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The decisive rout of Fatah in Gaza last week has led to a series of calls for new strategies designed to seize the opportunity created by the sudden turn of events.
The current thinking among the world's leading "peace processors" is that Hamas should be isolated in Gaza, but for Israel to work closely with the Fatah-led Abbas government in the West Bank to structure a new relationship, with Israel taking concrete steps to prop up Abbas -- easing roadblocks, releasing funds, and most significantly, pulling back from much of the area. Abbas' Arab allies, and the US or EU will also be asked to supply weaponry to Fatah, much as they supplied Fatah in Gaza with tens of thousands of rifles, and millions of rounds of ammunition, now all lost to Hamas forces.
At the same time, Israel's feckless Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is floating the prospect of returning the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for the Assad regime's disassociating itself from Iran, which has been presumably pushing it to do all those bad things it has been doing in Iraq and Lebanon.
There are so many things wrong with both approaches, it is hard to know where to begin. The Bush administration is set to renew funding to the Abbas regime, now that he has established a new government for the West Bank, free of any Hamas elements. How exactly this unilateral purge of Hamas Cabinet members squares with the results of the Palestinian elections in 2006 or the formation of the coalition government which followed, is unclear.
In any case, it suggests a willingness to ignore election results, or an admission that holding them with Hamas as a participant was a mistake. The Olmert government is also set to release back tax collections totaling as much as $600 million to the Abbas "government." There is a seeming desperation to make it look like something positive can come quickly from the disaster in Gaza, which followed Israel's disengagement from the area in the summer of 2005 embarrassingly quickly.
The magic solution is to give Abbas lots of money and pretend that
Hamas is out of the picture.
Money sent to the Palestinians has always been fungible. Money distributed by charities for food and medicines was spent on weapons and terrorism or in the case of UNWRA, on indoctrination in the schools. In Gaza, we may now have the highest ratio of guns to population of any place on earth, perhaps even edging out Newark, Philadelphia and Detroit.
While Gaza is surrounded by the Mediterranean and Israeli-built fences for the most part, the Southern section borders Egypt. For years, tunnels were dug beneath the Philadelphi Road from Sinai to Rafah in Gaza to bring weapons and other items into the area while the IDF was still in Gaza. With Israel no longer patrolling the Rafah Sinai crossing, it has been open season for weapons smuggling for the past two years. Dozens of tons of weapons have poured into Gaza.
The New York Times says the smuggling was due to poverty, which attracts smugglers anxious for a few bucks. But smuggling exists to fill a demand for the products being smuggled.
Egypt is well aware that terrorists almost destroyed the Sinai tourist
business with attacks in the past few years, and that human traffic
(terrorists) and weapons can move in both directions. And Egypt has
been in a position to move its forces to the border and cut off the
traffic to and from Gaza. But it has shown no interest in doing so to
this point. Now with Hamas completely in control of the strip, they
may get more active. But the damage has already been done.
With Gaza now the new terror Grand Central Station, all the radical groups housed there -- Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas - are players with agendas. And with Gaza now totally in their hands, the mischief making will be exported. While new Western money from the US, Israel and the EU pours into Abbas and Fatah, destabilization efforts are sure to be directed from Gaza towards the West Bank, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.
Some commentators have suggested that we (the US, Israel, the Europeans) should let Hamas now "stew in its own juices" in Gaza. But this is naive. Hamas, as pointed out by Caroline Glick, is quite purposeful, as are its sponsors, Iran and Syria. It will not self-destruct nor concede power, much as the individual lives of the Palestinians may continue to be miserable or even worsen.
The sudden war initiated by Hamas on Fatah in Gaza was not an accident set off by some tripwire. Hamas saw that Jordan and Egypt were starting a major re-supply of weapons to Fatah in Gaza funded in part by the US. An eventual struggle between the two sides was anticipated. So Hamas, a more determined and much better organized fighting force, though smaller in number than Fatah in Gaza, was able to preemptively strike and quickly destroy its rival in the strip.
Of course, the international community will not allow Palestinians in Gaza to starve, just because Hamas prefers to import weapons rather than food. Food and medicine will be supplied for humanitarian reasons (since Israel left the strip, the Palestinians have done such a good job destroying their economy that in Gaza about 80% of the population depends on food aid from abroad).
