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The great illusion

August 23rd, 2005

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, now apparently complete, and the IRA’s announcement that it has ended its armed campaign are notable events in themselves, and bring a little closer the end of two of the longest-running conflicts in the world today, though in both cases there are still plenty of problems

They’re also interesting in the bigger question of whether, and when, the strategy of pursuing political objectives by the use of force (terrorism, guerilla warfare, or conventional) makes sense. In Northern Ireland, and in Israel/Palestine we’ve seen this strategy pursued with vigour by different groups, and it’s reasonable to ask whether any of these groups is better off than if they had stuck to purely peaceful, or at least strictly defensive, methods.

Israel’s settlements in Gaza and the West Bank were set up partly in the hope of securing Israel proper against attack, and partly in pursuit of territorial expansion. Now, after the loss of many lives and the expenditure of vast amounts of money, the Gaza settlements have been abandoned, and it seems clear that the same will eventually happen to most of the settlements on the West Bank. Compare the actual outcome to an alternatives of either unilateral or negotiated withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Can anyone argue that Israel is better off with the approach it has taken.

On the Palestinian side, it seems most unlikely that the final settlement will be on better terms than those on offer at the Clinton-Barak-Arafat summit, and no obviosu reason to suppose that similar terms could not have been obtained years earlier if the PLO had been willing to offer them. Has the pursuit of the armed struggle yielded anything positive?

All the same points apply in relation to Ireland. The position the IRA is accepting now is essentially the same as that of the Sunningdale agreement in 1973. Extremists on both sides rejected this agreement and it collapsed. Thirty years later, neither side has achieved anything beyond entrenching violence and gangsterism (now effectively apolitical)/.

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  1. jbq
    August 23rd, 2005 at 22:47 | #1

    Somehow I don’t feel so positive: Sharon is a military man. Check out David Clark in Monday’s Guardian, also the NZ Herald today. I don’t think the West Bank will go the same way as Gaza.

  2. Andrew Reynolds
    August 24th, 2005 at 00:56 | #2

    jbq,
    Sharon, as a good military man, is trying to create facts on the ground with his wall ‘fence’ around sections of the West Bank. Given the Gaza strip is similarly enclosed and he is now withdrawing from it, the chances are that the next move is a similar one in the West Bank. The pity (and probably the plan) is that this will not really be a viable state given it has been balkanised in this way. I believe he will withdraw, but only to the defined lines.

    There is a long way to go yet.

  3. jquiggin
    August 24th, 2005 at 02:20 | #3

    I agree that Sharon’s intention is to create facts on the ground. But I think it’s a losing strategy, and that in the end, something close to Clinton-Barak will emerge.

    Closer to my central point, can anyone seriously claim that the bits of the West Bank Sharon is still trying to annexe are worth the blood and treasure Israel has spent to get and hold them. East Jerusalem is a special case, given the influence (baleful as usual) of religious and political irrendentism, but any rational strategy would involve treating everything else as a bargaining chip to be traded away at the appropriate time.

  4. abb1
    August 24th, 2005 at 02:29 | #4

    Israel’s settlements in Gaza and the West Bank were set up partly in the hope of securing Israel proper against attack…

    Excuse me? Could you elaborate, please.

    And here’s a good recent piece on the ‘Clinton-Barak-Arafat summit’: Camp David Redux.

    As to when the use of force makes sense, the answer is obvious: in self-defense.

  5. still working it out
    August 24th, 2005 at 08:36 | #5

    As the article abb1 links to points out, the Camp David offer was a joke. There was no point in the Palestinians accepting it. Signing it would have created the same situation we see today with the additional downside that the Palestinians would have given up their right to some sort of equitible settlement in the future.

    If something close Clinton Barak emerges anyway then the Israeli’s will be very happy and the Palestinians crying for a generation. I think you misunderstand the nature of that deal. Its almost everything Israel could reasonably hope to get allowing for the fact that the Palestinians will still be living within the borders of Israel/Palestine. The only way they could get a significantly better deal is if they actually carry out “transfer” (ie. ethnic cleansing) and physically force the Palestinians into neighbouring countries. Something which some member’s of the Israeli government have advocated (link)

    Whether the current outcome is worth the price in blood is can only be answered by the Israeli’s themselves but considering that Israel is a democracy and they have voted for the leaders that have lead them on the current path it is a bit presumtuous of us to claim to know the cost has been too high. But it is clear that Israel is better off territorially than it would be under any reasonable negotiated settlement. They still have complete control of Jeurusalem. They have defacto sovereignty of all the land they captured in the 1967 war. The Palestinians will soon be relatively easily controlled by locking them up in a series of cantons and Israel will be free to expand the West Bank settlements it decides to keep. What more could they ask for and get via negotiation?

  6. still working it out
    August 24th, 2005 at 08:55 | #6

    For anyone who thinks that the Gaza pullout is a prelude to a more like it in the West Bank this interview by one of Sharon’s closest aides in which he is embarrassingly frank should help clear things up.

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/objects/pages/PrintArticleEn.jhtml?itemNo=485491

    “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” he said. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”…..

    …Weisglass does not deny that the main achievement of the Gaza plan is the freezing of the peace process in a “legitimate manner.”

    “… what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.”

  7. Rob
    August 24th, 2005 at 09:02 | #7

    Great post, John. I completely agree. Neither side will ever get everything they want , and the more they insist on ‘all’ , the less they will eventually have to settle for. Terror accomplishes nothing but a hardening and escalation of conflicting and murderous ambition on both sides. The IRA could have abandoned the armed struggle and opted for the political a generation ago, and the Palestinians could have had their state in 1948 and again in 2000. Both would have been better off had they done so. Not a perfect solution in either case, but half a loaf is better than no bread.

  8. Katz
    August 24th, 2005 at 09:05 | #8

    JQ, to return to an old theme: the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 was remarkable only for the bad faith of all signatories. This bad faith mocked the liberal intentions of the Sunningdale Agreement.

    Immediately, Ulster authorities and British forces in Northern Ireland conspired with Unionist paramilitary groups to make the agreement unworkable. The British Government did nothing to prevent the collapse of this agreement on the ground in Northern Ireland.

