Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Back to the future in a consociational Palestine?

Henry Srebrnik, [Toronto] Jewish Tribune

Imagine a country with two communities so deeply divided along ethnic or religious lines that it can only maintain democratic institutions within the framework of a unified state if the leaders of each ethnic group cooperate in power-sharing provisions to govern the country.

These arrangements, which political scientists refer to as consociationalism, often mandate a precise numerical ratio of parliamentary seats, governmental positions, and other offices, between the two groups. The groups often vote in separate, ethnically-based constituencies, rather than on a common electoral roll.

The very intricate constitution may also reserve certain important executive positions – say, the offices of president, vice-president, or prime minister – for one or the other community. It usually also specifies that the armed forces and police be composed of members of both groups. Finally, there are mutual vetoes in matters regarding the preservation of the culture and security of each community.

In such states, the groups in question are subject to both their internal ethnic leadership and that of the very weak state, and such dual authority politics, with overlapping fields of authority, creates a conflict between ethnic loyalty and state loyalty. The former almost invariably predominates. After all, the groups have little in common other than economic and political relationships, which tend to be antagonistic in nature.

Not surprisingly, such states are usually mere facades, the sovereign equivalents of Potemkin villages, often only held together due to pressure from outside forces who for one reason or another are unwilling to let such Humpty-Dumpty entities break into smaller pieces.

Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon, and perhaps Northern Ireland, are among many that spring immediately to mind. States such as Fiji, Nigeria and Sudan might join the list. And since there is no common sense of nationality, but rather competing nationalisms and jockeying for power, these artificial constructs often do finally splinter into partitioned entities: Cyprus after 1974 is a typical example, as were India and Palestine in 1947-48.

Today, though, we hear voices calling for the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state, to be replaced by a “secular” entity – Palestine? – of Arabs and Jews.

No doubt, given the decades of mistrust and strife, this state too would soon enough manifest a politics revolving around the competing demands of the two constituent communities.

Communal violence would be an almost certain outcome, with a de facto geographical separation of the two groups within the state, as has been the case with the examples cited above.

Sooner or later, assuming one group did not eliminate the other through expulsion or massacre, there would be calls to partition the country – and we’d have come full circle, right back to UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 1947, the original plan to partition Palestine.

So why rewind and replay the tape? Political realism requires the acknowledgment of a fact that might be inconvenient to maximalists on either side: the final recognition of Israeli and Palestinian states within mutually recognized boundaries between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The American Presidential Race – So Far

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The next presidential election in the United States is still more than 10 months away. Indeed, not a single primary or caucus has been held.

The Democrats and Republicans still have, between them, 17 hopefuls in the race.

But it really will boil down to these seven candidates: among the Republicans, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Mitt Romney; on the Democratic side, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.

There are some truly history-making possibilities: should Clinton win, she would be the first female president; Obama would be the first African-American; Romney would become the first challenger to overcome the stigma that still attaches to Mormonism; and, though this has gone largely unnoticed in the media, Giuliani would become only the second Catholic, and the first person not of Anglo-Celtic stock, to become head of state. (Dwight Eisenhower’s mother was of British descent.)

The Republicans would be foolish to nominate anyone but Giuliani. Why?

McCain is a tired face and carries the weight of the Iraq war on his shoulders. Romney’s Mormonism would indeed turn off many evangelical Protestants, still a powerful voting block for the GOP; and Huckabee, while appealing to that very base, would drive away many neo-conservative voters who yearn for less religious fervor with their politics.

On the other hand, the former New York mayor, hawkish on foreign policy but very liberal on social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights, would attract many independents and even some Democrats.

Now for the Democrats: As erudite, and well-versed in the art of politics as Joe Biden, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson are, they stand no chance to win the nomination. That leaves the two front-runners: Clinton and Obama.

Going into this campaign, Clinton, with the Democratic Party establishment behind her, seemed unbeatable. And, should she gain the nomination, she would be a formidable opponent for any Republican next November.

But she has many “negatives”: their names are Bill Clinton and his “friends” Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, and Linda Tripp (among many others). Hillary Clinton claims to have the experience Obama lacks, but what is she referring to exactly? Being “first lady” while her husband dallied with other women? Deciding not to divorce him because she felt she needed him for her own run for the top job?

Other woman chafe at the “glass ceiling,” but Hillary piggy-backed on Bill’s shoulders for decades. She then ran for, and won, a U.S. Senate seat from New York state – no working your way up from town councillor or school board trustee for her!

This calculated behavior makes her appear simply too power-hungry and amoral for the average American. Should she win the nomination, we might have to sit through endless Republican attack ads featuring the former president, husband Bill, along with the aforementioned women, and reruns of him lying on television about his behaviour.

Finally, Hillary Clinton would also succumb to the discomfort that many American have begun to share: that American politics are becoming too dynastic. Since 1988, either a Bush or a Clinton has occupied the White House. Do they need another eight years of that?

As well, they are uncomfortable with the idea of having a former president living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue alongside the newly-chosen one. How would that affect the governing of the country? How much influence would the unelected ex-president have on policy?

It’s not so much that Hillary Clinton is a woman that bothers them, it’s that she’s the spouse of a previous incumbent. Were the roles reversed – a man running for president who had been preceded by his wife – I think there would be the same level of unease.

Finally, we have Barack Obama. A young African-American who seems to have transcended issues of race and gender thus far, he is, at age 46, certainly the most appealing and cosmopolitan candidate in the Democratic field, and the only one among them who can inspire a newer generation of voters.

So here’s the bottom line: Rudy Giuliani would beat Hillary Clinton, but Barack Obama would defeat him. No other Republican would be able to win next year, no matter whom the Democrats nominate.