Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fatah

Why Hamas and Fatah Carry on the Charade

Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

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Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

The headlines were all referring to a meeting expected to take place Tuesday between the Fatah delegation to the reconciliation talks and the Hamas leadership, with the participation of Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal. Will reconciliation come about this time between the factions, which have been at loggerheads since 2007? Will the reconciliation agreement they signed in 2011 be implemented?

That last sentence is quite the red flag. The two sides have signed agreements in the past: not only does signing a new one concede the fact that the last agreement hasn’t been honored, but the new agreement might not even require the last agreement’s implementation. The concern by Israelis has always been that even if Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace deal with them, his successor might not honor it. But the history of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation suggests it won’t get that far: the Palestinian signatories themselves are unlikely to honor it.

Haaretz continues:

If the parties reach agreement, Israel might view this as intentional Palestinian abandonment of the negotiations with Israel, and use reconciliation as a pretext to halt the peace process. This, despite the fact that Hamas had agreed at the time to allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas to continue negotiations without Hamas committing to accept their outcome, and the fact that in 2010, Hamas made clear that it does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state within in the 1967 boundaries.

At the same time, Abbas can present himself as the legitimate representative of all parts of the Palestinian state and thus bolster his demand for international recognition for the state.

It is unclear from the agreements attained so far what the status will be of the accords signed between the PLO and Israel, whether the PA will be able to continue implementing them and what will happen to security cooperation with Hamas still supporting armed struggle. For Hamas, which is in deep economic trouble and in a hostile relationship with Egypt, reconciliation could be an indispensable way out. The funding sources that reach the PA could then be used to cover civil activities of government ministries that would be under Hamas control. Abbas could then ask Egypt to change its position toward Hamas and also open lines of communication for Hamas with other Arab countries.

The tone of that section is typical of the Israeli left: the Israeli government would use the talks as “pretext” to skip out on their own negotiations with a government quite different from the one they were negotiating with. How unreasonable. Additionally, even Haaretz notes that this is “despite the fact” that Hamas is allowing Abbas to continue talks with Israel “without Hamas committing to accept their outcome.” So they are meaningless.

By this logic, Israeli skepticism toward the Hamas-Fatah deal is warranted: were Abbas’s faction to strike a deal with Israel, Hamas is reserving the right not to accept it. So the Hamas-Fatah deal and the theoretical Palestinian-Israeli deal are very likely mutually exclusive. The Palestinians are playing games. Again.

Why are they playing games? Abbas knows he does not have nearly enough control over the Palestinian polity to claim to be a legitimate head of state even if he were to sign a deal with Israel. Hamas’s inclusion can potentially make him president of a failed state instead of failed president of a non-state.

The benefits to Hamas are obvious, as the Haaretz report makes clear. Those benefits are chiefly financial, since Hamas’s inclusion in the government would make them eligible to share in the PA’s revenue and perhaps ease trade and migration restrictions imposed on Gaza by Egypt. Since history shows Hamas doesn’t actually have to abide by the agreement, they can take the money and run, leaving Abbas weaker than ever while eating into his popular approval by temporarily improving the economic condition of the Gaza Strip.

It’s a great deal for Hamas. And Kerry should be glad he had nothing to do with it.

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Palestinians Need More Than Borders

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has said that he wants the next round of negotiations to focus on the borders of a Palestinian state. Of course, Israel always has to be concerned about maintaining defensible borders, but the precise geographical parameters of a Palestinian state must be of less concern to everyone than the matter of the internal nature of that state. Indeed, if we could all be confident that a future Palestinian state would have the national characteristics of, say, Switzerland, then the question of the defensibility of Israel’s borders might be somewhat less critical. But because there is good reason to suspect that a future Palestinian state in the West Bank, like the Palestinian polity in Gaza, would have more in common with Afghanistan, the exact positioning of its borders should hardly be our most pressing concern.

The unpalatable reality is that the Palestinian Authority’s “practice state” in the West Bank has been a disaster. This nascent country in waiting has been the model of what a failed state looks like and it only remains in existence today because of phenomenal levels of international aid coupled with the IDF presence throughout the West Bank. Were it not for the Israeli military, Abbas and his governing Fatah movement would likely have been swept away long ago, just as Fatah was in Gaza–indeed, just as despots throughout the Arab world have faced overthrow by Islamist opponents. Yet, even in the absence of a takeover by Islamic militants, life for Palestinians living under the PA is hardly pleasant. All those demanding the imminent creation of a Palestinian state, while also parading themselves as champions of Palestinian rights, should stop to ask themselves precisely what kind of state they would be helping to create.

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Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has said that he wants the next round of negotiations to focus on the borders of a Palestinian state. Of course, Israel always has to be concerned about maintaining defensible borders, but the precise geographical parameters of a Palestinian state must be of less concern to everyone than the matter of the internal nature of that state. Indeed, if we could all be confident that a future Palestinian state would have the national characteristics of, say, Switzerland, then the question of the defensibility of Israel’s borders might be somewhat less critical. But because there is good reason to suspect that a future Palestinian state in the West Bank, like the Palestinian polity in Gaza, would have more in common with Afghanistan, the exact positioning of its borders should hardly be our most pressing concern.

The unpalatable reality is that the Palestinian Authority’s “practice state” in the West Bank has been a disaster. This nascent country in waiting has been the model of what a failed state looks like and it only remains in existence today because of phenomenal levels of international aid coupled with the IDF presence throughout the West Bank. Were it not for the Israeli military, Abbas and his governing Fatah movement would likely have been swept away long ago, just as Fatah was in Gaza–indeed, just as despots throughout the Arab world have faced overthrow by Islamist opponents. Yet, even in the absence of a takeover by Islamic militants, life for Palestinians living under the PA is hardly pleasant. All those demanding the imminent creation of a Palestinian state, while also parading themselves as champions of Palestinian rights, should stop to ask themselves precisely what kind of state they would be helping to create.

Since the retirement of Salam Fayyad as Palestinian prime minister, the Palestinians seem to have abandoned even trying to maintain the façade of reform. The corrupt Palestinian Authority finds itself beset by dire financial prospects and crippled by internal rivalry and mismanagement. In open breach of its obligations mandated under the very peace accords that not only brought the PA into existence but that trained and armed its fighting force, the Palestinian Authority has ceased to police many of the deprived neighborhoods that are now strongholds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while at the same time using funds from the U.S. and Europe to run a media and education system that incites its population against Jews and the Jewish state.

Even if one were to dismiss and explain away the Palestinian Authority’s blatant hostility to the state that it is supposed to be making peace with—as Western leaders routinely attempt to—there is no getting around the shambolic failure of the Palestinians to govern. The rioting that took place in Hebron today, and the terror attack perpetrated against a visiting Israeli family in that same city just before the Passover holiday, is just the latest and most visceral reminder of this refusal to run internal Palestinian affairs responsibly. Despite the unprecedented levels of international aid that is poured into the Palestinian areas, the PA’s spiraling debt is now so out of control that it no longer even seems able to pay the ballooning 850 million shekel electricity bill that it owes the Israelis, while at the same time the authority has been struggling to pay its employee’s wages. Yet somehow there is always enough money to make large payouts to Palestinian terrorists and their families.

Those such as president Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who claim that the Palestinians are ready for statehood, or that we are on the verge of witnessing the emergence of a harmonious two-state arrangement, are living in fantasyland. Abbas is now so weak that under public pressure he has simply ceased to dispatch his forces to neutralize Hamas and Islamic Jihad opponents in places like Jenin and Nablus. This hasn’t always been the case; the PA has stacked up a shocking record of human rights abuses in the course of its crackdowns on Islamist rivals. No doubt Abbas would still wish to keep these militants at bay–and not for Israel’s sake but rather for the security of his own faction–but it seems the Palestinian public will no longer tolerate such actions. The constant fear of overthrow is real for Abbas and Fatah.

Anyone wishing to concur with Abbas that now is the time to be discussing the borders of Palestinian state is willfully ignoring the reality on the ground. The Palestinian Authority’s dress rehearsal for statehood has demonstrated what a Palestinian state would look like. Granted, Abbas may not have plunged Palestinian society into the abyss of intifada like Arafat did, yet despite Salam Fayyad’s better efforts, Abbas has succeeded in creating a failed state; this even without the responsibilities of full statehood. As things stand, wherever the borders of a Palestinian state were drawn would present Israel with a strategic nightmare.  

