The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

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Saturday, July 19, 2003
Something truly different

Allison links to Points of Departure by Dinesh Rao, an Indian student living in Israel. She characterizes it as "a perspective on Israel available in no other part of the Blogosphere," and she's right. Go read it.

Abduction in Jenin

The governor of Jenin, Haidar Irsheed, was abducted and beaten by the local cell of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades:

The kidnapping lasted just five-hours and ended following the personal intervention of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr Irsheed was abducted in broad daylight, publicly beaten, then driven away into the heart of the refugee camp.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade said they had taken Mr Irsheed, accusing him of corruption and collaborating with the Israelis.

The Jenin cell of al-Aqsa, it will be remembered, was the group responsible for the shooting death of Bulgarian worker Hristo Radkov the day after the current cease-fire was declared. Al-Aqsa has since accepted the truce, but it is a loosely run organization and the Jenin cell has not suffered any consequences for going renegade. Today's incident, however, demonstrates that the cell is a direct threat not only to Israelis but to the Palestinian Authority, and raises the possibility that other rejectionist groups will commit similar acts. Maybe the attack on Governor Irsheed is what will convince the PA to take action against the rejectionists.

Futures for Israel and Pakistan

Zack Ajmal provides an update on Israeli-Pakistani relations.

Power-sharing shenanigans

The Supreme Court of Fiji, which two years ago delivered the first successful judicial countercoup, may have overthrown another government. In a ruling affirming a Court of Appeal decision from last year, the high court found that the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is unconstitutional and held that the Fiji Labour Party - whose leader, former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, was ousted in the May 2000 coup - may be entitled to Cabinet representation.

At issue is Article 99(5) of Fiji's 1997 national reconciliation constitution, which mandates that "the Prime Minister must invite all parties whose membership in the House of Representatives comprises at least 10% of the total membership of the House to be represented in the Cabinet in proportion to their numbers in the House." The purpose of this provision is to ensure that power is shared between the indigenous Fijians, who comprise just over 50 percent of the country's population, and the Indian minority that makes up 44 percent. The 10 percent threshold for Cabinet representation means that any party with substantial support in either community is guaranteed a place in the government. In the 1999 decision of The President v. Kubuabola, the Fijian Supreme Court held that Article 99 created a unique form of government for Fiji:

A central purpose of the 1997 Constitution is the sharing of power. The Republic of the Fiji Islands is declared in the course of the preamble to be a multi-cultural society [...] It follows that there is a distribution of political power quite different from that which may be familiar under a traditional Westminster pattern. In a traditional Westminster - style democracy a Prime Minister who enjoys the support of the lower House can normally establish a Cabinet as he or she pleases. That is not the position in the Fiji Islands. Political power is divided among a number of groups, persons and parties; the share of each is in some way limited.

The trouble with Article 99(5) is that, like many power-sharing provisions, it assumes a level of mutual trust and will to cooperate that does not currently exist. The framers of the 1997 constitution envisioned a coalition between the SVT party, led by Sitiveni Rabuka, and Jai Ram Reddy's National Federation Party. Due to hardening of positions in both communities, however, the SVT and NFP were defeated at the polls in 1999 and practically disappeared after the post-coup election of August 2001. Instead, the indigenous Fijians are primarily represented by Qarase's SDL and the Indians by Labour - which, unlike 1999 when it attracted substantial Fijian support, is now an almost entirely Indian party. The mutual antagonism between the two leaders and the irreconcilability of their positions are such that many do not believe they can work together.

There is a potential loophole in that, according to the Kubuabola decision, a minority party cannot place conditions or qualifications on its acceptance of an invitation to join the government. As such, yesterday's Supreme Court decision did not directly order Qarase to grant Cabinet seats to the FLP, but instead directed that he invite the FLP to join the government and enter into negotiations with it. Qarase, whose commitment to the rule of law during the post-coup era has been admirable, has pledged to obey the ruling and invite Chaudhry for discussions after consulting with the country's president.

Even if an amicable arrangement can be worked out - which is far from certain - another obstacle may be presented by Article 99(6) of the constitution. This article provides that, "if the Prime Minister selects for appointment to the Cabinet a person from a party whose membership in the House of Representatives is less than 10% of the total membership of the House," that appointment must come out of his party's share of Cabinet seats rather than those granted to other parties under Article 99(5). Since all of Qarase's coalition partners fall below the 10 percent threshold, this means that their Cabinet seats must be deducted from his proportional share - which may result in the SDL having fewer seats than the nine to which the FLP may be entitled. If the ruling party ends up with the second-largest share of Cabinet seats, then its task of governing the country will be very difficult.

