Sunday, July 22, 2007

U.S. Policy Fanning the Flames Consuming the Palestinians

Last June, Hamas militants routed Fatah security forces in Gaza, causing Palestian President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian Authority there. Now, the United States aims to bolster Abbas and Fatah in the West Bank, which would further a growing rift between the West Bank and Gaza. It is very tragic that it has come to this for the Palestinians, who may have let their last best chance of self-governance slip away. But it is unbearably frustrating that U.S. policy regarding the Palestinian Territories continues to augment the violence and the cynicism engulfing the Palestinian people.

Making Gaza and the West Bank separate entities will not stop the internal bloodshed nor will it make the Palestinians more moderate nor will it make Israel safer. Indeed, abandoning Gaza in light of Hamas’ coup would only strengthen the anti-West extremists there and could prolong the chaos there. An extremist chaotic environment is the perfect habitat for terrorist organizations, and, even worse, individual unaffiliated terrorists. At least when rockets rained down from Gaza before it was clear Hamas was the culprit. With freelance attacks, no one group can be held accountable. Such an environment could force Israel to stay centered around their military, which would stunt its development and undermine its already rocky relationships among other nations.

Splitting Gaza and the West Bank into separate entities would further complicate an already daunting diplomatic situation. Any negotiations of any sort would have to fit well with both Hamas and Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. Granted it would not be the first time that Gaza and the West Bank were viewed differently, and it is true that the two regions are far from identical. But the Palestinians of the regions consider themselves, well, Palestinian, and the final goal they work towards is a single Palestinian state. However, if Hamas and Fatah become sovereign in their respective regions, which could likely result from the current U.S. policy, the Palestinians themselves may become divided as such into Hamas and Fatah Palestinians. Consequently, if a Hamas-led Gaza and a Fatah-led West Bank were to both take part in diplomacy, they would be working at cross-purposes, and they would work to shape any agreement hammered out into a form consistent with their distinct ideologies. Even if the Palestinians were not divided on Hamas and Fatah lines, they would be misrepresented by such ideologies in any negotiations.

The Bush administration has a more optimistic end in mind. They believe that if they support Fatah enough in the West Bank, then the Palestinians will see how much better a moderate government like Fatah is at governing than a radical Hamas one. This view may seem seductive, but only because it ignores history, particularly Fatah’s history, and takes an overly simplistic look at the problem.

When many Palestinians think of Fatah, they picture a gathering of corrupt, self-serving, and power-hungry individuals, and for good reason. Before the 2006 parliamentary elections, the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority did not perform many of the basic community services, such as garbage collection, that are taken for granted in Western countries. Indeed, Hamas’ landside victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections was not solely due to its radical ideology but also to the many community services it provided that the government neglected.

Fatah’s faults are only part of the problem, though. By trying to ensure Fatah’s supremacy in the West Bank, the administration is weakening the very democratic instincts they hope to build within the Palestinians. It is hard to be an active, democratic citizen if no matter what the ruling party will always remain in power. Would you vote, join political parties, or organize into interest groups if the Republicans were kept in power by an outside force forever? Putting an unpopular party in power is a surefire way to quell any democratic developments in a country. That is a lesson this country should have learned from the Cold War.

Ultimately the ball is in the Palestinian’s court, and the harsh reality may be that they blew their last reasonable chance at statehood. That does not mean, though, that U.S. policy cannot be a positive force to help unify the Palestinians around the task of building an independent, stable state. Unfortunately, current U.S. policy does just the opposite. It deepens the divisions that resulted in civil war last June, and it could serve as something the Palestinians could blame for their problems rather than something that could help the Palestinians solve their problems. Such policy could contribute to this generation of Palestinians shutting the door on any chance of a stable, unified Palestinian state.

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