Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fatah

PA’s Fiscal Crisis Is Due to Gaza, Not Israel

The World Bank issued another report on the Palestinian economy yesterday, and its conclusions were utterly predictable: The Palestinian Authority faces a fiscal crisis, and desperately needs additional handouts on top of the $1.14 billion it’s already getting this year; and the crisis is mostly Israel’s fault. But while blaming Israel is always easy, the truth is the PA hasn’t a prayer of ever resolving its fiscal crisis without addressing the real elephant in the room: Gaza.

According to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Gaza accounts for fully 48 percent of the PA’s expenditures. But since Hamas took over the territory in 2007, revenues received from Gaza have plummeted from 28 percent to a mere 4 percent of the PA’s budget. In other words, the PA has a hole equal to 44 percent of its budget due solely to its unbalanced income and outlays on Gaza. Nothing Israel does will be able to compensate for that.

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The World Bank issued another report on the Palestinian economy yesterday, and its conclusions were utterly predictable: The Palestinian Authority faces a fiscal crisis, and desperately needs additional handouts on top of the $1.14 billion it’s already getting this year; and the crisis is mostly Israel’s fault. But while blaming Israel is always easy, the truth is the PA hasn’t a prayer of ever resolving its fiscal crisis without addressing the real elephant in the room: Gaza.

According to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Gaza accounts for fully 48 percent of the PA’s expenditures. But since Hamas took over the territory in 2007, revenues received from Gaza have plummeted from 28 percent to a mere 4 percent of the PA’s budget. In other words, the PA has a hole equal to 44 percent of its budget due solely to its unbalanced income and outlays on Gaza. Nothing Israel does will be able to compensate for that.

The problem is twofold. First, because Hamas controls Gaza, the PA can’t collect taxes there – and Hamas has no interest in giving the PA any of the taxes it collects. Often, Hamas doesn’t even pay the PA for services received: After the European Union stopped paying for Gaza’s electricity in 2010, for instance, the PA picked up the tab. In fact, that the PA receives any money from Gaza at all is mainly thanks to Israel, which transfers the taxes it collects on goods imported into Gaza from Israel.

Second, much of the money the PA spends in Gaza is totally wasted. Five years after Hamas took over Gaza, for instance, the PA is still paying some 60,000 former PA employees full salaries to sit at home and do absolutely nothing, just to keep them from working for the Hamas government instead. It’s hard to imagine a more unproductive use of money than that. And the sums involved aren’t trivial: Gaza accounts for 40 percent of the 150,000 people on the PA’s payroll, and payroll accounts for about half the PA’s annual budget of almost $4 billion.

Meanwhile, the party that’s de facto been picking up the tab for Gaza’s fiscal black hole is the same one that’s been under constant rocket fire from Gaza for years: The PA has solved part of its budget shortfall, which the World Bank estimates at some $400 million, by not paying its electricity bills to Israel. These unpaid bills now total $160 million – at a time when the Israel Electric Corporation is so far in debt it can no longer raise money without government guarantees, and has been seeking a 30 percent hike in Israelis’ electricity rates to solve its financial problems.

The PA’s international donors are slated to meet on September 23, and will doubtless be tempted to simply regurgitate the World Bank’s Israel-bashing. But if they really want to solve the PA’s fiscal crisis, they need to issue an ultimatum: Either the PA stops blowing half its budget on paying people not to work and subsidizing the Hamas government in Gaza, or its international donors will finally close the spigot.

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Palestinians Joining the Arab Spring?

The Arab Spring has made reporters understandably excitable at the first sign of popular discontent in the Arab world, especially in places previously unaffected by the revolutionary wave. And so the Associated Press report out of Hebron yesterday took the step of repeating for readers just how unprecedented the Palestinian anti-government protests were. It began with this sentence: “Palestinian demonstrators fed up with high prices and unpaid salaries shuttered shops, halted traffic with burning tires and clashed with riot police in demonstrations across the West Bank on Monday— the largest show of popular discontent with the Palestinian Authority in its 18-year existence.”

Seven paragraphs later, the reporters made explicit the comparison, and in an attempt to ward off the dismissal of the analogy repeated again the rarity factor at work here: “The unrest was reminiscent of the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring that topped aging dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and sparked civil war in Syria. While there is no sign that the protests are approaching that level, they nonetheless are the largest show of popular discontent with the governing Palestinian Authority in its 18-year history.” Yes, the AP is right: the protests have reached unprecedented levels. But the more interesting aspects of the public unrest are not the parallels with the Arab Spring, but the contrasts.

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The Arab Spring has made reporters understandably excitable at the first sign of popular discontent in the Arab world, especially in places previously unaffected by the revolutionary wave. And so the Associated Press report out of Hebron yesterday took the step of repeating for readers just how unprecedented the Palestinian anti-government protests were. It began with this sentence: “Palestinian demonstrators fed up with high prices and unpaid salaries shuttered shops, halted traffic with burning tires and clashed with riot police in demonstrations across the West Bank on Monday— the largest show of popular discontent with the Palestinian Authority in its 18-year existence.”

Seven paragraphs later, the reporters made explicit the comparison, and in an attempt to ward off the dismissal of the analogy repeated again the rarity factor at work here: “The unrest was reminiscent of the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring that topped aging dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and sparked civil war in Syria. While there is no sign that the protests are approaching that level, they nonetheless are the largest show of popular discontent with the governing Palestinian Authority in its 18-year history.” Yes, the AP is right: the protests have reached unprecedented levels. But the more interesting aspects of the public unrest are not the parallels with the Arab Spring, but the contrasts.

First of all, as the AP story notes, some of the rioting was the outgrowth of what I’m sure had seemed like a brilliant idea to the Fatah party apparatchiks who hatched it. They wanted to stir up trouble against Salam Fayyad, the only Palestinian leader with good relations with the West, as part of the intra-party scheming that goes on inside the Palestinian Authority instead of governing. It turns out that most of the Fatah leaders are more corrupt than Fayyad, so the protesters soon aimed their fire more generally at the PA itself, including, but not limited to, Fayyad.

The Palestinians were also protesting recent tax hikes and the lack of living-wage jobs in the West Bank. Fatah party leaders passed the buck onto the international community for failing to follow through on donor funds the PA says it is owed. But what do they do with that money when it comes in? As I wrote recently, the money seems to fund Abbas’s lifestyle and that of his family, while a good chunk goes to paying terrorists. (Can you imagine the PA’s chutzpah in pocketing donor funds instead of passing it along to poor Palestinians, and then taxing those Palestinians?)

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas is trying desperately not to laugh its face off. At the same time, they have big plans of their own. Jonathan Schanzer reports that Hamasniks are in secret talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi over the possibility of Gaza declaring independence. On paper, it seems to be slightly less crazy than one would think. Egypt would love the tax revenue and GDP boost from opening a legal trade route with Gaza, but they don’t love the idea of letting Israel off the hook. (It would be difficult to blame Israel for the “occupation” of a fully independent state.) Schanzer notes that Israelis might like the idea of being rid of Gaza once and for all–a real disengagement, this time—but are wary of the dangers of allowing Hamas free rein to import whatever it wants, which would likely include more advanced weaponry, not just cookies and cigarettes.

But there is one obstacle Hamas has not found a way around, and it would doom this project from the start: Hamas is still listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and others, making trade with the West illegal. One Hamasnik proposed a solution, and it is utterly ridiculous:

In hopes of avoiding sanctions or other roadblocks, unaffiliated businessmen in Gaza are now working to create an independent corporation to manage the Rafah crossing. According to a Gaza entrepreneur who wishes to remain anonymous, it is slated to be called the “Palestine Company for Free Trade Zone Area.”

Good luck with that. But while Gaza will not be seceding from the Palestinian territories just yet–for one thing, their troublemakers on the ground in Hebron will keep stoking the flames in hopes that one day Hamas can take over the entire West Bank as well–the detailed planning that has taken place demonstrates that Hamas still has other ways to expand its reach and influence. The Times of Israel reports that Egypt has agreed to allow Hamas to relocate its abroad-headquarters to Cairo.

