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What Next on Palestine: Time to Get Real

 
Hamas is now in control of Gaza after a cruel, if somewhat surprisingly easy, military victory over Fatah. The images coming out of the Palestinian territories have been harsh to say the least and neither side looks good to put it mildly. The spillover to the West Bank, thus far, has been limited to sporadic Fatah-revenge attacks against identifiable Hamas targets. President Abbas has declared a state of emergency and the disbanding of the unity government. These actions appear to be within the remit of his power, but only for a limited time period, after which Parliamentary approval would be required (and tricky given that the PLC is majority Hamas and that so many members are now in Israeli prisons). Abbas could call elections, that would be even more high-risk. Those who always viewed the political Islam of Hamas and responsible government as incompatible think they have been vindicated. They are wrong.

The situation is bleak, if predictable. The unity government arrangement was always a fragile one. The core group within both Fatah and Hamas who supported a national political accommodation between the factions were fighting a rearguard action against rejectionists from within their respective ranks from day one. The hopes for a functioning unity government were dealt a mortal blow when outside actors led by America and Israel, with the support also of certain Arab states and the complicity of Europe, all worked to undermine the government and strengthened those elements within Fatah striving to violently collapse the government.

Naturally, everyone is now looking for a way out and for a ray of hope in this desperate situation. That is a healthy human instinct, but the emerging plan articulated over the last days from many quarters and in danger of becoming entrenched, is a fantastical one – divorced from reality and far too similar to the previous failed policies that helped create this disaster. The emerging plan is known variously as promoting Fatahland, while punishing Hamastan, or West Bank first, or feed the West Bank/starve Gaza. There is no detailed elaboration of the plan yet, but its outline would look something like this:

Use the new reality as an opportunity to drive home the division between the West Bank-Fatahland and the Gaza-Hamastan.Visibly demonstrate to the Palestinians that Fatahland is a happy place with an advancing peace process, while Hamastan is a dark and hopeless place excluded from this march of peace. Ultimately, so the story goes, the Palestinians embrace the Fatah alternative. Hamas peacefully accepts the consequences or is militarily defeated and we all live happily ever after.

This vision may feature in next week’s Washington talks between President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert. The most sophisticated version of this approach, far more sophisticated than what today’s politicians are likely to come up with, appears in a Washington Post oped by Martin Indyk.

And in truth, it does sound attractive and it is understandable that many people including people of good will and members of the peace camp would begin to mobilize around this plan. It kills two birds with one stone – we are not only provided with a supposedly workable policy for supporting the goodies against the badies, but also given a pathway back to the peace process, as part of the plan would be for Olmert to negotiate with Abbas and perhaps, agree to further withdrawals and/or confidence building measures in the West Bank. A complex and difficult to understand situation suddenly is presented with great clarity and deemed amenable to attractive solutions.

As is clear from the above, I think this approach is wrong-headed and more of the same failed policies, rather than a departure from them. I want to explain why that is and what the alternatives might be.

Learning from how we got here

To understand the shortcomings of both the existing and proposed “new” policies, a little background is needed. I will try to keep this brief. There is sometimes a tendency to be dismissive of developments on the Palestinian side and choices that they make and to assume that one can reconfigure Palestinian reality by external edict with relative ease. I have attributed, I think justifiably, significant blame for the current predicament to external actors, but there are internal Palestinian dynamics at work whose significance should not be underestimated. Palestinian society has undergone a process of Islamasization or a deepening of religious trends in the last years that is part of a more general phenomenon in the Muslim world. Part of the Hamas ascendancy should be seen against that background.

The death of Arafat set in motion a period of Palestinian transition that was aching to happen (for an excellent explanation, see Rob Malley and Hussein Agha in the recent New York Review of Books). The era of single party Palestinian rule is in the past. It cannot be reimposed, nor should that be tried, some variation of Hamas is now a fixed feature of the Palestinian political landscape.