Were Israel to attempt to strangle Hamas and Gaza economically by
encirclement, as called for by Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu, or even to
take Gaza back by force, as some are suggesting will be new Defense
Minister Ehud Barak's strategy (I doubt it), the casualty count would
likely be far higher than it was for the 5 week Lebanon war last
summer, when 160 Israelis died, 115 of them from the IDF. The
population density in the Gaza strip -- over a million in a land area
half the size of Chicago -- would also guarantee a heavy casualty
count, especially with Hamas trained to use civilians as shields, much
as Hezbollah did in South Lebanon. The threat to Israeli forces and
the potential for significant collateral civilian damage are two
cautions for an already very cautious Israeli government, whose
primary motivation seems to be its survival rather than the nation's.
During a short stay in Israel last week, one question I had for those I met was how the current Israeli government, with approval ratings hovering below the 5% level and a track record in governance that would make the hapless Jimmy Carter's 4 years as President seem successful and accomplished by comparison, manages to stay in power.
The answer is with a broad coalition totaling 78 of 120 Knesset members, patched together with five parties contributing their members. There is a certain stability inherent in a first mover disadvantage in this particular coalition. No party wants to be the first to leave, since it would not bring down the government, but would instead result the end of the financial goodies that come to the party for being part of the governing coalition. For the current government to fall, parties with at least 19 seats in the Knesset among them would have to leave the government for a vote of no confidence to pass, assuming the members of the three Arab parties with ten Knesset members among them would support the no confidence vote. If the Arabs elected to support the government though not a part of it (fearing a right wing coalition would replace it), then parties with 29 seats combined would have to leave for the no confidence motion to pass and new elections be called.
That seems very unlikely. At this point, to each minor party in the Kadima-led coalition, the status quo for participation in the coalition, even with a ruddlerless leader in charge of the country, seems better then the uncertainty of new elections with a new governing coalition formed that may not need that party's votes to patch together a majority of Knesset seats.
Such is the weakness of Israel's parliamentary system, filled with many self-interested weak parties.
Trying to seize on the disaster of Gaza, Prime Minister Olmert is off to Washington to discuss how to prop up the Abbas government. But Fatah, the new "good guy", and object of sudden international affection, is hardly the white knight that will restore order to the Palestinians' chaotic ship of state. To say that Abbas has been weak and ineffectual in his three years as President since Arafat's death would be to shower him with undeserved praise.
Israel's perpetual critics are already blaming Abbas' failures and the capitulation in Gaza on Israel, since to criticize the Palestinians is, in their eyes, to blame the victim rather than its oppressor. But an honest accounting of the Palestinians' 60 year death spiral is long overdue. Fouad Ajami, in the New York Times of all places, provides such an account. A perpetual grievance mindset and an unwillingness to compromise do not build a state.
Fatah is hardly in control of the West Bank, as the new romanticizers
of Abbas and Fatah would posit. In the Palestinian election in 2006,
Hamas won many more seats in the West Bank than Fatah, despite a small
plurality of voters favoring Fatah, since it offered only one
candidate for each seat, while Fatah often had several competing for
each seat. With the Fatah votes split among several candidates, Hamas
won many seats it would not have won had Fatah united behind a single
candidate. In many areas of the West Bank, Hamas did better, winning
outright majorities of the vote. So Hamas is hardly a Gaza-only
There is much more risk of the West Bank eventually succumbing to Hamas, than of Gaza being restored to Fatah. Hamas' iron discipline imposed on a small tightly controlled territory, means it will survive politically regardless of its performance. Fatah is now nursing the humiliating wounds of its Gaza defeat, with little to show for its 15 years in power.
The story of the Palestinian elections has parallels to the story of the Gaza fighting. The many Fatah fighters were locally-based gunmen, not part of a unified fighting force. Hamas was able to focus and pick them off, town by town. There was no unified Fatah fighting command or strategy. And Fatah was hardly a collection of moderates, ready for peace with Israel. The Al Aksa martyrs brigade, the Tanzim, and Force 17 competed with Hamas and Islamic jihad during the second intifada in the lethality of their terror attacks.
So why exactly should the West or Israel expect Fatah to turn on a dime (a shekel?) and become a responsible, corruption-free party ready to seriously negotiate, make peace, and observe agreements with Israel? And why should Israel surrender territory to Fatah and accept the risk that Fatah might then fail in the West Bank as it did in Gaza? Hamas would then secure control of all the Palestinian territories.
A Hamas-led regime in the West Bank with borders near major Israeli population centers and Ben Gurion Airport would do far more damage to Israel with rocket fire than Hamas has so far achieved from Gaza with its rocket attacks.
Over the last few years, the various terror groups aligned against Israel have discovered that the use of rockets is a far better technique for terrorizing a population than infiltrating suicide bombers into a country. Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets at Israel during the five week war last summer. A fifth of Israel's population was confined to bunkers or fled from the north to escape the rocket attacks. Israel's fence around Gaza and nearly compete security barrier in the West Bank, have greatly reduced the threat of suicide bomber infiltration into Israel. But now Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Syria, all have Israel's population centers in their line of fire with large stocks of rockets and missiles, and in the case of Syria, biological and chemical weapons.
