Tuesday, November 1, 2005

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The Syrian regime doesn't face a tough choice

Nicholas Blanford and Rhonda Roumani have a story in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, "Syrian regime faces tough choices." Why? Read on:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces the starkest test of his five-year presidency following an ultimatum from the United Nations that he cooperate with an international probe into the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister.
The choices the 40-year-old president makes in the next six weeks will decide the fate of his regime and the future of this country of 18 million citizens.

If President Assad fails to cooperate fully with the UN commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syria could face diplomatic isolation and crippling economic sanctions. But complying with the commission's demands could force Assad to gut his regime of its most powerful figures, including close relatives, potentially leaving it weakened and vulnerable.

That's not a tough choice, that's the easiest call ever -- Assad will fail to cooperate fully.

Why? First, the Syrian regime can try to obfuscate matters by feigning cooperation but not making any material concessions.

Second, while compliance would require Assad to weaken his own regime, defiance in the face of an external threat will strengthen the regime -- at least in the short term. So, for that matter, would diplomatic and economic sanctions. Syria has already set up a sanctions crisis team. The FT's Ferry Biedermann quotes the Syrian in charge of this team saying, "to be honest, sanction busters are everywhere."

Third, as this companion CSM story by Chris Ford makes plain, it's not clear that the Security Council will even agree to impose economic sanctions in the face of Syrian non-cooperation:

Russia and China, along with the only Arab nation on the Security Council, Algeria, refused to go along with Washington's desire to threaten economic sanctions against Syria should Bashar Assad's regime not cooperate.

To win unanimous support, France, Britain, and the US, who jointly sponsored the resolution, had to drop all references to sanctions other than a warning that the council "could consider further action" if Syria does not hand over for interrogation senior officials suspected of involvement in Mr. Hariri's murder.

Russia - a traditional ally of Syria's - "is very reluctant to endorse any sanctions when it is unclear where they might lead in the future," says Oxana Antoninka, a Russia expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank in London. "Moscow wants to prevent the Security Council from becoming a weapon to punish regimes that could lead to unforeseen action such as military action."

For Bashir Assad, this is the easiest call in the authoritarian playbook.

posted by Dan on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM


In, oh, let's say the year 2000, the country of Iraq had previously invaded two of its neighbors, supported (openly and otherwise) international terrorism, used chemical weapons in battle and against its own civilians, killed hundreds of thousands of its own people, and was widely believed by almost everyone at the time to have been continuing development of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Oh, and had been on the receiving end of well more than a dozen of the harshest and most binding UN Security Council Resolutions and actions that body has ever produced in its history.

Now, despite all this, Iraq nevertheless had very little difficulty in subverting the sactions regime through black market dealings (e.g. smuggling oil out, smuggling goods in) and perversion of the oil-for-food program. Saddam still had his many palaces and armored luxury automobiles. And his army still managed to purchase up to date equipment.

In contrast, Syria's crimes are less severe and the UN's resolve markedly weaker. Remember that the UNSC authorized invasion of Saddam's Iraq, under certain conditions, not once, but several times. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math on this one. If Saddam could live comfortably in his UN box, then Assad should be able to do so to an even greater degree from within his much weaker box.

posted by: Robin Goodfellow on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

That is untrue. Saddam is much different then Bashar. I mean, factually it might be possible, but Bashar is not Saddam and has yet to show himself to be bold in any way.

The most likely outcome of this is to see the incredible shrinking Assads. They will not die, but they will continue to cooperate as much as they possibly can (as they have over the last 5 years), yet continue to get squeezed because the west will say it is not enough.

If sanctions are applied, obviously they will break them. And if there is a serious threat of war, then they will start to fight it in Iraq by sending money and weapons to the resistance. But Bashar has not once stood up to pressure, and it is unlikely that he will. It will still make him more popular in Syria because the people will say, “he does everything he can, and still look what you do to him…”

It is bad for Syria because it will likely result in a coup. A coup will likely turn Syria into Iraq II (well, except it is not as heavily armed, so maybe not).

The best possible solution would be for Bashar to honestly attempt to open Syria up democratically. Then the people would truly be on his side, his people could fade away, he could still maintain some control, and he could generally improve the political situation inside the country. Unfortunately, this would not satisfy the Americans, because any honest sentiment in the country is strongly anti-American and Anti-Israel. So, what you would see would be the USA clamping down on Syria when it was honestly democratizing, because US policy toward Syria is not actually about Hariri or democracy or Iraq... But that is just how it goes these days.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

The best possible solution would be for Bashar to honestly attempt to open Syria up democratically.

Syria is akin to a mafia with a country (this is not unusual in the middle east- Saddam's cronies were referred to as 'the mob from Tikrit'). Democratizing the place would result in the mob losing it's territory, and the rackets run in that territory, and the profits from those rackets.

I don't see him doing it.

posted by: rosignol on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

re: implication that the CSM does not get it right in TOUGH vs. easy

Please remember this about newpapers.
The Headlines are almost never not written by the authors of the story. Why? Size of the type is based on relative importance of the issue covered and then the headline has to fit space available + editorial guides on words to be used.