Another important lesson of the last years is that absence of an active peace process and an engaged US administration, does not apparently make Israeli and Palestinian hearts grow fonder. Rather, with no peace process to pin one’s hopes on, other, more destructive options, fill the vacuum and capture the public imagination. Any exercise in learning the lessons of what went wrong should include the need for a consistent drive towards peace as a linchpin for any constructive realistic policy alternative. And finally, the jury is in on unilateralism. It is, predictably, a woefully short-sighted approach.

It is 2007, not 2005

The emerging plan that I am critiquing here might have made sense in 2005 after the death of Arafat and Abbas becoming President in the run-up to Parliamentary elections. I, too (rightly or wrongly), advocated a variation of this approach in 2005. If the proponents of the Fatahland versus Hamastan plan have developed a time machine that can take us back to 2005, then they should come clean and reveal it. If not, they should not pretend that the last 24 months can be wished away. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Hamas democratically won an election deemed to be free and fair by outside observers. From that moment on, the policy pursued by Israel, America, most of Europe, and the Arab world has not been helpful. It has failed to deliver on its express purpose, namely strengthening Fatah against Hamas, and at the same time has weakened the realist camp within Hamas that was beginning to grapple with the practicalities and implications of entering the democratic process, it also set back, rather than advanced prospects for peace and security. Any policy predicated on this same premise will meet the same fate. A paradigm shift is called for.

Rather than encouraging whatever Hamas capacity for flexibility might have existed, the policy disempowered those very tendencies within the movement. The decision to boycott and not engage the Hamas government meant that the theory, whereby assuming a governing role can moderate militants-in-transition, was not put to the test in the Palestinian context. When the unity government was formed at Mecca between Fatah and Hamas, another opportunity was missed. That arrangement was fragile from day one, opposed, as it was by significant forces from within Fatah and Hamas. One option would have been to work to empower the core groups in both Fatah and Hamas and other factions who did want to give the Mecca deal a chance. This was not the option pursued by external actors. Israel and America sided with a faction within Fatah, whose goal was the collapse of the unity deal. With certain Arab support, financial, material, and even military assistance was provided to that faction within Fatah. It is true also that the Hamas military wing continued to receive similar external assistance from its supporters.

Europe strongly hinted to the Palestinians that if a unity government were to emerge, then the EU would end its diplomatic and financial embargo. The opposite happened and Europe, too, shoulders some responsibility for what has gone on. Inevitably, the assistance and weapons intended for Fatah are now in Hamas hands.

Less than three weeks ago, at a Congressional hearing, the American security envoy, General Dayton suggested that the security assistance package to the security forces of President Abbas should be supported and even contended that the national security forces were looking good against Hamas. They were routed this week. I think General Dayton is trying to make the best of an impossible mandate. Talking to only one side and getting the picture of the realities on the ground only through one lense, normally leads to bad policy.

Round one of defeating Hamas militarily has failed. Round two should not be tried. Its results will likely be terror emanating from the West Bank or the emergence of an al-Qaedist alternative to Hamas. This is an important part of looking at things as a simplistic Fatah-Hamas dichotomy. There is a third way. It is about al-Qaeda wannabes and copy-cats and they are likely to be the big winners if wise-heads fail to prevail.

Fuzzy headed thinking

Embracing the Fatahland versus Hamastan project would represent a willful denial of these past mistakes. The approach is a combination of fuzzy headed thinking and wishful thinking that is likely to undermine the prospects for both security and peace. In truth the plan is unlikely to get off the ground, but it may become the guiding policy orientation and block out other options. If it does begin to fly, here are some additional reasons why the plan is unlikely to work.

First, if Hamas sees such an effort being carried out, then it will be incentivized to create a security crisis emanating from the West Bank. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or renegade Fatah guns-for-hire will try to precipitate a violent clash from the West Bank. If, as is likely, they succeed, then Israel will quickly lose its appetite for any positive gestures it is making to Fatahland in the West Bank (easing of closures, redployment of IDF, etc).

