February 28, 2011
International law: an oxymoron, or just murky

Among the lessons we can tentatively parse from the current commotion in Muslim countries are possible clarifications about the murky overlap between international law and international politics.

Notice the extreme lack of certainty, suitable for any discussion of international law and politics. Much more than domestic law in well ordered countries, international law appears to be a close cousin of politics. Whose ox is being gored? is an appropriate banner to carve in the mahogany or marble over the door to the faculty of international law.

The issue is of prime importance to Israel. It is routinely condemned by international forums claiming the authority of international law, while the details of the accusations pale in comparison to those that could be leveled against many of the countries whose representatives join in the accusations against Israel. The lone veto by the United States against 14 votes to declare settlements illegal illustrates the issue. Lost in the discussion, including the condemnation by the United States representative who cast the veto, is the argument that the settlements are legal due to the lack of an entity with sovereignty in the West Bank from 1948 onward. Israel seems to have lost that argument not because of a ruling by a neutral court deciding the issue on the basis of reasoned discussion, but due to the political convenience of Muslim governments and Western democracies.

Now we are seeing the greater mobilization of international political forces against the regime in Libya, compared to the modest mobilization against the person of Hosni Mubarak, and what seem so far to have been even scantier pressures against Tunis and Bahrain. It is less clear what actions are being considered against Iran, Lebanon, and other places that are arguably no less troubling than Israel, Egypt, Tunis, or Bahrain.

Lesson one in international law and politics is that a regime being accused needs friends to balance its enemies.

Lesson two is that an accused's actions against those attacking it should not appear to violate the fuzzy concept of decency more than the actions being taken against it.

Lesson three is that the antagonism of the international community depends on the weight of the accused.

Muammar Gaddafi is losing on all of these lessons. His violence and antics over the course of a week and more than 40 years now earn him few supporters other than Hugo Chávez. With friends like that, Gaddafi does not need too many enemies. He is finding himself denied the right to defend himself in a civil war. Members of the international community who count have decided that he does not deserve to survive.

The turn against him came only when it became apparent that he was in serious trouble, with military officers having keys to the armories going over to the opposition, and senior officials of his government announcing their change of loyalty. The international commentators are smearing egg on the face of the British establishment due to the trumped up release of a man less than two years ago found guilty of involvement in the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. Then Gaddafi seemed firmly in power, with control over energy and the granting of contracts to British or other firms. Now that he is hold up in a small part of his capital city, he is being accused of direct involvement in ordering the destruction of the airplane.

Israel is not short of enemies and antagonists. Among the latter are Jews and others who claim to be friends and supporters, but who join condemnations "for the good of Israel."

However, Israel also has friends in high places, and it has sought to stay within the rule of employing force in a measured way, and only in response to severe provocation. The attack on its soldiers on Israeli soil softened criticism of its action against Lebanon in 2006..Thousands of rockets fired against its civilians from Gaza were enough to justify its forceful attack in 2009 in the eyes of many, if not all those who claimed to be concerned for its future. Among the details moderating the criticism of Israel associated with the Mavi Marmara were pictures of the violence employed by those on the ship, along with the small number killed, prior efforts to stop the violation of the blockade peacefully, the supplies already being allowed into Gaza, and the increase in supplies permitted in response to international criticism.

Israel also does well on the third lesson. The skills and weapons of the IDF make its enemies cautious, and those claiming to be its friends hesitant to push it too far.

Peace and quiet are beyond Israel's horizon. Muslims, the international and Jewish left will not go away or overlook assertions that the country is violating their conceptions of international law. However, much of the security barrier is in place, and inching its way through the challenges mounted in Israeli courts and their occasional decisions against the government. Construction continues in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs of Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel, and Givat Zeev, albeit with delays associated with officials' judgments about international pressure. Palestinians' violent reaction against the withdrawal of settlements from Gaza helps to moderate the pressure. Israel's efforts then and on other occasions to meet international criticism have helped its friends with their arguments about the essential justice of Israel's position.

We are not angels. Perhaps we are better than our enemies, or at least no worse. We continue to have more well placed supporters than Muammar Gaddafi and even Hosni Mubarak. Our security forces are impressive. The international community does not appear to demand more than that.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:52 AM
February 27, 2011
Be modest and wise. Say little, do less.

The best that Israeli policymakers can do in the context of what is happening in the region is to say little and to do virtually nothing. And the best that interested outsiders can do is to avoid dreaming that this is the time for Israel and Palestine to negotiate seriously toward a comprehensive agreement.

There is much happening in the Middle East, but no one knows what it is or where it will lead. There are common elements. We hear about democracy, power to the people, and throw the bastard(s) out. However, those are the chants of crowds and not plans of action. Chances are that events will proceed differently in each country, and that nothing will be settled for quite some time. Those who initially seize power might not hold on to it. Secular intellectuals and political liberals will make themselves heard, along with Islamists and military personnel. Quite likely that there will be competition within each of these groupings, and efforts to arrange alliances between individuals of different sectors. Declared reforms may give way to power grabs. Initial governments by military personnel may yield to later demonstrations and some other kind of regime. Countries that presently are quiet may succumb to popular uprisings that have yet to crest.

Palestinians do not feel themselves immune from these events. An initial move to hold off dissent came from the regime in the West Bank changing the composition of its government and announcing--once again--elections in a few months time. It did not take many minutes for the regime in Gaza to ridicule their competitors, and announce that West Bank lackeys of America and Israel would not manage elections on their turf.

Advocates of peace make a fair point that Israel as the stronger partner should take the initiative in making proposals. However, it is also fair to note that Israel has made reasonable offers, most significantly in 2000 and 2008, with no apparent response beyond rejection from the Palestinians.

The current situation makes Palestinians even less reliable. For more than a year they have used one or another reason not to enter negotiations despite the prodding and enticing of the Obama administration and others.

One should understand rather than ridicule their reluctance. They are barely holding power in the West Bank, and under pressure from Gaza and the Palestinian diaspora. The al-Jazeera leakage about Palestinian negotiations
made modest concessions appear extreme, and caused the resignation of their senior delegate.

Those events suggest that this is not the time to look for a Palestinian partner. Moreover, the dynamics throughout the region keep Israelis and Palestinians from knowing what kind of support or opposition there will be for negotiations or concessions from those who can influence Palestinians.

