Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fatah

Palestinian “Moderates” Rely on Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Qatari Challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portrait of Palestinian Democracy–2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Israeli Elections and Political Reality

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

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

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

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

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

Neither does the Labor Party platform.

Even Meretz recently acknowledged that Oslo is dead.

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

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

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Obama Needs to Warn Abbas on Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Third Intifada Would Derail Obama Policy

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

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

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

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

As Abu Toameh writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Kirsten Powers Gets Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with some historical ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Good Alternative to Fatah in View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Palestinian State’s Rocket Offensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arab World Chooses Hamas over Fatah in Palestinian Rivalry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinians Joining the Arab Spring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Myths and Facts About Talking to Terrorists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinian Stimulus: Terrorists Get a Raise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is the Brotherhood Moderating Hamas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamas Loses Popular Support for Not Shooting Rockets at Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinians Make Themselves Irrelevant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Peace Process is Formally Buried

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Islamist Winter and Middle East Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Abbas Won’t Feel at Home in Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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