Second, no Palestinian leadership that takes its domestic credibility seriously can pursue a position of cutting off the West Bank from Gaza, let alone starving Gaza over a period of time. It may sound attractive and, instinctively, in the heat of the moment, some Palestinians might even welcome it, but it is unsustainable. No Palestinian President or government can accept the situation whereby they cannot enter Gaza. Imagine a Palestinian government that accepts the PA tax monies that Israel is withholding, but spends them exclusively in the West Bank, while Gaza is suffering. Is that really the way to make Fatah popular again?!

Third, the Arab world and the Palestinian diaspora will not put up with such a situation over time. Supporting such a policy will only further weaken the already embattled Arab regimes in the eyes of their own publics and is likely to lead to unrest in the already volatile Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Such sentiments could even spill over with destabilizing consequences to the Palestinian community in Jordan. This really is head buried deep in the sand stuff. Finally, this is no basis on which to build a stable or sustainable peace process. Violence is likely to torpedo the process. An Abbas at war with Hamas is less of a partner than an Abbas who can deliver Hamas. That is the basic equation that needs to be recognized.

And one more fuzzy headed idea – deploying an international force in Gaza right now. A force deployment under the current circumstances and by powers, who neither recognize, nor engage with Hamas is ludicrous. Show me a military willing to deploy under such conditions and I suggest it is an army desperately in need of either cash or political guidance.

Getting Real: Sketching out an Alternative

Creating a working political accommodation between Fatah and Hamas has obviously just become much more difficult. Yet if allowed to fester, it could lead to an ongoing crisis and breakdown that will become ever more difficult to reverse. Harsh division within a given polity, wherever it is allowed to fester and especially when both sides are heavily armed rarely produces good results (see Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia).

In one respect, at least, the current escalation and breakdown perhaps presents one advantage – that the artificial unity of post Mecca has been exposed and that any future deal will clearly require deeper power-sharing and greater buy-in. There are still significant elements within Fatah and Hamas that understand the need for reconciliation sooner, rather than later. There are likely to be Arab-led or other efforts to bring Hamas and Fatah back to the table. Again, success will neither be easy, nor quick, but building an arrangement for deeper power sharing is the best option, certainly from a security and peace perspective. This will require a different delineation of security responsibilities and incorporation of militias and an agreed upon stabilization plan that would win international support. The international policy of divide and rule will have to find its resting place, along with the more aggressive version of selective engagement. Europeans, Arabs, and others should begin to explore the parameters for a deeper power-sharing arrangement with the two parties. Efforts should be made to cease the arming up of either side, importantly this should include the flow of weapons from Egypt into Gaza. If the Bush administration cannot sign on to this change in policy direction, it should at least do no harm, sit this round out, and let others take the lead.

In the meantime, Israel and Hamas will have to sober up and find ways to conduct their interaction over urgent humanitarian issues, such as food, power, water, and medical supplies. The two main criteria for calibrating progress with Hamas should be security and respect for the rule of law and democratic process (this should apply to Fatah also). Interestingly, a Hamas-led Gaza may be better able to impose security discipline – no Qassams have been fired in the last days. Israel should be seriously exploring, via intermediaries, the possibility of a comprehensive ceasefire. Hamas should see to the immediate freeing of the BBC’s Alan Johnston and negotiate a deal for the release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit. Rather than hurtling towards new elections, the Fatah-Hamas Humpty Dumpty needs to be put together again.

A renewed negotiating process will require Israeli and Palestinian partners.  The Israeli side of that equation is problematic, but not our immediate subject. The Palestinian side must have credibility -- in Palestine, not Washington -- and recreate a Palestinian national agenda.  There are people in Fatah and Hamas still trying to do that, the Prisoner's Document is an example.  Their success should matter to Israelis and Americans seeking to advance their own respective national interests and security, and working to re-stabilize the Middle East.  The alternatives are appealing, but illusory and their pursuit is plain dangerous.