One can doubt that clarity will emerge in a few weeks or months. It may take years before we know what will be the New Middle East. More Islamic, more anti-Israel and anti-Western, more concerned with social welfare, more or less concerned with Palestine?

Honesty requires a shrug of the shoulders. Wisdom cautions a low profile. It is not a time for Israeli peaceniks, Barack Obama, or Thomas Friedman to insist that only a far reaching Israeli initiative can save Israel or the entire Middle East. It is also not a time for settlers and their friends to seek advantage in the uncertainty by planning another thousand residences on the other side of the wall, or beginning a court action to turn more Arab families out of their homes in East Jerusalem.

One can hope for modesty and wisdom from all these actors, without really expecting it.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:00 AM
February 22, 2011
Who knows?

There is not much of local importance in the news. Last night's prime time headlined the tragedy of a young Israeli traveler in the wrong place at the wrong time in Christchurch, someone yelling "Free Palestine" and "Apartheid" who was hustled from the room where Foreign Minister Lieberman was about to address his European counterparts, and a rambling speech by Muammar al-Gaddafi that alternated between boasts about his nation's progress and threats of greater bloodshed.

The feeling is that the world has stopped, except for wondering what will happen from the storms raging through the Muslim countries of the Middle East. One of the experts speaking in the pauses of covering Gaddafi's speech speculated that Syria is ripe for more of the same. An ethnic/religious minority has been ruling that country for several decades in the styles that have provoked mass protest elsewhere. So far the lid remains on the chronic unrest.

Who knows? is the appropriate headline for Syria and elsewhere. Only dreamers and ideologues are confident about democracy. As we saw in the case of George W. Bush and Iraq, some of those people can be dangerous. Chaos, musical chairs (replacing the person at the top), and symbolic reform are more likely. Only the most daring will predict the details, except for the likelihood that leaders in this region and elsewhere will claim success from whatever happens.

An item came to my mailbox from one of Barack Obama's cheerleaders that illustrates the politics that are inevitable in the midst of disaster.

It was an op-ed piece from the New York Times that began

"It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think."

Those wanting to read more of the good news can find it at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/opinion/21nagl.html?_r=1&ref=global-home

Before reaching for the rose-colored glasses, it is useful to note that the authors are Nathaniel Fick and John Nagel, both decorated veterans who are the Chief Executive Officer and President of the Center for a New American Security.

According to its web site

"The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. Building on the deep expertise and broad experience of its staff and advisors, CNAS engages policymakers, experts and the public with innovative fact-based research, ideas and analysis to shape and elevate the national security debate.

As an independent and nonpartisan research institution, CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow."

Perhaps "independent" and "nonpartisan" are not appropriate. Another source describes the Center as "a largely centrist think tank with liberal-hawk tendencies" and close ties to the upper reaches of the Obama administration. "Liberal-hawks" may be replacing the "neo-cons" close to the previous administration who helped push the United States and others into Iraq and Afghanistan. The rhythm may change, but the drum beats are not all that different.

The Fick-Nagel article came to my attention only a week after I finished Robin Andersen's A Century of Media, a Century of War. It begins with British propaganda from World War I claiming that German soldiers ravaged Belgian babies, and passes on to the tearful testimony of a young woman said to be recently arrived from Kuwait before a Congressional committee who described how Iraqi soldiers threw Kuwaiti babies out of incubators that they stole from hospitals. As some of you may remember, that young woman turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States who later admitted that she lied. Independent inquiries found no evidence of what she had described. The book goes on to Oliver North and Ronald Reagan. It does not get to Nathaniel Fick and John Nagel. They might be a higher order of beings than Ollie North. However, what we know about the British experience in Afghanistan in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th century suggests pity rather than applause for Americans and their allies in this century.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:29 PM
February 20, 2011
It could be worse

Israel is never far from the world's headlines, but it is enjoying something of a breather. Muslims from Mauritania and Morocco to Pakistan are dealing with issues more pressing than their conventional assertions about Palestine. Palestinians have troubles that, arguably, are greater than Israel. Gazans have a regime that is serious about Islamic law, and the West Bank has leaders who have stayed in power two years after the expiration of their mandate.

The United States cast a veto against the Palestinian effort to short-cut its way through the inconveniences of negotiation and compromise. Americans also took the occasion to blast the Israelis on settlements. Their consulate in East Jerusalem warned personnel to stay out of the West Bank due to threats of Palestinian violence against them. So far no warnings about Israelis who might express their anti-Americanism on call-in radio.

The United States is suffering a classic problem of a world power. Its alliances with authoritarians throughout the region have been embarrassing in the face of popular protests. The president and his aides have stuttered their way through urging immediate reform and a concern to avoid anarchy. Libya's use of helicopter gunships against protesters is their easiest target. Bahrain's Sunni establishment killing of protesters from its majority Shiite community is more problematic. Neither the Americans nor the British want to risk their military bases in that country.

Every member of the Security Council except the United States voted in favor of the resolution declaring settlements illegal. It is most likely that some did it in the context of an expected veto. They could have it both ways: declaring themselves on the side of the angels, but knowing that they would not contribute to ending the peace process. Such a resolution, if it passed, would have angered Israelis more than it would have caused them to remove settlements.

The Economist may be the best of the news magazines, even though it is less than friendly to Israel. A recent issue earns my praise for describing the futility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and putting most of the blame on the Palestinians. http://www.economist.com/node/18187118

The Economist's article fits with an item written by a liberal Canadian rabbi, who usually presses Israel to be more forthcoming. Now he perceives the resignation of the Palestinian negotiator as justifying the claim of right-wing Israelis that there is no Palestinian partner. The man who resigned had been revealed by al-Jazeera as having been forthcoming with respect to issues of land and refugees. Although his offers were not good enough for Ehud Olmert, they were too far from the Palestinian consensus for him to remain in office. http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=14462

The greater problems of others might be the reason why I could turn my thoughts to the timeless questions of music and politics, and the elusive explanation of Israel's democracy.

Here and there we hear of Egyptians and Libyans blaming Israel for the protests in their country, but this provides us with as much entertainment as worry. What might happen in Egypt is a cause of concern. However, the larger turmoil throughout the region raises the likelihood that Egyptian as well as other regimes will dig in their heels against the crowds. Democracy as well as Islam are a long way from winning these battles.