    The IRA and Sinn Fein reached three very logical conclusions:

    1. There was no reason to expect that Nationalist quietism would cause a change of heart on the part of Ulster’s Unionist majority, or on the part of their sympathisers in Britain.

    2. The Nationalist segment of the Northern Irish population could be persuaded to support violence. They this conclusion proved to be correct, to the detriment of the SDLP.

    3. The British Government could be persuaded to withdraw its de facto support for Unionist paramilitaries. This process took longer and with several U-Turns from Mrs No U-Turns Thatcher herself. But eventually a few well-placed bombs in London’s financial district (at the time London was facing a challenge from Frankfurt as the premier financial centre of Europe) persuaded Major and then Blair that they might have to talk to Jerry Adams.

    So, yes, Ireland has returned to the words and constructions of the Sunningdale Agreement 33 years late.

    But, it is important to note that violence and terrorism seem to have been efficacious in inducing the requisite determination to turn fine words into concrete actions.

    Sometimes terrorism works.

  9. jquiggin
    August 24th, 2005 at 09:28 | #9

    “Sometimes terrorism works.”

    Katz, I think this is almost always wrong, and certainly so in these cases. In the 30 years since Sunningdale, for example, the Soviet Union has collapsed, as have dictatorships in Spain, Greece, Portugal, Indonesia etc etc. In none of the cases I’ve mentioned (and I could list heaps more) was terrorism a significant force [except as a pretext for dictatorships holding on to power longer].

    Meanwhile, the armed movements on both sides of the NI struggle have pursued terrorism (and, as you point out, the British government under Thatcher tried to match them), and have gone nowhere.

    Its absurd to suggest that British support for Unionist paramilitaries would have continued indefinitely in the absence of IRA terrorism. Outside a small core of Tory Unionists, most Brits have been sick of the whole business for decades. If it weren’t for the IRA, they would have blamed it all on the Unionists, and acted accordingly (and vice versa of course).

    The same points apply, almost verbatim to Israel-Palestine.

  10. Katz
    August 24th, 2005 at 09:46 | #10

    JQ,

    1. The British electorate had ignored the destruction of Catholic civil rights in Ulster for centuries. So long as this fact didn’t inconvenience them, they didn’t care at all. You’re right that “indefinitely” is a long time indeed. I don’t think I have ever argued that anything lasts forever.

    But how long is too long?

    2. All of the cases you mention of regime change were inspired by a notion of the equal rights of all people. South Africa, the segregationist South of the USA, the Warsaw Ghetto, Ireland, Israel, India, Sri Lanka, all contained minorities (sometimes majorities) of people whose human dignity was denied by popular consensus of a majority or at least a powerful minority of the national population.

    Terrorism is a way of insisting on common humanity.

  11. derrida derider
    August 24th, 2005 at 10:47 | #11

    On NI, what has changed is demography and (especially) economics. Catholics are now a near majority in NI, and Eire is prosperous. Eire’s prosperity is the more important factor as it reduces the fears of the loyalists and gets rid of the chip on the shoulder of nationalists – ancient feuds are increasingly irrelevant in a globalised and rich economy (this, BTW, is the long term electoral threat to Sinn Fein – as the Irish stop pitying themselves they’ll stop voting for the guardians of self-pity).

    IRA terror or British repression had very little to do with either of these – if anything it just delayed the prosperity. There’s a lesson here for both Israelis and Palestinians.

    The other lesson, from the failure of the Sunningdale agreement, is that bad faith makes it very difficult to achieve *future* deals. Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton-Barak deal was not so much because he thought it a bad one (he must have known the Taba offer was about as good as he’d ever get) as that he didn’t trust future Israeli governments to honour it. He had the precedent of Sharon using his housing policy in the early 90s to deliberately sabotage the Oslo accords.

  12. Rob
    August 24th, 2005 at 11:15 | #12

    “Terrorism is a way of insisting on common humanity.”

    That’s a fitting epitaph for the victims of 9/11, and of the Tamil Tigers, Hamas, PIJ, Iraqi insurgents, Jemaah Islamiyeh, Haganah, the Stern Gang, the IRA, the ETA, the Klu Klux Klan and the Spanish Inquisition. I wonder how many would feel comforted by it.

  13. Katz
    August 24th, 2005 at 11:27 | #13

    Rob,

    If you reread my comments carefully, I think you’ll recognise the following:

    1. I don’t believe that all terrorism is logical.

    2. I don’t believe that all terrorism is successful.

    3. I don’t believe that all terrorism is an appropriate response to a situation.

    So I’d appreciate it if you wish to address my arguments, actually address my arguments, and not some fanciful straw man conjured into existence by a half-cocked sense of moral outrage.

  14. Bill Posters
    August 24th, 2005 at 11:27 | #14

    Terrorism works all right – but for whom? This entire argument seems predicated on the concept that the interests of, say, the leaders of the IRA, are the same as the interests of the Catholics they claim to represent.

    Terror bought the IRA a place at the table; now its leaders get a share of the spoils.

  15. StephenL
    August 24th, 2005 at 11:40 | #15

    I very much agree with the general thrust of your piece JQ. However, I don’t think you understand the position of a powerful minority within Israel, for whom substantial tracts of the West Bank are close to as important as East Jerusalem.

    For this group, getting to grab a few square kilometres here and there beyond what was offered by Barak is worth vast amounts of blood (particularly since the blood shed is mostly Palestinian, which they don’t care about, or of other elements in the Israeli population, who they often don’t care much for either).

    One of the great tragedies is that the settler movement and it’s supporters, despite being a minority in almost every opinion poll, have managed to manipulate the majority of Israelis to their ends. Every act of terrorism from the other side has assisted in this. Most Israelis want to give the land back, but don’t want to be seen as being “soft on terrorism”.

    I am not sure how things look from the Palastinian side, whether there are things that are realistically achievable, and seen as highly desirable, that were not on offer in one of the peace proposals, but regretabbly from *some* Israeli perspectives violence has genuinely improved their position at a price they will happily pay.

    I can’t however, see Katz’s point at all about “terrorism being a way of insisting on common humanity”. In almost every case I can think of (the Warsaw Ghetto being a rare exception) terrorism only helped achieve one’s goals, if one’s goals included denying the humanity of the another group of people.