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» http://www.sauer-thompson.com/archives/opinion/2007/06/post_87.php from Public Opinion
Daniel Levy, writing in Prospects for Peace, highlights the emerging plan that is being articulated over the last days from many quarters after the Hamas victory in Gaza. He says that it is in danger of becoming entrenched, even though it is a fantasti... [Read More]

» Post Hamas victory in Gaza from Public Opinion
Daniel Levy, writing in Prospects for Peace, highlights the emerging plan that is being articulated over the last days from many quarters to deal with the Hamas victory in Gaza. He says that it is in danger of becoming entrenched, even though it is a f... [Read More]

Comments (23)

Dokhi:

Daniel, this is an excellent analysis. If you look at the policy of the Bush Administration toward Iran, it is similar, but less effective in the goal of creating chaos and instability in that country (which is the goal of the policies architects). There is an unsuccessful attempt to lure Iranians with cash to promote "regime change" and oppose the regime. It is the most obscene and unsophisticated policy given the very complex challenge that Iran poses. In fact, most of the money has been unspent because the State Department cannot find groups willing to take it. The only thing that this misguided policy has achieved is to strengthen Iranian hardliners, and provide them with a justification for a massive crackdown againt legitimate civil society groups inside the country, not to mention arrests of innocent Iranian Americans. While the world over has now realized that this is a failed policy, the US government continues to insist that it will continue the providing "democracy assistance", and this year they have increased the amount of "democracy promotion" money above the protests of Iranian civil society who have stated that, 1) they don't want and will not take the money, and 2) their work is being harmed. Is there any other definition of "divide and rule" than this? Since neither Iranians nor Iranian Americans support this policy because they see it as such, then the question is, who is supporting this illegitimate policy and why are they successfully unchallenged?

Daniel:

I agree with Bobby.

Even Palestinians recognize that Hamas is not a good idea.

quote from Haaretz:

Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan on Tuesday branded Hamas' seizure of the Gaza Strip last week an "occupation," as his party decided to severe all ties with the Islamic group, a member of the group's central committee said.

"The Fatah Central Committee decided today not to conduct any kind of contact, dialogue or meetings with Hamas unless it ends its military coup in Gaza and restores the situation to normal," Fatah Central Committee member, Azzam al-Ahmed, said. "Fatah will have no relationship with Hamas on any level."

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/872656.html


I hope they're starting to see that Hamas might be more trouble than they're worth. Perhaps they will finally understand that trying to destroy Israel is not going to serve their interests.

b:

Daniel, you write:

"Their success should matter to Israelis and Americans seeking to advance their own respective national interests and security, and working to re-stabilize the Middle East."

I am not under the impression that Israel and the US see stabilization in the ME as their national interest.

Indeed, the opposite seems to be the case.

Bobby:

Regarding talks with Hamas:

I'm confused as to how anyone could possibly expect to negotiate with a group that has cited Israel's destruction as it's number one goal for years. It's in their charter, for God's sake.

There seems to be no question that any actions they take, including temporary talks with Israel or the U.S., would ultimately be aimed at getting money and/or weapons that they will then use to reneg on their treaty and destroy Israel. How can you talk with someone who has told you, many times and for many years, that they want to kill you?

I also find it hard to understand how people can ignore the tremendous and cold-hearted acts of violence that have been taking place the past few days. they are taking Fatah people outside in their underwear and shooting them in front of their families. Their own brothers. How can anyone trust them? How can anyone know that they are not just making peace so they can invite us over for dinner and poison us?

They cannot be trusted.

Ed Abington:

I agree with much of what Daniel Levy has written in the analysis above. The situation is certainly fluid and confused, following Fatah’s expulsion from Gaza, but Bush Administration and Israeli policy seem to be coalescing around isolating Hamas-controlled Gaza while rewarding the Fatah-controlled West Bank. The policy of trying to drive Hamas out of office, followed by the Quartet and Israel since March 2006, was a failure and there is no reason to think that the emerging new policy will be any more successful.

I think Abu Mazin is playing, as usual, a very weak hand. His threat to call new elections is not credible because Hamas opposes new elections. His decree outlawing militias can’t be enforced in Gaza. And it is not clear that the emergency government, headed by Salam Fayyad, will have any legal standing thirty days from now when its continuation is contingent upon a parliamentary vote allowing it to govern for another 30 days.

