Malaysia-Singapore: 50 Years of Contentious and Prickly Relations


February 3, 2014

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BOOK REVIEW

by Din Merican

Malaysia-Singapore: 50 Years of Contentions, 1965-2015 by Kadir Mohamad

Kadir Mohamed's book2

I just completed reading Ambassador (Tan Sri) Kadir Mohamad’s Malaysia Singapore Fifty Years of Contentions, 1965-2015. By presenting his thoughts and views in the form of an excellent book, Ambassador Kadir, who was Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Wisma Putra) and Special Foreign Affairs Adviser to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, joins a select group of former Malaysian diplomats like Tun Ghazalie Shafie, Kamil Jaafar and Razali Ismail ,among others, who have shared their experiences with us. It is heartening to note that our public officials are making their contribution to our collective memory of Malaysian history since Independence.

His book is a timely contribution on the history of Malaysia-Singapore relations. In my view he is the first among them to deal in such great detail with the contentious and prickly relations between the neighbours since the republic’s “expulsion” (Kadir makes no apologies for using this word to describe what happened ) on August 9, 1965 from Malaysia. It is a serious book for the discerning student of foreign policy and international relations. It is not a memoir nor a ” last dispatch” of sorts that one encounters from some  recent writers on the subject.

Ambassador Kadir has “relied heavily on historical records, the works of other authors and contemporary writings by scholars and other public commentators for the facts”. His personal recollections and copious notes and other materials have also been employed to add value and excitement to the drama of diplomatic encounters on numerous issues  (in seven chapters) between Malaysia and Singapore over the last five decades.

Lee-Kuan-Yew

In Chapter 8, the author gives us credible evidence of how Lee Kuan Yew single-handedly prescribed Singapore’s policies towards Malaysia, even after he relinquished his premiership to Goh Chok Tong in 1990. In his role as Senior Minister and later as Minister Mentor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr. Lee, the micro-manager of Singapore, was able to exert strong influence on Singapore’s foreign, economic and social  policies. Singapore’s Cabinet served as his proxy, says Ambassador Kadir.

Even after his retirement following the 2011 General Elections, his  personality, political dexterity, intellectual brilliance and moral authority (after all, he is a Philosopher-King and Confucian Mandarin) loom large over the blue skies of Singapore.  Here is an amazing Mr. Singapore, a view shared by his admirers and detractors.

Throughout the book on bilateral issues, Mr. Lee’s statecraft is present.

“Singapore negotiators in the past always had Lee Kuan Yew looking over their shoulders like a taskmaster; and they had to prove themselves constantly in the eyes of the taskmaster….Lee Kuan Yew is absolutely one of a kind.”

I wish to add that Mr. Lee taught Singaporean ministers and negotiators how to conduct “Janus faced diplomacy” (Lily Zubaidah Rahim), and to quote Ambassador Kadir again,” in which the business of foreign relations is conducted without sentiment, ideology or illusion, particularly where it concerns  Singapore’s security. That was the way it was in the last 50 years”.

The book by Ambassador Kadir then goes on to support this thesis with Malaysia Singapore relations  from 1965-2015 as a case study. In Chapter 2, Kadir tells us of the acrimonious discussions between the Malaysians and Singaporeans on Water that went on over several years till 2004 without any agreement.

A large part of reason of the failure to reach agreement until today was Lee Kuan Yew’s intervention in the negotiation process between 2000 and 2002. The water issue remains a national sore point in Malaysia”.

There is a perception here in Kuala Lumpur that the Republic is raking enormous money by selling treated water to third parties, namely to ships berthed in Singapore harbour. The 1961 Agreement expired in 2011,while two other agreements are in force until 2061. Let us hope by then, we in Johor and Malaysia can get an equitable deal for our water.

Bilateral negotiations on the status of Pulau Batu Puteh (Pedra Branca), as discussed in Chapter 3, made no progress during 1993 and 1994. The talks stalled when Singapore opted to adopt Mr. Lee’s preference for the dispute to be settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. The matter was finally adjudicated by the ICJ in 2008 in favour of Singapore, after some 18 years. It was, however, not a unanimous decision. This point was not known to the Malaysian public. Only 12 out 16 judges voted in favour of the decision.

In the case of Middle Rocks, 15 to 1 judges ruled in Malaysia’s favour. The ownership of South Ledge will be made after a delimitation of the territorial sea in the area surrounding Pulau Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks, and South Ledge.

Chapter Four  deals with Points of Agreement. The issue was finally settled in 2011 by the Najib Administration. Finally, Mr. Lee was able to get KTMB to move to Woodlands and the Malaysian keris was finally removed from the heart of Singapore. This was because some commercial deals deemed favorable to both countries were made by Khazanah Nasional (Malaysia) and Temasek Holdings with some details yet to be finalized.

Another issue, raised in Chapter Five, was very difficult  which  was resolved by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi when the construction of the crooked bridge to replace the Causeway across the Straits of Johore was aborted, much to the consternation of former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed.Chapter 6 deals with Singapore’s Land Reclamation Project. It was the first time Malaysia took Singapore to international arbitration and got a judgment that in general was in its favour.

Chapter 7  deals with the Defence of Singapore. It makes a very interesting read on military strategy and security. It is Mr. Lee’s real legacy. How valid are his assumptions about its neighbours in South East Asia, especially Malaysia, in  the 21 century? Both countries are members of ASEAN and are bound by the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Both have chosen in 50 years of their prickly and often contentious relations to resolve their differences through diplomacy and peaceful means. Surely, there must be better times ahead for Malaysians and Singaporeans.

