Monday, November 30, 2009

Anti-Israel Boycott Fails Again - This Time Mountain Equipment Co-op

This passed weekend saw another attempt at expanding boycott efforts directed at Israel across Canada. The latest target was Mountain Equipment Co-op for having an Israeli supplier of under garments and water bottles. The boycotters felt this was in violation of their ethical purchasing standards. A boycott was called for Saturday with the Jewish community responding on Sunday with a buycott. Leading up to the week end the only major publicity was a few newspapers condeming the boycott.

The boycott got no attetion what so ever. It has been reported that the biggest turn out was in Vancouver with 20 supporters. Organizers didn't even bother to set up a protest in Toronto. Considering the amount of attention devoted to boycotting Israel at CUPE and other institutions, why was the campaign such a miserable failure?

One explanation is the protesters carefully examined what they were boycotting. They found that MEC carefully examines their suppliers and have already addressed concerns about the treatment of Palestinians. They realize that the boycott would hurt the incomes of Palestinians more than it will cause any shifts in Israeli government policy. Perhaps they have learned that every boycott rallies the Jewish community and it's supporters. The targeted victims come out ahead by support from the buycott campaign.

The simpler and most likely explanation is that Canadians really don't care that much about the Palestinians issues. There are number of reports from attendees at the boycotts that indicated even the people who showed up giving out pamphlets really didn't understand the issues. They were not interested in engaging in discussions with people with a different perspective.

Israel has a long history even before it became a state. There was a continuous Jewish community living in Hevron before a French flag was ever planted in the New World until they were expelled by the British in 1933. Jewish communities in East Jerusalem and Gush were expelled when they found themselves outside of Israel after the 1948 war of Independence. The demands of a Palestinian State are to have these communities once again free of Jews, while Palestinians can settle anywhere in Israel outside of a Palestinian State.

The Boycott campaign completely ignores the valid goals and concerns Israel is facing. At the same time it hits the Palestinian they are pretending to help the hardest with zero political benefit. It is time for the boycotts to stop and those who really care about the long term interests of the region start pushing solutions that are mutually beneficial to Palestinians and Israelis. Anything less is a waste of time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving it the full 10%

Under Steven Harper the Conservatives have made a major shift in election strategy. Campaigning is no longer reserved for elections. Controlling their branding with aggressive marketing has insured they are well defined in the eyes of the public. This strategy minimizes the risk of political fallout from a mistake on the short campaign trail. Kim Campbell, Stephane Dion and John Tory have all learned the hard way that campaigns are not the time to discuss major policy shifts. This startegy also allowed the Conservatives to attack Dion at his weakest. The strategy was extra effective as the Liberals did not have the financial resources to proeperly respond to the attacks.

The Conservatives have been using a strategy called ten percenters. This allows an MP to send flyers to other ridings under certain conditions. This Junk Mail strategy has annoyed many but the Conservatives seem to believe they work. The most recent controversy was 10 percenters sent to 5 Jewish ridings outlining the holes in the Liberals Israel foreign policy. The facts in the flyer were technically accurate but did not reflect the complete Liberal policy. There has been debate as to how much the Conservatives meant to imply in their criticism.

A committee is now reviewing the rules regarding the use of the ten percenters. The approach being taken by the opposition parties is that the Conservatives are abusing the system therefore the rules need to be changed. While the Government has spent $6 million on the flyers the opposition parties have spent $4 million. The wrong approach is being taken for meaningful change.

Originally the 10 percenters were designed to inform specific groups of government programs that applied to them that they not be aware of. There is also a secondary consequence. During an election the advantage always goes to the incumbent. They have a track record in government. Government accomplishments are their accomplishments. Plus people don't vote for change unless there is a major reason to. MP send notices to their own riding letting them know the job they as individuals and the government is doing. 10 percenters allows mailings to go out to deliver a similar message even if the riding is currently controlled by another party. They can help balance the playing field already tipped in favour of the incumbent.

The questions that should be asked are in an today's age of communication are mailings really an effective way to MPs to communicate with constituents? What is the balance between communicating with constituents for effective governing versus building on the incumbent advantage? What limitations can be put in place to limit partisan nature of communication with the riding without damaging the ability to represent a riding effectively? Addressing these issues will produce a new set of guidelines to improve the MP to voter relationship. Taking an approach with the intent to simply stop Conservative Party propaganda will simply replace the current system with a different partisan based system.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Palestinian Authority Strategy for Chaos - FAIL

Palestinian leadership has always taken the same single minded approach into negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. They have always been willing to reach a compromise as long as all of their demands are met. Combining violence and diplomacy they have reached some degree of success with this strategy until this year.

The war in Gaza has acted as a deterrent to rocket attacks. The rockets have not completly stopped but it his reduced it to a minimum. Israel returns fire for every attack creating a tangible cause and effect. A new Israeli Government is now in power with a mandate to protect Israel's interests even if it makes the Palestinians unhappy. Economic conditions have improved in the West Bank as security check points have been removed. All of these developments have forced the Palestinians to have to agree to compromise if they want to move forward plus demonstrate the rewards for living peacefully.

