Just some links and thoughts . . .

1.  Freedom-Fighting Isn’t Free

For those who believe that the only just path forward for Palestinian Arabs is turning Judea into a third independent Palestinian Arab state, here is another reminder that not all “peoples” realize their dreams of self-determination.

But, you reply, at least the Biafrans get to be minority citizens in a majoritarian/authoritarian regime, with the privilege of being dominated by a majority that loathes them! Palestinian Arabs, by contrast, are citizens of no country (ever since Jordan rescinded their citizenship) and that’s just the pits! Well sure, Jordan should give them their citizenship back. But more broadly, I think most people would choose disenfranchisement in a country like Israel over the franchise in many parts of the world . . . and lots of Africans, Central Asians and Latin Americans agree with me. That doesn’t mean it’s all roses, but the lack of citizenship/self-determination is hardly the humanitarian crisis it’s made out to be — particularly for Palestinian Arabs, who have no shortage of places to enjoy majority status.

So why all the fighting? Well, here’s another reminder that conflict will persist for as long as conflict pays — and at the end of Obama’s Long Arch of Justice, conflict currently pays handsomely. “The Occupation” is just the tail that (most recently) wags the dog:

The money that the Palestinian Authority pays to reward terrorists now amounts to seven percent of the PA’s approximately annual $4 billion dollar budget. Over 20 percent of the annual foreign financial aid that the PA receives is now dedicated to the salaries of imprisoned terrorists as well as to the salaries of prisoners who are released from prison. Released Palestinian terrorists continue to receive salaries for terrorism, as do the families of those who died in their “struggle against Zionism.” The total payment was roughly 1.5 billion shekels for fiscal year of 2016.

Money is fungible, folks. The international technocracy has blood on its hands. At least private companies get something tangible in return when they deal with terrorists, like oil or minerals. What does the UN get? The satisfaction of a life well led?

My definition of evil is the spread between perceived goodness and actual goodness. International technocrats are pure evil.

2. A Lobster is a lobster is a lobster

Bloomberg published a truly action-packed piece on the surplus of lobsters in Maine. It rings a bunch of my favorite bells:

(a) Unwitting progressive bias: The tragedy of the commons is misconstrued as an argument against freer markets, but it’s precisely the opposite: the commons are over-fished because there is too little private ownership, i.e. rights to excludeIn those conditions, conservation faces the same freeloading problem that plagues all “shared” ownership regimes.

(b) Regulation as cartelization: If independent lobstermen colluded to set shared rules for their catches, they would run afoul of antitrust laws. That collusion doesn’t go away just because those shared rules gain regulatory imprimatur — and yes it’s the industry (not the technocrats) that came up with the rules. It’s just that sometimes there are exceptions to the rule that anticompetitive behavior is more bad than good. Finding those rare exceptions is the correct way to think about regulation, with the burden of proof properly borne by the regulator-proponent of the exception.

(c) Complexity and unpredictability of Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade (and here): The unintended consequences of a lobster boon has been a spike in Herring demand (and Herring prices). Not only has that hurt the lobster bottom line, it has effected markets outside the lobster community, up and down the Atlantic coast. It has also set in motion processes far away from the locus of lobster-fishing to drive down the cost of herring and/or increase the supply. In other words, the would-be Minister of Lobster Fishing, with her Harvard PhD in Technocracy, wouldn’t stand a chance against the decentralized processes that actually “manage” THE economy.

3. Emboldened by Obama

While the Lefty coalition continues to grapple with its increasingly violent and intimidating rank and file, there is finally (and tragically) some evidence that white ethnocentrists are becoming violent, as well. This white nationalist, however, was a Bernie supporter. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

4. Schrodinger’s Cat Is Alive! I Just Know It!

Self-parody and the climate culture wars. Complexity is a fact of life. You can oversimplify for a bit, but eventually you will lose all credibility with people who are not already primed to agree with you. The best way to create a united front against climate change would be to concede that the issue is quite complicated, but that the risks of ignoring the least charitable interpretations of the evidence are very high. That strategy, however, is inconsistent with the broader needs of political coalitions to remain ideologically steadfast and concede nothing.

European Style Populism

[Editorial warning: this is impolite. Apologies in advance.]

European Style Populism is typically meant to evoke nationalist politicians like Le Pen and Wilders, i.e. outspoken critics of EU’s governing class, and especially its immigration policies. When the New York Times wonders about the migration of European populism to the U.S., it’s a thinly veiled warning about the bad and scary kind of migration: gitchyour Western European nationalist paws off of my technocracy! Call it Westphaliaphobia. [Note: Don’t call it that.]