The next few weeks will determine whether Article 99 is workable in practice. It is likely, however, that - like many other well-intentioned power-sharing arrangements - it will ultimately have to be renegotiated.

Immunity in the Solomons

I've been meaning to write about the Solomon Islands situation for some time, particularly since the Australian-led peacekeeping force will begin deploying on Monday. I'm still not completely done with my background research, but one of the details of the peacekeeping package has caught my attention: the intervention force will have immunity from prosecution.

Sound familiar? It should, particularly since the Australian government had insisted on immunity condition of intervention, refusing to go in unless the Solomons parliament passed enabling legislation "in a form acceptable to Australia." Evidently, despite the justified criticism of the United States' heavy- handed tactics in demanding legal immunity for its soldiers, other countries are making similar demands. Australia is already facing allegations of bullying from the left similar to those directed against the United States for its anti-ICC campaign.

I suspect that, with the advent of the ICC, immunity will become a standard feature of many peacekeeping missions notwithstanding criticism from the human rights community. The mindset underlying the demands for immunity is similar to the justification for the legal doctrine of charitable immunity - "we're doing you a favor, and we don't want legal problems in return for our trouble." And, as with charities and their clients, countries that provide peacekeeping forces have greater bargaining power than the failed states in which they intervene. Given this disparity in bargaining power, I doubt that many countries - including those, like Australia, that have ratified the Rome Statute - will insist on immunity deals for their troops.

Friday, July 18, 2003
Looks like it's deal-cuttin' time

The Sao Tome junta has signed an agreement that "calls for talks on the conditions under which [ousted] President Fradique de Menezes would return to power." The fact that they're already conceding de Menezes' return as the goal of the talks indicates that their real desire is to get a piece of the pie for themselves rather than ruling the country for the long term.

Making comparisons, part 3

A few days ago, I wrote about a poll of Palestinian refugees by Dr. Khalil Shikaki, indicating that fewer than 10 percent would return to Israel if the option were open to them. Today, Imshin links to a Jerusalem Post article giving another interesting perspective on the right-of-return issue. The article describes a recent meeting in Germany at which representatives from Israel, the Islamic world, the United States and Europe gathered to discuss the postwar situation in the Middle East:

The new situation in Iraq, as well as the Middle East road map, were naturally at the center of attention, and were most knowingly addressed on the opening night by a senior German government minister, himself deeply involved in Middle Eastern affairs, with great sensitivity to Israeli as well as Palestinian concerns. The evening proceeded along the expected trajectory, until a Lebanese academic raised the issue of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.

The senior German minister listened attentively, and then said: "This is an issue with which we in Germany are familiar; may I ask my German colleagues in the audience to raise their hand if they, or their families, were refugees from Eastern Europe?"

There was a moment of silence - the issue is embarrassing in Germany, fraught with political and moral landmines. Slowly, hands were raised: by my count, more than half the Germans present (government officials, journalists, businessmen) raised a hand: they, or their families, had been Vertriebene, expelled from their ancestral homes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia after World War II.

It is estimated that up to 10 million were expelled; with their descendants today they make up almost double that number - almost one in four Germans.

Amid the hush the German senior minister continued: He himself was born in Eastern Europe and his family was expelled in the wake of the anti-German atmosphere after 1945. "But," he added, "neither I nor any of my colleagues claim the right to go back.

"It is precisely because of that that I can now visit my ancestral hometown and talk to the people who live in the house in which I was born - because they do not feel threatened, because they know I don't want to displace them or take their house."

The comparison between the German and Palestinian refugee problems isn't an exact one. For one thing, the German refugees and their descendants will have an effective right of return once the Eastern European countries accede to the European Union next year. Under Articles 15 and 40 of the European Charter of Human Rights, citizens of any member state have the right to live and work in any other. If any German - whether a refugee or not - wants to live in Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia after 2004, he will be able to do so.

Nevertheless, the German example is illustrative in several ways, particularly with respect to the difference between the German refugees' treatment and that meted out to the Palestinians. There are no refugee camps in Germany today; instead, the refugees from Eastern Europe were welcomed as citizens and allowed to participate fully in German economic, social and political life. In contrast, most Palestinians have never been allowed to stop being refugees. In Lebanon, Palestinians cannot become citizens, own property outside refugee camps, or enter many professions. Even where their treatment has been more benign, as in Syria and Jordan, they have never been fully integrated into their host societies. Instead, most still live in refugee camps - which have now taken on the appearance of small cities - and it has been sardonically remarked that the UNRWA is the only organization dedicated to perpetuating a refugee problem rather than resolving one.

