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Palestinian Authority

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Gaza 2014

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said something cryptic last Friday, shortly after the Israelis began their latest round of attacks on the Gaza Strip. Condemning Hamas’s conditions for accepting a ceasefire as “exaggerated and unnecessary,” he offered his condolences “to the families of the martyrs in Gaza who are fuel to those who trade in war. I oppose these traders, on both sides.”

What could he mean by that? Surely he was not suggesting that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel and the leaders of Hamas, the Islamist organisation that has effective control of the Gaza Strip, have a common interest in perpetuating the current bloodbath for at least a little while longer.

Yes, he was suggesting exactly that, and he was quite right. This is the third “Gaza War” since late 2008 – they come around more often than World Cups in football – and each one has followed the same pattern. Some Israelis are kidnapped and/or killed, Israel makes mass arrests of Hamas cadres in the West Bank and launches air and missile strikes on the Gaza Strip, Hamas lets the missiles fly, and away we go again.

A few wrinkles are different this time. The kidnapping and murder of three young Israeli hitch-hikers in the West Bank, probably by Palestinians who had links with Hamas (although it denies responsibility), was followed by the torture and murder of a young Palestinian, probably by Israeli vigilantes.

The ceasefire signed after the last round in 2012 was already being violated by both sides for some months before the real shooting started a week ago. And, most importantly, Hamas had achieved a political reconciliation of sorts with Mahmoud Abbas’s rival organisation that rules the West Bank as the Palestinian Authority. But although every turn of the wheel is a little bit different, the pattern remains the same.

So why would Prime Minister Netanyahu be willing to launch Israel’s third war against the Gaza Strip in eight years? Because the nature of his political alliances with other parties on the Israeli right, and especially with the settler lobby, means that he could not make a peace deal that the Palestinians would accept even if he wanted to (which he probably doesn’t).

That’s why he was instrumental in sabotaging the Oslo Accords, the theoretical basis for a peaceful “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during his first term as prime minister in 1996-99. Back in power in the past five years, his primary excuse for not moving on negotiations has been that Mahmoud Abbas could not deliver peace because he controlled only the West Bank, while the intransigent Hamas ruled the Gaza Strip.
Then Abbas stitched together a compromise that brought Hamas back into a unity government three months ago, and Netanyahu claimed that he could not be expected to negotiate with a government that included the “terrorists” of Hamas. So is he now trying to destroy Hamas so that Abbas can rule unhindered over all the Palestinian territories and become a suitable partner for peace? Of course not.

Netanyahu knows, on the evidence of the previous two wars, that Hamas can be battered into temporary quiescence but not destroyed. He also probably realises that if he did manage to destroy Hamas, its place would be taken by a less corrupt and much more extreme Islamist outfit that might really hurt Israel. He is just doing this, with no expectation of victory, because Israeli public opinion demands it.

Hamas’s motive for wanting a little war are more obvious and urgent: it has lost almost all its sources of funding. Iran stopped funding its budget to the tune of $20 million per month when Hamas sided with the Sunni rebels in the Syrian civil war.

Egypt stopped helping it after last year’s military coup against Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, and closed the tunnels under the border through which the Gaza Strip received most of its imported goods. Those imports were Hamas’s main source of tax revenue. Hamas is broke, and if it stays broke its control over the Strip will weaken.

Whereas a war with Israel will rally the local Palestinians to its support, and if enough of them are killed Egypt and the Gulf states may feel compelled to give Hamas financial aid. So the only real question is how many dead Palestinians will satisfy both Netanyahu’s need to look tough and Hamas’s need to rebuild popular support at home and get financial help from abroad.

On past performance, the magic number is between a hundred and a thousand dead: around 1,200 Palestinians were killed in the 2008-9 war, and 174 in 2012. After that – assuming that only a handful of Israelis have been killed, which is guaranteed by the fact that Israeli air and missiles strikes are a hundred times more efficient at killing than Hamas’s pathetic rockets – a ceasefire becomes possible.