Since Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood now runs Egypt, increased ties between the two were inevitable. This entails a political challenge for the U.S. and probably a bit of a security challenge for Israel, but nobody stands to lose more than Abbas, whose government is asleep at the wheel and whose population is finally awake to the raw deal they’re getting.

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Myths and Facts About Talking to Terrorists

Tomorrow will be the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic Massacre, and the New York Times started the commemoration early by publishing a piece of rank revisionism about the event on their op-ed page. Author Paul Thomas Chamberlain was given space today to argue that the reaction to the event set back efforts to talk to the Palestinians since, he claims, Americans wrongly attributed the terrorist atrocity to Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He goes on to argue that similarly false conclusions about Hamas and Hezbollah are preventing us from advancing the cause of peace today.

Chamberlain is incorrect to assert that it is almost always a mistake to attempt to crush terrorists rather than to try to understand their grievances and make nice to them. But his problem is not merely conceptual. The notion that demonizing all advocates of a cause because of the actions of a bloodthirsty few may be defensible in some cases. But the example he chooses to bolster this case is actually false. As many Palestinians involved in the PLO subsequently admitted, Black September was not a dissident group within the Palestinian movement. Rather, it was set up by Arafat to do things that his Fatah party could not. Abu Iyad, Arafat’s chief of security and a founding member of Fatah, wrote that Black September was an “auxiliary” of Fatah, not a competitor, which could commit acts for which Arafat could deny responsibility. Had the United States accepted Arafat’s denial, it would have done exactly what he and the perpetrators of Munich wanted.

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Tomorrow will be the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic Massacre, and the New York Times started the commemoration early by publishing a piece of rank revisionism about the event on their op-ed page. Author Paul Thomas Chamberlain was given space today to argue that the reaction to the event set back efforts to talk to the Palestinians since, he claims, Americans wrongly attributed the terrorist atrocity to Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He goes on to argue that similarly false conclusions about Hamas and Hezbollah are preventing us from advancing the cause of peace today.

Chamberlain is incorrect to assert that it is almost always a mistake to attempt to crush terrorists rather than to try to understand their grievances and make nice to them. But his problem is not merely conceptual. The notion that demonizing all advocates of a cause because of the actions of a bloodthirsty few may be defensible in some cases. But the example he chooses to bolster this case is actually false. As many Palestinians involved in the PLO subsequently admitted, Black September was not a dissident group within the Palestinian movement. Rather, it was set up by Arafat to do things that his Fatah party could not. Abu Iyad, Arafat’s chief of security and a founding member of Fatah, wrote that Black September was an “auxiliary” of Fatah, not a competitor, which could commit acts for which Arafat could deny responsibility. Had the United States accepted Arafat’s denial, it would have done exactly what he and the perpetrators of Munich wanted.

Only the most fawning of Arafat’s Western cheerleaders denies this. As historian Benny Morris wrote in his 1999 book Righteous Victims:

The establishment of Black September was secretly resolved upon at a Fatah congress in Damascus in August-September 1971 … It was based on Fatah’s existing special intelligence and security apparatus, Jihad al-Rasad, and on the PLO offices and representatives in the various European capitals. From early on there was cooperation with the PFLP. A number of Black September operations were clearly planned and carried out jointly by Fatah and PFLP personnel.

Thus, the principle prop of Chamberlain’s thesis that “failing to strengthen moderates within the P.L.O. and effectively locking the Palestinians out of the Arab-Israeli peace process, American officials sidelined potential peacemakers,” is not merely incorrect. It is a blatant falsehood.

If the use of Black September as a false front for Fatah seems familiar it is because it was not the last time Arafat tried that game. During the second intifada when his Hamas rivals were being seen by Palestinians as having more success at carrying out terrorist operations, the Palestinian Authority chief authorized the formation of new Fatah groups that could compete with the Islamists for the honor of killing the most Jews. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade was initially presented, like Black September, as a Fatah splinter not under Arafat’s control. But the world soon learned that not only had Arafat authorized it, but he was actually paying for the group’s activities with funds contributed by European donors to the PA.

Indeed, all we have to do is look at Arafat’s record after Israel not only started talking to him but empowered the terrorist chieftain by handing the West Bank and Gaza over to Fatah via the 1993 Oslo Accords. Rather than seeking to bolster peace, he continued a policy of funding violence throughout the 1990s, a stance that culminated in his launching of a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada after he refused Israeli offers of an independent state including most of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001.

Far from being a marginalized peacemaker, he was always a terrorist more interested in successfully vying for the title of top spiller of Jewish blood against Palestinian competitors than gaining independence for his people.

That the Times would publish such a farrago of falsehoods is bad enough. But that its editors allowed Chamberlain to do so as to promote the notion that Hamas and Hezbollah are the moderates of today who must be embraced, lest more extreme elements predominate, speaks volumes about their editorial agenda. He complains that America has always allowed a “blanket charge of terrorism, coupled with absolute nonrecognition” of those committing such violence to undermine the search for peace. Yet what is really on display here is the willingness of foes of Israel to believe any lie, no matter how transparent, in order to legitimize those who use terror in their war to eliminate the Jewish state.

While there may be some historical examples of nationalist leaders who have employed terrorism on their way toward creation of democracies, Arafat is not one of them. Nor can any reasonable person argue that Hamas, which still proclaims its desire to eradicate the Jewish presence in Israel, let alone the state, or Hezbollah, which operates under the orders of Iran’s ayatollahs, are the democrats of the future.

If peace is to come to the Middle East, it will happen only when the Palestinians put away their historic love affair with violence and embrace not just the abstract concept of an end to the conflict but a willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Those like Chamberlain and his enablers at the Times who ask us to reward the terrorists as President Nixon rightly refused to do after Munich are merely helping to put off the day that this transformation will occur.

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Palestinian Stimulus: Terrorists Get a Raise

Back in July, I wrote about the billions of dollars in aid given to the Palestinians by the United States and the continued lack of institution building with that money. I asked where the money goes, and noted that Jonathan Schanzer and Elliot Abrams were among those calling attention to Palestinian corruption by testifying at a congressional hearing on the subject. Corruption seems to be one of the prominent money wasters in Palestinian governance.

But it would be inaccurate to say the people don’t see any of the money. In fact, those who take part in the ongoing terror war against Israel see their share of it (a share that goes to their families if they choose “martyrdom” through suicide bombing). A portion of the Palestinian budget, and of foreign aid from some of Israel’s enemies abroad, is earmarked each year for violence. How much does such activity permeate Palestinian bookkeeping? The Times of Israel gives us a clue:

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Back in July, I wrote about the billions of dollars in aid given to the Palestinians by the United States and the continued lack of institution building with that money. I asked where the money goes, and noted that Jonathan Schanzer and Elliot Abrams were among those calling attention to Palestinian corruption by testifying at a congressional hearing on the subject. Corruption seems to be one of the prominent money wasters in Palestinian governance.

But it would be inaccurate to say the people don’t see any of the money. In fact, those who take part in the ongoing terror war against Israel see their share of it (a share that goes to their families if they choose “martyrdom” through suicide bombing). A portion of the Palestinian budget, and of foreign aid from some of Israel’s enemies abroad, is earmarked each year for violence. How much does such activity permeate Palestinian bookkeeping? The Times of Israel gives us a clue:

As of May 2011, the [Palestinian Authority] spent NIS 18 million ($4.5 million) per month on compensating Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons and a further NIS 26 million ($6.5 million) on payments to families of suicide bombers. In all, such payments cost the PA some 6 percent of its overall budget, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported on Monday night, citing documentation signed by Fayyad.

The PA also makes payments to Israeli Arabs jailed for security offenses against Israel, the report said….

An amendment of the law in January 2011 enacted by Fayyad increased the salaries by up to 300%, Channel 2 reported.

A prisoner sentenced up to three years in prison now receives a base salary of NIS 1,400 per month, and for 3-5 years that rate increases to NIS 2,000, the report said. A NIS 300 bonus is added for a wife, and NIS 50 per child.

According to the Channel 2 report, the PA-funded salaries are an equal opportunity benefit; members of Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad all receive them.