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Peace and the Palestinian We Do Not Know

In his now-famous interview with President Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg asked if he agreed with Secretary Kerry’s June 2013 statement to the American Jewish Committee that “we’re running out of time … [and] if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.” Obama added his own window-is-closing pressure on Israel, but the last sentence of his answer – which he intended as an argument for speed – actually argues for the opposite. Here is what he said:

I think [Kerry] has been simply stating what observers inside of Israel and outside of Israel recognize, which is that with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

Before signing an agreement with an aging “president” more than five years past the end of his stated term — someone with no known successor, no process for choosing one, no institutions for holding elections, no capacity to implement any agreement in half his putative state (controlled by the terrorist group he promised to dismantle under the Road Map and didn’t), presiding over a society steeped in anti-Semitic incitement, unwilling to endorse even the concept of “two states for two peoples” (much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state) – we should put aside the perennial argument that time is running out, the over-hyped demographics, and “what’s happening in the settlements” (since what’s happening in the settlements is mostly construction in areas Israel will retain in any conceivable peace agreement), and pause to reflect on President Obama’s last sentence: “We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”

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In his now-famous interview with President Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg asked if he agreed with Secretary Kerry’s June 2013 statement to the American Jewish Committee that “we’re running out of time … [and] if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.” Obama added his own window-is-closing pressure on Israel, but the last sentence of his answer – which he intended as an argument for speed – actually argues for the opposite. Here is what he said:

I think [Kerry] has been simply stating what observers inside of Israel and outside of Israel recognize, which is that with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

Before signing an agreement with an aging “president” more than five years past the end of his stated term — someone with no known successor, no process for choosing one, no institutions for holding elections, no capacity to implement any agreement in half his putative state (controlled by the terrorist group he promised to dismantle under the Road Map and didn’t), presiding over a society steeped in anti-Semitic incitement, unwilling to endorse even the concept of “two states for two peoples” (much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state) – we should put aside the perennial argument that time is running out, the over-hyped demographics, and “what’s happening in the settlements” (since what’s happening in the settlements is mostly construction in areas Israel will retain in any conceivable peace agreement), and pause to reflect on President Obama’s last sentence: “We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”

We do not know, in other words, who will be implementing the agreement Israel is being rushed to sign. We do not know whether it will be Hamas, taking over a Palestinian state in an election or coup (both have happened before); or perhaps the guy next in line in Abbas’s corrupt ruling party; or perhaps the charismatic terrorist currently serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail, who would undoubtedly be released as part of a “peace agreement” but is not likely to be the next Nelson Mandela. We do not know because the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated multiple times that if converted to a state it will be a failed one, lacking the basic institutions of a successful state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one. Yesterday the Fatah leadership unanimously endorsed Abbas’s rejection of any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, without which the “two-state solution” is simply a two-stage plan.

If it is in fact urgent to sign an agreement while President-for-Life Abbas is still around, it is even more urgent for him to give his long overdue Bir Zeit speech, telling his people in Arabic that the price of a Palestinian state is recognition of a Jewish one, and that the conflict will not end with the “return” of the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs started to a place where those descendants have never lived. It will end with their resettlement in the Arab states that started the war, where those descendants have lived their entire lives, deprived of basic civil and human rights by the countries of their birth.

If Abbas cannot give his Bir Zeit speech, it is not likely he can preside over a peaceful state. Moreover, as President Obama noted, we do not even know what the successor to Abbas will look like. Perhaps it is time to rethink a Palestinian state, not rush to create one.

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Hamas Asks You to Buy a Dam in the Negev

One of the prime obstacles to the peace talks being sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the fact that much of the territory of the putative Palestinian state is not under the control of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. The independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza is run by Hamas, which imposes its tyrannical Islamist rule and eyes both Israel and the West Bank warily. Periodically, we hear of efforts to unify the two areas and today another rumor surfaced of a possible deal to bring Hamas and Fatah together in one government.

If it ever happened that would, at least in theory, make Abbas’s life a little easier. But it would also give Hamas a veto over peace talks and integrate these rejectionists into the PA government that Kerry continues to extol as a moderate force. But Israelis and those Americans who pay attention to Palestinian culture were given another taste of exactly what that would mean this past weekend, when Hamas-controlled media sought to blame Israel for some of the flooding in Gaza that resulted from the once-in-a-century winter storm that blanketed the region. As the Times of Israel reports:

Hamas’s Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti told journalists on Friday that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah.

A variation on that claim was made by Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana, who told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Israel had opened sewage canals east of the Gaza Strip, “exacerbating the crisis and raising the water level, causing homes to be submerged.”

Al-Majd, a Palestinian security-oriented website, went so far as to claim that Israel opened the dams in order to expose Hamas tunnels leading into Israel and impose an unbearable financial burden on Gaza’s government. “For Gaza to drown is an old Zionist dream,” the site wrote in a report.

There is only problem with these claims. While Israelis have made the southern portion of their country bloom via ingenuity and clever irrigation schemes, dams are a scarce commodity in a desert region without rivers or lakes. In fact there are no dams in the region bordering Gaza. Of course, Arab and Muslim media and international bloggers who are quick to seize upon any charge, no matter how ridiculous, as more proof of Zionist perfidy have dismissed Israel’s indignant denials of the charge. Looked at one way, it’s hard not to laugh off this latest variation of the old blood libel against the Jews. By speaking of dams in the desert, Hamas is making an invitation to buy a bridge in Brooklyn look like a reasonable investment. But this silly story actually tells us more about what’s wrong with the Middle East and why the peace Kerry seeks is nowhere in sight than one might think.

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One of the prime obstacles to the peace talks being sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the fact that much of the territory of the putative Palestinian state is not under the control of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. The independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza is run by Hamas, which imposes its tyrannical Islamist rule and eyes both Israel and the West Bank warily. Periodically, we hear of efforts to unify the two areas and today another rumor surfaced of a possible deal to bring Hamas and Fatah together in one government.

If it ever happened that would, at least in theory, make Abbas’s life a little easier. But it would also give Hamas a veto over peace talks and integrate these rejectionists into the PA government that Kerry continues to extol as a moderate force. But Israelis and those Americans who pay attention to Palestinian culture were given another taste of exactly what that would mean this past weekend, when Hamas-controlled media sought to blame Israel for some of the flooding in Gaza that resulted from the once-in-a-century winter storm that blanketed the region. As the Times of Israel reports:

Hamas’s Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti told journalists on Friday that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah.

A variation on that claim was made by Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana, who told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Israel had opened sewage canals east of the Gaza Strip, “exacerbating the crisis and raising the water level, causing homes to be submerged.”

Al-Majd, a Palestinian security-oriented website, went so far as to claim that Israel opened the dams in order to expose Hamas tunnels leading into Israel and impose an unbearable financial burden on Gaza’s government. “For Gaza to drown is an old Zionist dream,” the site wrote in a report.

There is only problem with these claims. While Israelis have made the southern portion of their country bloom via ingenuity and clever irrigation schemes, dams are a scarce commodity in a desert region without rivers or lakes. In fact there are no dams in the region bordering Gaza. Of course, Arab and Muslim media and international bloggers who are quick to seize upon any charge, no matter how ridiculous, as more proof of Zionist perfidy have dismissed Israel’s indignant denials of the charge. Looked at one way, it’s hard not to laugh off this latest variation of the old blood libel against the Jews. By speaking of dams in the desert, Hamas is making an invitation to buy a bridge in Brooklyn look like a reasonable investment. But this silly story actually tells us more about what’s wrong with the Middle East and why the peace Kerry seeks is nowhere in sight than one might think.

It should first be noted that the original sources for the claim that Israel opens dams to flood Gaza come from Iran’s Press TV. That font of journalistic integrity floated stories in 2010 and 2012 that spoke of Israeli authorities flooding Gaza by opening dams that supposedly exist to the east of the Gaza strip. But these stories provide no maps showing the site of the dams or documentation about them. Neither that shortcoming nor even a basic knowledge of the geography of the area has stopped Israel-bashers from continuing to blog or tweet links to these fallacious reports.

It should also be noted that Israel, which had its hands full dealing with the impact of the freak storm on its own territory, responded to the distress in Gaza by sending the area–which is, it should be remembered, governed by a group that doesn’t recognize the existence of the Jewish state–pumps to deal with the flash floods in coastal areas caused by unusually heavy rains that pelted the area. But that truth is no match for the willingness of so many to believe the worst about Israel.

In the case of the Palestinians, this is more than just rumor mongering. Hamas blames Israel for suffering in Gaza because that is the only way it can deflect responsibility from itself for the incompetent manner with which it rules the strip. More to the point, these recycled Iranian lies feed into the prejudices of Palestinian political culture that not only rejects Israel but views the Jews as the font of all evil and the source of all Palestinian suffering. Iran’s propaganda machines like its Press TV feed this paranoia in order to fuel hatred of Israel. Palestinians buy it because it allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own fate and for making peace.

Thus, rather than dismiss this story or laugh it off, serious observers of the Middle East ought to be paying more attention to it. Until Palestinian factions stop blaming Israel for the weather, purveyors of Jew hatred will continue to dominate their politics and keep alive false hope about Israel’s eventual destruction. Rather than worry about enticing Abbas back to the negotiating table where he will continue to prevaricate and try to avoid making a decision about ending the conflict or Fatah-Hamas unity, Kerry should realize that an Arab and Muslim world that is willing to believe such hateful nonsense is not likely to accept a Jewish state in their midst no matter where its borders are drawn.

