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Monday, July 09, 2007

Living in a dream world and returning to reality

In today's Washington Post, Jackson Diehl takes some pretty fair shots at Israel (and the US) for having unrealistic expectations of the results of their policies. But, as usual, his prescription for resolving the problem is wrong.

During Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington last month, I asked a senior Israeli official to explain what the prime minister thought would be the result of his policy -- quickly embraced by the Bush administration -- of isolating the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. Since Hamas's coup against the secular Fatah party in mid-June, Israel has allowed in international aid convoys and continued to supply power and water, but otherwise sealed off the territory and its 1.5 million people.

His answer: As conditions worsened, Palestinians in Gaza would grow steadily more disgruntled with Hamas. Eventually, they would turn on their rulers, and the rump Islamic state that threatens to take hold between Egypt and Israel would collapse. Fatah -- which Israel and the United States are supporting in the West Bank -- would regain control.

In other words, Israeli policy is counting on Gaza's impoverished and largely uneducated population to stage the first popular revolution against a domestic government in the modern history of the Arab Middle East. It also assumes that people suffering from extreme privation will respond by demanding a more moderate government.

If this reasoning is far-fetched, it's at least consistent. [Yes, it's quite far-fetched and he is right that it's time for a new policy. But not the one he has in mind. CiJ] Ever since Hamas won Palestinian elections at the beginning of last year, Olmert and the Bush administration have adopted a string of failed policies based on ever-more-unlikely scenarios. They began by betting that a diplomatic and aid boycott would either cause Hamas's collapse or force it to formally recognize Israel's right to exist. Then they calculated that the Middle East could be divided into "extremist" and "moderate" states, with the moderates -- including Saudi Arabia -- lining up with Israel against Iran and Hamas. Now they are supposing that they can back the weaker side in an intra-Palestinian power struggle and ensure that it comes out on top.

So far the result of these wishful strategies has been to make Hamas stronger and Palestinians as a whole more radical. The greatest threat to the Gaza regime at the moment is not Fatah but still more bloodthirsty gangs, such as Islamic Jihad and Army of Islam. Many people believe al-Qaeda will soon be a serious factor.

To this point, Diehl is on target. I don't think there was any choice but to impose the boycott - we sure weren't going to start having 'negotiations' with Hamas. But Israel and the US could have taken much stronger steps against the terror organization than they did take. For example, as noted, Israel has continued to supply water and electricity to Hamas despite the unceasing Kassam fire over the last two years. But the truth is that Hamas and Fatah are in cahoots and have been all along. I'll prove it to you.

Islamic law has a concept called Taqiyya. Taqiyya permits lying to non-Muslims in order to win political battles and protect Islam. It would be very easy - and permissible under Islamic law - for Hamas to lie and say the 'magic words' accepting Israel. Why won't they do it? Obviously, because they have a different plan in mind. That plan is their long-term hudna. It may be something we can live with provided that Israel does not have to part with any strategic assets to make it work.

Moreover, given that Fatah had more men and superior fire power, why didn't they win last month's battle in Gaza? The answer to that question is easy: they never fought. The following is from the blog of Charles Levinson, the London Daily Telegraph's reporter in the region, and one of the few foreign reporters who was in Gaza during the Fatah-Hamas 'battle'.
We spoke with nearly a dozen Fatah fighters and soldiers from the various branches of the security services, all of whom were around in the president’s compound, the intelligence headquarters, the Preventative Security headquarters and even in Khan Younis until the final hours of the battle. We came with a pretty damning indictment of the political and military leadership.

Fatah never fought. Gaza was essentially handed over to Hamas. Soldier after soldier said they felt betrayed and abandoned by their leadership. There was a seemingly willful lack of decision making by the senior most political leadership. Up and down the Gaza Strip from the first moments of fighting, the military leadership disintegrated while the political leadership remained eerily silent.