I agree with Ambassador Kadir that Malayia is not a threat to Singapore’s security. So he rightly says:

” Indeed, Singapore need not be thinking like Israel because Singapore is not in the same situation as Israel. Israel has experienced actual military attack from outside while Singapore has not. Except for a few irrational acts of selective sabotage during Konfontasi, no country  has ever mounted a military attack against Singapore. A large part of the lingering problem is the teaching by Lee Kuan Yew that Singapore should never trust its neighbours. Such distrusting mind-set tends to imagine enemies everywhere and perceive threats where none exists.”

In the final chapter titled The Next Fifty Years, Ambassador Kadir isAfter 18 years, Kadir’s search for letter still goes on optimistic about our relations with Singapore. And why not? A new generation of leaders on both sides to the Causeway have taken over from their elders who fought colonialism, survived the two World Wars, gained independence and withstood the Cold War. These young leaders have new lenses on bilateral relations. Bitterness of the past should now be behind us.

Yes, Ambassador Kadir, as you say,

“…the logic for neighbouring countries is quite simple that they must cooperate. They can progress better by cooperating with each other instead of hindering one another. In fact, for Malaysia and Singapore the fundamentals already exist for establishing a new era of beneficial cooperation between themselves… Such cooperation is possible even if differences of opinion and approach continue to persist in some areas.”

In other words, let us put end to  50 years of contentious and prickly relations.

Jokowi: The First Hundred Days


January 26, 2015

Jokowi: The First Hundred Days

Indonesian politics has not been this interesting in a long time. Three months into the new administration of President Joko Widodo, the jubilant optimism that accompanied his victory in elections last year has been replaced by more sober realism. Power in Indonesia has rather fluid qualities. It ebbs and flows. The balance of power in Jokowi’s administration is seen as less viscous than was the case under his predecessor, which makes for unpredictability.

The President’s biggest challenge in his first 100 days has been to consolidate power. Winning the popular vote did not give him an untrammeled mandate. He is shackled to former President Megawati Soekarnoputri, the leader of the party that nominated him to run for President. She in turn had a huge hand in selecting the lion’s share of his cabinet, along with a few other minor stakeholders in the winning coalition. Whilst everyone expected the formidable opposition coalition in parliament to throw obstacles in the path of his reforms, it turns out that Jokowi’s main problem is his own party.

How the President has managed this problem, and the measure of success and failure in his first three months in office begins to illuminate the nature of his leadership. But it also suggests the need for a re-calibration of expectations and a degree of caution.

Supporters were encouraged by his cool unruffled response to the onslaught on his first few weeks in office made by the opposition coalition in parliament; then by the decisive manner he removed fuel subsidies at the end of last year. But the biggest test of his power to date has been the handling of his appointment of Budi Goenawan as national police chief.

Observers believe that Budi, a former close aide to Megawati was her choice, and that pushing his appointment so hard was a response to Jokowi’s sudden appointment of Luhud Panjaitan as his chief of staff. Luhud, a former Indonesian Special Forces commander who is possibly the President’s closest political friend and ally, forged ties with Jokowi when he was still a furniture-maker and exporter in Central Java. His appointment to the chief of staff position was regarded as a bid to balance the forces constraining Jokowi’s presidency.

Budi Goenawan’s appointment generated a storm of protest after the National Counter Corruption Agency (KPK) indicated he was a suspect. Insiders speculated that this was a play by Jokowi to have Megawati’s candidate knocked back, though others said that Budi had greatly helped Jokowi during the election campaign. Either way, the President’s moves to consolidate power collided with the wider concerns of his popular support base, members of which lashed out at the President’s defiance of the KPK. After almost a week of mounting tension, Jokowi announced the decision on Budi Goenawan’s candidacy would be postponed – though not completely canned.

The other theme of Jokowi’s first three months has been a firm resolve to implement an assertive maritime policy. In keeping with his promise to protect Indonesia’s fish stocks from the rampant poaching by foreign fishing fleets in the country’s archipelagic waters, the authorities have seized vessels from Thailand and Vietnam and sunk them. Although Indonesia has sunk illegal fishing boast before, the forceful manner in which the policy is being pursued has raised concerns in the region.

The challenge for the government under this President is how to manage complex regional or international issues when the leadership tends to see things in simple terms and is more concerned with domestic matters.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi raised eyebrows by initially suggesting that Indonesia would reduce its international engagement when she meant it would continue. Jokowi has made it plain that he is less interested than his predecessor in joining the international conference circuit – he probably won’t be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.

However, the focus on domestic interests is not mutually exclusive from the projection of values and responsibilities of importance to the region and beyond. Indonesia’s assertive maritime policy could be couched in rules-based terms that would greatly help the rest of ASEAN persuade China to observe international law in the South China Sea.

Much of the initial dissonance in foreign policy is likely dissipate once the administration settles down. It seems clear that Jokowi himself will not be the globetrotting pontificator that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono aspired to be. That doesn’t mean that issues of importance such as democracy, climate change and respect for international law need to be pushed down table. But it does mean that the President will need to identify good spokespeople and envoys to do the messaging, and there is no shortage of capable former officials and diplomats to fill this role. Popular as he is, Jokowi needs to be confident in the ability of others to communicate his policies.

