When you’re an observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it always pays to be cynical. Sometimes it feels like that’s all you are–cynical. This NY Times article about current U.S. thinking and policy toward the Palestinians just reinforces all that cynicism. First, let’s lay out the groundwork of the new policy:
The United States on Monday ended an economic and political embargo of the Palestinian Authority in a bid to bolster President Mahmoud Abbas and the new Fatah-led emergency government he has established in the West Bank as a counterweight to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The American decision freed up tens of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians that has been frozen since the Hamas victory in legislative elections in early 2006. The European Union similarly announced plans to resume direct aid to the Palestinians, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would release to Mr. Abbas Palestinian tax revenues that Israel has withheld since Hamas took control of the Palestinian parliament.
…The American moves amount to a major step toward what some call a “West Bank first” strategy in which money, aid and international political recognition would be heaped on the West Bank, leaving Gaza to be ruled by Hamas, largely as its fief.
It remains to be seen how lifting an economic and political embargo amounts to a policy. Rather, it amounts to a return to status quo ante and a status quo which in itself was not a notable success.
Here, Helene Cooper gets to the heart of the problem regarding this alleged policy:
A “West Bank first” strategy would mean leaning on the Israeli government to dismantle settlements, ease up on travel restrictions for Palestinians moving around the West Bank, and release a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, Middle East experts said. Such moves would probably require significant prodding from the Bush administration; it is unclear whether Mr. Bush, who has thus far refrained from pressuring Israel to make political concessions to Mr. Abbas, will actually do so now.
Aye, there’s the rub. Bush has given Israel the sweetest of sweetheart deals during his presidency. No pain, no opposition. Why will he start now doing what he wasn’t prepared to do until now? You know even if Bush was inclined to get off his ass that Dick would perch on his shoulder telling him that he mustn’t, he daren’t. The neocons have this Administration locked up at least as far as Israeli-Palestinian policy goes.
Further, the above paragraph doesn’t even mention final status negotiations, which is the ultimate prize for the Palestinians. And if you can’t give Abbas this, you’re not giving him anything. And believe me, Condi can’t deliver on this promise even if she wanted to. First, Dick will veto it; and second, Olmert won’t go along. Not in a million years.
Turning to Gaza: I knew that all Olmert’s soothing talk about not abandoning Gaza was just that–talk. AP writes that Israel and the U.S. want to turn the screws even tighter (if that’s possible) on Hamas:
Israel plans to tighten a financial clampdown on Hamas-ruled Gaza, denying it access to funds including Palestinian tax revenues released to President Mahmoud Abbas, senior officials said on Tuesday.
Israel and the United States want to isolate Hamas economically, diplomatically and militarily in the Gaza Strip…
Senior Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel was discussing with the United States the scope of their Gaza embargo.
In addition to barring Palestinian tax funds transferred to Abbas from reaching Gaza to run Hamas-controlled government agencies and pay salaries, Israel is considering banning private transfers to individual Gazans through Western Union and other financial institutions, a senior Israeli official said…
“Gaza is a terrorist-controlled entity now,” said the Israeli official, who is working with the Bush administration to isolate Hamas.
There’s always been a schizophrenic aspect to Israel and the U.S. portrayal of Hamas. They are a terrorist entity, yet they won a democratic election fair and square. It is impossible to reconcile this contradiction. And the fact remains that though Hamas made a dumb-assed move in assuming total control in Gaza, it is still the leader of an elected PA government–which is more than can be said about the cabinet Abbas appointed yesterday: appointed by one man and answerable to one man. What kind of government is this? Even if it were composed of the most honest and competent individuals in the universe, it simply doesn’t have a democratic heksher (kosher certification) and will therefore not be politically viable in the long run.
Here is further bad news for Gaza:
The official said the return of the tax money [which Israel is proposing to give to the Abbas government] came with at least one major condition attached: “No financial assistance can go to any entity or person with connections to the Hamas-run administration in Gaza.”
“That means no salaries or direct transfers” to government workers in Gaza using the tax money, the official added.
A European Union aid program known as the Temporary International Mechanism plans to continue paying monthly “allowances” — approximately $360 each — directly to the Palestinian Authority’s non-security work force, including those in Hamas-controlled Gaza, EU officials said.
But an Israeli official and Western diplomats said Israel wants to scale back the European program to only pay allowances to workers in Gaza’s health sector to ensure hospitals keep functioning.
It simply beggars belief that Israel, already responsible for the virtual strangulation of Gaza would try to pull the noose even tighter. They think they are hurting Hamas with ploys like this. But who are they really hurting? Gazans caught in the political crossfire who may support one side or the other or neither. Why do they deserve to starve for the alleged sins of Hamas?
I predict that the West Bank First, Gaza Never policy will fall of its own weight. It may take weeks or even months. But it will fail of its own internal contradictions as sure as I sit here writing on this keyboard.