The Region: Weakness and bad strategy

While Abbas said, 'We are all sons of one people,' the crowd continued to chant against the Shi'ites.

By BARRY RUBIN
January 22, 2007 22:43
4 minute read.
barry rubin 88

barry rubin 88. (photo credit: )

 
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What's the biggest threat in the Middle East today? Answer: Iran, both directly and indirectly. Directly because of its expansion of influence in Iraq and drive for nuclear weapons; indirectly because of its sponsorship of radical groups and the most extremist Arab state, Syria. And who gave us Islamist Iran, inasmuch as any foreign factor could have done so? Answer: Jimmy Carter, through his incompetence at dealing with the Iranian revolution and its aftermath, plus his weakness in managing the state-sanctioned kidnapping of several dozen American diplomats. If George Bush created post-Saddam Iraq, Carter helped produce the monstrosity in Teheran. So now this latter failed president is trying to distract attention from his own responsibility, without ever a word on the world's only openly genocidal state and, of course, insisting that Israel is the only problem in the region. This type of misdirection is always a welcome tool in the arsenal of otherwise no-good leaders. WHICH BRINGS us to Mahmoud Abbas. A good way to examine the situation in Palestinian politics is to consider his most important recent statement, to the January 11 Fatah rally marking that group's 42nd anniversary. It is worth noting that, in fact, Fatah is 47 years old. Why the five-year difference? Because Fatah dates its origin from the first terror attack on Israel, not its political origin, showing its continuing identification with violence. Abbas began his speech with a quote from the Koran, something Yasser Arafat used to do but which has not been seen previously from Abbas or other Fatah leaders. Clearly, this is an attempt to appear more Islamic to appeal to Hamas and its constituency. Needless to say, it won't work. The point of the quote was that divisions are disastrous, which seems obvious enough; but there is a fatal flaw. The real issue for the Palestinian political scene is not unity, but who is leading. Fatah is not willing to have unity at the expense of being the junior partner of Hamas. This is not just the normal desire to be in power. Fatah leaders are psychologically incapable of accepting the fact that they are only number two. That is still another reason why unity is impossible. WITHIN SECONDS of his call for unity, the crowd is shouting "Hamas is Shi'ite!" Not only do the Fatah people hate Hamas, which after all is killing their cadre and taking the loot away from them, but they are now thinking in the framework of the new Middle East sectarian war. Hamas sides with Shi'ite Iran, which is heresy for Arab nationalists, and with Hizbullah, which is very uncomfortable for Sunni Muslims (Hizbullah has very bad relations with most Lebanese Sunnis right now). So while Abbas said, "We are all sons of one people," the crowd continued to chant against the Shi'ites. Then Abbas recited, as Fatah's credentials, a long list of martyrs, most of them leading figures in terrorist operations. What this shows is that the Palestinian nationalists, like the Islamists, view terrorism as their great achievement in the past, a concept that also locks them into this approach in the present and future. It is easy to take this compilation of glorious achievements for granted, yet it is amazing nonetheless. Is the problem that Abbas cannot, or will not, do what most politicians would - talk about what Fatah has done for the Palestinians in material terms? The answer is both. After 40-whatever years, the Palestinian national movement has little to show except its survival. And that is part of the problem. Next comes Abbas's solution: that all factions should unite in turning their guns against Israel, not each other. It is certainly understandable that he say so. Even if he had moderate intentions, this is certainly the easiest and "cleverest" strategy to follow. Yet everyone should understand that by following this path, Abbas underlines the fact that diplomacy and negotiations for peace thus become impossible. Abbas cannot deliver anything because of his weakness, but he also cannot deliver anything because of his strategy. It is first, to compete with Hamas by showing Fatah is better at armed struggle. Second, he proposes to unite with Hamas by both of them fighting alongside each other. IN DOING so, Abbas rejects three other strategies, and so does the overwhelming majority of his organization. One option that isn't considered - and was not used under his predecessor either - is to compete with Hamas in material achievement, that is, by improving his people's lives. A second one, linked to the first, is to outshine it by making a compromise peace and getting a Palestinian state. Finally, there is the option of waging all-out war on Hamas and winning. This reality is part of the picture which makes Palestinian unity, moderation, or peace-making out of the question. The anarchy will continue in Gaza and the West Bank. Partly due to its insolubility and partly to the many regional crises elsewhere, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to decline in regional importance. As for the Arab-Israeli conflict (as distinct from the Israeli-Islamist or Israeli-Iran conflicts), it exists only in demagogic speeches and the illusions of Westerners who know little about the region. The writer is Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.

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