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Where are the Palestinians going?


The quartet is meeting to decide the future of its Middle East policy. One would think that it is about time. The Roadmap for Israeli-Palestinian peace expired in 2005, by which time there should have been a Palestinian state and peace. There is no state, and a constant rain of Qassam rockets (four at one time this morning) falls on southern Israel, and occasionally within Gaza.

Unfortunately, it appears that the only subject to be discussed at the meeting is the most urgent one of how to meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. The United States insists on continued boycott of the Hamas, while the French and Russians favor allowing the World Bank to distribute the funds:

Several proposals, including a French one to allow the World Bank to channel funds to pay salaries, are expected to be presented at the meeting in New York...

The Bush administration says it will listen to proposals over how to pay 160,000 unpaid government employees but is unlikely to stray from its strategy of isolating Hamas until the militant group renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to previous deals between Palestinians and Israelis.

The related and larger issue of how to return to a peace process rather than a war process will apparently not be discussed. The 160,000 workers to be paid will include the members of the 3,000 man militia that the Hamas has recruited and armed, with the declared aim of ensuring the unhindered continuation of terrorist activities while quelling intra-Palestinian strife.

In the Palestinian authority, the Hamas are in power and consistently repudiate the peace process. In Israel, the government of Ehud Olmert virtually ignores the peace process and the roadmap. In the Palestinian areas, there is chaos. Three people were killed and many wounded Monday in shootouts between the Hamas and Fatah Al-Aqsa brigades. Today an additional nine people were wounded. PCHR continues to document the less dramatic but constant undercurrent of violence that characterizes Palestinian life.

The quartet has so far refused to transfer funds to the Hamas, as long as they refuse to recognize Israel. The result is looming economic disaster in the Palestinian authority. In March the World Bank had estimated that by the end of 2006 Palestinian poverty would reach 67%, unemployment levels would rise to 40 percent, and personal incomes would drop by 30 percent. It seems they now think that estimate was too optimistic. The World Bank now estimates that the crisis is worse than they thought previously, though they are not saying how much. The Boston Globe outlines the worsening medical situation in the Palestinian authority, as hospitals run out of medicines and supplies. Four dialysis patients died in Gaza today as the result of lack of supplies. Russia has donated $10 million, distributed by President Mahmoud Abbas to Palestinian NGOs. That may stave off immediate disaster, but will not solve the Palestinian economic crisis. .

Nobody can doubt that the situation is serious. It is not at all clear what to do about it. The medical crisis could certainly be averted by channeling aid directly to hospitals or treating the patients in Israel or Jordan. Opening the money faucets without any change in the Hamas position may buy quiet for a time, but it is not a solution. Money is fungible, as James Baker once remarked. In the midst of the economic crisis, it is well to remember that both the Hamas and Fatah are founding new "security forces" (terrorist militias). When Hamas says they won't be able to pay salaries, do they include the salaries of their new "security force?" The Hamas is also supposedly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to arm its new security force, which will be headed by a wanted terrorist. More money will buy more guns and more people to carry the guns, not necessarily more medicines. Those who urge a "kinder" policy toward the Hamas point out that Hamas has kept the truce that it undertook in 2005, despite its stubborn refusal to recognize Israel. On the other hand, the suspicion is not absent that the hand of the Hamas is directly behind some terror attacks, and that the rain of Qassam rockets on Israel could be stopped by the Hamas if they were so minded. The Israeli General Security Service points to evidence that the Hamas was involved in the foiled attack on Karni crossing. Therefore, the insistence that the Hamas join the peace process is not just stubborn insistence on a formality. On the other hand, lack of money will drive the same people to work as hired guns for the Islamic Jihad and related groups. Other reports claim the Hamas is subcontracting Qassam rocket attacks to the Popular Resistance committees.

The international community agreed to support the Palestinian Authority on the premise that the Palestinian Authority is engaged in building a peaceful society. The Palestinians chose to elect the Hamas, who repeatedly declare that they have no interest in peace with Israel and will never recognize Israel.

As one writer points out in the Beirut Daily Star:

... Hamas does not want to transform itself from a resistance movement into a political party....

Hamas is entering a long dark tunnel with no way out. Now, with Fatah split and virtually dying, maybe it's time for the Palestinian people to think about building a new national movement.

The current situation is pregnant with two dismal possibilities: With or without subsidies that would be spent on the employment of more militia units, the Palestinians will slowly starve in misery and chaos, and the Israelis will be subjected to a reign of terror.

The convergence plan of Ehud Olmert is not a long term solution. In Hebrew, "convergence" is a play on words, since the Hebrew word is "Hitkansut", which can also mean "turning inward" both to end the preoccupation with occupation and settlement, and to end the terror by ignore it and isolating it. But the Qassam rockets prove that the terror will not be contained by any security fence. They will be succeeded by Katyousha and Grad rockets and other horrors. However, the larger tragedy is undoubtedly the one that is in store for the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza.