At a time when the Palestinian Authority is apparently struggling to make ends meet, it is increasing its pay to terrorists and their families by 300 percent. In truth, this is part and parcel of the corruption problem within the Palestinian Authority. Of course the PA supports terrorism against Israeli civilians—just take a glance at the namesakes of some of the streets and town squares in the territories. But on some level, it’s as much about the violence itself as it is about buying support. (I would say “vote buying,” but there would have to be elections in order for there to be votes to buy.)

This has always been the policy of the Palestinian leadership. Over time, the divisions within the ranks of the PA have only grown, and Fatah doesn’t even represent all of the Palestinian territories, as evidenced by the ease with which Hamas unceremoniously tossed Fatah out of the Gaza Strip. That’s why Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party is paying the salaries of Hamasniks, as well as members of Islamic Jihad, an often underestimated political force in the territories and a major recipient over the years of Iranian patronage.

Ironically, Fatah has struggled against Hamas at the polls in part because of its legendary reputation for corruption, and the party’s response was to try to get those supporters back by increasing its corruption. It’s a vicious cycle that no one among the Palestinian leadership has any desire to curb.

Additionally, the PA has enacted prohibitions against Palestinians working for Israelis in the settlements, some of the few (and better paying) jobs available to Palestinian workers. So the no-show, no-work “jobs” become the only “jobs” in Abbas’s PA. It glorifies violence, depresses the economy, and increases corruption in one fell swoop.

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Is the Brotherhood Moderating Hamas?

During the weekend, the New York Times reported that the Muslim Brotherhood, a rising force in post-Mubarak Egypt, is exerting pressure on its Hamas allies to do what is necessary to make its unity pact with Fatah work. The upshot of the report is that by seeking to influence the terrorist movement to join the Palestinian Authority, the Brotherhood is advancing the cause of peace. But the assumption that either Fatah or the newly moderate Hamas is actually interested in signing a peace agreement with Israel is utterly without foundation.

The Times buys into the Brotherhood’s spin that its effort to induce its ally to become a partner in the PA is a sign it has evolved from its fundamentalist origins. Rather than merely asserting its goal of destroying Israel and unceasing war with the West, these Islamist parties seek to co-opt existing Arab institutions such as the Egyptian government and the Palestinian Authority. In the sense that the Egyptian party is taking a more nuanced approach to power, they’re right. But the assumption that the ultimate aim of this tactic is peace, is a mistake.

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During the weekend, the New York Times reported that the Muslim Brotherhood, a rising force in post-Mubarak Egypt, is exerting pressure on its Hamas allies to do what is necessary to make its unity pact with Fatah work. The upshot of the report is that by seeking to influence the terrorist movement to join the Palestinian Authority, the Brotherhood is advancing the cause of peace. But the assumption that either Fatah or the newly moderate Hamas is actually interested in signing a peace agreement with Israel is utterly without foundation.

The Times buys into the Brotherhood’s spin that its effort to induce its ally to become a partner in the PA is a sign it has evolved from its fundamentalist origins. Rather than merely asserting its goal of destroying Israel and unceasing war with the West, these Islamist parties seek to co-opt existing Arab institutions such as the Egyptian government and the Palestinian Authority. In the sense that the Egyptian party is taking a more nuanced approach to power, they’re right. But the assumption that the ultimate aim of this tactic is peace, is a mistake.

Like Hamas, the Brotherhood’s long-term goal is still the eradication of Israel. But it knows that even if it could command the loyalty of the Egyptian Army — whose acquiescence it needs to consolidate its hold on a share of power in Cairo — this isn’t realistic. Rather, it seeks to govern Egypt and impose its ideology on the largest Arab nation. If it is advising Hamas to try to do the same thing, it does so on the assumption that sooner or later its ally will marginalize Fatah.

The last thing the Brotherhood needs right now is for Hamas to involve Egypt in a conflict that the country’s army wishes to avoid at all costs. But what is occurring is not a transition to an era that will herald a new dawn of peace. Rather, the clear aim is to create an alliance of Islamist-oriented Arab nations in which both moderates and liberals will be shunted aside.

The goal of this charm offensive on the part of the Brotherhood is to help lure both the United States and the European Union away from Israel on the question of Hamas’s designation as a terrorist group. Underlying this effort is the misleading notion that Palestinian unity is a necessary prerequisite to peace with Israel. Those who urge the United States to recognize Hamas are now arguing that including it in the PA will, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s support, create a situation in which there is a Palestinian consensus in favor of peace. But just because Hamas is now, with the Brotherhood’s encouragement, saying it will accept a state whose borders run along the 1967 lines, does not mean they will ever recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state on the other side of the border.

Rather, both Hamas and the Brotherhood seem to have come to the conclusion that they have a lot to gain from fostering a situation under which they assume power in the territories while maintaining a state of being armed. Indeed, many in Israel might be willing to accept a Hamas-dominated PA provided that cross-border violence was kept to a minimum.

The United States should not be fooled by this shift in tactics. The consolidation of power in both Cairo and Ramallah of Islamist parties will make the achievement of real peace impossible as well as undermining U.S. interests. A Brotherhood-dominated Egypt means that country will leave the fold of Arab moderates and be a reliable opponent of the United States. A PA in which Hamas has the upper hand will mean that the terrorist haven in Gaza will now expand to the West Bank, creating even more instability in the region and threatening Jordan.

While there may not be much the Obama administration can do to retrieve the situation in Egypt at this date, it is not too late to prevent the West Bank from becoming another Islamist stronghold. But if the U.S. weakens in its resolve to continue the ban on contacts with Hamas, that is exactly what will happen.

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Hamas Loses Popular Support for Not Shooting Rockets at Israel

If you’re looking for insight into the Palestinians’ mindset, a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research offers some fascinating glimpses into their views on everything from killing Jews to fiscal responsibility.

The poll found “a significant decline” in Hamas’s popularity in the Gaza Strip and “a decrease in the positive evaluation” of Gaza’s Hamas government. Only 27% of Gazans said they would vote Hamas if elections were held today, down from 35% three months ago, while only 36% approved of the Hamas government’s performance, down from 41%. Sounds encouraging, right?

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If you’re looking for insight into the Palestinians’ mindset, a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research offers some fascinating glimpses into their views on everything from killing Jews to fiscal responsibility.

The poll found “a significant decline” in Hamas’s popularity in the Gaza Strip and “a decrease in the positive evaluation” of Gaza’s Hamas government. Only 27% of Gazans said they would vote Hamas if elections were held today, down from 35% three months ago, while only 36% approved of the Hamas government’s performance, down from 41%. Sounds encouraging, right?

But here’s the kicker: The poll was taken immediately after Islamic Jihad’s recent rocket assault on Israel, and the pollsters said the drop in Hamas’s support was “probably due [partly] to Hamas’ behavior, standing on the sideline, during Gaza’s rocket war with Israel.” In other words, according to a leading Palestinian pollster, the way to win the Palestinian public’s affection is by indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli cities, and Hamas’s popularity suffered because it sat this round out. And we’re supposed to believe a Palestinian state would live in peace with Israel?

No less enlightening, however, were the questions about the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis. The PA has a $1.1 billion hole in its $3.5 billion budget for 2012, mainly due to a drop in international donations. Yet when it tried to solve the problem with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, a public outcry forced it to retreat. So the poll asked how Palestinians thought the problem should be solved.

It turns out that only a minority (38%) favor any kind of self-help measure: 9% back tax increases, while 29% support cutting expenditures by putting civil servants on early retirement. The majority, 52%, prefer “returning to negotiations with Israel in order to obtain greater international financial support.”

At first glance, this doesn’t seem all bad. True, it raises questions about Palestinians’ readiness to run their own state, since they clearly prefer living off international handouts to taking responsibility for their own budget. But at least they understand that the price of international support is talking with Israel, and favor doing so, right?

Well, not quite, the pollsters acknowledged: “It is worth noting that about half of those who favor return to negotiations oppose unconditional return that does not insure an Israeli settlement freeze and an acceptance of the 1967 borders.” So not only do the Palestinians want to continue living off international handouts, but they aren’t even willing to make any concessions in exchange for the money. Instead, they think Israel should pay for the privilege of having international donors fund them by making major concessions even before negotiations begin. And we’re supposed to believe a people this unwilling to take responsibility for itself is ready for statehood?

