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This week's editor

Dawn Foster, Co-Editor

Dawn Foster is Co-Editor at 5050 and a freelance journalist.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Israel reverses gravity

An election where social security trumped national security represents a decisive shift in Israeli politics, says Menachem Kellner.

There are alternatives

A new compendium of global "people power" initiatives shows that non-violence and peace activism can be a more effective instrument of social change than military force.

Musharraf's own goals

By embittering his foes and alienating potential allies, Pakistan's president is diminishing his room for political manoeuvre, says Irfan Husain.

Slouching towards Kadima

In early January 2006, Israel's seemingly invincible "bulldozer" prime minister, Ariel Sharon, suffered a second stroke in quick succession and slipped into a coma. Now, on the eve of the country's election on 28 March, it seems that the entire Israeli nation has followed his example.

The felled Sharon left behind him a new party, Kadima (Forward), now led by his deputy and acting prime minister Ehud Olmert, which he had set up to ride the waves of a successful evacuation of settlers and troops from the Gaza strip in August 2005. His aim was to sweep back to power in the elections whose date he had announced in December.

What has followed since has been one of the most astonishingly dull election campaigns ever seen in a country where "dull" is a word rarely used to describe the daily news. Unparalleled apathy and indecision among the voters have been stealing more headlines than the pledge by Kadima leader Ehud Olmert finally to define Israel's borders, or new Labour Party leader Amir Peretz's promises of a social revolution, or the desperate efforts of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to pull together the old rightwing consensus gutted by its former hero, Sharon.

Thomas O'Dwyer is a country risk consultant, journalist and broadcaster who has lived in the middle east for twenty years. He has been a Reuters bureau chief, foreign editor of the Jerusalem Post , and a columnist with the International Herald Tribune's Ha'aretz newspaper.

Also on Israeli politics and the election in openDemocracy:

Eric Silver, "Israel's political map is redrawn" (November 2005)

Jane Kinninmont, "Life after Sharon: Palestinian prospects"
(January 2006)

Jim Lederman, "Ariel Sharon and Israel's unique democracy" (January 2006)

If you find this material enjoyable or provoking please consider commenting in our forums – and supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue

"Highlights" of the election campaign have been as scarce as hens' teeth. One newspaper columnist commented: "If silence were an Olympic sport, Olmert would be winning the gold." There has been but one sudden burst of action on 14 March when Israeli troops stormed a Palestinian prison in Jericho and seized several prisoners. Among them was Ahmad Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whom Israel accuses of masterminding the October 2001 assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

The swashbuckling military operation – clearly trying to send the message that Olmert was a chip off the old macho and unyielding Sharon block – was successful and popular with the public, but created scarcely a blip in the public opinion polls and quickly faded from media memory.

Michael Feige, a prominent sociologist at Ben-Gurion University Research Institute in the Negev, and an expert on the changing role of symbolism and politics in Israeli identity, finds the apathy disturbing.

Feige told me that all Israel's larger parties think new territorial political landscapes are now required – "even the Likud". But the political consensus in the country seems to be "wall off the Palestinians, put them away, behind us, and forget about them."

Feige said Israel is in fact also walling off the Jewish West Bank settlers, but won't speak about that because of the human-rights issues involved: "It's a case of 'you're all over there, in a different world from us'. From a moral perspective, this is all very disturbing. It could backfire on Israel – maybe not, but it could."

"In the meantime it is the Palestinians who will suffer the price. The second intifada (the armed uprising which began in September 2000) undermined the process of discourse. Israelis don't care any more about the Palestinians, or the settlers – the public just wants to be rid of it all."

Lior Chorev, a leading Kadima campaign strategist, echoes this view: "Most Israelis are not looking for peace with the Palestinians. They are looking for quiet, for security, and they want the fence to be high enough so that they don't have to see them any longer".

Michael Feige said it was interesting how the public attitude had shifted during the Gaza disengagement – "the religious nationalist camp ended up fighting the disengagement alone." And yet, he continued, there was an unmistakable feeling that this election would mark an important turning-point in national consciousness, for Palestinians as well as Israelis, in a post-Sharon political and social landscape.

As voting-day neared, even warnings from inside the defence establishment that Palestinian terrorists were planning bombing campaigns ("more than seventy possible threats have being identified") raised scarcely a yawn over morning coffees in Tel Aviv's lively cafes, with their bored security guards at the entrance.

The politicians worry

Signs of alarm among the frustrated politicians began to appear on the weekend of 25-26 March, and a shrill edge of desperation could be heard. Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister – whom Olmert has designated as deputy prime minister if Kadima wins the election – pleaded with voters to hit the polling stations hard. "I don't understand why people are telling me that Kadima will win the elections anyway, so what's the point in voting", she said. "We are facing dramatic decisions and these are significant elections. Pick up the phone, get people out of the house."