Neither Israel, Egypt, nor the United States are happy with the prospect that an Iranian frigate and a navy supply ship will transit the Suez Canal and sail toward a Syrian port. The Iranians are claiming that they are not transporting munitions. Should American or Israeli intelligence sources indicate that arms are moving from those ships in the likely direction of Hizbollah, there could be a problem for all concerned.

Rainfall has been less than normal for several years. The government has increased our water bills and urges us to limit use, but the country is not dry. Enough of the desalinization facilities being constructed are on line, so the issue is one of cost rather than supply. There is enough water for us in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. It is more costly to sweeten that water than to rely on water from the heavens. If the story of Joseph still has validity, we are due for several wet years.

We are not in Paradise. There are groups, and at least one country, that may be serious when they say they will destroy us. We can also find problems in the realms of poverty, crime, education, and health, as well as the aspirations of the messianic faithful. Nothing can satisfy Jewish critics. For the time being, we are enjoying the quietest spot in the neighborhood. It could be worse.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:05 AM
February 18, 2011
Muslim and Jewish democracies

I have been among those mocking commentators who applaud the signs of democracy in the mass protests of Egyptians that resulted in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. I am skeptical in the extreme about the chances of democracy taking hold in societies where Islam is the prevailing religion, especially in a period when aggressive and authoritarian modes of Islam are prominent.

What is lacking in those societies is what the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville perceived in the United States when he traveled through the country in the 1830s. His Democracy in America is widely taught as reflecting the cultural roots of democracy.

Not everything de Tocqueville wrote helps us understand democracy. His comments on women and slavery were more appropriate to his age than ours. However, he touched on themes that have developed throughout Western democracies, but are lacking in Muslim countries.

"If a [democratic] society displays less brilliance than an aristocracy, there will also be less wretchedness; pleasures will be less outrageous and wellbeing will be shared by all; . . . ignorance will be less common; opinions will be less vigorous and habits gentler . . . ."
"The New Englander is attached to his township because it is strong and independent; he has an interest in it because he shares in its management . . . he invests his ambition and his future in it . . . he learns to rule society; . . . understands the harmony of powers, and in the end accumulates clear, practical ideas about the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights."
"Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations... In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others."
de Tocqueville was not fond of Islam.

"I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself."

I see little in de Tocqueville or anything else to encourage a view that Muslim-dominant countries are on a road that will lead to democracy.


With all my skepticism about the applause for Muslims on the road to democracy, I cannot ignore one of the unsolved problems of my profession. That is, its inability to explain how the Jewish country came to be a democracy.

"Democracy" is not an easy concept to study. While some claim that Turkey and Indonesia are both Muslim and democratic, one doubts if the Kurds or Timorese would agree. Varda's father said that the Weimar Republic was as democratic as any place in the world, but he left his homeland 14 years after Weimar was created. His mother and brother were shipped east in boxcars several years later by those who took over from Weimar.

It is common for Israel's enemies and antagonists to assert that it is not democratic. However, it provides the essential provisions of free elections, a critical press, wide ranging criticism of government officials and their decisions, and a judiciary that rules against the other branches of government. The Arab minority contests elections, and places representatives in the national legislature. That they chose to spend their time criticizing the government's existence and its policies, rather than trading support for their constituents' benefits, does not reduce the democratic nature of the country.

How did Israel come to be democratic and to preserve its democracy through periods of war, terrorism, economic distress and mass immigration from non-democratic countries?
The overwhelming majority of the Jews who came to Palestine during the formative period from 1880 to 1940 came from non-democratic societies. Hence, the founders of the state had no experience with democracy.
Some say that the British planted the seeds of democracy when they ruled the Mandate from 1922 to 1948. However, the vast majority of colonies that Britain ruled in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, mostly for longer than they ruled Palestine, have had the thinest veneer of democracy since becoming independent. Only India along with Israel and the heavily British places in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa have stood apart from other places that Britain governed for their maintenance of democracy .
Israel's experience of war, poverty, and mass immigration are more likely to be reasons for a country abandoning, rather than maintaining democracy.
Some say that Judaism supports democracy.

The Prophets' criticism of economic and political elites implants a trait associated that is not authoritarian. However, the mass assemblies described in the Bible--which some see as precursors of democracy--were anything but democratic.

As­semblies convened to ratify covenants between the Almighty and his people provided no opportunities for serious debate or reasoned decision. They featured a leader reading text said to be from God, with the people limited to affirm­ing their acceptance. The people were humiliated by being reminded of their sins, and told that God offered them the covenant because of his concern for them, and not because they earned it with integrity or good behavior. The people were told that they must accept the cove­nant, with death or other severe punishment as the only alternative (Exodus 19; Deuteronomy 8-9, 30; Joshua 24).

The respect for rabbinical arguments, with its long history apparent in the Talmud, may have something to do with Jewish tolerance for different opinions. However, this is a tradition associated with rabbis' interpretations of God's law, rather than popular deliberation and voting.

If there is any segment of the Israeli population that is likely to doubt the value of democracy it is religious Jews, and especially the ultra-Orthodox. For them, the decisions of rabbis take precedence over public debate and individual autonomy.

de Tocqueville wrote that Christianity was more akin to democracy than Islam, and I am not aware that he wrote anything about Judaism. He endorsed religion as one of society's essential features, but also expressed doubt about its capacity to shape public affairs..

From where does Israeli democracy come if it does not appear in the background of the country's founders, the implant of the British, or the character of Judaism?

And does our inability to answer this question with certainty caution against abject doubt about the possibilities of Muslim countries becoming democratic?

It is easier to ask these questions than to answer them.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:27 PM
February 17, 2011
Party politics

Benyamin Netanyahu has come in for some shrill criticism from locals and outsiders. Their most recent brief is to reiterate doubt about his sincerity with respect to the peace process with the Palestinians, and his reluctance to cheer what they see as the democratic tide of protest against Hosni Mubarak. Today's Ha'aretz reports a marked decline in his overseas trips, which it explains by the reluctance of world leaders to host him.

Bibi is slippery. A prominent line in Tzipi Livni's election campaign was, "Bibi? I don't believe him."

I found Livni's campaign more attractive than Likud's, but my subsequent view is that Netanyahu has done well in this term as prime minister. No one in this troubled and argumentative place has earned more than a B+ for service in a ranking position. I doubt that he is paying anything more than lip service to his frequent claims of sticking to the mission of reaching peace with the Palestinians. As you may have noticed, I pay the same lip service. I'm all for peace, even if it means that there will be an international border 50 meters from my balcony. However, I'm convinced that there is no future to the process as long as the Palestinians cannot accept Israel and Israelis pretty much where they are, and as long as Hamas and like-thinking Palestinians do not want Israelis anywhere.

