Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon

27 november 2005

The drama now played out in Israel is perhaps the beginning of the last great effort of those from the founding generation of the state of Israel.

Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres share a common background in the underground organisation Haganah during the years prior to the founding of the state. They evidently forged a friendship that has lasted to this day.

For a long time Israeli politics was dominated by the Labour party and its different leaders. In the one way or the other, they all had their background in the ghettos of Eastern Europe.

It was David Ben-Gurion that picked up young Shimon Peres, who become very important in shaping the Israeli Defence Forces, and who should be credited with lots of the efforts to give it also a secret nuclear capability.

It was in 1973 that Likud was set up, and in 1977 it come to power under Menachem Begin, establishing a ”counter-establishment” that started to integrate not the least the Jews with more of a background in the Middle East into the political system.

Although the warrior Sharon was key in Likud, there was always an element of distrust between him and the even more hard-line core of the party. It had its origins in the more militant Stern and Irgun armed groups, and relations between them and Haganah in the underground were not always the best.

Now Sharon is breaking away from Likud, and Peres is breaking away from Labour, with a new political group seeing the light of the day and intending to complete the work of creating a secure and free Israel.

They do this in a situation in which it is other groups that are taking over in Israel. No longer are the leading persons having their background in old Eastern Europe. Now, it’s more often than not the Middle East, and further down the road will come the million or so recent immigrants from Russia.

It’s still old Israel that is now regrouping and perhaps preparing for a true peace. But behind them comes a new Israel with sometimes different perspectives and values.

Death to Civil Society in Russia

24 november 2005

It is highly disturbing to see the speed with which the Duma in the first reading decided on the new law putting serious restrictions on non-governmental organisations in Russia, and in practical terms forcing all foreign such to close down operations in the country.

Independent Duma member Vladimir Ryzjkov is clear in his view about the law:

”This bill will put an end to civil society in Russia”.

In Moscow over last weekend, different representatives of the presidential administration brushed aside criticism of the draft law by saying that it would be very substantially modified.

Well, there is still room for this to be done. But we have learnt over the past few years that the nationalist and the security factions more often than not get the last word on issues like these.

I understand that the issue was raised by President Bush when hne saw President Putin in Busan last week. That’s excellent. One wonder if Europe has done anything. I haven’t heard anything.

Silence from Europe would be highly disturbing.

We should not silently accept the silencing of Russia.

Duma Gives Nod to Tough NGO Bill

Dayton Drama Produces Very Little

23 november 2005

I missed the Dayton anniversary celebrationens in Washington yesterday. Previous commitments in Athens – where weather is as bad as you get – had to be honoured.

It was all built up as a very major thing to get the Bosnian parties to agree to major constitutional revisions and reforms. Not a bad thing in itself, although I’m always somewhat hesitant against anything that takes focus away from the necessary economic and social reforms.

At the end of the day, very little was achieved. There was plenty of smoke and sound, but precious little of fire and substance.

The Bosnian party leaders assembled in Washington agreed in the most general terms possible to undertake constitutional reforms to strengthen the government and to streamline the presidency and parliament.

They could evidently not be brought to agree on what that actually would entail, but undertook to have some answer ready by March 2006.

We’ll see what that means. Some will undoubtedly interpret it in a maximalist way, and others in a minimalist. That was the critical gap that Washington obviously failed to bridge.

It’s high time for the European Union to take charge of the process. After all, it should be related to the process of European integration, even if that is likely to be a rather slow one.

The Dayton anniversary drama of Washington achieved very little. Europe has a somewhat more long-term view.

That is likely to achieve more.

Bosnia Towards Europe

22 november 2005

On the day of the tenth anniversary of the deal in Dayton the EU Council of Ministers decided on the opening of negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia.

Good. But there is a risk that one would believe in Bosnia that this will solve everything. It will not.

At the end of the day the problems of Bosnia will have to be tackled by the politicians of Bosnia – although the European Union will provide a framework and a model of great importance.

The Commissioner for Enlargement and the Western Balkans Olli Rehn was very clear in his statement:

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a clear European perspective. This perspective will be even more tangible when negotiations start on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union. This agreement provides new opportunities for all citizens of the country. In terms of trade and economic developments but also in more cooperation in various policy areas, such as, tackling organised crime and trafficking across borders, as well as to improve environmental standards.”