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Incitement and the Peace Process

The Palestinian Authority has long been criticized–and justifiably so–for claiming to favor co-existence with Israel while promulgating school textbooks that define all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean as belonging to the Palestinians and reading out the Jews from the history of the region altogether. But it seems that the PA textbooks aren’t radical enough for Hamas.

As Seth noted, the New York Times today reports that Hamas has just issued for use in the Gaza Strip new texts that claim that the Western Wall is exclusively Muslim property, that Haifa, Beersheba, and Acre—all within Israel’s 1948 boundaries—are Palestinian cities, and that deny any historical claim by the Jews on the land of Palestine because the ancient “sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated.” Naturally, the Hamas texts also elevate its own leaders, such as Ahmed Yassin, to status equivalent with Yasser Arafat, the hero of the competing Fatah.

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The Palestinian Authority has long been criticized–and justifiably so–for claiming to favor co-existence with Israel while promulgating school textbooks that define all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean as belonging to the Palestinians and reading out the Jews from the history of the region altogether. But it seems that the PA textbooks aren’t radical enough for Hamas.

As Seth noted, the New York Times today reports that Hamas has just issued for use in the Gaza Strip new texts that claim that the Western Wall is exclusively Muslim property, that Haifa, Beersheba, and Acre—all within Israel’s 1948 boundaries—are Palestinian cities, and that deny any historical claim by the Jews on the land of Palestine because the ancient “sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated.” Naturally, the Hamas texts also elevate its own leaders, such as Ahmed Yassin, to status equivalent with Yasser Arafat, the hero of the competing Fatah.

None of this should be terribly surprising to anyone who is the least bit familiar with Hamas or, for that matter, with its Fatah rivals. The only surprise is that, while a genocidal group of anti-Israel terrorists is in control of a significant portion of Palestinian territory, Secretary of State John Kerry has nevertheless elevated Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the top of his agenda. It is a mystery which perhaps only Kerry can answer: What in the current configuration of power makes him optimistic that a breakthrough could be achieved now? Why on earth does he imagine he will succeed where all of his predecessors have failed? Given the fact that Hamas isn’t even part of the dialogue with Israel, and nor should it be, this looks like little more than wishful thinking.

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The Significance of Hamas’s New Textbooks

The Hamas-Fatah civil war’s impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has long been a blind spot for reporters who seek to cover the conflict as a two-dimensional struggle between identifiable enemies. And so it is encouraging to see today’s highly-placed New York Times story on the new Hamas textbooks–a story which covers a second common blind spot for the media: Palestinian incitement and officially sanctioned anti-Semitism.

Today’s Times story explains that schools in Gaza are using new textbooks that, for the first time since Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, deviate from the Palestinian Authority’s standard texts “as part of a broader push to infuse the next generation with its militant ideology.” I’m not sure what is worse: that until now the official PA curriculum was anti-Semitic enough and sufficiently bloodthirsty for Hamas, or that Hamas is looking to ratchet up the hate even further. Either way, this should raise the alarm because in this (and just about every other) respect Gaza is not Vegas: What happens in Gaza does not stay in Gaza.

The significance of textbooks for propaganda purposes is not lost on the Times:

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The Hamas-Fatah civil war’s impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has long been a blind spot for reporters who seek to cover the conflict as a two-dimensional struggle between identifiable enemies. And so it is encouraging to see today’s highly-placed New York Times story on the new Hamas textbooks–a story which covers a second common blind spot for the media: Palestinian incitement and officially sanctioned anti-Semitism.

Today’s Times story explains that schools in Gaza are using new textbooks that, for the first time since Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, deviate from the Palestinian Authority’s standard texts “as part of a broader push to infuse the next generation with its militant ideology.” I’m not sure what is worse: that until now the official PA curriculum was anti-Semitic enough and sufficiently bloodthirsty for Hamas, or that Hamas is looking to ratchet up the hate even further. Either way, this should raise the alarm because in this (and just about every other) respect Gaza is not Vegas: What happens in Gaza does not stay in Gaza.

The significance of textbooks for propaganda purposes is not lost on the Times:

“When a leader says something, not everyone is listening. But when we talk about textbooks, all the children, all of a particular peer group, will be exposed to a particular material,” he added. “This is the strongest card.”

What Gaza teenagers are reading in their 50-page hardcover texts this fall includes references to the Jewish Torah and Talmud as “fabricated,” and a description of Zionism as a racist movement whose goals include driving Arabs out of all of the area between the Nile in Africa and the Euphrates in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

“Palestine,” in turn, is defined as a state for Muslims stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. A list of Palestinian cities includes Haifa, Beersheba and Acre — all within Israel’s 1948 borders. And the books rebut Jewish historical claims to the territory by saying, “The Jews and the Zionist movement are not related to Israel, because the sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated.”

The reaction to stories like this is usually a mix of low expectations and the sunny search for a silver lining by noting that the situation is better in the West Bank, where Israel’s “peace partners” reside. And the response to the latter part of that reaction is, but for how much longer?

In fact, the gap between Hamas and Fatah/PA policy is misleading. That the gap doesn’t narrow often confuses outsiders into thinking there has been no overall, significant shift. But the truth is quite often the opposite. The Hamas-Fatah split manifests in competition over which side can be trusted to best lead the efforts to dismantle the Jewish state next door.

When Hamas increases its militancy in some way, it adversely affects the behavior of Mahmoud Abbas’s PA in at least one of two ways: it makes the PA’s incitement seem milder than it is by comparison, as if the PA has taken a step forward when in reality Hamas has taken a step back. And it encourages the PA to play catch-up by trying to prove its anti-Israel bona fides.

It’s not as though PA textbooks were models of coexistence. As the Jerusalem Post reported in 2011:

“There is generally a total denial of the existence of Israel – and if there is an Israeli presence it is usually extremely negative,” said Eldad Pardo, an IMPACT-SE board member, and head of the organization’s Palestinian textbook research group. “For the next generation, there is no education at all about collaboration and no information about the many collaborations that already exist between Israelis and Palestinians in environmental and other areas.”

In geography textbooks, Israel usually does not appear in maps of the Middle East, instead “Palestine” is shown to encompass Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Jaffa is also shown on maps of Palestine, but Tel Aviv and other predominantly Jewish cities, such as Ramat Gan, kibbutzim and moshavim, are not displayed. …

Other textbooks told students that “the rank of shahid stands above all ranks,” and included a Muslim hadith about the destruction of Jews by Muslims on the day of the resurrection, which also appears in the Hamas charter.

The Hamas deviation from the PA’s anti-Israel brainwashing means that for now, the two Palestinian territories will be teaching their children different versions of history. Both versions are false, and are fabricated in a spirit of hatred that is then instilled in Palestinian youth. But the teaching of parallel histories in the territories is not sustainable–certainly not for a stateless people seeking a unified national identity.

And so the danger in the new Hamas textbooks is not simply that Palestinians in Gaza will be poisoned with an even more malevolent form of Jew-hatred. It is that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, recipient of American aid and global diplomatic legitimacy, will follow suit.

The new high school textbooks, we are told, “do not recognize modern Israel, or even mention the Oslo Peace Accords.” What will a “peace process” be like with a Palestinian polity raised to believe there was never any such thing? Looks like we’re about to find out.

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Even Weakened Hamas Retains Peace Veto

It’s open season on mocking Hamas lately. Israel’s discovery of a tunnel the terrorist movement had dug along the border is widely seen as an example of the impotence of a group that seems to be running out of credibility as fast as they are running out of cash. The millions of foreign aid money expended as well as the concrete intended for civilian use employed in building a structure aimed at executing a terrorist attack across the Israeli border is a symbol of the group’s priorities. But the fact that Israel’s military reportedly had been aware of the project and let Hamas go ahead and finish it before exposing the scheme makes it look as if there’s no doubt about which side of the struggle has the upper hand. Combine that with the fact that Hamas is still reeling from the fall from power of their Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt and the closing of the border and smuggling tunnels that linked Gaza to the Sinai and there’s little question that the Islamists are in genuine trouble.

So it’s little wonder that Hamas chose this weekend to make a big deal out of the anniversary of their last victory over Israel: the ransoming of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit with the release of more than a thousand Arab terrorists. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spoke yesterday to remind Palestinians of this feat and to speak of the latest surge in violence against Jews in the West Bank as evidence that his movement is by no means as isolated as its critics believe. As beleaguered as they may be, the Islamists clearly seem to think they are just one kidnapping of an Israeli away from being back in the catbird seat in Palestinian politics. But whether they are able pull such a crime off in the near future or not, those discounting Hamas’ impact on the future of Israeli-Arab coexistence need to take a deep breath. The pressure being exerted on it in the West Bank by Fatah security cooperation with Israel is a real blow to the Islamists and their cash shortfall is harming their ability to keep a lid on their Gaza stronghold. But anyone who thinks this gives Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas the leeway he needs to cut any sort of a peace deal with Israel in the talks currently being conducted under the aegis of the United States is forgetting the realities of Palestinian politics.