  16. Katz
    August 24th, 2005 at 12:25 | #16

    StephenL

    How about the following?

    1. The original Spanish guerrillas vs Napoleonic forces

    2. John Brown and the raid on Harper’s Ferry

    3. The ANC vs apartheid

    4. Partisans all over Nazi-occupied Europe

    5. The US forces burning down British-occupied New York City (Twice)

    6. Algerians vs French

    7. Viet Cong vs a range of folks

    My list is at least as long as

    All terroristic, all on the winning side, even though, like the Warsaw Ghetto, sometimes initially unsuccessful.

    Sometimes terrorist tactics serve positive military objectives.

    Sometimes terrorism is productive of potent myths that galvanise wider movements.

  17. Rob
    August 24th, 2005 at 12:33 | #17

    OK, Katz, but what do you mean by “Terrorism is a way of insisting on common humanity”, as opposed to a spur for inducing political dialogue (which is a separate debate in itself). You’re taking it into a (virtuous) moral dimension here, and I’d like to know what you mean.

  18. Katz
    August 24th, 2005 at 12:59 | #18

    Good question Rob.

    Many ideologies, including religious particularism, pre-scientific and scientific racisms, and sexism, are founded on the principle that the Despised Other is less than human. In other words, it is argued that not only is it OK to discriminate and even destroy the Despised Other, it is the duty of the group that asserts superiority to discriminate and even destroy the Despise Other.

    When folks are powerfully committed to these ideologies, often the only way to get them to change their ways, if not their ideas, is to give them a good flogging.

    This thinking guided the Grand Alliance against both the Nazis and against Japanese fascism. This thinking guided and justified the biggest acts of terrorism ever committed: the Terror Bombing (that’s what is was called officially) of German and Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The objective in all these cases was to insist that innately our enemies are neither better nor worse than us. Rather, they are human beings who must abjure gravely dangerous and destructive opinions about other human beings.

  19. still working it out
    August 24th, 2005 at 12:59 | #19

    Katz,

    I’d add Jewish terrorism against the British forces to above list. It got them out of Israel.

  20. jquiggin
    August 24th, 2005 at 13:15 | #20

    It takes more than being on the winning side to show that action was justified. Taking Vietnam as an example, if the Vietcong had wanted a capitalist and undemocratic government, like the one they have now, they could have got it without thirty years of war and millions of deaths.

    And it’s hard to see that the average Algerian has benefitted much from the battle of Algiers.

    But of course, the same is true in spades as regards the French and their attempts to establish and hold on to an empire.

    I’m not so much concerned with the distinction between terrorism and state warfare as with the generally counterproductive nature of reliance on force. Even when it appears to work, it usually doesn’t.

    The only other post-1945 case in your list was the ANC and their success relied much more on international political successes which would have been undermined if they had extended their military campaign to include the kinds of terror attacks undertaken by the other groups we’ve been discussing. Their official line was to attack strictly military targets and mostly they stuck to that.
    Although it’s implausible to suggest that a policy of non-violent resistance could have been sustained in the face of the kind of oppression dealt out by apartheid, there’s no strong reason to suppose that the armed campaign played a major role.

  21. Mike Pepperday
    August 24th, 2005 at 13:22 | #21

    Rob said: “The IRA could have abandoned the armed struggle and opted for the political a generation ago”

    I am pretty ignorant about NI but I have a problem with this and similar sentiments elsewhere in the discussion.

    It seems to me they’d tried the political for 50 years. How long do you give it? At some point you have to say politics has failed. On this reading, the armed struggle was a response to failure.

    Standard democratic political institutions were set up in 1920. Stock standard, as far as I know. This yielded what some have called the most stable govt in the west. Then it blew up.

    The political struggle hadn’t worked and wouldn’t work; it had resulted in the repression of Catholics. Politics by other means was called for. I don’t know if it has been successful or whether it was worth it but at the time, what else could they do?

  22. Rob
    August 24th, 2005 at 13:29 | #22

    Katz, I’m dense today and trying to keep up. But please – if the atomic attacks on Japan were ‘terrorism’, how did they demonstrate that “Terrorism is a way of insisting on common humanityâ€?? Was the extermination of European Jewry terrorism? If so, how did it demonstrate such (i.e. ‘common humanity’)?

  23. Hal9000
    August 24th, 2005 at 14:00 | #23

    It is artificial to isolate terrorism from the context in which it occurs. Most national liberation movements have incorporated an element of armed struggle, which would qualify as terrorism under any definition. From the original Minutemen in the US to the Mau Mau, liberation fighters have been terrorists. There’s nothing like a challenge to the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence to draw attention to your cause. What distinguishes these movements from, say, the Weathermen or the RAF or Bakunin’s anarchists, is that they sprang from a genuine wellspring of popular support – people don’t like being colonised and treated as second class citizens in their own land. The Weathermen et al all assumed on theoretical grounds that the capitalist system would fall like Lenin’s ripe fruit if given the slightest prod.

    I think we can distinguish between the Palestinians and AQ on much the same grounds. The context of violent activities helps to make the distinction. I can’t recall any Palestinian actions outside the Levant, whereas AQ operates on a global and symbolic level.

    I’d take issue with your characterisation of the Algerian, Vietnamese etc movements as failures, JQ. While their standards of governance may be little different from the colonial regimes they ousted, I think you ought to afford some value to the pride they acquire from at least misruling themselves rather than having a crew of racist foreigners doing it for them.

    To finish where I started, it’s noteworthy that the ANC’s adoption of violent struggle followed the bloody suppression of non-violent struggle (Sharpeville massacre). Without the adoption of violent struggle we’d never have heard of Nelson Mandela and I doubt very much whether we’d have seen the international mobilisation that eventually toppled apartheid. The IRA campaign began after peaceful protests were violently suppressed. Similarly, before the first Intifada in Palestine, decades of non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation had yielded international indifference and intensification of the colonial project. Since they adopted a popular violent struggle, we have seen at least lip service being paid to a ‘peace process’, and certainly much more international attention being focused on their plight. In summary, terrorist violence that has roots in widespread grievance arising from violent oppression is probably an unavoidable element in a struggle for justice.