We have already crossed the lower threshold of that range of Palestinian deaths in the current mini-war, so a ceasefire is theoretically possible now, but both sides will probably press on for at least another few days. Then the ceasefire will be agreed, and both sides will start thinking about the next round, only a few years from now. But the dead will stay dead.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 5 and 8. (“A few…same”; and “Then…not”)

Dead, Dead, Dead: The Two State Solution

5 December 2012

Dead, Dead, Dead: The Middle East “Peace Process”

By Gwynne Dyer

It’s as if the world’s leaders were earnestly warning us that global warming will cause the extinction of the dinosaurs. They’ve actually been dead for a long time already. So has the Middle East “peace process”.

As soon as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will build 3,000 homes on “East One” (E-1), the last piece of land connecting East Jerusalem with the West Bank that is not already covered with Jewish settlements, the ritual condemnations started to flow. Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” and others went a lot further.

The British minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, warned that “the settlements plan…has the potential to alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two-state solution.” France called in the Israeli ambassador and told him that “settlements are illegal under international law…and constitute an obstacle to a fair peace based on a two-state solution.”

Even the Australian government summoned the Israeli ambassador and told him that Israeli plans to build on the land in question “threaten the viability of a two-state solution.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the plan would be “an almost fatal blow” to the two-state solution, as if it were still alive. And Netanyahu, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t actually do anything, just stone-walled and smiled.

In almost all the media coverage, the Israeli announcement is explained as an angry response for the United Nations General Assembly’s vote last month to grant the Palestinian Authority permanent observer status at the UN, which is tantamount to recognising Palestine as an independent state. As if Netanyahu were an impulsive man who had just lost his temper, not a wily strategist who thinks long-term.

Building in the “E-1” area, which covers most of the space between the Jewish settlements that ring East Jerusalem and the huge Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the Palestinian West Bank, is definitely a game-changer. It effectively separates the West Bank from East Jerusalem, the city that the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. It also almost cuts the West Bank in two. But it’s not a new idea.

The Israeli government declared its intention to build on this land fourteen years ago, when Netanyahu was prime minister for the first time. The plan was frozen in response to outraged protests from practically all of Israel’s allies, who had invested a great deal of political capital in the two-state solution. But it was never abandoned.

Successive US Presidents were assured by various Israeli governments that construction would not proceed there, but most of those governments went on preparing for the day when a pretext to break the freeze would present itself. The land is still deserted today, but there are street lights, electric cables and water mains.

Now a pretext has arisen, even if the UN General Assembly’s recognition of a Palestinian state makes little practical difference. Netanyahu has seized the opportunity, as he undoubtedly always planned to. And you can’t kill the “two-state solution.” To Netanyahu’s considerable satisfaction, it is already dead.

Creating two independent states, Israeli and Palestinian, separated by the “green line” that was Israel’s border until it conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, was the goal of the 1993 Oslo Accords. That’s what the “peace process” was all about, but it was really doomed when Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister signed the Oslo deal, was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish fanatic in 1995.

Netanyahu was elected prime minister after Rabin’s death, and spent the next three years stalling on the transfers of land and political authority to the Palestinian Authority that were required under the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, he supported a vastly expanded programme of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, although it was obvious that this would ultimately make a Palestinian state impossible.

After a two-year interval when the Labour Party under Ehud Barak formed a government and seriously pursued a final peace settlement with the Palestinians, the Israeli right recovered power in 2001 and has relentlessly pursued project of settling Jews on Palestinian territory ever since.

The number of Jews living in the West Bank has doubled in the past twelve years, and they now account for one-fifth of the population there. Jewish settlements, roads reserved for Jewish settlers, and Israeli military bases and reservations now cover 40 percent of the West Bank’s territory. But to retain US support, Netanyahu still has to pretend that he is really interested in a two-state solution.

That’s why he had to wait for the right excuse before building on “E-1” and sealing East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. But he always intended to kill off the “peace process,” and in practice he succeeded long ago.

Why do his Western allies in the United States and elsewhere put up with this fraud? Because they cannot think of anything else to do.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 7 and 12. (“Even…smiled”; “Successive…mains”; and “After…since”)

 

 

No Peace, Just Prizes

10 October 2009

 No Peace, Just Prizes

By Gwynne Dyer

“Anyone who says that within the next few years an agreement can be reached ending the conflict (between Israel and the Palestinians) simply doesn’t understand the situation and spreads delusions,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week. But Barack Obama does say that. In fact, they gave him the Nobel Prize for saying it, didn’t they?