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It’s open season on mocking Hamas lately. Israel’s discovery of a tunnel the terrorist movement had dug along the border is widely seen as an example of the impotence of a group that seems to be running out of credibility as fast as they are running out of cash. The millions of foreign aid money expended as well as the concrete intended for civilian use employed in building a structure aimed at executing a terrorist attack across the Israeli border is a symbol of the group’s priorities. But the fact that Israel’s military reportedly had been aware of the project and let Hamas go ahead and finish it before exposing the scheme makes it look as if there’s no doubt about which side of the struggle has the upper hand. Combine that with the fact that Hamas is still reeling from the fall from power of their Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt and the closing of the border and smuggling tunnels that linked Gaza to the Sinai and there’s little question that the Islamists are in genuine trouble.

So it’s little wonder that Hamas chose this weekend to make a big deal out of the anniversary of their last victory over Israel: the ransoming of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit with the release of more than a thousand Arab terrorists. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spoke yesterday to remind Palestinians of this feat and to speak of the latest surge in violence against Jews in the West Bank as evidence that his movement is by no means as isolated as its critics believe. As beleaguered as they may be, the Islamists clearly seem to think they are just one kidnapping of an Israeli away from being back in the catbird seat in Palestinian politics. But whether they are able pull such a crime off in the near future or not, those discounting Hamas’ impact on the future of Israeli-Arab coexistence need to take a deep breath. The pressure being exerted on it in the West Bank by Fatah security cooperation with Israel is a real blow to the Islamists and their cash shortfall is harming their ability to keep a lid on their Gaza stronghold. But anyone who thinks this gives Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas the leeway he needs to cut any sort of a peace deal with Israel in the talks currently being conducted under the aegis of the United States is forgetting the realities of Palestinian politics.

Most observers assume the negotiations going on in private between Israel and the PA are stalled. Indeed, given the Palestinians’ stated unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it is hard to imagine how there could be hope for an accord that would truly end the conflict. But that has not stopped the Obama administration to continue to push the talks. Nor has it stopped those groups seeking to promote more pressure on Israel to make concessions in the vain hope that the PA will ever make peace on any terms that would allow Israel to survive as a Jewish state.

That’s why Hamas’ efforts to remain relevant should not be ignored or dismissed as a last gasp for a group that is struggling to hold onto power. Though Hamas is in serious trouble, Abbas knows all too well that the one way to revive its fortunes is for him to make a genuine effort to make peace with Israel. While Israelis and Westerners would hope that the people of the West Bank and even many in Gaza would prefer peace to another generation or two of conflict, Abbas knows that the legitimacy of his Fatah Party rests on bolstering its reputation as furthering “resistance” against the Jewish presence in the land, not cooperating with Israel. That’s why his official media continues to foment hatred of Israel and honors terrorists in a manner that is not that much than that of Hamas. He is also aware that for all of its troubles, another coup like a kidnapping would once again raise Hamas’ stock among Palestinians.

Until a sea change in Palestinian culture occurs that would enable a Palestinian leader to make peace, Israel will remain powerless, no matter what it gives up, to change this equation.

The bottom line is that for all of the ridicule now being heaped on Hamas’ boasting; it retains a veto over peace. That means even if Abbas and Fatah were to transcend their origins in terrorism, something that highly unlikely, the Islamist tyrants of Gaza are still capable of overturning any movement toward a solution. That’s why Israel would do well to ignore any American pressure to make concessions on borders, Jerusalem or refugees that would be pocketed by Abbas but never reciprocated. Nor, given the recent developments in the P5+1 negotiations, should the Israelis assume that they could trade a Palestinian state for an American guarantee against a nuclear Iran. So long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza, no matter how bankrupt or precarious they might be, they are the guarantee that peace is not in the offing.

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Why the Peace Talks Are Private

The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

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The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

The reason for the widespread Palestinian opposition to any accord is rooted in a definition of Palestinian nationalism that is incompatible with compromise with Zionism. Since the Palestinian movement grew up primarily by opposing the return of the Jews to the country, the notion of a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel is anathema under almost any conditions. Even if Israel’s maximum concessions increased to the point where they matched the Palestinians’ minimum terms for peace, that would still entail giving up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and grant legitimacy to a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. And that is something most Palestinians are still unwilling to do.

But more than that is the nature of the Palestinian political culture that has grown up in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Abu Toameh rightly notes, most Palestinians are intolerant of any sort of cooperation with Israelis to the point where they oppose even competitions between youth soccer teams. Thus, the debate about the talks is not so much about the terms of peace as it is about the “crime” of talking with Israelis.

Unfortunately, even if the talks were to bring the two sides closer, this means that any tentative agreement is bound to be abandoned by the PA before it is brought before the people for the same reason that Yasir Arafat said no to a Palestinian state in 2000 and 2001 and Abbas fled the negotiations in 2008 when he was offered an even sweeter deal. Since not even a powerful leader like Arafat felt he could survive peace, there is no reason to think Abbas thinks differently and everything he has done in office confirms that supposition. Having not only failed to prepare the Palestinian people for peace but fomented more hatred for Jews and Israel, it is inconceivable that anything offered by the Netanyahu government would be enough to make Abbas think he could dare to sign on the dotted line.

Seen in this context the lack of cameras at the opening of the talks is not a sign of seriousness. It is an indication that the Palestinians are still not ready to make peace.

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What the West Should Learn from the Fayyad-Cohen Spat

The spat between New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad must be afflicting liberals with severe cognitive dissonance. But there’s a very important lesson to be drawn from it.

The contretemps began when Cohen published a column on Friday that included numerous direct quotes from Fayyad, many of which were highly unflattering to the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah. “This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment,” Cohen quoted Fayyad as saying. “Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on. It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”

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The spat between New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad must be afflicting liberals with severe cognitive dissonance. But there’s a very important lesson to be drawn from it.

The contretemps began when Cohen published a column on Friday that included numerous direct quotes from Fayyad, many of which were highly unflattering to the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah. “This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment,” Cohen quoted Fayyad as saying. “Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on. It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”

Fayyad promptly issued a denial. “The statements in the article are just journalist Roger Cohen’s personal impressions, and certainly not the words of Fayyad, who did not make any statements or conduct interviews for the New York Times or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation,” his statement declared. He also accused the paper of “forgery that carries political dimensions with the goal of causing damage and fomenting strife in order to serve positions that are hostile to the Palestinians and their national project at this sensitive and critical phase.”

So to put it bluntly, either the star columnist for America’s leading liberal newspaper fabricated quotes and put them in the mouth of a man he never even spoke with, or America’s favorite Palestinian leader just told a bald-faced lie.

To anyone familiar with the Palestinian scene, it’s not hard to conclude that the liar is Fayyad: He’s the one whose life is literally on the line. One Fatah legislator has already called for indicting him on charges of “crimes against the Palestinian people.” But the more serious danger is that Fatah has plenty of experienced killers with no qualms about shooting fellow Palestinians who upset them: See, for instance, the assassinations and attempted assassinations of a senior PA security officer, a Fatah legislator and a governor of Jenin, all attributed by Palestinians to a power struggle between rival Fatah groups.

But this incident ought to give pause to anyone who is quick to believe every Palestinian atrocity story about Israel. Fayyad has bodyguards; he enjoys the protection of being in the international spotlight; and international credibility is his essential stock-in-trade. Thus, if even he feels threatened enough to risk his credibility by telling bald-faced lies to protect himself, that’s all the more true of ordinary Palestinians, who lack Fayyad’s protections and don’t care about their overseas credibility.

For a Palestinian, it’s always safest to accuse Israel of brutality and abuse, even if the accusations are completely false, because Israeli soldiers won’t kill him for such libels–whereas Palestinian gunmen very well might murder him as a “collaborator” if he went on record as saying, for instance, that Israeli soldiers treated him decently.           

So perhaps next time, Westerners should stop and think before uncritically accepting Palestinian atrocity tales as truth. For if Fayyad could so brazenly lie about Cohen, then other Palestinians could just as easily be lying about Israel.

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The Misplaced Faith in Abbas

Ben Birnbaum’s thoughtful, well-reported piece on the Israeli peace process is one of those articles that can easily be interpreted as in accordance with anyone’s preexisting worldview: it’s a Rorschach. If you think Mahmoud Abbas is primarily responsible for the lack of peace, that will be confirmed by the description of Ehud Olmert practically begging him to take an incredibly generous deal and Abbas walking away. If you think Olmert is to blame for offering a peace plan on which he could not follow through simply to save his reputation as he prepared to leave office under a cloud of scandal and an approval rating close to zero, you will shake your head at the desperation he showed.

