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Palestinian incompetence, Western hypocrisy

By Rami G. Khouri

Wednesday 20 June 2007

It’s hard to know who appears more ludicrous and despicable, the
Palestinian Fatah and Hamas leaderships allowing their gunmen to fight
it out on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, or an American
administration saying it supports the “moderates” in Palestine who want
to negotiate peace with Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday to underline American support for “moderates” committed to a negotiated peace with Israel, such as Abbas. She also called leaders of “moderate” Arab states to rally their support for Abbas against Hamas.

Surrealistically, this was happening when Hamas forces were routing
Fatah’s security forces to take control of all public facilities in
Gaza, and Abbas was proving that the sort of Arab “moderation” he
represents has little anchorage in reality any more.

Abbas declared a state of emergency and dismissed the Palestinian
government, but the facts on the ground are that the Palestinian
government is a fiction, and his state of emergency is a state of
imagination. The “moderation” of Abbas and his Fatah movement was a
noble nationalistic cause three decades ago. But Fatah’s own
incompetence and creeping corruption - especially after taking control
of the West Bank and Gaza after the Oslo accords of 1993 - have turned
the movement into an embarrassment that is little more than a pathetic
poster child and crippled errand boy for the U.S. State Department.

Even in this moment of utter failure and complete humiliation - his
presidential compound in Gaza occupied, his guards dispersed, his
government nonexistent, his orders meaningless, his people sanctioned
and starved - the quintessential Arab moderate Mahmoud Abbas found
himself being defined in public by the American secretary of state
primarily in terms of his willingness to negotiate peace with Israel.

Nevertheless, he persists, somewhat heroic and moving at one level, but
overall a tragic and hapless figure whose ineptitude is matched by his
irrelevance - except in the eyes of the American government that uses
him as a convenient prop for its make-believe diplomatic games in

Even the Israelis long ago gave up on Abbas and his sclerotic Fatah
movement, which has spawned the same sort of local militias and
militant gangs that plague many other dysfunctional Arab countries.

The first lesson of this Palestinian catastrophe is about the
Palestinians themselves, who must endure a fate that reflects the
quality of their own leadership.

Fatah dominated the Palestinian national movement since its inception
over 40 years ago and forged a unified national movement, with
realistic diplomatic goals based on a two-state solution that garnered
great international support. All this was systematically wasted and
negated in the past decade. Gaza looks like the ravaged Somali capital
Mogadishu, because its political turmoil is slowly mirroring the Somali
legacy of a disintegrating state replaced by feuding warlords.

Hamas shares some of the blame for this also, but much less than Fatah,
because Hamas has only shared power for just over a year, and then only barely, because of the international financial boycott. We don’t know if Hamas will do a better job than Fatah, because it has not had the time to prove itself. Perhaps we will find out in the months ahead.

Another lesson we should draw from this situation is the devastating
impact of Israeli, American and British hypocrisy, which has proved to
be the historical midwife of Palestinian incompetent and violent

As long as Israel and its Western backers persist in their shameful
double standards - demanding Palestinian moderation while accepting
Israeli colonization and settlements; promoting Arab democracy while
trying to strangle to death a democratically-elected Palestinian
government; pressuring the Palestinians to negotiate agreements while
wholeheartedly backing Israeli unilateralism that shuns negotiations -
a credible, legitimate Palestinian government can never take root.

All concerned must collectively break this cycle of Israel’s brutal
occupation and colonization, Palestinian domestic incompetence and
self-destruction, American-British-led Western hypocritical complicity,
and detached Arab ineptitude. The combination of these four dynamics
persisting for years on end has been a catastrophe for all, resulting
in radicalization and an increasing resort to militancy on all fronts.

Two things are needed to get the Palestinians out of this tragic
fighting pit they have allowed themselves to become.

The first is to acknowledge that they reached this low point through a
combination of their own pedestrian politics and the low-grade morality
of many others.

The second is to engage the Palestinians primarily on the basis of
their own rights and needs, rather than only as the expedient
instruments of Israeli demands and American fantasies. If not, what you
see is what you get.