The bloody events of the past week in Gaza have shown just how precarious the Palestinian unity government actually was. COMMENTARY has a wealth of material in its archives dealing with the various crises provoked by the Palestinian leadership (such as it was and is), and the West’s conciliatory responses to it, over the past thirty years. We offer a few of the best for this weekend’s reading.
Israel After Disengagement
Hillel Halkin – October 2005
Wye and the Road to War
Douglas J. Feith – January 1999
Can the Palestinians Make Peace?
Daniel Pipes – April 1990
How the PLO Was Legitimized
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick – July 1989
The Palestinians and the PLO
Bernard Lewis – January 1975
Guerrillas and Terrorists
Walter Laqueur – October 1974
The West is host to many organizations—the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Solidarity Movement, and countless others—dedicated to supporting the Palestinian cause. Given mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians under fire in Lebanon and Gaza this week, one would expect these organizations to voice their shock, outrage, or simple concern at these events. Take the plight of Palestinians in the northern Lebanese camp of Nahr el Bared: according to recent news reports, more than 130 people have died during the past three weeks of fighting there. The escalating violence in Gaza has claimed the lives of more than 70.
Surprisingly, none of these groups—always dutifully prompt to denounce Palestinian deaths at Israeli hands—has much to say about Palestinian deaths at the hands of Lebanese soldiers, or of fellow Palestinians. From France’s Campagne Civile Internationale pour la Protection des Palestiniens, from the Alternative News Center, from the new Free Gaza organization: not a word. This is puzzling, given the particularly brutal nature of the violence. Hamas gunmen threw a Fatah official from the 15th floor of an apartment building; Fatah later avenged his death by throwing a Hamas man off the 12th floor of another building. Fatah gunmen taken prisoner were shot in the head, execution-style, in the streets. (To its credit, Human Rights Watch quickly condemned these actions as war crimes, even in the face of this silence.)
History has a way of repeating itself, and not always proceeding from tragedy to farce, as the shopworn quotation from Karl Marx would have it.
“Calm settled over Gaza today,” reports the New York Times this morning. In the wake of Israel’s complete withdrawal in 2005, and the ensuing jockeying for power between Hamas and Fatah, the former has now come to power in the strip. What now?
Already there are voices explaining that if Hamas is to satisfy the aspirations of the long-suffering residents of Gaza, it will inevitably be compelled to abandon its terroristic tactics and to embrace a more pragmatic and realistic approach to Israel and to the world around it. And as if on cue, we have a confirming dispatch this morning from the Associated Press: “Hamas vowed Friday to secure the release of kidnapped British journalist Alan Johnston, a promise seemingly meant to avoid alienating the outside world and to tell other armed groups in Gaza that it intends to impose order.” Britain’s Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell, visiting Israel earlier this week, “held out hope that Hamas or some within it would yet moderate,” telling the Jerusalem Post that “I genuinely don’t think that [Hamas’s] positions are set in tablets of stone forever and a day.”
• Back when I was flogging my H.L. Mencken biography on the book-tour circuit, people were always asking me if I thought there were any contemporary writers who were comparable in quality to Mencken, and I always gave the same answer: Tom Wolfe and Andrew Ferguson. Wolfe can take care of himself, but if I were to awake tomorrow morning and find myself in charge of a great big foundation, the first thing I’d do would be to award a great big grant to Ferguson so that he could quit his day job and do nothing but write books like Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America (Atlantic Monthly Press, 279 pp., $24). He is that rarest of birds, a writer who is at one and the same time very funny and very serious. Alas, he labors in the time-gobbling vineyards of weekly journalism, and his only previous book, Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces (1996), was a collection of his wonderful magazine essays. Now he’s followed up that debut with a full-fledged book, and it is, not at all surprisingly, even better.
The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.
As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”
General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.
In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.