Ousted Fatah loyalists in Gaza widely suspect a political decision was made early on in Ramallah to surrender the Gaza Strip to Hamas in order to extricate Abbas, Israel and the US from the seeming intractable pickle they were facing as infighting spiraled, living conditions worsened, and the peace process seemed hopelessly stuck. With the Palestinian territories now split, the US, Israel and Abbas suddenly have way forward, without compromising to Hamas.


A.R. was a major in the Presidential Guard and has served in the elite highly selective force since the days of Arafat. He is educated, bilingual and comes across as a well disciplined career soldier. In the midst of interviewing him in the garden of the Marna Hotel, Gaza City’s oldest, Al Arabiya began broadcasting a live interview with Dahlan and we all gathered around to watch. After the interview we continued.

“Funny,” A.R. said. “Despite all that has happened in Gaza, Dahlan’s spirits seem pretty high.”

“What do you think that means?” I asked.

“He knew. Dahlan knew this was coming and he was planning for this scenario,” A.R. said.

A.R. continued, describing the total lack of resistance by the Fatah security services. The only order they ever received was to surrender bases if Hamas wanted them badly enough, he said.
The only order we ever heard coming from Abbas in Ramallah was that he didn’t want a blood bath and if Hamas wanted the security bases, let them take it. We understood that there was not supposed to be any resistance.
The presidential guard were the most highly trained and professional soldiers in the security services’ ranks and they were dismayed when rudimentary and repeatedly drilled steps to respond to the Hamas onslaught were never taken.

No state of emergency was ever declared, curfews were never imposed, contingency counter attack plans were ever drawn up, heavy weapons were never mounted on the roofs of the security bases, and extra ammo stocks were never dragged out of storage.
Fatah decided to rid itself of Gaza just as Ariel Sharon had decided to do nearly two years before. But with a big difference. Israel turned Gaza over to a sworn enemy. Fatah turned it over to a brother. Fatah now has Hamas in a position to launch unhindered attacks on Israel's southern flank for which Fatah will be blameless. Egypt played along because it has no love for Israel either. And Fatah has come out smelling like a rose with the US and the Israeli government falling all over themselves to 'strengthen' Abu Mazen. But 'strengthening' Abu Mazen is a mistake. Abu Mazen cannot deliver. He is weak. He is surrounded by corrupt cronies like Mohammed Dahlan. (I urge you all to read that link).

Jackson Diehl goes on to say that Israel and Hamas need to 'come to terms' with each other and proposes a compromise:
In reality, probably the only way forward in the Middle East is for Israel and Hamas to start to come to terms with each other, however provisionally, while accepting that Hamas's formal recognition of Israel, and Western acceptance of Hamas, will come at the end rather than the beginning of the process. Only if they decide on a full-fledged cease-fire will there be a chance to end the violence -- and head off the growing risk of another multi-front war in the Middle East. Only if Hamas agrees to free the Israeli soldier it is still holding hostage, Gilad Shalit, will there be a major Israeli release of Palestinian prisoners. If Israel is to stick to its promise to reduce roadblocks and illegal settlements in the West Bank, it will need Hamas's tacit cooperation -- one suicide bomb by Hamas would quickly reverse any Israeli retreat. And Western governments will find it difficult to do even rudimentary business with Hamas unless Israel goes first.
But any 'prisoner release' would return the terrorists to Hamas' camp, and we all know what the consequences of putting terrorists back in circulation are likely to be. And reversing the roadblocks' removal will be much harder than removing them in the first place. We cannot move ahead on that basis.

For the record, Hamas is still willing to deal with Fatah based on the Mecca agreement and to reconstitute the 'unity' government. Read a fascinating interview here.

What should Israel do? Here are some ideas:

1. Recognize that both Fatah and Hamas are the enemy. Both want to destroy us.

2. Treat both Fatah and Hamas as the enemy. Cut off electricity and water to Gaza for 24 hours every time a Kassam lands in the Negev. Cut it off until Shalit is returned. Don't do it hoping that the Gazans will rise up and overthrow Hamas - Diehl is right in saying that's a fantasy. But do it so that Hamas will have to decide how it wants to meet its people's needs. Remember, Hamas won the election in 2006 because it was viewed as being less corrupt and more likely to be able to provide the municipal services that the 'Palestinians' need for day-to-day living. Let them crack down on the Kassam shooters or suffer the consequences of a day in the sweltering heat with no air conditioning. At some point the people will insist that Hamas do something.

