Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Coming Kurdish Referendum.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Kurds and their quest for independence and the establishment of a Kurdish state. That piece was published in the Jerusalem Post and you can access it here. On September 25, 2017 the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) will vote on a referendum on independence. Support for the referendum – and nobody expects it to fail – fulfills a Kurdish dream. The proposed Kurdish state would be in the Iraqi Kurdish region which has begun to establish some state institutions and has enough resources to sustain the new state.

But the interesting question is how the Kurds proceed after the referendum vote. The Iraqis are assuming that support for the referendum would simply open up conversations and negotiations concerning outside issues. In fact, the referendum will not change much on the ground but will send a message to the Iraqis and the rest of the world that Kurdish independence should be respected.

The referendum is actually a rhetorical device that expresses Kurdish recognition and their commitment to a democratic process that indicates serious intent. The Kurds have been slow to develop their own cultural and political institutions (not entirely their fault) and in the past have been more interested in concessions from Baghdad such as the Federalist structure that now governs the relationship between the Kurds and the Iraqis.

There remains opposition to Kurdish independence, even on the part of the United States, when the broader array of complex international relations is taken into account. Most notably, the United States always has to consider its relationship with Turkey. The Turks have had a contentious relationship with the Kurds for a long time and view some Kurdish political groups as a threat to the stability of Turkey. One goal for Kurdish leaders is to convince Turkey that they are no threat. Moreover, the US while supportive of the Kurds in many ways still uses them to manage the US relationship with Iraq. So the US has told the Kurds that they can do nothing toward independence or changing their status that threatens a stable relationship with Iraq.

In an interview with Bilal Wahab, a Fellow at the Washington Institute, he makes the case that the Kurds remain unready for independence and there are still many questions for the multi-ethnic state to answer. There are religious minorities (Yazidis, Zoroastrians) and ethnic minorities (Arabs, Turkmen) all of which must be integrated into some semblance of a democratic society. Is it going to be a true liberal democracy where all groups are equal in the eyes of the law, or is one group, namely Kurds, going to be privileged. Moreover, what about the question of those Kurds in other countries such as Turkey and Syria? Will they be welcome?

The Kurds have been promised a homeland and independence since World War I. There referendum for independence is a good start and I support it all of its rhetorical and practical deficiencies notwithstanding. But the journey from a discriminated against ethnic group to an independent state is a long and twisted one. Still, the Kurds are in line to start this journey with an initial “Declaration of Independence.”

 

 

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What Palestinians Need to Do

I recently returned from five months in Israel where I did many things but also had a chance to refine my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this trip I spent a little more time trying to understand Palestinians – their wishes, goals, mentalities, and political aspirations. Below I say a few things about what I concluded. I know, and one hears this refrain regularly, that the Palestinians do not need one more Western academic, or any Westerner, telling them what to do. But I am going to offer up some observations anyway.

In short, the evidence seems to indicate that the Palestinians have missed opportunities, squandered finances, and generally failed to build institutions and infrastructure. Again, I understand that these are complex issues with complex explanations, and the Israelis are certainly not innocent. Let’s take a look at some specific points that I believe undergird this argument. There is a short informative reading on the state of the Palestinians here.

  1. The Palestinians have been governed by Fatah and Hamas. Fatah is secular and Hamas is a creation of the Muslim brotherhood. The competition between these two organizations has not served the Palestinians well. Neither Fatah nor Hamas governs in an effective and transparent manner. There has been no emergent collective political ideology and the divide between the two parties is wider than ever.
  2. Both Fatah and Hamas rely on authoritarian governance which alienates them from large sections of their population. The use of violence, patronage, and general corruption is a conservative influence and makes change difficult.
  3. The Palestinians have not moved beyond” liberation” as their primary agenda item. The two political parties spend little time on the challenges of governing because liberation from the occupation remains the central animating force. Although this is understandable, it remains the case that alternative narratives or workable pathways to liberation have eluded the Palestinian leadership.
  4. Related to all of these points, is the failure on the part of the Palestinians to build civil society. There is internal strife and dissatisfaction because basic governing structures don’t work well or exist at all. The world has poured money into Palestinian organization only to have little to show for it. True enough, that Palestinians have been successful at making their case on the world stage and garnering international sympathy. But this has all been at the cost of civil society and internal governing structure.
  5. Finally, I have come to the conclusion that political will and more attention by the United States is called for. The US must redirect some of its energy and resources toward the Palestinians and help work to develop their legitimacy in the context of their Israeli neighbors. Washington can directly support elements of civil society (schools, trade unions, community governance structures, medical and financial services) and contribute to the empowerment of Palestinians along with organizing them for civil political activity rather than “liberation.”

 

 

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