Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fatah

Intifada with a Twist

During the earlier, more hopeful days of the Arab Spring it was common for people to wonder aloud if the revolutionary momentum would reach the Palestinians. One major difference between the Palestinians and Egyptians or Syrians was that the Palestinians have a degree of self-rule. Any uprising in the Palestinian territories might therefore target the Palestinian Authority or Hamas before Israel, and would likely result in less, not more Palestinian freedom because of it: Hamas would crackdown brutally in Gaza, and if the PA fell in the West Bank it would be replaced by a more authoritarian ruler (probably Hamas).

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During the earlier, more hopeful days of the Arab Spring it was common for people to wonder aloud if the revolutionary momentum would reach the Palestinians. One major difference between the Palestinians and Egyptians or Syrians was that the Palestinians have a degree of self-rule. Any uprising in the Palestinian territories might therefore target the Palestinian Authority or Hamas before Israel, and would likely result in less, not more Palestinian freedom because of it: Hamas would crackdown brutally in Gaza, and if the PA fell in the West Bank it would be replaced by a more authoritarian ruler (probably Hamas).

In part that was the folly of having elections in the territories that included Hamas back in 2006: if you gave the Palestinians a chance to punish the ruling party when Hamas was the only alternative, you would get Hamas in government. In the end, that’s exactly what happened. And it’s why many were warning against the United States giving its blessing to a Hamas-Fatah unity government that would soon call for elections. Mahmoud Abbas has been in office twice as long as his legal term; given the corruption of Fatah and the pent-up desire to register their discontent, the Palestinians could be expected to once again empower Hamas.

But now we’re seeing the possibility of Hamas gaining the upper hand without having to wait for an election. Both Haaretz and Khaled Abu Toameh are reporting the rumblings of a new intifada in the West Bank–only this time aimed at Abbas. As Jonathan mentioned earlier, the unrest is tied to Abbas’s criticism of the kidnapping of Israeli teenagers and the Israeli army’s West Bank operation to track them down. Here’s Toameh:

The attack on the Palestinian police station came amid growing Palestinian discontent with PA President Mahmoud Abbas over his opposition to the kidnapping of the three Israeli youths.

Palestinians representing various Palestinian factions, including Abbas’s own Fatah, have resorted to social media to denounce Abbas and his security forces as “traitors” for helping Israel in its efforts to locate the three youths.

One campaign on Facebook entitled, “I’m Palestinian and Abbas doesn’t represent me” has drawn hundreds of supporters.

Palestinian protests against Abbas and security coordination with Israel have recently become a daily occurrence in the West Bank, where Palestinian protesters are no longer afraid to express their views in public.

The Palestinian Authority has begun to feel the heat and that is why its security forces have been instructed to use an iron-fist policy not only against its critics, but also against Palestinian and Western journalists in the West Bank.

On June 20, Palestinian policemen broke up a protest in Hebron by families of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and beat a number of journalists, including a CNN reporter who had his camera smashed.

But the Haaretz piece gets right to the point. Its subheadline, echoed in the article as well, is: “The Palestinian president will soon have to decide whether he’s in favor of Israel or his own people.”

And here we have yet another consequence of opening the West Bank to Hamas, and it’s one that directly threatens not only Abbas’s governing structure but the security of Israel as well. This is obvious if Hamas was indeed behind the kidnapping. But even if not, it’s a good demonstration of Hamas’s ability to use such crises to limit Israeli self-defense.

It’s no secret that Israel rightly prefers Abbas to Hamas. But if Israeli counteroffensives can threaten Abbas’s hold on power, then Hamas has figured out a formula: strike at Israel in the West Bank, and either Israel’s response triggers the weakening and possibly fall of Abbas (to Hamas’s benefit) or Israel ties its own hands, giving Hamas free shots at Israeli civilians.

Israel simply cannot choose the latter: whatever Israelis think of their preference for Abbas over Hamas, he’s not worth committing state suicide over. But the former outcome is still a win for Hamas. If Hamas can chip away at Abbas’s rule by simply attacking Israel, they will do so. And joining the unity government positions them to collect the support Abbas loses.

The American officials who supported this unity government also tried to justify it by claiming that the Palestinians involved in the government cannot be card-carrying members of Hamas (though the Americans wouldn’t know the difference anyway). One way around that for Hamas would have been to run Hamasniks who simply run under a non-Hamas banner. But these latest developments suggest the Palestinians may not even make it to the elections.

If Hamas can cause the downfall of Abbas in the West Bank before elections can be held, they can avoid the trouble of pretending to be on the outside for those elections and can simply rule directly. The Obama administration officials who thought this was a good idea were pretty clearly outsmarted–but they probably thought they had more time before that became clear. Hamas seems to have other ideas.

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Hamas-Fatah Unity: When Policymakers Don’t Look Ahead

Competing with Hamas or other extremists for the allegiance of the “Arab street” often means an anti-Semitic and baldly violent race to the bottom. So it was a welcome surprise when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned in strong terms the kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week. Speaking in Arabic in Saudi Arabia, according to the Times of Israel, Abbas said: “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians]. … The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families.”

Today the paper notes the predictable response from Hamas:

His stance quickly drew fire from Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who blasted Abbas for “basing his statements solely on the Israeli narrative, without presenting any true information.”

Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri joined Abu Zuhri’s criticism, accusing Abbas of preferring the three Israeli youths to thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

Abbas surely knew he’d be labeled a collaborator and a traitor for his comments, so it’s all the more encouraging he made them anyway. And he also struck a nerve: when Abbas said the kidnappers “want to destroy” the Palestinians, he’s right up to a point. What Hamas terrorists and their supporters want to destroy are the prospects for peace and the two-state solution, and thus an independent Palestine. Since “resistance” is Hamas’s raison d’être, anything or anyone who gets in their way constitutes an existential threat to them.

Those who want to see the emergence of some sort of relatively moderate Palestinian governance are naturally cheered by this exchange, then. But this is even more of a vindication for those who opposed bringing Hamas into the government in the first place.

