Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chronicle Of A Peace Process....There's No Happy Ending Here

This is going to be a long post, although I suspect it will probably be the last time I use this header for a blog article in at least 12 months. ETA formally declared an end to their ceasefire last week, although in reality it had already ended with the bombing at the end of December of a car park at Madrid's Barajas airport; which killed 2 Ecuadorian immigrants. Last weeks declaration is simply the (post-electoral) confirmation of what everyone had already assumed to be the case.

Almost as predictable as the announcement of the end of the ceasefire has been the mass outbreak of 20/20 hindsight to try and suggest that the government has been naive or foolish in its dealings with ETA. Much of this “analysis” of course comes from those who never had any interest in the peace process succeeding. Nothing I have seen or read in the last few months changes the opinion I expressed shortly after the airport bombing; the real reason why the process has failed is that ETA are simply not yet ready for a "no winners, no losers" deal. They thought they could extract concessions which would allow them to present their dissolution as a victory, something that was never on offer despite the insistent propaganda of those opposed to the negotiations. Another factor could be that they walked up to the precipice of dissolution, took a look down at a future without the presence of an armed wing to apply pressure when needed, and just decided that bumping along indefinitely with 15-20% of the Basque vote was not what they needed. Here we have a significant difference with the Northern Irish situation, the dominant party in the Basque Country is the conservative nationalist PNV who are very firmly entrenched in the government of the region. A legalised Batasuna would always be playing second fiddle to the PNV, unless as part of the process they got a significant concession which they could use to try and justify all those decades of armed struggle.

It began with this....

Far from blundering blindly into a trap, this process was actually far more prepared than the talks with ETA which took place when José Maria Aznar and the Partido Popular (PP) were in power. That attempt, which involved more concessions than the current government has made in its effort to tempt ETA to dissolve, failed fairly swiftly and the PP now does its very best to pretend that it never happened at all. The initiative by the current government was based on a clear distinction between negotiations with ETA on an end to their existence (which also involved discussion of ETA prisoners), and the political component which would involve their political wing, Batasuna, in negotiations on reshaping the autonomy statute for the region. This distinction was made clear from the beginning, but it seems that at some point ETA decided to turn that process on its head and attempt to engage the government in direct political negotiations. The involvement of other organisations, including natural allies such as Sinn Fein, goes against the idea of it just being a trick to give ETA time to rearm and recover some lost ground.

The worst accusation that can be made against Prime Minister Zapatero, leaving aside the absurd nonsense from the PP about him "surrendering" to terror, is that he was over-optimistic about the whole process. His unfortunate declaration the day before the Barajas bombing that things would be much better in one years time has now come back to haunt him. However, this misreading of ETA's position has not really had any effect on the outcome, because even if the government had correctly assessed the way things were going it is very unlikely that they could have done anything to change it. Ever since the ceasefire was declared last year, the PP adopted an entirely cynical position that was spelt out very clearly by their leader Mariano Rajoy. If ETA didn't kill it was because the government had made concessions to them, and if they did kill it was because the government had not delivered on these concessions. This sort of "heads I win, tails you lose" logic permitted the PP to oppose and actively attempt to derail the process. They should be content at the outcome, what we have now is what they have sought.

and finished here....

Nobody should be surprised at the way the PP has acted. Those who lied and attempted to manipulate events following the Madrid bombings to try and stave off an electoral backlash, and who have since systematically toyed with the victims and memory of those same bombings in order to spread poisonous and nonsensical conspiracy theories, should never be in pole position to give lectures to anyone on how to handle terrorism. There have been many calls in the last few days for Zapatero to “rectify” his position. If the PP was to rectify its own position the first thing it would have to do is exile those responsible for this abusive use of terror for short term political gain to a suitably dark and cold place. Unfortunately for them, that would effectively mean the removal of much of the current party leadership; so we can safely assume it’s unlikely to happen.

PP mythology presents ETA as an organisation reborn thanks to Zapatero, after allegedly being on its knees and on the verge of disappearance when Aznar left power. Quite how they square this with their insistence over 3 long years that ETA either carried out or was involved in the worst terrorist attack the country has ever known is something that I will not attempt to explain. Logic does not even get a walk-on part in this particular picture. That they are irredeemably addicted to the exploitation of terror for their own political gain is further evidenced by one of their latest pre-conditions for supporting the government; that the governing PSOE rejects a deal to govern in coalition with nationalists in Navarra. This has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with the loss of the PP’s overall majority in the recent elections in the region; the nationalists in question are democratic organisations opposed to the use of violence.