Speaking in a radio interview, Lieberman added: “There are conflicts that have not been completely solved and people have learned to live with it, like Cyprus….We have to be realistic. We will not be able to reach agreement on core and emotional subjects like Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.” And he said all this just as Obama’s point man for what we used to call the “peace process”, George Mitchell, arrived in Israel.

Undaunted by Lieberman’s comments, Mitchell gabbled the usual nonsense about how “we’re going to continue our efforts to achieve an early relaunch of negotiations…because we believe that is an essential step toward achieving a comprehensive peace.” Doesn’t he understand that the “peace process” has been dead for years? It is no more. It has expired. It is an ex-peace process.

Yes, of course he knows, but it was Lieberman who went off-script, not Mitchell. Every Israeli government since 2000 has believed what Lieberman said and acted accordingly, but has colluded with the United States and various well-meaning Europeans in pretending otherwise.

The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas also pretends that the peace process is still alive. Indeed, it did so even in the last years of Yasser Arafat’s life. It has to go on pretending, because if the PA admits that the peace process is dead, then it becomes no more than an Israeli instrument for indirect control of the Palestinians. As it often is, in practice.

We had a vivid demonstration of this recently, when Judge Richard Goldstone submitted his report on last winter’s three-week war in the Gaza Strip to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The 575-page document reported that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and a resolution was put before the Council that could ultimately have led to prosecutions at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Israel launched a propaganda blitz to discredit Goldstone’s report, and together with the United States it mounted a diplomatic campaign to postpone any formal consideration of the report until next March. By then, it would be old news. Standard tactics, but here’s the bizarre bit: the Palestinian Authority also supported delaying the vote by six months.

What possible reason could the PA have for doing such a thing? Well over a thousand Palestinians had been killed in the conflict, and only 13 Israelis. The only Palestinians accused of war crimes were the militants of Hamas, who rule the Gaza Strip, and they are the sworn enemies of Abbas, his Fatah movement, and the Palestinian Authority. It was a no-brainer, and yet the PA went along with the Americans and the Israelis.

Unsurprisingly, this public evidence of the PA’s subjugation to American and Israeli policy caused a great outcry among Palestinians e ven in the West Bank, and Mahmoud Abbas ordered a “probe” into who had made such a wicked decision. (Hint: his initials are MA.) The truth is that the Palestinian Authority is just as complicit in the charade of a continuing peace process as the Israeli or American governments, and cannot afford to abandon it.

Only the radical Islamists of Hamas, from their besieged enclave in the Gaza Strip, openly acknowledge the same reality that Avigdor Lieberman describes (although from a very different perspective). There is no peace process, and the “two-state solution” on which it was built is all but dead. So what they offer Israel, at best, is a long-term truce – but only if the Palestinians get their pre-1967 borders back now.

A long-term truce (“like Cyprus”) is all that Lieberman is offering, either – and even that is not going to happen because he has no intention of returning to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Neither does his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, although he wraps his refusal in more diplomatic language.

All of President Obama’s pleas have failed to extract from Netanyahu even a promise to freeze the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, let alone to negotiate a withdrawal from them. He has not moved from pleas to actual pressure because the Israelis effectively control the US Congress on this issue, and he will not risk alienating Congress over Israel while he is trying to get legislation through on health care, climate change, and other urgent issues.

He cannot even order the Israelis not to attack Iran. They will do it if they want to, even if the bulk of the Iranian retaliation would fall on American bases and forces in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, there is no doubt that Obama’s intentions are good. So are mine. Where’s my prize?

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“Yes…otherwise”; and “What…Israelis”)

Palestine and Democracy

19 December 2006

Palestine and Democracy

By Gwynne Dyer

The Palestinian territories may have descended into full-scale civil war by next week. If not, it will be mainly because Fatah realises it is too weak to win against Hamas, especially in the Gaza Strip. Democracy does not seem to be serving the Palestinian people very well.