I am also deeply skeptical that either the Bush administration or the Olmert government will do anything credible or meaningful to bolster Abu Mazin, Salam Fayyad and other Palestinian moderates. Certainly, neither Jerusalem nor Washington did much to help Abbas since he was elected President over two years ago. Israel may release some or all of the tax revenues, the U.S. may rescind banking restrictions that have crippled the PA and hurt the Palestinian economy, but measures such as this will not be sufficient to bolster Palestinian moderates for very long, especially when the IDF continues to suffocate the West Bank through closures, roadblocks and continued raids, and while settlement expansion and building the separation barrier both continue.

Arafat lost the support of the Palestinian people for the peace process in part because of the settlement issue, and Fatah did poorly in the 2006 elections in part because it could not demonstrate that its policies were leading to an end of Israeli occupation. Indeed that occupation has only deepened in recent years. The recent Israeli reaction to the rather modest “benchmarks” proposed a month ago by Secretary Rice to both sides leaves little cause for optimism that Israel will sufficiently moderate its policies on the West Bank.

I honestly don’t know whether there is a “realistic” camp in Hamas that can be enticed into becoming a responsible negotiating partner. But several points are clear: Hamas is a disciplined organization with significant popular support. It is not going away, nor can it be destroyed by punitive US or Israeli policies. It is also hard to see how you can have a realistic negotiation with the Palestinians if one important part of the their body politic is excluded from the process. I believe the proposition needs to be tested as to whether there is a “realistic” camp in Hamas. The Reagan Administration carried out indirect negotiations in the 1980‘s with Arafat and the PLO using private intermediaries with the assistance of European governments in order to order to get PLO recognition of Israel. It should not be out of the realm of possibility to construct a similar process to test the proposition of whether there are relative moderates within Hamas that could be brought into a negotiating process.

Until the U.S. and Israel formulate credible policies that convince Palestinians that occupation will end, all other steps will be seen as superficial and only prolonging the forty years of occupation. One final thought: the more the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza are made to suffer, the more the U.S. and Israel will be blamed for that suffering. That certainly is the lesson of the last sixteen months of boycotting the Palestinian Authority.

Daygator:

This is a brave and insightful piece, and I'm grateful for it. I have two questions:

How, in your your mind, do the Quartet's conditions for dealing with Hamas play? (ie, recognizing past agreements, etc.) Do they need to be altered? Removed?

Also, you say:
"Round one of defeating Hamas militarily has failed. Round two should not be tried." You're probably right about Round 2. A "surge" in the West Bank will not be a "purge". But I'm not sure Round 1 failed, because I'm not sure everyone was ever fully behind Round 1. Perhaps Round 1 was fought sloppily and half-heartedly, or maybe never really fought at all. Maybe now the world will finally aknowledge the partner in Abbas, and we can have a "re-do" of Round 1, in which we actually TRY.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous:

Your analysis is wrong and desperately naivee. Hamas's end game has been and will remain the destruction of Israel. They may be willing to deviate from their aim but only after they have suffered a series of heavy reverses not when they believe that they are in the ascendancy. If as you suggest the West abandons the remaining moderates for these extreamists then the very last hope for peace in our lifetime will be gone and all of the moderate Arab countries will face internal challenges for fundamentalist movemnets enimical to the West. Your call for dialouge and deal making with Hamas is exactly the wrong thing to do.

kassirer nathalie:

i think that as an israeli citizen i would find it very difficult at these times of complete chaos in gaza to negotiate now with any representative of the palestinian govrnement as it is clear to me that they need to get their act together before anyone will think in Israel these negotations will have any credibility opposite the israeli people. im sure that if there were polls tommorow in israel regarding if now is the right time to negotiate with abu mazen the polls will show a very small amount of israelis believing that these negotiations will work!

Nell:

This is an outstanding analysis, particularly in being refreshingly frank and direct.

RB Renfro:

Want peace?