On Mubarak, it would have been madness for an Israeli leader to support his ouster. He was president of the Arab country most important to us, and cooperated on important issues for 30 years. Netanyahu ordered his colleagues in the government not to express themselves during the period of mass protest, and he was measured in his statements about democracy and international comity. Insofar as the future of the Egyptian regime is still not clear, while continuity is so far in place, Netanyahu deserves at least a B+ for his actions during the period of greatest uncertainty.

With all the claims about the shakiness of his government, Bibi and his party colleagues could be dancing in the street. A prime minister who has heaped praise on himself for reforming the national economy when he held the position of finance minister will be claiming the credit for data showing Israel to be a world leader in the most recent period for its economic growth. Whenever he makes a claim about his economic genius I think of Livni's campaign slogan. His sense of economic balance is an advantage for the country, but it is not a one-man show.

The even greater news for the immediate future of Netanyahu and Likud is the misfortune of the principal opposition party. Kadima's chief administrator is currently in jail while being questioned for his part in a scandal centered on the income tax department. He and others are accused of selling favorable rulings to business executives.

The media are focusing not only on this story, but on the considerable list of Kadima personalities in prison, on trial, accused, or having been punished for one or another kind of corruption. The line-up features
Ehud Olmert, currently on trial for several kinds of corruption when he was Jerusalem mayor and head of one or another ministry in the national government;
Ariel Sharon and his two sons, either investigated, accused, or having been sentenced for influence peddling;
former minister and chair of a major Knesset committee Tsakhi Hanegbi, for favoritism in personnel appointments;
former minister Haim Ramon for impropriety with a female soldier (uninvited French kiss);
former Finance Minister Avraham Hirshson, serving time for pocketing public money.

Livni herself remains squeaky clean, and has suspended the party administrator accused of wrongdoing. But it would not be a good time for her to begin a campaign to unseat the government.

Traditionally, Israel's major parties (Labor and Likud) have claimed to be motivated by principles. Their leading figures continue to talk about traditional themes, even while much of the air has gone out of Labor's socialism and Likud's nationalist claims about holding all the Land of Israel. Labor leaders are not prominent in the red flag parades on the first of May, and it is only a few Likudniks who occasionally sing the party song about both sides of the Jordan.

Kadima emerged from Likud members who rejected the hard lines of that party's traditions. They stressed flexibility and pragmatism. Sharon withdrew settlements from Gaza and Olmert made offers to the Palestinians no less generous than Ehud Barack had offered eight years earlier.

Does a birth under the headings of flexibility and pragmatism rather than principle contribute to the linkage now being drawn between Kadima and personal corruption? There may be something to this, but I would not write a dissertation on the point. Most of the accusations of Kadima figures involve actions they took while still members of Likud. Bibi and Sara Netanyahu have had their own experience with police inquiries. There may be no Israeli party more associated with principles than the ultra-Orthodox SHAS, and it is no less prominent than Kadima in the records of the police, judiciary, and prison authorities. Avigdor Lieberman may be the most outspoken politician articulating principles, and the police have recently said that they are close to concluding the investigations of his financial dealings that have stretched over many years. The Labor Party is no more free of corruption. One can cite what may be the trivial matter of party leader Barak's wife employing a illegal migrant as a house cleaner (before Barack left the Labor Party), or more weighty figures who have left their marks over the years in the records of the Prison Authority.

It is no easy task to judge the corruption of Israel against other countries, or to link improprieties to one party or another. Likud may be celebrating a fillip of advantage from the embarrassment of its most prominent opponent, but political advantages are short term and subject to chronic uncertainties. Israel's region is more unsettled than usual. World leaders continue to say that they want more from the peace process. Religious and anti-religious Jews are seldom quiet.

An often quoted portion of Federalist #51 applies here as elsewhere:

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."

One might fault Hamilton and Madison for genderism, but it was not an issue in 1788. And one of the key figures in the trial of Ehud Olmert is of the sex called fair, but not necessarily law-abiding.

Today's advantage is to Likud. Tomorrow is another day.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:17 AM
February 15, 2011
Music and politics

My insight of the evening, while enjoying Haydn's Symphony #96, Bartok's Concerto #2 for piano and orchestra, and Schubert's Symphony # 9: This isn't politics.

Zubin Mehta was in control. The Israeli Philharmonic was was in tune and orderly. I did not notice a stray note, protest, or lack of compliance throughout the evening.

Listening to the radio on the way home was as different as it could be. Unruly demonstrations in Iran and Yemen. Foreign Minister Lieberman saying that he would not appoint the ambassador to Great Britain that the Prime Minister had designated. Commentators arguing over the implications of the day's message from the council of generals that said it would be running Egypt while it reshaped the constitution and scheduled elections. Earlier in the day I read a column written by a nice Jewish boy called Thomas Friedman that scalded the Israeli government--and sentiments widespread in the country--for not getting on the Egyptian bandwagon that ousted the most recent Pharoah.

"The children of Egypt were having their liberation moment and the children of Israel decided to side with Pharaoh - right to the very end. . . I am more worried today about Israel's future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region - and we have just seen the beginnings of it - Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/opinion/13-friedman-Web-cairo.html?_r=1&scp=10&sq=friedman&st=Search

Friedman's claim about the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet Israel has ever had reinforces what I have thought for some time that his understanding of Israel does not go deep. It will take a while to test his fashionable prediction of "great change in the region," and to see if what happens really is democratic.

Much different from Friedman was a comment by a friend at our Sabbath lunch, who seemed to be reflecting a prevailing attitude by saying that he he did not expect great things for Egyptians, and was primarily interested in what would be good for us.

Perhaps my enjoyment of a good orchestra comes from its contrast with the politics that I also admire. The image of order against chaos would be too strong. Israel is lively but operates by a certain kind of order and is not chaotic. Iran, Yemen and Egypt are something else, but also not chaotic.

Zubin Mehta does not manage the Philharmonic like any Israeli prime minister has managed the government, and no government has run the country like Mehta performs his concerts. The Jews of Israel and many of those overseas do not behave like those who play for the Philharmonic.

