Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Improved behavior

Writing in yesterday’s NY Times, Stephen Erlanger points out that Palestinians had good reason to welcome the Mecca deal, which will put at least a temporary halt to the utterly counterproductive fighting between those aligned with Hamas and Fatah that the US and Israel have done so much to fuel and encourage.

He also notes that the agreement places the US in a bit of a pickle,

The United States will also be reluctant to dismiss the Saudis’ accomplishments as brokers of the accord, given Washington’s interest in creating a broader moderate Arab coalition, including Egypt, Jordan and the Persian Gulf countries, to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional reach.

Of course it remains a mystery how a country like Egypt, or especially Saudi Arabia, earns the reputation of moderation that all the media accord them. After all, there are those who believe that women are entitled to vote, or at least drive, in a country aspiring to the label of moderate. I’ve even heard some of the punishments meted out to Saudi wrongdoers called ‘barbaric’. Perhaps most importantly, if these countries are so moderate, how is it that Israel became ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? If Israel is the only democracy, then clearly Saudi Arabia is not democractic. I suppose it must be a moderate hierocratic feudal monarchy.

Another thing that keeps coming up in the coverage is the role of the Quartet. In Friday’s Time, for example, Elaine Shannon writes,

On its face, the agreement signed in Mecca between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party and Khaled Meshal of Hamas, falls far short of the principles of the international mediating group known as the Quartet, composed of the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia, that a unity government must recognize Israel, reject violence and commit itself to the peace process.

It’s an ‘international mediating group’. Presumably it mediates between those two warring countries, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And it enunciates principles. And those principles are, that the PA ‘government’, the government of a ‘country’ that, as Virginia Tilley pointed out not long ago, exists only in the future, if not just the imagination, ‘recognize Israel, reject violence and commit itself to the peace process’. The mediation makes curiously few demands on the other party to the ‘peace process’. None, actually. Nor on itself, either. After all, the Quartet set itself the task of achieving a final solution to the Palestine problem by 2005.

The Economist, too, writes of ‘a requirement from the Quartet of foreign peacemakers’ – the requirement that Hamas recognize Israel. I’m not going to belabour the point about what recognizing Israel’s ‘right to exist’ would entail. Even the Christian Science Monitor ran a piece by one John V. Whitbeck last Friday week covering that.

To demand that Palestinians recognize "Israel's right to exist" is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians' acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them.

And others have commented on the obvious danger of recognizing an Israel with undefined borders for any Palestinian Authority that really believed that the result of all this peace process rigamarole will eventually be an actual Palestinian state. After all, it’s not as if the entire West Bank and Gaza weren’t small enough already.

Erlanger goes on in the same vein about the agreement constituting

a challenge for the Bush administration, which, along with Israel and several European countries, wants the new government to meet three benchmarks for normal relations: recognize the right of Israel to exist, forswear violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Without the three — and the Mecca accord does not accept them — an international boycott on the Palestinians would continue.

And here it is starting to become apparent that it’s not just the Quartet setting impossible benchmarks for the PA. Israel itself is in on it.

Ha’aretz’s Aluf Benn and Avi Issacharoff went even further, reporting

Israel made a diplomatic effort over the weekend to prevent any of the Quartet's conditions from being watered down as a result of the Mecca agreement. The Quartet's foreign ministers issued a statement on Friday reiterating its demand that any Palestinian government renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect peace deals in order to receive Western aid.

It makes it look almost as if the Quartet, far from mediating between two warring sides, is actively taking one side and enforcing demands on the other.

Never at a loss for cynicism, the editorialists down at the NY Times said today,

Before Europe and the United States will release aid to the authority, Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Two points emerge from this. First and most obvious is that it’s the PA whose aid is being withheld. That is a few million dollars that support the basic infrastructure that allows Palestinians to live, largely through public sector employment. Withholding that aid is, as everybody has observed, holding the Palestinian people to ransom for exhibiting the chutzpah of electing the wrong party to the PA ‘government’. One of the things that goes unsaid is that the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are cut off from each other and the outside world and have absolutely no way to survive without the withheld aid. Another is that nobody is withholding any of the billions of dollars the Israeli government gets each year, even though they have violated every agreement and every UN resolution, even though they continue to build their wall and their settlements explicitly to create ‘facts on the ground’ that will prejudice any future outcome, and even though they have abused the military aid the US gives them by, for example, deliberately strewing southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last hours of their attack with the intention of inflicting more and more casualties long after the ceasefire came into effect.

The other point – somebody has to say it – is that there are no agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. The PA can only claim to represent those who live in the occupied territories, and that not very well. The million and a half or so 1948 ‘Israeli Arabs’ never get consulted about any of this, even though they have a very important stake in the outcome. And neither do the millions of refugees from Ben Gurion’s successful ethnic cleansing program in 1948. I’d cut the Times some slack and allow that maybe it’s just sloppiness, but I’m quite sure that their real intention is to forget about all those other Palestinians.

Anyway, they go on to speculate that the prospect of a bunch of Saudi aid

might help show Hamas the advantages of improved behavior. But Riyadh should make clear that continued aid will require clear proof that the new government is reining in terrorism.

As if the Times were some kind of authority figure empowered to judge Hamas’s behaviour as if it were some naughty child sitting in the corner. As if they were unaware that Hamas had restrained its own militias from attacking Israeli targets for over two years with very few lapses in the face of provocation after provocation by the Israeli war machine.

Whether Hamas is prepared to take that crucial step is doubtful. Israel and the United States should encourage it by making clear that an all-out effort against terrorism would radically improve the negotiating climate — and open the aid spigots.

As if they didn’t realize that a PA attempt to disarm militias would launch a new civil war, the very pretext, indeed, that Israel used for never complying with any of its ‘obligations’ under the original Road map. As if they didn’t recognize the right of the Palestinians to take up arms against the occupation.

But credit where credit is due. The wise persons down the Times observe

Mr. Bush has wasted more than six years without coming up with a serious policy for reducing violence between Israel and the Palestinians and promoting diplomacy.

And of course, neither he nor his successor ever will, until the US addresses the cause of the ‘violence’ and starts making some demands on the instigator and withholding aid from Israel.

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