If you think Olmert and Abbas were peacemakers surrounded by petty schemers, you will not be convinced otherwise as you read of Tzipi Livni’s advisors telling Abbas not to take the deal so she could swoop in and claim the glory for herself, or by the same old mindless and manipulative game being played by “advisors” and “negotiators” on the Palestinian side who have been there forever and a day. (The Israeli names change over time, but the Palestinian names are always Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, and Hanan Ashrawi.) So that’s the politicians; what about the people? In Israel, the people support peace, Birnbaum reports. The Palestinian people, however–that’s another story. Birnbaum chooses a delicate framing when he references a recent poll that “showed Palestinians preferred Hamas’s approach to ending the Israeli occupation over that of Abbas by a two-to-one margin.” I’m sure everyone can imagine what “Hamas’s approach” would mean, but for the record here’s the actual question from that poll (results, from left to right, are: total, in the West Bank, and in Gaza):

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Ben Birnbaum’s thoughtful, well-reported piece on the Israeli peace process is one of those articles that can easily be interpreted as in accordance with anyone’s preexisting worldview: it’s a Rorschach. If you think Mahmoud Abbas is primarily responsible for the lack of peace, that will be confirmed by the description of Ehud Olmert practically begging him to take an incredibly generous deal and Abbas walking away. If you think Olmert is to blame for offering a peace plan on which he could not follow through simply to save his reputation as he prepared to leave office under a cloud of scandal and an approval rating close to zero, you will shake your head at the desperation he showed.

If you think Olmert and Abbas were peacemakers surrounded by petty schemers, you will not be convinced otherwise as you read of Tzipi Livni’s advisors telling Abbas not to take the deal so she could swoop in and claim the glory for herself, or by the same old mindless and manipulative game being played by “advisors” and “negotiators” on the Palestinian side who have been there forever and a day. (The Israeli names change over time, but the Palestinian names are always Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, and Hanan Ashrawi.) So that’s the politicians; what about the people? In Israel, the people support peace, Birnbaum reports. The Palestinian people, however–that’s another story. Birnbaum chooses a delicate framing when he references a recent poll that “showed Palestinians preferred Hamas’s approach to ending the Israeli occupation over that of Abbas by a two-to-one margin.” I’m sure everyone can imagine what “Hamas’s approach” would mean, but for the record here’s the actual question from that poll (results, from left to right, are: total, in the West Bank, and in Gaza):

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Given the success of Israel’s military counteroffensives against Hamas in Gaza, this is not simply a vote of no confidence. No confidence would be eight or nine steps up from where Abbas and negotiations currently rank among the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Though the article lays out the case that Abbas is the last chance for peace between the two peoples, it really ends up making a slightly different point: Arafat ruined his would-be country; Abbas is finishing it off for good. That’s because, as Jonathan Schanzer has reported and Birnbaum echoes here, Abbas has no successor. Hamas is waiting in the wings, which is why it may not even matter. Birnbaum went to Gaza, he said, to find the elusive moderate Hamasnik. Here is a quote from the single most moderate Hamas person he spoke to, Ahmed Yousef, when Birnbaum raised the issue of the Jews needing and deserving a safe haven:

“Go to Germany,” he replied curtly. “All the Jews of Europe should go back to their countries. Jews of the Arab world should go back to their towns and cities in the Arab world. We are ready to help them even, to prepare ships.”

Keep that in mind as we are told again and again that there are moderate, pragmatic Hamasniks who understand political reality and need only be given the chance to participate in the process. “Go to Germany” is the nicest thing Hamas has to say.

Abbas’s health is failing, Birnbaum reports, though it’s unclear how quickly. And Fatah is a mess. And Hamas is willing to let the Jews live on the condition they go back to Germany. And yet it is unclear why this is such a compelling case to sign a deal with Abbas. He appears to represent virtually no one, which means there is no one to uphold any deal after Abbas. What could such an agreement be worth, even if miraculously signed?

In fact, for those who said Olmert couldn’t possibly muster the political capital to follow through on his deal–and rightly so–what’s the argument that Abbas could follow through on his end? Sharon at least had Olmert, who tried to keep making concessions. And Olmert had Livni, who tried foolishly to oust Olmert when his back was turned but at least was willing to pick up the peacemaking mantle she attempted to pry from his hands.

Arafat could enforce an agreement, though he’d never sign one. Abbas can’t do either. Birnbaum’s piece makes clear Abbas is avoiding negotiations with Netanyahu, who American advisors told Birnbaum is much more willing to make peace than his critics say. But we already knew that. Abbas has no desire for a true, lasting peace. But we already knew that too.

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Palestinian “Moderates” Rely on Violence

The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

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The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, after all, was created by Abbas’s predecessor, Yasir Arafat, in order to compete with Hamas. In the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, a group or a leader’s credibility is based on how many Jews it kills, not how much it can do to help the plight of their people. That’s why genuine moderates like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is so well liked in the West, have virtually no constituency.

What may be happening now is, however, a reversal of roles as the PA attempts to bolster its support with violence while Hamas stands pat. Instead of Hamas using terrorism to upstage Fatah in the West Bank, what may be unfolding is a series of events in which it will be the alleged moderates–to whom Israel is being told to make concessions–looking to draw the Islamist rulers of Gaza into a new cycle of violence. The rocket firing was supposedly in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian demonstrator and must be seen in the context of an effort to provoke retaliation that will, they hope, galvanize international condemnation of Israel.

With the West Bank security fence making another campaign of Fatah-funded suicide bombings extremely difficult, and the Iron Dome system making missile attacks on Israel less of a threat, the Palestinians lack effective military options. But they do hope to create enough of a disturbance in order to make President Obama push Israel to do something to appease them. Yet since nothing–not even a settlement freeze–was enough to push Abbas to return to peace talks, there is very little reason for Obama to waste any of his political capital on a spat with Israel that he knows won’t advance the cause of peace.

The last intifada also started with what we were told was a spontaneous outbreak of popular protests, but which were actually instigated by Arafat and followed up with a murderous offensive sponsored by the PA. Fatah may think their interests are best served by heightening tensions with Israel and spilling some blood in order to gain attention. But if they were truly interested in peace or even independence, all they have to do is accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks. Until that happens, even an administration as friendly to their cause as that of President Obama is not likely to reward them for inciting violence.

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The Qatari Challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy

The evolution of the political power structure across the Mideast has a recent track record of disappointment and unmet expectations. As Turkey sought to take a leadership role in the Middle East, hopes were high for a technically secular, NATO-allied power. But of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Putinesque turn and support for terrorist organizations as part of his pan-Islamist ambitions poured cold water on those hopes.

And Egypt’s close relationship with the U.S. and formal peace with Israel didn’t stop a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist from taking power in Cairo and moving closer to his Hamas allies. But perhaps no country’s influence in the region has taken as significant a step up as that of Qatar. Colum Lynch reports that the UN has found a new way to recognize the country’s new standing:

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The evolution of the political power structure across the Mideast has a recent track record of disappointment and unmet expectations. As Turkey sought to take a leadership role in the Middle East, hopes were high for a technically secular, NATO-allied power. But of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Putinesque turn and support for terrorist organizations as part of his pan-Islamist ambitions poured cold water on those hopes.

And Egypt’s close relationship with the U.S. and formal peace with Israel didn’t stop a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist from taking power in Cairo and moving closer to his Hamas allies. But perhaps no country’s influence in the region has taken as significant a step up as that of Qatar. Colum Lynch reports that the UN has found a new way to recognize the country’s new standing:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is set to appoint a top former Qatari diplomat as his high representative of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, reinforcing the oil sheikdom’s standing as a rising diplomatic powerhouse.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, a former Qatari envoy to the United Nations who served as U.N. General Assembly president last year, will replace Jorge Sampaio, a former Portuguese president who currently heads the organization.

The decision places a trusted Western ally at the head of an organization that aims to bridge the cultural gap between the West and the Islamic world.

As the West fetes this “trusted Western ally,” it’s worth pointing out that Qatar’s growing influence in the Middle East has been almost completely negative and counter to American interests. Qatar funds anti-Western propaganda through Al Jazeera, which just purchased Al Gore’s television station–though the network is more benign than the other projects Qatar throws money at.

As I wrote here recently, over the last few years Qatar has stiffed the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas on its pledges when there was concern Abbas wouldn’t share the funds with Hamas. When the Hamas-run Gaza and Fatah-run West Bank became in effect two separate and distinct political entities, Qatar solved its problem by simply giving the money–at times up to $400 million–directly to Hamas. As Abbas presses Arab states for the money they’ve pledged to his cash-strapped PA, Qatar has continued the pattern. This enables Hamas terrorism, weakens the more moderate Fatah, and decreases the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.

But Qatar’s mischievous ambitions aren’t limited to the Palestinian territories. In October, the Obama White House noticed a trend in Syria that, the New York Times reported, “casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.” And what was this disturbing development in the struggle to help Syrians free themselves from the shackles of authoritarianism and give them a chance at liberty? The Times explained:

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

So we relied on Qatar to distribute aid to freedom fighters and they spent the money on arming Islamist extremist groups. It should be noted that at this point those extremist groups–one of which we just designated a terrorist organization–then took the lead in the Syrian rebellion and made it nearly impossible for the West to do anything to help those we would actually want to help.

There is no question that Qatar has become a serious player in Mideast geopolitics and now worldwide with the surging popularity of Al Jazeera. But there is also no question that “trusted Western ally” is a strange moniker for a country at the forefront of efforts to undermine American foreign policy at every turn.

