The US has announced that it will resume direct aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), following a similar announcement by the European Union. The Israeli government will also start transferring withheld tax revenues to the PA government, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. And the US is planning to supply Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in the West Bank with arms and ammunition to help it remain in control and fight Hamas.
Talking heads here in the US are discussing the “potential for peace with the new moderate Palestinian government”, and indeed Abbas has called for restarting peace talks with Israel. And Israelis are talking about helping Abbas out by removing checkpoints, releasing prisoners, etc.
Now hold on, everybody.
What actually happened? Hamas and Fatah militias fought a brutal struggle for control of Gaza which Hamas won decisively. Casualties ran in the hundreds, many of them execution-style murders. For some reason, Abbas did not order his Fatah forces in Gaza to attack Hamas until the very end, ordering them to take a defensive posture instead. And none of the top Fatah leadership — not Abbas or Mohammed Dahlan, the Fatah Gaza ‘security’ chief — were in Gaza to lead them.
With Hamas busily converting Gaza with its 1.5 million inhabitants into a Taliban-like Islamic state, in the West Bank Abbas dissolved the Hamas-dominated PA government, kicked out the Hamas members (most of whom were being detained by Israel anyway), and created a new government with Western-educated economist and US favorite Salam Fayyed at its head.
There’s a certain amount of irony here, with the democratic West supporting Abbas’ probably illegal (under the PA constitution) act of overthrowing an elected government, but then Hamas’ bloody coup in Gaza was not terribly legal or democratic either.
The euphoria in Washington, Jerusalem, and Europe could well be premature. There are a number of tough issues that have to be confronted by the new PA leadership before it can be said that Israel has a peace partner:
It has to represent somebody. Theoretically, Abbas holds all the cards in the West Bank. He is financially supported by the US and the EU, and militarily by the IDF, which has complete operational freedom and very good intelligence in the West Bank.
But he has virtually no unpaid popular support. He’s viewed as a puppet of the US and Israel, his Fatah organization is little more than a collection of corrupt old thieves and violent young gangsters, and — importantly — when he had the chance to show Palestinians that he could govern, before the elections that brought Hamas to power, he did nothing to reduce the corruption or to rein in the brutal gangs that preyed on the ‘unconnected’ citizens. And many of his own Fatah people blame him for the loss of Gaza, either by incompetence or design.
It has to adopt a genuine pro-peace ideology. Fatah never changed its charter, despite Arafat’s prevarications, and it still calls for the elimination of Israel. The PA, since its inception in 1994, under Arafat, Abbas, and most recently Hamas, has carried on a campaign of hateful incitement against Israel, including what can only be called brainwashing of young people to produce terrorists. Media, schools, mosques, summer camps, and every available institution has been employed in this campaign. Abbas himself, although he claims to oppose terrorism, has never taken any effective steps to stop the ongoing terrorism of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the ‘military’ (i.e., terrorist) arm of his own Fatah movement.
A solution has to be found for Gaza. It’s not possible to ignore 1.5 million Palestinians in any sense, and it’s not possible to ignore a violently hostile, terrorist entity armed, as it will be, with rockets like Hizbullah’s — or worse. Hamas is receiving support in the form of weapons and money from confrontational states like Iran and Syria simply to fight Israel. A peace treaty with a government that speaks only for the West Bank (if Fatah were even this much!) could not reasonably be said to mark the end of the conflict.
None of these issues is simple, and indeed, all the evidence today points against a positive resolution of any of them. But hope springs eternal, especially in the US State Department, and this is where the real danger lies. I’m sure that Israel is being pressured right now to “show that it’s serious about supporting Abbas” by taking steps that could compromise security.
It is much more appropriate that US force Abbas to “show that he’s serious about peace” by really stopping incitement and terrorism, as the PA committed to do at the time of the Oslo agreement. Israelis are absolutely prepared to make concessions, but by now, after all of the broken promises, only in return for security.
And this is even more true today as the Hamas threat on the south has joined the Hezbollah and Syrian threat in the north.