Rather than concentrating on appearances-propping up Mahmoud Abbas, Israel may need to consider stronger measures to protect against the new threat from Gaza, and from rocket attacks, whatever the source. For Gaza will be a base for operations and attacks against Israel from other places as well. With Abbas' government in some measure of control over Gaza, more than 2,000 rockets were fired at Israel in 22 months after the disengagement.
Should Israel retake the southern Gaza corridor to prevent the smuggling of weapons and terrorists into and out of Gaza? Should it retake an area in the north from where rockets have been fired at Sderot and Ashkelon?
The lessons of the withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005 is that Israel did not become more secure, nor more internationally popular and legitimized. Rather, power vacuums were created, soon filled by the most vicious implacable enemies of the state. Now President Bush and Ehud Olmert are saying that Abbas is President of all the Palestinians, and hence is the address for negotiations with Israel. In fact, Abbas is a head of only a part of the Palestinian populace, and even that rump entity is not swearing allegiance to him.
Oslo, Lebanon, and now Gaza are instructive lessons that Israel's security is not enhanced by turning over territory to terrorists or those who have not given up their designs on destroying Israel. As the money tap flows again to Fatah and Abbas, the IDF and the settlers should stay for now where they are. And it would be a good thing if some of that money flow were performance-based -- with rewards and penalties for good or bad behavior. The suicide bombing attacks during the second intifada all originated from the West Bank, with the exception of one by two British visitors from Gaza. The IDF has been interdicting potential terrorist attacks from the Palestinians in the West Bank every day.
While Gaza has been in a state of nature for two years, the West Bank has been the source of most of the trouble in both intifadas. There are many Palestinians there who would like nothing more than to kill some Israelis. In the rush to anoint Saint Abbas as the new Prince of Peace, this history needs to be remembered.
Creative solutions are needed for addressing the sorry plight of the
Palestinians (the subject of my next article), but land for peace has
proven to be a costly myth, and Israel certainly does not need to give
up land for more war.
The difficult part of commenting on the Israeli Palestinian conflict has never been in assigning blame for what has gone wrong. Rather, it has been in trying to come up with rational and creative policy suggestions and alternatives to the many failed approaches of the past decades. The recent events in Gaza provide some clarification as to what is still in the realm of the possible between the two parties and what is not.
This article examines the two approaches to resolving the conflict that have received the most attention in recent years:
1. the so-called two state solution of Israel and Palestine (living side by side in peace and security, a phrase that always goes with this formulation); and
2. the single bi-national state of Israel/Palestine (the post-apartheid South African reconciliation solution) pushed by many pro-Palestinian advocates, and an increasing number of people on the left, including the Jewish left.
It is my view that both of these approaches have suffered probably
fatal blows as a result of the Hamas victory in Gaza, and equally
important, how that victory was achieved. The many articles that have
appeared recently to analyze the new lay of the land between the
parties have exclusively focused on the two state approach, which even
the professional peace processors admit is now in jeopardy. But
arguably, it has now become much more difficult for the advocates of
the single bi-national state solution to defend that approach as well.
Achievement of the two state solution was always dependent on a number of factors:
1. Both sides wanted to end the conflict, and would compromise on some very important issues in order to resolve the conflict. For the Israelis, this meant sharing Jerusalem and abandoning all of Gaza and most of the West Bank, and even offering slivers of pre-67 Israeli land in exchange for land retained by Israel in the West Bank for a few settlement blocks where most of the settlers reside. Gaza of course was abandoned in August 2005 without any change in the positions of the parties on the other outstanding issues (in other words, Israel gave up something for nothing).
2. For the Palestinians, the biggest compromise was giving up on the right of return for so-called Palestinian refugees (well over 95% of whom are not refugees from Israel, regardless of what the UN calls them: they have never stepped foot in Israel) and accepting that Palestinians can return to their state but not Israel.
The second Palestinian compromise was to end the state of war against Israel by accepting that there would be no more claims or demands on the Jewish state This compromise necessarily meant that terrorism and violence directed against Israel would end, and that terror groups could no longer exist within Palestinian society. For Palestinians, it meant getting on with building their state, and giving up the dream of ending the state of Israel.
3. This formulation is, in essence, the deal that Yassar Arafat rejected at Taba just before Bill Clinton left office in January, 2001, and which Israeli leader Ehud Barak accepted. It is also very close to the deal that was offered at the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000, and was rejected by Arafat, and followed two months later by the far deadlier second intifada.
