This is not a blog about conflict resolution, and I am certainly no expert on the Middle East conflict. Lack of expertise does not stop many other folks from commenting, so why should it stop me? The following is simply based on my close attention to the media from Israel (in English, both print and broadcast) and international sources, as well as my own observations of many of the much-discussed locales when I was in Jerusalem (in what is technically a “settlement”) for over two months in 2010.
There has been much–too much–attention to the Israeli cabinet’s declaration (not really a “decision” as best I can tell) to move ahead with some 3,000 new homes beyond the Green Line (the 1949 armistice lines), including in an area known as “E-1″.
Report after report says that building homes in E-1 is the death knell of a future Palestinian state. It is alleged to make contiguity of such a state impossible, by cutting off access between the Ramallah area (northwest of Jerusalem) and Bethlehem (to the south of the Jerusalem center).
There is no kinder way of putting it than to say this is BS.
The proposed E-1 homes are northeast of Maale Adumim, which is itself some distance east of Jerusalem.
Ramallah and Bethlehem can’t exactly be easily connected even now, due to the incredibly rugged terrain. Homes northeast of Maale Adumim, a city of about 40,000 east of Jerusalem along Highway 1 towards the Jericho and Dead Sea areas, doesn’t change these geographic realities.
As for the other areas in which new homes would be built, these are not new proposals. They are not even new settlements. They are in places like Ramat Shlomo, which I have commented on before. That is, they are homes within the boundaries of existing built-up areas–at least as I understand what is covered by the cabinet’s declaration of intent to proceed. They are in areas that will not conceivably be either evacuated or turned into islands within a sovereign Palestinian sea whenever there actually might be a negotiated solution.
As for contiguity, it might be noted that Gaza–from which Israel did pull out its settlers—is not contiguous with the other regions that are proposed as part of a Palestinian state. So this is actually something of a red herring. If a Palestinian state is ever created, it will not be contiguous, regardless of Mevasseret Adumim (the name of the housing area within “E-1″) and Ramat Shlomo and Ariel and Kiryat Arba (etc.). It will have to involve various road and other corridors, overpasses and underpasses near developed Israeli areas, and tight security guarantees. It will also involve transferring some current territory–and presumably some Arab population–on the pre-1967 Israeli side of the Green Line to the new state. All of this is precisely what makes a negotiated solution so difficult, and nothing that the cabinet has said in recent days changes this difficult reality.
It must be emphasized that all of these development plans, as well as the ideas of territorial swaps and security guarantees, have been on the table for close to two decades now–a key fact lost in the excited rhetoric of recent days. In fact, there are many influential voices in Israel, including within the cabinet itself, disappointed with the slow pace of approvals of long-planned housing developments. Israel is just now in the midst of an election campaign, and we can hardly expect the incumbent government, particularly given its political complexion, to have greeted the UN resolution “upgrading” the status of “Palestine” with anything milder than it has done so far. One does not have to be a supporter of the Likud and its allies and their strategic visions–I certainly am not–to recognize that the bluster from European governments about withdrawing ambassadors and such is not constructive, and probably only plays into the hands of the harder-line elements of the Israeli electoral majority.
In context, the diplomatic and media excitement of this past week is just so much noise.
(Substantially extended from the original, with some personal observations from having lived in and walked around this general area.)
Confused by the Shepherd Hotel controversy that has burst (back) into the news this week? You should be. It is a confusing situation. Certainly not as simple as most of the voices in the media (of whatever position) make it seem.
If you want to cut through the confusion, read Yaacov Lozowick’s “virtual tour” of the area.
