (it's about humanities I think it's as relevant for social sciences as well).  Couldn't have said it better, although he's clearly got many more years' experience of the market than I do.

Which explains my thinking for this year: last year I was caught out by finishing my goals in the first week of January.  This year I have a few ideas in the pipeline - and they do not involve academia.  I therefore hope in 12 months' time to be feeling a lot more satisfied - and have achieved something - than I did a few days ago.
New Year resolutions

Ok, so I'm a few days late, but things haven't changed that much!  So here goes:

1. stop worrying about finding a job (that was 2009)

2. do things that I want to do, even if they're not going to lead directly to anything (I have a couple of things lined up for the first half of the year)

3. come up with some resolutions for the second half of the year (some time over the next few months would be useful - we'll revisit this topic in the future)

4. give up on any hang-ups from last year, like...

5. stop worrying about finding a job (!)