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Competing with Hamas or other extremists for the allegiance of the “Arab street” often means an anti-Semitic and baldly violent race to the bottom. So it was a welcome surprise when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned in strong terms the kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week. Speaking in Arabic in Saudi Arabia, according to the Times of Israel, Abbas said: “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians]. … The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families.”

Today the paper notes the predictable response from Hamas:

His stance quickly drew fire from Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who blasted Abbas for “basing his statements solely on the Israeli narrative, without presenting any true information.”

Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri joined Abu Zuhri’s criticism, accusing Abbas of preferring the three Israeli youths to thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

Abbas surely knew he’d be labeled a collaborator and a traitor for his comments, so it’s all the more encouraging he made them anyway. And he also struck a nerve: when Abbas said the kidnappers “want to destroy” the Palestinians, he’s right up to a point. What Hamas terrorists and their supporters want to destroy are the prospects for peace and the two-state solution, and thus an independent Palestine. Since “resistance” is Hamas’s raison d’être, anything or anyone who gets in their way constitutes an existential threat to them.

Those who want to see the emergence of some sort of relatively moderate Palestinian governance are naturally cheered by this exchange, then. But this is even more of a vindication for those who opposed bringing Hamas into the government in the first place.

The “unity” government between Fatah and Hamas has only one wild card: Fatah. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel; the terror group’s every action and statement is based in Hamas’s genocidal campaign. Fatah is less predictable. It is also animated by a desire to promulgate a wild-eyed anti-Semitism and the denial of human rights, but Abbas has always been less convinced that campaigns of indiscriminate murder are helpful to the cause.

So Fatah answered Hamas’s taunts:

“[Hamas’s] cheap accusations concerning the prisoners are nothing but words,” read a statement on Fatah’s official website. “Everyone knows that president [Abbas] has placed our heroic prisoners at the top of his agenda … his insistence on freeing the fourth batch of veteran prisoners halted the negotiations. We did not agree to what Hamas has agreed to, namely the deportation of prisoners abroad, far from their families.”

The Cairo reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas in May 2011 explicitly called for “peaceful and political resistance,” the statement continued; the kidnapping, it implied, constituted a breach of that accord.

What Fatah is experiencing now is an internecine version of what Hamas does to any impending Israeli-Palestinian deal. When the two sides appear to be making progress, Hamas reignites its terror campaign against Israel, undermining the Palestinian Authority’s public standing and forcing a response from Israel. Israeli self-defense brings international condemnation from the self-obsessed opportunists who invest their reputations in the peace process, and it forces security questions to the fore.

That, in turn, exposes the PA’s bad faith. Were Abbas and his crew willing to ensure Israel’s security, the process could continue. But they are not willing (in some cases, able) to do so. Their bluff called, the Palestinians walk away from negotiations. The process collapses, with the PA looking ever weaker, ignorant European diplomats buffoonishly railing against Israel in the public sphere, and the Americans, if led by a Democratic presidential administration, going back to trying to destabilize Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Now it is a Fatah-Hamas deal on the table, but the Hamasniks’ response is the same: violence against innocents. Can Abbas walk away from the unity government? It’s not so easy, though I suppose it isn’t quite too late. This is part of the reason the Obama administration’s decision to support Hamas’s participation in the government was so foolish.

The “cooperation” the West is lauding between Israel and the PA is necessary because of the decision to let Hamas into the henhouse. Abbas cannot defeat them on his own, so the IDF remains his only real hope of staying in power. How will that play with the Palestinian street? And if this does cause the collapse of the unity deal, then we’re back where we started except it took the kidnapping of three Jews to get us there. Those supporting this deal do not seem to have looked very far ahead. Their response to the current crisis shows that hasn’t changed.

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Palestinian “Unity” Government So Far Not Applying to Gaza

When Hamas ejected Fatah from Gaza in 2007, the terror group did more than simply carve out a base of influence. Because of Gaza’s geographic isolation from the West Bank, once Hamas was able to solidify control it created a shadow state governed by one-party rule and with its own foreign policy. In authoritarian societies like Hamas-ruled Gaza, government control is such that the unaccountable bureaucracy is staffed with appointees whose livelihood depends on the whim and favor of those above them. So that’s where their loyalties lie.

This situation–Gaza’s isolation and its one-party rule–means that integrating Hamas into the broader Palestinian governance structure in the West Bank is far easier than integrating non-Hamasniks into Gaza. That goes double for Hamas’s rival, Fatah. The two may have signed a unity agreement seeking to forge a common government and hold elections, but how will it go when Palestinian Authority “unity” government figures try to apply that piece of paper to Gaza? The New York Times gives us an idea:

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When Hamas ejected Fatah from Gaza in 2007, the terror group did more than simply carve out a base of influence. Because of Gaza’s geographic isolation from the West Bank, once Hamas was able to solidify control it created a shadow state governed by one-party rule and with its own foreign policy. In authoritarian societies like Hamas-ruled Gaza, government control is such that the unaccountable bureaucracy is staffed with appointees whose livelihood depends on the whim and favor of those above them. So that’s where their loyalties lie.

This situation–Gaza’s isolation and its one-party rule–means that integrating Hamas into the broader Palestinian governance structure in the West Bank is far easier than integrating non-Hamasniks into Gaza. That goes double for Hamas’s rival, Fatah. The two may have signed a unity agreement seeking to forge a common government and hold elections, but how will it go when Palestinian Authority “unity” government figures try to apply that piece of paper to Gaza? The New York Times gives us an idea:

The Palestinian Authority has had a new government for 10 days now, but the prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, acknowledged on Thursday that he still lacked any authority in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and that nothing has yet changed on the ground.

Though the new government was approved by both of the rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, Mr. Hamdallah offered no plan for disarming militants, integrating the two sides’ security forces, or even for getting Gaza’s 1.7 million residents to start paying taxes and electricity bills.