I know this area, although by no means intimately. But the maps and satellite views Yaacov posts include the area where I lived for about three months last year. One of the things that most struck me about this area, which is over the Green Line, is just how intermixed it is. The neighborhood in question, Sheikh Jarah, as well as where I stayed, French Hill, were both in the Jordanian-occupied zone from 1948-67 and are typically, if misleadingly, referred to in the media as “East Jerusalem.” In French Hill, the population is mostly Jewish (including a substantial community of post-1967 immigrants from English-speaking countries, as well as academics and staff at Hebrew University), but there is a large minority of Arabs. Both the Jerusalem municipality bus lines and the Arab East Jerusalem bus lines course through the area. (Yes, there are separate bus lines; one sees Arab passengers on the Jerusalem buses, but evidently not Jews on the Arab buses, and the company running the latter does not appear to have a website in either English or Hebrew, only Arabic.) A short walk southwestward from the Student Village in French Hill, where my University-provided accommodation was, one passes by Arab-run falafel shops and Arab houses, with some consular residences mixed in. Other apartment complexes in the area are mostly Jewish, including some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). A walk towards the east takes one past Hadassah Hospital, at the entrance to which there is an Arab-run kiosk (cigarettes, ice cream, etc.) and a series of mostly Arab-populated apartment complexes on one side of the street and more HU student housing on the other side. The University student population is itself quite mixed. Sheikh Jarrah and French Hill blend in to one another, although Sheikh Jarah is clearly mostly Arab-populated. Right between these neighborhoods are the National Police HQ and several other government buildings, as well as some international hotels (where the staff seems mostly Arab) and consular facilities.
It is far from an ideal “integrated” set of neighborhoods, and tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have been high for some time. But my point (and Yaacov’s) is that it is misleading to see a sharp division between the “Jewish” and “Arab” cities of Jerusalem, as most media accounts suggest.
The idea of drawing a border through this region as part of a “peace agreement” mystifies me. I can’t see how it could be done, honestly.
The comment form is open–I think, and for how long, who knows.
The Israeli government is close to passing a bill that is a watered down version of one of the demands made by coalition member Yisrael Beiteinu (led by Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister in the government): to establish an oath of loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. The oath would apply only to non-Jews seeking citizenship in Israel.
I think the oath is wrong-headed. However, I am also persuaded that there will never be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue if there is no formal recognition by the proto-state of the Palestinian Arabs that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. It is, as Ari Shavit put it in Haaretz, the core of the conflict, and thus the conflict can be resolved only by this formal recognition. But requiring individual would-be citizens to swear loyalty does not put us any closer to solving the conflict. It is exclusionary, and contrary to civil rights of the non-Jewish citizens of the state of Israel.
If one wants to know why recognition–not by prospective citizens, but by the prospective neighboring state–of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is a core issue, one need only look at the following statement about the proposed loyalty oath from the Palestinian Ministry of Information. The oath would be, the statement said:
An open invitation to expel the Palestinians, upon whose bodies, lands, and dreams the occupation state was built in the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba.*
It is generally assumed in the West that when Palestinian spokespersons refer to the “occupation” they mean the territories within the former British Mandate of Palestine that were seized by Israeli forces from Arab armies in the 1967 war: The West Bank and Gaza.
However, the statement could not be more clear: All of Israel is the “occupation state.” By further implication, all of what was Palestine under the British Mandate up to 1948 is still Palestine. Ipso facto, there can be no Jewish state.
The conflict will not be resolved, and the “peace talks” (if they are resumed again) will go nowhere, as long as this is the sort of interpretation put out by the Palestinian Ministry of Information.
* Transcription of the English voice-over on Mosaic TV one day during the past week. I am not sure of the original Arabic source of the broadcast, but I think it was Al Jazeera.
In today’s Haaretz, it is reported that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that former US president George W. Bush promised that the US would grant citizenship to 100,000 Palestinians as part of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
It has always seemed to me that the US should do something like this to ease an agreement. However, it is much harder to imagine President Obama overcoming domestic opposition to such an agreement than it might have been for Bush.
The Haaretz article also quotes Olmert claiming that the Palestinians did not object to a series of security assurances Israel demanded and the Bush administration accepted during talks.
A “well informed source” relates the following notes about elections in the Palestinian Territories:
1. They have been having rolling local elections but for some reason they decided to use list PR but didn’t force candidates to link themselves to parties either during nomination, or on the ballot. Thus, when they tried to allocate seats…errr…they couldn’t. So they had to go back to candidates and ask them which party they were, but most refused to tell them, so [and this is what another well informed source told source no. 1] the election commission just did it themselves (literally saying “we know who you really are aligned with) and just made parties themselves – fabulous!
2. The current Hamas central council elections are the block vote [what we call MNTV here at F&V], with 100+ to be elected, 600 candidates and you MUST use all votes.