    Which is, I’m afraid, in the end a limp argument: if only people were more reasonable, we wouldn’t need courts or prisons. If only violent oppressors took notice of peaceful protest…

  24. Stapo
    August 24th, 2005 at 14:13 | #24

    With respect to the Palestinians resorting to violence as a response to Israeli settlements, I think asking if “final settlement will be on better terms than those on offer at the Clinton-Barak-Arafat summit� is setting the benchmark at a recent and fairly arbitrary point given the number of other points of settlement during the dispute.

    It’s not surprising that the Palestinians would look at Jewish and Israeli use of force to acquire land over the longer term and conclude that given its success it has merit. Remember that in the British Mandate Government census of 1922 Jews accounted for 11% of the population in Palestine and by 1946 Jews accounted for 33% of the population http://www.israelipalestinianprocon.org/ At this time the Palestinian population was reasonably evenly distributed across what is now Israel.

    The 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict resulted in around 750,000 Palestinians fleeing their homes to become refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and surrounding countries. The population of the newly created state of Israel in 1949 was 86% Jewish. Subsequently the 1967 war saw Israel annex the West Bank that had been held Jordan and Gaza that had been held by Egypt, both since the 1948 war. The 1967 war also resulted in a significant number of Palestinian refugees from Gaza and the West Bank into surrounding countries. Israel has consistently refused to allow Palestinians to return to their homes in Israel.

    Avi Shlaim is a fellow of St. Antony’s College and a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, this is from an interview at http://www.merip.org/mer/mer223/223_shlaim_interview.html

    Interviewer:
    In the US-led peace negotiations of the last few years, there has been an insistent denial that the past has, or should have, any bearing on the present. What do you, as an historian, think of the prospects of negotiations which declare that the past is off limits?

    Avi Shlaim:
    Americans in positions of power, like the American public, don’t know history. One of my American students in a discussion of this conflict said, “This is past history.” As if history could be anything other than past. But his point was: “Let’s talk about the here and now, and not what happened in the past.” Not knowing history, Americans cannot make any sense of the situation in the Middle East.

    Edward Said has pointed out that [the 1993 Oslo agreement] only addresses the problems and issues raised by the Israeli victory of 1967. It doesn’t touch the root of the problem, which is what happened in 1948, or the rights of the original refugees. Now, other Americans don’t want to raise the problems raised in 1967, let alone the problems going back to 1948.

    There are consequences to this. Because Americans rarely make any reference to 1948 or 1967, it’s very difficult for them to understand what a huge compromise the Palestinians made in signing Oslo and agreeing to a two-state solution. They don’t really grasp that the Palestinians have already given up their claim to 78 percent of mandatory Palestine and are only insisting that they get the remaining 22 percent, the West Bank and Gaza. Even there, they’re prepared to compromise even further, but not much further than this.

  25. Andrew Reynolds
    August 24th, 2005 at 15:05 | #25

    Hal9000,
    There is a very clear distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter – a terrorist deliberately targets non-combatant civilians as an instrument of policy. A freedom fighter does not. Civilians may be wounded or killed as ‘collateral damage’ (to use US military speak) in a freedom fight, but they are the targets in a terrorist attack. If the IRA, for example, had restricted its attacks to military bases and military personel, they may well have been freedom fighters. Planting a truck bomb in the middle of the city of London is not the action of a freedom fighter.
    .
    Stapo,
    I think that the problem in the upper echelons of the US government is that their view on history from the region is too long – not too short. They look at Jerusalem and see the biblical capital of the Jewish people, not Al-Quds, the (believed) place of the ascent of the Prophet (PBUH) and capital of Palestine. What happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945 is also factored in for the sympathy factor (and sympathy is merited), together with a vocal US voting bloc and the Palestinian people get the raw end.
    However, the reason why 1948 was allowed to occur also merits a look. The Jews were ready to accept the UN resolution, giving about 50/50 split – the Palestinians and the other Arabs in the area were not. They went to war to get all of it and lost, giving the 1948 borders and alot of the current problems.

  26. August 24th, 2005 at 15:45 | #26

    jquiggin Says: August 24th, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    I’m not so much concerned with the distinction between terrorism and state warfare as with the generally counterproductive nature of reliance on force. Even when it appears to work, it usually doesn’t.

    As a, somewhat Dovishly reconstructed, Hawk I tend to agree with Pr Q’s skepticism about force as a worthwhile way to resolve serious political conflicts. Recent history shows that reliance on force as an efficient and equitable way to achieve national liberation against colonial domination is vastly overrated.

    The citizens of occupying nations have been mostly glad for the chance to retire their forces with an honourable peace. This is especially so in the modern era where states – mostly composed of media-savvy, post-feminist registered voters – appetite for empire is not exactly huge. Most nationalist terrorists activity only succeeded in increasing the determination of the imperialist occupiers to stay the course etc.

    I cant think of one recent (ie post WWII) national liberation struggle conducted by a Third World nation against either a First (democratic) or Second (despotic) World power that did produced any net good. Vietnam and Algeria were both bloody quagmires. Afghanistan’s nationalists turned out to be more trouble than they were worth.

    The only counter-examples that really come to mind were the Asian nationalists who sprang up, in the aftermath of European decolonization, to fight Japanese imperialists. Many of these movements seem to have done a reasonable job running Asian Pacific nations eg the Four Tigers. But I am not sure if these examples fit the debate.

    The 800 lb gorilla in the pro-war side argument is the decolonization of India. India’s national rulers came to power in the course of a struggle which explicitly renounced violence. Her non-violent path to self-determination was an unambiguous success, as her latter peaceful and free civil evolution shows.

  27. Andrew Reynolds
    August 24th, 2005 at 15:57 | #27

    Jack,
    Problem with India was what happened after – more deaths (possibly) than all other freedom movements (you can probably throw in terrorism as well) combined. The partition into India and Pakistan and later into Pakistan and Bangladesh were both particularly bloody.
    Holding this one up as a 800lb (or is it 364kg) gorilla is only likely to get you crushed.