So... The authors use the word stark
(starkest) which is closer to reality.

posted by: Anonymous on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Lets not forget the longview here. Even if Syria were to accomidate all the current UN demands, are we any better off as a world? Its like a bankrobber agreeing to give back one particular score in exchange for walking free. You know for a fact he's already eyeballing the next bank.
For that reason we need to use Syrian intransigence to our advantage. Getting them to cooperate on this particular assassination etc is simply a foot in the door. Assuming we dont want to use force, the only other long term solution is democratic regime change, and hence all of our negotiating should have that as its ultimate (if secret) goal. Demanding a UN monitored free press, obstensively to keep an eye on the Syrian regime is one possibility. Demanding Egyptian-like elections would probably be agreed to in a heartbeat and laughed at by Assad, but its no joke it opens up opposition and gets a democratic foot in the door. We need to take advantage of this moment.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

I look towards the day when the international community realizes that using Sanctions Lite is more effective than using Sanctions on Steroids. Full economic sanctions will, as Drezner pointed out, strengthen the regime and have little significant impact on the lives of party elite...the people that we should punish.

On the other hand cultural sanctions (for example no participation in international athletic competitions) will cause discomfort but not suffering and misery. It will be just painful enough to have people complain against the regime but not so cruel that it allows the regime to deflect criticism to the US and UN.

Lastly, how does a regime get around cultural sanctions? It is fairly obvious when a team shows up to play a world cup qualifying match or participates in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

posted by: Travis on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Travis' is an interesting idea, though I doubt Russia and China would even agree to go that far. I agree with Dan on the larger dynamics of the situation.

posted by: Zathras on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Just today Assad released some political prisoners - hes clearly feeling the heat, and is worried about unrest. I suspect there may be more internal ferment in Syria than we realize.

Of course we should do smart sanctions , not like the original Iraq sanctions, for many reasons.

Im not sure Syria could hold off as well as Iraq though. 1. Its more fluid politically 2. It doent have oil 3. Its geographic position is increasinging constrained - where are the smugglers going to go? Iraq? Israel? Lebanon? Only real options are Jordan and Turkey, and those may be problematic.

Yes, UNSC might not pass sanctions - russian and chinese vetoes. What will it mean for Franco-US relations when a US-UK-French resolution is vetoed by Russia and China? A win for restoring relations with our allies(and putting the final nail in the "axis of weasels"), I think. Its worth pursuing this path for that alone.

posted by: liberalhawk on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Is the information assymetry situation in Syria such that Bassad could claim to the outside world that he was cooperating while simultaneously telling his people the opposite? My thought is Not, and if Not then this would significantly restrict his ability to dissemble about his cooperation.

posted by: 16words on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

I've read analysis suggesting the loss of Lebanon as a cash cow and smuggling route is a major problem for Syria to begin with. LH has a point, smart sanctions could have repurcussions domestically we cant forsee, hopefully positive. The real question is is there any realistic prayer of seeing them enacted? I think no.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

just to add:
As Mark makes clear, or as the example of Saddam disarming in 1991 shows, it probably is impossible for Syria to cooperate. Even if they do, it will not be enough because their cooperation does not fit into the American vision for "the Greater Middle East." It is obviously not about Hariri, just as Iraq was not about weapons.

- and i agree, releasing the political prisoners is a sign that they are not looking to fight. the problem is that it is not up to them.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

True. Think about it, the point of a deal is that in the end both sides are somewhat happy. We are talking about a fascist regime here. At the end of the day, we dont wont them happy, we want them GONE. Thats the kind of thing the State Department diplomats dont get. Yes, we can strike deals in the short term to increase our position, but the deal isnt the goal. If it doesnt get us closer to a Baathist free Syria its a waste. If we can help manipulate the environment (nonmilitarilly) so that sharing or giving up power to a democratic movement is preferable for the regime to the alternative, we will have done a masterful job. It cant happen overnight, but neither is it impossible. Or unprecidented.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

What democratic movement would that be there, Mark? This is an Arab country you are talking about, as likely to produce medalists in this winter's giant slalom as democrats.

posted by: Zathras on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

There seems to be one on either side of Syria. As well as one to the north and one to the southwest of different ethnicities.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

As scary as it is to say, i actually agree with Mark on this one. Not that i agree with his overall, crazy, neoconservative vision. But that he is right about it being good to pressure the Syrians into democratizing. it is generally a good thing, as long as that is the goal and not going further (like trying to make Arab countries friendly to Israel while Israel continues to oppress and dispossess the Palestinians, or forcing the 'Washington Consensus' on them through neocolonial "east india company" type deals...).

As usual when it comes to the Middle East, Zathras is totally wrong. Having lived in the Arab world for much of my life (Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon), i know that Arabs are generally far more democratically minded then Americans. The Brotherhood in Egypt or Hizbullah are far more democratic then the Republican and Democratic parties in the USA (unlike the two party dictatorship in the USA, the parties like Hizbullah and the Brothers actually are popular, have grass roots, appeal to the people, and because they are out of power, actually know that a democratic system favors their popularity. And from every account, they would not over turn a democratic system because they know what it is like not to have one and don't want to rule like the dictators they despise).

Whether Mark would like the outcome of a democratic Middle East is another matter, but I agree with him generally on its importance. because i don't think he (or other neocons) would like the outcome, I don't believe the USA actually wants it either. So the best i see coming is an Israeli style, Lebanese government circa '82. Which would be worse then the current state of affairs.

But, if the USA actually wants honest democracy in the ME, bring it on.