European populism is scary because it preys on public’s unenlightened tendencies towards bigotry and fear. Like most things scary, it’s something only the right wing coalition has to worry about, and it manifests itself most poignantly in Trump.

But there’s another kind of European Style Populism that has been popular (and to some extent successful) for a long time, and has also recently made a landing in the U.S. I’m referring to the European left’s hostility towards Israel. The Euro-left’s dislike of Israel is driven by many things, but one significant factor is the dislike of Israel by Europe’s Arab and Islamic electorate.

For years, politicians like Jeremy Cobryn (and the Labour party generally) and European institutions like the U.N., have happily pandered to the antisemitism, parochialism and willful ignorance about Israel that is native to the Middle East and North Africa.

“What’s that you say? The dirty Jews have colonized part of the Muslim patrimony and paved the streets in blood?! What if we call it ‘the Illegal Occupation’, will you vote for us then? And you’ll fund our social justice organizations and unis?! Bully!

All together now! Free Free Palestine! From the River to the Sea, Palestine It Must Be Free!”

Bigoted and unenlightened? Check.

Scorned minority? Check.

Mass appeal? Check.

European? Check.

I know, I know, only the right wing coalition sacrifices its principles on the alter of narrow self-interest. Support for the Palestinian cause is about social justice and indigenous peoples and international law. Winning elections and financial support?! I would never!

Whatever.

Personally, I think the imperial claims of a militant religious ethnonationalist patrimony are hardly the stuff of good liberals, but that’s me.

But, you say, it’s not about them, it’s about us. OK, but that says nothing about the pesky question of who gets to be sovereign over Judea/Samaria: the indigenous Judeans or the manliest colonial empire of Islam, who couldn’t even bother to come up with an original name for themselves when they were first advised by counsel to plead “self-determination”?

Client: No Jew will be sovereign on Arab Islamic lands! We will drive them into the sea!

Lawyer: Umm, OK, but call it “self-determination.” You’re in the West now. What will you call yourself?

Client: Call ourselves? I mean, I guess Transjordan is fine — we’ll topple the Hashemites next and just consolidate.

Lawyer: Yeah, do your thing, but let’s table that for the time being. What about “Palestinians”?

Client: Like Syria Palaestina, the Roman province? Isn’t that what the Zionists used to call this place? You do know there’s no “P” in Arabic. Whatever. I’ve got a holy war to fight.

Lawyer: Popular resistance! We talked about this. Ixnay on the Holy War-ay.

Client: That’s so lame.

In any event, this recent missive by Lahav Harkov about the American progressive darling, Linda Sarsour, got me thinking that European Style Populism really is migrating stateside. [Harkov’s “Queen of Hate” label is too personal for my liking, but it’s par for the course when it comes to political commentary.]

There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled about Sarsour, both naughty and nice, so I’m not going to recreate it here. The short version is that Sarsour is a Palestinian-American “civil rights activist.” She says mean things about Zionism, incoherent things about the benefits of Sharia (e.g. she celebrates “interest free loans” but, of course, sharia-compliant finance just capitalizes interest into fees) and she proudly wears a hijab as the face of a Women’s March that was soooo feminist that it had no room for women who oppose abortion because that is an undisputed symbol of the patriarchy.

Putting aside the irony(?) of being further to the family-values end of the spectrum than Mike Pence . . . while leading a protest against Mike Pence’s family values, Sarsour is plain vanilla as progressives go. That includes the absurd and unrelenting criticism of Israel — and once J-Street leaves the room, Israel’s right to exist — plus the warm embrace of convicted terrorists.

It wasn’t always that way.

Unlike Europe, which has different demographics, U.S. support for Israel was bipartisan. Pro-Palestinian activists existed in the U.S., but they were on the fringe of the Lefty coalition, mostly confined to the academy and non-profit world. Obama changed all that, however, when he adopted the more hardline stance of his European brethren and brought fringy hardliners like J-Street into the mainstream of his coalition. Suddenly, the American left too had conveniently reimagined “the Occupation” as a cause of the conflict, rather than a symptom.

Anyway, I used to chalk that up to what I referred to as the globalization of politics. The European political economics that drove anti-Israel sentiment on the left didn’t apply in the U.S., but ideology tends to cross-pollinate and political solidarity has its own political economic calculus. And thus the anti-Israel American left was born.