How does Mr. Hamdallah plan to rectify this? Your guess is as good as his:

In an hourlong interview, Mr. Hamdallah laid much of the responsibility for reconciling the West Bank and Gaza after seven years of schism on two committees, one of which has yet to be formed. He repeated political platitudes about Palestinian unity, but offered no practical program to deliver it.

Part of that can be explained by the fact that Hamdallah apparently doesn’t approve of the team he was not able to choose:

Mr. Hamdallah, who has been prime minister for a year, said he was dissatisfied with his new cabinet, which was selected through negotiations between the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, the militant Islamic faction that has ruled Gaza since 2007. If the decision had been left up to him, he said, he would have chosen “very few” of the ministers in the new cabinet.

Asked when he would visit Gaza, Mr. Hamdallah was silent for a long moment and then said, “We haven’t set a time for that.”

Let’s stipulate that we’re not even two weeks into this new government, and that the leadership is temporary anyway until elections can be held, and so no one’s expecting miracles. But Palestinian leaders hoping to break up Hamas’s monopoly in Gaza really should consider actually going there.

Unless it’s all for show, as skeptics of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal have been warning. As the Times notes:

Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian poet and political activist who lives in Australia but has many relatives in Gaza, said the bank crisis showed a “lack of trust on the ground between the two factions.”

“If it’s a normal democracy in a sovereign nation, you can have diverse views with conflicting agendas,” Ms. Sabawi said. “But we’re talking about a people under occupation. Their politics, their policies, are always beholden to whomever is paying their money. It really has been reduced to just theater.”

There can’t be a peace deal without Palestinian unity, but there can’t be Palestinian unity without a peace deal, and around and around we go. Yet the remark about it all being “just theater,” however accurate, also points to the fact that the Obama administration is playing the same game.

All these loopholes and facades, such as the idea that no one in the new government is explicitly a member of Hamas, are not fooling Washington. They are, instead, adhering to precisely what Washington wants from them at the moment. American law says we can’t fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, but the Obama administration wants to support Palestinian unity which necessarily has to include Hamas–regardless of what their party registration cards say.

As long as there’s a technicality on which the administration can legally continue its policy of engagement, it will do so. No one’s fooling anyone, because they don’t have to.

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“Lebanonization” and Other Bogus Defenses of Obama’s Hamas Policy

The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

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The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

Additionally, the United States and Israel often have different approaches to the Palestinians because of the different roles the two play. Generally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed ending American aid to the Palestinian Authority, and has gone to bat for Obama by lobbying Congress to back off such proposals. The reason is the Palestinians have two primary choices for leadership: Fatah and Hamas. Until now Hamas has been excluded from the broader government, which means any money that flows to Mahmoud Abbas may have been misused in any number of ways, but it at least propped up the far superior alternative to Hamas.

Had Fatah been abandoned by the West, Hamas would have taken over the West Bank too. It can be argued that this process incentivizes Abbas’s misbehavior because it signals to him that he can get away with virtually anything. But actions have consequences, and the consequences of setting Abbas adrift would be disastrous.

The whole point of propping up Abbas was to fund the PA instead of Hamas, in an effort to weaken the latter. Funding a Palestinian government that includes Hamas is, strategically, the opposite of what the United States has been doing. It is not hypocritical of Israel to point this out. Indeed, it should not need pointing out. But if the geniuses running the White House and State Department insist on behaving as though they were born yesterday, they can expect the leaders of the nations that will bear the brunt of the consequences to treat them as such.

The other accusation of hypocrisy concerns the so-called “Lebanonization” of the Palestinian Authority. Here’s the Times:

Nothing illustrated the complexity of the situation for the United States better than Mr. Kerry’s backdrop: He was in Lebanon to underscore American support for the Lebanese government — which includes the Islamic militant group, Hezbollah.

This argument has gained some traction recently, but its popularity is truly puzzling. The implication here is that the United States supports the Lebanese government even though the terrorist group Hezbollah is an influential part of that government. Therefore, how can Israel oppose American support for a similar government in the Palestinian territories when it does not push back against American support for Lebanon?

Can anyone at the State Department guess the difference between the Palestinians and Lebanon? Show of hands? If you said, “The Israeli government is not involved in land-for-peace negotiations, including the possibility of ceding control of holy places and uprooting Israelis from ancient Jewish land, with the Lebanese,” then you get a gold star.

As the Times story notes, this is really a preliminary confrontation. There will supposedly be elections within the next six months or so, and Hamas will want to participate. Wouldn’t that be dangerous? Sure, but here’s an American official putting everyone at ease:

“Can a group that has a political party and a militia of 20,000 troops run in an election?” a senior administration official said. “These are issues that are going to have be dealt with down the road.”

We’ll find out together! It’ll be exciting. Of course, we already know the answer, since Hamas has already participated in elections in what was widely viewed as a mistake back in 2006. And Hamas currently governs its own province of the territories, the Gaza Strip. The Americans have already seen this movie, but they still can’t wait to see how it ends.

That, of course, could be the one silver lining. If Hamas enters the government and Israel refuses to negotiate with them, it’ll put the onus back where it belongs: on the Palestinian leadership to prove it can build a state that would coexist side by side with a Jewish state. It’ll be John Kerry’s chance to prove the Israelis wrong, though I don’t think they’ll be holding their breath.

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Art Shows Fuel Conflict by Rewarding Palestinian Misbehavior

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aptly noted yesterday, it’s “strange” that even as European governments loudly condemn anti-Semitic attacks like the one on the Brussels Jewish Museum, they “speak about friendship with a Hamas unity government that commits these very same acts and glorifies them.” The same goes for the Obama administration, which condemns terror with one side of its mouth while rushing to recognize the new Fatah-Hamas unity government with the other, even though Hamas leaders openly refuse to recognize Israel, give up anti-Israel terror, or disarm.