The veteran statesman Shimon Peres echoed her concerns. "All major national decisions were made when there was at least one party with forty Knesset seats – it is impossible to run this country with a split Knesset", he said. Indeed, before Sharon's stroke, Kadima itself was confidently predicted to win at least forty seats easily in the 120-seat parliament, leaving it sure to construct a comfortable coalition majority with Labour and smaller parties.

That commanding lead has been slipping. The opinion polls on the last weekend of the campaign predicted between thirty-two and thirty-five seats for Kadima, with twenty for Labour, and the once mighty Likud trailing with just fourteen. An astonishing twenty-five seats were said to be still in the hands of undecided floating voters, and a host of small parties were scrabbling to beat the 2% minimum votes threshold (an increase from 1.5% in 2003, which may hurt the Israeli-Arab parties especially) to share the rest.

"My big worry is that even if we win the elections we will not be able to form a powerful enough coalition for the government to see through its term free of the politicking of minor parties", Olmert admitted.

Kadima's manifesto supports setting up "another nation (i.e. Palestinian) state, as long as it is not a terror state", but the party also wants to keep large Jewish West Bank settlement blocs and an undivided Jerusalem. Domestically it promises investments in social and economic infrastructure and a war on poverty and crime.

Labour's untested new leader Amir Peretz, elected in November 2005 in place of Shimon Peres (who defected to Kadima soon after) remains confident of leading his party into a ruling coalition with Kadima. At first lampooned by television satirists as a figure always bellowing through a shop-steward's megaphone at the electorate, he quickly dropped his harsh attacks on Israel's wealthy capitalists and crafted a moderate social-reform agenda to slash unemployment and raise the minimum wage. On the peace front, Peretz says that Labour will renew diplomatic negotiations based on "two states for two nations" with borders to be determined in the talks.

In every Israeli election campaign one party seems to emerge unexpectedly and make political and media waves. The dark horse this time is Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), a nationalist rightwing party with a large base among the million Russian-speaking voters. The most recent estimates suggest that Lieberman's group may oust the anti-religious Shinui (Change) party from parliament and win eleven seats, a number likely to equal the religious Shas party. This would leave an expected eight seats for the Israeli-Arab parties, and six for the leftwing Meretz.

The most pathetic figure of the election campaign is former prime minister, foreign minister and finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has been fighting a forlorn battle to drag moderate Likud voters who followed Sharon into Kadima back into the fold. The gutted Likud remains the last bastion of the somewhat tattered Zionist nationalist vision of a "greater Israel" – the party's election platform pledges not to not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state, to set the River Jordan as Israel's permanent border, to expand Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, and to boost Jewish settlements on the Golan Heights (seized from Syria in the 1967 war).

But Netanyahu's problems go beyond outmoded ideologies that are out of favour with Israelis weary of being branded "occupiers". For years Israel's working classes, traditionally rightwing voters – at least since the political earthquake of 1977 which first brought the Likud to power under Menachem Begin – pinned their hopes on Netanyahu to improve their dismal economic lot. But since his Thatcherite economic reign (2003-05) at the treasury, they have turned viciously against him.

Netanyahu is further held in contempt by former admirers among the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza for his disappearance overseas during the evacuation of the Gaza settlers, despite promises to oppose it – a feeling not alleviated by Netanyahu's resignation from the government over the issue. Only the left has remained consistent on Netanyahu – they despise him as roundly as they always did.

A nation shrugs

The domestic apathy has been successfully exported. The international media crews who flocked to Israel in January to camp outside the hospital of the stricken Sharon have not come back for the election. Freelance journalists grumble that they have never had so few calls from foreign editors during an election.

Even Netanyahu, who is by far the best known Israeli leader after Sharon and Peres in the United States, brought in no American advisers, co-opted no Congress members, nor even called on influential American Jews.

Ehud Olmert, the probable next prime minister, remains virtually unknown abroad outside foreign ministries. Amir Peretz is regarded as an alien with a Joe Stalin moustache, no English, and an invisible resume as a lifelong trade-union leader. He is totally unknown to the American or European public and (a brief BBC Radio 4 interview aside) has shown no interest in getting to know them – not even the foreign Jewish public.

A US embassy diplomatic source in Tel Aviv agreed that such American lack of interest was unusual for an Israeli election. "The U.S. government will expect a new Israeli government to address some issues in the territories such as their economic plight, the tax money due to the Palestinian Authority, and how to engage with the new Hamas administration," the diplomat said. The unspoken hint was that there was little US interest in the election because very little was expected from a new Olmert government anyway.