I guess too, I deeply fear the "blow the country up and install a democracy" style of the USA, and don't call anything installed from outside democratic, but you get the picture.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

as an example, via joshua landis:

The Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change

Signatories to the Declaration
Parties and Organizations:
Democratic National Grouping in Syria
Kurdish Democratic Alliance in Syria
Committees for the Revival of Civil Society
Kurdish Democratic Front in Syria
Future Party (Shaykh Nawwaf al-Bashir)

National Figures:
Riyad Sayf
Jawdat Sa'id
Dr Abd-al-Razzaq Id
Samir al-Nashar
Dr Fida Akram al-Hurani
Dr Adil Zakkar
Abd-al-Karim al-Dahhak
Haytham al-Malih
Nayif Qaysiyah

Syria today is being subjected to pressure it had not experienced before, as a result of the policies pursued by the regime, policies that have brought the country to a situation that calls for concern for its national safety and the fate of its people. Today Syria stands at a crossroad and needs to engage in self-appraisal and benefit from its historical experience more than any time in the past.
The authorities' monopoly of everything for more than 30 years has established an authoritarian, totalitarian, and cliquish [fi'awi] regime that has led to a lack of [interest in] politics in society, with people losing interest in public affairs. That has brought upon the country such destruction as that represented by the rending of the national social fabric of the Syrian people, an economic collapse that poses a threat to the country, and exacerbating crises of every kind, in addition to the stifling isolation which the regime has brought upon the country as a result of its destructive, adventurous, and short-sighted policies on the Arab and regional levels, and especially in Lebanon. Those policies were founded on discretionary bases and were not guided by the higher national interests.
All that -- and many other matters -- calls for mobilizing all the energies of Syria, the homeland and the people, in a rescue task of change that lifts the country out of the mold of the security state and takes it to the mold of the political state, so that it will be able to enhance its independence and unity, and so that its people will be able to hold the reins of their country and participate freely in running its affairs. The transformations needed affect the various aspects of life, and include the State, the authorities, and society, and lead to changing Syrian policies at home and abroad.

In view of the signatories' feeling that the present moment calls for a courageous and responsible national stand, that takes the country out of its condition of weakness and waiting that is poisoning the present political life, and spares it the dangers that loom in the horizon, and in view of their belief that a clear and cohesive line on which society's various forces agree, a line that projects the goals of democratic change at this stage, acquires special importance in the achievement of such change by the Syrian people and in accordance with their will and interests, and helps to avoid opportunism and extremism in public action, they have reached an accord on the following bases:

Establishment of a democratic national regime is the basic approach to the plan for change and political reform. It must be peaceful, gradual, founded on accord, and based on dialogue and recognition of the other.

Shunning totalitarian thought and severing all plans for exclusion, custodianship, and extirpation under any pretext, be it historical or realistic; shunning violence in exercising political action; and seeking to prevent and avoid violence in any form and by any side.

Islam -- which is the religion and ideology of the majority, with its lofty intentions, higher values, and tolerant canon law -- is the more prominent cultural component in the life of the nation and the people. Our Arab civilization has been formed within the framework of its ideas, values, and ethics and in interaction with the other national historic cultures in our society, through moderation, tolerance, and mutual interaction, free of fanaticism, violence, and exclusion, while having great concern for the respect of the beliefs, culture, and special characteristics of others, whatever their religious, confessional, and intellectual affiliations, and openness to new and contemporary cultures.

No party or trend has the right to claim an exceptional role. No one has the right to shun the other, persecute him, and usurp his right to existence, free expression, and participation in the homeland.

Adoption of democracy as a modern system that has universal values and bases, based on the principles of liberty, sovereignty of the people, a State of institutions, and the transfer of power through free and periodic elections that enable the people to hold those in power accountable and change them.

Build a modern State, whose political system is based on a new social contract, which leads to a modern democratic Constitution that makes citizenship the criterion of affiliation, and adopts pluralism, the peaceful transfer of power, and the rule of law in a State all of whose citizens enjoy the same rights and have the same duties, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sect, or clan, and prevents the return of tyranny in new forms.

Turn to all the components of the Syrian people, all their intellectual trends and social classes, political parties, and cultural, economic, and social activities, and give them the opportunity to express their views, interests, and aspirations, and enable them to participate freely in the process of change.

Guarantee the freedom of individuals, groups, and national minorities to express themselves, and safeguard their role and cultural and linguistic rights, with the State respecting and caring for those rights, within the framework of the Constitution and under the law.

Find a just democratic solution to the Kurdish issue in Syria, in a manner that guarantees the complete equality of Syrian Kurdish citizens with the other citizens, with regard to nationality rights, culture, learning the national language, and the other constitutional, political, social, and legal rights on the basis of the unity of the Syrian land and people. Nationality and citizenship rights must be restored to those who have been deprived of them, and the file must be completely settled.

Commitment to the safety, security, and unity of the Syrian national [? union] and addressing its problems through dialogue, and safeguard the unity of the homeland and the people in all circumstances, commitment to the liberation of the occupied territories and regaining the Golan Heights for the homeland, and enabling Syria to carry out an effective and positive Arab and regional role.

Abolish all forms of exclusion in public life, by suspending the emergency law; and abolish martial law and extraordinary courts, and all relevant laws, including Law 49 for the year 1980; release all political prisoners; [allow] the safe and honorable return of all those wanted and those who have been voluntarily or involuntarily exiled with legal guarantees; and ending all forms of political persecution, by settling grievances and turning a new leaf in the history of the country.