Yet this willingness to whitewash and even reward Palestinian misbehavior isn’t confined to government circles. As examples, consider two recent art shows–one sponsored by the Ottawa municipality and the Ontario Arts Council, the other by a Pittsburgh museum.

The Ottawa municipality is currently hosting an exhibition by Palestinian-Canadian artist Rehab Nazzal. It features a video called “Target,” which, according to official publicity material, shows “artists, writers and leaders” who were “assassinated” by Israel. But when Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak watched the video, he discovered that many of these “assassinated artists and writers” were actually leading terrorists. They include Khalil al-Wazir, planner of the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which PLO terrorists hijacked an Israeli bus and killed 37 civilians; Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of that attack; Salah Khalaf, founder of the PLO faction that massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; and Khaled Nazzal, a senior official of another PLO faction that massacred 22 Israeli schoolchildren at Ma’alot in 1974.

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As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aptly noted yesterday, it’s “strange” that even as European governments loudly condemn anti-Semitic attacks like the one on the Brussels Jewish Museum, they “speak about friendship with a Hamas unity government that commits these very same acts and glorifies them.” The same goes for the Obama administration, which condemns terror with one side of its mouth while rushing to recognize the new Fatah-Hamas unity government with the other, even though Hamas leaders openly refuse to recognize Israel, give up anti-Israel terror, or disarm.

Yet this willingness to whitewash and even reward Palestinian misbehavior isn’t confined to government circles. As examples, consider two recent art shows–one sponsored by the Ottawa municipality and the Ontario Arts Council, the other by a Pittsburgh museum.

The Ottawa municipality is currently hosting an exhibition by Palestinian-Canadian artist Rehab Nazzal. It features a video called “Target,” which, according to official publicity material, shows “artists, writers and leaders” who were “assassinated” by Israel. But when Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak watched the video, he discovered that many of these “assassinated artists and writers” were actually leading terrorists. They include Khalil al-Wazir, planner of the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which PLO terrorists hijacked an Israeli bus and killed 37 civilians; Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of that attack; Salah Khalaf, founder of the PLO faction that massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; and Khaled Nazzal, a senior official of another PLO faction that massacred 22 Israeli schoolchildren at Ma’alot in 1974.

Moreover, several people featured in the video were actually killed by fellow Palestinians–including both Khalaf and one genuine artist, a caricaturist murdered for drawing derogatory cartoons of PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Still others were indeed killed by Israel, but hardly “assassinated”: Mughrabi, for instance, died in a shootout with Israeli soldiers who stormed the bus in an effort to stop the massacre. In short, Nazzal’s work is a piece of vile anti-Israel incitement and a glorification of terrorism, funded wholly by Canadian taxpayers.

No Western government would finance works glorifying, say, the 9/11 terrorists or the London subway bombers. But when Barak and local Jewish groups protested this exhibit, city hall trotted out the standard excuse: It was chosen by a committee of artists, and politicians shouldn’t interfere with artistic decisions.

The Pittsburgh museum’s behavior was, if possible, even worse. After Palestinian “anti-normalization” activists launched an online campaign to pressure Palestinian artists to quit a show featuring works by Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans, the Israelis–in my view wrongly, but certainly generously–offered to withdraw instead. Yet the Palestinians still withdrew, and one even published a vicious statement accusing the “Jewish lobby” of forcing them out.

Then, rather than letting the Israelis and Americans exhibit anyway, alongside a note explaining why the Palestinians withdrew, the Mattress Factory museum opted to penalize the innocent by canceling the entire show. Even worse, it cravenly issued “a public apology to all Palestinians everywhere for the misunderstanding of this exhibition.”

Both exhibitions thus sent the same message: Palestinians can engage in anti-Israel incitement, glorification of terror, and online bullying, but not only will they suffer no penalty, they will even be rewarded. Respected institutions will provide taxpayer funding for these activities, expel Israeli and American artists to accommodate them, and even issue fawning apologies for offending Palestinian sensibilities.

Needless to say, rewarding such behavior encourages Palestinians to continue it. And in so doing, well-meaning Westerners actually perpetuate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by ensuring that Palestinians never have an incentive to develop the culture of peace needed to end it.

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Barghouti and the PA Succession Question

The Tower magazine calls attention to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion’s latest survey, which finds that Marwan Barghouti would be the popular pick if presidential elections were to be held for the Palestinian leadership. Barghouti, a founder of an Arafat-era paramilitary wing of Fatah, is currently serving life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in several murders, though he is believed to be behind even more terrorist attacks than those for which he was convicted.

Two things about Barghouti have remained constant over his career: he is soaked in the blood of innocents, and he is exceedingly popular among Palestinians. The two are, obviously, not unrelated. Such a result is of course troubling, but it should be noted that, according to the poll, the Palestinians are merely choosing one terrorist over other terrorists. The problem goes much deeper: the pipeline for Palestinian leadership remains greased with blood.

An understandable reaction to the poll will be: So what. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the tenth year of his four-year term, so immediate succession doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue right now, and Barghouti is in prison anyway.

But there are a few differences this time around. First, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal means it’s more likely that there will actually be elections in the near future. Second, Salam Fayyad’s exit means there isn’t at least a competing pipeline to leadership. Had Fayyad stayed on, he probably couldn’t win an election himself, but he might have staffed the bureaucracy with future contenders who were also reformers, and he might have effected some sort of change in the governing culture. Third, it is not out of the question that Israel would release Barghouti in some sort of prisoner exchange if the Israeli government thinks he’d be a preferable successor than the others in the race.

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The Tower magazine calls attention to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion’s latest survey, which finds that Marwan Barghouti would be the popular pick if presidential elections were to be held for the Palestinian leadership. Barghouti, a founder of an Arafat-era paramilitary wing of Fatah, is currently serving life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in several murders, though he is believed to be behind even more terrorist attacks than those for which he was convicted.

