Free Trade But Only If It Helps Us

According to AP,

The Bush administration, trying to energize flagging global trade talks, announced Tuesday that it will seek the total elimination of all tariffs on manufactured goods [emphasis mine] over the next 13 years.

When I read this news, the words “manufactured goods” jumped out at me. I would guess that this proposal will basically help the industrialized countries. How about reducing the tariffs on agricultural products to help the developing world?

UPDATE: CalPundit has also blogged on this story, linking it to terrorism.

UPDATE II: To be fair, according to the NY Times:

The White House came up with a similar plan last summer to reduce agricultural tariffs and subsidies. That plan called for reducing tariffs from an average of 62 percent to 15 percent over five years. But the plan calls for the deepest tariff cuts by countries with the highest duties, and it has been greeted coldly by the European Union.

WSJ Editorial: The Non-Taxpaying Class

E.J. Dionne, Tim Noah and Josh Marshall are making fun of the Wall Street Journal editorial last week which basically says:

[A]s fewer and fewer people are responsible for paying more and more of all taxes, the constituency for tax cutting, much less for tax reform, is eroding. Workers who pay little or no taxes can hardly be expected to care about tax relief for everybody else. They are also that much more detached from recognizing the costs of government.

And WSJ’s example: people earning $12,000 a year! The quotes from the above sites make the editorial look like it was published by The Onion. I couldn’t find the editorial online as I don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, so I can’t say if these characterisations are correct.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has some ideas from the Dead Kennedys to accomplish what WSJ wants.

UPDATE II: The editorial can be found here. (Via CalPundit who has a good post on this topic.)

Frontline “In Search of Al Qaeda”

I just watched the PBS show online. It’s interesting. The complete show in available online in Media Player and Real media formats. There is also some material on the website that wasn’t on the show itself. The Al Qaeda supporting woman, from Yemen I believe, near the end of the program spooked me:

“I love him too much, and also my son loves him, 7 years old. He wants to become like Osama Bin Laden. He wants to kill the Israelis and kill any Americans who support Israel. We hate war. If there are American people who want to live in peace, may be also I want to live in peace. [If they don’t,] I must [take] revenge.”

More comments later.

Movies

Here are the movies we are planning to see over the thanksgiving weekend:

Die Another Day: I have always been a fan of James Bond movies. They are basically mindless fun.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: My wife likes Harry Potter.

Upper Yosemite Falls

A tough hike to the top of these falls…

Upper Yosemite Falls
 

Double Standards

Yes I believe in them! Not exactly, though I do hold democracies to a higher standard. So you might find me writing a few paragraphs criticizing some small aspect of policy of the US, EU or Israel while sort of glossing over big problems in Iraq or North Korea and you might yell “prejudice” or “moral equivalency”. You couldn’t be more wrong. Here’s the thing: Saddam, Kim Jong Il, and other dictators and absolute monarchs are a menace to their people. Usually I would make a general criticism of these guys in a sentence and that would be it. Don’t despair, I don’t think the US and Iraq are morally equivalent. In fact, I think I can’t even compare. Do you really think we want to be compared to these tinpot dictatorships like Iraq, Egypt, North Korea or China? Are we really that bad? One could be the scum of the earth and still be better than Stalin or Brezhnev. Is that something to be proud of?

So I’ll concentrate on those topics and countries that interest me more and I’ll criticize democracies more since they could easily do better. And I don’t consider countries like Egypt to be democratic in any sense even those they hold elections (with foregone results). You might find that I focussed more on Israel in the pieces below. I feel Israel usually does better than its rivals and it can do much better.

NOTE: I use “we”, “us”, etc for both the United States (where I have lived for the past 5 years) and Pakistan (where I grew up). It will usually be clear from the context who I am referring to.

Look of Blog using Netscape

From my logs I have noticed that a number of my visitors are using browsers other than MSIE (Netscape, Opera, etc.) I would appreciate comments on how this site looks in those browsers? Please leave comments or email me.