Strengthen the national army and maintain its professional spirit, and keep it outside the framework of political conflict and the democratic game, and confine its task to protecting the country's independence, safeguarding the constitutional system, and defending the homeland and the people.

Liberate popular organizations, federations, trade unions, and chambers of commerce, industry, and agriculture from the custodianship of the State and from party and security hegemony. Provide them with the conditions of free action as civil society organizations.

Launch public freedoms, organize political life through a modern party law, and organize the media and elections in accordance with modern laws that ensure liberty, justice, and equal opportunities for everyone.

Guarantee the right of political work to all components of the Syrian people in their various religious, national, and social affiliations.

Emphasize Syria's affiliation to the Arab Order, establish the widest relations of cooperation with the Arab Order, and strengthen strategic, political, and economic ties that lead the [Arab] nation to the path of unity. Correct the relationship with Lebanon, so that it will be based on liberty, equality, sovereignty, and the common interests of the two peoples and countries.

Observe all international treaties and conventions and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and seek within the framework of the United Nations and in cooperation with the international community to build a more just World Order, based on the principles of peace and mutual interest, warding off aggression, and the right of nations to resist occupation, and to oppose all forms of terrorism and violence directed against civilians.

The signatories to this declaration believe the process of change has begun, in view of its being a necessity that brooks no postponement because the country needs it. It is not directed against anyone, but requires everyone's efforts. Here we call on the Ba'thist citizens of our homeland and citizens from various political, cultural, religious, and confessional groups to participate with us and not to hesitate or be apprehensive, because the desired change is in everyone's interest and is feared only by those involved in crimes and corruption. The process of change can be organized as follows:

1. Opening the channels for a comprehensive and equitable national dialogue among all the components and social, political, and economic groups of the Syrian people in all areas and on the following premises:

The need for radical change in the country, and the rejection of all forms of cosmetic, partial, or circumspection reform.

Seek to stop the deterioration and the potential collapse and anarchy which could be brought upon the country by a mentality of fanaticism, revenge, extremism, and objection to democratic change.

Rejection of the change that is brought from abroad, while we are fully aware of the fact and the objectivity of the link between the internal and the external in the various political developments that are taking place in our contemporary world, without pushing the country toward isolation, adventure, and irresponsible stands, and anxiousness to safeguard the country's independence and territorial integrity.

2. Encourage initiatives for the return of society to politics, restore to the people their interest in public affairs, and activate civil society.

3. Form various committees, salons, forums, and bodies locally and throughout the country to organize the general cultural, social, political, and economic activity and to help it in playing an important role in advancing the national consciousness, giving vent to frustrations, and uniting the people behind the goals of change.

4. A comprehensive national accord on a common and independent program of the opposition forces, which charts the steps of the stage of transformation and the features of the democratic Syria of the future.

5. Pave the way for convening a national conference in which all the forces that aspire to change may participate, including those who accept that from among the regime, to establish a democratic national regime based on the accords mentioned in this declaration, and on the basis of a broad and democratic national coalition.

6. Call for the election of a Constituent Assembly that draws up a new Constitution for the country that foils adventurers and extremists, and that guarantees the separation of powers, safeguards the independence of the judiciary, and achieves national integration by consolidating the principle of citizenship.

7. Hold free and honest parliamentary elections that produce a fully legitimate national regime that governs the country in accordance with the Constitution and the laws that are in force, and on the basis of the view of the political majority and its program.

These are broad steps for the plan for democratic change, as we see it, which Syria needs, and to which its people aspire. It is open to the participation of all the national forces: political parties, civilian and civil bodies, and political, cultural, and professional figures. The plan accepts their commitments and contribution, and is open to review through the increase in the collectivity of political work and its effective societal forces.

We pledge to work to end the stage of despotism. We declare our readiness to offer the necessary sacrifices for that purpose, and to do all what is necessary to enable the process of democratic change to take off, and to build a modern Syria, a free homeland for all of its citizens, safeguard the freedom of its people, and protect national independence.

Damascus, 16 October 2005.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Having lived in the Arab world for much of my life (Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon), i know that Arabs are generally far more democratically minded then Americans.


If that's the case, why are their governments so much less democratic than the one in America?

The impression I get is that the middle eastern tradition of saying one thing and doing something else entirely once one is in a position of power is likely to continue for quite some time.

posted by: rosignol on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

I think it is all too easy to judge the Arab book by its authoritarian cover. The situation is much like it was with the Soviet Union, all you see from the outside is the parades and all you hear is the propaganda. What I dont understand is how easily people dismiss the extraordinary events in Lebanon where the people rose up, not just for reform, but specifically for democracy. Or the huge numbers that turned out to participate in Iraq. To assume Arabs are unequipped or uninterested in self-determination just flies in the face of everything we know about human nature. They certainly are no less prepared than Indians, Indonesians, or South Koreans.

