The return of baksheesh diplomacy

The announced decision by the Trump administration to initiate its peace plan, the so-called “Deal of the Century,” with an economic summit for the Palestinians in Bahrain next month conjures up frightening feelings of déjà vu.

By
May 30, 2019 20:46
Oslo Accords

Slain Israeli Prime Minister Rabin with former US President Bill Clinton and former PLO President Yasser Arafat after signing the Oslo Accords at the White House on September 13, 1993. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The announced decision by the Trump administration to initiate its peace plan, the so-called “Deal of the Century,” with an economic summit for the Palestinians in Bahrain next month conjures up frightening feelings of déjà vu. The conference will attempt to cobble together international pledges to amass a treasure chest of cash donations and economic incentives, from the United States and others, enough to drag the Palestinian Authority’s leadership back to the negotiating table with Israel.

Once again, by dangling these economic carrots before Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians, the Bahrain planners believe they can convince the residents of the West Bank that they should be willing to trade the hope of an enhanced standard of living and assured financial prosperity for the abandonment of their extremist political goals and dreams of recapturing Jerusalem. But if this “new” thinking is merely going to be premised upon plying the terrorist organizations that still rule over Palestinian society with gratuitous money in exchange for their compromises on land, full independence and control of the Old City, then the “Deal of the Century” will quickly shape up to be the “Deal of the Last Century.”

The architects of the disastrous Oslo Accords also believed that money was the key component to settling the conflict between the terrorists and us. Indeed, Shimon Peres’s much heralded new Middle East program boldly asserted that if the Palestinians would only compromise and accept Israel’s right to exist, then they could enjoy the economic prosperity which Israelis themselves have flourished under. The strategy was to flood Arafat and his cronies with international aid and economic incentives, building projects, infrastructure and hope, while in exchange the reformed terrorists, basting in their good luck, would come to terms with Israel. This was the worst of naive and reckless Western thinking by the worst of naive and reckless Western men.

We signed the Paris Protocol on Economic Relations with the Palestinians in 1994, and the US and EU began to transfer the funds. Hundreds of millions of dollars were paid to the Palestinians, money that was earmarked for infrastructure, education and healthcare, but which no one could keep track of. Rather than moving toward peace, Arafat pocketed the cash and continued his dreams of war. Instead of buying us Israelis a resolution, the humanitarian aid to the Palestinians brought us the Beit Lid terrorist attack with 21 murdered; the Dolphinarium Discotheque massacre with 28 murdered, including 16 teenagers; and the Park Hotel Passover bombing with 30 killed and more than 100 injured – and many, many others. Tragically, this was the Palestinians’ real response to the naive previous efforts to bribe them into abandoning their dreams.

EVEN AT the time of the White House lawn signing ceremony between Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, the idea of paying out baksheesh – payola – to local Arab leaders, had a questionable history many centuries old. The Ottoman Turks, hated throughout the Arab world, discovered they could maintain calm across the empire by paying graft to local village muhktars, who would in turn act as strongmen and ensure the peace. After World War II, the British were given the Palestine Mandate and continued the corrupt practice of paying off local muhktars and agents who would impose quiet, and suppress the hotheads and extremists while advancing British policies. The bribes were destined to fail, however. Israel itself was no stranger to this baksheesh diplomacy. It has repeatedly tried to identify and promote local Palestinian mayors and strongmen who will take funding from us in exchange for calm, usually with dismal results.

Moreover, the strategy of paying off the Palestinians to compromise on their political goals and territorial aspirations directly contradicts the Trump administration’s policy of economically punishing Abbas for his payments to the imprisoned terrorists and stipends to the families of suicide bombers. Indeed, the recently enacted Taylor Force Act aims to reduce American economic assistance to the Palestinians in amounts equal to their payments to the terrorist prisoners. The goal is to financially deter the Palestinians from their “pay to slay” program and impose the message that you cannot continue to assist and glorify those who engage in terrorism. The Bahrain conference and the strategy of paying off the Palestinians to participate in the peace process will inflict serious damage to the achievements of the Taylor Force Act as a deterrent. You cannot both reward and punish Abbas with money at the same time.

As the United States Supreme Court noted in its 2010 landmark Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project decision, all money provided to terrorist groups is fungible and frees up other funds in their possession, which can then be used for extremist violence against civilians. “Congress and the Executive have concluded that we live in a different world: one in which the designated foreign terrorist organizations are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct.” Correctly, you cannot sterilely earmark certain foreign aid for roads and hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza, because any money provided to the PLO, Hamas or Islamic Jihad will allow other funds in their hands to be freed up and utilized for rockets, shootings, stabbings and car ramming attacks against Israelis.

The continuing Western view that what moves the modern Middle East today is money, is a falsehood that should not be condoned nor encouraged, lest it lead to another failed peace deal and more terrorist violence against us. The powerful tides of religion, nationalism, vengeance, immorality and bloodlust are the real moving forces in our region and usurp prosperity and dreams of a better material life. The focus of any new peace proposal must be on compelling the Palestinians to abandon violence, the glorification of their “martyrs” and their century-old dream of driving Jews into the sea. The Bahrain conference might well amass a pile of gold and economic incentives for the Palestinians, but it will never even dent their hopes of replacing Israel with Palestine. Asked to choose between Volvos and modern sewerage plants, and their dreams of ruling the Old City, the Palestinians will choose Haram esh-Sharif, our Temple Mount, every time.

The writer is an Israeli attorney and president of the Shurat Hadin Law Center.

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