But this little line in Harkov’s piece prompted me to rethink my position:

It’s a curious embrace of terrorism and anti-Semitism from a recipient of a $500,000 taxpayer grant from Mayor de Blasio, as Sarsour’s group, the Arab American Association of New York, was last year. Sarsour, in fact, has been an important ally of de Blasio’s since his election — a role she’s sure to reprise in the mayor’s bid for a second term.

Special interest politics plays well locally where “discrete minorities” (e.g. the Satmar chasidim) can really flex their demographic muscles. [That’s not unlike the U.K., where local Labour outposts are furthest to the anti-Israel fringe.] Bill “Sandinismo” de Blasio is nothing, if not a man of the people, and if he’s involved, that means something other than the “globalization of politics” is afoot. Dov Hikind can go pound sand.

I’m still a bit skeptical that there are enough American Muslims to be a real demographic political force, but fear of “islamophobia” has become en vogue too, so perhaps the strategists know something that I don’t.

I hope not.

Pandering to the public’s worst tendencies towards bigotry of a scorned minority is a bad thing. Please progressives, keep European style populism in Europe.

 

 

An Equilibrium of Perpetual Conflict

I. THE ART OF THE DEAL

Consider the following proposition:

I’ve got a company with your name on it, but I won’t give it to you until you demonstrate you’re ready to run things on your own. Not to worry, though, I’ll keep it safe. Better yet, I’ll treat you like the CEO (and compensate you like the CEO) while we continue to hash out the transition. Plus, if anything goes wrong in the meantime, you can always blame me, since I haven’t given you full control just yet.

One happy day, though–when you prove that you’re ready–I’ll hand over the reins of the company. Running the company is going to be really hard. I mean, running a company is always hard, but this company in particular is a total mess, i.e. lots of infighting, low productivity, lots of dysfunction, deep resentment, etc. And remember, once you’ve got the company, you’ll have to pay your own salary, which is going to be really tricky since the company loses a lot more than it makes, but you’ll turn that around! That also means that if you go bankrupt, you’ll be out of a job and everyone will blame you.

Sounds awesome, right? I mean, in the meantime, you have (a) guaranteed income and stature with no responsibility; but someday you’ll have (b) lots of responsibility and no guaranteed anything. Let’s start negotiating that transition!

It’s pretty obvious what happens next: A deal is never reached and indefinite transition becomes the status quo. That’s never the stated position, of course, because the possibility of transition has to stay open in order to justify the interim arrangement. One would expect lots of deliberation, public hand-on-my-heart declarations of long term commitment, close-but-no-deals, and lots and lots and lots of blame and recrimination for the persistent failure to reach a deal. Over time, the CEO-in-waiting would develop carefully calibrated negotiating tactics that were designed to fail. For example, she might insist on certain preconditions that she knew the Trustee would never accept. If she sensed that acceptance were on the horizon, she might orchestrate some upheaval or subtly move the goal posts to ensure a deal was just out of reach.

The prediction is simple: if the interim arrangement is better than a final status agreement, then it becomes “interim” in name only. Perpetual transition becomes the norm.

II. WHEN NEGOTIATING IS MORE FUN THAN CLOSING

That “interim” equilibrium perfectly describes the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinian leadership (and their foreign sponsors). For the Palestinian leadership, conflict is all upside and little downside (and resolution is all downside and little upside). Not surprisingly, peace remains “elusive.” [Note: It’s important to distinguish between the Palestinian leadership and ordinary Palestinians. Because it’s the leadership that is responsible to negotiate an agreement, it’s their interests that are most relevant. Most people would agree that the leadership is not representative of the (divided) Palestinian public at-large, and yet they do not account for that divergence when analyzing the likelihood of an agreement. If individual Palestinians had the ability to separately negotiate their peace(s), this analysis (and conflict) would look very different.]