And Joe, I believe we are less far apart philosophically than you think, whatever imperialist impulses you attribute to the neo-cons notwithstanding. I would be perfectly content with a democratic Syria that was peaceful but hated the United States guts. Do you see neo-cons advocating the overthrow of the Indonesian government, as thoroughly anti-semitic and suspicious of the US as it is? Ultimately I believe in two things, liberty and prosperity. Fortunately they go hand in hand and result towards peace and stability. Meanwhile fascism leads to poverty which breeds anger and violence like flies. Lets face facts, every last Israeli could vacate the West Bank and Golan Heights and it wouldnt change the situation on the ground in the Middle East one bit.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

to rosignol,
the reason the governments are much less democratic is because they people do not control the governments. all the governments were installed from outside or were the result of coups. but because a government is a dictatorship does not in any way mean that they people are undemocratic. It is true racism to think that Arabs or Muslims do not believe in self-government. Go to the Middle East yourself. You will see that politics is the culture there, and everyone has an opinion on everything. they know, they pay attention, they care... i bet less then 50% of Americans even know who the vice president is. there might be democratic institutions here, but it is a very shallow democracy indeed.

And, Mark, i agree with you in respect to the need for democracy. but i think it is wrong how far neocons go with it. I do not think democracy itself will end war or bring people out of poverty... Malawi could be a glowing democracy, but it would still be deeply suffering. Or, Hizbullah could (and should) be elected to run the government of Lebanon (as they are by far the most popular party) but that would not stop the conflict they have with Israel.

you said "every last Israeli could vacate the West Bank and Golan Heights and it wouldnt change the situation on the ground in the Middle East one bit." And it depends what you mean by this. If you are saying that it would not make the Saudi government any more free, i agree (though it would make their arguments for their policies even more hard to believe). But, in terms of the Palestinians, this would change a lot. The reason it would not solve all the problems, is because the Israelis in the Golan and West Bank are not the only problems. There is a historical problem of injustice that must be addressed as well. There are millions of refugees who must be addressed, there is basic fairness within Israel to its palestinian population that must be addressed, there are other issues too.

This, actually, is one thing I find so hypocritical about the typical neocon argument. they claim to argue for democracy, but they don't want Palestinians and Israelis to live equally in the same country, on the land that the Israelis stole from the Palestinians. If you believe in democracy so much, why not use the democratic institutions of Israel to enrich the lives of all the Palestinians? I am sure there would be no more reason to fight in tht case. And, i would agree with you that that type of democracy would change the middle east completely. No country would have any reason not to have relations with Israel anymore, and Israel could actually be come part of its region.

I am telling you, as a Palestinian myself, that i, my family and most other palestinians i know would have no more reason to be angry at Israel. Sure some people would be angry yet, the injustices run deep. but from my experience, the Jews of Israel are just as likely to be racist as the Palestinians (but since the Jews are in total control, their racism is far more dangerous).

Did the South African people kill all the colonial South Africans after the election of the Mandela government? there were obviously still outstanding issues, but the situation was primarily solved when the country became democratic...

so, yeah, in many respects, i agree with you about democracy.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Joe- ok let me preface this by saying I am a big defender of Israel at least as far as its right to exist and the many unjust and terrible things its Arab neighboring states have done over the years including launching wars of extinction.

However- I am also in complete agreement that the Palesistians deserve a homeland in Gaza and the West Bank, that the issue of recompensation for their refugee status must be addressed (remembering also the hundreds of thousands of Jews turned out of Arab nations during the same period, who are rarely mentioned), and that the other greviences including water rights, continuity of land, and Jersuselem are on the table and must be addressed.

That being said- there is no question in my mind that should all of those things come to pass, and even should the majority population of the Palestinians agree that an equitable peace had been achieved, the remaining power structures in the Arab and Persian world would not be satisfied and in fact would not relent. They cant. Israel is their red cape they rely on to direct the anger of their subjects, and too many simply will not relent until Israel is wiped from the map. Since that will never happen it is the perfect perma-war to help retain their power. Indeed, if the plight of the Palestinians was truly so important to them, why was Jordan giving a pass for Black September?
So yes, Israel does need to strike a fair deal (even though the little credit they get for disengaging in Gaza is hardly heartening). But Israel cant be held up as the excuse for the rest of the region being stuck in quasi-medieval stasis, particularly when terrorism is the result. Why not turn the equation on its head and think of how much more likely peace can be equitably made if instead of terrorist supporting and encouraging neighbors, there are peaceful democratic neighbors applying pressure with true moral authority? Fellow Arabs have arguably hurt more than they have helped to date, and that must change.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Iran is the only country that still talks of Israel's destruction, and it is not even serious about it.

Why don't Palestinians deserve a homeland in all historic Palestine? Why only Gaza and the West Bank (obviously, you neglected to mention Jerusalem)

My question is why you don't support a full one-state solution. 1 state, everyone (Palestinian and Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Christian...) voting in mutual elections for a federal government. also having local elections to decide more regional (west bank, gaza, jewish israel...). If you support democracy so much.

That type of solution would solve 90% of the international problems in the Middle East. No Arab country (or Iran) could threaten a country where both Palestinian and Israel had mutual rights and full participation. Where one people was not totally dominating the other...

The Gaza withdrawl was not given much play because the people of Gaza still live in a cage, a prison, under occupation. And they are still being attacked on a daily basis. It did not solve any of the problems that the Palestinians there face.

are you Jewish Mark? Just wondering. I already told you I am Palestinian

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

"Why don't Palestinians deserve a homeland in all historic Palestine? Why only Gaza and the West Bank (obviously, you neglected to mention Jerusalem)"

A. 'Historic' Palestine was a Roman invention that was never an independent state.
B. That would include current day Jordan. You will have to talk to them about that.
C. Historic Israel has equal claims.
D. Why the stroke of a British pen based on ancient Roman governorships holds more weight than United Nations resolutions is beyond me.