First you must eliminate the Lukid's within Israel and the US who are calling the shots.

The Palestines and their fractions are the most minor part of the problem.

I have watched this conflict for years and experts can policy wonk and verbally masterbate it to death.
The plain and simple truth is Israel does not want a peace settlement unless it includes settling the choice parts of Palestine.

And all but a few like Rosenberg won't admit that little bit of truth.

So the "Game" continues.

I fully expect we will all be discussing the Isr-Pal problem right up to the day the entire region goes up in a mushroom cloud.

David Sheegog:

It would be nice to have someone with Daniel Levy's good sense sitting in the seats of power in the Israel and US governments. When he suggessts that maybe the Bush administration "should sit this round out" if it cannot sign on to a change in policy direction that recognizes Hamas and encourages a "deeper power sharing arrangement with the two parties", he seems to me to be asking the leopard to change it spots. Unless absolutely blocked by uncontollable circustances the guiding philosophy of the Bush foreign policy has been that military might is the first and only choice for resolving international, and often, intra-national disputes. The fact that this militarism has not worked anywhere has not forced its abandonment. The current government of Israel has seemed to advocate the same approach as the Bushies with not dissimilar results.
Whether both governments are simply under the control of their respective military-industrial corporations, as some have argued, or are true believers in the ability of military power to fix whats wrong with the world - the outcome is the same: war. Unfortunately for the people of the Middle East there will be no breakthroughs for peace until there is regime change in both Washington and Tel Aviv. Keeping the Middle East safe for war has been a near full-time project for the ruling political parties of both the US and Israel. So even a change in leadership may not bring peace. Peace is more likely to happen when Israel and the US both have to sue for peace when events beyond their control have overtaken their ability to offer a militarily backed peace deal that suits their interests but not the Palestinians. This should be one place where a Korean model would work. Maybe we could get Christopher Hill to take on the Middle East mess when he finishes with North Korea.
David Sheegog
Paoli, OK USA

Robert Kraftowitz:

Daniel, our local paper says that the developments in Gaza have dealt a major setback to negotiating a two-state solution. In a future posting, could you comment on this? For those who want to get the U.S. to press for final status negotiations, how should we view the developments in Gaza?

Robert Kraftowitz:

Daniel, our local paper says that the developments in Gaza have dealt a major setback to negotiating a two-state solution. In a future posting, could you comment on this? For those who want to get the U.S. to press for final status negotiations, how should we view the developments in Gaza?

Jonathan:

I read with interest and then was let down because your ideas for getting real aren't very real.

First, the Mecca government has likely proven to be a charade maintained by Hamas and a weakening Fatah under which Hamas advanced its plans. They didn't spring their Gaza actions without planning.

Second, there is no indication that Hamas is stopping at Gaza. The opposite is becoming clear: they see the Gaza takeover as a way of demonstrating that Fatah is weak and they will use all tracks available to extend their dominance within Palestine. And they have given notice they will be ruthless.

I could go on but these points alone will invalidate any plans for engagement. Your bias is toward taking great risk in hopes of a miracle for peace. Countries don't, can't and shouldn't take risks like that because their first obligation in to protect their citizens. You can argue this position all you want, but only because you have no power and no people to defend.

That's fine and your idealism is fine, but you don't seem to understand that this is what you are doing. You speak as though your ideas were actually possible as statecraft. If you were actually sitting in power in Israel and men, women and children were depending on you for their safety, for their very lives, your first thoughts would be for what? Taking huge gambles with people who have been executing their own people?

yasmin:

you view starving Gaza as the most "sophisticated version"?

do you possess any humanity or compassion at all?

Joe M.:

Unfortunately Mr. Levy, it seems that this divide and rule policy is already being carried out. As I am sure you know, the USA seems to have announced that it will end all funding restrictions to the emergency government(EG). I have no doubt that the EG will try to fund projects in Gaza, and that Hamas will cooperate with them (what choice do both sides have?) But, of course, this action (The direct and explicit support of one side, denying the other's political authority) is only going to further inflame tensions.

the critical factor in the near future, if you ask me, is what Abbas does after the 30 days of emergency government ends. He could try to reestablish a unity government and give the total security portfolio to an independent, or he could follow Israeli and American dictates and continue to rule by decree. The former could promote peace, the latter would only promote more war. If they eventually hold elections, i highly doubt that Hamas will participate, so the process of new elections is, in my opinion, simply an extension of rule by decree.