These are the current state of affairs:

  • The Palestinian leadership has, for the most part, secured a future state in escrow. That is the two-state solution in a nutshell. Even better, thanks to Barack Obama’s gratuitous commitment to the ’67 boundaries in his 2009 Cairo Speech (and ongoing fascination with the settlements), the precise contours of the Palestinian state are similarly in escrow. If the prize isn’t going anywhere, what’s the rush to close the deal?
  • Not to mention the fact that the “struggle” generates a fantastic income stream for the leadership in the form of international support from Europe, the U.S., the Gulf and Iran–support that may dissipate the moment a deal is reached.
  • The struggle also provides the leadership with visibility, stature and sympathy, that are similarly contingent on, well, the ongoing struggle. Their cause becomes uninteresting the moment the Palestinians become re-possessed.
  • Finally, the leadership bears very few costs of the conflict, which are instead born almost entirely by ordinary Palestinian Arabs. Politically, the leadership can always blame “The Occupation” for its failures, as well as use the “struggle” to justify recourse to corrupt and autocratic policies (as all wartime leaders do).
  • In sum, the leadership has an interest-bearing note with indefinite rights to the principal and none of the risk or custodial costs. That’s a really good thing to have.

The Palestinians’ patrons also benefit from the conflict:

  • For Europeans, the humanitarian industrial complex (“HIC”) thrives. [I know that’s glib and pejorative, but it’s also useful shorthand–i.e. you know what it means.] Not only are the Israelis welcoming to foreigners (including international technocrats, activists, NGOs and journalists), but the Israelis are deliciously Western, making them a veritable wet dream of post-colonial, neo-Marxist political economy. Attacking the Israelis not only feels good, but it’s a good way for the European Left to marshal “petro-dollars” as well as votes from North African and Middle Eastern immigrants (just like it was a good way for the USSR and Western European Labor parties to curry favor with the Arab states during the Cold War).
  • The conflict also matters a good deal to the authority, role and stature of international technocrats. The “international legal consensus” has insisted for years that the conflict ought to be resolved with its active participation and seal of approval. Not surprisingly, the technocrats strenuously agree with the activists that Israel must do what the technocrats tell them to do: “we decide what’s yours, and now stay on your side of the line!” The two-state solution along the ’48 armistice lines is, in that respect, a power play. Any other solution (like one that the Israelis would actually accept and doesn’t validate the initial Arab invasion) undermines the AUTHORITEH of the technocratic elite and sacrifices the substantial reputational and institutional capital invested in their hardline view that there is only one just solution. That says nothing of all the jobs and funding dedicated to “resolving” the conflict that go away the moment the conflict is resolved. In certain cases, like UNRWA, the apparatus is massive. Like billions of dollar per year massive.
  • For Gulf/Levant states, the “Palestinian Issue” is leverage against a regional rival and a crowd pleaser for the Arab street (although I suspect increasingly less so). Indeed, a cynical, but probable account of Palestinian nationalism is that it has always been primarily (not exclusively) a proxy war. Palestinians are denied equal rights everywhere (but Jordan) in order to perpetuate refugee status (consistent with UNRWA’s mandate). Palestinian self-determination only became a thing after four failed attempts to absorb Israel into Transjordan (’48, ’56, ’67 and ’73)–until 1988, the Hashemite Kingdom claimed the entire territory “from the river to the sea” as part of Transjordan–and the eventual Hashemite realization that they would never, ever want to govern even more Palestinians (culminating with Black September and the expulsion of Arafat to Lebanon along with remaining PLO members they couldn’t kill). More simply, for as long as the Palestinians are stateless, their Gulf/Levant patrons can use their plight (and threats of violence) to obtain concessions (and reprieves) from Western powers. In other words, investing a little money in the Palestinian leadership generates Western-sized returns, which is a hell of an ROI. Certain countries, like Egypt and Jordan, brilliantly double-dip (or at least used to) by making peace with Israel (and getting paid handsomely to cash out of their conflict) while preserving ongoing conflict-payments by sponsoring a Palestinian proxy war. It’s like settling a litigation and then finding another plaintiff to take your place. Other countries, like Iran, use the conflict as a pretext to project power West and South (and similarly extract concessions from the West).

So conflict pays handsomely, but what about resolution? Without belaboring the point:

  • In the event of an agreement, the Palestinian leadership will immediately have to govern, without international sympathy or a scapegoat. Funding probably persists, but in lesser amounts and with more strings attached. As with all things, sustainable endogenous growth will require significant decentralization of power, i.e. crime bosses and “revolutionaries” will have to give way to ordinary bureaucrats and private citizens. The Palestinian proto-state will go from being an international cause celebre to just another dysfunctional Arab socialist kleptocracy with no economy or institutions to speak of. The occupation will end, but for the leadership especially, it really wasn’t that bad in the first place. Palestinians will still be poor and frustrated (like all ordinary, non-Israeli, folk in that part of the world) but they will blame their leadership and not the Israelis. Maybe Abbas (or whoever else is PM) wins a nobel prize and gets invites to all the swankiest parties, but those rewards are his and his alone.
  • European activists and technocrats will have to pick another cause to support. That won’t be easy because change is always hard and true believers don’t become converts overnight. Also, European Muslims don’t really care about “Social Justice” so finding another democratically useful cause will be a little tricky (but identifying as People of Color will help). Social Justice is also a territorial business, precisely because it depends on rent-seeking, rather than productivity. There is only so much sympathy to go around, and the Save the Africa crowd isn’t going to be elbowed aside by suddenly unemployed Justice for Palestine people. UNRWA itself operates with a $1.23 Billion annual budget. That’s a lot of conflict-jobs on the line. To be sure, some well-intentioned activists/technocrats will happily conclude their work is done, but for the most part, people do not give up their day jobs and switch careers easily. That doesn’t make activists and technocrats bad people, it just makes them people.
  • Gulf/Levant patrons will be vulnerable to deep-seeded populist sentiment of the Arab street against Jews and the Zionist entity (which will no longer be a tool at their disposal). More importantly, they will also have to find some other ways to both put pressure on Israel and be useful to the West. The conflict has allowed Arab countries to raise their stature considerably in “international” fora, which not only deflects negative attention, but effectively provides U.N. letterhead for their foreign ministries.

To summarize, the benefits of conflict are high, while the costs are low. In contrast, the benefits of peaceful resolution are minimal, while the costs are high. Conflict is better than the alternative, therefore conflict persists. “But what about the basic human right to self-determination?!” Well, if the consequences of realizing that right make the leadership demonstrably worse off, then it’s going to stay a pie-in-the-sky ideal. “But what about ending the Occupation?!” Again, the leadership doesn’t absorb those costs (regardless of how severe they may or may not be), and while members of the leadership may genuinely care about ordinary Palestinian Arabs, they care more about their own prospects (particularly when the Israelis make it easy to mitigate their feelings of guilt).

It’s not a coincidence that the Palestinian leadership has three preconditions for negotiation that just so happen to be non-starters for the Israelis: (1) Right of Return; (2) ’67 Borders; and (3) Jerusalem. Nor is it surprising that when Israel finally budged on (3), and parts of (2) and (1), that Arafat unleashed the dogs of war, rather than make a deal. Or when Israel withdrew from Gaza, that Hamas unleashed the dogs of war. War good; deal bad.

III. SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? OBVIOUSLY THE INPUTS NEED TO CHANGE. CONFLICT HAS TO BE LESS PROFITABLE AND PEACE HAS TO BE MORE SO.

Some of that is already happening. Of all the factors weighing against resolution, the weakest is probably the interests of Gulf/Levant patrons. Israel is gradually becoming their natural regional ally against an emergent Iran and they can easily curry favor with the West by joining the “war on terror,” so they don’t need to play peace broker (for a fight they started). I don’t want to understate the significance of Muslim-Arab patrimony–losing sovereignty over part of the Muslim empire, to the Jews no less, and Jerusalem to boot, will really sting. But regional security and economic partnerships (blessed and bankrolled by the West) can make it worth their while. If so, the narrative will shift accordingly to the effect of “the Jews aren’t so bad, we all know they were there first–I mean, that’s why Omar built the mosque there–and frankly we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

In terms of the Palestinian leadership, time needs to be less on their side. Current calculus is that Israel has two options: (a) surrender now (by ceding under fire to Palestinian demands in such a way that would validate the entirety of Phase I, i.e. the struggle against West Bank occupation, leading to Phase II, the struggle against coastal occupation); or (b) surrender later through annexation and citizenship to Palestinian Arabs. In the meantime, Resistance Inc. pays handsomely.

That can change in a variety of ways that work in whole or in part:

  • First, the settlements continue to expand. If your future state is shrinking before your eyes, you cannot hold out indefinitely. The best way to stop the settlement of “Palestinian land” is to come to an agreement on what constitutes Palestinian land. Clinton and then Bush embraced this policy with early success, by publicly assuring Israel that settlement blocs and “natural growth” would remain part of Israel and putting the onus on Abbas to oversee structural reforms as a precursor to a functioning state, i.e. Fayyadism. Unfortunately, Obama reversed course and for the first time promised the ’67 boundaries to the PA (which responded by firing Fayyad and pivoting to Fatah-Hamas unity instead, i.e. the conflict-pays coalition).
  • Second, funding begins to dry up and/or becomes contingent on structural reforms focused on decentralization and economic growth. Those reforms are pejoratively referred to as “normalization,” but normalization is another way of saying “making peace.” Similarly, put a clock on UNRWA’s mandate and give a definite end to the gravy train of perpetual refugeedom. Along the same lines, generally empower ordinary Palestinian Arabs and cut out the leadership and entrenched technocracies. Resistance needs to be relatively less profitable than coexistence, which it obviously would be for ordinary Palestinian Arabs (which is what necessitates anti-normalization in the first place).
  • Third, put demographic shift on the table. Just like the PA’s territorial aspirations can’t be indefinitely in escrow, their polity can’t be either. Currently Palestinian Arabs face enormous barriers to exit: all Arab countries (except Jordan) legally discriminate against Palestinians; the PA forbids (on pain of death) selling land to Jews; the international community breezily refer to paid resettlement as “Ethnic Cleansing.” The net result is that Palestinian Arabs are basically stuck, which permits the PA to dawdle indefinitely without worrying there will be no people for them to govern.

Solve the conflict with Coase. Let Palestinians decide if their political rights are really non-negotiable. Plainly the leadership thinks so, because their status depends on it, but ordinary Palestinians? Like the millions of other immigrants from that part of the world, they might prefer to take the money/opportunity elsewhere and leave the “Palestinian State” for someone else to enjoy. Some might *gasp* prefer to be a minority citizen in Israel than realize the towering heights of self-determination. [Note: it’s hard to imagine a more self-serving obsession than the technocratic obsession with self-determination. “The more polities, the more politicians–isn’t it grand?!”]

If the Palestinian leadership realized that continuing to hold out would eventually leave them stateless, people-less and jobless, I’m confident they would make a deal quickly. A previously implausible coalition of Trump, Putin, the Gulf and Jordan/Egypt could make a take-it-or-leave-it offer: a demilitarized Palestinian state, with Ramallah as its capital, and none of the main settlement blocs (which stay with Israel). Israel controls the air space and will coordinate on borders. If the PA refuses, then Israel begins the process of total annexation + sponsored re-settlement (with US+Russian+Gulf approval), and I firmly believe (without evidence other than general migratory patterns going East to West) that hundreds of thousands will freely take the money, so long as they’re permitted to enjoy it. To be clear, that’s not forced resettlement (which is oddly not a redline when it comes to Israelis living in JS/WB…); it’s just an opportunity for Palestinians to literally determine their own fates, which is really what this is about, right? The PA knows that too and will therefore make that deal. They frankly won’t have much of a choice because without exogenous support for Resistance Inc., they have little to no leverage. Which brings me to . . .

The greatest impediments to peaceful resolution are international technocrats and activists, i.e. the “exogenous support.” Again, they’re not bad people (although I’m sure some are); it’s just that they have the most to lose and the least to gain. They have spent years insisting that the Palestinians must have a state and that it must adhere to (now) 70 year-old boundaries whose only significance is that they were blessed by international technocrats (even though they were arbitrary and unfair to begin with, and more importantly, emphatically rejected by the actual participants to the conflict (well, one side, at least)). The HIC will not easily put their non-negotiables, like Palestinian borders or the Palestinian polity, back on the table. As a group, they have little skin in the game besides remedying “injustice,”–a platonic ideal that is mostly untethered to facts on the ground–so it’s hard to see how any change in the status quo would help, rather than hurt. In other words, unlike Palestinians who could happily get on with their lives, activists have no other lives to get on with. Their pride, stature and careers (collectively, their “worldview”) depend on “resolving” things their way–the current conflict-equilibrium is (largely) their creation and they’re not gonna let go easily (and unlike the Palestinian leadership, they have the resources to keep the fight going).

IV. JUST HAND ME MY NOBEL PRIZE

So that’s it, I’ve solved the most unsolvable political problem of our time. Again, I think the most serious objections will come from the HIC (and general status quo bias): “Palestinian self-determination is non-negotiable. Paying them to leave is ethnic-cleansing.” [Hamas and other hardliners will object as well, but that’s inevitable.] Perhaps–those are their categories, so I’ll let them define them–but that still doesn’t change my analysis that making those non-negotiable, i.e. indefinite escrow, is the sine qua non of perpetual conflict. [Note: I do not think Palestinians (who are not ethnically distinct, but I digress) will be “ethnically cleansed” if 0.5-0.75 million of them decide to move to another part of world, including a few miles to the West, and the Palestinian State dies in-utero. There are many political and (actual) ethnic minorities–again, Palestinians are part of an ethnic majority in many countries–without their own independent states.]