There is an irony is the large incidence of Russian speaking immigrants who play for Israeli orchestras. Music is one of the things that has profited from the movement of more than a million people who came in a small wave during the early 1970s and then a tsunami from the late 1980s. Medicine, the quality of bread, and good conversation have also gained from that migration. Along with those benefits is the political messiness contributed by Avigdor Lieberman and his Russian-accented political party.

Earlier in the day we enjoyed lunch at the home of Pastor Kangkeun Lee, PhD. The PhD after his name reflects some of my work as his academic advisor, as does the PhD after the name of Young-Chol Choe, who was visiting Israel on one of his frequent research trips. The two little Lees joined us when they came home from school. Their Hebrew was as good as anyone's at the table with the possible exception of Varda.

Among the topics was a delegation of Korean educators that came to Israel in order to probe the creativity that they want to add to Korean education.

Israeli schools are loud and disorderly. Choe noted that when his children returned to Korea after several years in Israel they had trouble getting used to a culture where children are expected to listen and learn, but not ask questions.

If there is a key to Jewish creativity, it may lie somewhere in the messiness of Israeli politics and classrooms. Closely related is the messiness of Judaism, which is evident to anyone who has tried to find the order in an Orthodox shul where participants pray at their own pace with an occasional indication by the day's leader of where they should be; arguments that appear on every page of the Talmud; Biblical prophets who were unrestrained in their criticism of political and economic elites; and the epigram that the Lord prefers that his people argue, in order to increase the likelihood that they reach the decisions He favors.

The IDF is disciplined, but an army that prizes improvisation does not operate with the harmony of an orchestra.

The image of a Swiss watch used to be useful for something that worked as expected. The metaphor is less appropriate when the Swiss along with every other producer make electronic timepieces that depend on button size batteries rather than springs and wheels. However, a Swiss watch remains as a symbol of something that does not operate like Israel or any other democracy, or dictatorships with imperfect administration, which they all have.

Alongside Israeli politics and schoolrooms that may be less orderly than the average are good orchestras and first class conductors. Bartok was closer to the nature of Israel than Haydn or Schubert. But the pianist and orchestra neither protested the conductor's leadership, nor deviated from what was expected.

Their discipline would not be suitable to running a country beset with difficult problems, a culture that prizes dispute about how to proceed, and severe criticism about the path chosen.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:11 AM
February 13, 2011

I offer this note with the caution that it could be wrong.

On the other hand . . .

The signs lead me in a direction different from those dancing in the street or writing with enthusiasm about a revolution and the onset of democracy in Egypt and elsewhere.

The first step in my route is to recognize that in politics it is much easier to decide against something or someone, than to agree on all the steps necessary to construct a different kind of government.

It was easier to do what brought about the end of Hosni Mubarek's presidency than it will be to do what is necessary to design and implement a new way of choosing leaders, providing for freedom of expression, rearranging the national economy, social services, and foreign relations.

The military has ruled Egypt since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952. It has not been a typical military government with uniformed officers in every key position. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Husni Mubarak came to the presidency from the military, as did many of the senior personnel in the administrations they headed. And now it is the military leadership whose present or former members have assumed the national leadership. Their first steps have been to promise reform and continuity. Demonstrators have left Tahrir (Liberation Square). The cleaners are sweeping and carting away the debris left behind.

Barack Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu have welcomed the generals' statements about a democratic civilian transition, as well as their commitment to international obligations, including the peace treaty with Israel.

The Egyptian military has not only been intimately involved with the national leadership since 1952. It is up to its knees or higher in the national economy. According to an analysis produced by the United States military, the Egyptian military is involved in the industries that assemble of military hardware.

"(And) military facilities . . . manufacture a wide variety of products such as washing machines, heaters, clothing, doors, stationary, pharmaceuticals, and microscopes. Most of these products are sold to military personnel through discount military stores, but a significant percentage also reach commercial markets. Profits from these activities are, like military export earnings, off budget. . .

(There is also a ) broad network of dairy farms, milk processing facilities, cattle feed lots, poultry farms, and fish farms. . . .

The military has also been involved in a significant number of major national infrastructure projects such as construction of power lines, sewers, bridges, overpasses, roads, schools, and installing and maintaining telephone exchanges."

All of which says that many Egyptians have a stake in the military.

None of which pretends to assess the views at the peak of the current and retired officer corps that supplies much of the leadership of Egyptian politics and economics. Nor should we dare predict how those who may contend for leadership will respond to the protests of recent weeks, or those claiming to lead or influence various sectors of the Egyptian population.

The western press has been preoccupied with Egypt. We have not heard much about Tunis and Lebanon. It is not clear how protests in Algeria and Jordan will play themselves out. The Palestinians of the West Bank have promised early elections, seemingly to ward off their own protests. The Palestinians of Gaza were quick to say that such decisions are illegitimate on account of Abbas' continuation in office more than two years beyond the end of his term.

Those who are nervous see the eventual success of the Muslim Brotherhood or something else that is Islamic, anti-democratic, and anti-western. Others see a flowering of democracy that will spread from Egypt to other countries in the region. Israelis are wondering and worrying about what will happen next door and on all sides.

I'm inclined to see a continuity of what has been since 1952, perhaps with changes in how the regime presents itself, and some loosening of the constraints about free expression and political opposition.

It is best to conclude with a caution that we are dealing with a political culture considerably different from our own, with severely limited transparency, that has already responded to internal pressures by ousting a leader who was strong enough a month ago to offer his son as his replacement.

It might be better. It might be worse. I'd bet that it will resemble what has been.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:48 AM
February 10, 2011

We have known for a long time that politicians talk, usually without having any effect. However, we have also learned to listen more carefully to some politicians than to others. When the President of the United States speaks, the world may not shake immediately, but it is more likely to listen than to a member of the city council or the head of some lesser country.

Those of us who consider ourselves familiar with the craft know how to listen to a long outpouring, and to balance one sentence against another. We pay attention to the nuances and the reservations, when the great person modifies in one clause what is earlier proclaimed in heroic fashion .

One doubts that the crowds in a foreign place, caught up in a noisy and protracted demonstration, are as careful in parsing the words that they hear, or those translated for them.

The American president is speaking in a way that would allow him to defend himself if all hell breaks loose in Egypt, and thousands die. While he has called time and again for a change in government, widespread reform, and democracy quickly, he has also said, on occasion, that change should not come in a way that is destabilizing.