The status of the Palestinians as long-term refugees - with some refugee families now in their third or fourth generation - is without doubt one of the factors that makes the right of return such a contentious issue. The Volksdeutsch of Eastern Europe, who have been allowed to build new lives in Germany, have no pressing need to return to their countries of origin, and therefore have far less desire to do so. The Jews who became refugees from Arab countries after the creation of Israel have been absorbed in a similar manner; I'm not aware of any studies of their attitudes toward their homelands, but I suspect that very few would return if given the choice.

In contrast, many of the Palestinian refugees see return as their only way out of statelessness. It is no accident that only 5 percent of Palestinians living in Jordan - who are full citizens of a mostly-Palestinian country - expressed the desire to return to Israel as compared to 23 percent of those living in Lebanon. And even in Jordan, the condition of the Palestinian refugees is not truly comparable to that of the Germans, because refugee camps still exist. Unlike the Volksdeutsch, they have not been completely absorbed and have not entirely left their refugee status behind.

The Palestinians' status is anomalous in the history of refugee problems. Most long-term refugee problems are resolved through resettlement rather than repatriation - refugees either return to their homeland within a few years or never return at all. The Volksdeutsch, the postwar Jewish refugee problem and the 1947 exchange of populations between India and Pakistan all ended this way. Eventually, long-term refugees stop being refugees and become citizens of their host countries.

In fact, I can think of only one other refugee problem that was at all similar to the Palestinians' - that of the Tutsi exiles who fled Rwanda in 1959. Many of these settled in Uganda and what was then Zaire, where they were denied the right to return and frequently deprived of citizenship or residence rights with changes in the political climate. The Ugandan government took a position somewhat similar to that taken by many Arab countries with respect to the Palestinians - that "Rwanda first must acknowledge its fundamental responsibility for its nationals by permitting return [and] Uganda would then grant full settlement rights to those who nevertheless wanted to stay." All this changed with the victory of the RPF in 1994, which was followed by the only mass repatriation of long-term refugees, with as many as 800,000 returning to Rwanda during the next two years. Some, in fact, returned from Belgium and the United States as well as from neighboring African countries.

Does this mean that Dr. Shikaki's poll results are wrong, and that Israel would experience a similar influx of Palestinian refugees if it conceded a right of return? I don't believe so. The situation of the Tutsi "fifty-niners" after 1994 was fundamentally different from that of hypothetical Palestinian returnees. The Tutsi were returning to rebuild a country that they had, in effect, reconquered. In contrast, Palestinians returning to Israel would become residents of what most, in all likelihood, view as someone else's country. In addition, while there is only one Rwanda, a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians will result in the Mandate of Palestine being divided into two independent states. Given the choice, most Palestinians - as reflected in the Shikaki poll - will return and rebuild the part of the Mandate that they rule rather than the part the Israelis do. The experience of the Tutsi refugees is more likely to be repeated through a mass repatriation of Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza, not to Israel.

An interview that Dr. Shikaki gave to National Public Radio shortly after the poll results were released lends further weight to this conclusion. During that interview, he stated that if Israeli citizenship were required as a condition of return, only 1 percent rather than 10 percent of refugees would exercise that option. In other words, 99 percent of Palestinian refugees were unwilling to become citizens of a country they perceived as belonging to someone else. This suggests that, even if Israel conceded an unlimited right of return, fewer than 40,000 refugees would come - a number even less than the 150,000 to 250,000 that I discussed during my initial analysis of the poll. It is likely, moreover, that most of these would be older people with family ties in Israel who would be at very low risk of committing terrorist activity, although it would still be wise for Israel to require all applicants for return to undergo a security check.

This does not end the matter, however, because the Germans' experience also outlines another key distinction between them and the Palestinian refugees. Unlike the Palestinians, the Volksdeutsch have for the most part not requested the return of the specific properties they vacated. The exception is the unresolved property claims of some Sudeten Germans, which raised concerns that the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union might be complicated and which remain a contentious political issue. With that exception, however, the German refugees have not demanded that new owners be evicted from their houses. This is an issue that will also have to be resolved with respect to the Palestinian refugees.

The lessons that can be drawn from the German and Rwandan experiences are limited; each refugee problem is, to a great extent, sui generis. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that any resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem will require the refugees to accept compensation in lieu of their former property and their host countries to fully absorb those who want to stay. At that point, a limited right of return conditional upon acceptance of Israeli citizenship can be safely granted because, like the Germans, very few of them will want to exercise it.

UPDATE: Aziz follows up, and has an additional comment on the reason for Arab host countries' failure to absorb Palestinian refugees:

I might add that the reason that the Palestinian situation is anomalous is solely because of the lack of open societies in the surrounding Arab states. A large influx of Palestinians permitted to settle and assimilate would have threatened the grasp on power of the various regional dictators - and the denial of the refugees the right to settle was tacitly approved by the post-WWII colonial powers (Britain and the US), because after all the regional dictatorships were set up by them in the first place.

