When it comes to the Middle East, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry embrace an old conventional wisdom proven false by the events of the last five years. They believed, for example, that the road to peace ran almost exclusively through Jerusalem. The events of the Arab Spring, however, showed that the Arab-Israeli conflict was largely peripheral to the forces — sectarianism, religious radicalism, and illegitimacy of leadership — that was really destabilizing region. Never mind that Syria, Yemen, Libya, and at times Egypt were alight: Obama and Kerry continue to believe that the chief impediment to peace in the Middle East was Israeli neighborhoods and constructions in disputed areas of Jerusalem and the West Bank. By making a total freeze — including on natural growth — a sine qua non before there could be any new negotiation, Obama essentially gave Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas an excuse to walk away from serious talks.
Now, it appears that Abbas is willing to precipitate a Third Intifada. While he will not be able to defeat Israel militarily — despite any aid and assistance the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip might receive from Iran — he hopes that he will be able to win the peace, as the international community will inevitably pressure Israel to make concessions under fire. With Obama and Kerry allowing their personal disdain for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and perhaps Obama’s seeming broader disdain for Israel to color their actions, Abbas may be correct to believe that the White House will not protect Israel from the mob it faces at the United Nations.
Abbas may be gambling, but he won’t be the only one to lose. So, too, will the Palestinians more broadly. Abbas seems willing to gamble the relative security and economic development in the West Bank upon the idea that the international community can somehow convince Israel to commit suicide as an entity. After all, if the question was just the creation of a Palestinian state, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have put offers on the table. Netanyahu is not walking away from those offers; only demanding affirmation of the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Negotiations over land swaps are relatively cut-and-dry. Perhaps the “right to return” to territory not within the Palestinian state remains an obstacle, but a resolution to that will not be had by affirming Palestinian enmity toward Israel.
A Third Intifada will be a fateful calculation resting primarily with Abbas, but decades of failed United Nations, European Union, and U.S. policies will have contributed to Abbas’ conceit. After all, Abbas and Yasser Arafat before him have grown accustomed to the international community’s failure to hold Palestinians accountable for their actions. There is no drawback — at least to the Palestinian leadership — for trying war, as they are far less likely to suffer than ordinary Palestinians. Ultimately, they know that they can recoup any economic losses as the European Union, Iran, United States, Arab States, and the United Nations again reach into their pockets to bail Palestinians out from the result of poor decisions.
To date, the Palestinians have received more aid per capita than any other people, despite their broad embrace of terrorism. The United Nations has created a special definition of refugee to apply only to Palestinian, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has extended its mandate more than six decades after it was to close up shop. In effect, UNRWA perpetuates conflict rather than truly assists Palestinians.
There is only one way to force the Palestinian leadership and Palestinians more broadly to prepare for the date when they can truly function independently as a responsible member of the international community, and that is to cut them off from their gravy train and make them accountable for their actions, and those of their elected leaders. (If they are upset that their elected president is in the 11th year of his four-year term, well, they can take a lesson from the Tunisians and Egyptians, and demand an end to the dual secular and Islamist dictatorships under which they suffer).
If the international community wants to help those in need, they might consider utilizing the aid which the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly squandered on Swiss Bank accounts, massive villas, and war, and instead provide relief to the Rohingya Muslims, Syrian refugees, or Yezidis; all of whom will likely make much more use of the assistance to restart their lives and become productive members of the societies in which they find themselves. The notion that money is proportional to relief or enables a solution is dead wrong. So, too, is the notion that U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian society, whether direct or laundered through the United Nations, is an entitlement which cannot be cut.
Famines in Africa seldom occur because of climate; rather, they are the result of disastrous governance. The solution, as George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton discovered in Somalia, is not simply to provide food, as this might only ensconce entrench warlords more deeply. Likewise, flooding Afghanistan and Iraq with cash did not improve development or governance; rather, it simply fueled massive corruption.
The current administration is set in its ways, but perhaps it is time for both Republican and Democratic candidates to discuss whether or not their administration, should they win their party’s nomination and the general election, will continue bailing out the Palestinian leadership, enabling it to essentially choose war, tunnels, and rocket factories over schools, factories, and tech start-ups. Obama justified an end to the Cuba embargo in the supposed failure of U.S. sanctions to change the Castro regime. Why shouldn’t the same logic apply to the Palestinians? After more than 60 years of a failed assistance policy, perhaps it is time to shut off the spigot of aid and let the Palestinians sink or swim upon the decisions they make.