Subject: Re: Fwd: Missed Opportunities - IPF Friday Volume 262
I agree that this is a good analysis, but I would add one point: The
Israeli government may have wished for a Hamas victory, to "prove" that
there could be no Palestinian negotiating "partner." This would partly
explain why in the past year they gave Abu Mazen absolutely nothing to
work with to show that his leadership could gain something for the
Palestinians, even some amelioration of the occupation, which would have
been at no cost to Israel, especially after the cease-fire joined by Hamas.
> Bob...Are you familiar with M.J.Rosenberg's news letter? He often
> irritates me, but this is, I think, an unusually balanced
> appraisal--spreading blame appropriately. Best. Bruce van Voorst
> Missed Opportunities - IPF Friday Volume 262
> MJ Rosenberg<firstname.lastname@example.org>
> _*Washington DC, February 17, 2006
> Issue # 262*_
> *_Missed Opportunities_*
> On Wednesday, Senator Lincoln Chafee, chairman of the Middle East
> Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked the Secretary
> of State to explain why the United States did not do more to prevent
> the Hamas win in the January 25th election. He was not suggesting that
> the Bush administration should have obstructed the election or
> withheld recognition of it as “free and fair.” He simply wanted to
> understand why the United States had not done more to strengthen
> Mahmoud Abbas so that he would be able to withstand the Hamas challenge.
> Chafee is too modest to mention that he had repeatedly warned the
> administration that our tepid support of Abbas would lead to a Hamas
> victory and that unless the United States went all-out to help Abbas,
> we would face disaster.
> Secretary Rice told Chafee and the Committee that she probably devotes
> “more time on this issue than any other,” noting the trips she has
> made to the region and her success at producing the Gaza Movement and
> Access Agreement. But Rice herself has acknowledged that the United
> States did not have “a good enough pulse” on the Palestinian
> electorate’s attitudes.
> No doubt Chafee’s question resonates with her as well. How, in fact,
> did this happen?
> Pursuing an answer to that question is not Monday morning
> quarterbacking. Knowing the answer could help prevent more “missed
> opportunities” – opportunities which could, if seized, prevent the
> next round of bloodshed.
> By now everyone has heard the canard: the Palestinians have never
> missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. There is no arguing with
> that. But neither the United States nor Israel should casually invoke
> that tired mantra lest someone point out that when it comes to missed
> opportunities, the Palestinians have plenty of company.
> The first thing to know about the Hamas win is that it was it was
> eminently predictable (and was widely predicted, including in this
> space) and perhaps even inevitable, inevitable in the sense that the
> actions of Fatah, the Americans, and the Israelis made it so.
> /First, Fatah/. The Palestinians were sick and tired of Fatah’s
> corruption and cronyism. Foreign aid was siphoned off into the pockets
> of warlords and political hacks. Government payrolls were packed with
> Fatah loyalists who not only did nothing but were expected to do
> nothing. With its reputation for incorruptibility, and its efficiency
> in providing social services, Hamas was a natural alternative despite
> its commitment to Islamic fundamentalism (not popular in mostly
> secular Palestine). Voting for Hamas was simply a way to vote against
> Fatah’s inability to get it together was demonstrated by its failure
> to unite on a single candidate in the hotly contested district
> elections. A large part of the Hamas victory can be attributed to its
> ability to enforce party discipline, i.e. one candidate per district.
> Fatah candidates, on the other hand, competed against each other as
> well as against Hamas. Splintering the anti-Hamas vote played a major
> part in producing the Hamas mandate.
> /Second, the United States/. Perhaps Palestinians would have forgiven
> Fatah’s sleaziness if it had eased the burden of the Israeli
> occupation. Palestinians thought that the death of Yasir Arafat and
> the election of Mahmoud Abbas a year ago would lead the United States
> to push Israel to ease up on them. It didn’t happen.
> The Bush administration said the right things. But, with a few notable
> and significant exceptions – especially Rice’s successful efforts at
> getting the route of the separation barrier altered to ease
> Palestinian movement and the Gaza border crossings agreement – the US
> let Prime Minister Sharon do more or less whatever he wanted to do.
> Rightly supporting Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal, we couldn’t even get
> Sharon to negotiate its terms with Abbas or even to symbolically bring
> him in. Sharon insisted that Israel would get out without consulting
> the Palestinians. Accordingly, Abbas and Fatah got no credit for Gaza
> withdrawal while Hamas was credited for producing the unilateral
> pullout by force of its arms.
> Congress, for its part, did everything in its power to prevent
> President Bush and Secretary Rice from taking actions that might have
> strengthened Abbas vis a vis Hamas, repeatedly acting as if it was
> Arafat and not Abbas who was in power. In fact, Congress put more
> restrictions on Palestinian aid under Abbas than under Arafat, putting
> politics before policy.