Israelis say the only thing that could disrupt the orderly trickle of voters to the polls now would be a spectacular terrorist outrage. So, having given up on the campaign, exasperated commentators are looking to the morning after and the coalition horse-trading to provide some excitement.

Since this is Israel, the first question to be asked of the new coalition will be: "can it survive?" Olmert has promised to bring into government only parties that will back a West Bank disengagement – or "convergence", in his new terminology. But if no one cares before the election, will anyone care afterwards?

In the prevailing apathy, no one has even bothered to ask the about-to-be-elected prime minister about his actual plans for "the convergence" – the who, what, when, where and why of it all. And, as important in an Israel increasingly preoccupied with "pocket-book" issues – the how much.

Military officials say they haven't been asked to prepare any evacuation plan at all, much less one for the "morning after" the government takes office. Neither, apparently, has anyone else. Israelis too await the future they are about to decide.

The war at home

The security of the United States homeland and its borders is becoming part of the Bush administration's military planning for the "long war".

A Basque peace opportunity

ETA's truce brings an end to its armed campaign against the Spanish state, but creating a process that will deliver permanent peace to Euskadi will be arduous, says Diego Muro.

What we've lost in Iraq

The effect of three years of war and occupation can be measured in the dire condition of Iraq’s economy and its people’s daily lives, says Zaid Al-Ali.

Oil and 'gasolina' in Kurdistan

In one part of Iraq, the daily struggle for survival is waged against a pulsating Spanish-Jamaican musical beat celebrating the joys of – well, what, exactly? Spencer Ackerman reports from Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraq: three years of war

openDemocracy presents the views of Iraqis on the third anniversary of the United States-led invasion of Iraq.

The Milosevic account

If no governing authority judges Milosevic's life and rule, those who depended on his power will dream of his vindication and their return to power, says Eric Gordy.

Sudden death and the afterlife of truth

Slavenka Drakulic wonders: who will now judge Slobodan Milosevic, and what will be the verdict?

Kabul vs Islamabad: a war of words

While insurgency rages across their borders, Afghanistan and Pakistan are locked in a series of bitter political disputes. Irfan Husain explains the background of a historic rivalry.

Slobodan Milosevic: myth and responsibility

The career of the Serbian leader who achieved power by exploiting the potency of the "Kosovo myth" carries a warning for Serbia’s and Kosovo’s future, says Julie A Mertus.

Iran, the real focus

The Bush administration’s growing charge-sheet against Iran, including an active role in the Iraqi insurgency, is bringing armed confrontation closer.

Slobodan Milosevic: the spirit of the age

The Serbian dictator's trajectory, as a communist who exploited nationalist and anti-imperialist sentiment to become the hard-left's hero, puts him at the centre of the new millennium's political choices, says Marko Attila Hoare.

Milosevic and I

"Slobodan Milosevic is dead. But what about me? Did he take ten years of my life just like that?" Dusan Velickovic reflects on the Serbs' locust years.

Milosevic's last victory

Slobodan Milosevic's death robs the world of the justice he deserved and leaves the Serbia he once ruled a hard political legacy, says Misha Glenny.

Understanding Slobodan Milosevic: between the cold war and Iraq

The west's failure to understand Slobodan Milosevic at the height of his power in the 1990s carried a terrible price in the next decade, says Tom Gallagher.

Spain's 11-M and the right's revenge

Two years after the 11 March 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured around 1,900, Spain lives in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, most citizens have absorbed in a peaceful, non-vengeful way the overwhelming evidence that a transnational, radical Islamist network had targeted Madrid on that terrible day. On the other hand, a group of politicians, journalists and demagogues have attempted to poison the public mind by spreading paranoid conspiracy theories.

The Pakistan risk

Between a reproachful Washington, a rivalrous India, and a restive Afghan border, might Pervez Musharraf play the Chinese-Russian card?

India's Bush-baiters and pro-US courtiers

India's left and right are too steeped in partisanship and complacency to grasp the political message of the United States president's visit, says Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr in New Delhi.

Guantánamo and back: an interview with Moazzam Begg

British Muslim Moazzam Begg was arrested by the United States and detained without trial for three years, much of it at Guantánamo Bay. A year on he is ready to tell his story and Jane Kinninmont listens.

Abqaiq's warning

The western media's coverage of the middle east in the past week has been dominated by Iraq and Iran. A week of violence in Iraq has followed the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, with around 450 people killed. The discussion of Iran's nuclear programme has focused on the Vienna meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on 3 March.