The problem is thus how to save the Palestinians from themselves. The quartet cannot do it alone. Israel cannot do it for the Palestinians. Only the Palestinians can save themselves, but they cannot do it alone either. All of them will probably require the cooperation of the Arab states as well.

The Palestinians need to create a political and social entity that is capable of supporting the government of a state. Fatah could not do so because they were corrupt. Hamas do not want to do so, because they do not want to give up their role as a "resistance" organization. Therefore a new political and social force must be created. Palestinians have two good models to emulate. The Labor Zionistsdeveloped precisely such a movement during the British mandate for Palestine, creating a labor union, a network of schools and hospitals and employment and agricultural services as well as the nucleus of an army that served as the basis for the Jewish state. The Hamas likewise built their power on their network of social services. Now is the time for the Palestinians to create a responsible, honest, moderate, secular movement that can provide an alternative to the Hamas. This movement needn't have a very specific political coloring, as it is not in power. It need only serve as an organization for supporting life in the Palestinian territories and an instrument for distribution of funds from international donors. This entity can be built, for example, using a network of existing NGOs as a nucleus. As order and hope are restored, hopefully Palestinian society will be governed by more moderate sentiments than those that moved the Palestinians to put the Hamas in power. Because this entity will have funding, and Hamas will not, they will eventually make the Hamas government irrelevant, whether or not the Hamas stay in power.

The international community and the Arab League have to do their part as well. Money is not enough. It is clear after more than a decade that the different Palestinian organizations are either incapable of, or unwilling, to maintain basic order inside Palestine, and that they cannot or will not stop terror because it is either physically impossible or political suicide. Return to Israeli occupation is out of the question. Therefore some outside force must assume responsibility for security until a more stable Palestinian society can be built. Given the total incompetence demonstrated by the Americans and British, who are now entangled in Iraq, they are not candidates to man such a force. The force must be an Arab force. Though this idea is surely abhorrent to Israel, Jordan Legion or Egyptian soldiers armed with carbines and riot dispersal weapons do not represent a strategic threat to Israel. If they can restore order in Palestine, Israel should be grateful.

The Israeli government has a part to play too. Israel will have to unfreeze the funds it owes the Palestinians to help support this new Palestinian entity. When security is guaranteed, the ports and border crossings of the Palestinian authorities must be opened to free transport of goods. At the same time, the Israeli government must not close off options for peace. It must provide a hopeful alternative to the eternal struggle offered by the Hamas and its allies.

All of the above are unfortunately admittedly politically impossible right now. There are no Palestinians trying to organize an entity that could be an alternative to the Hamas. There are no Arab states willing to risk their soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza and become entangled in the problems of Palestine. There is no political willingness in Israel to do anything other than find ways to paint the Arabs of Palestine out of the world political picture -- fence them off and make believe they are not there. While this solution is impossible right now, as the grim situation unfolds, it may look increasingly attractive. Palestinians will understand that there is no future with Hamas. Israeli will understand that they cannot make believe the Palestinian problem has vanished. The quartet will understand that they cannot solve problems just by pouring money on them. The Arab states will understand that Palestinian radicalization and chaos are threats to them as well. Poverty breeds radicalism, and radicalism can be exported.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 6 comments

In some of the wealthier suburbs of London, indulged teenagers sprawl across the pavement drunk on the parents money and immune to the consequences of their actions. Until one day it goes horribly wrong and out of them come the attacker and attacked, the rapist and the raped... and society claims to be shocked. Yet without the teenagers being faced with the horrific consequences of their actions they rarely change their behaviour.
So it is with the Palestinians, they have lived on the Mummy & Daddy of the international community funding them, interceding on their behalf, and lauding their feeble efforts towards maturity. Rarely have they been required to take responsibility for their actions, and live with the potential consequences. They can dance with glee at Israeli deaths, and then cry that Israel excludes them. They can declare existential war against Israel, and then hide behing international protection if Israel responds.
If the Palestinians are to develop any level of political maturity they can only do it on their own. No one can do it for them. If they want peace amongst themselves, they have to make it - we cannot impose it. If they want law and order, they have to create it.
Until the Palestinians develop this degree of communal maturity, Israel cannot engage with them effectively, and certainly cannot enter into any final peace agreement.
Yesterday on a whim they wanted peace because it appeared to give them what they wanted then. Today they don't want peace because it demands too much them, and it's not fair. Tomorrow they will come crying that they're hurt and want Mummy & Daddy to make it better with aid and NGO's. And perhaps the day after that they may realise that they could have got all they really wanted by behaving reasonably to start with.
We all have to grow up, and it's always a difficult process. It's just irritating to those around. If we continue to indulge the Palestinians they will never grow up.

Posted by R. Davies @ 05/08/2006 10:38 PM CST

Ami writes "Though this idea is surely abhorrent to Israel, Jordan Legion or Egyptian soldiers armed with carbines and riot dispersal weapons do not represent a strategic threat to Israel. If they can restore order in Palestine, Israel should be grateful."