I agree with this only up to a point. Lebanon, which is the most open society to host large numbers of Palestinian refugees, is precisely the one that has imposed the most draconian restrictions on them. As Conrad pointed out in the comment thread, Lebanese society depends on a fragile ethnic power-sharing balance that could be upset if large numbers of Palestinian Muslims become citizens. Syria, which is a totally closed society, has treated Palestinian refugees much better than Lebanon, and they have fared best of all in Jordan, which is an open society on alternate Thursdays. Greater openness in Jordan, where the majority of citizens are already Palestinian, might ease the full absorption of refugees, but greater openness in Lebanon and Syria probably would not.

My understanding is that the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem is due less to lack of openness than to regional and Cold War politics - and also to money. Refugee camps are a major source of international aid, which may explain why camps still exist even in Jordan where the refugees are full citizens and why the Palestinian Authority has never dismantled the camps in the West Bank or Gaza. In any event, the history of the Palestinian refugee problem is far less important at this point than its future. Rather than engaging in recriminations as to why the Palestinians were not absorbed by their host countries, it is necessary to devise a plan that would combine absorption, compensation and return in a manner acceptable to all parties.

Things you thought you'd never hear

Reza Aslan, a visiting Islamic studies professor at the University of Iowa, explains why Iran should be more like Israel.

Cooking with payndemayn

Language Hat translates a Middle English lasagna recipe - well, sort of.

Thursday, July 17, 2003
Chronicle time again

This week's installment discusses the Egyptian government's 1932 attempt to preserve the purity of the Arabic language by establishing the Royal Arabic Language Academy. This institution, which still exists, was modeled along the lines of the Académie française, and the story of its establishment illustrates the intellectual leadership of Egypt in the Arab world even at that early date. The debate over whether Western scholars should be included in the academy is particularly interesting; evidently, it was the Arabs who didn't trust Middle Eastern Studies departments in those days.

The voice of Cairo

Gamal Nkrumah profiles Anoushka, a famous singer and one of the most celebrated members of Egypt's Armenian minority. She's, er, not a stereotypical Middle Eastern woman.

Anambra: did Obasanjo know?

Nigerian attorney A.J. Owonikoko provides a legal analysis of the Anambra coup and calls for overhaul of the electoral law. He also worries that there may be similar state-level coups in the future, and that the national government might acquiesce in or even sponsor them:

One aspect of the development which is as worrisome is the reaction of the PDP-led Federal Government to the tragic drama. They seem to make light of what every right thinking lover of democracy should shrink at. It is as though a civilian terrorism against a duly constituted government were just another internal wrangling within a family . Far from it; almost all the dramatis personae, may soon discover that the law regards them as prime suspects in the high crime of treasonable felony.

For want of a better expression, the whole scenario reeks of an installmental coup rehearsal, for it strikes at the very root of the greatest achievement of Obasanjo regime. If any credit is due to it, it is the taming of the military- not (mark you!) professionalisation of our military- such luxury is not our lot. As matters stand civilians have taken over from soldiers in planing coup de tat in Nigeria- and Anambra State appears to be the fertile nursery for incubating in advance, the strategy for an even bigger threat to the Federation.

Owonikoko isn't the only Nigerian who thinks that the Anambra coup might be an "experiment," and that other governors from PDP factions that didn't support Obasanjo might be overthrown. I also predicted that there might be more such coups in Nigeria's future, but I was thinking more in terms of turf battles between local bosses. Owonikoko's analysis makes sense, though - the PDP's gangsterism clearly reaches to the highest levels, and the national party itself might sponsor the forcible replacement of a governor who becomes too independent. This presents a third scenario in which a subnational coup might occur - in addition to situations where the central government is ineffective or indifferent to local squabbles, a strong national government might acquiesce in the overthrow of a local leader it cannot constitutionally remove. Whether this is in fact what happened in Anambra might be the most critical question to be answered during the coming investigation, and hopefully the presence of three opposition legislators on the investigative team will make the probe a reasonably honest one.

Kagame interview

Rwandan President Paul Kagame speaks about next month's presidential election, the prospects for peace in Burundi and Congo, and repairing the Uganda-Rwanda rift.

The junta's objectives

More details are emerging about the Sao Tome coup, with the plotters being linked to a small opposition party that fared badly at the last election. Some of the coup leaders apparently spent time as political exiles in Namibia after a prior coup attempt during the 1980s, and had joined the South African special forces.

The key question (aside from why an island nation of 170,000 needs an army in the first place) is what the junta hopes to gain. The ousted president says that it's all about the oil, and he's likely correct, but they may not want it all. Instead, the coup plotters likely realize that their odds of taking permanent control of the country are relatively slim.