Gideon Levy (one of my favorite Israeli columnists) on Ayman Mohyeldin (whom he describes as “My hero of the Gaza war”);
At age 29, he has already seen one war, in Iraq, but he says this war [in Gaza] is more intense. He is frustrated that his broadcasts are carried virtually everywhere in the world except the United States, his own country, the place he thinks it is most important that these images from Gaza be seen.
Frustrating indeed. As Levy notes about Mohyeldin’s employer:
Al Jazeera English is not what you might think. It offers balanced, professional reporting from correspondents both in Sderot and Gaza. And Mohyeldin is the cherry on top of this journalistic cream. I wouldn’t have needed him or his broadcasts if not for the Israeli stations’ blackout of the fighting.
I have watched a lot of news from many sources during these last two weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip. The US media has been, unsurprisingly, embarrassingly bad. Unforgivably, horrendously bad. (Typical example: Corresponded in flak jacket on Israeli side of border saying “We can hear there is fighting over there.”) What Israelis are seeing from their own broadcasters could hardly be worse, but certainly is not better.
From my limited exposure (via Mosaic) I agree with Levy that Al Jazeera English is excellent and balanced. I would not necessarily say the same about the Arab language services (from which I get snippets, dubbed, also on Mosaic).
Hamas officials said that as of Friday they would not recognize Abbas’s status as president of the PA.
But they also made it clear that they would not demand his resignation for now “because of the war” in the Gaza Strip.
When should an election be held?
PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad told reporters on Thursday that the law calls for holding presidential and legislative elections simultaneously.
That could be so only if the law in question amended the Basic Law and extended the president’s term (or allowed for an interim unelected president, as implied below). The legislative term is also four years, but the current terms should be nonconcurrent, given that the Legislative Council was last elected in January, 2006.
Al Jazeera, last October, offered some further consideration of the legal question:
Hamas, citing a Palestinian law, said one of its own leaders must fill the top post after Abbas’s tenure officially expires on January 8. [...]
The Basic Law, a forerunner to a Palestinian constitution, says that both president and parliament are elected to four-year terms.
But a loophole in the law, which Fatah is relying on, suggests that Abbas’s term could be extended another year if it were deemed to be in the “national interest”.
Hamas and some Palestinian legal experts have openly challenged Abbas’s right to remain in power after the expiration of his term. [...]
According to the Palestinian constitution, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council is supposed to serve as acting PA president for a period of 60 days, after which presidential elections are to be held.
If the law indeed stipulates this procedure, then it would be Hamas that is entitled to hold the interim presidency as of today, given that it has the majority of seats in the Legislative Council. “National interest” loopholes are always convenient, especially now, when the two parties have other more pressing concerns.
The J-Post claims that “the military operation seems to have escalated tensions between the two parties, particularly following accusations by Hamas that Abbas and Fatah were “colluding” with Israel.” Driving a wedge between the two main Palestinian parties would no doubt be one of the Israeli government’s political aims in the current war. For now, at least, Abbas remains president under quite dubious legal grounds.
I am not about to comment here about the current situation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It is too far from my areas of either professional or lay expertise, nor do I want the virtual orchard to be overgrown with the kind of noxious weeds that I see elsewhere in blog comment threads.
The purpose of this planting is to offer a reminder that we are almost at three years since the Palestinian legislative election won by Hamas, then running as a political party with the promising and innocuous sounding name, Change and Reform. It is often said that Hamas won that election, and of course it did: a plurality of the votes, nearly 3/5 of the seats, and an appointment by the previously elected President, Mahmoud Abbas (of Fatah), to lead the first post-election cabinet.*
What is usually overlooked in media or blog reflections on the election is that it was a narrow victory in votes (about three percentage points) and that it was a poorly designed electoral system that translated Hamas’s 44.5% (of the party-list vote) into a large legislative majority.
It is worth bearing in mind as we watch Israeli-Palestinian relations unfold in the coming months and years that the Palestinian electorate did not give Hamas an overwhelming victory, the electoral system did.
Any discussion of three-year-old election results given all that has happened since, and all that is happening now, may seem somewhat beside the point. But the point is to correct the record about Hamas’s actual electoral strength during the one time it was tested. Now it is being tested in a different way. As is Israel, in the midst, as it was three years ago as well, of its own election campaign.
