'Palestinian Elections'As all of you know already, I consider the term 'Palestinian elections' to be an oxymoron. But tomorrow, the 'Palestinian elections' are taking place, and it appears likely that Hamas will gain at least a share of the power in whatever 'government' rules the Arab areas of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The press is full of articles about Hamas' apparent win (for any sizeable Hamas representation is regarded as a win). Here are some of them.
In the Washington Post, Aaron David Miller 'advisor to six Secretaries of State of the Arab-Israeli negotiations' talks about the Palestinian Authority and not about Hamas. He acknowledges some Palestinian responsibility for the current state of affairs, mixed with State Department apologetics to excuse the PA for not acting.
The Palestinians' Crisis of Leadership.
Writing in USA Today, Miller's former State Department colleague Dennis Ross tries to think of ways for the United States to continue to push Israel to take the initiative, regardless of Hamas' presence in the 'Palestinian government':
Most Palestinians have grudgingly come to back a Palestinian state alongside Israel, provided it is based on 1967 borders, has its capital in East Jerusalem and offers a resolution to the refugee problem that includes some kind of right of return. [I doubt that any solution can be reached on that basis. That's what Barak offered Arafat. Arafat turned it down and started a war. Whether or not Israelis would have accepted that 'solution' in 2000, I doubt they will accept it today. CiJ]
Sadly, however, history has no rewind button, and if such a solution was ever possible, it certainly seems unlikely now. Ariel Sharon had the power to move toward a conflict-ending solution, but he had no incentive to do so -- nor will his successors. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has the incentive but lacks the power. [Abbas' lack of power is his own doing. The only way to gain power is to seize it; electorally in a democracy, militarily in a dictatorship like the 'Palestinian Authority.' Abbas set himself up to be 'weak' from day one because he could not muster the courage to confront Hamas, Jihad or even Fatah's own 'armed wing.' CiJ] In any case, unilateral action, not bilateral negotiations, seems to rule the day and will probably be the course chosen by Sharon's successor.
The Palestinians deserve a large share of the responsibility for their tragic predicament. Simply put, their leaders have failed to outline a coherent strategy, to devise effective tactics or to condition their public for compromise. Instead, a political culture of grievance and avoidance of responsibility has been the Palestinians' operating software. [This is obviously correct. Having said it, however, Miller goes on to propose a formula that does not require the 'Palestinians' to compromise. Good old State Department double talk. CiJ]
The hardware has also failed. Armed struggle as a tactic has been a disaster. And while Hamas boasts (with some justification) that it was the gun that forced the Israelis out of the Gaza Strip, the gun has also wreaked havoc on the Palestinian society and image. Suicide terrorism has not only alienated Israel and America but also pushed them closer together. And without Israel and America, a Palestinian state will be stillborn.
Gaza may be free, but it is also uncontrollable, and sooner or later Israel may reenter to stop the Qassam rocket attacks. As Palestinians look east toward the West Bank, they see settlements and roads crisscrossing Palestinian land, with Jerusalem more tightly under Israeli control than ever. [Here's my problem with Miller - and his approach is very typical of the US State Department. This sentence assumes that the 'West Bank' is Palestinian land and that Jerusalem does not belong under Israeli control. So where does Miller believes that the 'Palestinians' should compromise? Letting a few thousand less refugees into "pre-1967" Israel? Why should any Israeli accept that kind of compromise? CiJ] Hamas, or even the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, may toy with the Hezbollah precedent and believe that the gun can liberate Qalqilyah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. But it will prove a fool's game that even Hamas may be clever enough not to play.
With Gaza a mess and their internal affairs in disarray, the Palestinians confront perhaps the deepest crisis and largest question for their nationalist hopes: how to maintain a monopoly on force. From its inception, the Palestinian national movement has never had its "Night of the Long Knives." Such a reckoning would have allowed Fatah -- its dominant faction -- to impose control and articulate a coherent national strategy. But Fatah, highly decentralized and ministering to its dispirited, dispossessed refugee constituency, [That's a State Department hack blaming Israel again - as if Israel made them 'refugees' 58 years after the State came into existence. CiJ] chose to accommodate rather than confront. Indeed, it allowed smaller groups of varying political persuasions to undertake terrorism and violence that put the entire national movement in the dock.