On the domestic front, Jokowi has disappointed many liberals in his camp with a hesitant reaction to human rights abuse. It took Jokowi two weeks to announce a formal investigation into the shooting of five civilians in the central highlands of Papua last month. There have already been anachronistic references to a return to the army’s role in stimulating development at the village level, and indications of a much larger defence budget. Meanwhile, the international community is reeling from the President’s blunt refusal to offer clemency to five foreigners convicted of drug smuggling who were executed by firing squad on 19 January.

From what we have already seen, Jokowi’s preference is for cautious, conservative decision-making. Perhaps this is something of a throw back to the style of politics practiced by Soeharto at the height of his power in the 1980s. Like Soeharto, Jokowi is schooled in the homespun wisdom of the Javanese culture, so we can expect careful consideration of his actions and as much as possible pushed from behind, as captured by the phrase Soeharto made popular ‘Tut Wuri Handayani’ – to provide moral leadership from the rear.

Events in and around the Presidential palace for the last three months have generated some mild confusion and concern. The Mr. Clean image dented by the appointment of an allegedly corrupt police chief; the Man of the People image corroded by the choice of close aides associated with a conservative security mindset. It would be a real pity if the direct, unambiguous style of his campaign becomes occluded by the shadowy, ambiguous characteristics of Javanese power play.

Michael Vatikiotis is Asia Regional Director for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

Najib’s Political Battles Pose a Challenge to his Foreign Policy Agenda


January 23, 2015

Najib’s Political Battles Pose a Challenge to his Foreign Policy Agenda

By Murray Hiebert and Nigel Cory
January 22, 2015
Murray Hiebert is Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Nigel Cory is a researcher with the Sumitro Chair.

4th PM of MalaysiaChallenges at home suggest Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak could face an uphill battle in pursuing his foreign policy goals in the year ahead. The long-simmering battle between Najib and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has erupted into a public spat that must have Najib looking over his shoulder given Mahathir’s role in ousting his predecessor, Abdullah Badawi.

As a result Najib finds himself flanked on the right by Perkasa,the equivalent of the Tea Party within his ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and on the left by the opposition coalition led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. No move Najib makes will please all Malaysians, and perhaps not even many, in this constrained environment.

The public mudslinging between Najib and Mahathir could weaken and distract the Prime Minister even as 2015 presents opportunities for Malaysia to make its mark on the international stage. Malaysia’s ruling party generally hides internal conflict from public view.But the escalation in political maneuvering between two of the party’s key leaders has changed this dynamic.

Old corruption charges have been rehashed against Daim Zainuddin,Daim an outspoken critic of Najib. Daim isan UMNO insider, financial power broker, and two-time Finance Minister under Mahathir. He is seen as a proxy forthe former Prime Minister and, to real insiders, may even be the one pulling the strings on his former boss.

The government-controlled media took the unusual step of covering the case against Daim in detail, which some interpreted as a coordinated political attack and which prompted proxies on both sides to take the fight to the internet.

The split between Najib and Mahathir burst into the open when the latter, now 89, publicly withdrew his support for Najib in an August 2014 blog. Mahathir blamed Najib for the ruling coalition’s poor showing in the 2013 national elections, attacked him for his efforts in 2011 to abolish the draconian Internal Security Act, and criticized his earlier plans to scale back the affirmative action program that provides special privileges for the country’s Malay majority. On all these issues, Mahathir has strong support from UMNO’s most conservative wing.

The bitter dispute between the two men and their respective camps appears to have picked up in earnest after a dinner between them in December did not go well. A thorny issue reportedly discussed at the meeting was the sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which has been plagued by charges of mismanagement and corruption and is reportedly suffering from billions of ringgit in nonperforming loans. Najib is chair of the fund’s advisory board.

Mahathir retains significant public and political influence in Malaysia as an elder statesman, particularly among conservative Malays. His profile stems from enduring public popularity, especially among older  members of society who are nostalgic about his 22 years in power. Mahathir’s political influence within UMNO has loomed large  over his successors since he stepped down in 2003. He leveraged this influence to undermine and ultimately remove his anointed successor, Abdullah, in 2009. Then Deputy Prime Minister Najib stepped up to become Prime Minister.He most certainly sees the possibility of history repeating itself.

And Malaysia’s economy is not going to provide any respite for Najib. The sharp drop in oil prices has created some stiff headwinds for Malaysia’s economy. Oil and gas exports account for a fifth of the country’s exports and a third of government revenue. It was therefore little surprise that Najib on January 20 announced $1.5 billion in spending cuts and said Malaysia’s economic growth has been revised down from 6 percent to between 4.5 and 5.5 percent for 2015.

anwar-ibrahim-recentUnder withering attacks from Mahathir and party conservatives, Najib has backed off many of his earlier political and economic reform plans. In recent months, his government has been criticized by the United States and human rights organizations for repeatedly using the colonial-era Sedition Act against critics. Anwar Ibrahim is awaiting a court verdict on another round of sodomy charges that could once again see him sent to prison. The verdict, expected in the next few weeks, would undoubtedly lead to further criticism from the international community.

Najib’s domestic challenges could pose risks for his foreign policy goals in 2015. This year is shaping up as an important one for Malaysia given its chairmanship of ASEAN and its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As ASEAN chair, Malaysia can be expected to play a key role in pressing the grouping to take steps to complete regional economic integration, keep tensions in the disputed South China Sea under control, and explore ways to bolster the role of the East Asia Summit.

TPPA Protest

Negotiators of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Malaysia joined in 2010, are scrambling to complete the trade agreement by March. But for Malaysia to get to the finish line will require some tough decisions by Najib and his cabinet in such areas as state-owned enterprises, pharmaceuticals, and investor dispute mechanisms. Even before his latest broadsides against Najib, Mahathir, who oversaw Malaysia’s earlier transformation into an industrial powerhouse, had  harply criticized the TPP as an attempt by foreign powers to colonize Malaysia. Anwar and the opposition have also sought to foil Najib’s reform effort.