"(obviously, you neglected to mention Jerusalem)"

I mentioned Palestinians have legitimate claims on Jerusalem and I see no problem with creating an open city or dividing it in half as a Palestinian capital. Thats nuts and bolts negotiating. I would remind you that historically Jerusalem has always been majority Jewish, which seems to carry great weight with you when the shoe is on the other foot.

"My question is why you don't support a full one-state solution. 1 state, everyone (Palestinian and Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Christian...) voting in mutual elections for a federal government"

Because pragmatism has to have its place. Allowing millions of Palestinians into Israel would destroy the state, and as it stands would surely result in uprecidented violence. You make it seem as if that would be returning to some status quo, but we both know the state you envision never existed either. As soon ask why the United States and Mexico dont do the same based on our history.

"That type of solution would solve 90% of the international problems in the Middle East."

Yes, because Israel would be destroyed. Its not an option.

"No Arab country (or Iran) could threaten a country where both Palestinian and Israel had mutual rights and full participation"

That nation exists, it is the current state of Israel. And again, that solution simply destroys Israel. Why in gods name would anyone countenance tearing down the most progressive, prosperous, and democratic state in the region to put its people under the authority of those who have spent 60 years in a viscous terror war with them? When i hear that suggested it smacks of trojan horsedom.

"are you Jewish Mark? Just wondering. I already told you I am Palestinian"

No, im not.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

i am not totally sure whether Jews have historically outnumbered Arabs in Jerusalem. I would have to look it up. I do know that jerusalem is the only place that had any significant Jewish population pre 1880's, so you could be right.

But, that is besides the point because my position is not one where you force people to live where they don't want to live or that you put Palestinian refugees in the settlements with the most rabid ultra-nationalist Jews. I think there should be a single, Bi-National, federated state. The same position of people like Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt or Edward Said...

It Amazes me that you call yourself pro-democratic yet you don't believe that democracy would work for the Israelis and Palestinians. The most sad part about that is that the Palestinians are currently at the mercy of the Israelis. So, you are sacrificing one group's freedom for another group's stability. Exactly the opposite of your views for Syria or Iraq! even if there was some fighting between Palestinians and Jews in a federated State, how could it not be less then now? how could the long term be worse then 60 years of occupation? don't you think the Palestinians (at least) would have reason to support the State if they were actually included in it? Especially since it would improve their standard of living so greatly and give them a means to build security and prosperity.

the Palestinian Israelis, who are 20% of the Israeli population, who you always like to suggest as reason to believe that Israel is already bi-national, have not destroyed the state. they live in it. They are not perfectly happy because their brothers are still being oppressed and they are hardly equal citizens.

The other thing that strikes me as shocking is that the Jewish State is based on exceptionalism and Jewish superiority. It is obviously self-interested to continue to live with the Palestinians under foot. Other then 2 years of military service, most Jews don't even notice that the Palestinians are there. It costs them money to support their military, but it allows them to keep up the view that they are superior to the "teaming masses of terrorist" that are always after them...

A one state solution is only a trojan if you believe that the Jews have the right to dispossess and occupy the Palestinians. And if you think the Palestinians are unable to live in a civil society.

And, of course I want to destroy the current status-quo. It is violent and racist, it has destroyed palestinian society and continues to oppress them.

In every case where a dominate party was faced with demands by the oppressed for equality, like the 50's USA or South Africa or colonial India..., the transition was successful when those in power accepted that the other side was human and equal. When the end result was based on division and difference, the problems just continued for years (Palestine, Kashmir, or pre-Mandela South Africa...)

The Jews of Israel must accept that the Palestinians are human and that Jews are not superior.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

So change imposed from the outside is unacceptable, racist, imperialist. Unless it is change imposed on Israel.

I am not one of those Americans who view the interminable quarrels of the Middle East as if they were my own. I do believe that it is useless to talk about undoing some things in history once they have happened. Mexico will never get California back. Singapore will never be part of Malaysia again. "White Australia" will always stay a memory, and so will the Confederacy. The Romanovs and Hapsburgs will never return. And the Jewish state of Israel is a fact.

Debate on the matter is pointless. The Palestinians -- and the other Arabs in the region -- had their chance to change things on the battlefield on multiple occasions between 1948 and 1973. They lost, every time. They can make their peace with this, or not. What they can't do is expect to avoid this choice and get anything more than empty sympathy from anyone.

posted by: Zathras on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Joe, if it were 60 years of Palestinian peace marches, sit ins, hunger strikes etc- sure, i'd be all for a reconciliation. But it has been 60 years of suicide bombings, murdering olympic atheletes, and shooting babies in their mickey mouse pajamas. Israelis would be insane to invite that into their country, certainly without _some_ trackrecord of the Palestinian refugees living in a civilized and peaceful manner. When I was a kid and my brother and I both wanted something, my mom divided it in half. Whats the problem with that? We have to deal with reality, not with how things might go in a perfect world. In this world Israelis wont invite all of Palestine back in and Palestinians wouldnt return peacefully if they did.
What you are suggesting puts all of the danger on Israel, their very lives and existance are put in the hands of those who constantly and openly plot their anihilation. NOTHING is demanded from the Palestinians in such a scenario, they have no downside. Hence it is not a deal, it is a trust game with death as the downside.
I'll say this, give us a few years of seeing the Palestinian youth not taught with textbooks advocating genocide, stop the blood libels and conspiracy theories in the newspapers and mosques, put the weapons down. Then there will be a rational reason to talk about trust. As of now, even such a proposal seems so mad as to make the motives of the proposer suspect. Its sad, but thats a stone cold fact. If there is ever to be peace it needs to be made on realistic scenarios and save the grander visions for happier days. Take half the loaf, thats what deals are about.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

