Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The President, Palestine, and Israel

On July 16, 2007, President Bush announced that the United States would once again -- after a hiatus of 6½ years – reengage in the Israeli-Palestinian search for peace.

Now it is true that Bush, five years ago, endorsed the concept of the “two state solution” which called for a Palestinian state peacefully co-existing beside a Jewish state, with both countries fighting the threat of terrorism in the Middle East. But five years ago, the Bush White House was consumed by the idea that Saddam Hussein had to be ousted as Iraq’s leader, and this “distraction” undercut the type of direct and sustained involvement which is so critical to any advancement in resolving the outstanding disagreements of the two parties.

Make that “of the three parties.” Much to Washington and Tel-Aviv’s surprise if not chagrin, the January 2006 election for the Palestinian parliament returned a majority of Hamas adherents and sympathizers. The vote could have – should have – been easy to predict.

- Corruption in the Fatah party, which had a headlock on the governing Palestinian Authority, was rampant and blatant.

- Fatah was singularly unable to wield the keys of sovereignty as an equal in its dealings with Tel Aviv over “final status” issues such as the right of return, East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, unhindered passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and normal diplomatic relations between Israel and its neighbors.

- Fatah was singularly incapable of providing security for the ordinary Palestinian from common criminals or providing basic services such as potable water, reliable electricity on demand, sewage and trash removal.

Yet through informal organizations, armed militants and unarmed political fronts, these shortfalls were being kept in check while the neediest were being cared for. And since Hamas was in the forefront of these efforts in Gaza and the West Bank, is it any wonder that the Palestinian people rejected those who could not meet their needs and turned instead to the organization that was.

Last month, after heavy pressure from the U.S., Israel, and the European Union, the fragile unity government that had finally emerged in the Occupied Palestinian Territories collapsed. When the smoke of the fighting cleared, Fatah controlled the West Bank, Hamas the Gaza Strip, and the Israelis the initiative over the divided Palestinian factions.

So with a three-sided military confrontation looming, what does President Bush tell the Palestinians on July 16?

“This is a moment of clarity for all Palestinians. And now comes a moment of choice. To make this prospect [a Palestinian state] a reality, the Palestinian people must decide that they want a future of decency and hope – not a future of terror and death.”

In January 2006, Palestinians voted for decency and hope – and they were then told that they had voted the wrong way.

Strangely, I had always thought that voting in an election is a political, not a moral, act. Thus as long as an election is fair and free, there cannot be a “wrong” way to vote.


Blogger rasphila said...

I agree that Hamas earned its election victory, thereby showing that they were a player in Palestinian politics. It's too late, but the best strategy for the long term would have been to bring Hamas further into the political process by treating the election results as legitimate instead of trying to reverse them by boycotting Hamas.

The situations are quite different, but it's worth remembering what happened in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, was able to put up candidates for Parliament, and when their candidates won elections, they were seated without any fuss. I think this helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement which, for all its flaws, made peace possible in Northern Ireland in the long run. If Parliament had refused to seat Sinn Fein MPs, that alone would have reinforced the IRA's commitment to violence instead of the political process.

In Palestine, we are now seeing what happens when outsiders try to overturn elections and force the results they wanted. Fattah can't govern (never could, as you point out), and Hamas has no reason to work within the political process. A real mess, and one that might have been avoided.

7:45 AM  

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