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Palestinian Politics Jenin Style

In today’s New York Times, new Israel correspondent Jodi Rudoren writes of how the recently deceased Palestinian governor of the city of Jenin is being viewed as a “martyr” in the fight against gangs and the symbol of the failing struggle to transform the Palestinian Authority into a viable state. Qadoura Moussa, who died of a heart attack following an assassination attempt that is interpreted as part of the battle in which control of the streets is at stake, helped create the idea that there was a “Jenin model” in which good government would replace the mafia-style corruption and violence that had heretofore characterized Palestinian life.

Moussa’s death is rightly seen as yet another blow to Fayyadism, the term that Times columnist Thomas Friedman attached to the efforts of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to transform Palestinian society so as to allow for the rise of a rational modern state. But, as the insightful journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote just a day earlier on the website of the Gatestone Institute, the truth about the reality of life in Jenin has been apparent for years. The problem is, the foreign and Palestinian press was far too intimidated to report that the illusion of law and order in Jenin was always a lie.

The notion that Jenin, which was the hub of Palestinian terror during the second intifada and the site of a pitched battle between gunmen and the Israeli Defense Force in 2002, had become a PA success story was an attractive theme for journalists eager to paint a more attractive picture of the Palestinians. But as Toameh, who knows more about the politics of the territories than anyone else writing in English, points out, the “Jenin model” was always a myth. The anarchy and lawlessness in the region was not happening in spite of the efforts of the Western-trained PA security forces but in no small measure because of them.

The problem goes deeper than just a few cases of corruption or the fact that many of those recruited into the Palestinian security services are former criminals and killers who quickly revert to their old habits for profit. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture still treats violence as legitimate. The line between the terrorist groups that double as political parties such as Fatah and Hamas and the armed gangs and clans that the PA fights in the streets of towns like Jenin is razor thin. That’s why any expectation that Fatah or even Hamas can foster law and order other than by their own reign of terror at their rivals’ expense is farcical.

Genuine moderates who desire real change like Salam Fayyad are the outliers, not the criminals. Men like Fayyad also lack a political constituency. That means they are not just outnumbered but outgunned.

Yet this is a tale that has generally been ignored by the Western press that has, as Abu Toameh notes, feared to tell the truth about the Palestinians. The result is that Western governments continue to pour in vast amounts of cash and aid that has done little to help. Fayyadism is a nice idea, but the problem is that it is more popular in American newsrooms than in the streets of Palestinian towns. Though Rudoren’s article in today’s Times gives some belated attention to this problem, it still fails to go to the heart of the cancer eating away at the PA. The rationale for Palestinian statehood as well as for more Israeli territorial withdrawals to further empower these gangsters and terrorists seems more farfetched than ever.



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