Finally, here’s a nugget for Westerners who extol the PA’s “democratic reforms” or Hamas’s “democratic election:” Only 22% of Gazans, and 30% of West Bankers, say they “can criticize the authorities” in their respective locales “without fear.” In short, far from being democratic, both halves of the Palestinian polity are classic “fear societies,” in which people dare not criticize their governments.

So to sum up, we have an undemocratic polity whose residents reward indiscriminate rocket fire on civilians and refuse to take any financial responsibility for themselves. And then people wonder why Israelis are leery about having a Palestinian state for a neighbor.

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Palestinians Make Themselves Irrelevant

There was something interesting about the reaction to the consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact yesterday. The agreement, which confirmed the entry of the Islamist terrorist group into the governing structure of the Palestinian Authority and the exit of the PA’s reform-minded Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, provoked the expected harsh words from Israel’s government. In Washington, the reaction from the Obama administration was equally predictable as the State Department spokesperson withheld judgment. Some members of Congress served notice that the PA’s embrace of Hamas meant the end of U.S. aid.

But the main conclusion to be drawn from the reaction to what can only be termed a momentous turn of events is something entirely different. The lack of alarm or even much worry about the impact of Hamas on the peace process makes it clear not only is there no more peace process to worry about, but that the Palestinians have made themselves irrelevant.

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There was something interesting about the reaction to the consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact yesterday. The agreement, which confirmed the entry of the Islamist terrorist group into the governing structure of the Palestinian Authority and the exit of the PA’s reform-minded Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, provoked the expected harsh words from Israel’s government. In Washington, the reaction from the Obama administration was equally predictable as the State Department spokesperson withheld judgment. Some members of Congress served notice that the PA’s embrace of Hamas meant the end of U.S. aid.

But the main conclusion to be drawn from the reaction to what can only be termed a momentous turn of events is something entirely different. The lack of alarm or even much worry about the impact of Hamas on the peace process makes it clear not only is there no more peace process to worry about, but that the Palestinians have made themselves irrelevant.

Where once the international chattering classes doted upon every aspect of Palestinian politics in a way that confirmed the prevalent myth that Israel’s antagonists were truly at the heart of all the problems of the Middle East, it is no longer possible for even their cheerleaders and apologists to pretend this is so. In the 18+ years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians have talked and bombed their way not only out of peace and the independent state they claimed they wanted but also off the front pages. While supporters of Israel still keep their eyes on the goings-on in Ramallah and Gaza, the rest of the world is gradually moving on.

After so many years of international attention on the aspirations of the Palestinians, after Yasir Arafat’s betrayal of Oslo and his successor Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal to talk peace with Israel, it has become increasingly difficult for even Israel’s most persistent critics to hold the attention of Western policymakers. But by embracing Hamas while refusing to talk to Israel, Abbas has not only ended the peace process but cut the legs out from under those who hoped President Obama would maintain pressure on Israel to make more concessions for the sake of a peace the Palestinians clearly don’t want.

Even more to the point, the apathy with which the Fatah-Hamas unity pact has been viewed only makes it more obvious the world has more pressing concerns. Those who long argued the Palestinians were central to all Middle East conflicts have found their faulty arguments are no longer accepted at face value. At a time when it is clear to even the dimmest of foreign policy bulbs the real struggles in the Middle East are those between Islamists, autocrats and democracy activists as well as over the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the audience for the myth of Palestinian centrality has shrunk dramatically.

While peace between Israel and the Palestinians is still ardently desired by the West — and by Israelis — the unity pact just makes obvious what was actually already understood by savvy observers of the region. Peace will have to wait until a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will make it possible for the PA to sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Until then, there really is no use worrying about appeasing the Palestinians or coaxing them back to negotiations in which they have no interest.

It is true the presence of Hamas in the PA government presents a clear threat to Israel in terms of security on the West Bank. But in terms of diplomacy, all it has done is to confirm the irrelevance of the Palestinians. Until they mend their ways, not even a president as eager to help them as Barack Obama has been can do much for them. If they wish, they can flout the wishes of the West and see if they can make it without the aid that keeps their corrupt government afloat. But whether they do or not can no longer be assumed to be of any real importance to anyone but the Palestinians themselves.

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The Peace Process is Formally Buried

In a ceremony broadcast live across the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was formally buried. The event, which formalized the unity pact between the Fatah Party and its Hamas rival, marked the formation of a new Palestinian Authority government in which both factions would share power. PA President Mahmoud Abbas will also assume the role of prime minister, ousting Salam Fayyad, the pro-peace and development technocrat who had earned the trust of the West for his efforts to build the Palestinian economy and enforce the rule of law. But Fayyad’s role in the PA is now over, as is, apparently, Abbas’s pretense that he, too, favored peace and development.

There will be those apologists for the Palestinians who will say unity was necessary for peace and even claim this means Hamas is abandoning violence. But they will be either lying or deceiving themselves. Hamas’s goal of Israel’s destruction is unchanged as is, it should be noted, that of their erstwhile Fatah enemies. By signing the pact and now making it a reality, Abbas has for all intents and purposes torn up the Oslo Peace Accords, signed with such hope on the White House Lawn in September 1993.

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In a ceremony broadcast live across the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was formally buried. The event, which formalized the unity pact between the Fatah Party and its Hamas rival, marked the formation of a new Palestinian Authority government in which both factions would share power. PA President Mahmoud Abbas will also assume the role of prime minister, ousting Salam Fayyad, the pro-peace and development technocrat who had earned the trust of the West for his efforts to build the Palestinian economy and enforce the rule of law. But Fayyad’s role in the PA is now over, as is, apparently, Abbas’s pretense that he, too, favored peace and development.

There will be those apologists for the Palestinians who will say unity was necessary for peace and even claim this means Hamas is abandoning violence. But they will be either lying or deceiving themselves. Hamas’s goal of Israel’s destruction is unchanged as is, it should be noted, that of their erstwhile Fatah enemies. By signing the pact and now making it a reality, Abbas has for all intents and purposes torn up the Oslo Peace Accords, signed with such hope on the White House Lawn in September 1993.

Oslo required the Palestinians to give up violence and dedicate themselves to peace and establishing a civil society in exchange for rule over the West Bank and Gaza and the implicit promise of independence. This PLO leader Yasir Arafat did not do. He nurtured terrorists among his own ranks even as he jealously guarded his power against rivals like Hamas. The choice for the Palestinians was clear. Their leaders could act to wipe out those who opposed peace and therefore seal a plan of coexistence with Israel or they could fail to do so and condemn both peoples to another generation or more of conflict. Arafat, who was offered an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001, refused to accept it, and instead chose another round of conflict via the terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada.

Abbas, his successor, turned down another such offer in 2008. Since then, he has refused to negotiate with Israel and has now preferred the embrace of the Islamists of Hamas to that of the West and Israel from whom he could have won independence and peace. While belief in the peace process has been the stuff of fantasy for many years, the consummation of the Fatah-Hamas marriage of convenience marks the formal burial of the idea that the Palestinians had any interest in peace with Israel.

The talk of Hamas changing from an Islamist terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction and the murder of its Jewish population into a non-violent political group is as genuine as the similar rationalizations that were put forward in the 1990s for Arafat. Bringing Hamas into the PA government means an end to all pretense of hope for peace. There were, after all, never any real differences between the two on the ultimate objective of eliminating Israel. Fatah was no more capable of signing a peace deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, than Hamas. The influence of the Islamists will now spread from Gaza to the West Bank, renewing the threat of terrorism from that region that Israel’s security fence had largely eliminated.

The Palestinians are counting on both the Europeans and the Obama administration to bend to their desires and keep Western aid flowing to the PA. They believe the West is so committed to its illusions about Palestinian moderation that they will flout their own laws that forbid the transfer of funds to terror groups and those governments they have infiltrated. They also hope the knee-jerk impulse to blame Israel for everything that happens in the Middle East will overwhelm common sense and create a new push for Israeli concessions to the Fatah-Hamas government.

