Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t fix the Middle East’s problems

Ian Bremmer
Jul 31, 2013 15:35 UTC

On Monday, the Obama administration announced that Secretary of State John Kerry had convinced Israel and the Palestinian Authority to sit down for negotiations for the first time in three years. Coming out of Monday and Tuesday’s meetings, Kerry announced a goal of working out a comprehensive peace agreement within nine months.

Simply reviving talks at all is a highly impressive achievement; getting both sides to the table would have been impossible without Kerry’s relentless effort. But if the Obama administration thinks this will change the dynamic in the Middle East, it is mistaken for two reasons. First, the initiative is unlikely to succeed, and second, even if it did, it would have little impact on other more immediately pressing Middle East conflicts.

It’s not that pushing for an Israel-Palestine solution isn’t a valiant cause — it’s that there is a full tray of conflicts in the Middle East that exist independently from the Israel-Palestine question: the growing rifts in Egypt or Iraq, the Syrian crisis that has claimed over 100,000 lives, or Iran’s nuclear program. Even Israel and Palestine themselves prioritize many other regional concerns over making any significant progress with each other.

Don’t get me wrong — the chances of success are not zero. But no matter how legacy-defining a lasting breakthrough would be for Obama and Kerry, the odds are incredibly long. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has started and stopped countless times before. So what are the biggest structural impediments to a deal?

Obama’s envoy, former Israeli ambassador Martin Indyk, will only be speaking with representatives of Palestinians’ Fatah party. Since Hamas’ electoral victory in 2006, the territories have been divided into two entities, with Gaza in Hamas’ hands and the West Bank under Fatah control. Fatah lacks the legitimacy at home to negotiate and later implement any final agreement with Israel; the exclusion of the more fundamentalist Hamas from the diplomatic process gives Hamas every incentive to undermine any possible deal. If we begin to see substantial progress, expect Hamas to scuttle it with a violent show of force.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jul 26, 2013 14:56 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political-risk junkie — presented in no particular order, and shared from ForeignPolicy.com. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

Must-reads

Back on top” – The Economist

After Japan’s upper-house elections, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a stable majority in both houses. But will the nationalistic tendencies that have made him so popular at home incense neighbors like China and South Korea even more? 

A hungry world: Lots of food, in too few places” – Mark Koba, CNBC

Of the nearly one billion people who go hungry, approximately 852 million of them live in developing countries. Is the issue that there’s not enough food—or that those who need it most can’t access it?

The countries not letting a crisis go to waste

Ian Bremmer
Jul 25, 2013 14:57 UTC

In 2008, before the financial crisis had even reached its nadir, Rahm Emanuel famously said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Emanuel’s quote became the conventional wisdom for crisis management, even if the idea is age-old: John F. Kennedy Jr. famously pointed out that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters, one for “danger” and one for “opportunity. 

Nearly five years after the global economic meltdown, we can now look at the world’s major powers and assess how well they’ve responded to their various crises. Three categories emerge. Who took advantage of crisis? Who never really had a true crisis? And who is letting crisis go to waste?

A crisis unwasted: Japan and the Euro zone

Let’s begin with Europe, which experienced a real and urgent crisis. Remember that as little as 18 months ago, the media and bond markets had the euro zone pegged for imminent fracture, when the debts of its member countries and the untenable divide between its core countries and those on the periphery threatened to overwhelm the political unity and economic cohesion that the bloc enjoyed. A lack of fiscal coordination, political and monetary dexterity, and balance between strong and weak states pushed the world’s largest economic bloc into existential crisis.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jul 19, 2013 19:14 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political-risk junkie — presented in no particular order, and shared from ForeignPolicy.com. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

Reshaping the world through trade” – Timothy Garton Ash, Los Angeles Times

Trade deal fever — from TTIP to TPP — is partly a hedge against China’s rise. But that doesn’t mean China shouldn’t be invited. In fact, China’s inclusion should be encouraged…provided it adapts its economic approach to meet the entrance criteria.