* The Palestinian institutional framework is a president-parliamentary system, and thus the subsequent dismissal of the Hamas government by the president was fully within the rights of the latter (though Hamas argued otherwise). As far as I know, this was the only case of cohabitation ever in a president-parliamentary system (as opposed to premier-presidential systems, where cohabitation occurs from time to time). And, even if we ignore all the other sources of conflict between Fatah and Hamas, it had the result one would predict from the institutional framework: intra-executive conflict ultimately resulted in the president dismissing the prime minister.
UPDATE: Robert Elgie corrects the claim of this footnote in a comment. Peer review is so valuable!
Hamas beat Fatah by about 44% to 41% in the party-list vote at the January, 2006, elections. The electoral system turned that narrow plurality into an approximately three-fifths majority in the legislature.1
A recent poll, however, says:
If new legislative elections were to be held today, Hamas would receive 31percent of the vote, while Fatah would capture 49 percent.
The theme of the article in Haaretz, from which I quoted, is that this is “stable” support. While that may be true relative to a poll cited from September, surely the bigger story should be what a large decline this “stability” represents, from the actual legislative election.
Alas, poll respondents are probably also right about something else:
About two-thirds of those surveyed said chances for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the next five years are slim or non-existent, compared with 70 percent who said they felt that way in June.
That result is thus a bit less stable, and perhaps headed the right way,2 but still very (and realistically) pessimistic.
The was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (see press release).
See the linked item under “Preserved Fruit” on the left sidebar for much more. [↩]
In the 2006 election, as I discussed at length at the time in various plantings (click “Palestinian Territories” above and scroll down), Fatah only narrowly lost those elections in the party-list vote, 44-41. Yet, the seat allocation was extremely disproportional, thanks to a variant of MMM (mixed-member majoritarian) that was based on a nominal tier of MNTV (multi-seat districts in which the voter could cast votes for as many candidate as there were seats in the district).
Hamas’s narrow plurality on 44% of the party-preference votes translated into close to three fifths of the seats, partly because of the inherent tendency of such a system to exaggerate pluralities and partly because of the far greater discipline of Hamas voters, who were somewhat more likely to cast all of their votes for Hamas candidates than were Fatah voters to do so for their candidates.
One must be cautious in a setting like the Occupied Palestinian Territories about attributing too much to institutions, but without a Hamas parliamentary majority, President Mahmoud Abbas could have appointed a Fatah-plus-independents cabinet with Hamas constituting the opposition. Not a fully peaceful opposition, surely–this is Hamas we are talking about–but in such a scenario, the US, Israel, and EU would not have had the justification for the boycott of the Palestinian Authority that has done so much to destroy both infrastructure and hope.
Thanks to the folks at Fair Vote for noticing Fatah’s expression of support for PR. I have a small disagreement with Jack’s conclusions in the just-linked post, however. He suggests that Fatah’s substantial underrepresentation was a result of over-nominating, that is, having too many candidates for its votes to support. That would be a valid conclusion were the nominal tier elected by SNTV or limited vote, or if voters for the largest party had not been so party-oriented. But given that in most districts, Hamas had the plurality of voters, who were generally willing to give all their votes to Hamas candidates, a different nomination strategy could hardly have made a significant difference in the outcome. The problem was the electoral system itself, and not nomination strategy.
The cabinet thus fails to conform to Gamson’s Law, under which parties bargaining over portfolios split the portfolios in proportion to their contribution to the coalition’s legislative seats. We might have expected Palestine to deviate from the “Law” on account of either the Hamas majority (in which case the fact of a coalition is itself unexpected1) or the fact that this is not a parliamentary system, but rather a president-parliamentary system in which both the president and the parliamentary majority can make claims to constitutional authority over the cabinet (implying we might have expected an even split, given that Hamas controls the legislature and Fatah the presidency). And deviate it does, in a rather odd way.
First of all, Hamas has less than a majority of the portfolios, even counting the Hamas-backed independents in the party’s column. It has 48%, despite having 56.1% of the parliamentary seats.2 Its share of cabinet seats is thus closer to its percentage of the party-list vote at the last election that it is to its share of the new coalition’s seats. (The party’s legislative majority was ‘manufactured’ by the electoral system.)