  28. Hal9000
    August 24th, 2005 at 15:59 | #28

    Andrew Reynolds – your distinction is superficially convincing. However, the Mau Mau selected settler families (as indeed did the native Americans) as targets of symbolism, choice and opportunity. Terrorism is always and everywhere the weapon of the weak. You don’t attack the enemy where he is strongest – ie the armed forces – unless you can be sure of success. At any event, I fail to see the moral distinction between the King David Hotel bombing to assassinate the UN envoy Bernadotte (perpetrator: Y Shamir, latterday freedom fighter and Israeli PM) that collaterally killed some 90 innocents, and a Palestinian suicide bus bombing that rips to pieces a couple of Israeli part-time soldiers and collaterally kills a dozen innocents. I think you’ll also find that the law draws no distinction in culpability between an action with foreseeable disproportionate fatal consequences on civilians and deliberate targeting of those self-same civilians. The distinction is a facile one, developed in recent times to exculpate those who deal mass death from the safety of airconditioned cockpits and those who blow themselves up with their victims. If you’re happy for uniformed death-dealers to drop napalm and cluster bombs on urban areas, as in Fallujah, then I suggest your hand-wringing about the evil of suicide terrorists may represent a double standard. Time was, the civilised world was quite rightly horrified by the Guernica aerial bombing – an event that by today’s debased standards is commonplace.

  29. Katz
    August 24th, 2005 at 16:04 | #29

    “It takes more than being on the winning side to show that action was justified. Taking Vietnam as an example, if the Vietcong had wanted a capitalist and undemocratic government, like the one they have now, they could have got it without thirty years of war and millions of deaths.”

    JQ, pretty much Dr Samuel Johnson’s sentiments as expressed in “The Vanity of Human Wishes” in 1749.

    http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/vanity49.html

    But being vain human beings, who peer in vain into the future, we just don’t know what’s going to happen next, apart from certain supernaturally ordained inevitables, as outlined by Johnson:

    “Yet with the Sense of sacred Presence prest,
    When strong Devotion fills thy glowing Breast,
    Pour forth thy Fervours for a healthful Mind,
    Obedient Passions, and a Will resign’d;
    For Love, which scarce collective Man can fill;
    For Patience sov’reign o’er transmuted Ill;
    For Faith, that panting for a happier Seat,
    Thinks Death kind Nature’s Signal of Retreat:
    These Goods for Man the Laws of Heav’n ordain,
    These Goods he grants, who grants the Pow’r to gain;
    With these celestial Wisdom calms the Mind,
    And makes the Happiness she does not find.”

    So unless you believe that God will reward adequately these quieter virtues as a recompense for declining vainly to labour for too much, then perhaps even the off-chance of success justifies the effort.

    I know you don’t want to talk about football, but Brisbane didn’t know that they were going to get spanked, otherwise they may not have turned up to compete with Port.

  30. Hal9000
    August 24th, 2005 at 17:09 | #30

    Just picked up this from Ha’aretz by Amira Hass…

    “For the sake of about half a percent of the population of the Gaza Strip, a Jewish half-percent, the lives of the remaining 99.5 percent were totally disrupted and destroyed – worthy of wonderment indeed. And also amazing is how most of the other Israelis, who did not go themselves to settle the homeland, suffered this reality and did not demand that their government put an end to it – before the Qassams.”

    So it seems the Palestinian terrorists’ homemade rockets did the trick that decades of political action and peaceful protest could not, at least according to one of the most respected Israeli journalists.

  31. August 24th, 2005 at 18:14 | #31

    Andrew Reynolds Says: August 24th, 2005 at 3:57 pm

    The violence that attended the Indian sub-continent was not caused by the sides, either nationalist terrorists or imperialist oppressors, contending India’s mode of decolonization. It was caused by Pakistani Moslems and Indian Hindu fundamentalists and ethnic cleansers contending the division of the post-colonial spoils. This is an example of the impossiblility of a (seriously) multicultural polity functioning as a civil constitutional state.

  32. Ian Gould
    August 24th, 2005 at 20:33 | #32

    >On the Palestinian side, it seems most unlikely that the final settlement will be on better terms than those on offer at the Clinton-Barak-Arafat summit, and no obviosu reason to suppose that similar terms could not have been obtained years earlier if the PLO had been willing to offer them. Has the pursuit of the armed struggle yielded anything positive?

    I detested Arafat ( having a friend narrowly escape a suicide bombing will do that) however I’ve never been sure whether he rejected that offer because he could do better or because Palestinian popular opinion would have overwhelmingly rejected it.

  33. Rob
    August 24th, 2005 at 21:00 | #33

    “I can’t recall any Palestinian actions outside the Levant”

    Munich 1972, Hal9000?

  34. abb1
    August 25th, 2005 at 05:14 | #34

    John Quiggin,
    suppose you’re being gang-raped.

    You could try fighting – using all means avaliable to you (most of them unsportsmanlike, I presume). Or you could relax and try to enjoy it.

    What is your best strategy in pursuing your personal objectives in this case?

    And now, what strategy do you think you would’ve chosen if this really did happen?

    Did you live in Derry during the Troubles? How much time have you spent in Gaza city? Was your kid brother shot and killed by a foreign soldier?

  35. jquiggin
    August 25th, 2005 at 07:40 | #35

    abb1, given a reasonable chance of success, it’s worth fighting in immediate self-defence, but in most of the cases we’re discussing, this is not the issue.

    I assume your rhetorical questions apply equally if you substitute Shankill Road for Derry, terrorist for foreign soldier and so forth. So what conclusion do you draw? That both sides in these conflicts should keep on fighting? Or that one side is so obviously in the right that its actions at every point are justified?

  36. Ian Gould
    August 25th, 2005 at 08:28 | #36

    Andrew Reynolds wrote: “Sharon, as a good military man, is trying to create facts on the ground with his wall ‘fence’ around sections of the West Bank.”

    I’m by no means certain this is the case.

    The current route of the wall leaves most of the West Bank settlements on the Palestinian side. The insanely convoluted path of the wall and its shoddy construction make it difficult to see it as a defensible border – at one point it was almost obligatory for western TV journalists covering the wall to squeeze through it or climb over it.

    I believe the wall serves two purposes:

    1. It was a way for the Israeli government to be seen to be responding to suicide bombings.

    2. It fits into a pattern of harassment of East Jerusalem’s Arab population intended to induce them to leave the city.

  37. Ian Gould
    August 25th, 2005 at 08:33 | #37

    Rob,

    In your list substitute: the Burmese People’s Anti-Japanese Army; Pemuda; Irgun Zion; the Afghan Mujahadeen; the French resistance; the Hungarian fighers in 1956 and the ANC.

