Thursday, March 19, 2015

Which Palestinian State Do They Want?

Which Palestinian State Do They Want?

Jonathan S. Tobin

In the last week, Islamist terror in Europe has at least temporarily distracted the continent from its habitual foreign-policy obsession: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But in spite of the current focus on domestic terror, there can be little doubt that Europe’s parliaments and diplomats will soon be back campaigning to recognize a state of Palestine and for pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions in order to make that state a reality. But as a story in today’s New York Times illustrates, those in the international community that are so intent to pretend that a Palestinian state already exists and is need of international recognition need to figure out which one they are backing. Is it the Hamas terrorist state in Gaza? Or the corrupt Fatah state in the West Bank?

The Times focuses on one tragicomic example of the dysfunctional world of Palestinian politics. At the Beit Hanoun crossing point between Israel and northern Gaza, there are two Palestinian border checkpoints a half-mile apart. Those who seek to enter Gaza from Israel must pass through both, enabling both Fatah and Hamas to pretend to control the area. When Hamas sought to set up its own makeshift facility at the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority site, the system broke down and no one other than foreigners or Palestinians with emergencies was able to pass. Hamas backed down yesterday and the situation returned to normal but the anomalous situation remains as two governments attempt to carry on operations.

This was supposed to have been solved last year when PA leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas that would bring both areas under joint control. But the pact was more of a ruse intended to blow up the peace negotiations with Israel the PA had been forced into by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry than an actual attempt at unification. Though the two rival groups actually have much in common—principally a commitment to ongoing conflict with Israel and an aversion to recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—they are bitterly divided by conflicting financial interests as well as ideologies.

Both lack democratic legitimacy. Hamas won elections but to speak of a terrorist group coercing a population to back them is antithetical to any notion of the rule of law. Though hailed as moderates by the international community, Abbas and Fatah are even worse in that respect, as they have shunned elections for years for fear of losing to Hamas because of the latter’s better credentials in terms of shedding Israeli blood. Abbas still calls himself PA president, but that is more a matter of courtesy than anything else since he is serving in the 10th year of a four-year term to which he was elected.

Both promote hate against Israel in their official media and schools making peace less likely with each generation of children more steeped in the violent language of the conflict and a sense that all violence against Jews is to be condoned than the one that preceded it. What the two also have in common is a corrupt political system. Both rule by distributing money to large numbers of no-show or no-work government employees. Spreading the wealth around in this manner means that a huge percentage of Palestinians are directly dependent on either the PA or Hamas. This frees up the elites of both groups to loot the vast sums donated to help the Palestinians by foreign governments for either personal use or to pay for terror activities. Thus while Fatah runs a kleptocracy that saps the economy of the West Bank and stifles development, the more religious Hamas thieves use their international aid for rockets and terror tunnels rather than personal enrichment. The former is despicable, but the latter is certainly more dangerous.

But the division between the two is real, as Hamas operates an independent state in all but name and Fatah runs most of the West Bank with Israel only intervening to try to hunt down terror suspects.

The point of drawing attention to this division is not just to understand that sovereignty over A SINGLE Palestinian state is a myth and would not be resolved by international recognition. Rather, it is to bring to the attention of the world that by empowering either or both, they are laying the foundation for generations of future conflict rather than peace.

The common Palestinian political culture both Hamas and Fatah share is one in which their national identity is inextricably tied up with a war against Zionism. Though Fatah can sound more moderate than Hamas, especially when its leader is addressing the international and Israeli press rather than domestic audiences, it is just as locked into the idea that making peace on any terms would be a betrayal of their basic principles.

Giving more power to either or both would be to ensure more war for the Middle East. In the case of the West Bank, that would mean a repeat of the experiment whereby Israel withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement and instead of getting peace, saw the strip transformed into a terrorist launching pad/fortress.

All of which takes us back to our original question. If European governments and their parliaments are so concerned about the wellbeing of ordinary Palestinians, instead of pouring more money directly into the hands of Fatah or indirectly to Hamas via aid groups, they should insist on reform of both. More to the point, they should refrain from creating one or two more terror states that will strengthen the very forces of Islamist intolerance that have brought bloodshed to their streets. Sympathy for the Palestinians is understandable. Seeking to further empower Hamas and/or Fatah is a prescription for chaos and violence.

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