Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A One-State Palestine or Two Nation-States?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

Why is Israel the only country in the world which some people wish to dismantle?

They use the euphemism of a so-called “one-state” solution, by which they mean recreating a supposedly intact pre-1948 Palestine.

They consider the 1947 partition plan endorsed by the United Nations, which was meant to create Arab and Jewish states in the country, to have been an error.

But why does Palestine have to become a single jurisdiction again? Why would anyone prefer a state of two nations to two nation-states?

Palestine has never been a sovereign country. In fact, as part of the Ottoman Empire, it was little more than a geographical expression, hardly distinct from adjacent areas such as Syria and Lebanon. It became a British Mandate after the First World War.

There was nothing sacrosanct about Palestine’s old boundaries, which were only fixed by the League of Nations – and which initially included all of Jordan.

I can think of any number of borders between states that might be erased more easily than the one between Israel and the present Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank.

In the Balkans, Albania and Kosovo are both ethnically Albanian and territorially contiguous. Moldova and Romania, both Romanian, are another example. These states exist as distinct entities due to the vagaries of history and imperial conquests.

Elsewhere in Europe, Belgium and Holland were once a single unit, as were Scandinavian cousins Norway and Sweden and Iberian neighbours Portugal and Spain. Why not undo their separations? And why, for that matter, might Austria not be reunited with Germany into “one state?”

In fact, with the exception of Quebec, Canada and the United States, now divided mainly by an artificial boundary at the 49th parallel, have much in common with each other as well, ethnically, linguistically, and religiously. The division is the result of the American Revolution. Why not reunify the old British North America?

All these countries and peoples get along with each other much better than do Israelis and Palestinians. They certainly haven’t fought wars against each other recently. They should be candidates for single statehood ahead of Arabs and Jews.

The 1947 United Nations partition resolution divided the Palestine Mandate into Arab and Jewish states, precisely because no other solution was practical. Unfortunately, no Palestinian Arab state emerged because those territories were annexed by Egypt and Jordan.

Like Palestine, colonial India was also partitioned in 1947, for the same reason (in this case, into Muslim and Hindu-majority areas) and now comprises three states: Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Why do we not hear calls to reunite them as well?

The proponents of a bi-national Palestinian state want to pressure two peoples who don’t get along to inhabit one country — like forcing a bitterly divorced couple to once again live under one roof. Maybe we should call this the “Kafka solution.”

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Will the Problem of Piracy Only Get Worse?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Pirate activity has escalated sharply in recent months off of the Horn of Africa, drawing increasingly assertive military operations by the American, Canadian, Dutch and French navies. It took an American naval vessel to rescue one American ship from Somali buccaneers in mid-April.

For some Americans, this brings back historical memories of the first wars ever fought by their navy, against the so-called Barbary pirates, in the early 19th century.

These pirates were based on the Barbary Coast of the Mediterranean, in north African ports such as Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis. The Barbary states were at the time governed by local Muslim rulers.

The pirates mostly commandeered European ships for ransom. Soon, ships belonging to the fledgling United States were also being captured.

The European states almost always agreed to pay money to secure peace and so, at first, did the U.S. But on Thomas Jefferson's inauguration as president in 1801, the new American navy decided to put a stop to these activities and by 1805 had defeated the pirates, ending the First Barbary War.

However, the U.S. navy was preoccupied with fighting Britain during the War of 1812, and the Barbary pirate states returned to their practice of attacking American merchant vessels.

At the conclusion of the war, America could once again deal with the problem. In 1815, a force of 10 ships was dispatched under the command of Commodores Stephen Decatur, Jr. and William Bainbridge, defeating the pirates once again in the Second Barbary War. This ended, once and for all, pirate attacks on American shipping in the Mediterranean.

Is history repeating itself, this time in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean?

The recent rescues by the western navies off Somalia are unlikely to end the problem of piracy. The pirates, some analysts predict, are likely to increase their use of violence, and that could push them into the arms of Somalia’s Islamist militias for support.

Hardline Islamists in the al-Shabaab insurgent group have been gaining power in Somalia, which has been without a functioning government for 18 years. By late 2008, it was estimated that the group controlled much of southern Somalia.

In February, al-Shabaab carried out a suicide car bomb attack against an African Union military base in Mogadishu, Somalia’s nominal capital.

They also claimed responsibility for an attack targeting U.S. Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey, who was in the country for talks with Somalis regarding the problem of piracy. His plane was departing from Mogadishu when Somali fighters fired mortars at the airport.

It came one day after Captain Richard Phillips was rescued from Somali pirates by the USS Bainbridge – named for the very William Bainbridge who fought in the Barbary wars -- after their failed hijacking of the Maersk Alabama.

Fortunately, the self-proclaimed independent Republic of Somaliland, which broke away from Somalia when the country fell apart, is off limits to both pirates and terrorists. Its security forces have arrested pirates off its coast on the Gulf of Aden.

It’s a shame that the Hargeisa government has not been officially recognized by the international community.

Meanwhile, pirates have attacked more than 80 boats so far this year. In 2008, the ransoms paid to them to release captured ships totaled about $US50 million.

Unless more is done to pacify these waters, it is probably only a matter of time before there is a major disaster and loss of life.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Will Somali Piracy Spark Further Mideast Conflict?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

The Somali pirates are becoming increasingly bold. But some ships are beginning to return fire.

An Italian cruise liner with 1,500 on board fended off a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia at the end of April, when its Israeli private security forces exchanged fire with the bandits and drove them off.

Israelis possess advanced military and security skills. And they are right to be worried about what is going on in the Indian Ocean south of their country.

All Israeli shipping that leaves the port of Eilat, or that travels through the Suez Canal, must exit the Red Sea through the Bab al-Mandab, a strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea, north of Somalia, on the Horn of Africa.

This narrow passageway connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. It lies just north of where the pirates operate.

Somalia, a country of about eight million people, has not had a functioning national government since warlords overthrew President Siad Barre in 1991. Much of the country is now run by an Islamist movement known as al-Shabaab.

Might the pirates become allied to the Islamists on the Somali mainland, who have also allowed Somalia to become a base for al-Qaeda? Washington thinks al-Qaeda recruits are training there for terror attacks. The country has become an African Afghanistan.

In the spring of 2007, fishing boats containing armed Al-Qaeda affiliates landed at the northern Somali port of Bargal and fought a battle with local police. A U.S. navy destroyer in the Red Sea fired several cruise missiles against them but their leaders escaped.

In the southern town of Baidoa, the Islamists have ordered women to wear full body veils and businesses to close for prayers. They have also attacked westerners trying to curb the problem of piracy.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a mortar attack on an American Congressman in mid-April.

"We carried out mortar attacks against the enemy of Allah who arrived to spread democracy in Somalia," Sheikh Husein Ali Fidow declared in Mogadishu, according to a BBC report.

Just as worrisome, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has of late developed closer economic and trade ties with Iran, and military ties followed suit. The Iranians have reportedly established a naval base overlooking the Bab al-Mandab strait.

A link between pirates and Islamists is certainly not good news. The Middle East conflict might, in consequence, spread to the horn of Africa.