  38. Ian Gould
    August 25th, 2005 at 08:37 | #38

    “For this group, getting to grab a few square kilometres here and there beyond what was offered by Barak is worth vast amounts of blood (particularly since the blood shed is mostly Palestinian, which they don’t care about, or of other elements in the Israeli population, who they often don’t care much for either).”

    If and when Israel achieves peace with its neighbours; it will then have to resolve the internal conflict between the ultra-religious and the secular majority.

    The arab-Israeli conflict has been a useful way of avoiding dealing with issues like 35 year old Yehsivniks with 10 kids who are exempt from military service; collect massive amounts of welfare and enjoy lavishly subsidised housing in the West Bank.

  39. Ian Gould
    August 25th, 2005 at 08:45 | #39

    >Many ideologies, including religious particularism, pre-scientific and scientific racisms, and sexism, are founded on the principle that the Despised Other is less than human. In other words, it is argued that not only is it OK to discriminate and even destroy the Despised Other, it is the duty of the group that asserts superiority to discriminate and even destroy the Despise Other.

    >When folks are powerfully committed to these ideologies, often the only way to get them to change their ways, if not their ideas, is to give them a good flogging.

    When the Dutch ruled Indonesia, they deliberated cultivated the idea of themselves as a superior race. In soem areas, such as the Moluccas, they had hundreds of years to do this.

    Pemuda, the Indonesian nationalist movement led by Sukarno which collaborated with the Japanese during WWII, set out to destroy that myth.

    They publicly humiliated Dutch civilians and paraded Dutch POWs and those from other Causasian countries (including Australia) before the people in order to achieve that. Floggings and public executions were used.

    It wasn’t terrorism per se but it was a horrific experience for the people caught up in it – and Pemuda was ultimately successful.

    Does anyone want to argue that Dutch colonial rule of Indonesia should have continued to the present?

  40. Ian Gould
    August 25th, 2005 at 08:48 | #40

    “There is a very clear distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter – a terrorist deliberately targets non-combatant civilians as an instrument of policy. A freedom fighter does not.”

    So was Menachem Begin a terrorist? In answering, refer specifically to the Roem Embassy bombing.

  41. Ian Gould
    August 25th, 2005 at 08:54 | #41

    >I think that the problem in the upper echelons of the US government is that their view on history from the region is too long – not too short. They look at Jerusalem and see the biblical capital of the Jewish people, not Al-Quds, the (believed) place of the ascent of the Prophet (PBUH) and capital of Palestine.

    I am regularly appalled by the sheer ignorance of people (on both sides of this debate) who feel confident asserting their views but who, for example, don’t know the difference between Sephardim and Ashgenazim or don’t know there are Palestinian Christian (and Jewish) minorities.

  42. still working it out
    August 25th, 2005 at 09:34 | #42

    “however I’ve never been sure whether he rejected that offer because he could do better or because Palestinian popular opinion would have overwhelmingly rejected it.”

    This is the point which Israeli’s and Americans don’t seem to understand. Agreements that are made with the Palestinian leaders, rather than with the Palestinian people as a whole, are not of any value. If a settlement does not have broad support among the Palestinian population then it can be vetoed by any group that takes up suicide bombing again.

    I suspect that alot of the more right wing and cynical members of the Israeli government understand this which is why they have no problem making offers like the one at Camp David which they know are unacceptable. If they are turned down, what’s the loss? If they are accepted by the senior Palestinians, even better. The senior Palestinian leadership loses credibility with its own people and the agreement will be violated by Hamas or whichever terrorist group is flavour of the month. The violation will give Israel just cause to go back on any promises they have made and improves the relative position of Israel in world popular opinion by showing the Palestinians to be unable abide by agreements. It also increases support within Israel for the more confrontational approach favoured by the right wingers and settlers by showing the Palestinians cannot be trusted.

    This is why the view that turning down the Camp David offer was a mistake is incorrect. It offered very little, would not have lasted and made concessions that would have been very difficult to take back in any future negotiations. The Palestinian position is horrible today, but only as bad as it would be if the Camp David offer had been accepted without the costs of that agreement, small comfort though that is.

  43. still working it out
    August 25th, 2005 at 09:49 | #43

    “If and when Israel achieves peace with its neighbours; it will then have to resolve the internal conflict between the ultra-religious and the secular majority.”

    IMHO this will have be the other way around. I doubt that Israel will be able to make a lasting peace agreement until the secular part of Israeli society decides the cost of accomadating the desires of the ultra-religous is too high.

    Or, alternatively and tragically, Israel loses so much support from secular Jews in the diaspora and secular Israeli’s (through emigration) that they are no longer strong enough to dictate terms to the Palestinians. Although it is debatable whether this second alternative will lead to peace.

  44. August 25th, 2005 at 13:03 | #44

    They’re also interesting in the bigger question of whether, and when, the strategy of pursuing political objectives by the use of force (terrorism, guerilla warfare, or conventional) makes sense.

    Pr Q is addressing the great question of which mode of conflict resolution – pacifism or militarism – is better at achieving decent civil political outcomes for the populus on both sides in clan (ethnological) conflicts. This would include imperial-colonial conflicts with an ethnic remnant or national-provincial conflicts with an ethnic secessionist movement. Pacifism is here understood as all non-violent modes of political behaviour modification, including economic and diplomatic measures.

    I assume that most people would agree with Pr Q’s implied argument that no class (ideological) or sect (theological) conflicts justify recourse to the use of violence. I assume also that most people would agree with a nation states right to self-defence in the classic case of unprovoked international aggression.

    Pr Q seems to be arguing that pacifism is always and everwhere a better mode of conflict resolution, at least in fights where there seems to be right on both sides. This is because pacifism leads to superior ex poste outcomes, which the populus on both sides would have chosen had they the opportunity of assessing the non-violent counterfactual before the elite resorted to arms.

    This implies that militarism is only popular ex ante because it relies on the illusion of a cheap and satisfying victory, or a noble martyrdom for a just cause. The empirical assumption behind this reasoning is that the decision to go to war always includes hidden costs and unintended consequences which fool the uninformed members of the populus, or deluded members of the elite, into thinking they can get away with murder.