A prior coup in 1995 was quickly reversed by Angolan intervention, and pressure is building for similar measures now. The African Union has condemned the coup and pledged to support any measure taken by Sao Tome's neighbors, and the presidents of Nigeria and Mozambique are reportedly weighing military action. Angola and Portugal have offered to mediate, and the junta is scheduled to meet with a Nigerian envoy later today.

All this suggests that the junta's goals are more limited than a permanent takeover of Sao Tome. The coup leaders may, instead, be playing a high-stakes game of chicken, using their temporary possession of the country to bargain for a power-sharing agreement and cut themselves in on the oil revenue. It's likely, in other words, that the Sao Tomese government has not so much been overthrown as kidnapped for ransom. If this is indeed the case, then look for a deal within the next few days, with the Democratic Christian Front being awarded some Cabinet seats, directorships on state companies or both.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Good news from Palestine, part 6

I haven't done one of these in a while, and it seems like time:

22 companies participated in a trade fair in Gaza to showcase the growing Palestinian furniture industry, which reached $100 million in exports last year. The products shown at the fair ranged from office furniture to handmade living room pieces.

CAVU Pictures has bought the worldwide rights to Ghazi Albuliwi's feature film West Bank Brooklyn, which tells the story of four Palestinian-Americans living in New York. (Hey, Farid, are you in it?) The film, which has played at several festivals, will be released to theaters in February 2004.

(via Moorishgirl) West of the Jordan, by first-time author Laila Halaby, is a coming-of-age story involving four cousins living in Jordan, Palestine and the United States. You can read one of Halaby's poems here.

A $2 million teacher training center has been completed in Rafah and will be available for the upcoming school year.

Palestinian cultural events in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem last week included a handicrafts exhibition, a children's theater program and an artistic ceremony for disabled children.

The first issue of a sports magazine sponsored by the national sports organization, Palsport, will be published in the fall as part of a journalism education program. (Unfortunately, the Palestinian soccer team lost last week's Olympic qualifying match to Kuwait, 2-1.)

Palestinian-American Yale student Tammer Qaddumi is an item with presidential niece and Elite model Lauren Bush. (Hey, I think that's an achievement.)

"Good News from Palestine" is an irregular column on The Head Heeb which highlights positive achievements of Palestinians in the arts, music, science, education, sports, business and humanitarian work. Please suggest articles for future columns by comment or e-mail; I will link to all articles that meet the above criteria and do not directly concern the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Positive thinkers may also be interested in visiting Good News from Israel and Israel 21c, which provide similar news items about Israelis.

Another perspective

Bichara Khader, an Arab participant in last month's joint trip to Auschwitz, gives his account of the journey.

More on subnational coups

The fallout from the coup attempt in Anambra State continues to spread with the impeachment of the speaker of the state assembly and the commencement of proceedings to remove Deputy Governor Okey Udeh from office. Demands for prosecutions and official probes are mounting, the federal army has reaffirmed its commitment to democracy, and analyses of factionalism within the local PDP organization and the increasing gangsterism of Nigerian politics are flying thick and fast.

The Anambra affair is a new thing even in coup-prone Nigeria - an attempted overthrow of a subnational government. Such attempts, in fact, are historically rare; coups at the national level have become almost a commonplace in modern times, but provincial or state governments are rarely overthrown from within. In part, this is because subnational coups are less likely to succeed; unlike nation-states, even the most autonomous provinces of a federal republic are not protected by Westphalian sovereignty. In the event that a provincial government is overthrown by a coup or rebellion, the national government's ability to intervene is therefore limited only by its own constitution.

The powers of the national government in such situations are usually considerable. In the United States, Section 4 of Article IV of the Constitution requires the federal government to "guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government" and to "protect each of them... against domestic violence." In several Reconstruction-era cases, the Supreme Court upheld the federal government's right to restore republican government to the states, even to the extent of appointing temporary military administrations. In the 1962 decision of Baker v. Carr, the Court held that Congress may have a duty to intervene under certain circumstances, stating that "a military government, established as the permanent government of the State, would not be a republican government, and it would be the duty of Congress to overthrow it."

The Nigerian constitution is somewhat more ambiguous about the federal government's power to intervene in state affairs. Article 1, however, provides that no "person or group of persons [shall] take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution." This, combined with the provisions of Article 5 giving the federal executive the power to enforce the constitution, would likely supply a sufficient legal predicate to warrant interference in a state coup, particularly in light of the Nigerian courts' historic willingness to accept facts on the ground.