Two things about Barghouti have remained constant over his career: he is soaked in the blood of innocents, and he is exceedingly popular among Palestinians. The two are, obviously, not unrelated. Such a result is of course troubling, but it should be noted that, according to the poll, the Palestinians are merely choosing one terrorist over other terrorists. The problem goes much deeper: the pipeline for Palestinian leadership remains greased with blood.

An understandable reaction to the poll will be: So what. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the tenth year of his four-year term, so immediate succession doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue right now, and Barghouti is in prison anyway.

But there are a few differences this time around. First, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal means it’s more likely that there will actually be elections in the near future. Second, Salam Fayyad’s exit means there isn’t at least a competing pipeline to leadership. Had Fayyad stayed on, he probably couldn’t win an election himself, but he might have staffed the bureaucracy with future contenders who were also reformers, and he might have effected some sort of change in the governing culture. Third, it is not out of the question that Israel would release Barghouti in some sort of prisoner exchange if the Israeli government thinks he’d be a preferable successor than the others in the race.

It’s interesting to note just how similar these stories have been throughout the post-intifada years. Contemplating the Abbas-Barghouti rivalry in the debate over succeeding Yasser Arafat, the New York Times noted in late 2004:

While it is not certain that Israel would release Barghouti if he won the election, the fact remains that whatever the outcome, he will present the Palestinians and Israelis with very difficult options. If he wins but is not set free, the Israelis and the Bush administration would be seen as depriving the Palestinians of democratic choice — something they have advocated as part of enabling Palestinians to create a democratic and responsible political system.

In such an event, Barghouti would become as much a symbol of Palestinian democracy and resistance as Arafat was the embodiment of the Palestinian nationalist movement.

If he loses the election, he will nevertheless have split the vote to the extent of depriving Abbas of a clear mandate to marginalize his radical Islamic opponents, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and to negotiate with the Israelis and Americans for a lasting settlement from a position of popular strength. And there is the additional possibility that a third candidate, like Barghouti’s cousin Mustafa, a human-rights activist, could emerge as the marginal winner.

Palestinians have always found Abbas somewhat underwhelming, and Barghouti has always presented this complicated challenge to Israeli political strategy. But the Israelis must also ponder whether their preference for Barghouti is worth releasing an arch-terrorist. Their dealings with Arafat may have convinced them that just because a Palestinian leader has the credibility to lead doesn’t mean he will. Yitzhak Rabin famously dismissed concerns about how Arafat would get his people in line as long as he actually did. In the end, Arafat was a coward, and Israelis have to wonder if Barghouti is as well.

This all demonstrates, once again, the steep hill to climb to strike a just and lasting peace deal with the Palestinians. It rests on the remote possibility that someone like Abbas or Barghouti would transform themselves into a Mandela or even a Michael Collins. It’s not impossible, sure, but no one would advise holding your breath.

The real path to peace would be a transformation of Palestinian society that didn’t elevate whichever candidate killed the most innocent men, women, and children. And such a society needs a government that doesn’t promote violence and hate; a government that provides services instead of no-show jobs; a government that empowers its own people rather than subjugates and steals from them; a government that allows real political competition so the people have a choice instead of a mirage of democracy or accountability.

If Marwan Barghouti is the best option to succeed Abbas and lead the Palestinian government, then Abbas is destined to leave the Palestinian Authority no better than he found it.

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The PA, Refugees, the Holocaust, and Peace

Haaretz reported yesterday that if the Palestinian Authority’s planned Fatah-Hamas unity government actually arises, the U.S., like the European Union, will probably recognize it. Since Hamas has repeatedly said it will neither recognize Israel nor renounce violence, Israel is understandably upset at American and European willingness to peddle the fiction that a government in which Hamas is a full partner complies with those requirements. But Israel itself has helped to peddle a no less outrageous fiction for years–that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, unlike Hamas, is a “partner for peace.” To understand how ridiculous this claim is, consider two recent developments: last week’s Haaretz op-ed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and a decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union two weeks earlier.

Erekat’s op-ed consisted mainly of standard Palestinian lies and half-truths about the Nakba–like omitting any mention of the five Arab armies who invaded Israel in 1948, thereby starting the war that created the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, one sentence stood out: “In my own home town, Jericho, there are two refugee camps where thousands continue to live in miserable conditions.” That happens to be completely true. What Erekat neglected to mention, however, is that Jericho was the first city Israel turned over to Palestinian rule, way back in 1994. In other words, Jericho has been under Palestinian rule continuously for the last 20 years, during which time the PA has been the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world. Yet not one cent of that money has been spent on improving conditions in Jericho’s refugee camps. Instead, 20 years later, Erekat is still blaming Israel for the “miserable conditions” in those camps.

This is not a trivial issue, because the entire peace process is predicated on the theory that Fatah actually wants a Palestinian state. Yet having a Palestinian state means taking responsibility for the Palestinians’ problems, including the refugees living in those camps, rather than continuing to blame Israel for them. And as Erekat’s statement shows, the Fatah-led PA has no interest in doing any such thing: It prefers leaving the refugees in their misery as a way to score points against Israel with international public opinion. In other words, it would rather pursue its war against Israel than actually exercise sovereignty by improving its people’s lives.

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Haaretz reported yesterday that if the Palestinian Authority’s planned Fatah-Hamas unity government actually arises, the U.S., like the European Union, will probably recognize it. Since Hamas has repeatedly said it will neither recognize Israel nor renounce violence, Israel is understandably upset at American and European willingness to peddle the fiction that a government in which Hamas is a full partner complies with those requirements. But Israel itself has helped to peddle a no less outrageous fiction for years–that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, unlike Hamas, is a “partner for peace.” To understand how ridiculous this claim is, consider two recent developments: last week’s Haaretz op-ed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and a decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union two weeks earlier.