    So the question remains: is there any ethnic conflict that has been resolved by militarism in such a way that the populus on either, or both, sides are ex poste satisfied with the outcome? And, conversely, has there been any ethnic conflict that has not been resolved by pacifism, such that the populus on one side or the otherr is ex poste dissatsified with the outcome?

    The national independence of India is the great success story of pacifism. The Tibetan independence movement seems to have reached a dead end with pacifism so far. Alhough, had they gone the militarist (terrorist) way they would probably be worse off.

    The Indonesian national independence movement seems to be one case of a a successful politico-military force that used a reasonable economy of violence to achieve aims satisfactory to the populus. Even so, wikipedia reports that about 150,000 Indonesians and 6,000 Dutch died in the independence struggle. They might have lived had Sukarno and the Dutch been prepared to negotiate the inevitable decolonisation at a more stately pace.

    Pr Q supplies a multitude of examples where other ethnic conflicts have led to far bloodier and less satisfactory outcomes. So I conclude that Pr Q’s argument against militarism in pursuit of ethnic political goals is validated.

    And, as always, this means that any move towards multiculutural polities, which always presents the danger of violent ethnic seperatism, must be resisted absolutely and completely.

  45. Katz
    August 25th, 2005 at 13:54 | #45

    Jack’s at it again.

    Having donned Marcus Porcius Cato’s much-loved and much-worn toga, Jack declaims: “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”.

    1. Who decided that decolonisation of Indonesia was “inevitable”? Nothing is inevitable until the loser decides to discontinue struggle. And, not being possessed of a crystal ball, historical actors are often very slow to learn they are on the losing side. Usually this discovery accompanies a sizeable effusion of blood. Regrettable, but customary (if not inevitable).

    2. The notion of ethnicity is enormously fluid. There were no such things as Hutu and Tutsi until the Belgians turned up and imposed that taxonomy on the unfortunate denizens of darkest Africa. Scots and English gave up fighting each other centuries ago. Racial identification in the United States is based on the “one drop” rule. If your mother has one drop of Afro-American blood, then you are Afro American. On the other hand, in Brazil, with almost precisely the same original racial mix as the United States, ethno-racial identification is hugely complex and fluid.

    Thus, ethnic identifications are neither inevitable, permanent, nor fixed.

    Take off the toga Jack. You don’t have to destroy Carthage after all.

  46. August 25th, 2005 at 15:24 | #46

    Katz Says: August 25th, 2005 at 1:54 pm

    Who decided that decolonisation of Indonesia was “inevitable�? Nothing is inevitable until the loser decides to discontinue struggle. And, not being possessed of a crystal ball, historical actors are often very slow to learn they are on the losing side.

    1. If Katz bothered to read my comment, instead of being held captive by his caricature of my position, he would see that I read the INDON independence movement as the one possible major exception to Pr Q’s anti-militarist/terrorist rule.

    The Indonesian national independence movement seems to be one case of a a successful politico-military force that used a reasonable economy of violence to achieve aims satisfactory to the populus.

    So I am not ruling out the use of force, as an unfair and irrational way to achieve legitimate political goals, on principle. And this for much the same reasons as Katz adumbrates ie the impossibility of perfect foresight for agents engaged in history making. But the historical evidence, in hind sight, shows that European decolonization of Asia was more or less inevitable or unstoppable process.

    I merely note that, in practice, force seems to have been counter-productive for the populus on both side. At at least in recent years when effective alternatives to force (economics and diplomatics) are available.

    The notion of ethnicity is enormously fluid…Thus, ethnic identifications are neither inevitable, permanent, nor fixed.

    2. The notion of ethnicity certainly allows some fluidity in identification. But the fuzziness and plasticity of categories is notorious in most classification systems abstracted above the level of Planck units. This does not stop scientists from using open ended and fuzzy concepts to impose theoretical cosmos on empirical chaos.

    As a matter of biological fact it is the case that racial classifications are based on natural characteristics and thus have biological reality ie ontological necessity. Ethnic classifications include cultural characteristics and so have merely sociological reality ie historical contingency.

    Ethnic identity contains both natural and cultural characters. Just because ethnicity is somwhat fluid it does not follow that its tribal constituents will automaticly dissolve into the national melting pot. Sometimes oil will stubbornly float on water.

    The “one drop of blood” rule has been a dead letter in American law for ages, although activists have relied on it for affirmative action. I would not be citing Brazil’s informal caste society as a shining example of the fluidity of multicultural ethnicity.

    As we have seen with the case of some Islamic settlers to these and other shores, ethnic self-identification can become more, not less, extreme over time. This reactionary process is facilitated by the multiculturati – may they be delenda est.

  47. Katz
    August 25th, 2005 at 15:40 | #47

    1. I wasn’t disputing Jack’s characterisation of the Indonesian independence movement. I was questioning the notion that either the Indonesians or the Dutch, or any other set of antagonists anywhere have access to knowledge that enables them at the escalatory stages of a conflict to conclude that the conflict will “inevitably” go against them. I believe Jack agrees with this sentiment.

    2. While the “one drop” rule is officially dead in the US, it still pertains to popular perceptions of race and racial identity.

    3. I wasn’t endorsing Brazilian ethno/racial identifications as superior to those adhered to in the US. I was merely pointing out the existence of flexibility and fluidity.

    Otherwise, see no reason to pick a fight with Jack over this issue.

  48. what the
    August 25th, 2005 at 15:54 | #48

    I think that the recent withdrawal process should be commended for its lack of serious violence, gunfire and bombs.

    I think the sadness of many settlers and soldiers that was evident is also understandable whilst also accepting that Israel had to (and must continue to) do something real and concrete despite the current despair of 10,000 of its people.

  49. Hal9000
    August 25th, 2005 at 16:41 | #49

    Just in reply to Rob: I was referring to specific campaigns when noting that Palestinian terrorism has been limited to the Levant. Munich was indeed an international terrorist act, but the PLO got out of that game by the end of the 1970s, thanks be. The issue raised by JQ was in relation to the Oslo-Taba process 1990-2000. The King David Hotel remarks were made in the separate debate about whether terrorists can morph into freedom fighters with the passage of time. The real issue surely raised by the IRA disarmament is that it shows the effectiveness of political engagement of the terrorists at the source: their real grievances. The RAF/Weathermen terrorists are a counterpoint on account of the lack of real grievances (in the sense of grievances felt and shared by a substantial population) underlying and supporting their campaigns of violence.

