Sunday, August 9, 2009

Palestinian Politics: It's Not The Economy, Stupid (At Least Not First and Foremost)

By Barry Rubin

A nice little vignette about the arrogance of Western journalists and experts who drop into our neighborhood for a few days is offered by Tom Friedman's latest column. He writes:

"Because the West Bank today is largely hidden from Israelis by a wall, Israelis are just starting to learn from their own press what is going on there. On July 31, many Israelis were no doubt surprised to read this quote in the Maariv daily from Omar Hashim, deputy chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Nablus, the commercial center of the West Bank: `Traders here are satisfied,' said Hashim. `Their sales are rising. They feel that life is returning to normal. There is a strong sense of optimism.'”

No, Tom. Because the West Bank is not at all hidden by a wall, though Israelis go there far less frequently given the possibility of being murdered. But most of those goods, you see, come through Israel; Israeli banks and companies do a large amount of business on the West Bank. Newspapers, radio, and television have been providing news about this for months. Indeed, the Israeli government has been making promoting this prosperity a priority. Here, for example, is a detailed report on all this from two months ago.

Thanks for the tip-off, though!

The idea that the most basic information to locals need be supplied by a New York Times columnist passing through gives some sense of the common idea in many Western circles that Israelis, and Arabs, too, are sort of inferior colonial peoples who need outsiders to make peace, teach them about politics, and alter their societies. Nowadays this kind of attitude comes from the left as much--or even more--than from the right.

[I have great anecdotes about such things but can't use them as all the good quotes were said in private conversation. But trust me you'd be amazed at the kind of things blending ignorance, arrogance, and patronizing attitudes that Western diplomats, parliamentarians, and journalists say about these issues.]

But, Tom, I have news for you, too. Just a few minutes from where you wrote this column there's a big event going on in Bethlehem. More than 2,000 Palestinians are meeting at the first Fatah Congress in about twenty years to determine the movement's future, which will in turn determine the Palestinians future, which will in turn determine the Israel-Palestinian conflict's future, which will--according to some people including the president of the United States--determine the world's future.

Perhaps you are waiting until the meeting is over to write something, or perhaps you figure that since the world is flat now little things like politics and ideology are less important than commerce. In fact, as has happened before, if Fatah decides to turn back to armed struggle (also known as terrorism), which it says might well happen if it doesn't get everything it wants, all that nascent prosperity will disappear in about one hour.

So perhaps what's going on at that Congress is too unpleasant to cover because it subverts that "strong sense of optimism."

But you do write a little about politics. You say:

"Make no mistake: Palestinians still want the Israeli occupation to end, and their own state to emerge, tomorrow. That is not going to happen.":

Why isn't that going to happen? Because of Palestinian, not Israeli, politics and ideology. I'm fascinated by the sentence about Palestinians want their state "tomorrow."  That seems obviously true. Yet in fact it isn't. Of course, Palestinians want a unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces immediately, just like what happened in the Gaza Strip. And because of the way the leadership and people handled that one (rockets and mortars, you might recall, and cross-border raids), it is less likely to happen.

So, no, the leadership doesn't want it to happen tomorrow because it wants the state only on its own terms. If it has to pay a reasonable price, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority would rather wait for decades. They say so every day.
If you do write something about the Fatah meeting, please mention how Fatah has failed to reform itself, or to moderate. In fact, the leadership of  the Palestinians is so ar from being a rational actor that it just voted unanimously--and with no evidence--to accuse Israel of murdering Yasir Arafat, its previous leader. Not the slightest gesture was offered to persuade Israelis that Fatah wants a secure and lasting peace. The most extreme rhetoric was used instead to make clear what a diabolical--and it's implied, permanent--enemy Israel is.

Now it's true that the merchants are pragmatic people and may not think this way. But they have no choice. When the gunmen say "jump," or more likely, close down and be on strike; boycott Israel; hand over money; and things like that, the middle class will do so. The shutters close down, unemployment goes back up.

It's what Mao Zedong called, "Politics in command." And, he further explained, "Political power comes out o the barrel of a gun." Good guidelines for understanding the contemporary Middle East. Not out of the doors of a high-price boutique.

Do drop by any time you want and keep us informed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.