It is difficult, in fact, to conceive of a federal constitution that would deny the federal government the power to intervene if one of its components was violently overthrown. Nevertheless, provincial coups have happened. There were several in Argentina during the period when the national government was largely a fiction, and the governor of one Mexican state actually invaded and conquered a neighboring state during the 1850s. There have been examples in the United States as well, most notably the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island in 1842. The 1931 dispute between Huey Long and Paul Cyr over the governorship of Louisiana might also qualify, although no shots were fired in anger. More recently, the troubled Comoros have had two such incidents, a coup in Anjouan and an unsuccessful invasion of Mohéli.

A successful subnational coup would appear to require several conditions. First, the provincial government in question must be powerful enough to be worth taking over. It is unlikely that anyone would risk using violence to overthrow a Japanese prefecture, for instance; such an attempt would only be worthwhile in subnational units with broad autonomy and patronage potential.

Second, the national government must be either unwilling or unable to intervene. Where the central government is weak or non-functional, as was the case in Argentina and Mexico for much of the nineteenth century, effective power can degenerate to local or regional warlords. Alternatively, even a functional central government might not care who the local bosses are as long as the taxes come in on time and the violence doesn't reach the capital. Most subnational coups and rebellions have occurred in the first type of country, but if the "godfatherization" of Nigerian politics continues, Nigeria might become the second variety. To some extent, the Russian Federation is also an example of the second type of country - along with Nigeria and the Comoros, that's where I'd watch for signs of future subnational coups.

Offshore coup

A military coup has taken place in the republic of S?o Tomé e Principe. The reasons for the coup are not immediately clear, although it may have resulted from disputes over oil revenue.

UPDATE: The military has announced the formation of a "Junta of National Salvation," and has stated that the coup was "the reflection ... of the difficult economic and social conditions the country is going through" and "the political instability installed by the ousted regime." Whatever else might happen, it looks like the Sao Tomeans are in for a bout of God-awful rhetoric, given that the junta closed its communique by urging the world to "let the people of Sao Tome and her glorious sons internally resolve the challenges they currently face."

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Media blitz

Arnon Regular summarizes the Palestinian media's reaction to the cease-fire. Somewhat surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly given Arafat's continued behind-the-scenes influence), the official Palestinian Authority media have been the most skeptical while privately-owned newspapers have thrown their support behind the truce. One columnist in the independent Al-Ayyam, Hassan al-Battal, has gone so far as to equate Hamas with the Israeli far right. Gauging Palestinian political opinion is always an inexact science, but this could be another indication that the Palestinian public is more supportive of a peace settlement than its leadership.

Taxi driver rescued

Israeli taxi driver Eliyahu Gurel, who was kidnapped Tuesday night by a group seeking the release of Palestinian prisoners, has been rescued by IDF special forces after a manhunt in which Palestinian security forces also took part.

A coup in Anambra

Thus far, Nigeria has avoided a military coup despite the disputed re-election of Olusegun Obasanjo in April. The state of Anambra in the Niger Delta region, however, is now returning to normalcy after a bizarre state-level coup attempt in which Governor Chris Ngige was abducted by riot police. Ngige was selected as the PDP candidate in March after stormy factional disputes within the ruling party, and subsequently won the gubernatorial election with Dr. Okey Udeh as his running mate.

The coup occurred on the morning of July 9, when approximately 30 riot police stormed the state capitol and took Ngige into "protective custody." Later that day, a resignation letter purportedly signed by Ngige was presented to the state legislature, which confirmed Udeh as governor. Within days, however, the coup began to unravel as Ngige disputed the resignation, and a PDP fact-finding team was able to broker a truce which restored the governor to office. The situation has remained fluid due to continued disputes over alleged truce violations, but Ngige appears to have gained the upper hand; the state legislature yesterday rescinded its resolution removing him from office and deemed the resignation letter a forgery. Ngige has also appointed state officials to replace those who took part in the coup attempt. For the time being, Udeh remains in office as deputy governor, but he and other elected officials who took part in the coup are likely to face pressure to resign.

The reasons for the coup are unclear, although there have been allegations that Chief Chris Uba, a powerful local PDP leader, was behind it. Uba, who sponsored Ngige's candidacy, was reportedly angry at him for securing a loan without cutting Uba in on the kickback:

Vanguard was reliably informed that Governor Ngige narrated to the mission that on his arrival at the residence of Uba, he was ushered into the living room where he was told to kneel down before Uba and some other political actors. Ngige said Uba pilloried him for securing a N2billion loan from a bank (name withheld) without clearing from him in his capacity as the godfather. All attempts to get in touch with the bank has not been successful.

