Monday, September 26, 2011

The Rat Finds his Groove

It’s easy to feel sorry for Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority. Ever since he was elected to succeed the charismatic Yasser Arafat in 2004, Mr Abbas has been living like a rat that is caught in between an angry gorilla and a drunken elephant on one hand and a swarm of very irate hornets on the other. As far as Israel and the US are concerned, Mr Abbas has been totally ineffectual in keeping violent Islamic extremist under control and so he’s failed to guarantee Israeli security. As far the Islamist in Hamas are concerned, Mr Abbas has sold the people out to Israel and the West. Both sides have made it a point to place Mr Abbas at the sticky point between the fire and the frying pan. When he allowed Hamas to stand for an election, they had the audacity to win it in a fair electoral contest. As such, Israel and America decided to punish him by withholding taxes which the Palestinian Authority rises on Palestinians but is collected by Israel. When he tried to pacify the Israelis and Americans by sacking Hamas from the unity government that the Saudi’s helped him negotiate, they promptly took over the Gaza Strip by force and despite Israeli sanctions and invasion in 2008, they’ve actually succeeded in running something resembling a viable state. To be fair to Mr Abbas, the job of running the Palestinian Authority was never an easy one. Compared to his predecessor, Mr Abbas is dull and uninspiring. Say what you like about Mr Arafat but when he spoke he could get the people up in arms or to lay down his arms. By contrast Mr Abbas only seems able to get people to mock him. It also hasn’t helped that his Israeli and American counterparts have shown him less than zero respect. Israeli Prime Ministers, Ehud Olmert and Binyamin Nethanyahu have made it a point to humiliate Mr Abbas whenever they have had the chance. Mr Abbas says he’ll negotiate for peace in return for land – the Israeli’s promptly move more settlers into the West Bank as they sit down to negotiate. Not everything that Mr Abbas does can be blamed on someone else. Let’s face it, Hamas have gained a foothold with the Palestinian people because they have been everything that Mr Abbas has been unable to be. Hamas, as most neutral observers have pointed out, won elections in January 2006 because they ran honest and competent administrations in the Palestinian territories. By contrast, the areas run by Mr Abbas’s Fattah party were rife with corruption. The Western world may condemn Hamas for refusing to acknowledge the “right of Israel to exist,” but as far as a good many Palestinians are concerned, Hamas fights for Palestinian interest rather than Israeli and American interest. Sure, Israel did bomb the living daylights out of the Gaza strip in 2008 but as far as most Palestinians are concerned, that’s no worse than what happens in the West Bank – Israel merely takes the land that everyone else regards as Palestinian. Mr Abbas has nobody to blame except himself in this respect. Had his party been a bit more honest and a bit more inclined to the welfare of the Palestinian people, the threat he faces from Hamas would be a lot less severe. You would think that Mr Abbas would have merely slunk away into a hole to escape these pressures. Nobody would blame him if he did. However, he’s recently seems to have found his groove much to the annoyance of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Nethanyahu and the Islamist in Hamas. Mr Abbas’s decision to go straight to the UN to make the case for Palestinian Statehood is a brilliant strategic move. It’s clear that he’s going to lose in Security Council. The Americans have already announced that they’ll veto such a move. However, that is precisely the point. Mr Abbas will lose in the Security Council but he has the votes or at least enough votes to scare Israel and the USA in the General Assembly. At the time of writing, the Economist has argued that at the very least, Mr Abbas will see an upgrade from being a mere ‘entity.’ This won’t translate into much change on the ground but Mr Abbas will ensure that his existence is more than just an amusing fact for Israeli and American right wing politicians. The Palestinians will have to be treated as a nation – even if it is one without viable land. More importantly, Mr Abbas will be justified in having an armed force. More importantly, this is the first time that Mr Abbas has been able to project himself as “fighting” for the people. Any defeat in the Security Council through the expected American veto will prove that it is not Mr Abbas that has been a stumbling block to peace but Israel and America. If Mr Abbas gets the votes in the General Assembly as he is expected to – it will become very clear to the world that American and Israeli insistence for negotiations without preconditions is the insistence of a school yard bully rather than someone interested in making peace. Mr Abbas will also be able to show the Palestinians that he’s found a way of fighting for them without incurring violent retaliation from Israel. Suddenly Mr Abbas can portray himself as a clever fighter as opposed to the guys from Hamas. Now, the international community needs to act to support Mr Abbas’s move. There is no moral or logical reason for the Palestinian people not to have “statehood.” Both Palestinians and Israeli’s agree that they need a “two-state” solution. However, this won’t happen as long as only one side is regarded as a state. The main onus is on Israel. The Israeli nation has argued that it wants to be left alone by its ‘hostile’ Arab neighbours. Perhaps this was true in the 1960s, however, this increasingly less so. In 2002 and 2006, Saudi Abdullah proposed that Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders in return for diplomatic recognition by all 22 members of the Arab league. Israel has refused to even consider this – this is despite calls by US President Obama to use 1967 borders as the basis of negotiations. The settlements are illegal and building them on territories recognised as Palestinian as effectively an invasion. If Israel wants to stop terrorism against its citizens, she should stop building settlements and bring new Jewish Immigrants into Israel’s 1967 borders. The Sharm El-Sheikh report chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell found that there was a direct correlation between settlements building and suicide bombings. Stop settlement building and you stop the suicide bombers. As one Jewish currency trader I met said, “Of course the Palestinians are throwing rockets at us – we’ve locked them up in cages – what do you expect them to do.” If Israel were willing to stop settlement buildings and move back to its 1967 borders, it would make it easier for Mr Abbas and other Palestinian leaders to sell the idea that the Palestinian people have to give up their right to return to the homes they were turned out off and more importantly to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish State. Even Hamas has agreed to recognise the “Reality of Israel,” so there is hope if Israel shows a willingness to give back land it has taken. On the other hand, the Palestinians need leadership that takes responsibility for its own actions. Arafat had charisma but as an Algerian friend of mine pointed out – “That Bastard, stole everything.” Palestinians need to find a way of making what little they have work for them. They have the mercy of the Muslim world to provide them with the money and trade routes. Palestinians speak Arabic, the universal language of more than 100 million people. They have education and they are ironically near enough Israel to take advantage of a working economy that is well plugged into the Western world. The West also needs to help Palestine turn into something like Turkey – a strong democratic state where the majority of people happen to be Muslim. Mr Abbas has found his groove – let’s hope he stays on a roll – it could lead to something spectacular and unprecedented – peace and prosperity in a region known for violence.

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