Plus, I find the argument a bit circular: if “ethnic cleansing” means a demonstrably better life for the “cleansed” then why is it so objectionable? I understand that the HIC has already determined that “it’s against the rules” and “that the rules must be followed,” but if the rules are no good, then change them, and if not, why should anyone follow them? The cynical answer is that these “collective” rights to ethnicity and state provide opportunities for would-be community and state leaders, and I have far less sympathy for them than I have for ordinary human beings.

The final objection is of course why pick on the Palestinian leadership, as opposed to the Israeli? Why not give them a take-it-or-leave-it deal? Why not put their rights to self-determination and the Jewish state (also non-negotiables) on the table?  The simple answer is that they already are. The reason that Israel does not accept the current two-state solution framework is that acceptance is an existential threat. It’s true that holding-out does preserve the territorial aspirations of one faction of Bibi’s current coalition, but all other factors tend towards resolution (and Israel has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to sacrifice its territorial aspirations, including that faction’s) except for one little detail: making “peace” with the Palestinians in such a way that validates and rewards the “struggle”–rather than impose clear costs– is no peace at all. It’s surrender under fire. A 2SS that simply resets the clock to the original 2SS in 1948 (the “international consensus”) clearly communicates that fighting the Zionist Entity was right all along. Phase I complete. On to Phase II, i.e. unwinding the occupation of coastal Israel. NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. Again, the Palestinian leadership knows that too, which is why they have the Israelis dead to rights: “surrender now or later–you just let us know when–we’ll be here, but we’ll liberate the homeland eventually.”

More simply, threatening Israel’s existence changes nothing about the current equilibrium because it’s already part of the current equilibrium. You could offer to pay the Israelis to leave, but they would never accept precisely because that would actually constitute ethnic cleansing–there’s nowhere else for them or the Jewish people to go. TransIsrael is not right next door and there is certainly no grab-bag of majority Jewish (and ethnically heterogeneous) countries to choose from as alternatives–putting aside the whole 3,000 years of tradition thing.

Peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is within our grasp. We just have to convince thousands of pious Westerners that they were the problem all along. Trump just made that happen in the U.S., so maybe it’s not so far-fetched?

What’s in it for Obama?

In the aftermath of Res. 2334, I continue to struggle to understand what Obama intends to accomplish through (in)action.

One possibility is that he hopes to impose a cost on Israel for supposedly jeopardizing the 2SS. If that were the case, though, why not take action months or years ago? How can Obama possibly hope to meaningfully intervene in the conflict when he will be in no position to effectuate his policies in less than a month?

Obama’s status as a lame duck is accentuated by the fact that his successor is manifestly opposed to much of Obama’s vision for the region, or his desire to isolate Israel as a means of achieving that vision. If anything, by sending a strong signal, Obama has motivated Trump to send a strong counter signal, which makes the decision even more counterproductive, if Obama is genuinely interested in effecting change.

Another possibility is that I am overestimating Obama’s coherence and strategy and underestimating his vanity. In other words, Obama may have (in)acted simply because the opportunity presented itself and after years of trying to bend Bibi to his view of the world (which Obama no longer needs to do), Obama decided to let his true feelings show. Obama did not in fact “orchestrate” the resolution (although I find that unlikely), and did not in fact consider its consequences–other than to his own legacy. Regardless of how the resolution would effect the actual conflict, either by motivating Trump or by diminishing the PA’s incentives to negotiate, Obama wanted to make sure the world knew how he really felt. That goal is important to him either to appeal to certain constituencies in anticipation of his ex-presidential career, or simply to show the world the depth of his intelligence, fairness and pragmatism. Under that analysis, Res. 2334 functions effectively an op-ed, based on the delicious conceit that Obama’s observations and wisdom are so clearheaded that the world is better place simply for having them spoken out loud. Obama is, as others have suggested, Jimmy Carter redux.

As I wrote previously, the most charitable interpretation of Obama’s decision is that he wants the inevitable Trump counterpunch. That like Clinton and W. before him, Obama has realized that the PA will not agree to a state for as long as statelessness remains such a profitable enterprise. By waiting for the last minute, he rather brilliantly opens the door for the next administration to make meaningful changes, while preserving his own legacy as a true man of the left. That would make Obama a true political mastermind.