No doubt there will be plenty of support for such a policy from so-called realists and other veteran peace processers who would compromise their own principles rather than admit they were wrong about the Palestinian desire for peace.

Obama has been the most pro-Palestinian of any American president. But his efforts to help them have been rewarded with the same contempt that more pro-Israel administrations have gotten from the PA. If Obama has a shred of common sense or dignity left, he will make it clear to the Palestinians that they have effectively cut themselves off from American aid and a path to independence. Anything else would constitute a U.S. repudiation of Oslo. If Abbas chooses peace with Hamas over peace with Israel then he must be made to understand he will pay a high price for this decision.

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The Islamist Winter and Middle East Peace

Anyone inclined to be sanguine about the future of Palestinian politics need only read the latest report by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh to understand that the threat of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank is real. The Fatah-Hamas unity agreement concluded last year may not yet have been consummated but, as Abu Toameh writes, even Fatah officials are starting to understand that if they allow another election, the Islamists may take control of all of the territories just as their Muslim Brotherhood allies have done in Egypt. According to Abu Toameh, Fatah officials are now openly expressing worry about the outcome of these elections, assuming they are held in May as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has promised.

No one should be holding their breath waiting for Abbas to make good on that pledge. Given that he is in now about to start the 8th year of the four-year-term to which he was elected in 2005, Abbas’s idea of democracy is limited to elections that he thinks he’ll win. Yet the pact he signed with Hamas last year is an indication he believes he cannot govern indefinitely without the protection of the radical terrorist group. That’s a piece of intelligence that should inform not only Fatah, but those in the United States that are urging Israel to make further concessions to the Palestinians in the vain hope they will finally agree to make peace.

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Anyone inclined to be sanguine about the future of Palestinian politics need only read the latest report by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh to understand that the threat of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank is real. The Fatah-Hamas unity agreement concluded last year may not yet have been consummated but, as Abu Toameh writes, even Fatah officials are starting to understand that if they allow another election, the Islamists may take control of all of the territories just as their Muslim Brotherhood allies have done in Egypt. According to Abu Toameh, Fatah officials are now openly expressing worry about the outcome of these elections, assuming they are held in May as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has promised.

No one should be holding their breath waiting for Abbas to make good on that pledge. Given that he is in now about to start the 8th year of the four-year-term to which he was elected in 2005, Abbas’s idea of democracy is limited to elections that he thinks he’ll win. Yet the pact he signed with Hamas last year is an indication he believes he cannot govern indefinitely without the protection of the radical terrorist group. That’s a piece of intelligence that should inform not only Fatah, but those in the United States that are urging Israel to make further concessions to the Palestinians in the vain hope they will finally agree to make peace.

It is possible to disagree about the current extent of the PA’s moderation but there should be no uncertainty about what a Palestinian government that included Hamas would mean. As reluctant as Abbas and Fatah have been to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, we know that Hamas will never make peace with Israel or give up its war to eradicate it for long.

The problem is not, as many Americans, including those who count themselves as Israel’s friends, that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been forthcoming enough to satisfy the Palestinians. It is that Palestinian public opinion is such that no PA government, whether run by Abbas or Hamas, can afford to accept the Palestinian state that Israel has been offering for more than a decade. What is needed is not more pressure to make Israel bow to Palestinian demands but pressure on the Palestinians — which can be exerted via the aid the West gives the PA — to make them understand that their only choice is between peace and utter ruin.

The Arab Spring that many hoped would bring democracy to the Muslim world has morphed into an Islamist Winter that promises nothing but sorrow and future conflict. If the Palestinians, like the voters of Egypt, ultimately choose to embrace radical Islamists, there is not much the West can do to stop them. But they can draw the proper conclusions from this turn of events and forebear from policies that are based on the assumption that the Palestinians still desire peace with Israel. This is especially true for an Obama administration that is still beguiled by the chimera of a peace accord that the Palestinians clearly have no intention of signing no matter where it might place Israel’s borders.

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Abbas Won’t Feel at Home in Gaza

In the latest sign that Hamas is serious about mending fences with its Fatah party rivals, the terrorist group announced on Saturday it would give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas his Gaza villa back. Hamas seized the building during the bloody 2007 coup in which the Islamists seized control of Gaza. But though it isn’t likely Abbas will be sleeping in his Gaza home any time soon, the goodwill gesture is meant to show Hamas is prepared to follow through on the unity pact it signed with Abbas and Fatah last year.

Hamas’s willingness to placate Abbas doesn’t mean however that the two groups have settled all their differences. Though both Fatah and Hamas don’t differ all that much about the question of peace with Israel — Abbas and the “moderates” are no more willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and to live in peace with it than the Hamas extremists — both hope to use the unity pact to solidify their political ascendancy. But so long as they are moving closer toward each other, it is a given that peace with Israel is impossible.

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In the latest sign that Hamas is serious about mending fences with its Fatah party rivals, the terrorist group announced on Saturday it would give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas his Gaza villa back. Hamas seized the building during the bloody 2007 coup in which the Islamists seized control of Gaza. But though it isn’t likely Abbas will be sleeping in his Gaza home any time soon, the goodwill gesture is meant to show Hamas is prepared to follow through on the unity pact it signed with Abbas and Fatah last year.

Hamas’s willingness to placate Abbas doesn’t mean however that the two groups have settled all their differences. Though both Fatah and Hamas don’t differ all that much about the question of peace with Israel — Abbas and the “moderates” are no more willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and to live in peace with it than the Hamas extremists — both hope to use the unity pact to solidify their political ascendancy. But so long as they are moving closer toward each other, it is a given that peace with Israel is impossible.

The PA has said it would like to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections this year, but neither side will agree to a vote unless they think they are in a position to win. Winning depends not so much achieving genuine popularity but on holding the reins of power in either the West Bank and Gaza. The jockeying for position between the two groups demonstrates that any further efforts by President Obama to push Israel into territorial concessions is a waste of time. Though representatives of the PA have met recently with Israel, Fatah’s desire to avoid being labeled as the “peace” party will make any progress toward peace impossible.

Abbas’s priority is still to protect his own position and that means avoiding doing anything about peace that will allow Hamas to brand him a friend of Israel. Though he may never live in his Gaza house, its return is a reminder of Hamas’s power and ability to veto any resolution of the Middle East conflict.

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Reminiscing with the Aged Leaders of Fatah

Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

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Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

Compare his summary of the situation among Palestinians, unable to live side-by-side in peace and security even with themselves, lacking a pluralist society, missing any protections for women and gays, dependent on an economy funded by Western “donors” (because Arab states contribute a lot of rhetoric but few funds):

“So how can there be a Palestinian state when the two parts of it have recently been killing each other and cannot even travel in each others’ territories? Palestinian friends tell me that Hamas would be likely to win a Palestinian election held now. Neither Fatah nor Hamas is remotely democratic. Fatah is also increasingly sclerotic. All its leaders are aged, all figures from the past in office for decades. There is no youth or vitality about it.”

Well, at least the aged leaders of increasingly sclerotic Fatah — cooped up in their half of the quasi-state, understandably afraid to hold another election — can look back on their decades in office and reminisce about all the times they almost had a state.

There was July 2000 at Camp David, when Israel offered a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and they turned it down. There was January 2001, when they turned down the Clinton Parameters, refusing a state again. There was September 12, 2005, when they got Gaza and announced “no more security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture.” The January 2006 election did not go well, but there was the February 2007 Mecca agreement, adopting “the language of dialogue as the sole basis for solving the political disagreements” — until the other party threw Fatah off the tops of buildings. In September 2008 there was another offer of a state, which they turned down again. In May 2009 they set “preconditions” for the democratically elected government of Israel to talk to the unelected aged leaders of sclerotic Fatah, saying they would do nothing further since they had a “good reality” in the West Bank. Since then, they have occupied themselves with seeking UN resolutions.

And during this entire period, billions of dollars came their way for participating in this “process.” Good times, good times….

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Is Hamas Joining the PLO or is Fatah Joining Hamas?