It is time to call Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. back from retirement in order to judge if the president is violating the standard he set in 1919: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic." (Schenck v. United States, 1919)

We are a long way from knowing what will emerge from more than two weeks of demonstrations. Recent statements from the Egyptian president, ranking ministers, and generals indicate that Hosni Mubarak is not leaving office as quickly and as completely as Barack Obama would like; that there is shrill criticism of Obama for trying to influence them; and that the military will figure prominently in whatever happens.

If the scenes will not be pretty, no one in the White House should be surprised. Egypt is one of the countries that "embraced the idea" of helping out the United States for what the euphemism calls "extraordinary rendition," or what critics label "torture by proxy." That is the sending prisoners taken in the war against terror to places outside the reach of American courts concerned with human rights.

According to the British newspaper Guardian, "The Egyptian military has secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents since mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak began, and at least some of these detainees have been tortured.".

"Torture" is a dirty word easily used against those that one does not like. It can mean anything from deprived sleep or food to brutality that destroys mind and life . The whole idea of extraordinary rendition is that personnel of Egypt, Poland, and elsewhere would act in ways less pleasant than the American military, or the police of New York, Chicago, or even Los Angeles.

Far be it for this American and Israeli, sensitive to Israel's dependence on the White House, State Department, and Defense Department, to be shrill in his criticism of the President of the United States. That is not the way I learned to behave in the schools of Fall River, or the home of patriotic parents. Yet I feel that I am a long way from crying falsely about fire in a theater when I assert that Barack Obama is likely to do more harm than good, if he accomplishes anything by his comments about Egypt.

The Commander in Chief is justified in sending troops to battle in a cause that is legitimate even though it is dangerous. Provoking a crowd by assertions of democracy in a country without the cultural restraints that make democracy workable is just as dangerous as sending troops to battle, and is more questionable with regard to its justification. Egyptians have already died, and further deaths seem more likely than wide ranging political reform. Barack Obama will not have killed them. He will not have ordered them into the maws of a foreign army, the police, or gangs doing the work of the regime. But he is encouraging them to risk their lives for ideas more suitable to his American constituency than the streets of Egypt.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:24 PM
February 08, 2011
Optimism, or at least the absence of pessimism

Major events in Lebanon,Tunis and Egypt, along with lesser noises from Yemen and Jordan have excited the Israeli and international peace camps to insist on greater efforts by Israel, the United States and others. If not, Israel will pay a heavy price in inevitable violence, and the rest of the world will suffer for having failed to solve the gnawing problem of Palestine.

The web site of the Geneva Initiative is highlighting a speech by President Shimon Peres and a New York Times article by Thomas Friedman making the points that an Israeli-Palestinian peace is urgent. http://www.geneva-accord.org/

Already circulating is a New York Times article with the date of next Sunday that rests upon an optimistic reading of reports about previous Israel-Palestinian negotiations, as well as a confident projection of what is happening in Egypt and elsewhere.

The kernel of Bernard Avishai's long article is

"To this day, Abbas still expects America to put the deal over. The gaps appear so pitifully small: Ariel and a couple of other settlements, the question of whether parts of Silwan would be a part of the holy basin, a compromise number on refugees? "We still want bridging proposals," Abbas told me, adding, "we want America to be a strong broker."

Without a deal, Jerusalem and the West Bank will almost certainly explode again, this time perhaps igniting the kind of local war we saw in Bosnia: violence spreading to Israeli Arab towns and drawing in both Syrian-backed Hezbollahfrom Lebanon and Hamas from Gaza, each armed with thousands of missiles. "Jerusalem is becoming a tinderbox; it could explode any minute," the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told me recently. "We now see the collapse of the nonviolent vision but not the replacement. . . . Any unilateral Palestinian step [to statehood] will be meaningless -- no one is fooled by this. There is fatigue. They don't want to go back to the days of bloodshed. I think when they reach the conclusion, 'The hell with it,' we'll go back to that dark period, then all hell will break loose."

There are three issues that demand exploration.
Are the gaps between the Israelis and Palestinians really small enough to be dealt with by more effort by the parties, perhaps with urging and incentives by the United States?
Do the events in Egypt and elsewhere foretell changes in the region that will increase the threat on Israel?
And if Israel manages to satisfy the Palestinians and signs an agreement with those currently in charge of the West Bank, will it deal effectively with those increased threats?
Admitting that modesty is as essential as it is elusive in the case of future oriented political commentaries, there are reasons to question the views that gaps are small, and that a formal Israel-Palestine peace is essential.

As far as we know from al-Jazeeraleaks and Olmert's memoirs, the gaps between the parties were not so small as to be trivial. They included Palestinian refusals to concede to Israel the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim, and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Latest figures available show them with a total of about 60,000 residents.

The gap in the case of Palestinian refugees was no smaller. Olmert offered a thousand a year for five years, and Abbas demanded at least ten thousand a year for ten years. That amounts to a difference between an offer of 5,000 and a demand of 100,000.

Not clear from my reading of the sources available is what Olmert offered with respect to somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 other Israeli Jews living in what the Palestinians claim as their territory. Did Olmert offer to withdraw them immediately, or over time? Would they be able to obtain Palestinian residence? Or did Abbas stick with his demands that Palestine be rid of Israelis or Jews?

Left open is the possibility that both Olmert's and Abbas's gestures would be rejected by Israelis and Palestinians with the capacity to do so. Olmert was negotiating under the threat of an indictment on criminal charges, which came soon after those talks. Abbas was negotiating under the shadow of 60 years of promising refugees and their families that they would return home, and potentially violent opposition to his regime in Gaza and Palestinian areas of Lebanon, plus heavily armed non-Palestinian rejectionists in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

Events in Lebanon, Tunis, and Egypt are not yet resolved, but do not clearly indicate that Israel must fold, or that the United States has the capacity to insist upon the details of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Hosni Mubarak is still the President of Egypt, his Vice President and military elites may be riding out the protests, and the White House has flipped away from an insistent posture of "Democracy Now."

Currently the Obama White House is a target of ridicule even from Israeli commentators who usually demand more concessions to the Palestinians, and outside pressure on the Israeli government.

The American Empire will survive its embarrassing efforts to deal with Egyptians. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders will dare insult American intentions or capacity in public, but Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will not emerge from this with enhanced leverage.