The problem here is that most of the Fatah leaders are not really political leaders, but corrupt officials who know that their power and wealth is at stake. I find it hard to believe that they will compromise with Hamas, because doing so will mean that they will be cut off from the wealth and power that the USA and Israel provide them. My hope is that Abu Mazin is independent enough to make decisions in the best interests of the people, rather then just his people.

Impressive analysis as always, Daniel. The coming weeks and months promise to be, if nothing else, interesting.

Daniel, Thank you for this excellent analysis.

As you explain, the victory of Hamas over the PLO in Gaza underscores the bankruptcy of US policy throughout the Middle East. Divide-and-rule is not working, only engagement with US adversaries can stem escalating radicalism in the region.

The conviction that Washington can re-arrange the realities of the Middle East through force was disproved in Iraq long ago, but Washington has closed its eyes to this plain truth. It has broadened the war into neighboring states and continues to seek a win by arming allies and pushing them to forward to battle.

As a result, US allies have reached the breaking point in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine. Radicalism is on the rise throughout the region. Al-Qaida rejoices as civil strife spreads and failed states multiply. The longer Washington persists in its policy of confrontation, the less leverage it will have at the bargaining table. Rather than strengthen America's position in the Middle East, Washington's violent policy is cutting the ground from underneath it.

What I see as the major positive insights of your analysis.

  • Thinking in terms of sustainability. Use the word sustainable as often as you possibly can until the establishment finally gets it into their thick f-ing heads. The situation seems to be too chaotic and too combustible for quick solutions or band-aid solutions, a policy that is always applied and always fails. Focus must be on root causes of the current Palestinian infighting. Focus on deep rooted interests (ending occupation, economic development, supporting and developing social and political institutions, safety and security) versus temporary or of-the-moment interests (retaliatory violence, towards Israel or inter-factional). The later will either work themselves out or will soon be forgotten for new developing issues or a return to the deeper issues. A divided Gaza and WB is NOT and never will be sustainable nor acceptable.
  • Once and for all, kill the policy of divide and rule. This applies mostly to outside forces, i.e. Israel, US, Europe, Russia, Egypt and other Arab states. There consistently appears to be an overt effort on the part of external forces to weaken the Palestinians at every opportunity that arrives, it was true in Mandate Palestine, it was true during the rise of the PLO, it is true of the rise of Hamas. How can Palestine rise and become the state that all parties say they support, while there is a continuous and conscious effort to destroy all attempts of Palestinians to build leaders and stable institutions. Puppet regimes are never sustainable, and a functional society can not be built without organic leadership. Without leadership from within, there can never be hope within the Palestinian consciousness, and they therefore will never be motivated to build a truly functional society, as the leader can’t lead without its followers.
  • The fact that Qassams haven’t been falling on Israel in the past few days needs to be explored further. I would suggest that giving the Palestinians something to do (unfortunately the thing they are doing is killing each other) will effectively stop the Qassams. This leads us back to finding positive activities and opportunities for all Palestinians, thus leading to a decrease in violence and rage, and would be a positive step in the direction of building a sustainable and peaceful society, and inherently improving the chances of building a workable and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Gazans are obviously at the lowest of low, and have been for generations, it is obviously an issue of focus and attention. What captures their attention now, as you point out, is Islam, hate for occupation and the occupier, and distrust, of Palestinian leadership and the relevant external forces. Again, there needs to be a return to hope, a return to self-esteem, a return to a sense of purpose and meaning in life. They are living in the simplest state of survival, and they will continue to do what ever they can to survive, and for the moment, the only way to survive is with the Gun.
  • Acknowledge and learn from the mistakes made in the past. The military solution has been tried and tried again, with 1000% effort. And it has failed every time. Yet, the policy more often desired by the people, both Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention the vast majority of all people around the world, a policy of peace, a policy of diplomacy, a policy of engagement, communication, dialogue, economic incentive, anything other than the barrel of a gun, has never been implemented with the same effort. For once, lead with the Carrot instead of the Stick! And if the Carrot isn’t taken at first, reach back inside the bag of tricks, and pull out another Carrot. And when the Carrot has failed as many times as the Stick, then maybe we can have a discussion about brandishing our big Stick again. But we cannot accept the Hawks position that the Carrot doesn’t work, that Peace doesn’t work, when the Carrot has never been pulled out of the ground!
In a final thought, unfortunately on a dark note, is that I can’t help but think that while all the attention of the world and the media is on the infighting between the Palestinians, I have this gut feeling that the darker forces in Israel are once again planning and plotting ways to take advantage of the situation. More settlers, more outposts, more walls, more land confiscations, more arrests and assassinations, more uprooting of trees, more of the same without the watchful and critical eyes of the public paying attention. It’s been done before, and I have no doubt that it is being done now.