Apologists for the Palestinians -- Robert Malley, Jimmy Carter, and Deborah Sontag among them -- have tried to find some additional nuances to complicate this brief history of the period when the two sides supposedly came closest to resolving their long conflict. Sontag's pathetic attempt in the New York Times included pointing out that one of the missed opportunities at Camp David occurred when Chelsea Clinton was seated between Arafat and Barak at a key dinner meeting, presumably preventing the two leaders from resolving all outstanding issues before dessert.
The reality is that the two sides did not come close to ending the conflict at Camp David or Taba because only one party, the Israelis, was really prepared to end it. Yassar Arafat never set his sights on only liberating Gaza and the West Bank, but always envisioned the end of Israel (even if this came in stages that took many decades), and the eventual triumph for the Palestinians and control of all the land.
4. For the past six years, the peace processors, who always believe a deal is possible if only the parties work harder at negotiations (and the US leans a bit more on Israel for concessions), have complained that George Bush did not engage enough to get a deal done. Rick Richman has put the lie to this claim.
5. The electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections in 2006 complicated the narrative of the peace processors. Instead of the good (moderate) PA and the bad (terrorist) Hamas, now there also had to be a good Hamas (the political wing) and a bad Hamas (the militant wing). So Israel had to negotiate not only with Abbas and his PA but also with the "good Hamas" (these turned out to be the folks who only threw Fatah fighters from the 5th floor roofs or below in the recent fighting). Though it was late in the game for this, the peace processors were still hoping to boost Abbas' standing and make him look good in the eyes of his people, so they would at some future point reject Hamas in any of its forms, good or bad.
The perverse truth of course is that the non-stop incitement against the US and Israel in the Palestinian media and mosques since Arafat's return from Tunis have made suspect any appearance of ties between a Palestinian leader and the two enemy nations of Israel and the US. And the rejection of Abbas and Fatah in the election reflected widespread resentment of the corruption, incompetence and lawlessness that had enveloped Palestinian society since the start of the Oslo process, and in particular, since the start of the second intifada.
6. As a result of the Hamas rout of Fatah in Gaza we now have not only two disconnected pieces of territory that are populated by Palestinians but two warring Palestinian governments, each of which has nullified the election results of 2006 and the coalition government compromises that were reached between Fatah and Hamas in the months that followed. This of course does not augur well for the sanctity of agreements between Israel and either party in the future.
These events signal the following: there is no Palestinian Authority or any authority that speaks or represents all Palestinians. Israel can negotiate with Fatah, but they do not speak for Gaza. Israel and the West can try to prop up Abbas so he retains a hold on the West Bank, but the history of Fatah corruption and incompetence in government and the existence of many Palestinian militias, an offshoot of the Arafat era (to ensure that no one was strong enough to challenge his authority), means that Abbas has very little control of events or groups.
The second intifada was largely fought between Israel and terrorists in the West Bank, not in Gaza. Hamas and Islamic Jihad may be lying in waiting to avoid Fatah revenge killings at the moment, but they are also waiting for Abbas to fail. The Fatah gunmen and killers -- Al Aksa, Force 17, Tanzim and others -- were as ruthless as the Islamic terror groups during the intifada. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad decide to light up the West Bank with attacks on Israeli settlers and penetrate into Israel for other attacks (a proven way to win approval among the Palestinian population, dominated as it is by radicalized youth), it is far more likely that the Fatah gangs and militias will try to compete on this level, as they did during the intifada, than try to squelch the violence and protect the illusion of a new peaceful Fatah.
7. Even if Abbas succeeds in turning around the West Bank on a dime, it still changes nothing in Gaza. So there are two Palestinian entities (states they are not) with different agendas. In Gaza, Hamas, a proxy for Iran and Syria and Al Qaeda, will use the territory as a base to destabilize Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Hamas does not exist so as to bring an era of cleaner streets and modern medicine to the Palestinians.
And Hamas will not risk losing control in Gaza through new elections. Such regimes need only one electoral or military victory to eliminate the need for future elections. Abbas wants calm, Hamas wants conflict and turmoil. Hamas knows the West will not allow a million or more Palestinians to starve, so it is free to operate and pursue its goals.
8. There can be no end of conflict with two warring Palestinian entities in place. If a Palestinian consolidation of power were to occur, it is far more likely that it would happen after Hamas would seize control in the West Bank, as opposed to Fatah displacing Hamas in Gaza. Hamas understands discipline and plays offense; Fatah is on the defensive, now to be propped up by the West. Even with Tony Blair's best efforts, it is hard to imagine a new respectable Fatah.