Erekat’s op-ed consisted mainly of standard Palestinian lies and half-truths about the Nakba–like omitting any mention of the five Arab armies who invaded Israel in 1948, thereby starting the war that created the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, one sentence stood out: “In my own home town, Jericho, there are two refugee camps where thousands continue to live in miserable conditions.” That happens to be completely true. What Erekat neglected to mention, however, is that Jericho was the first city Israel turned over to Palestinian rule, way back in 1994. In other words, Jericho has been under Palestinian rule continuously for the last 20 years, during which time the PA has been the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world. Yet not one cent of that money has been spent on improving conditions in Jericho’s refugee camps. Instead, 20 years later, Erekat is still blaming Israel for the “miserable conditions” in those camps.

This is not a trivial issue, because the entire peace process is predicated on the theory that Fatah actually wants a Palestinian state. Yet having a Palestinian state means taking responsibility for the Palestinians’ problems, including the refugees living in those camps, rather than continuing to blame Israel for them. And as Erekat’s statement shows, the Fatah-led PA has no interest in doing any such thing: It prefers leaving the refugees in their misery as a way to score points against Israel with international public opinion. In other words, it would rather pursue its war against Israel than actually exercise sovereignty by improving its people’s lives.

This preference for continuing the war on Israel over making peace also emerges from an April 30 decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union to expel a professor for the “crime” of taking his students to Auschwitz. By so doing, the union said, Prof. Mohammed Dajani was guilty of “behavior that contravenes the [union’s] policies and norms.”

Al-Quds isn’t some Islamic university deep in Hamas-controlled Gaza; it’s a flagship PA institution, located in East Jerusalem, that even had a partnership with Brandeis University, and whose president for almost 20 years (until his resignation in March at age 65) was prominent Fatah member Sari Nusseibeh, considered a leading Palestinian moderate. Yet for this “moderate” university, simply daring to expose students to the historical truth of the Holocaust is a crime worthy of expulsion from the academic union. Why? Because, as another teacher explained, it might lead students to have some sympathy for “the false Zionist narrative.” Or in other words, it might actually contribute to peacemaking by facilitating mutual understanding.

As long as the “moderates” of Fatah are unwilling either to accept the basic responsibilities of sovereignty, like helping their own refugees, or to acknowledge basic historical truths like the Holocaust, they are no more “peace partners” than Hamas is. And by peddling the fiction that they are, Israel and the West aren’t bringing peace closer. They’re merely ensuring that Fatah has no incentive to change.

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Palestinians Unite to Preserve Corruption

The unity agreement that brought together the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions is, according to the New York Times, already paying dividends for the Palestinian people. According to the feature on the efforts to implement the accord, newspapers from the West Bank and Jerusalem are now on sale in Gaza and those from the Hamas-ruled enclave are now available on newsstands in the area run by the Palestinian Authority. That’s good news for consumers of the propaganda published by the two main Palestinian factions’ media operations.

Meanwhile, the Times is far more interested in the brewing controversy over what to do about the murders committed by the two factions against each other. A Palestinian commission is trying to get the families of the members of Fatah slaughtered by Hamas in its 2007 coup to accept monetary compensation rather than press their case and insist that the murderers be given the death penalty. The same is true of those families of Hamas members killed by Fatah. The pressure for the families to accept “social reconciliation” is yielding mixed results as many residents of both the West Bank and Gaza weaned on a culture of violence directed mainly against Israelis and Jews are focused on revenge and not much interested in the concept of forgiveness, even when applied to fellow Palestinians.

This dynamic will play a large role in whether this scheme will work in the long run. But of far greater interest to the rest of the world are two other questions that will impact both the chances of peace with Israel and the willingness of the international community to subsidize the PA: integration of the “security” forces employed by Fatah and Hamas and how to pay for all of the Palestinians in both factions that are being supported via no-work and no-show government jobs.

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The unity agreement that brought together the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions is, according to the New York Times, already paying dividends for the Palestinian people. According to the feature on the efforts to implement the accord, newspapers from the West Bank and Jerusalem are now on sale in Gaza and those from the Hamas-ruled enclave are now available on newsstands in the area run by the Palestinian Authority. That’s good news for consumers of the propaganda published by the two main Palestinian factions’ media operations.

Meanwhile, the Times is far more interested in the brewing controversy over what to do about the murders committed by the two factions against each other. A Palestinian commission is trying to get the families of the members of Fatah slaughtered by Hamas in its 2007 coup to accept monetary compensation rather than press their case and insist that the murderers be given the death penalty. The same is true of those families of Hamas members killed by Fatah. The pressure for the families to accept “social reconciliation” is yielding mixed results as many residents of both the West Bank and Gaza weaned on a culture of violence directed mainly against Israelis and Jews are focused on revenge and not much interested in the concept of forgiveness, even when applied to fellow Palestinians.

This dynamic will play a large role in whether this scheme will work in the long run. But of far greater interest to the rest of the world are two other questions that will impact both the chances of peace with Israel and the willingness of the international community to subsidize the PA: integration of the “security” forces employed by Fatah and Hamas and how to pay for all of the Palestinians in both factions that are being supported via no-work and no-show government jobs.

While reform of the PA’s spending policies is key to any hope of building an economy for the Palestinians, the more immediate question is what to do about the glut of government workers in Gaza. For the last seven years 70,000 Fatah employees have been collecting their paychecks without having to show up for work in Gaza since the Hamas coup. Meanwhile, 40,000 Hamas supporters are also getting government paychecks for doing or not doing the same jobs. Since the economy of both the West Bank and Gaza is largely fueled by the paychecks that come from this patronage scheme, turning off the spigot for either of these groups would create a crisis that could lead to violence.

The fact that Hamas made do with only 40,000 government employees where Fatah had 70,000 is not so much a tribute to the efficiency of the Islamists as it is one to the vast scale of the patronage system that was put in place by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat. Suffice it to say that Hamas is no more likely to get a good day’s work from many of its 40,000 workers than Fatah was from most of its 70,000. But unless the PA can find a way to keep all 110,000 on the government payroll, there will be major trouble in the Strip, of which the suffering of the families of these “workers” will be just the tip of the iceberg.