In line with previous reports of a change in strategy on the part of Hamas, the news that the Islamist terror group has agreed to join the Palestine Liberation Organization may be viewed as further evidence of their moderation. But anyone who imagines that this move will bring the Middle East closer to peace is the victim of a deception. Rather than the PLO moderating Hamas, the integration of Gaza’s rulers into the ruling structures that govern the West Bank merely guarantees it will be even more difficult, if not impossible, for Israel to have a Palestinian negotiating partner.

The talks between Hamas and Fatah – the ruling faction of both the Palestinian Authority and the PLO — are fraught with tension, but the ongoing negotiations between the two factions in Cairo are testimony to the commitment of both to unite their efforts. Such a common front will not only close the door to talks to Israel (which the PA has avoided for three years) but will also raise the question of whether it will be possible to avoid a new round of violence.

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In line with previous reports of a change in strategy on the part of Hamas, the news that the Islamist terror group has agreed to join the Palestine Liberation Organization may be viewed as further evidence of their moderation. But anyone who imagines that this move will bring the Middle East closer to peace is the victim of a deception. Rather than the PLO moderating Hamas, the integration of Gaza’s rulers into the ruling structures that govern the West Bank merely guarantees it will be even more difficult, if not impossible, for Israel to have a Palestinian negotiating partner.

The talks between Hamas and Fatah – the ruling faction of both the Palestinian Authority and the PLO — are fraught with tension, but the ongoing negotiations between the two factions in Cairo are testimony to the commitment of both to unite their efforts. Such a common front will not only close the door to talks to Israel (which the PA has avoided for three years) but will also raise the question of whether it will be possible to avoid a new round of violence.

Some readers may be wondering why the two groups are fussing about membership in a group many thought ceased to exist once the Oslo Accords brought Yasir Arafat to power via the Palestinian Authority. The PA is the governing structure of the West Bank as it had been in Gaza until Hamas seized power there in 2007. But the PLO remains the group that is widely recognized around the world and at the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinians. Thus, the integration of Hamas into the PLO is historically significant.

The PLO was always a coalition of various Palestinian terror groups of all stripes of which Fatah was once headed by Arafat and now PA President Mahmoud Abbas was the largest and most important. Including Hamas in the group means that for the first time, Fatah will have a coalition partner that is a major rival.

The PLO membership agreement, along with the other aspects of the unity deal, makes it clear what we are seeing is an attempt at a genuine power sharing treaty that will ultimately integrate Hamas into the security forces and the government of the West Bank as well as Gaza. Though optimists will hope this means they will become, as Fatah has been, partners with Israel in joint security arrangements, what this really means is the assumption about the emergence of a moderate Palestinian state on the West Bank living peacefully alongside Israel was just wishful thinking.

In pursuing this course, Fatah is bowing to what it sees as the inevitable tide of Palestinian opinion opposed to recognition of Israel and peace. Though Hamas may say it is giving up armed struggle, what it is really telling us is that it is concentrating on its short-term goal of transforming Palestinian political culture into an extension of the Hamas worldview rather than its long-term goal of eradicating Israel.

The unity deal underscores two aspects of Palestinian politics that are rarely discussed in the West.

The first is that the distance between Fatah and Hamas on questions of ideology toward Israel and even their desired organizing principles of Palestinian society was always exaggerated. The two groups may be different in some respects, but they are more compatible than most foreign observers understand. Fatah may have put itself forward to Western journalists as basically secular, but the PA has never distanced itself from fundamentalist Islam in its state-funded mosques and broadcast and print media. Nor has it sought to counter the influence of Islamism in Palestinian culture. Both also share a commitment to promoting anti-Semitic hate.

The second point is that the reason why Hamas has gained the upper hand over Fatah and forced them to negotiate rather than to fight them is that violence conveys legitimacy to their efforts that cannot be overcome by Fatah’s flirtation with good government principles via the programs of soon-to-be-ousted PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In the upside-down ethos of Palestinian politics, Hamas’ dedication to violence has trumped Fayyad’s attempt to improve the standard of living on the West Bank.

While there is no way of knowing exactly how the Fatah-Hamas romance will play out, the one thing that is certain is that it forecloses any possibility of peace with Israel. Those seeking to endorse this pact or to interpret it as a precursor of negotiations with Israel simply have little appreciation for Hamas’ devotion to its Islamist ideology or for the support it has won.

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The Palestinian Balance of Terror

On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will meet again in Cairo to discuss the implementation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that was first signed in May. Though the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports there are still significant differences between the two groups, the resumption of the talks between them indicates that there is still a much greater chance of peace between the Palestinian factions than between the PA and Israel. Abbas’ desire to prefer “unity” with the Islamists of Hamas to negotiations with Israel illustrates the bankruptcy of a peace process that is predicated on the idea that “moderates” such as those running the PA are ready to recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

Though some Palestinian apologists claim the unity deal will housetrain Hamas, this contradicts everything we know about the terrorist group.  Far from the deal illustrating the willingness of Hamas to acquiesce to Israel’s existence, the relative shift in strength between the two movements since May as well as the growing influence of Islamists in Egypt shows progress toward implementation of the pact makes peace with Israel impossible.

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On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will meet again in Cairo to discuss the implementation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that was first signed in May. Though the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports there are still significant differences between the two groups, the resumption of the talks between them indicates that there is still a much greater chance of peace between the Palestinian factions than between the PA and Israel. Abbas’ desire to prefer “unity” with the Islamists of Hamas to negotiations with Israel illustrates the bankruptcy of a peace process that is predicated on the idea that “moderates” such as those running the PA are ready to recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

Though some Palestinian apologists claim the unity deal will housetrain Hamas, this contradicts everything we know about the terrorist group.  Far from the deal illustrating the willingness of Hamas to acquiesce to Israel’s existence, the relative shift in strength between the two movements since May as well as the growing influence of Islamists in Egypt shows progress toward implementation of the pact makes peace with Israel impossible.

No matter what the final terms of this unity pact turn out to be, it should first be understood that by choosing to embrace Hamas rather than seeking to eliminate their influence, Abbas and Fatah have indicated their lack of interest in ending the conflict with Israel. Former U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell used to like to analogize the Middle East conflict to Ireland and say that if the Irish and the British could learn to live with each other then so could the Israelis and the Palestinians. But what he always failed to understand is that the leaders of the Irish independence movement made a critical decision in 1922 when Michael Collins chose peace and partition over the maximalist demands of his Irish Republican Army colleagues. Collins and the peace faction didn’t just sign an agreement with Britain; they were prepared to fight a bloody civil war against their extremist brethren. Their victory in that conflict, which cost Collins his life, enabled the two-state solution in Ireland that persists to this day.

But Mahmoud Abbas is no Michael Collins. Rather than fighting Hamas and eliminating its influence — which is the primary obstacle to peace — he wants them inside the Palestinian governing tent.

It must also be pointed out that the balance of terror between the moderate rejectionists of Fatah and the more extreme rejectionists of Hamas is shifting. Hamas’ 2006 coup in which they seized control of Gaza gave them a power base they will never surrender. This Hamasistan is, for all intents and purposes, an independent Palestinian state where they exercise sovereignty and have been able to impose their Islamist beliefs on the area. Given the upside down ethos of Palestinian politics in which anti-Israel violence conveys legitimacy, their continued policy of terror has made them more, not less, popular on the West Bank. The Gilad Shalit ransom deal further enhanced their prestige.

Just as important is the fact that Hamas’ Muslim Brotherhood allies are now major power brokers in Egypt. The overthrow of the Mubarak regime ended Egypt’s cooperation with international efforts to isolate Hamas. That strengthened Hamas’ strategic position and increased its leverage in talks with Abbas who has already, according to previous reports by Abu Toameh, conceded that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — a favorite of Western governments who has sought to improve the economy of the West Bank — will lose his job once the pact goes into effect.

Far from differences over peace with Israel being an impediment to fulfillment of the treaty between the two, the main obstacle appears to be Fatah’s fear of losing an election to Hamas. Given that Abbas’ term of office expired years ago and that he has chosen to continue without benefit of re-election, it’s fair to say that Fatah is not likely to want to face off against Hamas in a scheduled May 2012 ballot.