The coming months could provide an opportunity for Malaysia and theNajib and ObamaUnited States to put more substance into the comprehensive partnership they announced last April when President Barack Obama visited Malaysia. But the visit marked only the beginning of the process, which requires more work by both sides to achieve deeper ties, including such things as stepped up cabinet-level exchanges,more military cooperation and intelligence sharing, and closer economic ties.

Najib’s golf outing with Obama in early January showed the depth of personal camaraderie between the two leaders, which could help them achieve greater depth to the comprehensive partnership before Obama visits again in November. However, the sharp criticism Najib received for golfing in Hawaii while parts of Malaysia faced terrible flooding highlights some of the challenges he could face in the months ahead as he seeks to deepen the country’s regional and global foreign policy opportunities.

The United States will need to make some tough decisions in the coming months about how to engage Najib and Malaysia. The country is a vital partner and a key to strengthening ASEAN. The White House will face pressure from various advocacy groups to limit or curtail engagement and there will be congressional pressure during the TPP approval process. The administration will have to step carefully but be guided by the strategic need to support political and economic reform in Malaysia. For his part, Najib will need to harden his resolve to pursue that reform.

Inevitable Payback


January 22, 2015

Inevitable Payback

by Craig Murray

Craig MurrayAmbassador Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.He graduated from the University of Dundee in 1982 with a MA (Hons) 1st Class in Modern History.

https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2015/01/inevitable-payback/

In this globalised world, if we launch weapons of great destructive power into communities abroad, incinerating and shredding women and children, we cannot avoid the fact that those who identify with those communities – ethnically, culturally and religiously – will take revenge on people here. If we are lucky it will be revenge on combatants. If we are unlucky it will be on our innocents. But either way, the truth is this. We caused it.

We caused it by our invasions, occupations and bombings of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, none of which had ever attacked the UK. We caused it by all the dead women and children that British bombs, missiles or bullets killed accidentally. We caused it by the terrible deaths of the people we killed deliberately, who were only defending their country from foreign invaders, just as most of us would do. We caused it by the detainees killed or tortured. As a country, the United Kingdom caused it.

This is not the 19th century. Imperialist aggression now brings a danger of retaliation from empathetic communities embedded in western societies. This is so obvious as not to need stating. The danger of terrorism from Islamic sources would be much reduced if we just minded our own business on the international scene.

All that is very obvious. It does not, however, seem to have occurred to John Sawers, immediate past Head of MI6, who has no sensible thoughts at all of the causes of terrorism. The right-wing like to think that anyone opposed to the West is, by definition, spontaneously evil. If only they could look in the mirror sometimes and ask why people hate us, that would be a major psychological breakthrough. I have known John Sawers a great many years, and he is somebody who looks in the mirror very often. Sadly, not for that purpose.

At least he has the intellectual honesty to admit an open advocacy of the extreme big brother society. Abandoning the notion of smart intelligence, he has come out with a justification of the mass surveillance society which Snowden revealed. We cannot prevent terrorism without spying on innocent people, he declares.

charlie-hebdo-cover-bin-laden

In a sense, that is a truism. I have very often argued that it is impossible to prevent all evil and daft to try. You have a far, far higher chance of being murdered by a member of your own family than you have by a terrorist. Over the last 10 years terrorists have been responsible for almost exactly 1% of all murders in the UK. Let me type that again. In the last ten years terrorists have been responsible for almost exactly 1% of all murders in the UK. And about 0.007% of woundings. It remains true that the most likely person to kill you is in your own family. It is worth remembering that the number of people who died in the Charlie Hebdo atrocity was the same number murdered in France on average every week.

Now assuming the aim is to prevent murder rather than make propaganda, let us concentrate for a moment on – don’t worry, you will never in your life be asked to do this again, unless by me – let us concentrate on the 99% of murders which are not by terrorists. To take the John Sawers system, if we had permanent CCTV monitoring of every kitchen in the UK, we could probably prevent quite a few of those murders and a vast amount of non-fatal violence. It would take an enormous police and security service, of course, but we are getting there anyway. Sawers’ point is completely correct in logic – you cannot prevent all murders without massive surveillance of the innocent. It would have been even more correct if you just stopped the sentence at you cannot prevent all murders. Precisely the same is true of the tiny risk to individuals that is murder by terrorism.

The surest way to reduce the terrorist threat in the UK is to stop bombing or invading other countries. That simple fact needs to be screamed from the rooftops. The next thing you can do is solid old-fashioned evidence-based police and intelligence work. The least effective thing you can do is simply trawl the email and online chat of millions of people. That clogs up the intelligence system with a vast mound of undigestible information, and results in the conviction of fantasists and boastful men who, while unpleasant, are guilty of nothing but thought crime. It is exactly the same result as if you tackled murder by arresting everyone who in an email or chat wished harm to their husband or wife. It is wrong to express that, but the percentage who would have really gone on to murder would be vanishingly small.

The great worry is the presumption which is sneaking in to the mainstream media narrative that it is the responsibility of the state to prevent all crime before it happens. It is not, and that is not an achievable goal. The restrictions on liberty it would entail would do more damage to society than crime itself, which mankind has managed to live with since civilisation began. The entire debate around terrorism needs to be recalibrated. The answer is not the ultimate Big Brother surveillance state. The answer is to stop our hideous violence towards communities abroad.

Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi


January 22, 2015

RSIS CommentariesCOMMENTARY

 Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi (CO15016)

by BA Hamzah*

Synopsis

BA HamzahDespite some adverse comments, President Joko Widodo is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s “free and active foreign policy”. What may change during his tenure is the emphasis, orientation and strategy.

His challenge is how to execute his foreign policy without losing friends. Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts to continue the traditional regional diplomacy.

Commentary

OUTWARDLY PRESIDENT Joko Widodo’s policy of burning and sinking fishing vessels from friendly states for illegal fishing gives the impression that he cares less for regional diplomacy. His policy is a stark contrast to his predecessor President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s policy of “a million friends and zero enemies”. Yudhoyono has assiduously courted many friends over the last decade. In less than one hundred days, his successor, however, seems bent on leaving behind a different legacy.

indonesia-ship-kri-todak-Indonesian Navy Ship deployed to protect territorial waters

Although the action of burning fishing vessels is essentially a domestic matter, it has foreign policy implications. For states which have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with Indonesia on how to treat wayward fishermen, especially in disputed maritime space (such as with Malaysia), the action has ruffled diplomatic feathers as it breaches international norms and possibly the ethics of modern-day diplomacy.

What next?

Coupled with Jokowi’s observations on what appears to be Indonesia’s conditional support for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), for example, it is daunting to speculate what he will do in the next five years. Many critics (including Indonesians) have asked whether the new President is changing course, pursuing a new foreign policy orientation, or simply grabbing headlines for domestic consumption.

Notwithstanding all the nuances, I believe President Jokowi will keep Indonesia on an even keel. He is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s foreign policy. Jokowi is going to retain Indonesia’s independent posture known as the “free and active foreign policy”, which has guided Indonesia for so long. What may change during his tenure, though, is the emphasis, orientation and strategy to achieve the objective while strengthening his political grip domestically. In a way, he may give the impression that he cares less about diplomacy – but is he?

As Head of State, he is answerable to the Parliament on many issues. As such, he has to operate within certain institutional bounds. Under President Jokowi, Indonesia is not likely to dump membership in ASEAN, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), United Nations, World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On the contrary, Jakarta is likely to strengthen its role in all the multilateral institutions including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit and the Group of Twenty (G20), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and others. Rubbing shoulders with the world’s leading politicians is an essential part of diplomacy. More importantly, the national interests of Indonesia are better served by supporting their objectives.

Domestic support and diplomatic bridges

Just like his predecessors, Jokowi would not downplay the relevance of geography and geopolitics in the making of foreign policy. In a nation that is fast emerging as a middle power, Jokowi has to take into account demography and domestic politics, including managing rising nationalist sentiments in foreign policy making.

Jokowi-2Decisive Leadership

To be one among equals in the region, President Jokowi needs to formulate a pragmatic foreign policy. As he goes about strengthening his credentials at home, he should not burn the proverbial diplomatic bridges.

The seizure of the fishing vessels is Jokowi’s way of telling Indonesians that he is no pushover when it comes to defending the sovereignty and national resources of the state. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, in the long-run, the Indonesian Parliament is not likely to allow President Jokowi a free hand to undermine further Indonesia’s diplomatic credentials. Appealing to nationalist sentiments may have short-term advantages. However, it will not augur well with multilateralism in the global era.

One perennial complaint about Yudhoyono when he was in power was his indecisiveness. President Jokowi wants to be perceived as a decisive person, who does not always dance to the tune of big power politics. He will soon find out whether in an interdependent world, a reclusive nationalist is able to navigate through the rough seas all alone.

In the region, Jokowi will have to tread carefully in ASEAN waters. If he adopts a very aloof policy towards ASEAN, at a time when the organisation needs robust support from all, regional cooperation will take a back seat. Despite recent statements, there is no reason to expect Indonesia to abandon ASEAN, which has contributed positively to the political development of Indonesia since the New Order replaced Sukarno in 1966. To clear the air of uncertainty in the region, Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts as traditional diplomacy dictates.

Jokowi’s three-pronged maritime strategy

Since the time of President Suharto, Indonesia has had a moderating influence on ASEAN. For example, when the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh in July 2012 failed to adopt the traditional Joint Communiqué, the Indonesian foreign minister stepped in to save the day. Together with his counterpart from Singapore, they drafted ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea disputes.

To its credit, Indonesia has been instrumental in promoting the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC). Jakarta was also instrumental in establishing the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (1976) and Bali Concord II, which provided the foundation for the emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Due to be formalised by the end of this year, the AEC will not be realised without Indonesia.

Over China, President Jokowi walks a tight rope. No one expects Jokowi to shy away from criticising China for its expansive maritime claims that overlaps with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natuna islands. Nevertheless, demography, geopolitics, geography, economics and realpolitik dictate that Indonesia and China remain the best of friends. Moreover, Indonesia is considered the most acceptable party to engage with an assertive China in the South China Sea. For example, Jakarta can push for the conclusion of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It can also help moderate the Sino-US naval rivalry in the region.

President Jokowi’s policy of transforming the Indonesian maritime space is three-pronged. The first prong deals with strengthening internal resilience. The crackdown on illegal fishing is just one aspect of it. Upgrading the capabilities of the navy and air force is the second. The third prong involves the construction of some 24 deep-seaports across the entire archipelago as well as improving other support facilities in the maritime sector.