But as much as this problem makes the struggles of American state governments with an expensive municipal bureaucracy look like child’s play, it must be recognized that such corrupt practices are the foundation of the Palestinian economy. Government corruption and regulations aimed at filling the pockets of PA leaders make normal economic development virtually impossible. The attempt of former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad to implement reform was a flop because both Palestinian parties opposed it. The only thing keeping the West Bank fiscally afloat is the money donated by the EU and the U.S. in order to pay an even larger number of PA patronage employees, few of whom are asked to lift a finger in exchange for the money.

Thus, while many Palestinian sympathizers have been lauding the unity agreement, it must be recognized that as much as it is an effort to allow the two factions to join forces to thwart peace, it also will help stop any movement toward reform and economic development. The point here is that the price of this unity is not only a situation where an unreconstructed Hamas that will not renounce violence or its war on Israel will ensure that peace never happens. It also means that the same international community that has been bilked for billions that wound up in the pockets of PA leaders and their families will now be expected to perform the same service for Hamas’s large payroll.

Unfortunately, rather than calling out the Palestinians for this trick, the European Union has announced it will continue aid to the PA. Just as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu predicted, unity will mean that Hamas and its terrorist cadres will operate behind a façade of PA bureaucrats while not only fomenting violence but also getting paid by the West for it.

This development should signal U.S. lawmakers that it is high time for them to push to enforce the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 that mandates a cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinians if Hamas is brought into the PA fold. Any further delays in doing so due to the Obama administration’s futile efforts to revive a peace process that was already dead the day Fatah and Hamas joined hands will only lead to American taxpayers paying a portion of the tab for all those no-show and no-work Palestinian jobholders.

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EU Doublethink on the Palestinians

That the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton should have come out reiterating her support for the U.S.-sponsored peace process is hardly surprising. The fact that she has chosen to do this in the wake of a Hamas-Fatah unity deal–at a time when even the U.S. has conceded there should be a letup in the talks–is a little more troubling. Out of Ashton’s refusal to see what even the Obama administration reluctantly acknowledges has come a statement filled with incomprehensible contradictions.

Ashton at once lauds the importance of democratic elections while also endorsing Palestinian head Mahmoud Abbas as having a mandate, insisting on the importance of non-violence and Palestinian recognition of Israel, and yet at the same time welcoming the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. These various sentiments are simply incompatible with one another. So what is going on?

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That the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton should have come out reiterating her support for the U.S.-sponsored peace process is hardly surprising. The fact that she has chosen to do this in the wake of a Hamas-Fatah unity deal–at a time when even the U.S. has conceded there should be a letup in the talks–is a little more troubling. Out of Ashton’s refusal to see what even the Obama administration reluctantly acknowledges has come a statement filled with incomprehensible contradictions.

Ashton at once lauds the importance of democratic elections while also endorsing Palestinian head Mahmoud Abbas as having a mandate, insisting on the importance of non-violence and Palestinian recognition of Israel, and yet at the same time welcoming the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. These various sentiments are simply incompatible with one another. So what is going on?

Coming from Brussels, that insistence upon Israel’s right to exist is no doubt supposed to be considered wildly pro-Israel, although there is of course no reference to anything about a Jewish state. But what is so strange is that in the very same speech, Ashton declares that the EU has always supported “intra-Palestinian reconciliation.” And yet to hold these two positions, Eurocrats are obliged to believe two contradictory things at once. Because Hamas, who this much favored intra-Palestinian reconciliation must necessarily concern, is innately the antithesis of all the things that Ashton outlined above.

Of course, it isn’t just Hamas that fails to meet the EU’s alleged criteria for participation in government and negotiations. Abbas’s sham-moderate Fatah movement has also struggled to live up to these “principles.” And yet Ashton’s repeated endorsement of Abbas is unequivocal. On the subject of reconciliation, Ashton stresses that the EU holds that this should take place under the authority of Abbas. But why? Abbas has no legitimacy. The Palestinian president is presently serving out the tenth year of what was supposed to have been a four-year term of office. Yet the contradiction here runs deeper still. 

The concluding part of Ashton’s announcement is by far the most problematic. Ashton states, “The EU welcomes the prospect of genuine democratic elections for all Palestinians. The fact that President Abbas will remain fully in charge of the negotiation process and have a mandate to negotiate in the name of all Palestinians provides further assurance that the peace negotiations can and must proceed.” This is astonishing. Not only is there no real prospect of free and fair elections for the Palestinians, either under Hamas in Gaza or Fatah in the West Bank, but the very fact that “President Abbas will remain fully in charge” is an affront to the very principle of democratic elections that Ashton has just invoked. Indeed, to speak of Abbas as having a mandate is farcical. If there really were the “genuine democratic elections” that Ashton claims she wants, it is impossible to imagine that Abbas would still be where he is today.

In one sense the attitudes displayed here are quite in keeping with the EU’s own conduct: to praise democracy in principle while performing precious little of it practice. But while the EU’s habit of only paying lip service to democracy no doubt makes it easier for Brussels to adopt this policy, it doesn’t explain why it would wish to do so in the first place. After all, if even the Obama administration, with all its investments and delusions, can take a reluctant step back from the negotiations at this point, why can’t the EU?

For Ashton and the EU to concede that in joining with Hamas Abbas has really gone too far this time, they would have to make their support for the Palestinians contingent upon what the Palestinians actually do. But the truth is that Palestinian conduct has nothing to do with European support for the Palestinians and their cause. European support for the Palestinians is simply innate. According to the EU’s own worldview, the Palestinians are third-world victims–of Western colonialism, of U.S. financial and military might, and yes, of the Jews and their Zionism.

And because the people who run the EU don’t much care for any of those just listed, in the Palestinians they find a pet cause like no other. And so the EU has poured millions of Euros into the Palestinian Authority when it knows full well that this money is used by Abbas to shore up his regime, to crackdown on political opposition, and to incite hatred against Jews and Israel among the Palestinian citizenry.

