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(photo credit: AP [file])
In the rosiest of rosy scenarios, one purportedly championed by Egypt though not necessarily by Israel, Operation Cast Lead ends with Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority restored to power in Gaza. A multi-billion-dollar internationally-financed reconstruction effort gets under way, administered to great acclaim by Fatah. At the Rafah crossing, meanwhile, the 2005 agreement that put Abbas's Force 17 in charge of security would be resurrected, returning international monitors and Israeli cameras to scrutinize comings and goings.
A battered Hamas would, the optimists have it, accept the prolongation of Abbas's presidency (his term expired last week) and a junior role in a Fatah-led government of national reconciliation. This turnabout would reverse Hamas's June 2007 coup in Gaza and undo the diplomatic damage to Palestinian aspirations for international legitimacy caused by the Islamists' January 2006 electoral victory. Fatah would gain a new lease on life.
It would solve so many problems for Israelis, moderate Arabs and the West, if Fatah were truly capable of rebuilding Gaza, conscientiously governing its denizens and policing its borders.
But those who place their hopes in the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority are, regrettably, probably in for a let-down.
Why? Because 100 years of Palestinian Arab history shows that Palestinians reward extremism and punish moderation; because Fatah remains crooked; and because, as its own activists acknowledge, they are simply not up to the task of governing Gaza.
Writing in The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Rashid Khalidi bemoans the fact that though Fatah was formed in the 1950s, the PLO in the 1960s, and the PA in the 1990s; though its leadership was already running a mammoth bureaucracy by the 1970s and a quasi-state in Lebanon until 1982, "the PLO had done precious little to prepare for independent statehood."
Khalidi, predictably, claims it was mostly Israel's fault. "Nevertheless," he writes, "there was much that [the PLO] could have done in spite of these crippling disabilities that they did not do. Notably, when they established the PA they failed to create a solid framework for the rule of law, a constitutional system, a balance of powers, and many of the other building blocks of a modern state to organize the governance of the 3.6 million Palestinians whose welfare they were now responsible for."
SOME Westerners delude themselves into believing they know why support for Hamas appears to have grown despite the fact that since it kidnapped Gilad Schalit in June 2006, the Islamists' self-destructive behavior has paid dividends mostly in Palestinian blood, suffering and mayhem. They attribute Hamas's ascendancy and Fatah's decline to the current fighting, or to settlements, or to the "occupation" pushing ordinary Palestinians ever deeper into Hamas's embrace.
It is more accurate, however, to sadly acknowledge that Hamas's world view better reflects the extremism, rejectionism and self-destructive tendencies that embody the ethos of much of the Palestinian polity. Fatah's perceived drift toward moderation, combined with its corruption, have made it increasingly irrelevant to many Palestinians.
Since the start of the Zionist enterprise, Arab fanatics have been at war not only with our national liberation movement, but, simultaneously, with any internal voice advocating Arab-Jewish coexistence. Those who acquiesce in any semblance of Jewish rights are habitually labeled "collaborators."
Though Fatah denounces Israel's battle with Hamas in the most venomous terms, the West Bank masses are said to be fuming that Fatah won't let them confront Israel directly. "This will irreparably damage its standing in the eyes of Palestiniansâ€¦" an Arab expert told The Christian Science Monitor.
In other words, many ordinary Palestinians want Fatah to again lead them into another violent uprising - despite the devastation a third intifada would bring down on them. Never mind that the standard of living in the West Bank is better than it has been in years.
So the problem is not just a PA demonstrably incapable of reforming itself, or a politically toxic Hamas; it is, more fundamentally, much of the Palestinian political culture.
Those who want to create a Palestinian state living peaceably with Israel could, then, reasonably conclude that what Palestinians need foremost is some kind of trusteeship to help them create a civil society, accountable institutions, transparent government... and political socialization toward tolerance.
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