The “ChickensXXt Moment” in U.S-Israel Relations.
Scarcely had the ceasefire settled upon the latest Gaza war than President Obama and his State Department began bad-mouthing the Netanyahu government for its “illegal” building in the “West Bank” and its refusal to renew negotiations with the Palestine Authority that might lead to Peace Forever in the Middle East.
While speaking at a ceremony at the State Department marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Kerry poked Israel’s government in the eye: “There wasn’t a leader I met with in the region [while trying to put together the anti-ISIS alliance] who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation… And it has something to do with the humiliation and denial and absence of dignity.” One of the State Department’s notoriously inept press spokespersons promptly denied that Kerry had been correctly quoted, but then essentially affirmed the story: “Kerry’s comments were distorted for political gains” by, for example, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. “What [Kerry] said was that during his travels to build a coalition against the Islamic State, he was told that should the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved, the Middle East would be a better place.”
Shortly after these events came what may be the lowest moment in U.S.-Israel relations in decades: “a senior U.S. official” was quoted as saying that Binyamin Netanyahu is “a chickensXXt prime minister,” who only cares about his political survival. Netanyahu’s office did not take this lying down, and did some leaking of its own.
Inside the State Department, since at least the days of John Foster Dulles (who conducted “Middle East policy” under the banner of “even-handedness” between Israel and its Arab enemies) there has been this kind of schoolyard contempt for the only democratically-elected politicians in the region – the government of Israel. Under Obama and Kerry, however, this contempt has become pervasive and toxic. Insofar as this attitude follows from policy rather than from instinct or primal prejudice, it is clear that John Kerry is driven by the Holy Grail fantasy embodied in the Oslo Accords of 1993: a State of Palestine, governed by Palestinian politicians chosen by democratic method, dedicated to the Four Freedoms and other ideals that were supposed to fall into place upon the defeat of the enemies of civilization in the Second World War and the subsequent dismantling of European empires in favour of nationalism.
The Palestinian Government-in-Waiting.
Today, the U.S. and the EU are promoting the fantasy that all the major elements active on the field of “Palestine Politics” are on the cusp of achieving unity among themselves. There are “i’s” to dot and “t’s to cross, but only the intractable behaviour of the Israelis stands between today and that happy day when “humiliation and denial and absence of dignity” shall be no more.
The truth is that the greatest obstacle to the realization of what Obama and Kerry imagine is the Palestinians’ dream of sovereign statehood is not Israel’s opposition to that goal; it is now and always has been the Palestinian-Arabs’ unreadiness for self-government. The politicians presently claiming to embody the hopes and wishes of the Palestinians are not only disunited but hate each other at least as much as they hate the Jews. There is no Government of Palestine on which the Palestinian people are agreed. The term of office to which “President” Mahmoud Abbas was elected by democratic vote ran out on January 9, 2009. It is exactly as though George W. Bush was still strutting around as President of the United States. Furthermore, it was not Abbas’s party (Fatah) but Hamas that won the mandate of January, 2006 — after which the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, was appointed Prime Minister of the Palestine Authority by President Abbas (February, 2006.) But the ensuing round of assassinations of Hamas figures by Fatah figures and vice versa led Hamas’ leaders to conclude that more could be gained by quitting Ramallah, the administrative capital pro tem of Palestine, seizing all of Gaza, liquidating the leading Fatah figures there, and proclaiming themselves to be the rightful rulers of Palestine. Haniyeh has no more right to any of his titles than Abbas has to the title of President, as the tenure of the Parliament elected in 2006 has also run out.
It is all one patronizing fantasy – this notion of an emergent Palestinian democracy, embodied in the courageous, beloved and beleaguered Mayor of Ramallah.
Report Card on Arab and Palestinian Governance.
But quite apart from matters of legitimacy– where in the record of the performance of Arab politicians do we find grounds for the optimistic expectations that Western friends of “Palestinian Statehood” claim to cherish?
The early phase of the Arab Spring, to summer, 2011, abruptly raised hopes in our part of the world for a new era of democracy in the Middle East: there would surely emerge in due course orderly domestic politics, with saner politicians at the helm – a state of affairs that would serve Israel’s interest. But grounds for further hope along this line have utterly evaporated as the Arab Spring is now leading everywhere towards either renewed military rule or bloody chaos.