Of course, Ashton could never come out and say just what she and the European elites really think and feel about the Palestinian cause. EU high-minded moral superiority is predicated upon democratic and non-violent values. And so Ashton must talk as if she’s praising the Palestinians for embodying all the things the EU claims to love, while being well aware that they are the archetypes of everything enlightened Europe is supposed to oppose. 

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The Rise and Fall of Tzipi Livni

Early this morning the Times of Israel noted in passing, in a story without so much as a byline and whose main source was a public Facebook posting, one of the underappreciated but potentially most interesting aspects of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. “Chief Israeli negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni struck a solemn tone on Facebook Wednesday night,” the paper reported, “calling the reconciliation agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah ‘a bad step.’”

It’s not that the Israeli public seems at all interested in Livni’s comments on Mahmoud Abbas’s latest efforts to scuttle the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It’s that the public probably doesn’t care, raising questions about the plummeting political career of a once-promising Israeli politician whose party won the most seats in Knesset elections only five years ago. That election nearly made Livni prime minister, an accomplishment that would have given the party she led at the time three consecutive premierships and established her as the rightful heir of Kadima’s creator and first prime minister, Ariel Sharon. (Sharon’s immediate successor, Ehud Olmert, resigned in disgrace.)

Instead of carrying forth this serial political victor, Livni was unable to form a governing coalition, went into opposition, saw her party’s support drop precipitously, and lost a leadership fight to Shaul Mofaz in 2012. She left Kadima to form her own party that won just six seats in the 2013 Knesset elections. She was put in charge of peace negotiations with the Palestinians as her consolation prize from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party she bested in 2009 but which formed the governing coalition instead of her. Her career trajectory has been heading in one direction, so: does she have a future?

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Early this morning the Times of Israel noted in passing, in a story without so much as a byline and whose main source was a public Facebook posting, one of the underappreciated but potentially most interesting aspects of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. “Chief Israeli negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni struck a solemn tone on Facebook Wednesday night,” the paper reported, “calling the reconciliation agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah ‘a bad step.’”

It’s not that the Israeli public seems at all interested in Livni’s comments on Mahmoud Abbas’s latest efforts to scuttle the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It’s that the public probably doesn’t care, raising questions about the plummeting political career of a once-promising Israeli politician whose party won the most seats in Knesset elections only five years ago. That election nearly made Livni prime minister, an accomplishment that would have given the party she led at the time three consecutive premierships and established her as the rightful heir of Kadima’s creator and first prime minister, Ariel Sharon. (Sharon’s immediate successor, Ehud Olmert, resigned in disgrace.)

Instead of carrying forth this serial political victor, Livni was unable to form a governing coalition, went into opposition, saw her party’s support drop precipitously, and lost a leadership fight to Shaul Mofaz in 2012. She left Kadima to form her own party that won just six seats in the 2013 Knesset elections. She was put in charge of peace negotiations with the Palestinians as her consolation prize from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party she bested in 2009 but which formed the governing coalition instead of her. Her career trajectory has been heading in one direction, so: does she have a future?

In Livni’s admittedly limited defense, her fall from grace was not as steep as it seems. The phrase “so close but yet so far” is perfectly applicable to her 2009 electoral victory. Yes, her party won the most seats. But winning the election paradoxically removed none of the obstacles to her premiership. This is one of the quirks of Israeli electoral politics.

It was widely assumed that Livni’s victory by a few seats was due in part to the fact that Israel’s center-right voters–a clear majority–believed Netanyahu was a shoo-in, and thus enough of them shifted their votes to other right-of-center parties to ensure an agreeable governing coalition. The primary beneficiary of this was Avigdor Lieberman, who now had fifteen seats in the Knesset in large part because of the public’s desire to see Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Lieberman was a kingmaker, but his choice of Likud, despite its silver medal, was eminently logical and consistent with the will of the voters. It sounds strange, but Livni may have won the election because of the public’s desire to prevent her from becoming prime minister. When she was unable to form a governing coalition, it seemed almost predetermined.

And this helps us understand Livni’s career a bit better. Why does she lose even when she wins? It’s not because she isn’t well liked; she did, after all, win all those votes and her personality practically shines in comparison to some of Israel’s more, shall we say, prickly politicians. (We like to say that American politics ain’t beanbag, but the Israeli Knesset is an even more rambunctious place than Congress these days.) What’s really been holding Livni back is the durable political consensus that has persisted in Israel.

The country is center-right, willing to make peace but skeptical of Palestinian intentions and clear-eyed about the need to prioritize national security and antiterrorism. It’s also appreciative of the economic benefits from Israel’s two major deregulatory bursts (the latter by Netanyahu personally, both overseen by Likud) and reluctant to allow its populist instincts to give the state back too much power. The politicians who leave this consensus tend to find themselves on the outside of power looking in. The cast of characters may change–witness the rising stars who came out of nowhere in the last election–but the script hasn’t.

Does this leave room for Livni? Yes, it does. But she’s pigeonholed by her attempts to differentiate herself from Netanyahu and his governing coalition. Her only real role is the one she’s got now: “chief negotiator.” That means the impending collapse of peace talks leaves her without much to do. It also doesn’t help that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations continually and predictably fail, meaning anyone in charge racks up the losses without any wins. It’s not a great record to have in politics, but Livni can take heart: given the enthusiasm of the West for this peace process, she’s guaranteed at least to have to the chance to fail again–and probably soon.

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Why Hamas and Fatah Carry on the Charade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haaretz continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinians Need More Than Borders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace and the Palestinian We Do Not Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamas Asks You to Buy a Dam in the Negev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Incitement and the Peace Process

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

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

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

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

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

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The Significance of Hamas’s New Textbooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Even Weakened Hamas Retains Peace Veto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why the Peace Talks Are Private

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What the West Should Learn from the Fayyad-Cohen Spat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Misplaced Faith in Abbas

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

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

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

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

birnbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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