Fatah has 24% of the portfolios, and 34.1% of the legislative seats, thereby having a much worse advantage ratio (% portfolios/% coalition seats) than Hamas (.704 vs. .856). If we were to ignore the five nonpartisan (and non-Hamas-backed) ministers, Hamas would have 60% and Fatah 30% of the partisan ministers.3 Not that we should ignore these, but in doing so Fatah would still be underrepresented. (See Alex’s comment for clarification; some of the “independents” are also actually parisan.)
The failure of Fatah to get the one third of portfolios to which it was Gamsonianly entitled is significant. Under article 154 of the constitution, the cabinet is considered to have resigned (and thus bargaining would have to start anew) if one third of its members resign. By having less than a third, Fatah has diminished bargaining power within the cabinet (even though having more than one third of legislative seats means it can sustain presidential vetoes).
Hamas will not be able to command cabinet votes on its own, given that it has less than half the portfolios. This is an important concession to Fatah. However, Fatah’s absence of a one-third share is at least as important and, combined with the Hamas parliamentary majority, suggests that “unity” cabinet is somewhat of a misnomer.
1. Of course, the initial experience of an all-Hamas cabinet, reflecting the party’s majority of the legislature, did not work out so well. Still, we might have expected their majority to have allowed them to hold out for an above-proportional share in a coalition.
2. Normally we would calculate the correspondence to Gamson’s Law using not the percentage of total legislative seats, but the percentage of the coalition’s seats. However, given that this cabinet is essentially a coalition of the whole, using the percentage of total seats is justified.
3. The other partisan ministers are one from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and one from the Peoples Party. Each of these represents 5% of the partisan portfolios and 4% of the total cabinet, despite not having contested the election under these party banners. I do not know if these parties won seats at the election under another party/alliance banner or not. The total share of legislative seats for independents or parties other than Hamas or Fatah is 9.8%. (See Alex’s comment for more on this point.)
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has stated he will order early elections for both president and parliament. Not surprisingly, Hamas, which won the parliamentary majority last January, rejects the call as a “coup attempt.” There have been armed clashes. The announcement has also split Abbas’s Fatah movement, with the armed wing and others rejecting the idea.
The constitution does not have a provision for the president to dissolve parliament, which has a four-year term, so if he carries out the process, Abbas risks a major institutional crisis. Indeed, it would be what in Latin America is called an auto-golpe. In other words, Hamas is right that it is essentially a coup threat.* It could be that Abbas simply wants to escalate the pressure on Hamas to agree to a “unity” government. Or he may be serious about early elections, which in any event, would not be held for several months.
If he is going to go forward with such an extra-constitutional move, here’s hoping he also finds a way to impose a more proportional electoral system for parliament and a runoff system for president. Currently, parliament is elected by a mixed-member majoritarian system that severely distorts the votes-to-seats translation (see previous discussion from January in the Palestine subdomain), and the president is elected by plurality.
Abbas won two thirds of the votes in an election boycotted by Hamas in January, 2005. Hamas won only 44% of the votes in parliamentary elections in January, 2006. But it won 56% of the seats. Abbas’s vote total was around half a million, while Hamas’s “mandate” rests on just over 440,000.
It is very unclear what the outcome of a new election might be. However, is quite ominous that, absent new rules being imposed along with early elections, if the 44%â€“41% close breakdown of the party-list votes from January were to be repeated, with Hamas again in the lead, Hamas would capture the presidency as well as a renewed legislative majority.
As talks on a “unity” government between Fatah and Hamas drag on and new elections could result, the US has begun a $42 million program to bolster opponents of Hamas. As reported in Haaretz:
Ahead of [the January] election, the United States tried to help the then Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, but critics said the push came too late to assist the long-dominant movement, which was handicapped by infighting and accusations of corruption.
The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) said it recently began talks with the leaders of Fatah and other parties about how they could improve their performance in any election.
Michael Murphy, who runs NDI operations in the West Bank and Gaza, said the focus for now was on internal party reform, but that the programme, in close coordination with the State Department, would also look for ways to help Fatah and others get their message across to voters.
The International Republican Institute, which has also worked in the West Bank and Gaza for years, recently received funds for a new programme to give training and strategic advice to several Palestinian independent parties, though it said politicians would not get direct financial help.
It is not clear how President Abbas (of Fatah) would call an early election, as the presidency does not have that authority. But to call the Palestinian Authority “institutionalized” would be charitable.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4