> That isn’t likely to change now.
> The other day the House passed a strong and necessary resolution
> (already passed in the Senate) expressing the sense of Congress that
> "no United States assistance should be provided directly to the
> Palestinian Authority if any representative political party holding a
> majority of parliamentary seats within the Palestinian Authority
> maintains a position calling for the destruction of Israel." But that
> was not enough for some House members who compared the Hamas victory
> to Hitler’s rise to power, arguing that Hitler too had won a free and
> fair democratic election which therefore proved that the Bush
> administration is wrong in arguing that democratic elections should be
> That comparison is offensive on its face -- made only more so by the
> fact that it is simply wrong. Hitler’s victory came by smashing heads,
> suppressing the opposition and tormenting minorities. And, even with
> all that, he did not win a majority but was appointed chancellor as
> part of a political deal.
> Like it or not, Hamas won fair and square in an election certified as
> such by the United States. Besides, Hitler was leader of the world’s
> most powerful (or second most powerful) military power. The
> Palestinians fully control no territory, have no army, and are next
> door to the 4th strongest military power on earth. The Hamas victory
> is troubling enough without this kind of rhetorical excess, not to
> mention the legislation that tends to flow from it.
> /Third, the Israelis/. They are the last people who should be
> surprised by the Hamas victory. In fact, in the 1980s Hamas (and
> previous incarnations of Islamic resistance) were quietly supported by
> the Israelis as alternatives to the PLO.
> Prior to Yitzhak Rabin’s election in 1992 and the Oslo agreement,
> successive Israeli governments preferred any alternative to Arafat and
> his organization, largely because they were not interested in
> negotiating with the Palestinians at all. And the Islamicists –unlike
> the PLO – were not interested in negotiating with them either.
> But their biggest contribution to the Hamas victory was more recent.
> After boycotting Yasir Arafat since his election in 2001, it was
> assumed that the Sharon government would be more forthcoming with his
> moderate and democratically-elected successor who, after all, ended
> the intifada.
> It wasn’t. Sharon rarely negotiated with Abbas and simply ignored most
> of Israel’s responsibilities under the Roadmap (freezing settlement
> expansion, for one). Other than calling Abbas a “partner,” Sharon
> treated him little differently than Arafat and the Americans didn’t
> press him hard to do so. Abbas could not even win the release of
> political prisoners, something Arafat was able to achieve. To
> Palestinians, Abbas looked like a dupe.
> Abbas, for his part, did not live up to his responsibilities either,
> making only the feeblest of efforts to disarm the militants although –
> and this is of supreme importance – he maintained the ceasefire that
> allowed Israel to flourish over the past year. I visited Israel
> several times during the intifada and also since the ceasefire was
> implemented and the difference is night and day. Israel feels like
> Israel. Those who would dismiss the significance of the ceasefire and
> the Palestinians’ commitment to it simply do not know Israel and that
> is why its continuation has to be Israel’s and America’s number one
> priority in the region. As Tom Friedman points out in his column
> today, what matters is what the Palestinians do, not what they say.
> But Palestinian responsibilities are less significant in this context
> than Israel’s or America’s. One, the Palestinians are by far the
> weaker party. Any Palestinian government’s room for maneuver will be
> less than Israel’s. And, two, neither Israel nor the United States has
> control over what the Palestinians do. Israel can make choices for
> Israel and America for America. Unfortunately, too many wrong choices
> were made.
> It is then no surprise that Hamas won. Those who didn’t see the Hamas
> triumph coming were not paying enough attention.
> At this point, it is impossible to know what is likely to happen.
> There are conflicting signs coming out of Gaza, the West Bank and the
> Arab capitals as well. Some are hopeful; some aren’t.
> The lesson to be derived from the policy failures that produced the
> Hamas win is that there is no Israeli-Palestinian status quo. The
> situation either gets better or it gets worse. Yasir Arafat’s
> replacement by Mahmoud Abbas presented the opportunity to move swiftly
> toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But virtually every
> opportunity was missed – with the exception of Ariel Sharon’s Gaza
> withdrawal – and even that success was marred by the failure to
> coordinate with the Palestinians.
> And now there is Hamas. Is the diplomatic process dead? It isn’t.
> There will be more opportunities to stabilize the situation and
> ultimately advance toward an agreement even now, even with a
> Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas.
> But only if Israelis, Palestinians and Americans seize opportunities
> rather than ignore them in the hopes that they just go away. The
> alternative? Terrorism, Intifada 3, and ever deadlier violence. Nobody
> can say they weren’t warned.
> /The views expressed in IPF Friday are those of MJ Rosenberg and not
> necessarily of Israel Policy Forum. If you have colleagues or friends
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