If Lebanon, Tunis, Egypt and other commotions indicate anything, it is that Israel and Palestine are not the principal problems of the Middle East. Rather, they principally serve as the efforts of corrupt elites to excite their populations about issues distant from their own governing. Hosni Mubarak said that the Zionists were responsible for the demonstrations in his cities. While some Israelis saw that as further evidence of Arab perfidy, I viewed it as a small price to pay if it helped turned Egyptians away from dismantling a regime that had brought stability to a country light years from western democracy.

Part of the quotation above from Avishai's article is a not so hidden Palestinian threat of violence if things do not go their way.

The Israeli establishment is not frightened into submission by echoes of that threat from Jewish peace advocates, any more than it is by the ploy of a demographic threat from Palestinian baby-makers. Palestinians have more to lose than Israelis by violence or a growth in their population. Do they really want to risk another destruction of what overseas investors are building throughout the West Bank? And do they aspire to turn back the movement of Arab women to education and reduced birth rates? Israel's defenses will keep the problems of excess population on the Palestinian side of the security barrier. The demographic threat that is more apparent to Israel comes from ultra-Orthodox Jews rather than from Palestinians.

Hope must be eternal, but reality is here for the foreseeable future. Gaza, Hizbollah, Syria, and Iran, as well as so-called moderate Muslims who have yet to legitimize their label point to continued uncertainty about Israel's future. That future is only partly in Israeli hands, no matter what J-Street, Peace Now, assorted liberal Rabbis, Barack Obama, Shimon Peres, and Yosi Beilin try to tell us. There is little more than blind optimism to urge the removal of sixty to two hundred thousand Jews from the West Bank, or the admission of at least 100,000 Palestinians to Israel as ways of assuring our future.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:32 AM
February 06, 2011
Woe is the plight of outside meddlers

If there is anything worse than trying to manage someone else's politics, it is trying to micro-manage them.

The latest from the New York Times indicates that the American government is again putting its reputation on the line. Not only are its chief honchos telling the Egyptians what they must be doing, but the Americans are arguing among themselves in public about the details.

"The latest challenge (to U.S. policy) came Saturday afternoon when the man sent last weekend by President Obama to persuade the 82-year-old leader to step out of the way, Frank G. Wisner, told a group of diplomats and security experts that "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical -- it's his opportunity to write his own legacy."

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton immediately tried to recalibrate those remarks, repeating the latest iteration of the administration's evolving strategy. At a minimum, she said, Mr. Mubarak must move out of the way so that his vice president, Omar Suleiman, can engage in talks with protest leaders over everything from constitutional changes to free and fair elections."

We have already seen the risk in micro-managing a polity not well understood by outsiders in the best of times, and currently in something between flux and chaos. The management does not work, and the reputation of the aspiring manager suffers from severe criticism. The Egyptian Foreign Office has expressed its opposition to American efforts to involve themselves, and President Obama's public calls on President Mubarak to step down immediately are being broadcast again and again. One can expect Obama's efforts to be expanded and exaggerated in unfriendly media. Majorities in Muslim countries that believe Americans and Israelis produced 9-11 will have no trouble making Barack Obama look like a dictator from afar.

Obama and his Secretary of State also fumbled in the case of Israel and the Palestinians. By insisting on a halt of construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem they added an item to the Palestinian agenda of non-negotiable demands, and eventually had swallow construction in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.

A useful view of Egypt is hard to obtain by an outsider, or even by an insider. Despite recurring demands for the kind of democracy that does not exist anywhere in a Muslim country, and may be unattainable under Islam, the current regime might ride out the popular protest. Mubarak himself may go away for medical treatment or spend time at one of his palaces far from a large city, while the military and civilian elites who depend on the current regime keep it going. My expectations include a combination of repression and reforms, with the latter tending toward the superficial.

Perhaps I have lived too long in the Middle East to share the optimism of Americans and Europeans. The dreamers who work for the White House and the media have expressed their wish that an Egyptian revolution will not resemble those of France, Russia, or Iran, but the flower revolutions of post-Soviet Eastern Europe. To them I urge a consideration of differences between the cultures nourished by Christianity and Islam. The Churches of Poland and the Ukraine may not preach like those of Boston, but neither do they not resemble those of the Inquisition, or preach like the Mosques of the Middle East.

On Israel and Palestine, American meddlers should notice that leaders of both regimes prefer the status quo to what outsiders would demand of them. Israelis do not trust Palestinians, and Palestinians do not trust one another. The people running the West Bank are holding on to power with the help of resources, training, and cooperation from Americans, Europeans, Jordanians, and Israelis, and they have no hope of gaining control of Gaza.

The latest indication that Palestinians prefer the status quo is the rejection of an economic package produced by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Tony Blair, in his role as the envoy of the "Quartet" (United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations) that has taken on itself the mentoring of Israel and Palestine.

According to the lead Palestinian negotiator, Netanyahu is playing games and haggling: "If he wants to build confidence he should stop settlement construction." http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=206913

Thomas Friedman and his audience might applaud that statement as a good guide to what Israel must do. I view it as the West Bank leadership's evasion of a diplomatic process that they cannot pursue without risking the loss of everything to other Palestinians.

The Quartet has rejected the Palestinians' hope of a short cut via international recognition of a state they cannot control, and "called on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a negotiated solution by September 2011. It said it planed with the help of its envoys to work with both parties before its next gathering in March." http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=206970

Lip service, graceful exit, recognition of reality, or serious intent to try again?

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:27 AM
February 03, 2011

Headline on page one of Ha'aretz, "Mubarak: 'Obama does not understand Egyptian culture.'"

Summary of today's posting from Memri, a well informed intelligence source that translates material from Muslim media:

"The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has rejected the U.S.'s stance on the protests in Egypt, telling it bluntly to mind its own business and refrain from interfering in Egypt's affairs. Rage at the U.S. has also been voiced by writers in the Egyptian press, who said that U.S. President Barack Obama was not qualified to speak for the Egyptian people or to determine the country's future.
Also critical of Obama's policy were columnists in other Arab countries, who accused the U.S. of abandoning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and of willingness to sell out its allies, including Israel, to further its own goals. They claimed that the U.S. encouraged the Arab oppositions not in order to promote human rights, as it claimed, but in order to realize a hidden agenda and preserve its influence over the Arab world in all circumstances."


Both Thomas Friedman and George Soros are putting Israel in the center of their analyses about Egypt, and accusing Netanyahu of self-destructing blindness if he does not go "the extra mile" to satisfy Palestinians or provide what it takes for the Americans to force a deal between Israel and Palestine.