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Portrait of Palestinian Democracy–2013

Today Mahmoud Abbas begins the ninth year of his four-year term, having originally taken office on January 15, 2005, after a quickie election held a few weeks after Yasir Arafat died in the ninth year of his own four-year term. As Daled Amos notes, “it’s nice work if you can get it.” 

Palestinian democracy has been a bit of a disappointment: each of the peace-partner presidents were offered a state on virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and each of them walked away. Each time, the Palestinian public not only did not protest their president’s rejection of “the long overdue Palestinian state”; they did not even demand another presidential election when the presidential terms expired. Like his predecessor, Abbas will end up serving as president longer after his term expired than when he was legally in office.

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Today Mahmoud Abbas begins the ninth year of his four-year term, having originally taken office on January 15, 2005, after a quickie election held a few weeks after Yasir Arafat died in the ninth year of his own four-year term. As Daled Amos notes, “it’s nice work if you can get it.” 

Palestinian democracy has been a bit of a disappointment: each of the peace-partner presidents were offered a state on virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and each of them walked away. Each time, the Palestinian public not only did not protest their president’s rejection of “the long overdue Palestinian state”; they did not even demand another presidential election when the presidential terms expired. Like his predecessor, Abbas will end up serving as president longer after his term expired than when he was legally in office.

Since another Palestinian election is not likely any time soon, we must rely on the latest poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research for a picture of Palestinian public opinion. The poll indicates Abbas would be defeated by the Hamas candidate if a new presidential election were held, and that 56 percent of Palestinians would oppose a final-status agreement involving: (1) Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank and a land swap for the rest; (2) a Palestinian state with a “strong security force” (but no army) and a multinational force; (3) sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but an Israeli right to use airspace for training and maintain two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem, including all Arab neighborhoods and most of the Old City; and (5) a “right of return” for refugees to the new state and compensation for “refugeehood.”

The tragedy of Palestinian democracy was apparent two years ago; last year the portrait of Palestinian democracy got even worse; this year it has deteriorated still further, as it becomes even clearer that being elected Palestinian president means you never have to run again; that if an election were held, the candidate of the premier Palestinian terrorist group would prevail; that the Palestinians still reject even the “Everyone Knows” peace plan; and that the problem with Palestinian democracy extends far beyond the specific individuals elected in the two Potemkin presidential elections held so far.

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The Israeli Elections and Political Reality

David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”

 This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:

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David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”

 This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:

Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party explicitly states that “land for peace” is dead and advocates annexing the portion of the West Bank known as Area C. Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu says that regardless of Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, the Likud never endorsed a Palestinian state. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party’s website makes no mention of going back to the negotiating table.

Neither does the Labor Party platform.

Even Meretz recently acknowledged that Oslo is dead.

The “dramatic imminent shift” is not a shift, but a realization; not imminent, but rather what happened over many years; and not dramatic, but rather the slow accumulation of many events: (1) the barbaric terror war against Israeli civilians, commenced after the first Israeli offer of a state; (2) the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton Parameters, after Israel formally accepted them; (3) the Palestinian failure to carry out even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap; (4) the transformation of Gaza into Hamastan after Israel withdrew every settler and soldier; (5) the election of Hamas in 2006 and the Hamas coup in 2007; (6) two rocket wars from Judenrein Gaza, and the continuing prospect of more; (7) the year-long negotiation in the Annapolis Process that produced still another offer of a state, from which Abbas walked away; (8) Abbas’s announcement in 2009 that he would do nothing without a construction freeze, followed by his doing nothing after he got one; (9) the continual “reconciliation” attempts by Abbas with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle; (10) his failure to give a Bir Zeit speech to match Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan one; (11) the inability of the Palestinians to hold an election, much less build the institutions of a peaceful democratic state; (12) the violation of their express Oslo commitments with repeated end-runs at the UN; (13) a Palestinian society, media and educational system steeped in anti-Semitism; (14) et cetera.

It is to the credit of Israeli democracy that it reacted to all of this not with a “dramatic imminent shift” but with repeated efforts, over more than a decade, to give the Palestinians a state if they would recognize a Jewish one with defensible borders. Four prime ministers from three different parties (representing the left, center, and right) tried, and each met the same response. After January 22, Israel will be not a different state but a more realistic one–having delivered a message that will reflect, in Gordis’s words, “what the Israeli electorate, across the spectrum, is saying.”

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Obama Needs to Warn Abbas on Terror

Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the start of the ninth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority in Cairo today by attending a summit with the leader of the rival Hamas group. Abbas was summoned to the meeting due to pressure from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who is expected to help pressure Gulf nations to donate money to the perpetually bankrupt PA. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has long sought to promote the idea of Palestinian unity, something that would strengthen the position of their Hamas allies. This worries Abbas, who also remains the head of the hopelessly incompetent and corrupt Fatah movement that runs the PA. But while there is little likelihood that this latest conclave between the two groups will lead to an actual merger and power sharing in the West Bank and Gaza, the signs are clear that they are moving closer to each other in other ways.

That was made plain by another and perhaps more significant event today. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade is the terrorist wing of Fatah and was responsible for many terrorist attacks on Israelis during the second intifada. It hasn’t been heard from much in recent years as Abbas played the moderate to the applause of Americans and left-wing Israelis. But the march by armed fighters belonging to the group in a refugee camp near Nablus was an ominous warning that the reports filtering out of the West Bank about plans for a third intifada by the PA may be more than rumors. This gives the lie to the claims made by both the Obama administration and Israeli President Shimon Peres on behalf of Abbas’s bona fides as a peacemaker. This is something the Obama administration ought to take into consideration before they launch another attempt to pressure Israel into concessions to jump-start peace talks.

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Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the start of the ninth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority in Cairo today by attending a summit with the leader of the rival Hamas group. Abbas was summoned to the meeting due to pressure from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who is expected to help pressure Gulf nations to donate money to the perpetually bankrupt PA. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has long sought to promote the idea of Palestinian unity, something that would strengthen the position of their Hamas allies. This worries Abbas, who also remains the head of the hopelessly incompetent and corrupt Fatah movement that runs the PA. But while there is little likelihood that this latest conclave between the two groups will lead to an actual merger and power sharing in the West Bank and Gaza, the signs are clear that they are moving closer to each other in other ways.

That was made plain by another and perhaps more significant event today. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade is the terrorist wing of Fatah and was responsible for many terrorist attacks on Israelis during the second intifada. It hasn’t been heard from much in recent years as Abbas played the moderate to the applause of Americans and left-wing Israelis. But the march by armed fighters belonging to the group in a refugee camp near Nablus was an ominous warning that the reports filtering out of the West Bank about plans for a third intifada by the PA may be more than rumors. This gives the lie to the claims made by both the Obama administration and Israeli President Shimon Peres on behalf of Abbas’s bona fides as a peacemaker. This is something the Obama administration ought to take into consideration before they launch another attempt to pressure Israel into concessions to jump-start peace talks.

For four years, Abbas has done everything possible to avoid having to return to the negotiating table with Israel. Despite the best efforts of President Obama to tip the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ favor, Abbas wouldn’t deal with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu even after he froze settlement building and pledged to support a two-state solution. He compounded that by doing an end run around U.S.-sponsored talks and getting the United Nations to upgrade the PA’s observer status at the world body.

The possibility of another Middle East initiative from Obama may worry friends of Israel. But it is also a concern to Abbas, who will do anything to avoid being put in the position of having to turn down peace and statehood as he did in 2008 and his predecessor Yasir Arafat did in 2000 and 2001.

The Palestinians may be thinking that they can generate more sympathy for themselves and pressure on Israel by reverting to violence than by returning to the negotiating table that they have spurned for the last four years. That may cause some Americans to redouble their efforts to pressure Netanyahu in a futile effort to appease the Palestinians, but doing so would miss the point of Fatah’s return to its terrorist origins. Abbas won’t make peace, not just because he’s weak and his followers don’t want to end the conflict. If he’s showing signs of unleashing the Al Aksa killers again it is because that is the best and perhaps only way for Fatah to compete with Hamas for the affections of West Bank Arabs. In the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, violence against Jews, rather than efforts to improve the lives of the people, remains the ticket to popularity. If a Fatah-Hamas merger is ever to take place, it will mean a contest between the two, and the only way for Abbas’s faction to hold its own is to unleash another intifada.

President Obama ought to be reacting to these developments by making it clear to Abbas that he will lose the support of the United States as well as his European donors if he fails to talk to Israel or if he gives the green light to the Al Aksa Martyrs to start shooting. If, instead of that sensible course, he concentrates his fire on the Netanyahu government, an opportunity to stop another round of bloodshed may be lost.

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Third Intifada Would Derail Obama Policy

Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

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Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

As Abu Toameh writes:

Emboldened by the “victories,” Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal recently reached a secret agreement on the need to launch a “popular intifada” against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources in Ramallah revealed.

The two men believe that such an intifada at this stage would further isolate Israel and earn the Palestinians even more sympathy in the international arena, the sources said.