Torture: from regress to redress

A new Human Rights Watch book examines the return of torture as practice and doctrine. Its core theme is United States policy in the era of "war on terror", finds Neal Ascherson.

The US-Islamic World Forum: dialogues, democracies, dilemmas

The growing tension in the middle east makes shared understanding between the United States and the Islamic world even more necessary. But at the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, Zvonimir Zelic finds few grounds for optimism.

Iraq's burning season

United States strategy in Iraq is increasingly powerless in the face of intensifying insurgency and sectarian violence.

The next Iran war

A new report examines the likely course and proliferating dangers of a United States attack on Iran.

Old Europe, New World

The attitude of many of those responsible for publishing the hostile cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (praise be upon him) can perhaps be best understood by a Marxist analysis. I refer to the quip by (Groucho) Marx: "How dare she get insulted just because I insulted her?"

The supporters of the publication of the cartoons appear to be surprised that many Muslims found the cartoons offensive; at the same they claim these cartoons are part of an effort to throw back the forces of multiculturalism in favour of national (i.e. European) cultural restoration. The conflict between those who see in the publication a noble principle at stake and those who see just another episode of European racism disguised as high moral principle has itself become a metaphor for other conflicts that exceed the xenophobia of a tiny statelet.

Words on images: the cartoon controversy

Across four days, twenty writers from ten countries assessed the political and cultural fissures opened by the row over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Sarah Lindon summaries and reflects on this openDemocracy feature.

The world as a battlefield

The last week has witnessed the latest effort of the George W Bush administration to review and rebrand its "war on terror". Two new publications offer the clearest indication yet of the administration's short and long-term responses to its current predicament.

On 3 February, the Pentagon published its Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR), the third of a series of reviews mandated by Congress during the Bill Clinton era.

On 6 February, the federal budget for fiscal year 2007 (commencing 1 October 2006) included a further increase in the defence budget to meet the challenge of "the fifth year of this long war".

 

Paul Rogers's new book (published January 2006) is A War Too Far – Iran, Iraq and the New American Century (Pluto Press)

 

 

If you find Paul Rogers's weekly column on global security enjoyable or provoking, please consider commenting in our forum – and supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue

The new budget indicates that the Bush administration seeks another substantial annual increase in the Pentagon's spending of almost 7%, which would take it to $439.3 billion. This is about 45% more than the budget that Bush inherited from Clinton in 2001, and closely matches peak figures of the cold-war era in the mid-1980s. The request, moreover, forms part of a wider budget review that concentrates heavily on the war on terror. The other beneficiaries include homeland security and the state department, while the department of veterans' affairs also receives a significant boost – reflecting the large numbers of injured troops returning from Iraq. As these budgets increase, almost every other area of federal spending is reduced – clear evidence of the overarching priority of fighting the war.

The budget contains some notable changes of emphasis. The army reaps a particular reward in order to meet the high costs of the war in Iraq, and to reflect the primary concern to protect the lives of American soldiers. Thus, the budget includes over $500 million dollars to buy 3,100 even more heavily-armoured humvees, designed to survive the roadside bombs that have caused so many casualties in Iraq and now look like having a similar effect in Afghanistan.

The humvee is the workhorse of the US army in Iraq but even the adapted, armoured version cannot withstand some of the shaped-charge devices that the insurgents are able to deploy. To help counter the tactic, the Pentagon wants 100 large, heavily-protected Stryker armoured transports; at around $8 million each, this contingent alone will account for nearly a billion dollars of defence spending.

An issue that has become increasingly dominant within the US army is the isolation of soldiers from their families, caused especially by long periods of service in overseas combat-zones where families cannot accompany them. This has had a serious effect on morale; the extent of the problem is indicated by the commitment in the budget of $5.6 billion "to support a wide variety of programs to address the multiple needs of military families, including child care, family counselling, tuition assistance and family centres" (see Lolita C Baldor, "Bush to Request $439.3b Defense Budget", Associated Press, 2 February 2006).

The new defence budget may involve yet another increase in spending, but this in itself does not include additional resources specifically devoted to the ongoing wars. Such demands are handled mainly through supplementary requests. During 2006, these are expected to total $120 billion; the Bush administration is currently planning an initial request of $50 billion for 2007, rather larger than the entire defence budget for the United Kingdom.

Among Paul Rogers's columns in openDemocracy on the likely timescale of the "war on terror":

"The horizon of war lengthens"
(November 2001)

"A thirty-year war" (April 2003)

"Four more years for al-Qaida"
(November 2004)

"New war, old war" (July 2005)

"Endless war"
(January 2006)

A new model war

If the budget indicates short-term priorities, it is the quadrennial defence review that gives a clearer picture of long-term plans and thinking. The importance of this review is that it is the first that comes with the Bush administration's decisive imprimatur, since its predecessor emerged too soon after 9/11 to be more than an immediate response to that emergency. Now, with the benefit of over four years' experience, Donald Rumsfeld and his cohorts can think proactively ahead.