Past or the Future

One final comment about the Arab-Israeli conflict before I get back to work:

There is definitely a need to understand the conflict and its history. However, the Israelis and Palestinians need to understand not just the history from their side’s point of view but the opposing side’s as well. Although history is important, the solution will not come from understanding history or looking back at what was. It will come from overcoming the past and looking towards the future; having a vision and imagining what can be. This is what Sadaat had in the 1970s and Barak had in the 1990s.

UPDATE: While Muslims and Arabs might have had misgivings about the creation of the state of Israel, Israel is here to stay and we must recognize that fact. I think there has been real progress in accepting the existence of Israel in the last decade, but there is still some ground to be covered.

Jewish Settlers and Israeli Arabs as obstacle to Peace

One reason for my pessimism for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the feckless Palestinian leadership. The other is the issue of Jewish settlers in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and ironically the Israeli Arabs. It is basically a demographic issue. According to the CIA World Factbook, there are about 365,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (about 6% of the population) and about 19.9% of the population is not Jewish most of which is Arab.

Now, any settlement with the Palestinians will involve withdrawing from most of West Bank and Gaza and some of Jerusalem as well (in my opinion, a solution without some part of Jerusalem being part of the Palestinian state will be unaceptable to the Palestinians.) That means withdrawal of the Jewish settlements from the Palestinian state as most of the settlers won’t want to live in an Arab state. The percentage of settlers in the voting population has increased quite a lot in recent years and would increase in the future as well. Even if there is a stop to further settlement, the settlers’ share of the vote would probably increase as they are in general more religious than the general population and hence would have a higher birth rate. Self-interest being one of the more important of motivations for people everywhere, why should they vote themselves out of their homes? This will be especially true for the generation born in those settlements. This would mean that for an Israeli government to win elections based on their committment to peace requires them to win really big within the Green Line. And that’s where the Israeli Arabs create a further complication. Since these Arabs are close relatives of the Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza, no Israeli government can rely on them as the deciding factor for a peace settlement. The decision to give up territory for peace has to be made by the Jewish population. Demographics again make the situation rather bleak as the Israeli Arabs have a higher birth rate than the Israeli Jews, making the election of an Israeli government agreeing to a Palestinian state more difficult with time.

OK, I am feeling very pessimistic now.

The Arab-Israel Conflict

I recently finished reading the book Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 by Benny Morris. It’s a long read (more than 700 pages) with a comprehensive history of the conflict starting in 1881 and ending with the election of Sharon. Benny Morris gives a very balanced and nuanced account of the conflict.

I realized after reading him that both Arabs and Israel have committed atrocities and mistakes at various times. Some people who come off really badly in the book are Amin Al-Husseini (the Nazi supporting Palestinian leader), Arafat, Sharon (especially his actions during the war in Lebanon, where he comes off as undermining Israeli democracy as well) and to some extent Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion’s statements regarding transfer of Arabs out of Palestine (I’ll use Palestine when I refer to the British mandate) and his and some earlier Zionist leaders’ ideas about Greater Israel (encompassing at least all of Palestine) don’t really endear them to me.

It is also clear that both sides missed opportunities for peace. For example, Col. Zaim of Syria asked to meet Ben-Gurion to negotiate a peace settlement in 1949, but Ben-Gurion refused to even meet and kept his cabinet ignorant about the offer. Similarly, peace overtures by King Abdullah of Jordan in 1949 and Sadaat of Egypt in 1971 got nowhere with Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. However, the Palestinian leadership always took a very inflexible stance until the 1990s. This inflexibility meant they missed all opportunities for a state of their own. They could have gotten 80% of Palestine in 1937 (Peel Commission) and 44% in 1947 (UN partition plan), but they never even considered these plans.