”The reforms in the country must continue, to further improve the citizen rights and economic opportunities of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They also help to meet the conditions of approaching the EU. Clear conditionality is the basis of the EU’s soft power of transformation that turns potential candidates to ripe member states over the years.”

Conditionality remains the name of the game. For Turkey. For Serbia. For Bosnia.

Ultimately for the benfit of the citizens of those countries.

EUROPA – Rapid – Press Releases

Angela Takes Power

22 november 2005

Today is the Big Day in Berlin. More than two months after the federal election, a new government will formally be formed.

At 10:00 the Bundestag will vote on the proposal to make Angela Merkel the new Chancellor of Germany. Outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will cast his vote for the woman he did his utmost to block, and is then scheduled to give up his seat un the Bundestag tomorrow. But a critical question is how many SPD members will not give Angela their votes.

Then, at 14:00, she will be sworn into office, after which the entire new cabinet will be sworn into office at 16:00.

Then starts to business of reforming Germany and changing Europa.

Nothing more and nothing less…

href=””>Deutscher Bundestag – German Parliament – Bundestag Allemand

National Responsibility in Israel

21 november 2005

Today Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left the Likud party in Israel that he himself to a large extent had created back in 1973. Instead, he decided to set up a new ”National Responsibility” party with a profoundly different core agenda.

While Likud was the party that was formed around the idea of Greater Israel, National Responsibility will be the party that de facto abandons this idea and instead continues the policies for a realistic peace started with the unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

It is a move of historic significance for Israel – and possible for the entire Middle East.

The country is heading for new elections by March at the latest. March 8 looks like a possibility.

It will be a bitter struggle not the least between the old and the new party of Ariel Sharon. Israeli politics is being redefined in a way that will have consequences for years to come.

There has also been the upheaval in the Labour party and the emergence of its new and very different leader The new leader Amir Peretz is from a very different mould than the old ones, and seems destined to strike a cord with the electorate. It looks as if the old leader Shimon Peres is about to abandon Labour and join the new party that Sharon is setting up.

It will be turmoil on all fronts. But the end result is likely to be a Knesset majority for a continuation of the present policies of realism and peace.

You never really know, but at the moment it seems to be good news coming out of the Middle East.

Haaretz – Israel News – Sharon officially quits Likud to set up new party

Bosnia 10 Years After Dayton

21 november 2005

Today it’s a decade since we managed to get final agreement on a peace agreement that ended the brutal and more than three years long war in Bosnia.

We spent three weeks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton in Ohio in the US trying to get all the details right. But in the early morning of November 21 it still looked as if it was all going to fail. Only last-minute concessions made the deal possible.

When looking back at the decade that has passed it’s obvious that Dayton was a success in ending the war and setting Bosnia on the path to a sustainable peace.

But as the country today is on the verge of a transition from international semi-protectorate to European integration, it is a more open question whether Bosnia has been a success.

The greatest challenge that Bosnia faces is the economic and social one. Official figures speak about an unemployment over 40 %, but this applies only to the app. third of the adukt population that is to be found in the labour force. In spite of the the revival of Sarajevo, poverty remains widespread.

The politicians of Bosnia have been far to tempted to blame all their problems on the international community, or to descend into different constitutional squabbles, and far too little ready to tackle the hard realities of profound economic reform.

It’s by giving its people a better prospect of the future that Bosnia can really make itself a success in the years to come. The road towards European integration will be a powerful help, but will not in itself solve the challenges that are there.

Today the European Union in Brussels will give ahead for the start of talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia. That’s significant, but doesn’t automatically solve anything. There is even a risk that it lulls the leaders of Bosnia into a sense of complacency.

In parallel, talks in Washington are likely to result in a limited agreement on limited constitutional changes. That’s also a good step, although one that in itself does not address the core challenge of the country at this time. And there is always the risk that continued squabbles over its implementation will deflect them from the key tasks.

We do see important progress in the region. Croatia is negotiating for membership in the European Union. Serbia is making progress in economic reforms. Macedonia has been recommended for candidate status for EU membership by the European Commission.

There is a risk of Bosnia falling behind.

A decade after Dayton, it is high time that the leaders of Bosnia concentrated on the real challenges of peace.

y10 years after Dayton I: Bosnia still has a way to go – Editorials & Commentary – International Herald Tribune