President Jokowi’s decision to upgrade the navy may exacerbate the ongoing regional naval arms race and make it more complex to manage regional security problems at sea, including the overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Besides Indonesia, Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also expanding their respective submarine fleets.

The challenge for President Jokowi is how to execute a robust maritime policy without losing friends in the region.

*B. A. Hamzah is a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. The views are personal. He contributed this specially to RSIS Commentary.

Tony Judt’s ‘When the Facts Change’


January 17, 2015

Tony Judt’s ‘When the Facts Change’

by Samuel Moyn

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/tony-judts-when-the-facts-change.html?ref=books&_r=0

Jennifer Homans aka Mrs Judt“The arc is down,” is how Jennifer Homans, the widow of Tony Judt and an eminent dance critic and historian, describes the age of cruel disappointment that followed the end of the Cold War. It was the era in which her husband was condemned to live out his last two decades before his untimely death at age 62 in 2010.

This new and presumably last of Judt’s collections of scintillating journalism runs the gamut of his interests, organized so the reader can relive that downward arc in his company. “When the Facts Change” ranges from the excitement of 1989 through the agonies of post-9/11 foreign policy to our parlous domestic circumstances after the financial crash. It also includes some of the pen portraits for which Judt was deservedly famous. Taken together, these essays also paint his own portrait.

In 1989, Judt was still a little-known chronicler of the French left.Tony Judt's Essays Descended from East European Jewry and raised in England before moving to New York, he soon finished “Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956,” which became his most prominent book in his original field. Its blistering outrage toward Jean-Paul Sartre and others who threw in their lot with Cold War Communism made Judt controversial, especially in leftist circles, though he must have known that opposing bad old choices hardly ruled out making brand new mistakes.

Then Judt pivoted. He had flirted with consigning public intellectuals of Sartre’s stripe to the dustbin of history, but now he was turning himself into one. He also met and married Homans, who has artfully curated this collection of his essays.

From his post at The New York Review of Books, where he first wrote in 1993 and ultimately became one of its most frequent contributors, Judt swept aside some of his old assumptions and faced new realities lucidly, transforming himself from a scourge of Communism into a critic of American empire. This collection is a reminder of Judt’s clear mind and prose and, as Homans says in her lovely introduction, his fidelity to hard facts and to honest appraisals of the modern scene.

One reality Judt called out was the post-9/11 shock of perpetual war, rather than perpetual peace. Judt likens America’s aggressive war on terror to the S.U.V. beloved of its citizens — an indulgent “anachronism” in a “crowded world” — and America’s foreign policy to “just an oversized pickup truck with too much power.” (A better means of transportation, Judt thought, were trains, which modern Americans refused to build — or ride — but which he considered the hallmark of European civilization at its best.) Americans had earned praise for their beneficence but foolishly squandered it, Judt concludes, forgetting “a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die.”

Then there was Israel. Judt’s bombshell essay, “Israel: The Alternative,” published in 2003 in The New York Review of Books and reprinted here, was a turning point in the history of American opinion on a complex topic. Like the S.U.V., Judt concludes, Israel is also an anachronism, though he had been an ardent youthful Zionist and worked as a translator during the Six-Day War of 1967. Diagnosing the limits of the two-state solution that had long monopolized public debate about the Middle East, Judt’s essay brought a storm of fury down on him, changed the boundaries of acceptable discourse and lost him friends.

Professor Tony Judt in his NYU officeYet today even his enemies miss him. “The war of ideas is not what it used to be,” one of them, Leon Wieseltier, lamented when contemplating the debate about the Middle East — and the rather unimpressive row of adversaries left to tangle with after Judt’s passing. At the time he wrote this, in 2013, Wieseltier was the literary editor of The New Republic, which he recently left. Judt, too, had been affiliated with The New Republic — as a contributing editor — but his name was removed from the magazine’s masthead after his Israel article appeared.

For a partisan, Judt was not prickly at all. I knew him slightly; after I charged him in The Nation with contradicting himself over the years, he characteristically befriended me. But first he wrote a letter to the editor addressing my allegation. “When the facts change, I change my mind,” he remarked. “What do you do?” A version of this comment is commonly attributed to one of Judt’s heroes, John Maynard Keynes (though Homans writes that “Tony did not really have heroes”). It now finds itself the title of this collection, thanks to Judt’s elder son, Daniel, Homans reports.

During his frantic, final bout of intellectual activism around the time of his diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Judt threw in his lot with social democracy. In his masterpiece “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945,” Judt chronicled how the welfare state had come to its European homeland. And in the face of contemporary market fundamentalism, he protests here that he is a conservative, husbanding the achievements of the Cold War. It is the libertarians who are the radicals. Fear, he insists, the fear of rising insecurity, should motivate us to retain our welfarist birthright.

The redistributive politics of the European welfare state had themselves been based on a fear of the weakness of liberal institutions. “A social democracy of fear is something to fight for,” Judt tells us. But the fear that once inspired justice also involved the internal threat of the working class and the external threat of the Soviets, and the task now is to figure out how to provide a functional equivalent of those fears without incurring their historically stupendous costs. Nostalgia was forgivable in a dying man, but the truth is that the European welfare state as it emerged after World War II cannot be rehabilitated. It was faulty in its time, leading to its own undoing, and cannot now be turned into a global fix. Among other things, it tended to confirm worldwide hierarchies in wealth (though moderating them for a few decades in North Atlantic countries).