They are doing so in the context of two core factors.

The first is obvious: the determination of the United States to remain the world leader. This was repeated in Bush's State of the Union address on 31 January, and is very much reflected in the Pentagon's review.

The second is the representation of the new security paradigm as the "long war", a phrase that has crept into Pentagon-speak over the past two years and is now being used as a pithy successor to the "cold war" as encapsulating the US defence outlook (in London on 6 January, the deputy director of US central command, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, delivered a speech outlining the US's reconfigured military strategy in what he also called "the long war".)

The term is hugely convenient in that it simplifies everything into a "them and us" global confrontation, awarding the current adversary the same role that the Soviet Union occupied between 1946 and 1991. The implication is that the United States is again engaged in a major confrontation in which it deserves sustained support, and that it is as unacceptable to be "against" the long war as it once was to be "against" the cold war.

The specifics of this new environment, and how the long war will be fought, are shown clearly in the Pentagon's new QDR. Many of the major existing high-tech programmes survive, but there are four fresh, outstanding features: a marked emphasis on special forces, the development of long-range strike aircraft, increased capability against biological and nuclear weapons, and the ability to act against paramilitary groups anywhere in the world, whether or not that infringes the sovereignty of particular states.

The special operations forces will be increased by around 15% to a total of 52,000; this alone is about half the size of the entire British army. The force of unmanned aerial drones that is being used to gather intelligence will be nearly doubled in size, and there will be a major increase in the ability of the US air force to conduct long-range strike operations. The quadrennial review also includes plans for a $1.5 billion programme to counter attacks using biological weapons, and increased funding for the development of specialist teams to defuse nuclear bombs (see Ann Scott Tyson, "Ability to Wage 'Long War' is Key to Pentagon Plan", Washington Post, 4 February 2006).

 

In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here

 

 

A collection of Paul Rogers's Oxford Research Group briefings, Iraq and the War on Terror: Twelve Months of Insurgency, 2004-05 is published by IB Tauris
(October 2005)

The next unknown

The fourth "extra" item indicates clearly the current trend of military thinking. A special-operations squadron is to be established using drones to "locate and target enemy capabilities", focusing especially on countries where access is difficult. The fact that the CIA has carried out assassination attacks in Yemen and Pakistan is a strong hint that this is a mainstreaming of an existing trend, which involves its absorption into the activities of the regular armed forces.

An overall picture thus emerges of the need to develop a much greater ability to target presumed adversaries wherever they might be located and whatever the circumstances. If they are seen as a potential threat to the United States, then they are legitimate targets; the entire world is part of one potential battlefield.

Where those "battles" might be fought is unpredictable. A QDR review briefing to the press by Ryan Henry, principal deputy under-secretary of defence for policy, contained a revealing comment: "U.S. forces in all probability will be engaged somewhere in the world in the next decade where they're currently not engaged. But I can tell you with no resolution at all where that might be, when that might be, or how that might be."

This is clearly a global war, and the world as a whole is involved – whether or not it wants to be.

The liberal dilemma: integration or vilification?

The origins of the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed do not lie in an attempt to offer contemporary comment, let alone satire, but the desire to illustrate a childrens' book. While such pictures would have been distasteful to many Muslims – hence why no illustrator could be found – the cartoons are in an entirely different league of offence. They are all unfriendly to Islam and Muslims and the most notorious implicate the prophet with terrorism. If the message was meant to be that non-Muslims have the right to draw Mohammed, it has come out very differently: that the prophet of Islam was a terrorist.

Why Hamas won

The Palestinian election result is not a surprise if read through the prism of Arab political history and culture, says Jim Lederman.

The electoral victory of the militant Islamist movement Hamas in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on 25 January 2006 sent shockwaves through western capitals.

The right to caricature God!and his prophets

Believers in free speech must resist Islamist attempts to enforce theocratic censorship, says Doug Ireland.

A carnival of stupidity

The conflagration over Danish cartoons of Islam's prophet reveals that Europe's balance of freedom, mutuality and coexistence is at a trigger-charge moment, says Neal Ascherson.

Muslims and Europe: a cartoon confrontation

The row over the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed raises profound tensions – between freedom of speech and mutual respect, ethics of satire and sacrality, shared values and coexistence, perceived western arrogance and Muslim victimhood. openDemocracy writers respond to the dispute and seek ways forward.

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