As Secretary of State John Kerry announces yet another plan for increased “West Bank” economic development, and as he cries out for renewed “Israeli-Palestinian” diplomatic negotiations, “President” Abbas’s constituents are hard at work inventing new and more horrible ways to persuade the Jews that they have no future in the Land. Several new techniques for demonstrating the people’s unhappiness have lately been introduced – including murderous assaults upon synagogues and assassination-by-automobile in Jerusalem. As always in the past, Abbas screams all the louder and swaggers in the world stage all the more resolutely as his influence over the people he claims to rule steadily declines. Salam Fayyad, the “technocrat” forced upon Abbas as his Prime Minister by the Western governments and the various funders of the Palestine Authority, was forced to resign in May of 2013 and has been replaced by a Fatah regular. The kleptocrats who pretend to rule Palestine are now conceding their inability to pay salaries.
Since the latest Gaza war, most speculation about the future of Palestinian politics has focused, on the continued hostility between Fatah and Hamas. Mahmoud Abbas, now 78, refuses to appoint a Deputy, and is clearing cleared the ground around him in order to establish himself, on the model of the African dictators, as President-for-life — which means that there is a non-stop struggle for the inside track. No one seems able to give us any insight into the probabilities of succession here. Just a few months ago, the “informed” verdict among outsiders was that the most likely successor was Mohammad Dahlan, who had been Fatah’s Security Chief under Arafat and then under Abbas. In 2011, Dahlan was expelled from Fatah essentially for displaying too much charisma and too little deference. Dahlan accuses Abbas of having lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007. Dahlan has the qualities most admired in Palestinian statesmen: willingness to assassinate challengers and a gift for large-scale venality. Both Abbas and Dahlan have publicly accused each other of poisoning Yasir Arafat. Dahaln now lives in exile in Abu Dabi.
Most commentators think that we should be keeping our eyes on the contest between Fatah and Hamas rather than on possibility of succession within Fatah. Despite all the propaganda about an imminent Unity Government, the principals hate each other to the death, and no real moves at all have been taken towards collaboration in government. Not long ago, Abbas was secretly recorded telling the Emir of Qatar:
Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, they [Hamas] have been working to undermine it and to topple it. … In 2006 [sic], they planted explosives in my route. They want to bomb me. They also dug a tunnel straight under my house in Gaza, and here’s a CD [given to Abbas by Israel’s security chief] containing images of everything …. You smuggle weapons, explosives, and cash to the West Bank, not for the fight with Israel, but for a coup against the Palestinian Authority…. We have a national unity government and you are thinking about a coup against me.
The incident to which Abbas alludes here was just the most recent in a chain of such attempted coups going back at least to June 12, 2007. On that occasion, both factions set out to improve on the results in the election of 2006 by starting up a civil war: Rocket-propelled grenades and a variety of automatic weapons flew in all directions and the Palestine Authority broke into the two present fiefdoms.
Some Calm Reflection on the Resumés of the Would-Be Leaders of Palestine’s Would-Be State.
The governors of life in today’s Palestine Authority are singled out by reliable NGOs as among the worst offenders in the world in matters that should appear on the report card of all governors over people’s lives: human rights, transparency of government, concern for education and health, and reliable custody of public money. Haniyeh, Abbas, and Dahlan are among the wealthiest of the wealthy in this famously wealthy Arab world.
Would you elect this lot — one part Keystone cops, one part plutocrats, one part Murder Inc — to the executive of your community association? How about making them executors of your will? Yet these are the statesmen to whom the world is preparing to hand over the title deeds of “Palestine” as a reward for nearly seventy bloody years of defiance of the original two-state solution for which the General Assembly voted by a two-thirds vote in November 1947. The reason given then for Arab defiance of historical logic, of reason and of morality, is the same as the reason given today: that Allah requires his disciples to put an end to Jews and Judaism – not to move over and make room for them.
The evident determination of the majority of nations to welcome this lot as peers must be recognized for what it is: the most cynical surrender of all hope for decency in politics.
Sources for direct quotations include:
“The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations is officially here,” www.theatlantic.com, October 28, 2014; Khaled Abu Toameh, “What the ‘Two-State solution’ has to do with the rise of Islamic Extremism: Zero, www.gatestoneinstitute.org, October 20, 2014; “Palestinian politics: A succession crisis,” www.economist.com, March 22; Nathan Thrall & Robert Blecher, “Palestine’s changing Politics,” mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com, May 29, 2012: “Palestinian Authority Human Rights violations Ignored by Media, West,” www.gatestoneinstitute.org, February 11, 2014; “How Much Is Mahmoud Abbas Worth? Try $100 million,” http://www.gatestoneinstitute, May 18, 2012; “How Hamas got rich as Gaza was plunged into poverty, http://www.Ynetnews.com, July 15, 2014.