Those who miss Judt’s invigorating role, even when they disagree with him, can find a piece here on options in the Middle East that Homans included even though Judt ultimately chose not to publish it. It is inconclusive. “It ought not to be beyond the intelligence of even the most hidebound local politicians to see the benefits of imaginative compromise,” Judt says. Yet so far, it has been. Like Judt’s moving elegy for social democracy, his writings on Israel show he was much better at posing vexing problems, and bringing them early and exigently before a wide public, than he was at finding solutions. But that can be said to be the intellectual’s proper role. And, after all, we are still living in the era Judt so courageously challenged for betraying the promises it might have kept.

Ours remains an era of forever war, one that both American liberals and conservatives agree to go on fighting, while restricting their wrangling to how best to justify it legally. In the Middle East, the “peace process,” itself little more than a euphemism for repetitive violence, is widely considered dead, even by many former supporters, but with no feasible alternative in sight. And a Frenchman Judt would have lauded, Thomas Piketty, has demonstrated that we live in a time of galloping inequality that our leaders choose not to correct. Even Barack Obama, Judt says, is “someone who would concede rather than confront — and that’s a shortcoming in a politician, if not in a man.”

If the arc is down, those who miss Judt cannot take solace in the thought that it will someday bend toward justice. The facts have not changed enough. No wonder this book, and Judt’s assumption of the role of political critic after the Cold War, remain so relevant.

_________________________

Israel: The Alternative

by Tony Judt

Israel’s behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy. With American support, Jerusalem has consistently and blatantly flouted UN resolutions requiring it to withdraw from land seized and occupied in war. Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. Washington’s unconditional support for Israel even in spite of (silent) misgivings is the main reason why most of the rest of the world no longer credits our good faith.–Tony Judt

The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.” Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?

At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming “nation-states,” territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, “ethnic” majority—defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three—at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.

But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades and a second world war. And thus it was only in 1948 that a Jewish nation-state was established in formerly Ottoman Palestine. But the founders of the Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel’s ethno-religious self-definition, and its discrimination against internal “foreigners,” has always had more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than either party might care to acknowledge.

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.

Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy “Samaria,” “Judea,” and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.

Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah.

Anyone who supposes that this third option is unthinkable above all for a Jewish state has not been watching the steady accretion of settlements and land seizures in the West Bank over the past quarter-century, or listening to generals and politicians on the Israeli right, some of them currently in government. The middle ground of Israeli politics today is occupied by the Likud. Its major component is the late Menachem Begin’s Herut Party. Herut is the successor to Vladimir Jabotinsky’s interwar Revisionist Zionists, whose uncompromising indifference to legal and territorial niceties once attracted from left-leaning Zionists the epithet “fascist.” When one hears Israel’s deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, proudly insist that his country has not excluded the option of assassinating the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, it is clear that the label fits better than ever. Political murder is what fascists do.

The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons. There are indeed Arab radicals who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean, but they represent no strategic threat to Israel, and the Israeli military knows it. What sensible Israelis fear much more than Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade is the steady emergence of an Arab majority in “Greater Israel,” and above all the erosion of the political culture and civic morale of their society. As the prominent Labor politician Avraham Burg recently wrote, “After two thousand years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality.”1 Unless something changes, Israel in half a decade will be neither Jewish nor democratic.

This is where the US enters the picture. Israel’s behavior has been a disaster for American foreign policy. With American support, Jerusalem has consistently and blatantly flouted UN resolutions requiring it to withdraw from land seized and occupied in war. Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. Washington’s unconditional support for Israel even in spite of (silent) misgivings is the main reason why most of the rest of the world no longer credits our good faith.

It is now tacitly conceded by those in a position to know that America’s reasons for going to war in Iraq were not necessarily those advertised at the time.2 For many in the current US administration, a major strategic consideration was the need to destabilize and then reconfigure the Middle East in a manner thought favorable to Israel. This story continues. We are now making belligerent noises toward Syria because Israeli intelligence has assured us that Iraqi weapons have been moved there—a claim for which there is no corroborating evidence from any other source. Syria backs Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad: sworn foes of Israel, to be sure, but hardly a significant international threat. However, Damascus has hitherto been providing the US with critical data on al-Qaeda. Like Iran, another longstanding target of Israeli wrath whom we are actively alienating, Syria is more use to the United States as a friend than an enemy. Which war are we fighting?

On September 16, 2003, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution asking Israel to desist from its threat to deport Yasser Arafat. Even American officials themselves recognize, off the record, that the resolution was reasonable and prudent, and that the increasingly wild pronouncements of Israel’s present leadership, by restoring Arafat’s standing in the Arab world, are a major impediment to peace. But the US blocked the resolution all the same, further undermining our credibility as an honest broker in the region. America’s friends and allies around the world are no longer surprised at such actions, but they are saddened and disappointed all the same.

Israeli politicians have been actively contributing to their own difficulties for many years; why do we continue to aid and abet them in their mistakes? The US has tentatively sought in the past to pressure Israel by threatening to withhold from its annual aid package some of the money that goes to subsidizing West Bank settlers. But the last time this was attempted, during the Clinton administration, Jerusalem got around it by taking the money as “security expenditure.” Washington went along with the subterfuge, and of $10 billion of American aid over four years, between 1993 and 1997, less than $775 million was kept back. The settlement program went ahead unimpeded. Now we don’t even try to stop it.

This reluctance to speak or act does no one any favors. It has also corroded American domestic debate. Rather than think straight about the Middle East, American politicians and pundits slander our European allies when they dissent, speak glibly and irresponsibly of resurgent anti-Semitism when Israel is criticized, and censoriously rebuke any public figure at home who tries to break from the consensus.