In last January’s elections, a majority of the Palestinians voted for Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that refuses to recognise the state of Israel. This came as a great shock to Fatah, Yasser Arafat’s old party, which had ruled the occupied territories ever since the Palestinian Authority was set up there after the Oslo Accords in 1993, and an even greater shock to Israel and its friends overseas. So the latter decided that Palestinians must be shown the error of their ways.

Until then, the Palestinian Authority’s income had come mainly from customs duties that Israel collected on its behalf (there are no functioning ports or airports in the occupied territories) and from foreign aid from the United States, the European Union, and other donors. Once Hamas formed a government in March, almost all of that was cut off. Most of the PA’s employees, whose incomes supported about a third of the Palestinian population, have not been paid since March, and government services have collapsed.

Ten months later, the results are dramatically visible in the form of uncollected garbage, empty schools, collapsing hospitals and widespread malnutrition in the occupied territories. The Palestinians have been “put on a diet,” in the words of an Israeli government adviser, until either Hamas changes its policies, or the Palestinians change their minds about electing Hamas. As President George W. Bush put it: “We support democracy, but that doesn’t mean we have to support governments elected as a result of democracy.”

Israel and its foreign friends demand that Hamas recognise Israel’s right to exist, accept existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and renounce violence before they will lift the blockade and accept a Hamas government as a legitimate representative of the Palestinians. “Anyone who thinks Hamas will change is wrong,” replied Khaled Mashal, the organisation’s exiled leader, and in fact it has hardly budged despite all the pressure.

Hamas’s only concession has been to offer a ten-year truce with Israel (forty years in some versions), but the jihad must continue and Israel must ultimately disappear. Even the truce depends on the Israelis withdrawing from all the occupied territories including East Jerusalem, dismantling all the settlements, and allowing Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their ancestral homes throughout what is now Israel.

Accepting a Palestinian “right of return” would reduce Jewish Israelis to a minority within their own country, so it is not going to happen. Hamas’s other territorial demands are not far from what a final peace settlement would have to contain, but its commitment to jihad is real. It observes truces faithfully, but it will not abandon its ultimate goal of destroying Israel, nor will it join any Fatah-led “national unity” government that recognises Israel. For decades, Israel has claimed that it has no “partner for peace.” It is finally true. Stalemate.

The Israeli and foreign response has been to try for another election and a different outcome, on the assumption that many people who voted for Hamas were attracted mainly by its incorruptibility (in stark contrast to Fatah), and don’t really think that Israel could be destroyed. Now that they are starving because of the blockade that Hamas has brought down on them, perhaps they will change their minds. Maybe they will, but it certainly isn’t guaranteed.

Hamas is not going to give up its parliamentary majority without a fight: shoot-outs between Fatah and Hamas gunmen have proliferated in the past few weeks as it became clear that President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah loyalist, was going to call a new election (although he has no explicit constitutional power to do so), in the hope that Hamas would lose this time. He did exactly that on Saturday, and by Monday the violence was spinning out of control.

In a last-ditch attempt to avert civil war, both organisations agreed late Monday to pull their fighters off the streets, but it may not work. In Palestine’s case, democracy has drastically raised the probability of civil war (as it did also in Iraq, where the two elections of 2005 confirmed and radicalised the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions). Is democracy just not appropriate for Arab countries?

Of course not. Both Iraq and Palestine are occupied countries, and foreign military occupation does not usually produce either solidarity or moderation among the occupied. Think of the vicious ethnic, religious and ideological struggles among the Yugoslavs resisting German occupation in 1941-44, or the bitter clashes between rival Angolan and Zimbabwean liberation movements in the 70s and 80s, or the ghastly mess that the Soviet occupation produced in Afghanistan.

Hamas is deeply unrealistic in its goals, because it would require direct divine intervention to achieve its goal of eliminating Israel, but that is not why the Palestinians are on the brink of civil war. It’s because foreigners are ruthlessly manipulating them and their democracy with the aim of getting them to switch their votes and produce a more amenable government next time.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 7. (“Ten months…democracy”; and “Accepting…stalemate”)