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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. August 26th, 2005 at 13:52 | #1

    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.

  2. Ian Gould
    August 26th, 2005 at 15:55 | #2

    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.

  3. Andrew Reynolds
    August 26th, 2005 at 16:25 | #3

    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.

  4. Ian Gould
    August 26th, 2005 at 18:50 | #4

    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.

  5. abb1
    August 27th, 2005 at 01:31 | #5

    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.

  6. Ian Gould
    August 27th, 2005 at 07:49 | #6

    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.)

  7. August 27th, 2005 at 16:23 | #7

    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.)

  8. August 27th, 2005 at 17:01 | #8

    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.

  9. Robert Hand, Co. Dublin
    September 6th, 2005 at 03:54 | #9

    “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.

  10. Katz
    September 6th, 2005 at 14:16 | #10

    “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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