Monday, December 17, 2007

Apartheid and Environmental History

The Environmental History podcast continues directing its attention to South Africa. In the latest episode Jan Oosthoek speaks with Phia Steyn about the effects of apartheid on environmental issues in South-Africa, also in the post-apartheid era.

There are still lingering problems around infrastructure, that is sewage systems and waste management, but there are also specific issues some remaining today. Apartheid caused South Africa's isolation and allowed a lot of leeway for the industry that brought in some money to continue its production even if it were hurting the environment. In addition, the apartheid regime engaged in the wars in Namibia and Angola, causing the pollution that comes with modern warfare.

From the pre-apartheid era, we see how the racist world view, that later would feed apartheid, already in the 19th century gave rise to environmental problems. During the great rinderpest, it was unthinkable the disease could spread by way of whites' activities. Almost naturally the blacks were accused and faced restrictions.

Eventually Oosthoek asks whether the environment, or more specifically environmental issues influnence history. According to Steyn it is more complicated than that. There is some effect, but in conjunction with other factors.

UCLA Israel studies

UCLA has an Israel Studies program which delivers a podcast which has around 6 issues in its feed. The latest in the series is a lecture by Shimon Shamir about the peace process in the Middle-East. Shimon Shamir was an envoy to Egypt for Israel during the days of the Peres/Shamir unity government. In his lecture he uses the two peace models that are working (more or less)- the peace with Egypt and the peace with Jordan - and analyzes how these models can be helpful for peace with Syria, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab World.

Shimon Shamir summarizes 5 lessons from the peace with Egypt and Jordan:

1- It is problematic to have peace with one Arab country and not the other. Conflicts can spill over. Therefore peace must be comprehensive, that is: with the whole Arab World.

2- Israel expects normalization upon peace, but this is not always realistic and can in fact be damaging. The Arabs are afraid of some kind of immaterial domination. So one must not try to achieve normal relations where there is no genuine interest. It can be peace when there is just no fighting.

3- One must be realistic about the security that can be achieved in return for a peace agreement. Most of the security was already achieved with Jordan and Egypt. Syria and the PA have very little extra to offer, even reduction of terrorism, since it is mostly out of their hands. However, what is important to have also peace with Syria and the Palestinians, is to have a comprehensive peace with the whole Arab World. The symbolic effect of that should be valued and if anything, this can offer the maximum of security in return.

4- There is great importance in joint interest. One must make sure to have joint interest with for example Syria, even if that is rather complicated.

5- One must adopt the existing models to the appropriate players. The Egyptian model should be followed with Syria and the Jordanian with the Palestinians. The real effort will be to adapt these properly for there are specific problems with Syria and the Palestinians that do not exist with Egypt and Jordan.