  50. abb1
    August 25th, 2005 at 17:15 | #50

    JQ,
    what I’m trying to say is that your analysis completely ignores some essential elements of human psychology that motivate violence; things like resentment, vengeance, honor, etc; especially when the violence is perpetrated by ordinary people, as opposed to government strategists.

    At this level of abstruction I might ask: is it a rational strategy for an educated well-paid Australian to have children? Well, of course not. But what’s the value of this analysis when I leave human psychology out of equation.

    I think – yes, in long-lasting asymmetrical conflicts like Palestine and N.Ireland one side definitely is in the right, otherwise these conflicts would’ve waned away. The main reason the weaker side keeps fighting is their feeling of tremendous injustice, not the desire to achieve some political result.

    Also, I think there are some cases where terrorists clearly won, but no one is willing to admit it. Take, for example, Oklahoma city bombing – reaction of American rednecks to heavy-handed handling of the Waco incident by the US government. It worked. The government immediately recognized the danger and changed its methods; see, for example, the Freemen incident in 1996.

  51. August 26th, 2005 at 13:52 | #51

    Zimbabwe was liberated from white rule by Robert Mugabe through terrorism (in part, funded by North Korea).

    Prior to the terrorist victory (opps, I mean, liberation) there were more black voters than white voters, and the moderate left-wing mixed-race political party was growing rapidly and looked like taking government within a decade.

  52. Ian Gould
    August 26th, 2005 at 15:55 | #52

    Another instance of terrorists winning is the carbombing of the Us marine base in Beurit during the 1980′s civil war which effectively drove the US out of the country.

  53. Andrew Reynolds
    August 26th, 2005 at 16:25 | #53

    Ian,
    One quick side note on the Beirut bombing – that was apparently the action that convinced Osama bin Laden that the US could be defeated using those tactics, leading to September 11. If so, pulling out was the worst thing Ronnie ever did.
    Perhaps that should be considered in the light of current events in Iraq.
    .
    On the operation itself, though – I would have thought that the aim of those undertaking it (though not the actual bombers) was to win the civil war, not just to get the US out. In that they ultimately failed so it should not be seen as a success.

  54. Ian Gould
    August 26th, 2005 at 18:50 | #54

    The attack is generally assumed to be the work of Hezbollah.

    The objectives of Hezbollah in the civil war were to force the Maronites to more equitably share power with the Shia, the sunni and the other religious communities.

    I’d say they succeeded in that objective.

  55. abb1
    August 27th, 2005 at 01:31 | #55

    Here is a piece on non-violent resistance: Can Palestine be Put Back Into the Equation?

    Very pessimistic. If you don’t use violence, then chances are you’ll be quietly smothered under a pillow and no one will care or even notice.

  56. Ian Gould
    August 27th, 2005 at 07:49 | #56

    When outsiders advocate that the Palestinians (or the Tamils or the West Saharans or the Shan or…) should use an exclusively nonviolent approach I always point out that Ghandi was uniquely placed to advocate nonviolence because he practised it himself.

    If nonviolence is the answer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict then let’s see Israel set the example. (This isn’t a serious proposal just pointing out that if nonviolence is an absolute moral imperative then it applies equally to both sides in any conflict. How many of the westerners airily claiming that the Palestinians should copy Ghandi are prepared to argue that their own countries should follow that example in dealing with Al Qaeda. If the actual argument is “The Palestinians are in the wrong and should give up” make that argument don’t maks it in a false claim to moral authority.)

  57. August 27th, 2005 at 16:23 | #57

    I think abb1 was referring to “Can Palestine be Put Back Into the Equation?”, a recent piece at counterpunch.

    JQ seems to have made a mistake by addressing whether “would they have got more otherwise?”. That’s actually a secondary question, something to be bargained about after resolving what the lawyers call a matter of essence: would they have got enough?

    If violence has a lower expected result, but a higher chance of getting enough because it has a higher variance, it is a riskier strategy but a better one.

    To see the point, consider two shipwrecked sailors discussing whether to break up their lifeboat to make a beacon fire, or to repair it and proceed. To the beacon man, it seems a fair compromise to break up half the boat and make a smaller beacon – but it misses the point completely.

    (I thought that was an unrealistic illustration until I heard Kevan Gosper was proposing to knock down half the old railway bridge across the Yarra, as a compromise.)

  58. August 27th, 2005 at 17:01 | #58

    I think that what Pr Q is saying is that if the PLO, VC and IRA had chosen the non-violent path of peaceful resistance they would have obtaine their political goals – native rule in disputed territories – just as quickly, if not quicker and with less casualties all round.

    This assumption works best when the alien ruler is a First World civil power, as the ISR, FRA/USA and UK states are, more or less. But it is perhaps questionable when the alien ruler is a Second World totalist power eg the USSR or PRC were not constrained by public opinion or accountable government.

    So I do not think accross the board generalisations about the relative worth of militarism v pacifism as modes of conflict resolution are altogether likely to succeed in this area.

  59. Robert Hand, Co. Dublin
    September 6th, 2005 at 03:54 | #59

    “The position the IRA is accepting now is essentially the same as that of the Sunningdale agreement in 1973. Extremists on both sides rejected this agreement and it collapsed.”

    Not correct. “The agreement also established provisions for a Council of Ireland to stimulate co-operation with the Republic of Ireland and this was the proximate cause of the Ulster Workers Council strike that brought down the executive. ”

    The UK government gave in – too easily – to the bully tactics of the Ulster Workers Council. Today the story is the same. Now it’s a weakened Blair with no credibility. Iraq has also cost peace in Ireland.

  60. Katz
    September 6th, 2005 at 14:16 | #60

    “The UK government gave in – too easily – to the bully tactics of the Ulster Workers Council. Today the story is the same. Now it’s a weakened Blair with no credibility. Iraq has also cost peace in Ireland.”

    Interesting observation. Is it your contention that paramilitaries are scheduled to make a reappearance in Ulster?

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