Will China’s slowing growth lead to unrest?

Ian Bremmer
Jul 19, 2013 19:04 UTC

Recently, it seems no developing country is safe from sudden, unexpected protests. In Brazil and Turkey, empowered middle classes pushed back against perceived governmental injustice; protests erupted, and leaders’ approval ratings dropped precipitously. In Egypt, the economic picture was as ugly as the political one, and the military’s ouster of President Mursi has fomented conflict and instability.

China may look like a candidate for the type of protests currently sweeping the developing world. Not only is a newly empowered middle class demanding better services and more accountability from government — growth has also tapered off in recent quarters. Don’t hold your breath. At least for the time being, China is well-positioned to navigate such challenges far better than its emerging market competitors.

Let’s start with the economy. For years pundits, and many Chinese government officials, thought that if China’s GDP growth rate ever fell below 8 percent, it would set off an unemployment crisis that would raise the risk of social and political instability in the country. Well, China’s finance minister was in Washington last week and said that the Chinese economy could handle 7 percent or even 6.5 percent growth — a lower rate than China has experienced in 23 years.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jul 12, 2013 14:57 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political-risk junkie — presented in no particular order, and shared from ForeignPolicy.com. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

A Free Miracle Food!” – Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times

Suboptimal breast-feeding practices claim 804,000 children’s lives a year—more than malaria (based on the World Health Organization’s estimates). This seems like low-hanging fruit for improving the global child mortality rate.

France’s triumphant ‘Joan of Arc’ vows to bring back franc and destroy euro” – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph

Is becoming Pakistan the best Egypt can hope for?

Ian Bremmer
Jul 11, 2013 19:01 UTC

After the events in Egypt this past week, some in Washington are debating whether to call a coup a coup. The better question: Was the upheaval that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 really a revolution? Think of what Egypt was before and after the fall of Mubarak, and what it is now. Before the Arab Spring the military was Egypt’s most critical political body, a stabilizing force in a country of weak politicians and weaker governance. That never changed. In fact, it hasn’t changed much in the past 60 years. The same military has deposed Mohamed Mursi, and whether it did so because the people demanded it or because the military wanted it is beside the point. Mursi is gone, the Constitution offers no effective oversight of the military, and the fate of the country still rests with a few select generals.

As we ponder Egypt’s foreseeable future, there are no attractive options. Egypt’s least worst option? Pakistan — if it should be so lucky. Things in Egypt are now so bad that resembling Pakistan is as good as it can realistically get any time soon. The worst possibility: outright state failure.

The outcome is in the military’s hands. Egypt’s situation already bears similarities to Pakistan’s, where the military is central, broadly popular, and the country’s primary economic force. In both countries, the military understands that actually running the country — or at least being seen as running the country — is the worst way to consolidate power while avoiding public fury when things go wrong.

China and America’s related, but inverse, dilemmas

Ian Bremmer
Jul 3, 2013 19:45 UTC

As protests sweep the developing world and Europe struggles through an austerity hangover, China and the U.S., relative to their peers, look like the best in class. They are both comfortable with their modest growth rates (compared to their norms of the past decade), and insulated from the kind of social unrest we are seeing in Egypt, Turkey or Brazil. But both countries have a deeper intractable challenge that will, in the longer-term, get worse. What’s interesting is that they’re the inverse of each other: in the U.S., wealth and private sector interests capture the political system. In China, politicians capture the private sector and the wealth that comes with it.

The U.S.’s struggles with lobbying, pork-barrel spending, and the corporate sector’s general overlord status in Washington are well documented. Campaign finance reform is long past. Corporate personhood is well-entrenched. Super PACs are ascendant. A representative democracy is being crowded out by a capitalist one.

The cycle is hard to break. Politicians’ interests become aligned with those of the corporations that help them get elected. But even more troubling is that so many American politicians are gearing up to join the lobbying machine after they retire from government. In 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today, the figure stands at half of senators, and 42 percent of the House.

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