Archive for October, 2007

Eleven commandments of Palestinian politics

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Recently, I wrote that the Fatah terrorists who were arrested — and promptly released — for planning to assassinate Israeli PM Ehud Olmert — were possibly part of a piece of Paliwood theater. I simply couldn’t get my mind around the actions of Abbas and Fayed any other way. But there’s another way to see it.

The Attempt to Kill Olmert
By Barry Rubin

Several Fatah security force officers assigned to protect Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as he went to meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas, it has just been revealed, 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.

It should be emphasized that the would-be assassins were Fatah, not Hamas, and that they were quickly released by PA authorities before outside pressure forced their re-arrest. (Prediction: they will be freed soon with little or no international media coverage.)

But this is merely the same basic pattern as happened with the assassins of Israeli government minister Rehavam Zeevi 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. Not to mention thousands of other attacks when the PA had a chance to teach its own people about the politically counterproductive—not to mention immoral and divisive–nature of terrorism.

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 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 which are absolutely fatal to the hope of getting a Palestinian state, becoming more moderate, ending terrorism, or stopping even officially sponsored PA incitement to commit terrorism. Palestinians know these rules well though 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. This applies even if the Israelis are bringing in supplies or providing jobs to Palestinians, or if the attack damages Palestinian interests. If the victims are schoolchildren or shoppers or people riding on a bus, of course, is irrelevant in this world view.

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 hardline and intransigent. Suicide bombers along with those who incite and 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. Thus, Olmert is no better than anyone else even as he withdraws from the Gaza Strip, 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. (Note: I thought of this as a satire but a high-ranking Syrian official just proposed the equivalent on that front.)

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. While pretending to be nationalist, the movement sets as top priority the so-called “right of return,” the demand that all Palestinian refugees or their descendents—several million people—must be allowed to live in Israel. It is better not to get a state than to give up this demand. Even though having many Palestinians go live in Israel would make Palestine weaker and poorer it is better to focus on destroying Israel from within.

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.

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

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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Stop terrorism — for real — first

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter spoke to an AIPAC conference in Philadelphia yesterday:

Dichter further stated that the US-sponsored Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, “must enable both sides – Israel and the Palestinians, with the assistance of the US, the Quartet and the moderate Arab nations – to finally start implementing the first stage of the road map.”

The minister added that the Palestinians must establish law enforcement bodies such as police forces, courts and “real prisons”, before negotiations on a final status agreement can begin. Without such bodies, Dichter said, any declarations by the Palestinians have no merit. — Jerusalem Post

Let’s remind ourselves of what the Roadmap actually said. Here are some excerpts from Phase 1:

  • Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.
  • Rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus begins sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption.
  • GOI [Government of Israel] takes no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attack on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure; and other measures specified in the Tenet Work Plan.
  • Arab states cut off public and private funding and all other forms of support for groups supporting and engaging in violence and terror.
  • GOI immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001.
  • Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements). — MideastWeb

Neither the Roadmap nor the Mitchell Report on which it’s based specifies the order in which these conditions must be met. When the Roadmap was adopted, however, Israel agreed to it with 14 reservations. Israel did not object to freezing settlement activity, but first two points include the following:

These [Palestinian Authority security] organizations will engage in genuine prevention of terror and violence through arrests, interrogations, prevention and the enforcement of the legal groundwork for investigations, prosecution and punishment…

Full performance will be a condition for progress between phases and for progress within phases. The first condition for progress will be the complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement. Progress between phases will come only following the full implementation of the preceding phase. Attention will be paid not to timelines, but to performance benchmarks. (Timelines will serve only as reference points).

Needless to say, neither side has implemented Phase 1 of the Roadmap. It is Israel’s position, which Dichter is simply restating, that terrorist violence against Israel has to stop as a first condition, before anything else.

This is not unreasonable, unless you believe the Palestinian contention that Israel’s defensive activities are equivalent to Palestinian terrorism.

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The real Iranian threat against Israel

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Foreign Minister Tzipi LivniThe following item appeared in Ha’aretz yesterday:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel…

Her precise meaning has not been made clear. Here is what I think makes sense:

It’s certain that if Iran succeeds in detonating a nuclear bomb in, say, Tel Aviv, it would be a great catastrophe. But Israel has the ability to preempt and defend against missile and other types of attack, given the delivery technology in Iran’s possession. So a massive attack that would “wipe Israel off the map” would not be likely to succeed.

