The Region: Dead-end paths

What if the Palestinian conflict with Israel can't be solved?

barry rubin column 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin column 88
(photo credit: )
The world's approach to the Middle East is largely based on resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Thousands of diplomatic hours, plane tickets, innocent reams of paper, and posh hotel rooms are being devoted to this effort. The pace of time, cost, and attention is accelerating. But what if the problem cannot be fixed, at least for decades? Doesn't this require serious thought? Instead the actual, unpleasant, reality is denied. This approach, while ultimately unsatisfactory and even dangerous, makes some sense. Spending lots of time trying out various unworkable options might keep these issues from becoming worse. It also covers those who do so from being blamed for the inevitable failure and future crises we can expect. Still, there should be a lot more people explaining the true situation. Here is what we are told about the range of current policy options:
  • Talk a lot. A good dialogue never hurts and they might even serve food. So Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet Palestinian Authority nominal chief executive Mahmoud Abbas every couple of weeks. No harm. Let's both sides look cooperative and eager for peace. But nothing will come out of this either.
  • Throw in lots of money. Estimates are that around $1.2 billion was given as aid to the PA last year. This is more than during several previous years before the declared sanctions against the Hamas-led regime, not including money smuggled in by Hamas itself. Palestinians are the biggest per capita aid recipients in the world, even in a period when aid has supposedly been reduced. And yet this does not mean that Palestinians are living well. The aid disappears into corruption or paid to PA employees who do nothing useful or as welfare payments to people prevented by bad regime policies and chaos from anything economically productive. At best, aid maintains the status quo, thus preventing material pressure for change (a more moderate government, peace with Israel, a crackdown on corruption and lawlessness). At worst it subsidizes terrorist gunmen, schools that teach Jews are sub-humans who should be killed, and continued Hamas rule.
  • Sanctions to put pressure for moderation, peace, and change. See previous item. If such sanctions have failed it is partly because so much money is being provided any way. While there is an attempt to target the sanctions against Hamas itself, funds can simply be moved around too easily to really fulfill this goal. European governments seem to feel that aid originally provided on condition that the Palestinians achieve a full and lasting peace with Israel should continue after they have rejected this option.
  • Build up "moderate" Fatah to counter radical Hamas. This is a clever strategy which would be very appropriate except for one small problem - Fatah does not support it. Of course, in saying this I don't mean that Fatah opposes Western help to itself (in fact, it is largely waiting around for outsiders to solve its problems and put it back into power). The first problem is that Fatah is not doing anything to help itself. Since Hamas took power in January 2005 it is impossible to detect any effort by Fatah to reform itself, strengthen its leadership, fight corruption in its ranks, or develop its unity. All the shortcomings that led Fatah to defeat in the January 2005 elections are still present. Nobody can save an organization that acts as if it is so bent on its own destruction. The second problem is that Fatah's main strategy in "combating" Hamas is to imitate it. Not that everyone in Fatah is radical and certainly not Islamist. But aside from the statements of a few, including Abbas himself, there is no big difference between them. The third problem is that Fatah has accepted a role as Hamas's junior partner. The two groups are rivals. But at present they are allies.
  • Make Hamas moderate. Take one percent of Hamas leaders' statements in English. Discard the rest and everything said by them in Arabic. Throw in the belief that no one can really be radical. Ignore the fact that they think they are divinely directed and need not change since they are winning. Mix well with ignorance and - voila, Hamas Moderation Stew, makes millions of portions. SO IF the two-state solution won't work, what does one do? Here, too, there is a bad back-up plan: the one-state solution. Since the Palestinians have produced a failed state, this brilliant concept proposes that having wrecked Palestine one might as well wreck Israel, too. Sort of expand outward the corruption, hatred, violence, and chaos. No, thanks. However, the good news is that since this is unsolvable, the Middle East, with whatever appropriate help from the world, could try to solve a few other problems like terrorism, dictatorship, economic and social backwardness, inequality for women, inadequate educational systems, and so on. For now, however, we are out of space or I would tell you how the United States can simultaneously stabilize Iraq; win Iraqi Shi'ites away from Iran; keep the Sunni happy; reconcile US with Iranian and Syrian interests; and defeat an insurgency by those happy to see the country levelled and millions murdered as long as they could claim to rule it.