But the crisis in the Middle East won’t go away. President Bush will probably be conspicuous by his absence from the fray for the coming year, having said just enough about the “road map” in June to placate Tony Blair. But sooner or later an American statesman is going to have to tell the truth to an Israeli prime minister and find a way to make him listen. Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.

But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the “road map” says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen. Many of those settlers will die—and kill—rather than move. The last Israeli politician to shoot Jews in pursuit of state policy was David Ben-Gurion, who forcibly disarmed Begin’s illegal Irgun militia in 1948 and integrated it into the new Israel Defense Forces. Ariel Sharon is not Ben-Gurion.3

The time has come to think the unthinkable. The two-state solution—the core of the Oslo process and the present “road map”—is probably already doomed. With every passing year we are postponing an inevitable, harder choice that only the far right and far left have so far acknowledged, each for its own reasons. The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. That is indeed how the hard-liners in Sharon’s cabinet see the choice; and that is why they anticipate the removal of the Arabs as the ineluctable condition for the survival of a Jewish state.

But what if there were no place in the world today for a “Jewish state”? What if the binational solution were not just increasingly likely, but actually a desirable outcome? It is not such a very odd thought. Most of the readers of this essay live in pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural. “Christian Europe,” pace M. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is a dead letter; Western civilization today is a patchwork of colors and religions and languages, of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Indians, and many others—as any visitor to London or Paris or Geneva will know.4

Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethnoreligious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not—as its more paranoid supporters assert—because it is a Jewish state and no one wants the Jews to have a state; but because it is a Jewish state in which one community—Jews—is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.

For many years, Israel had a special meaning for the Jewish people. After 1948 it took in hundreds of thousands of helpless survivors who had nowhere else to go; without Israel their condition would have been desperate in the extreme. Israel needed Jews, and Jews needed Israel. The circumstances of its birth have thus bound Israel’s identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe. As a result, all criticism of Israel is drawn ineluctably back to the memory of that project, something that Israel’s American apologists are shamefully quick to exploit. To find fault with the Jewish state is to think ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide.

In the years after World War II, those many millions of Jews who did not live in Israel were often reassured by its very existence—whether they thought of it as an insurance policy against renascent anti-Semitism or simply a reminder to the world that Jews could and would fight back. Before there was a Jewish state, Jewish minorities in Christian societies would peer anxiously over their shoulders and keep a low profile; since 1948, they could walk tall. But in recent years, the situation has tragically reversed.

Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn’t do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions. Diaspora Jews cannot influence Israeli policies, but they are implicitly identified with them, not least by Israel’s own insistent claims upon their allegiance. The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel. The depressing truth is that Israel’s current behavior is not just bad for America, though it surely is. It is not even just bad for Israel itself, as many Israelis silently acknowledge. The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews.

In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one. In today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp.

To convert Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one would not be easy, though not quite as impossible as it sounds: the process has already begun de facto. But it would cause far less disruption to most Jews and Arabs than its religious and nationalist foes will claim. In any case, no one I know of has a better idea: anyone who genuinely supposes that the controversial electronic fence now being built will resolve matters has missed the last fifty years of history. The “fence”—actually an armored zone of ditches, fences, sensors, dirt roads (for tracking footprints), and a wall up to twenty-eight feet tall in places—occupies, divides, and steals Arab farmland; it will destroy villages, livelihoods, and whatever remains of Arab-Jewish community. It costs approximately $1 million per mile and will bring nothing but humiliation and discomfort to both sides. Like the Berlin Wall, it confirms the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect.

A binational state in the Middle East would require a brave and relentlessly engaged American leadership. The security of Jews and Arabs alike would need to be guaranteed by international force—though a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border.5 A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.

September 25, 2003

Letters

An Alternative Future: An Exchange December 4, 2003 …the fundamentalist clamor for a dominantly “Jewish” state—as pre-war Poland or Romania were ruthlessly “Polish” and “Romanian”—has increased over the years. “Affirmative action” for Jews has degenerated into crass discrimination against Israeli Arabs by means of punitive legislative as well as judicial, budgetary, and administrative measures.

1. See Burg’s essay, “La révolution sioniste est morte,” Le Monde, September 11, 2003. A former head of the Jewish Agency, the writer was speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, between 1999 and 2003 and is currently a Labor Party member of the Knesset. His essay first appeared in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot; it has been widely republished, notably in the Forward (August 29, 2003) and the London Guardian (September 15, 2003).

2.See the interview with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the July 2003 issue of Vanity Fair.

3. In 1979, following the peace agreement with Anwar Sadat, Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Sharon did indeed instruct the army to close down Jewish settlements in the territory belonging to Egypt. The angry resistance of some of the settlers was overcome with force, though no one was killed. But then the army was facing three thousand extremists, not a quarter of a million, and the land in question was the Sinai Desert, not “biblical Samaria and Judea.”

4. Albanians in Italy, Arabs and black Africans in France, Asians in England all continue to encounter hostility. A minority of voters in France, or Belgium, or even Denmark and Norway, support political parties whose hostility to “immigration” is sometimes their only platform. But compared with thirty years ago, Europe is a multicolored patchwork of equal citizens, and that, without question, is the shape of its future.

5. As Burg notes, Israel’s current policies are the terrorists’ best recruiting tool: “We are indifferent to the fate of Palestinian children, hungry and humiliated; so why are we surprised when they blow us up in our restaurants? Even if we killed 1000 terrorists a day it would change nothing.” See Burg, “La révolution sioniste est morte.”

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