There is now much talk about the need for unity between democrats against the threat of renewed ETA actions, and Zapatero had a meeting with Mariano Rajoy yesterday to try and defuse the PP’s attempts to extract political advantage from the situation. The PP has carefully distanced itself from the scorched earth style of opposition that won it no new friends following the airport bombing. The pact that the PP and the PSOE signed up to during Aznar’s period in government is now completely dead, in reality it was never really about combating ETA anyway. The initiative came from the PSOE as a way of neutralising the impact of the PP’s attempts to make terrorism their private issue, and formed part of a misguided pincer strategy by the two main national parties seeking to remove the PNV from power in the Basque Country; a campaign that had the sole effect of mobilising the nationalist vote in unprecedented quantities. In reality, any genuine agreement by the parties opposed to ETA’s continuing existence should not just include parties such as the PNV or Izquierda Unida, it should reach as far as Aralar; a radical nationalist breakaway from Batasuna that has rejected violence as a way of achieving their aims.

Meanwhile, those who (now) oppose negotiation as a means of bringing the conflict to a close have no other option to offer than continuing police pressure on ETA. This can bring some results, but it is a simplistic delusion of armchair warriors and opportunist politicians to claim that ETA will be dealt with by police methods alone. Did anyone notice the arrests the other day of members of an almost forgotten group called GRAPO? If they can survive 30 years without having any appreciable social base, it is clear that ETA are much better placed to continue activity, albeit low intensity, for another 30 years or more. This is a movement that, like it or not, can obtain around 150,000 votes in the Basque Country given the chance to present candidates; a reality that no amount of illegalisations can conceal. A terrorist organisation can survive for many years with 10% of that support. Presumably those who oppose any kind of negotiated end to ETA must believe that the situation in Northern Ireland 15 years ago was better than the situation that exists now?

The issue in the end is not one of whether ETA can survive, but why they should continue to do so. Without going into too much direct comparison with Northern Ireland, what brought that conflict there to a conclusion was the realisation by both the IRA and the British government that outright victory was not an available option. In such situations of impasse, those who attempt no solution to the conflict run no risk of failure; they do however buy a share of responsibility for its continuation. It would be irresponsible for any government not to have explored the possibilities offered by the ETA ceasefire, at some point ETA will be ready to disappear from the scene but somebody has to leave the door open to enable it to happen in the least messy way. After 3 years of the parliamentary session which has seen the lowest level of terrorist attacks of any since democracy was restored, the bodyguards are being recruited again as the depressing “normal service” is resumed again.


Tom said...

Great post, Graham - and worth waiting for. It's a desperate pity that the PP are unwilling to stop exploiting this issue for private political gain.

Theresa said...

ETA has done this sort of thing before, and no one was expecting this time to be any different. As soon as things don't go their way, they just start killing again, a bit like a child throwing a tantrum, but with much more serious consequences. I think ETA was just trying to see how much they could get out of the government, and it seems they have acheived some small victories, after all de Juana is out on the street and they once again have some of their people in government. Hopefully, the government will find a way out of this tricky situation...but so far they haven't been very effective. When I got here 14 years ago, I was optimistic about the whole thing, and hoped that by now things would be better, but it's clear that ETA doesn't really want to negotiate, they want to be the winners in this and that is obviously not an option.

Tom said...

Theresa: De Juana is back in Jail so far as I know. And refusing to eat again.

Graeme said...

De Juana Chaos is currently in prison not far from Madrid, although I believe I am right in saying he is not now on hunger strike. In any case his situation was not a product of the ceasefire or the peace process - rather it was the result of a plainly political decision to hand him another sentence in response to the equally political campaign against his release from the first one. A la carte justice in action.

I have to object to the suggestion that ETA have "their" people in government. ANV is not ETA, and it is not Batasuna - the fact that they have chosen to act as a means of permitting Batasuna supporters to vote does not change that reality. This sort of assumption is the product of a bad law which is almost impossible to implement without an ever expanding circle of illegalisations. Groups like ETA get far more recruits from this kind of action than they do from ceasefires and peace processes, they feed off repression as it provides them with a justification for their existence.