In the meantime, Hamas continues to make clear they will use their growing power to pursue war against Israel. As Elliott Abrams wrote last week, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya told a huge rally in Gaza last week:

We affirm that armed resistance is our strategic option and the only way to liberate our land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the River [Jordan]. God willing, Hamas will lead the people… to the uprising until we liberate Palestine, all of Palestine.

Haniya is planning a tour of the Middle East in a sign of Hamas’ strength. Americans who seek to pressure Israel to accommodate Palestinian demands should take that vow seriously. Unlike Fatah’s supposed acceptance of the peace process, Hamas means what it says and will use any unity pact to help implement their vision of Israel’s destruction.

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Hamas’ Naked Bloodlust

Hamas celebrated its 24th anniversary this week, and like any organization, it used the occasion to issue a press release detailing its achievements. So here, according to its own press release, are what Hamas considers its most notable achievements: It has killed 1,365 Israelis and wounded 6,411 since 1987. It has carried out 1,117 attacks on Israel, including 87 suicide bombings, and fired 11,093 rockets at Israel. And it has lost 1,848 of its own members to this noble cause.

Then, lest anyone fail to get the message, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made it explicit at a mass rally to mark the anniversary. “Resistance is the way and it is the strategic choice to liberate Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea and to remove the invaders from the blessed land of Palestine,” Haniyeh said, making it clear there’s no room in his vision for a Jewish state in any borders. “Hamas … will lead the people towards uprising after uprising until all of Palestine is liberated.” And the crowd replied by chantingm “We will never recognize Israel.”

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Hamas celebrated its 24th anniversary this week, and like any organization, it used the occasion to issue a press release detailing its achievements. So here, according to its own press release, are what Hamas considers its most notable achievements: It has killed 1,365 Israelis and wounded 6,411 since 1987. It has carried out 1,117 attacks on Israel, including 87 suicide bombings, and fired 11,093 rockets at Israel. And it has lost 1,848 of its own members to this noble cause.

Then, lest anyone fail to get the message, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made it explicit at a mass rally to mark the anniversary. “Resistance is the way and it is the strategic choice to liberate Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea and to remove the invaders from the blessed land of Palestine,” Haniyeh said, making it clear there’s no room in his vision for a Jewish state in any borders. “Hamas … will lead the people towards uprising after uprising until all of Palestine is liberated.” And the crowd replied by chantingm “We will never recognize Israel.”

Hamas’ boasts are almost certainly exaggerated: It claims “credit” for more than 80 percent of all Israeli casualties since 1987, whereas Israeli data shows a much more equal distribution between Hamas and its rival, Fatah, aka Israel’s “peace partner.” But its eagerness to claim responsibility for more than its fair share of murders merely underscores the point that, far from being moderated by the responsibilities of governance, Hamas’ years in control of Gaza haven’t slaked its thirst for Israeli blood one whit.

There are several reasons why this ought to give pause to all those, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the New York Times, who routinely blame Israel for the impasse in the peace process. First, as Elliott Abrams noted, there’s little point in negotiating a peace agreement with half the Palestinian polity while the other half remains committed to Israel’s eradication, as that makes it unlikely a Palestinian state could actually deliver the promised peace.

More importantly, it’s hard to see how peace is possible when a sizable portion of the Palestinian public shares Hamas’ genocidal goals. About one-third of Palestinians (excluding the undecided) say they plan to vote Hamas in the next election. Even taken at face value, that’s a minority far too large to ignore, and in reality, the figure is probably larger: Polls also predicted a Fatah victory before the last election, which Hamas won handily.

Then there’s the fact that Israel’s “peace partner” feels it has enough in common with this genocidal organization to decide to form a unit government with it. That ought to cast doubt on Fatah’s commitment to peace even among those untroubled by other evidence.

Finally, there’s what it says about the broader land-for-peace paradigm. Abrams argued that how newly-elected Islamist parties in other Arab countries respond to Hamas’s genocidal goals will be a good test of their intentions. But in one case, we already know the answer: Hamas announced last week that it was formally joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which, shortly after winning Egypt’s elections, has already announced plans to reconsider Egypt’s own peace with Israel. In other words, the change in government in Egypt is making that peace treaty look decidedly shaky; would a treaty signed with Fatah to create a state where Hamas could someday win power be more stable?

One can understand why many Westerners prefer to avert their eyes from these facts; Hamas’ naked bloodlust isn’t pretty. But if you really want to understand why the “peace process” has failed, you won’t find a more concise explanation than Hamas’ own press release.

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Who’s Behind the Palestinian Papers?

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

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Other Than That …

Near the end of a long front-page story in the Los Angeles Times regarding the Palestinian “prime minister,” the reporter noted that Salam Fayyad’s political fortunes “face a major test this summer, when his state-readiness campaign is slated to be completed by Aug. 26.” Fayyad insisted that the work can be completed on time and said he has “no Plan B.” On the other hand:

He acknowledged that there is major unfinished business, including weak courts, a nonfunctioning parliament and the absence of elections because of the split between Fatah and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. All of that, including the reunification of Fatah and Hamas, needs to be completed before Palestinians will be ready for statehood, he said.

In identifying the problem of “weak courts,” Fayyad knows whereof he speaks. In December, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the West Bank local elections had been illegally cancelled. But the court has no power to enforce its ruling, and Fayyad has ignored a letter to him from the Central Elections Commission regarding rescheduling.

So, other than establishing an independent judiciary; a functioning legislature; a unified political system; holding elections on a local, legislative, or presidential level; and dismantling the terrorist group that occupies half the putative state, the state-readiness effort is right on schedule.

Near the end of a long front-page story in the Los Angeles Times regarding the Palestinian “prime minister,” the reporter noted that Salam Fayyad’s political fortunes “face a major test this summer, when his state-readiness campaign is slated to be completed by Aug. 26.” Fayyad insisted that the work can be completed on time and said he has “no Plan B.” On the other hand:

He acknowledged that there is major unfinished business, including weak courts, a nonfunctioning parliament and the absence of elections because of the split between Fatah and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. All of that, including the reunification of Fatah and Hamas, needs to be completed before Palestinians will be ready for statehood, he said.

In identifying the problem of “weak courts,” Fayyad knows whereof he speaks. In December, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the West Bank local elections had been illegally cancelled. But the court has no power to enforce its ruling, and Fayyad has ignored a letter to him from the Central Elections Commission regarding rescheduling.

So, other than establishing an independent judiciary; a functioning legislature; a unified political system; holding elections on a local, legislative, or presidential level; and dismantling the terrorist group that occupies half the putative state, the state-readiness effort is right on schedule.

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The Tragedy of Palestinian Democracy

Today is the second anniversary of the end of Mahmoud Abbas’s four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. He continues to play the role of “president” but is simply an unelected holdover, lacking the legitimacy to make the compromises necessary to produce a Palestinian state, even assuming he were willing to make them. It may be an appropriate day to reflect on the results of Palestinian democracy.

Abbas ran essentially unopposed in 2005, in an election held less than seven weeks after Yasir Arafat’s death. Hamas boycotted the election and Abbas’s principal Fatah opponent was unavailable, serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. The seven-week electoral process merely put someone quickly in office whom the U.S. hoped would implement Phase I of the Roadmap by dismantling the terrorist groups and infrastructure — particularly since Israel had announced it would remove 21 settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank.

Condoleezza Rice said in 2005 that she raised the dismantlement obligation in every conversation with Abbas but understood his need to do it at the right time: “You don’t want him to go to dismantle Hamas and fail.” He assured her he would convince Hamas there should be only “one gun,” and she intimated that he told her privately he would dismantle Hamas with force if necessary. But it did not happen. In September 2005, a settlementrein Gaza was handed over to the Palestinian Authority and was transformed into Hamastan virtually from day one; four months later, elections were held for the Palestinian legislature, and the Palestinians elected Hamas, which later took over Gaza in a coup.