Today that situation is worse than ever. Yasser Arafat's real transgression was not his unwillingness to accept what Ehud Barak offered at Camp David (no Palestinian leader could have done that and survived), [Is there any compromise that Miller believes a 'Palestinian leader' could accept? Isn't it a leader's job to take risks - even personal risks - when they are in his country's best interests? CiJ] it was his willingness to allow his monopoly over the forces of violence in Palestinian society to dissipate and to acquiesce in, if not encourage, terrorist attacks by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. Abbas's effort to create "one authority, one gun" has morphed into no authority and many guns.
Israel and the United States may deserve much of the responsibility for not seizing the opportunity to empower Abbas in the wake of Arafat's demise, [There it is again. No, they don't. Abbas did not want to be empowered. He wanted to be weak as he portrayed himself from Day One because he did not have the courage to confront the terrorists. CiJ] but the crisis facing Palestinians is largely one brought about by their own hand, and they must resolve it.
Perhaps this week's elections will bring the beginning of real politics and a parliament that will press for real reform, pragmatism and peacemaking. Given the cacophony of Palestinian voices and the inevitable competition between Fatah and Hamas, whatever change occurs is likely to be excruciatingly slow. And in the interim, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will grind on, inexorably eroding the possibility of a conflict-ending solution. But such is the fate reserved for peoples whose leaders, whether they be Palestinian, Israeli or American, bungle or pass up the rare moments of opportunity that history provides them.
The danger of a Sharon exit
Hamas' emergence as the central power broker could strengthen the Israeli perception that there is no Palestinian partner and that the only options are further unilateral steps to disengage from Palestinians and the West Bank. But the empowerment of Hamas and a resurgence of violence would highlight the danger of disengagement and almost certainly benefit the right wing in Israel, which is opposed to further pullbacks. [It should be noted that HaAretz reported yesterday that the IDF regards violence as 'likely' if Hamas wins the 'Palestinian elections' tomorrow. CiJ] The difference between elections that produce a strong centrist coalition vs. a more rightist coalition is likely to be the difference between an Israel that continues to take the initiative and one that does not.
Will Palestinians do their part? Probably not, unless the United States leads an international effort to affect Palestinian behavior by emphasizing three essential points:
• First, that the international community will not deal with Hamas unless it renounces violence, gives up its weapons and commits to co-existence. (Presently, most Palestinians assume there is no cost to voting for Hamas; they need to understand that there are political and economic ramifications for empowering a terrorist organization.)
• Second, that international assistance will be immediately forthcoming for job-creating projects but will cease if Palestinians do not immediately establish law and order in Gaza and the West Bank.
• And third, that continuing assistance to the Palestinian Authority will depend on its assumption of its real governing responsibilities, including a sustained effort to prevent acts of terror against Israel.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority cannot have it both ways; it cannot be acceptable for Hamas to go along with law and order internally while it still tolerates and supports terrorism against Israel.
Without such a clear-cut set of conditions and unmistakable international attention, the militarization of Palestinian society will intensify, affect the Israeli elections adversely, and point the way to a grim future.
It seems unlikely that the Palestinian Authority will do these things. It also seems unlikely that the West will follow through on threats to cut Palestinian funding if the Palestinian Authority doesn't do these things. The US and the EU are funding the Palestinian Authority and they are likely to continue to do so.
Writing in Newsday, my former Yeshiva colleague David "the Pressman" Makovsky calls for unity among the four sponsors of the 'road map' and holding Hamas' feet to the fire:
Hamas will not be forced to make pragmatic decisions unless the international community is united. Importantly, the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - the group of countries monitoring the Palestinians' political development - declared in their last statement that "a future Palestinian Authority cabinet should include no member who has not committed to the principles of Israel's right to exist in peace and security and an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism."
The United States has sought to make its position clear. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that "armed groups have no place in the democratic process."
One could easily see backsliding on the issue of Hamas' role in the cabinet. Invariably, there might be Europeans who would like to interpret the matter narrowly, saying the only criteria should be whether a minister in the cabinet supports a cabinet platform, even though his party supports terror.
To grant de facto legitimacy to Hamas would be wrong and undermine Palestinian moderates, who have made clear to the Palestinian public the radical road is a sure way for them all to become international pariahs and for the goal of statehood to become a more distant prospect.
Hamas needs to be forced to choose. Peace in the Middle East requires tough choices, not quick fixes that have no impact on the underlying reality.
David's moral clarity is refreshing. Too bad it's likely to be ignored.