In my opinion, the conflict between Jews and Arabs was inevitable. They both wanted the same piece of land. Jewish immigration to the land of Israel was necessary because of their persecution in Europe. And though they had historical ties going back millenia to the land of Israel and there had been a continuous Jewish presence there, the area was largely inhabited by Arabs in the 19th century. According to Benny Morris, in 1881 there were only about 15,000 Jews in a total population of 457,000 (about 3.3%). In 1918, it had changed to 59,000 out of 747,000 (7.9%). By 1931, they constituted 16.6% (175,000) of the population (1,055,000). By 1939, 30.1% of the population was Jewish (460,000 out of 1,530,000). The Peel Commission had suggested the population transfer of about 1,250 Jews and 225,000 Arabs to the Jewish and Arab states respectively in 1937. Similarly, Israel under the UN partition plan would have had a population of 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs (another 100,000 Jews lived in Jerusalam’s international zone.) From these figures, it seems to me that the Jewsih and Arab populations were very mixed and it would have been really difficult to draw borders to separate them. Transfer seems like an obvious solution but the only times peaceful population transfers have occured in recent world history is when the transfer is mutual or when the population being transferred is thoroughly defeated in war. Neither held true for the Palestinian Arabs until the defeat of the Arabs in the 1948 war. Looking at the population figures above, I can understand some of the Arab outrage at Jewish immigration. I don’t understand their use of violence or their rejection of all compromise however. Another striking thing from the pre-1948 period is that the Jewish population did not use violence except in retaliation to Arab attacks. They bought land from Arab landlords who were sometimes leaders pontificating against Jewish settlement.

Looking at the 1948 war, it is clear that the Arab states really were after a land grab rather than helping their Palestinian brothers. For example, Jordan never really attacked any area allocated to Israel in the UN plan. The real losers in 1948 were the Palestinians. They probably didn’t consider themselves a Palestinian nation at the time. Here, I would like to address the point of some critics that there has never been a Palestinian state or Palestinian people. That is true historically, however there were Arabs in Palestine and their sense of belonging to a nation was developed over time (crystallizing in the 1960s), just like any other nation. As an example, one can also say that there never was a Pakistani state or a Pakistani nation until 1947. True enough, but the separate identity of Muslims in India developed over time and led to the creation of Pakistan and hence Pakistani people as well.

I also had the feeling of deja vu while reading this book. Everything happens twice, first by one side then by the other. For example, the demolition of terrorists’ homes was started by the British in the 1936-39 Arab rebellion. The drive-by shooting and bombing of marketplaces originated with the LHI and IZL terrorist groups. And Arabs were the ones worried about the demographics in the 1930s and Israelis are now.

Unlike Aziz Poonawalla, I don’t think a binational state will work. There is too much hatred on both sides. It might have been possible in the 1930s-40s but a lot has happened in the meantime. Again, the example of Pakistan is instructive. Until about mid-1940s, a federation/confederation comprising the whole of India (now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was likely. But it did not happen and by 1946 most of the Muslim leadership wanted a separate state (which was created in 1947.) Later, in 1970 the Awami League political party won the elections in a unified Pakistan (East Pakistan is now Bangladesh.) It wanted a very loose federation of East and West Pakistan, but the military government did not transfer power to them and cracked down on the Awami League (which was based in East Pakistan.) A civil war ensued and Bangladesh was born. Even though there was widespread frustation in East Pakistan against West Pakistan’s domination, it was the military crackdown that ended all hope of reconciliation or compromise.

At present, I don’t see any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A Palestinian state is a necessary part of the solution, but the current Palestinian leadership does not have the vision or the will to pursue it and is hell-bent on terrorism. Also, popular opinion in Israel will not be conducive to negotiation and compromise until the terrorist attacks cease or at least become somewhat rare. Violence though has its own life. Once a conflict gets really violent, it is almost impossible to return to a peaceful state. There are too many thugs and criminals who make their living, so to speak, on that violence. The current crop of Israeli and Palestinian leaders look too much to the past. In my pessimistic opinion, they can’t make peace; and it will get worse before it gets better. The next crop of leaders will be more extremist and will thrive on mutual hatred. Hopefully, that’s as low as it will get and it will get better after that. Sometimes when I am optimistic, I think a solution could be found soon. The election of Amram Mitzna as the Israeli Labor party leader has provided some hope. Now, where is his Palestinian counterpart to replace Arafat?