The Palestinians beleived that Barak Obama could dictate Israeli policy. They were so convinced that Obama's declaration that settlements must stop would come to fruition, they made it a condition of bargaining with Israel. Israel responded with a definite no, leaving the Palestinians with the option to back down or put more pressure on Israel. The Palestinian Authority has lost support at home by botching the handling of the Goldstone Report. First they postponed it's review by the UNHRC followed by demanding the UNHRC hold an emergency session to have it passed. They have admitted to not having time to read the report plus they cannot follow up any allegations with the International Criminal Court because they have no evidence outside of the report. Judge Goldstone has admitted that the report does not meet the burden of proof for a criminal trial.

Since Hillary Clinton declared that they are satisfied with the compromise over Israeli settlements, the Palestinian leadership has been playing all kinds of political games to gain world sympathy. Elections have been called for January. Unsurprisingly Hamas has rejected the plan sighting the fact that Abbas should have already faced an election when his Presidential term expired. Abbas has threated not to run in the election. He has taken his threats as far as resigning from all of his positions within the Palestinian leadership and dismantling the Palestinian Authority in the process. He has promissed violence will be result of the leadership vacum. Chief Palestinian negotiaitor Saeb Erekat has come out and said that they are trying to gain support at the United Nations to have a Palestinian State recognized with 1967 borders.

The current strategy is to create absolute chaos. The United States and Israel will bend over backwards to make concessions to prevent them from happening. A Palestinian State as has been proposed this far would be suicide for Israel. Palestinians are not even willing to entertain the possibility of logical land swaps that would create a practical border for both sides. That is probably one of the simplest areas to work out. The only strategy that will work is the one they have been pretending to subscribe to. They must be willing to compromise with a solution that takes Israeli interests into consideration. Until that time the silly games will continue with no results.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

By Election Supports Status Quo

By elections can be a good way to get insight into how voters feel about the current government. As the outcome will not change the balance of power, voters have more freedom to express their political feelings. They are often considered a referendum on the governing party more than a reflection of the outcome of a possible general election. The result of Monday's by elections were the Conservatives picking up 2 seats. One from the Bloc and one Independent (for all intensive purposes this was a Conservative seat). The Bloc and NDP each held a seat and the Liberals came in 3rd in every riding. Each party is trying to put a positive spin on the results.

The Conservative seats demonstrate that the can still compete for seats in Quebec and recent controversies have not hurt them too much. They are now only 5 seats short of a majority government putting them in good position to hold on to power in a general election. This should put to rest election fever that had been gripping the opposition parties at different points during the year. This could also give them a little more leverage as they continue to work in the confines of a Minority Government.

The NDP picked up popular support. While it does not indicate that they are ready to knock out the Liberals for Official Opposition status it shows that they do have support for not pulling the plug on the government. Canadians care more about results then swaying with the most recent poll.

The Liberals failed to compete in ridings that they didn't really have a chance to win. The fact that they didn't perform better does not indicate the party is in trouble. However, a strong showing would have been a huge boost for the Liberals.

The Bloc losing a seat just shows that the province will be wide open in the next election. They may still be able to dominate but they will need to be ready for a tough battle. Losing even a handful of seats could be enough for the Conservatives to form a majority government.

The Green Party could not break 5% in any riding. Considering the amount of attention enviornmental issues and it was a by election they should have put up a strong showing. This does not bode well for the Green Party dream to finally win a seat. They are probably going to need to revaluate their stratgey after the next election.

The message that has been delivered to Ottawa is that Canadian's are content with the current government arrangement. An election will not knock the Conservatives out of power. The NDP are doing an effective job in opposition. The Liberals are holding on based their history then the role they would like to play as Government in waiting. The weakness in Bloc support has been exposed. The Green Party continues to be insignifacant on the political landscape. Combining all these messages together is that the government should get back to work and put thoughts of election fever on the back burner.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

US Administration backs down on settlement freeze

In his Cairo speech Barak Obama declared that Israeli settlements had to stop. The US Administration exerted a ton of political capital to make it clear that stop meant a full and permanent stop everywhere including East Jerusalem and the old city. Obama had broken away from previous understandings with Israel that while they wanted a freeze it was not realistic.

PM Netanyahu was firm in his resistance to the American pressure. Jewish settlements that were being being torn down by the IDF were immediately being rebuilt and named in honour of of the President. The end result was what the US Administration should have been aiming for in the first place. Israel would temporarily freeze new construction, allow construction already in progress to be completed and stick to previous agreements not to build outside of land already allocated for settlements. Construction could continue in Jerusalem.

Last night Hillary Clinton conceded the American position. She recognized that Israel had already made a huge concession and deserved credit. The unspoken flip side is that Israel once again got nothing in return for their change in policy. Clinton once again called for both sides to return to the negotiating table.

The reaction by the Palestinians to the Cairo speach was to make a settlement freeze a prerequisite to future negotiations. This was a brand new demand never imposed before on any other Israeli government. They thought Obama could bring them a major victory without having to give up anything in return at the bargaining table.

Once agian Obama's Nobel Prize winning strategy has backfired. The Palestinians will use this new excuse to avoid negotiations as they wait for more rewards just for showing up. Palestinians will now return to their strategy of sit back and wait until all of their demand are met, no matter how long it takes.