In addition, and of overriding importance, Iran’s goals would not be served. Israel has a second-strike capability which almost certainly would do far more damage to Iran than Iran could do to Israel. Iran’s dream of being a world or even regional power would be over, her military, oil and industrial capacity decimated.

The real threat from Iran is less dramatic, but in the long run, more dangerous: regional domination — including control of oil resources in neighboring countries. Perhaps it could be accomplished just by bullying, without Iran needing to detonate any nuclear bombs.

This would result in an enormous increase in Iranian influence throughout the world. Iran would then have the ability to strangle Israel’s economy, drive away population, fight her by proxy, etc. This could, over a longer term, actually be worse for Israel than a partially successful nuclear attack.

There is no doubt that Livni understands this, and it is for this reason that she has said on numerous occasions that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. And since the possession of such makes effective action against them much more difficult or impossible, the urgency to take action is not diminished.

The threat is real and time to defuse it is short — even if it is less apocalyptic than one might imagine.

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Terrorist murderer of 17 Americans walks free

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Terrorist al-BadawiOutrageous but not terribly surprising:

SAN’A, Yemen [AP] – Yemen has set free one of the al-Qaida masterminds of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors, a senior security official said Thursday.

Jamal al-Badawi, who is wanted by the FBI, was convicted in 2004 of plotting, preparing and helping carry out the USS Cole bombing and received a death sentence that was commuted to 15 years in prison.

He and 22 others, mostly al-Qaida fighters, escaped from prison in 2004. But al-Badawi was granted his freedom after turning himself in 15 days ago and pledging loyalty to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh…

Al-Badawi has a $5 million US bounty on his head. His release came after a deal negotiated between Yemen and al-Quaeda “in return for a pledge not to engage in any violent or Al-Qaeda-related activity” (AFP).

Oh, I see. He’s clearly entirely rehabilitated.

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Will it be lights out for Hamas?

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

What if England had been supplying electricity to Germany in 1941?

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s approval earlier Thursday of an IDF plan to impose sanctions on the Gaza Strip in wake of the escalation in Kassam rocket attacks was the first step, defense officials told The Jerusalem Post, towards a “complete disengagement” including the gradual reduction in Palestinian dependency on Israel for gas and electricity…

According to the plan, one of the power lines connecting Israel and Gaza will be shut down at first for 15 minutes after a rocket attack, gradually increasing the cutoff length if the barrages continue, up to a two-hour limit. In addition, Israel will begin reducing the amount of gasoline it allows into the Gaza Strip…

Defense officials stressed that the fairly-limited sanctions were not capable of creating a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and were being imposed with the eventual goal – of the defense establishment – to completely cut off Palestinian dependency on Israel. The cuts to electricity will not affect Gaza-based hospitals, defense officials said…

Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel had no choice but to take punitive measures. “Should we tell them to continue firing rockets at the same power station that provides them with electricity and continue to bomb the water system that provides them with water?” he asked.


Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appealed for international intervention and called the Israeli decision to cut off electricity to Gaza after each Kassam rocket “particularly provocative given that Palestinians and Israelis are meeting to negotiate an agreement on the core issues for ending the conflict between them.”

Palestinians and human rights groups denounced the measure as collective punishment. One of the groups, Gisha, issued a statement warning, “Playing with electricity is playing with fire,” adding, “Even a brief interruption in electricity threatens the safety and well-being of Gaza residents.” — Jerusalem Post

1) Firing rockets at random into civilian territory in order to kill people is very ‘provocative’ and in fact is a war crime.

2) By Gisha’s reasoning, almost any wartime action that affects a civilian population is ‘collective punishment’. Nevertheless, Israel’s tying the interruptions of service to rocket attacks is unfortunate, because it lends itself to the charge that the interruptions are retaliatory in nature. Israel should simply cut the electricity because it is not required to supply a hostile enemy. Let Hamas solve the problem by ceasing its belligerency.

This should have happened a long time ago, perhaps on the day this March when a Hamas sniper in Gaza shot an Israeli electrical worker atop a pole on the Israeli side of the border (see “Black Out Gaza!”).

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