Rami G. Khouri
Itâ€™s hard to know who appears more ludicrous and despicable, the Palestinian Fateh 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 â€œmoderatesâ€ in Palestine who want to negotiate peace with Israel.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday to underline American support for â€œmoderatesâ€ committed to a negotiated peace with Israel, such as President Abbas. She also called leaders of â€œmoderateâ€ Arab states to rally their support for Abbas against Hamas. Surrealistically, this was happening when Hamas forces were routing Fatehâ€™s security forces to take control of all public facilities in Gaza, and President Abbas was proving that the sort of Arab â€œmoderationâ€ he represents has little anchorage in reality any more, and little credibility with its own people above all.
Abbas declared a state of emergency Thursday 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 â€œmoderationâ€ of Abbas and his Fateh movement was a noble nationalistic cause three decades ago. But Fatehâ€™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 American State Department.
Even in this moment of utter failure and complete humiliation — his presidential compound occupied, his guards dispersed, his government non-existent, 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 Palestine. Even the Israelis long ago gave up on Abbas and his sclerotic Fateh 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. Fateh 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 Fateh, because Hamas has only shared power for just over a year, and then only barely, because of the international financial boycott. We donâ€™t know if Hamas will do a better job than Fateh, 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 self-rule. 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. It is a law of both physics and politics that deceit begets chaos, and delusion fosters destruction.
All concerned must collectively break this cycle of Israelâ€™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.