These days, an unelected West Bank “prime minister” is busy “building the institutions of a state.” He expects to be done by August. But the institutions do not include elections, which were canceled in July even for local councils on the West Bank. His principal activity consists of spending international aid for its intended purpose (contrary to what used to happen); he is essentially an official appointed by the international community to watch over the use of their funds, and is continually praised for his “transparency” — the basic job requirement for someone in that role. But an appointed person with no political party or electoral base, assigned to distribute funds, is hardly a “prime minister.”

We are not likely to see Palestinian elections in the foreseeable future: Hamas lacks a tradition honoring the peaceful transfer of power, and Fatah does not like elections held before their outcome is fixed. A month ago, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the cancellation of the West Bank elections was illegal, and the vast majority of Palestinians want them held. But the court lacks the power to enforce its decision, and the “prime minister” has not yet responded to the letter sent to him about holding elections in light of it. A recent poll found that Palestinians view both Gaza and the West Bank as an increasingly police state. The “institutions of a state” the prime minister is building do not include an empowered judiciary or a free electorate.

When the U.S. endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002, the endorsement was conditional: it depended on the Palestinians first building “a practicing democracy.” Nine years later, half the putative state is a terrorist enclave functioning as an Iranian proxy; the other half is a Potemkin democracy unable even to stage elections. The tragedy of Palestinian democracy is that the obstacle to a Palestinian state turned out to be the Palestinians themselves.

Today is the second anniversary of the end of Mahmoud Abbas’s four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. He continues to play the role of “president” but is simply an unelected holdover, lacking the legitimacy to make the compromises necessary to produce a Palestinian state, even assuming he were willing to make them. It may be an appropriate day to reflect on the results of Palestinian democracy.

Abbas ran essentially unopposed in 2005, in an election held less than seven weeks after Yasir Arafat’s death. Hamas boycotted the election and Abbas’s principal Fatah opponent was unavailable, serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. The seven-week electoral process merely put someone quickly in office whom the U.S. hoped would implement Phase I of the Roadmap by dismantling the terrorist groups and infrastructure — particularly since Israel had announced it would remove 21 settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank.

Condoleezza Rice said in 2005 that she raised the dismantlement obligation in every conversation with Abbas but understood his need to do it at the right time: “You don’t want him to go to dismantle Hamas and fail.” He assured her he would convince Hamas there should be only “one gun,” and she intimated that he told her privately he would dismantle Hamas with force if necessary. But it did not happen. In September 2005, a settlementrein Gaza was handed over to the Palestinian Authority and was transformed into Hamastan virtually from day one; four months later, elections were held for the Palestinian legislature, and the Palestinians elected Hamas, which later took over Gaza in a coup.

These days, an unelected West Bank “prime minister” is busy “building the institutions of a state.” He expects to be done by August. But the institutions do not include elections, which were canceled in July even for local councils on the West Bank. His principal activity consists of spending international aid for its intended purpose (contrary to what used to happen); he is essentially an official appointed by the international community to watch over the use of their funds, and is continually praised for his “transparency” — the basic job requirement for someone in that role. But an appointed person with no political party or electoral base, assigned to distribute funds, is hardly a “prime minister.”

We are not likely to see Palestinian elections in the foreseeable future: Hamas lacks a tradition honoring the peaceful transfer of power, and Fatah does not like elections held before their outcome is fixed. A month ago, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the cancellation of the West Bank elections was illegal, and the vast majority of Palestinians want them held. But the court lacks the power to enforce its decision, and the “prime minister” has not yet responded to the letter sent to him about holding elections in light of it. A recent poll found that Palestinians view both Gaza and the West Bank as an increasingly police state. The “institutions of a state” the prime minister is building do not include an empowered judiciary or a free electorate.

When the U.S. endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002, the endorsement was conditional: it depended on the Palestinians first building “a practicing democracy.” Nine years later, half the putative state is a terrorist enclave functioning as an Iranian proxy; the other half is a Potemkin democracy unable even to stage elections. The tragedy of Palestinian democracy is that the obstacle to a Palestinian state turned out to be the Palestinians themselves.

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Hamas-Run Gaza Gets More Food, Israel Gets More Rocket Fire

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

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Good Advice from Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

Read Less

Hamas Returns to Executing Opponents, UN Returns to Boosting Hamas Aid

Fresh from praising Allah for the scores of Israelis who died trying to save Palestinian prisoners from the fires ravaging Israel, Hamas is indulging in some old-fashioned “collaborator” killing:

A Gaza military court has convicted three men of collaborating with Israel, sentencing one to death and two more to prison terms, the Hamas interior ministry said on Monday. … In April, Gaza’s Hamas rulers executed two alleged “collaborators” in the first executions to be carried out since the Islamist movement seized power in June 2007… Human Rights Watch says Hamas killed at least 32 alleged informers and political opponents during and after the 2008-2009 Gaza war with Israel and maimed dozens of others.

It’s been known since October that Hamas was going to step up collaborator executions, if only because it’s been a while since there has been a really satisfying political purge. The 32 executions immediately after Cast Lead were also political, with the organization using the post-war calm to charge and execute Fatah supporters. During the war, they settled for more perfunctory methods like blowing out opponents’ kneecaps and throwing them off buildings, but if you’ve got the time to stage a really good show trial, then why not?

Other Hamas activities from the last few months: co-sponsoring an Islamic Jihad rally, firing rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians, raiding the Gaza journalistic union, destroying a mixed-gender pool park, and importing anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza. The Sunni group has also taken to distributing theo-political tracts justifying its status as an Iranian proxy and Shiite partner, which is weird because we were told by Arab and Muslim foreign policy experts that Shiite and Sunni jihadists never, ever cooperate.

Naturally the UN is currently seeking another $575 million for Gaza, on top of the White House’s billion-dollar stimulus from last year and the piles of cash that the EU and UN tirelessly dump into the area. Because, as Barry Rubin recently pointed out, more aid will only moderate and secularize the Hamas regime insofar as it will do the exact opposite.

Hamas’s response to all that largess, by the by? “The West has no right to tell Hamas how to govern Gaza,” in part because Europe “promotes promiscuity and political hypocrisy.” Which might be true, but it doesn’t really address the “why are we giving these monsters money?” thing.

Fresh from praising Allah for the scores of Israelis who died trying to save Palestinian prisoners from the fires ravaging Israel, Hamas is indulging in some old-fashioned “collaborator” killing:

A Gaza military court has convicted three men of collaborating with Israel, sentencing one to death and two more to prison terms, the Hamas interior ministry said on Monday. … In April, Gaza’s Hamas rulers executed two alleged “collaborators” in the first executions to be carried out since the Islamist movement seized power in June 2007… Human Rights Watch says Hamas killed at least 32 alleged informers and political opponents during and after the 2008-2009 Gaza war with Israel and maimed dozens of others.

It’s been known since October that Hamas was going to step up collaborator executions, if only because it’s been a while since there has been a really satisfying political purge. The 32 executions immediately after Cast Lead were also political, with the organization using the post-war calm to charge and execute Fatah supporters. During the war, they settled for more perfunctory methods like blowing out opponents’ kneecaps and throwing them off buildings, but if you’ve got the time to stage a really good show trial, then why not?

Other Hamas activities from the last few months: co-sponsoring an Islamic Jihad rally, firing rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians, raiding the Gaza journalistic union, destroying a mixed-gender pool park, and importing anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza. The Sunni group has also taken to distributing theo-political tracts justifying its status as an Iranian proxy and Shiite partner, which is weird because we were told by Arab and Muslim foreign policy experts that Shiite and Sunni jihadists never, ever cooperate.

Naturally the UN is currently seeking another $575 million for Gaza, on top of the White House’s billion-dollar stimulus from last year and the piles of cash that the EU and UN tirelessly dump into the area. Because, as Barry Rubin recently pointed out, more aid will only moderate and secularize the Hamas regime insofar as it will do the exact opposite.

Hamas’s response to all that largess, by the by? “The West has no right to tell Hamas how to govern Gaza,” in part because Europe “promotes promiscuity and political hypocrisy.” Which might be true, but it doesn’t really address the “why are we giving these monsters money?” thing.

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