It is just crazy to blame the victim for their suffering. Was Malcolm X wrong? Was Nelson Mandela a terrorist? You act like the Palestinians are the ones that caused this war, it is totally untrue. No people would be happy having been displaced, occupied and destroyed. And you are just being stupid to think that Israel is an inncent victim of violence. And it is so ignorant to believe that "terrorism" is the problem or that Palestinians are violent. Are the Israelis violent when they bomb Gaza or Flatten Jenin? The vast, vast majority of Palestinian actions against the Israelis are non-violent. There have been countless non-violent actions against the oppression. It is just crazy to think not. The entire first Intifada was 95% non-violent. But the Palestinians are more oppressed then the black Americans were, or the South African people were. So it only is expected that there will be more violence.

What you don't seem to understand is that Israel has destroyed Palestinian society for 60+ years now. The Palestinians have suffered continually without Israel ever having to bear the costs or take responsibility for their actions. So yes, Israel would bear most of the costs, but it would be the first time for that. That would be justice. The Palestinians have suffered for 60+ years, do you realize that? So they have already paid the price. Israel, on the other hand should deal with reality, deal with the problems it has caused, deal with the fact that they have and continue to destroy the Palestinians. It is a sickness they have. The belief that they have the right to do anything to anyone, and they bear no responsibility. There is no greater arrogance then to believe that you can dispossess, oppress, and occupy another people for 60 years and then bear no cost for it or never accept responsibility. So it would be justice if they finally had to accpet some cost and live mutually with the Palestinains. Even if there was some violence, i am sure it would be better. Since, as you say, the Palestinians have nothing to lose, it would be in their interests to be peaceful. It is the Israelis you have to worry about.

And, Zathras, i hate to break it to you but Mexicans have taken back California, and Texas and most of the south west. And people generally live together just fine. But the biggest difference is that once the war ended in case of the American Civil War (or the other situations you suggest) is that war itself was a solution to a problem (or an attempt at one), not the problem itself. In this case, the creation of Israel is the problem. It didn't have to be, but its racism and destruction of Palestinian society made it that way. The greed and arrogance of the Israeli founders made it that way by kicking the Palestinians out rather then living with them. By ethnically cleansing them rather then considering them human. Why didn't the "negro problem" end when slavery was abolished? Because the injustice was much more deep. And the Palestinians will not stop fighting until they get freedom and dignity. you would not either.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

and by the way, those costs that the Israelis would have to bear would be things like peace with their neighbors, realizing that Palestinains are human beings and not "cockroaches" or "beasts", not needing to finance a huge military, not being threatened with attack, having access for Arab capital and oil...

sounds like a hard deal, all they have to give up is their racist belief that Jews are better then everyone else and that it i simpossible to live together with people...

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

"And, Zathras, i hate to break it to you but Mexicans have taken back California, and Texas and most of the south west. And people generally live together just fine."

I suspect the noticeable lack of Mexican suicide bombers in Los Angeles has to do just a little bit with the people generally living together just fine. And it is also worth noting that they live together under the US legal regime, not the Mexican legal regime.

posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

That comment was meant to be slightly tongue in cheek, if you couldn't tell.

But what you too are not understanding is that the suicide bombers are not the primary problem. There were no bombers the first 50 years of conflict. And Palestinian violence is generally a very, very low level of violence when seen against Israeli State violence that has ethnically cleansed 750,000 people (and then more in '67) and forced them to stay in refugee camps for 60+ years. or against the spector of total occupation of Palestinian land. or, continued settlement of Palestinian land. I am sorry, but you can't expect people to do nothing. Mandela, too, started an army for god's sake. Even if some of their actions were unjust, that does not mean their cause is unjust. And the only way to honestly solve it is to break down the borders, open the cages, free the prisoners and deal with each other as humans. Even Mark admits that it is likely that Palestinians would do that because they have nothing to lose. It is the Israelis who are occupying the Palestinians, who set the terms of debate and who are the ones in charge. They are the ones responsible for the war continuing, not the Palestinians. The Israelis could end it, the Palestinians can not.

And anyway, if the American military went in today and occupied half of modern Mexico, colonized it with settlements, and forced the refugees to live in Guatamala, I am sure they would fight back. L.A. would be in flames.

I don't understand why people forget that the OCCUPATION is the problem. It is not that hard to see. It is common sense.

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

to rosignol,
the reason the governments are much less democratic is because they people do not control the governments. all the governments were installed from outside or were the result of coups. but because a government is a dictatorship does not in any way mean that they people are undemocratic.


I don't think we are using the same definition of the word 'democratic'.

It is true racism to think that Arabs or Muslims do not believe in self-government.

Ah, now I'm being called a racist because you think I believe something I didn't say.

When you say self-government, do you mean government not run by foreigners, or a government that derives it's legitimacy from the consent of the people, rather than it's control of the military?

