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Brexit and the Binary Bind

UK EU Leave image

UK EU Leave, courtesy Rareclass/Flickr

This article was first published on 1 July 2016 in the Kluwer Mediation Blog series

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by the whole Brexit affair. I’m not talking about the result of the vote itself, but about the referendum process, the behaviour it engendered, and its aftermath.

All the classic features were present. Classic features of what? Well, of binary processes. Those that offer a win/lose, yes/no, remain/leave outcome, and nothing else. Rather like courts, as it happens.

Of course, I realise that decisions do need to be taken, and referenda are intended to produce a clear picture of the will of the people (only just, on this occasion, but I suppose it’s clear at least). Nothing wrong with that.

But the problem is that for all the desire for clarity and decisiveness, binary processes come with some fairly hefty downsides. And these have been laid bare for all to see in the referendum process. I will mention three.

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The Rise and Fall of “Obamaism” in Israel

Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery, but flattery currently is not an attribute of the Netanyahu-Obama relationship.

Do you remember last winter, when Netanyahu imitated Obama’s campaign strategy?

Netanyahu...Obamafied

Netanyahu...Obamafied

The imitation did not end with the Netanyahu campaign’s copying of the color and design of Obama’s website. The same way the Obama campaign linked Republican presidential candidate John McCain to then president George W Bush, the Netanyahu campaign sought to portray Tzipi Livni as the status quo candidate while portraying Netanyahu as the candidate of change. Last November, Ron Dermer, one of Mr Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers, went as far as to state that “Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

But while Obama actually sought to break with his predecessor’s foreign policy, Netanyahu has so far not given a new direction to Israeli foreign policy.

Obama may have served as a role model of how to conduct a successful election campaign, but that was pretty much it. Netanyahu merely copied the shell of “Obamaism,” but certainly not its content.
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