Abbas and Mashaal are aware, the sources noted, that the Palestinians are now not ready for another military confrontation with Israel — neither in the West Bank nor in the Gaza Strip.

That is why the two men agreed that the best and only option facing the Palestinians these days is a “popular intifada” that would see Palestinian youths engage in daily confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers, especially in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership knows they are best served by televised violence that pits a powerful Israeli military against seemingly helpless Palestinians rather than by terror attacks or missile strikes. But it isn’t likely that their concerted campaign of low-level violence won’t soon escalate to the sort of attacks on Jewish targets that have always bolstered the popularity of the Palestinians groups that carry them out.

Nor is it likely than even a re-elected Barack Obama, who would no longer need to fear a backlash from Jewish voters over Israel, would be able to sustain a diplomatic campaign against a re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu while Fatah and Hamas were engaged in a competition over which presented the toughest approach to the Israelis.

The motivation for Abbas to join forces with Hamas is clear. As Haaretz reports today, a new poll shows Abbas would lose an election against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh if an election were held. While Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, may have no intention of allowing a free vote that would give the Islamist dictators of Gaza a chance to run the West Bank too, the poll shows Hamas’s violence gives it a crucial electoral advantage. The same survey said that were Haniyeh to face Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving multiple life-in-prison terms for the murders he ordered during the second intifada, he would lose.

As Abu Toahmeh writes, Hamas and Fatah do have different short-term goals. Fatah hopes to force Israel to retreat from all of the territory it won in 1967, including in Jerusalem and its suburbs where they would hope to create an independent Palestinian state, albeit not one prepared to end the conflict. On the other hand, Hamas still believes it can destroy Israel altogether.

This demonstrates the foolishness of the discussion on the left about the need for the U.S. to join Egypt and Turkey and recognize Hamas. But it should also illustrate the folly of a new diplomatic initiative whose Fatah beneficiaries have made common cause with the so-called extremists of Hamas. The illusions that many Israelis harbored about Fatah’s peaceful intentions were exploded by the terror of the second intifada. It remains to be seen whether the fantasies of foreign liberals, including those in the administration, will survive a third.

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What Kirsten Powers Gets Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians

Kirsten Powers is a thoughtful liberal who’s willing to challenge the party line. At times, though, her arguments strike me as misguided. Such is the case with her column in The Daily Beast titled, “What Evangelicals Get Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians.”

Ms. Powers quotes Todd Deatherage, co-founder of the Telos Group, an organization that “works with American evangelicals to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” According to Mr. Deatherage, “What a lot of Christians don’t understand is the importance of realizing both people [the Israelis and the Palestinians] have legitimate connections to the land.” American evangelicals, we’re told, need to “understand the Palestinian perspective.” 

“Palestinians have a need for dignity and respect, and a deep attachment to the land,” according to Deatherage. As for Powers, she criticizes American evangelicals for their “blind loyalty to Israel, with little to no regard for the plight of the Palestinian people.” She then asks, in the context of the Palestinians, “Since when is dehumanizing people—God’s creation—an acceptable Christian view?”

The answer, of course, is never. But it seems to me that both Powers and Deatherage are missing some important points.

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Kirsten Powers is a thoughtful liberal who’s willing to challenge the party line. At times, though, her arguments strike me as misguided. Such is the case with her column in The Daily Beast titled, “What Evangelicals Get Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians.”

Ms. Powers quotes Todd Deatherage, co-founder of the Telos Group, an organization that “works with American evangelicals to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” According to Mr. Deatherage, “What a lot of Christians don’t understand is the importance of realizing both people [the Israelis and the Palestinians] have legitimate connections to the land.” American evangelicals, we’re told, need to “understand the Palestinian perspective.” 

“Palestinians have a need for dignity and respect, and a deep attachment to the land,” according to Deatherage. As for Powers, she criticizes American evangelicals for their “blind loyalty to Israel, with little to no regard for the plight of the Palestinian people.” She then asks, in the context of the Palestinians, “Since when is dehumanizing people—God’s creation—an acceptable Christian view?”

The answer, of course, is never. But it seems to me that both Powers and Deatherage are missing some important points.

Let’s start with some historical ones.

From 1948 through 1967 Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza—and during that time neither nation lifted a finger to establish a Palestinian state. The Arab world seemed strangely indifferent to the Palestinians’ “deep attachment” and “legitimate connections” to the land. In fact, in 1970 King Hussein of Jordan slaughtered tens of thousands of Palestinians and eradicated the PLO from Jordan. And for those who maintain that the animosity against Israel is because of the occupied territories and settlements, there is this inconvenient fact: the PLO, whose declared purpose was the elimination of Israel, was founded in 1964—three years before the West Bank and Gaza fell under Israeli control. And what explains the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel, before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue?

The land Israel did win in 1967—including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai desert and the Golan Heights—was the result of a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel. After its victory in the Six-Day War, Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired in exchange for peace—but that hope was crushed in 1967 when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

The wave of anti-Israeli rage never subsided. Thirty-three years later, in 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered up an astonishing set of concessions to Yasir Arafat, including having Israel withdraw to virtually all of the 1949-1967 boundaries, so that a Palestinian state could be proclaimed with its capital in Jerusalem. Yet Arafat not only turned down the offer but responded with an intifada against Israel. And in 2005 then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel did what no other nation—not the Jordanians, not the Egyptians, not the British, not anyone—has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. 

The record also shows that when Israel has an Arab interlocutor that is interested in authentic peace—such as Jordan and Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak—it is quite willing to make peace and return land for peace (see the Sinai Desert, which Israel returned to Egypt and which is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in the 1967 war).  

I detail this history because it’s highly relevant to what is happening in the here and now. For while some “rejectionists” do exist among evangelical Christians in America and among some Jews in Israel, the reality is this: A two-state solution is the official policy of Israel. The obstacle to a Palestinian homeland doesn’t have to do with evangelical or Israeli rejectionists; it has to do with the inability of Hamas and the Palestinian leadership to make their own inner peace with the Jewish state of Israel. As long as that’s the case, it’s perfectly appropriate to distinguish between what Churchill called the fire brigade and the fire. And as the most recent conflict in Gaza has once again demonstrated, Hamas not only targets innocent Israeli civilians; it does everything it can to cause the deaths of innocent Palestinians (by using them as human shields) in order to score propaganda victories. Israel, on the other hand, takes extraordinary steps to try to prevent civilian deaths. Denying these realities—constructing a false narrative that fits a false hope—makes peace less, not more, likely.    

This doesn’t mean that every Israeli action and every Israeli government has acted wisely. Israel itself is constantly engaged in a lively discussion about its approach to everything from settlements to roadblocks. My point is simply that in the totality of its actions, facing organizations and nations dedicated to its destruction, Israel has acted in estimable ways. People demand of Israel what they demand of no other nation, and the moral double standard that is applied to it is repulsive.   

I want to turn, finally, to what it means to be genuinely pro-Palestinian. The old paradigm argues that to help the Palestinian people means applying pressure on Israel to hand over new land. But in Gaza we have just tested the proposition that the Palestinians, if given self-rule, would govern responsibly. The result wasn’t just escalated violence against Israel; it was destitution and suffering for Palestinians who lived under the leadership of Fatah and then (after a brief and bloody intra-Palestinian civil war) Hamas. Which brings us to a larger truth: the Palestinian people, many of whom are bone weary of war, have suffered horribly at the hands of other Arab nations, who have used them as pawns; and at the hands of a corrupt and malevolent Palestinian leadership. The few responsible Palestinian leaders who have emerged in recent years have proven to be much too weak to shape the course of events. 

Those who profess solidarity with the Palestinian people and want them to live lives of dignity and peace—which is an admirable and humane impulse—should focus their energy and efforts less on Israel and more on replacing the political elite and reforming the political culture of Palestinians who will not let their burning hatred for the Jewish state dim, even for a moment. Unless and until that happens, no amount of Israeli good will and no amount of territorial concessions will lead to peace. It will, in fact, only inflame the passions of Israel’s enemies and draw the Jewish and Palestinian people closer to days of violence, days of mourning, days of war. Surely that is something that those who long to be peacemakers and agents of reconciliation should understand.

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No Good Alternative to Fatah in View

With today’s escalation of hostilities between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces, this report by the New York Times has been overshadowed, naturally, by events. But it is also, in a way, complemented by them. The report discusses memos and talking points sent around by the Israeli government to its diplomatic missions around the world on the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s plans to ask for upgraded status at the United Nations.

Much of it is unremarkable. It notes that the Israeli government acknowledges that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s plans violate the Oslo accords and constitute a unilateral breach of mutual agreements between the representative governments of Israel and the Palestinians. It also acknowledges that Israel has its own unilateral actions it can take if Abbas truly wants to go down this road. (I’ve written about “coordinated unilateralism” before; this isn’t quite what that is, but it would take a very similar form.) The Times mentions a particularly harsh memo, apparently written by staffers in Israel’s Foreign Ministry:

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With today’s escalation of hostilities between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces, this report by the New York Times has been overshadowed, naturally, by events. But it is also, in a way, complemented by them. The report discusses memos and talking points sent around by the Israeli government to its diplomatic missions around the world on the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s plans to ask for upgraded status at the United Nations.