If the former, Egypt already has self-government. The people running Egypt today are, to the best of my knowledge, almost all Egyptians. If the latter, all I can say about that is belief is usually not enough to bring such a government into existence.

Go to the Middle East yourself. You will see that politics is the culture there, and everyone has an opinion on everything. they know, they pay attention, they care...

Knowing, having an opinion, and caring is not enough.

The people who founded the country I am a citizen of pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their honor to a cause. They were willing to risk death, poverty, and dishonor to gain self-government... and more than a few of them died, lost their fortunes, or were executed as traitors.

Unfortunately for Egypt, the only people I see there who are willing to take such risks are the jihadis. Such people do not found a democracy if they win.

i bet less then 50% of Americans even know who the vice president is. there might be democratic institutions here, but it is a very shallow democracy indeed.

You would lose that bet. In fact, most Americans could name every President and Vice-President of the US in the last 20 years... of course, that is not an entirely fair comparison. After all, for an Egyptian to do the same thing for their country would be the simple task of recalling 1 name, compared the American having to remember 7.

I understand english is not your native tounge, so my apologies for being idiomatic, but please consider the meaning of the phrase "Still waters run deep".

posted by: rosignol on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Im sorry Joe, but you have a very distorted view of history. It was not the jews that launched a war of extermination on the day of Israel's birth. And if you want to talk about ethnic cleansing dont forget about the hundreds of thousands of jews expelled from Arab lands, or the fact that Palestinians remain in Israel while practically none remain in any Arab nation. I believe i have shown throughout this thread that i think both sides have been horrible. Palestinians have suffered, and Israelis have suffered (and please _do not_ try to whitewash or minimize the violence Israel has lived under). Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and I know no-matter what I bring up you will just explain away as ultimately the fault of the jews, so why bother.
The bottom line is there is a chance for peace now in a reasonable and just manner. That does not mean Palestinians getting everything and/or Israel being destroyed. Until the Arabs and Iranians get that into their heads I fear there will be no peace.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

And as you are aware, Mark, that is precisely the problem. They have not "got it into their heads" and for the most part do not wish to.

From the American point of view there is a different problem, one that I fear the current administration has made worse. This is that compared to almost any other area of the world -- East Asia, South Asia, Europe, Latin America -- real American interests in the Middle East are limited in scope. The great questions of our destiny will find no answers there. What if Syria did become a democracy? What if the peace settlement worked out at great cost in time and effort by the Clinton administration had actually been accepted by the Palestinian leadership? So what?

It would have been nice if these things happened; a Palestinian settlement in particular might conceivably have helped us in some Muslim countries whose people are unaccountably passionate about the fate of a group of Arabs who in return are about as indifferent to the plight of non-Palestinian, let alone non-Arab Muslims as it is possible to be. But how does progress in these situations compare, in terms of American interests, to the evolution of the Taiwan question and East Asia generally? To the future of Brazil, or even Cuba? To our relations with the other English-speaking democracies?

It doesn't. Relatively speaking, Middle Eastern questions are just not that important to us. We are sacrificing a lot, in terms of our greater interests elsewhere, by pouring so many resources of money, equipment, lives and the attention of senior levels of our government into a region with so little to offer. Granted that maintaining a stable world oil market is important to our economy and the world's, and granted also that we have commitments to Israel's survival that we neither will nor should shrink from fulfilling -- though Israel is rather more capable of taking care of itself than many other American allies. But those two things, plus damage control with respect to Arab terrorism, pretty much define the stakes for us in that part of the world.

posted by: Zathras on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Would you have told other people who are fighting for their freedom to "get it through their thick heads" that they will never have freedom? would you have told mandela to accept his status as second class, occupied and ethnically cleansed?

It is a completely false view of history to believe that the Jews who were in the Middle East were treated anything similarly to the way the Palestinians have been. they may have been mistreated, and in some cases it may have been bad, but it is not even honest, it is wildly wrong to suggest that the situations are the same. I don't claim that the palestinians suffered equal to the Holocuast. nor do i claim that the Holocaust was smaller, like a riot or something. so i would at least expect that other see that the Palestinians were formally ethnically cleansed in massive numbers. And this is fully documented in minute detail by Benny Morris. and further, in international law, when someone gains a new nationality, they are no longer refugees and are no longer subject to their former claims. I do not expect my family to get our homes back or get paid compensation, we have American citizenship. but our citizenship makes us the exception, not the rule.

anyway, i would be for a two-state solution IF i thought it would actually solve the problems. but it seems equally as impossible for me to imagine a fair two-state solution as it is to see a one-state solution. since i know israel will never allow the palestinians to have control of its borders, its air space, its own trade, its own army and defense, its own fishing, its water, will never stop settling palestinian land, will never allow palestinians to have access to jerusalem... among many, many other issues. plus, even if those things did happen, it does not necessarily prevent Israel for just reoccupying and taking control as they did with lebanon, it seems just as likely, and far more fair to advocate a one-state solution. but if you give me a fair two-state solution, i would be more then happy to accept. it is just not going to happen either. so i advocate the better solution, the more just one, the more honest one.

Again, the problem is the OCCUPATION and that a "Jewish State" in and of itself is racist. And they continue to believe they are superior. And they have not taken responsibility for their actions (which, at least the germans did. the Japanese have not, and you can see how happy korea and china are about that. and they are not occupied any more).

posted by: joe m on 11.01.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

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