To Understand Foreign Policy, One Must Consider Domestic Politics

Over the weekend, Thomas Friedman* (free link) had a widely circulated column about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Most of the commentary focused on his warning for Israel that a Gaza invasion without real moves towards a two-state solution would be catastrophic. But there is a very critical section of the piece that has been mostly neglected (boldface mine):

Netanyahu should not allow this, but he has trapped himself. He needs those right-wing extremists in his coalition to keep himself out of jail on corruption charges.

But he is going to put all of Israel into the jail of Gaza unless he breaks with those Jewish supremacists.

So much of the recent events have to do with domestic politics–Netanyahu doesn’t want to go to jail (sound familiar, U.S.-ians?). For Hamas, they are facing opposition from more liberal and conservative forces, not just regarding Israel, but also domestically (e.g., many younger women in Gaza are unhappy to say the least under Hamas rule). Consider the U.S. and the suspension of funding for Ukraine: regardless of what one thinks the U.S.’s Ukraine policy should be, the suspension of funding has nothing to do with a sober reconsideration of our policy, but entirely with domestic politics.

(And understanding the domestic politics of different countries can be difficult because there is the temptation to assume that issues ‘map’ or are correlated in the same way across societies–someone you, in another country, might agree with on a foreign policy issue might disagree themselves with you on other issues. It’s a great opportunity to beclown yourself by offering bad advice).

A critical issue to ending the conflict will be understanding the various actors’ domestic constraints. You don’t have to sympathize with various parties, but, if you’re serious about short- and long-term deescalation, then you do have to empathize with them.

*Friedman was awful regarding Iraq, and his attempt to be a public intellectual is hilarious, but he has held consistent views on Israel/Palestine for a long time. A stopped clock is right twice a day and all that…

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  1. Pingback: Links 11/6/23 | Mike the Mad Biologist

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