Theresa said...

Oh, I hadn't heard he was back in, in any case, he shouldn't have been out in the first place. No doubt he'll be out again soon, if the past behavior of the government is any indicator.

About ANV not being connected to ETA, I'm not too sure. On Monday they held a meeting in Pamplona and paid homage to ETA prisoners, if that isn't support I don't know what is. They are also accusing the government of setting up obstacles to hinder dialogue by putting De Juana and Otegi in jail and by arresting members of ETA. Until they stop making these kinds of statements, I don't think anyone will take their "goodwill" seriously.

Graeme said...

Theresa, he was never out on the street, the nearest he got to it was a walk around the hospital grounds. He will be free reasonably soon, not because of government generosity but simply because he will have served his sentence.

The point about ANV is not whether they are sympathetic to radical Basque nationalism, it's simply that they are a long standing legal organisation that existed before ETA did, and may well continue to exist after ETA have finally disappeared.

Theresa said...

ANV may be a historical politcal party, but they tried to present a large list of candidates that were related to Batasuna. And in the past they formed part of Herri Batasuna, so saying they they are not related is to be blind to the facts; it may not be an overt connection, but it's there. The only way I would believe it, is if ANV were to condem ETA's attacks and nationalist violence in general. That would be the place to start for any dialogue.

Rab said...

Graeme, excellent post. I would only add the following:
You wrote: “the real reason why the process has failed is that ETA are simply not yet ready for a "no winners, no losers" deal.”

I would add: the Spanish government is not prepared for that deal either and because both sides are unable to compromise, the peace process failed.

you wrote: “ETA doesn't really want to negotiate, they want to be the winners in this and that is obviously not an option.”
I would add: the Spanish state (either PSOE or PP in power) doesn’t really want to negotiate, they want to be the winners in this and that is obviously not an option.

Also, if there are no operational links between a political party and a banned armed organisation, can you explain why a political party should be banned? That to me is persecuting an ideology. Who will be next? Aralar because they fail to adhere to the principle of the “Unidad de España”, or a republican party because they want to depose the monarchy? It is a slippery slope when you start prohibiting people from forming a political party because we don't like their ideology. If people commit a crime, then they shall be punished, but having different ideas is not a crime the State should be prosecuting in my book.

And in any case, if we are going to ban political parties which refuse to condemn violence, why the same principle does not apply to Falange, España2000 or Democracia Nacional? It looks to me that the only parties that get banned are those in favour of Basque independence, but Spanish fascists/nationalist parties are free to go on the rampage in the streets of Pamplona/Iruña showing fascist flags and shouting slogans which justify violence and no action is taken against them.

Double standards methinks.

Graeme said...

Rab, I don't think that the Spanish government was not prepared to do a deal, it just wasn't enough for ETA. If ETA had been prepared to go for a Northern Ireland style settlemment where they would have got a deal on prisoners and integration in the political system in return for disappearing, I believe they would have got it this time. It's impossible to prove, but the government invested too much political capital and risks for it just to be a show.

I'm fully in agreement with your other points - the law was designed purely to ban Batasuna but could easily end up being (mis)used against any organisation that the judiciary decides it dislikes. The criminalisation of anyone because they refuse to pronounce an opinion on something is tremendously dangerous.

Jose said...

"No winners, no losers"? You must be out of your mind! ETA must be the losers. And to anyone who's informed your attempt at whitewashing Zapatero's treason is a mere smokescreen. Never before had political and territorial concessions been offered to ETA. Negotiating with terrorists is just inviting more terrorism. We need to reisntate capital punishment.

Graeme said...

Jose, go tell the people of Northern Ireland that they don't need a normal life and an end to terrorism, tell them they'll be better off with more violence and a few hangings. They had a "no winners, no losers" peace process and I don't see them wishing for a return to violence.

Tom said...

Jose, whether you know it or not, you're promoting the only strategy which is 100% guaranteed to prolong instability related to ETA. There are only two groups which would benefit from Zapatero being charged with treason or Etarras being executed: the Spanish far-right and ETA.

So either you didn't think this through, or you're a right-winger who seeks to profit from terrorism, or you're an ETA supporter.

Anonymous said...

And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher's arguments against the peace process ( samsonblinded.org/blog/we-need-a-respite-from-peace.htm )?