Much of it is unremarkable. It notes that the Israeli government acknowledges that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s plans violate the Oslo accords and constitute a unilateral breach of mutual agreements between the representative governments of Israel and the Palestinians. It also acknowledges that Israel has its own unilateral actions it can take if Abbas truly wants to go down this road. (I’ve written about “coordinated unilateralism” before; this isn’t quite what that is, but it would take a very similar form.) The Times mentions a particularly harsh memo, apparently written by staffers in Israel’s Foreign Ministry:

A second document, an internal paper labeled “draft” and written by staff members of Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was more explicit. It described Mr. Abbas as an unpopular, weakened leader who had grown rich from leading a corrupt authority and was heading to the United Nations in a last-ditch effort to remain in power.

A recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations, it stated, would leave Israel no alternative but to topple “the government of Abu Mazen,” referring to Mr. Abbas by his nickname. Any softer reaction would be interpreted as “raising a white flag,” it said.

Well, the first part is correct, but it doesn’t necessitate the second. This was the Palestinian response:

Mr. Shtayyeh, the Palestinian envoy, said he considered Israeli warnings about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority as “empty threats.”

“Israel has a vested interest in maintaining the status of the Palestinian Authority as it is today,” he said, noting that the Palestinian security forces helped to protect Israel.

It’s debatable how much PA forces “protect” Israel, certainly, but Shtayyeh has it about right. To understand why Israel should not want the Abbas government, and thus Fatah, toppled, it’s instructive to look back at a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper from the spring of 2008, The Struggle For Palestinian Hearts And Minds: Violence And Public Opinion In The Second Intifada. The authors studied the radicalization effects on Palestinians of various political affiliations, with special regard to violent events.

They found that violent episodes are far less likely to radicalize supporters of Fatah than supporters of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad; that Israeli fatalities are much more likely to embolden Hamas supporters than supporters of Fatah; that Fatah remains the natural home for less extremist Palestinians; and that as support drains from Fatah, support drains from bilateral negotiations as the preferred method of dealing with Israel, as opposed to violence or unilateral steps.

Is Mahmoud Abbas a serious partner for peace? No, he is not. Has he done anything to change Palestinian attitudes toward recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? No, he has not. But toppling Fatah would likely result in a more violent Palestinian leadership on the West Bank, with missiles aimed at the heart of Jerusalem and the country’s only large international airport.

Judging by today’s events, Israel probably does not want Hamas on two borders instead of one. When it comes to Palestinian leadership, we can modify what Churchill once said about democracy: Fatah is the worst choice to govern the Palestinians, except for all the others.

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The Palestinian State’s Rocket Offensive

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said today he wasn’t backing down from his plan to try and get the United Nations to recognize an independent state without it first having to make peace with Israel. Abbas believes that if the UN General Assembly votes in the coming months to recognize the PA as a nonmember observer state — an upgrade from its current status — it will give him more leverage with the United States as well as make it easier for the Palestinians to harass the Jewish state in forums like the International Criminal Court. But the leaders of the real independent Palestinian state aren’t interested in helping Abbas get a make believe one.

More than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel over the weekend as Hamas unleashed a barrage that wounded several Israelis and damaged buildings in Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev area. The motive for the escalation from the normal volume of fire over the border (more than 600 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza in 2012 up until Saturday) from the Hamas-run enclave is a matter of speculation. But the most logical explanation is a desire on the part of the terrorist group that exercises sovereignty in Gaza to remind the world that it is they, and not Abbas and his Fatah, that are in control of events. This latest surge in terror from the place that is an independent Palestinian state in all but name also is a heads-up to even those inclined to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause of the nature of that state and what would happen if they had the same freedom of action in the West Bank alongside Israel’s main population centers.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said today he wasn’t backing down from his plan to try and get the United Nations to recognize an independent state without it first having to make peace with Israel. Abbas believes that if the UN General Assembly votes in the coming months to recognize the PA as a nonmember observer state — an upgrade from its current status — it will give him more leverage with the United States as well as make it easier for the Palestinians to harass the Jewish state in forums like the International Criminal Court. But the leaders of the real independent Palestinian state aren’t interested in helping Abbas get a make believe one.

More than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel over the weekend as Hamas unleashed a barrage that wounded several Israelis and damaged buildings in Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev area. The motive for the escalation from the normal volume of fire over the border (more than 600 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza in 2012 up until Saturday) from the Hamas-run enclave is a matter of speculation. But the most logical explanation is a desire on the part of the terrorist group that exercises sovereignty in Gaza to remind the world that it is they, and not Abbas and his Fatah, that are in control of events. This latest surge in terror from the place that is an independent Palestinian state in all but name also is a heads-up to even those inclined to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause of the nature of that state and what would happen if they had the same freedom of action in the West Bank alongside Israel’s main population centers.

One of the main reasons the PA’s first attempt to get UN recognition failed last year — why the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” never materialized — was the understanding even on the part of Israel’s critics that such a move was rendered impossible by the fragmented nature of Palestinian politics. Abbas not only doesn’t control Gaza, the government there is, for all intents and purposes, the sovereign over the area. Even if Israel withdrew tomorrow from the West Bank, it would mean the corrupt and incompetent Fatah ran part of a state of “Palestine” while Hamas ruled another with an iron fist. That is a formula for chaos and more violence, not independence.

Despite off-and-on negotiations for a unity government, Hamas is carefully biding its time as it plots an eventual West Bank takeover. It certainly has no interest in seeing Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, win a victory at the UN. The recent surge in terror attacks on Israeli targets serves to bolster Hamas’s popularity since in the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, parties gain ground by violence against Israel and the Jews rather than doing something for their own people. But it also helps to undercut Abbas’s pretensions to leadership over a unified people seeking redress at the UN.

Some may wonder whether Hamas terrorism, like the recent kind words directed at former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert by Abbas, are intended to influence the January elections in the Jewish state. That’s doubtful, but even if true it is a futile gesture. The vast majority of Israelis long ago gave up on the Palestinians. They understand that a sea change will have to take place in their political culture before a leader or a party willing to actually end the conflict with Israel can be produced. That’s why the notion that Olmert or anyone else could put together a coalition to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by running on a platform seeking to revive the peace process is about as likely as Fatah and Hamas competing peacefully in a democratic election and then working together to ease the plight of their people.

The reality of life in southern Israel is brutal and will, no doubt, create more pressure on Netanyahu to eventually act decisively to clip the wings of the growing military threat in Gaza. The Iron Dome anti-missile system has had some limited successes, such as the interception this weekend of rockets heading for the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon. But the towns along the border like Sderot are still getting pasted. Above all, the near-daily assault from Gaza brings home to Israelis the real meaning of Palestinian independence.

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Arab World Chooses Hamas over Fatah in Palestinian Rivalry

It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

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It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

In August, I wrote about Saudi Arabia’s $500 million investment in Gaza. Today, the New York Times reports on the emir of Qatar’s visit to Gaza and the announcement of his country’s $400 million pledged investment there:

“Today you are a big guest, great guest, declaring officially the breaking of the political and economic siege that was imposed on Gaza,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, told the emir and his cohort as they sat on sofas in a white shed in the southern town of Khan Yunis, where they plan to erect 1,000 apartments. “Today, we declare the victory on this siege through this blessed, historic visit.”

In the West Bank, allies of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who has struggled to preserve his own legitimacy, warned that the visit set a dangerous precedent of Arab leaders’ embracing Mr. Haniya as a head of state and thus cleaving the Palestinian people and territory in two. “We call on the Qatari prince or his representative to visit the West Bank too!” blared a headline on an editorial in the leading newspaper Al Quds.

That last part is actually quite embarrassing for Abbas. Begging for a visit from the Qatari emir is really begging for a visit from the Qatari emir’s checkbook, irrespective of whether the emir himself accompanies it on the trip. If the Hamas-Fatah rivalry is a zero-sum game–and it doesn’t always have to be, but usually is–then what we are witnessing in Gaza, thanks to the supposed friends of the Palestinians, is the construction of an entity that is arguably more of a state than what currently exists in the West Bank.

I mentioned yesterday that Jimmy Carter is making no secret of his attempts to impede the establishment of a Palestinian state by sabotaging negotiations and encouraging Abbas to declare statehood at the UN. In addition to all the obvious problems with this, what would stop it from setting a precedent that Hamas could follow in Gaza? Sure, the PA would ostensibly declare their state to include Gaza, but couldn’t Hamas then secede if it wanted to?

Of course that’s unlikely to happen, in part because the PA’s bid for statehood continues to be opposed by the West. But it’s long past time for Mideast watchers to at least acknowledge that the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, are, like Carter, actively working to incentivize Palestinian radicalization rather than moderation.

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