If Hamas were to win in the West Bank, there is also no possibility of a two state solution, despite the new clarity of a then-restored single Palestinian entity. Hamas is committed to Israel's destruction. There are fools who will argue that Hamas would mature and move towards an accommodation with Israel at that point. They could, for instance, discuss the speed at which Israel would be destroyed, among other issues. In reality, a Hamas consolidation would all but ensure a total war with Israel. And after Israel won such a bloody war, which they would, only a madman would try to create a new indigenous Palestinian entity from the wreckage.
9. To avoid such a war, and the likely road ahead on the West Bank
that leads to it, a different approach is needed there. But it
likely involves Jordan, not the single bi-national state approach
which has been floated, as the only alternative to the two state
solution. In fact the very idea of a Palestinian state has run its
No one who cares about the future and security of Jews in Israel has ever supported the concept of a single bi-national state. That is because the very concept is absurd on its face. Historian Ton Judt, who may be a serious historian but is not a serious analyst of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, has admitted that Jews might not be safe in such a state, though he has thrown his support for the concept. Judt, however may now be safe at Upper West Side cocktail parties attended by the likes of Eric Alterman, Philip Weiss and their ilk.
The real support for the single binational state has come from passionate Israel haters such as Ali Abunimah. Abunimah likes to use the South African model in two ways to support the concept. Israel, he charges, is an apartheid state today. But in a bi-national state there will be reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, as occurred in post-apartheid South Africa.
Abunimah pretends to have been a supporter of a two state solution. His two state solution would have been a West Bank and Gaza Palestinian state free of all Jews, and Israel itself overwhelmed with 4 or 5 million returning "refugees" (really non-refugees) exercising their right of return. Two Palestinian Arab states in other words, which would in time find no reason not to merge and form a single state without Israel.
Abunimah says that Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank has ended the chances for a two state solution. This is nonsense. Since Israel offered to withdraw from more than 95 % of the West Bank, and abandon all interior settlements at Taba, exactly how did settlements prevent a settlement?
The recent developments in Gaza are also clarifying as to the single state approach:
1. Hamas, to whom Abunimah is much more sympathetic than to Fatah and Abbas, has just shown what it thinks of reconciliation. Are these supposed Nelson Mandela acolytes who at some point will put their grievances behind them to start fresh with their former enemies? Silly question. Hamas has just mass murdered about 200 Palestinian Arabs, whose crime was to be from the wrong anti-Israel party. At the moment, it is impossible to see them reconciling with Fatah or Fatah with them. And neither party will reconcile with Israel's Jews at a point in time when power in a bi-national state beckoned. There is a reason why Israeli Arabs, despite their sympathies for the Palestinian national movement and grievances about unequal treatment within Israel, have never shown any interest in being ruled by Fatah or Hamas. Who wants the non-law of the jungle to replace a state that is part of the civilized world?
2. The bi-national state formulation always assumed that Arabs would win the long term demographic battle with Israel's Jews. But the Gaza disengagement, and now the Hamas victory, have separated Gaza from the West Bank, not only in a geographic dimension but politically, ideologically and religiously. Hamas is a player unlikely to disappear from the scene. They want an Islamic state, not just a Palestinian Arab-run state. In essence, Hamas, like Saudi Arabia, is intolerant in every way that matters. Already Hamas is crushing the small Christian Arab community in Gaza. The idea of Hamas reconciling with Israel's Jews and allowing freedom of religion, civil liberties, political dissent, and respect for women and gays, is zero. How many Christians are citizens of Saudi Arabia? Where are their churches?
Are we supposed to believe that in an Arab-run bi-national state that Hamas will make life any better for the non-believers? Of course Fatah has never been all that kind and welcoming to non-Muslim groups either. Recall the gentle treatment meted out to the two Israeli soldiers who took a wrong turn in Ramallah right after the beginning of the second intifada, and in front of a cheering frenzied mob, were torn apart limb from limb as if by wolves disguised as people. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail, but once free, sought the guidance of the better angels to help resolve the conflict in South Africa. That has never been the Palestinian way. Their movement has always romanticized and glorified violence and inculcated hatred of the Jews. Separation may be a solution, but not reconciliation in a bi-national state. That much is clear after the events in Gaza.
As the dust begins to settle, the creative approaches to this ugly conflict will begin to emerge. I will offer some in a future article.
Part 1 appeared June 20, 2007 in the American Thinker and is
archived at Part 2 was published Jun 29, 2007 and is archived at
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.
Part 1 appeared June 20, 2007 in the American Thinker and is
Part 2 was published Jun 29, 2007 and is archived at
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