News from the White House is that Americans are discussing with the Egyptians a plan for Mubarak to resign immediately and begin a process of forming a new government, then wide-ranging discussions among Egyptian groups, including the Islamists, leading up to an election.

One wonders:

Has the White House forgotten what the obsession of its predecessor with the formats of democracy produced in Gaza? Hamas won the election that Americans forced on unwilling Palestinians.

The liberation of Iraq, partly for the declared sake of democracy, has produced continued chaos and bloodshed, with a wilting fig leaf of occasional claims about success uttered by American officials.

Are the procedures of democracy more important than their results? What about the impact of culture on politics? Treating Egypt like Minneapolis is less likely to produce something like Minneapolis than chaos, another regime like Mubarak's, or something like Iran.

Is it the intention of the White House to make itself look good to American Democrats and decent people in Western Europe, or really to influence things in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East?

Can American posturing spur Egyptian dissidents to greater action and the romance of a revolution that will produce who knows what? Or is it only American uttering for its own sake?

Have the action-loving reporters on CNN and the romantic, reform-hoping commentators who see democracy in the noise of Cairo not learned the Stages of Revolution? They vary from place to place, but initial victors generally do not survive. Democratic aspirants were also prominent in the early stages of the Russian and Iranian revolutions.

Do Americans really believe it when they say that the problem is not Islam, or is this just more of the same lip service to be on the side of the angels, with the laudable goal of avoiding the horrors of ethnic incitement?

In re Friedman and Soros, do they deny that Israel has already offered a generous mile to the Palestinians, and has received little indication that an extra mile will bring anything more than rejection because nothing is enough?

Do they have no respect for the vast middle of the Israeli political spectrum, better informed than the great majority of Americans about the Middle East? Polls continue to show that Israelis are willing to sacrifice for peace, but are generally distrustful of Arab intentions, reliability, and morality. Now Israelis are justifiably nervous about Egyptians and Americans. If things go wrong in the careful planning of the White House, the problem will not be across the sea but next door.

Are those statements about Israelis' views dismissible because they appear to be racist and/or paranoid, or worthy of serious consideration?

So many questions. I know my answers, but as a true democrat in a culture as democratic as anything this side of Minneapolis, I welcome others.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:19 PM
February 02, 2011
Thoughts from far and near

You've had a rest from me while we have been enjoying the sights and tastes of southern France. But the world has been busy. First there was a release of hitherto secret details from al-Jazeera on Israeli-Palestinian discussions, then the publication of Ehud Olmert's memoirs, and then the spread of upsets to the most worrisome case of Egypt.

Our local dust is settling. We are close to where we were before al-Jazeera leaked those documents.

A right of center commentator said initially that reports of Palestinan concessions were frauds perpetrated by Arab opponents of both Israel and the Abbas "group." (It is not strong enough to label a "regime.")

According to this view, the concessions supposedly made by the Palestinians were actually suggestions by Israelis that were rejected by Palestinians.

A more moderate view, expressed in a New York Times article, is that the disclosures--true or not--will make it more difficult for the Palestinians to show any flexibility. That may be even more true in the light of what began in Tunis, spread to Egypt and elsewhere.

Olmert's memoirs had a few moments in the media. Like all memoirs, they are self serving, especially in this case of an author being tried for several varieties of corruption.

Olmert put the emphasis on Palestinians' indecisiveness, and their inability to accept the major Israeli settlements of Ariel and Maale Adumim, or the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Also, he indicates that there was a gap of at least 20 times in the number of refugees he was willing to accept and what Abbas defined as his minimum.

Then events elsewhere eclipsed our little corner of the region.

What is happening in Lebanon, Egypt, and Tumis may be significant. Together with what is continuing in Iraq, Afghaniistan, Pakistan and Iran they make me wonder why people are concerned about our low level tensions and minimum carnage.

Latest polls show the Israeli public supporting negotiations, but with a substantial majority doubtful that Palestinians are willing to live at peace alongside them.

Egypt is tottering, Lebanon is closer than usual to crisis, there is no resolution for Tunis, and there are rumblings in Jordan and Yemen. But The Economist can call on Barack Obama to pressure Israel, certain that concessions will help the region and the world, even if a few other problems will remain.

One CNN headline: Tanks roll into Egyptian cities

Next headline: Obama urges Mubarak to avoid violence against demonstrators

Perhaps another Cairo speech would help.

One can hope that key personnel in the Obama White House--including the President himself--are less naive than their comments suggest. The American task is difficult in the extreme. It wants to maintain influence in a country that is crucially important, while the president who has been its ally is the target of regime-shaking protests.

Hillary Clinton's comments about democracy and the rights of peaceful demonstration may appeal to the left wing of the American Democratic Party, but sound pathetic to anyone who has spent more than five minutes in the Middle East.

Egypt's commotion could blow over like Tiananmen Square, produce something like the Islamist regime in Iran, or lead to one or another kind of change after Communism like Poland, Hungary, Russia, or Belarus. The range of possibilities is considerable.

The latest news is that the Egyptian regime is fighting back. It is too early to bet a lot on a winner, but it would be naive to discount the power of an authoritarian president and those who depend on him. The civics lessons heard from Barack Obama echoed by other western politicians and commentators (with the notable exception of some Israelis) may accomplish nothing more than provide yet more indications that the good folks do not comprehend the Middle East whose future they aspire to direct. George W. Bush flubbed from the right, and Barack Obama from the left. Both seem more governed by ideology and hope than by reliance on analysts who know the limits of reality.

The Tel Aviv Stock Market dropped more than three percent on the first business day this week, but stabilized on the second day.

In our part of the Middle East, a Good Government group sued to block the appointment of the designated Chief of the IDF General Staff on account of property dealings somewhat less than glat kosher done years ago when he was a Lt Colonel. Senior officials took another look at the details, and produced a situation where government lawyers decided who could not lead the military.

The day after the Prime minister and Defense Minister announced that their nominee could not serve, the newspaper with the largest circulation emphasized the details and commentary. Israelis concerned about Egypt had to satisfy themselves with a scowling picture of Husni Mubarek on the bottom of page one, and then skip to page 15 for more.

We are where we are. No need at the present to revise our maps.

Our neighbors may be revising their civics texts, if there are such things in Arabic.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:47 AM