The Region: Rules of the game, Palestinian-style

No speeches, no foreign aid, and no international plans or meetings have altered these basic tenets.

barry rubin 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin 88
(photo credit: )
Several Fatah security force officers assigned to protect Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as he went to meet with PA head Mahmoud Abbas, at the end of June, planned to assassinate him instead. This event should be amazing enough to get people to rethink their premises. After all, it is late 2007, with a supposedly moderate leadership running the PA and Fatah, and this kind of thing is still happening. The would-be assassins were Fatah - not Hamas, and they were quickly released by PA authorities before outside pressure forced their re-arrest. Prediction: they will be freed soon with little media coverage. But this is merely the same pattern as happened with the assassins of Israeli government minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001 or the gunmen who seized the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002: international indifference, a show of PA law enforcement, and terrorists go free. The PA has never really punished anyone for murdering or trying to kill an Israeli or for attacking Israel. Occasionally, in the 1990s, there were convictions, but only on charges of damaging the Palestinian cause - which meant attacking at an embarrassing time. Even those prisoners were quickly released. Remember that in the Olmert case the conspirators, if successful, would have tremendously damaged the PA and Fatah before an international summit meeting from which Palestinians hoped to benefit. If they'd actually started shooting, much less killed or wounded Olmert, the PA, Fatah, and the Palestinian cause would have been so discredited that it would take years before they were offered a state or lavish Western aid again. Consequently, based on his own interests, Abbas should have them shot, which is what the PA does to people it deems traitors. But they probably won't even get community service in the end. Why? Because of the rules of Palestinian politics. These tenets are fatal to the hope of getting a Palestinian state, of the Palestinian polity becoming more moderate, of ending terrorism, or stopping even officially sponsored PA incitement. Palestinians know these rules well; outsiders seem largely unaware of them. Exceptions can be found but few, and since these are considered shameful they go unpublicized and thus form no precedent for changing the rules, which are: (1) Palestinians cannot stop other Palestinians from attacking Israel. To do so would be betraying the cause, becoming Israel's lackey. (2) He who is most militant is always right. Extremism equals heroism. This is one reason why Fatah has such a difficult time competing with Hamas. It cannot denounce these rivals for being too intransigent. Suicide bombers along with those who manage them are role models, not misled individuals, much less evil ones. (3) More violence is good and a "victory" if it inflicts casualties or damage on Israel. Other than ritual denunciations for the foreign media, these are matters for pride, with the implication being that they advance the cause rather than sabotage it. (4) No Israeli government can do anything good. Olmert is no better than anyone else even as he offers to accept a Palestinian state, and is ready to give up east Jerusalem. Some Palestinian leaders can talk privately to Israeli counterparts about cooperation (and even their dream of peace) but don't tell this to their own people. (5) Since Palestinians are the perpetual victim they are entitled to everything they want and never need to give anything in exchange for Israeli concessions. Thus, the preferred PA diplomatic option is that Israel withdraws from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, recognizes an independent Palestinian state, releases all Palestinian prisoners, and then talks can begin. (6) No Palestinian should be imprisoned for attacks on Israel one minute longer than required by international public relations‚ needs. After all, if they are doing heroic deeds against an evil enemy - even by murdering civilians on purpose - why should they be punished? (7) Fatah won't discipline or expel anyone for launching attacks. (8) Wiping Israel off the map is morally correct. If anyone says anything different they will be scared or ashamed, justifying their lapse as a temporary tactical measure or way to fool enemies. (9) The movement sets as top priority the so-called "right of return," the demand that all Palestinian refugees or their descendents must be allowed to live in Israel. It is better not to get a state than to give up this demand. (10) It is more important to be steadfast and patient with a terrible status quo than to make big gains by ending the conflict forever. To do so would give up future Palestinians' chance to seek total victory. Their right to all of the land cannot be given away. Palestinian leaders may sincerely voice their dismay with this problem privately but won't fight to smash them. If they ever really do change we'll know. But until then, these are the reasons why the Palestinian side cannot - and will not - reach for peace or keep existing commitments very well. Even if a handful of top Palestinians want to reach agreement with Israel, they cannot - and even worse, dare not - violate these commandments.