Vanguard was told that Ngige further revealed to the mission that Uba alleged that he (Ngige) had also infused a N200million kickback into the deal. All these, Ngige reportedly denied. Gov. Ngige, it was learnt, told the mission that he had been severally summoned to Enugu by Uba on trumped up allegations of disloyalty. Asked why it had taken so long for him to break from the shackles of Chris Uba, the governor explained that his suffering for that long was because of his desire to maintain peace in Anambra State.

In an interview with the Vanguard, Ngige accused Uba of repeated extortion. For his part, Uba is reportedly seeking the support of state legislators in declaring a state of emergency in Anambra, and may have a majority of the legislature in his pocket.

Whatever the reasons behind it, the Anambra coup highlights the fragility of Nigerian democracy. Although Obasanjo has belatedly convened a governors' meeting to discuss prevention of further state coups, the role of the federal government has been widely criticized. Among other trenchant criticisms, the director of the Nigeria Labour Congress stated that "the decision to refer the matter to PDP is totally out of place as an attempted coup cannot be settled as an intra-party affair."

It's also becoming clear - if it wasn't clear already - that the PDP is a mafia rather than a political party in many parts of the country. The PDP is a party with no real ideology beyond distribution of patronage, and as such it has attracted local strongmen and gangsters. A Yoruba civil-society group has condemned the coup as a natural result of Nigeria's political system and predicted that more will follow if the system is not reformed. Anambra appears to be one of the states where corruption is most widespread and conditions in many other states are more stable, but last week's events may indeed be Nigeria's future if nothing is done.

UPDATE: The PDP national vice-chairman and the opposition parties [1, 2] weigh in on the crisis.

Syrian withdrawal

Thousands of Syrian soldiers have reportedly evacuated Lebanon as part of a staged withdrawal. The Syrian troop presence is down to 15,000 from 35,000 three years ago; the withdrawal may be completed early next year, although this is unlikely to end Syrian influence over Lebanese politics.

Combining interests

This is an excellent site on the Jewish communities of Africa, including both traditional communities and twentieth-century converts such as the Abayudaya and Lemba. There are also crypto-Jews in Africa, particularly in Mali, where centuries-old Muslim communities continue to practice vestigial Jewish traditions:

Tangasane is a tiny village across the Boucle du Niger, an inland delta crosscut with rivers, lakes and channels that come together just before Timbuktu. Though they have settled in their current village, the members of the Tangasane community still live like their nomadic ancestors, dwelling in temporary structures built beneath palm trees and termite mounds. The elders of the community are bearded and wear long, flowing Saharan robes. Their village lore dictates that they are descendants of Jews and though they have all converted to Islam they are open to exploring their Jewish ancestry. In the village of Kirshamba, all descendants of Jews have the last name of Djarumba, which means the same as "Aliahoudou-hou," the word for Jews in Songhai. Though they too have converted to Islam, there is a chapter of Zakhor there and the villagers are learning about their Hebrew roots.

Another tribe rumored to have Jewish ancestry is the Yibir clan of Somalia, whose name may be derived from "Hebrew." The Yibir, who are devout Muslims, do not practice any vestigial Jewish customs and their ancestry is hotly disputed, but this has not prevented them from falling victim to anti-Semitism among fellow Somalis.

Monday, July 14, 2003
The rumor mill turns

Today's news brings yet another rumor that Mugabe has agreed to a secret exit deal - but this one apparently comes from Thabo Mbeki. According to the Independent, Mbeki told George Bush during a meeting in Pretoria that Mugabe had agreed to resign as chairman of ZANU by December, a move that may pave the way for presidential elections in 2004. In return, Bush has reportedly "pledged a reconstruction package for Zimbabwe worth up to $10bn (£6.2bn) over an unspecified timeframe, if a new leader takes over."

If the report proves true, then Bush's trip to Africa will actually be something more than a goodwill tour. The article cautions, however, that "important differences remain:"

Washington is anxious to make the money conditional on the emergence of a new leader chosen by the Zimbabwe people in an election rather than an anointed successor from the ranks of the ruling party. Mr Mbeki by contrast, is not a supporter of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and is open to a successor emerging from the ruling party.

Such an "anointed successor" would very likely be Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is if anything a harder-line figure than Mugabe and would be little if any improvement in practical terms. In the meantime, the African Union has demonstrated its opposition to a constructive solution by electing Mugabe as one of its five vice-chairmen. I wouldn't count either him or ZANU out yet.

Compromise fodder

Today's New York Times carried an interesting report of a minor riot in Ramallah, in which Khalil Shikaki of the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research (who I've mentioned before) was shoved and pelted with eggs by several dozen protesters. The reason for the protest - which was apparently planned in advance, given that the rioters came with a prepared press release - was that Shikaki was about to release the results of a poll confirming a gut feeling I've had for quite some time. According to Shikaki's survey, most Palestinian refugees don't want to become Israelis.

