The Palestine Follies

Hamas's takeover of Gaza represents the latest setback for American foreign policy in the Middle East. The roots of that failure lie in the US and Israeli governments' belief that they can impose peace on their own terms.

American foreign policy in the Middle East experienced yet another major setback this month, when Hamas, whose Palestinian government the United States had tried to isolate, routed the rival Fatah movement in Gaza. In response, Israel sealed Gaza’s borders, making life even more unbearable in a place wracked by violence, poverty, and despair.
It is important that we recognize the source of America’s failure, because it keeps recurring, making peace between Israel and Palestine more difficult. The roots of failure lie in the US and Israeli governments’ belief that military force and financial repression can lead to peace on their terms, rather than accepting a compromise on terms that the Middle East, the rest of the world, and, crucially, most Israelis and Palestinians, accepted long ago.
For 40 years, since the Six-Day War of 1967, there has been one realistic possibility for peace: Israel’s return to its pre-1967 borders, combined with viable economic conditions for a Palestinian state, including access to trade routes, water supplies, and other essential needs. With small and mutually acceptable adjustments to those borders, these terms would enable peaceful co-existence of two states side by side. Perhaps three-fourths of both Israelis and Palestinians support this “land for peace” compromise, while one-fourth holds out for complete victory over the other side.
Rejectionists on both sides repeatedly undermined efforts to realize that compromise. Starting in the early 1970’s, religious Israeli settlers and hard-line Israeli nationalists pushed Israel into a disastrous policy of creating and expanding settlements on Arab lands in the West Bank, in violation of common sense and international diplomacy. That policy blocked peace ever since, setting the stage for decades of bloodshed.

Nor have extremists on either side shrunk from political murder. Islamic militants killed Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian peacemaker, while a Jewish militant killed Yitzhak Rabin, the would-be Israeli peacemaker. Violent extremists on both sides have ratcheted up their actions whenever the majority succeeded in getting closer to peace.
For the past ten years, the greatest practical barrier to peace has been Israel’s failure to carry out any true withdrawal to its 1967 borders, owing to the political weight of hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank and the religious and secular communities that support them. This remains the crucial truth; the rest follows as tragedy. Even when the US or Israel have tabled peace offers, such as at Camp David in 2000, they have included convoluted ways to sustain the West Bank settlements and large settler populations, while denying an economically viable and contiguous Palestinian state.
The most recent debacle began when President George W. Bush called for Palestinian democracy in 2004, but then refused to honor the democratic process. Hamas, a radical movement, won the Palestinian election in January 2006, but not before blatant pre-election meddling by the US in favor of Fatah, which merely helped to boost Hamas’s legitimacy.
Then, after Hamas won, the US and Israel immediately orchestrated a cutoff of finances to the newly elected government, including even Israel’s transfer of Palestine’s own customs revenues, which Israel collects as the occupying authority in control of the borders. Rather than act pragmatically, and deal with Hamas in government on the basis of its actions vis-à-vis Israel, the US and Israel demanded from the outset that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist as a precondition for continued financial flows.

The US and Israel believed that they could force Hamas into submission even before negotiations with the new government began. This is the hubris of believing that brute force and threats, rather than actual negotiation, can yield solutions.
The result was predictable, despite US and Israel expressions of shock at recent developments. US and Israeli pressure deeply compromised Palestinians’ access to water, food, medicines, and physical safety, especially in overcrowded Gaza. Although Israel formally withdrew from Gaza, its complete control over the borders, infrastructure, transport, and taxation, together with its regular military incursions in response to shelling from Gaza and its killings and capture of senior Hamas officials, left Palestinians there desperate.
In this mix, violence escalated. Hamas did not fold in negotiations. Instead, conflict broke out between Hamas and Fatah, leading to Fatah’s collapse and desperate flight from Gaza. In a near-parody of external interventions, the US and Israel encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah to dismiss the Hamas-led government, and to declare a new Fatah-led government in the West Bank.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/wFeTCiZ;
  1. Television sets showing a news report on Xi Jinping's speech Anthony Wallace/Getty Images

    Empowering China’s New Miracle Workers

    China’s success in the next five years will depend largely on how well the government manages the tensions underlying its complex agenda. In particular, China’s leaders will need to balance a muscular Communist Party, setting standards and protecting the public interest, with an empowered market, driving the economy into the future.

  2. United States Supreme Court Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

    The Sovereignty that Really Matters

    The preference of some countries to isolate themselves within their borders is anachronistic and self-defeating, but it would be a serious mistake for others, fearing contagion, to respond by imposing strict isolation. Even in states that have succumbed to reductionist discourses, much of the population has not.

  3.  The price of Euro and US dollars Daniel Leal Olivas/Getty Images

    Resurrecting Creditor Adjustment

    When the Bretton Woods Agreement was hashed out in 1944, it was agreed that countries with current-account deficits should be able to limit temporarily purchases of goods from countries running surpluses. In the ensuing 73 years, the so-called "scarce-currency clause" has been largely forgotten; but it may be time to bring it back.

  4. Leaders of the Russian Revolution in Red Square Keystone France/Getty Images

    Trump’s Republican Collaborators

    Republican leaders have a choice: they can either continue to collaborate with President Donald Trump, thereby courting disaster, or they can renounce him, finally putting their country’s democracy ahead of loyalty to their party tribe. They are hardly the first politicians to face such a decision.

  5. Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron John Thys/Getty Images

    How Money Could Unblock the Brexit Talks

    With talks on the UK's withdrawal from the EU stalled, negotiators should shift to the temporary “transition” Prime Minister Theresa May officially requested last month. Above all, the negotiators should focus immediately on the British budget contributions that will be required to make an orderly transition possible.

  6. Ksenia Sobchak Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    Is Vladimir Putin Losing His Grip?

    In recent decades, as President Vladimir Putin has entrenched his authority, Russia has seemed to be moving backward socially and economically. But while the Kremlin knows that it must reverse this trajectory, genuine reform would be incompatible with the kleptocratic character of Putin’s regime.

  7. Right-wing parties hold conference Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

    Rage Against the Elites

    • With the advantage of hindsight, four recent books bring to bear diverse perspectives on the West’s current populist moment. 
    • Taken together, they help us to understand what that moment is and how it arrived, while reminding us that history is contingent, not inevitable


    Global Bookmark

    Distinguished thinkers review the world’s most important new books on politics, economics, and international affairs.

  8. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Bill Clark/Getty Images

    Don’t Bank on Bankruptcy for Banks

    As a part of their efforts to roll back the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, congressional Republicans have approved a measure that would have courts, rather than regulators, oversee megabank bankruptcies. It is now up to the Trump administration to decide if it wants to set the stage for a repeat of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.