B'shalom
Shabbat Shalom

Todd Goodman
Santa Monica, CA
Researcher
ProCon.org

gfw:

Why haven't Abbas and Fatah expelled or captured Hamas militants in the West Bank? Obviously they would need Israeli support for that (because of, among other reasons, Israeli checkpoints in the interior of the West Bank.)

Daniel:

I fully agree with you on how we got here, and the challenges that the current situation now poses. I also suspect that the lure of a Hamastan vs Fatahland policy will be too much for the principal actors to resist.

Can Hamas be engaged, and brought into a political process of negotiations? I would like to think that it could--and I have no doubt that there are those in Hamas who could live with a negotiated two state solution to the conflict. Despite the restrained language coming from Meshal now, however, I suspect that the internal balance within the movement has been tilted towards the hard-liners. The Prisoners' Document is, like the National Unity Government, another wasted opportunity that we've all passed by.

In addition, I think it is inevitable that Gaza will now be subject to even greater economic shocks, from more intensive border closures, and a suspension of some aid projects (and possibly even the Temporary International Mechanism). With a 100% Hamas-controlled Gaza, IDF retaliatory action will be even more forceful (although, recognizing that, Hamas may force an extended period of calm as it consolidates). As you suggest, this will only increase the incentive for Hamas (and PIJ) to destabilize the security situation in the West Bank.

I realize, of course, that you are arguing what *should* be, and I'm merely pointing out what is "likely*. The question, however, is how to get from the latter to the former. The first step, I think, is political engagement with Hamas (with no-contact policies having been the most foolish part of the post-election isolation campaign). The diplomatic challenge will be to not let this look like the fruits of a Hamas victory (even if, in some ways, it is).

Fateh also needs to clean house, and rebuild. I fear Abu Mazen is now too politically wounded to do this, and I don't see anyone on the horizon capable of doing it.

Depressing times indeed.

Aliza Becker:

Thank you Daniel for this thought-provoking piece. I am particularly moved by your analysis of the serious dangers of continuing the "divide and rule" and "aggressive selective engagement" strategy advocated by the US and others and the importance of international support for a new paradigm based on deeper power sharing between Fatah and Hamas as the best and perhaps only option for long-term peace and security.

ae:

How many killed Jews and westerners will it take to understand that Hammas is an active part of Iranian attack on our way of life and desire to install Islamic regime world-wide. We need to cut all aid to Gaza and let them feed themselves. As far as I know Gaza population excels in only one profession: murderer. May be when people become hungry and thirsty without power, drawn in their own feces they realize that other professions exist and if they want eat, they need to get rid of Hamas. If,however, they feel that Allah is more important than Western Aid let Allah help them and their hungry children.Otherwise Israeli's people will be dead soon. And it will be just a beginning...

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 15, 2007 6:05 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Statement on Developments in Gaza.

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