This poll is naturally controversial in light of its implications for the Palestinians' demand that refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to Israel. The survey revealed that, although 95 percent of Palestinians residing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and the occupied territories want the right of return to be recognized in a final peace treaty, far fewer of them would actually exercise it. In fact, only 10 percent of the 4500 households that took part in the survey intended to reside permanently in Israel, and the proportion decreased even further "if the refugees were told that they would have to take Israeli citizenship or that their old homes were gone." In contrast, 54 percent were willing to accept compensation and the right of return to a Palestinian state in lieu of Israel, and 23 percent expressed the desire to move to other countries or stay where they were.

The proportion of refugees demanding return was closely correlated with their current economic and social position. In Lebanon, where Palestinian refugees are denied citizenship and face extremely severe legal and social restrictions, 23 percent expressed an intent to return to Israel. In Jordan, where Palestinians are full citizens with civil rights, this proportion was only 5 percent, as compared to 13 percent of refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. (Refugees residing in Syria were not polled due to government restrictions, but in light of their relatively benign treatment, I would expect an honest poll to reveal numbers somewhere between Jordan and the occupied territories.)

If these numbers prove accurate - and Shikaki is both a respected pollster and a famously independent one - it is possible to draw several conclusions. One is that descendants of 1948 refugees who live in the United States, Europe or the Gulf states, who are for the most part better off economically and socially than their counterparts in the refugee camps, will be even less insistent upon return than the Jordanians. Another is that the number of Palestinians wishing to return could be reduced even further if their living conditions are improved at their current places of residence. For instance, it is likely that more refugees residing in the West Bank and Gaza would be willing to remain where they are if a Palestinian state were actually established, the checkpoints came down and more jobs became available. The refugees in Lebanon would likewise be more willing to remain in place if they were allowed to become citizens, own property and enter the universities and professions. This is yet another reason why not only Israel and the Palestinians but all the refugee host countries must do their part in facilitating a peace settlement.

Perhaps most importantly, these poll numbers indicate that it may be possible for Israel to allow a conditional right of return at little risk to its integrity. Of the four million Palestinians who claim descent from the 1948 refugees, it is likely that fewer than 250,000 would insist on returning to Israel, particularly if they were required to become Israeli citizens. If a peace accord included an assurance that Palestinians could become citizens of the countries where they now live, this number would be even smaller. The 250,000 figure, assuming its accuracy, is approximately equal to the number of Palestinians who are currently living illegally - and, for the most part, peacefully - in Israel.

This suggests a possible compromise on one of the most contentious issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians. The broad outline of such a compromise would involve Israel symbolically recognizing that it is the homeland of the 1948 refugees, but limiting the actual number of returnees to 250,000 - a limit that is unlikely to be tested. Returnees would be required to accept Israeli citizenship and undergo a security check, with Israel having the right to exclude all persons associated with terrorist groups. Those exercising their right of return would be admitted over a five-year period, which would ease the strain of absorbing them into Israeli society and would allow the project to be reviewed or canceled if any returnees engaged in terrorist activity. Priority would be given to refugees with family in Israel, who would at once be the most compelling humanitarian cases and the least likely to commit terrorist acts.

Those not returning to Israel - the vast majority - would have the choice of returning to Palestine or becoming naturalized citizens of their host countries, with full civil rights. "Full civil rights" is admittedly a relative term in countries like Lebanon or Syria, but it would result in the refugees obtaining passports and being freed of property, educational and occupational restrictions. In addition, both returnees and those who remained elsewhere would receive compensation in lieu of their former property - a solution that has been adopted by Eastern European countries with respect to property that was confiscated by Communist governments. Ideally, a final settlement would also provide for compensation for those Jews who became refugees after the establishment of Israel, but this would require the agreement of many more countries. Possibly these refugees could be compensated indirectly by placing most of the burden of repaying the Palestinian refugees upon the international community rather than upon Israel.

It's not immediately clear whether such a compromise would be workable - a single poll result of indefinite reliability isn't enough data for policymaking purposes, and the strength of rejectionist forces within the Palestinian community is out of proportion to their numbers. (Among other things, yesterday's rioters marched to Arafat's office after pelting Shikaki with eggs - a development that should surprise nobody.) Nevertheless, the possibility of a low-risk middle path to solving the refugee problem is one that bears further study.

UPDATE: Dr. Shikaki discusses the poll on NPR, Radio Netherlands has more analysis, and a "committee defending the right of return" has called for him to be tried for high treason.

UPDATE 2: Aziz Poonawalla comments. So does Abu Aardvark, who knows Dr. Shikaki personally. Susanna, Shai, Vikingpundit, The Rant, The Filibuster and Daniel Drezner also discuss this story.