But once this Pandora's Box is openned there is no telling what we may force and equipement we may find in our backyard.

"carbines and riot dispersal weapons"? Surely they need armored vehicles.

And if they are fired upon by forces holed up inside buildings the force surely needs rockets and other weapons with which they can respond.

And since the force needs mobility - surely they need helicopters etc.

And since they have to monitor activities and communications etc. they surely need to have command posts outfitted with proper monitoring equipement that also happens to be able to monitor Israeli communications etc.

And so, after a short period, Israel finds that some sovereign Arab nations have deployed what could - in time of regional conflict - be used as an advance force - complete with the infrastructure to support the invading forces that follow.

Then, of course, is the "human shield" problem.

Rockets have fallen on Ashkelon - and thanks to the next retreat also on Raanana.

The APSF (Arab Peace Supervision Force) goes out to investigate the incidents.

IDF drones pick up that more rockets are about to launch and an Israeli attack takes out the rockets, also killing some APSF forces at the site.

Alternatively: the IDF does nothing and relies on the APSF and the APSF force stands by to observe the launches.

Israel complains to the APSF and others and some members of the APSF comment to reporters - not for attribution - that they are "there to bring internal order to Palestine - not to defend the Zionists".

Posted by Dr. Aaron Lerner @ 05/09/2006 02:28 PM CST

Well yes, Dr Lerner, that's exactly what happened with the Sinai after all.

Please don't insult our intelligence or your own.

Agreed that Ami's idea is also a non-starter - apart from Israeli fears, the Arab militaries are hardly known for their professionalism and light touch in dealing with opposition.

Furthermore he fails to note that the US/UK are in Iraq as an occupying force after an unsolicited invasion. If they were a peacekeeping force invited as part of a negotiated settlement no doubt their level of "competence" would be a lot higher - as indeed it is in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Posted by Chris @ 05/10/2006 04:03 PM CST

I would like to point out that the comparison between Iraq and thr Balkans is flawed. It is forgotten that the Peace Keepers stood by while the Serbs massacred the inhabitants of Srebrenica, and that only after it became evident that the Serbs and others intended to carry out genocide that a sufficiently robust mandate was awarded.
In the post-conflict debate it was asserted by Paddy Ashdown that had the EU forces taken a robust and assertive stance towards the Serbian Army at the beginning that it is unlikely that any of the massacres would have occurred. Instead the EU attempted to placate the Serbian leadership from the moment that the Kosovan miners began to demand a degree of autonomy at the beginning of the 1990's. The EU made the mistake of assigning leadership on this issue to the Greek who had their own agenda which coincided with the Serbs, and that traditionally the Serbs and Greek nationalist have found considerable common ground in their policies towards Albanians and Macedonians.
I agree with you that any intervention force from the Arab states would be unlikely to be successful due to lack of experience, resources, training, effective command, and most of all political support at home and across the Muslim world to carry out the task.

Posted by R Davies @ 05/12/2006 01:14 PM CST

Since the Serbs were in the business of trying to expand their territorial boundaries under the pretext of protecting their own people from the "Muslim terrorists" of the KLA and others, I would have expected a more sympathetic attitude to them from Mr Davies.

For some reason Serbia failed to enlist American support, despite actually having Al-Qaeda fighting on the side of their opponents. They must be feeling a very potent mixture of bitterness and bafflement in retrospect.

Posted by Spike @ 05/12/2006 07:45 PM CST

Despite your aside which I find offensive, the fact is that the US was neither interested in nor prepared to become involved in the Balkans. It is evident from the subsequent Joint Chiefs of Staff publications outlining their reorganisation of the Combined Operations elements of the US Armed Forces that the US Govt had not developed a national policy and strategic perspective for post-Cold War Europe.
The Serbs for their part sought to assert hegemony over Yugoslavia which following WW2 had been effectively dominated by the Serbs, with diminishment of this after Tito's death. The KLA did not come into being until very late in the break down of Yugoslavia and the fall of the Communist government in neighbouring Albania. The Serbs until the Kosovo war maintained complete control over Kosovo, and claim its as an intergral part of historic Serbia. You may care to remeber that Rugova always sought a non-violent solution to the Albanians dispute with the Serbs, and remained supported by the Albanians until almost the end.
However in the breakdown of Yugoslavia, the Serbs sought revenge against the Muslims for the attrocities of the Hundjar SS and the Ottomans, or at least that was the pretext and the emotive element. The Serbian forces were augmented by a number of criminal militias and, as did the Croats, openly recruited mercenaries. However this enthusiasm for war was not universal amongst Serbs, and their army suffered from massive numbers of desertions. The Mujahaddin / Al-Qaeda were more in people's mionds than reality as far as I have heard. Once the Bosnians obtained arms they were able to push the Serbs back in many places. Then once the overall peace-keeping mandate changed, NATO forces pushed the Serbs back and destroyed their ability to fight.
The Serbs hoped for support from their historical ally Russia, not the USA.

Posted by R. Davies @ 05/15/2006 10:54 PM CST

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