3. Ignore the 'humanitarian crisis' criers. This is war. We all know that if Hamas and Fatah win the war there won't be any 'humanitarian crisis' here because we will all be slaughtered, God forbid.

4. Eventually, according to an article written last week by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, we will reach a long-term truce with Hamas:

Therefore, in the likely event that the joint Israeli-American plan worked out in Egypt to support Abbas and isolate Hamas fails, it will be necessary to move to Plan B. This plan is predicated first and foremost on accepting realities on the ground and turning them to the best possible advantage. Hamas has demonstrated that when in distress, it is pliable to practical arrangements on the ground. Therefore, parallel to maintaining pressure on Hamas on a daily basis, isolating it regionally and internationally, contacts should be established with Hamas to see if a long-term armistice with it can be obtained. It must be a tough eyeball-to-eyeball exercise in which Hamas is brought to a point where its self-interest dictates such an understanding. An armistice will entail provisions for maintaining security, ending arms smuggling into the Strip, et cetera. Until this is achieved, constant military pressure must be maintained. In scope, this could resemble the original armistice agreements negotiated and agreed to by Israel and the Arab states after the War of Independence in 1948-1949. At that time, too, the Arab states refused to recognize Israel--just as does Hamas today--but they nevertheless signed binding agreements with it. Armistice would not be a political determination of the conflict but a down-to-earth method of reducing tensions--a goal most essential, inter alia to American interests in the Middle East at large.

Parallel to this, identical agreements should be negotiated with Fatah in the West Bank. Fatah cannot pretend to represent Gaza, and it would be hard put to acquiesce in accepting Hamas, again as a limited player. Yet, should it refuse to do so, Fatah might face a West Bank implosion. This it cannot afford. Inter-Arab support for this construction must be sought. Both Fatah and Hamas must commit themselves to this arrangement at the highest Arab state level. It must ultimately be consecrated at the U.N. Security Council with strong U.S. support. An important byproduct of such a step would be the precedent of getting a non-state entity to assume international obligations in the context of new requirements that are emerging in the key area of combating international Islamic terrorism. The more we can wean away territorial-based entities like Hamas from their ties and commitments to terrorism, the more we shall improve our chances of winning the war against this strategic threat to the western way of life. It is a long and tortuous haul requiring infinite patience, determination, and creativity. In order to triumph , we will all need a few devils on board . The United States has excelled in such exercises in the last quarter of a century. Supporting Saddam Hussein against Iran just 20 years ago and aiding and arming the Islamic fighters who chased the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan are just two recent cases in point.

The 1949-67 armistice agreements were not perfect. There were constant terror attacks on Israel from Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian territory. But they could be workable if Israel responds to terror attacks rather than threatening a response (which is the only way to deter terror) and if they take 'final status' off the table until such time as - if ever - the 'Palestinians' are willing to live in peace with Israel. Real peace. Note also that there are no territorial concessions involved here and no commitments to stifle the growth of the Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria. This is the price the 'Palestinians' will pay for the last thirteen years of being unable to make a real commitment to real peace.

Unfortunately, Halevy is still stuck on Condi Rice's 'political horizon':
In order to encourage the Arab world to accept and promote these ideas, it would be wise to initiate a non-binding dialogue between Israel and the Arab states on fundamental permanent-status issues. These could serve as a beacon for hope for the Palestinians and as an incentive to try and put their house in order. U.S. support for this approach is essential and would serve its interest in the broader context of its current Middle East necessities. Should current policy in Washington and Jerusalem and Ramallah flounder, Plan B should be on the table for consideration six months from now.
Except for the 'beacon of hope,' Halevy is proposing Hamas' long-term hudna without the territorial demands on Israel as a pre-condition. That part actually makes sense.


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