If not that, I’m forced to conclude either that (a) Obama is a moron, i.e. he sincerely prefers the policy set forth by the resolution, but he is incapable of thinking more than one or two steps ahead; or (b) Obama is strategic and vain, first and foremost, who would use the teetering remains of both an institution and policy he actually believes in as a global platform to bask in his own righteousness. Given what Obama has accomplished, I find those two theories difficult to accept, but no easier to accept than the Carrow-esque Great Man of History theory above.

Or maybe he just said “fuck it, I’m tired of being strategic, and this is how I feel and I’m president, so deal with it.”

Game Theory and the UNSC Resolution Re. Settlements

1. As with most things UN/International Law, there is more sound than fury. The practical implications may extend no further than the next news cycle.

2. If one is genuinely interested in a peaceful resolution, taking the question of settlements off the table is a tactical error, albeit one that Obama made many years ago. Settlement expansion is the primary incentive the PA has to negotiate a final agreement, as opposed to simply holdout and enjoy international aid and sympathy. By freezing the settlements, Obama/UN essentially puts the future Palestinian state in escrow, which is ideal for Palestinian leadership because they can enjoy the fruits of perpetual conflict without suffering any costs. It is not a coincidence that the three Palestinian preconditions for negotiation are non-starters for the Israelis: Right of Return; Divided Jerusalem (including the Temple Mount) and ’48 Armistice Lines. That position tailor-made for perpetual conflict. So-called “anti-normalization” efforts, also known as “anti-peace” efforts, fall into the same bucket.

3. The resolution may backfire for the Palestinians (and the UN), insofar as it provokes a response from Trump/US. Sympathy for the Palestinians (correctly) tends to ebb and flow with sympathy for Arab/Muslims generally, and that sympathy is currently quite low. The victims of car-ramming attacks in Berlin are more likely to sympathize with the victims of car-ramming attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem than their perpetrators. The UN’s stature will be harder to erode, but as with the EU, progressive technocracy and its adherents aren’t winning any popularity contests. At the very least, the resolution is a stick Israel no longer has to fear.

4. In general, reference to “international illegality” is specious. Law is made, and not found. When it comes to public international law, there are few (if any) prior rules with sufficient specificity and precedential value that can be reliably applied in any particular case, or shape the reasonable expectations of the parties. There simply isn’t enough case law, and each new case is simply too complex and distinct to be determined by prior cases. Every issue is more or less sui generis. In other words, if there is any “law” to speak of, it is no better than guesswork and there is very little reason it ought to be followed as good or useful law. When international technocrats declare the settlements “illegal” they are simply expressing their preference for their own technocratic authority: “we told you to stay on that side of the line, and you’re not listening to us!” Whether technocratic say-so is or ought to be authoritative, however, is a different question (that I suspect most people answer in the negative, at least when it applies to them). Likewise, when people cite the “international consensus” on the “illegality” of the settlements, it says nothing about whether the “law” ought to be followed. It’s effectively the same as observing the consensus among international technocrats that international technoracts ought to be listened to. That’s what the kids call “Breaking News.”

5. The most charitable interpretation for Obama is that a reaction from Trump is precisely the thing he is counting on. Obama may well understand that perpetual conflict favors the Palestinian leadership, and while he lacks the political capital or courage to change that equilibrium by turning off the international aid spigot, that does not apply to Trump. Properly motivated, Trump may well end the conflict by giving the Palestinians a take-it-or-leave-it state, while supporting partial annexation and incentivizing normalization. At the same time, he (and Putin) can provide cover for Gulf countries, Egypt and Jordan to say “sorry, our hands are tied and we’ve got bigger fish (Iran and ISIS) to fry.” The strongest push back will come from the humanitarian industrial complex in Europe and (to a lesser extent) the US, but again, their cause celebre faces a healthy dose of skepticism from ordinary Westerners who now have firsthand experience with Israel’s neighbors.

Israel-Palestine-Arab Conflict

This is a collection of readings and visuals that I put together for my book club:

History: 
 
1. Reference Timeline (of my own hasty creation).
2. Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life  (Ch. 2-5). [As an alternative (or in addition to), a good short, LA Times review of Nusseibeh’s book.]
3. Six Days of War (Ch. 1 “The Context” and, if you’re up for it, Ch. 11 “Aftershocks” ) The maps are really useful too. [Corny video alternative–still worth watching for atmosphere, and at the very least, wikipedia]
Culture Wars: