Aug 14, 2008 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
August 14, 2008
Number 08/08 #06
This Update contains additional information and analysis of the situation in Gaza, in the wake of the Hamas-Fatah face-off there two weeks ago.
First up, the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre offers an excellent synopsis of the current state of play in Gaza. It has useful detailed analysis of the Hamas-Fatah conflict, the humanitarian situation and negotiations on the the border crossings, and is particularly good in discussing the recent Egyptian successes in closing a number of smuggling tunnels along the border, and the Egyptian role in any hopes of stabilising the situation. For this highly informative backgrounder, CLICK HERE. A good article on the smuggling tunnels and their relationship to Hamas rule is here, while Hamas is complaining of the Egyptian efforts to close the tunnels.
Next up, Shlomo Brom, an Israeli general-turned-academic security analyst, looks at the Hamas consolidation of power in Gaza. He says the conflict was actually a lot more complex than many realise, and mentions various tribes and armed groups with complex and overlapping allegiances. He also looks at the implications for Israel, and says the Hamas consolidation may actually be positive for stabilising the situation in the short-term, if much more problematic in the longer view. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE. Another good piece identifying the bizarre complexities of the Gaza situation comes from Ethan Bronner of the New York Times.
Finally, former Soviet dissident-turned-Israeli politician and intellectual Natan Sharansky again joins with Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid to make the case that the key to peace in the Middle East is Palestinian democracy. They use recent events, and the bizarre complexities of it, to make their case that Palestinian civil society has been hollowed out, principally by Arafat and his cronies, and that this is the key reason real peace proves impossible. They call for an international shift away from unconditional support for PA heads like Arafat and Abbas, often against civil society, to recognition that Palestinian civil society is the key prerequisite of peace. For this important argument from sources who cannot be ignored, CLICK HERE. Sharansky also recently weighed in on the death of fellow dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Rockets continue to be fired into Israel, despite the Gaza truce. Plus, some terrorists show off their rocket factory and ongoing rocket production to CNN.
- Lebanon’s Daily Star denounces Fatah-Hamas fighting as a bigger threat to Palestinians than is Israel.
- Inside Hamas’ “summer camps”, which train teens to fight Israel.
- One Gaza town which longs for the Israelis to come back.
- Undelivered aid pledges, especially Arab aid, leave the Salam Fayad Government of the Palestinian Authority scrambling for money.
- American intellectual Peter Berkowitz calls for reforms of UN refugee agency for Palestinians, UNWRA, as a prerequisite of peace.
- An interesting reaction to the threat by top Palestinian negotiator, Ahmad Qurei, that if Israel does not accede to all the Palestinian demands regarding borders and refugees, then “we might demand Israeli citizenship” and try to turn Israel into a binational state.
- Syria blocks UN inspections of the alleged nuclear site Israel bombed last year.
- Israeli academic Gerald Steinberg had some interesting thoughts on the lessons of the recent violence in Georgia, for Israel and international politics generally. So did Israeli Russia expert Yitzhak Brudny. Actually, there’s a great deal of interesting comment around on this subject, and to cite just some, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
BICOM Analysis, August 13, 2008
- Various events and trends in the Gaza Strip at present ought to be appropriately contextualised in terms of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in June.
- Cairo has demonstrated its resolve to tackle weapons smuggling into Gaza more forcefully, but Hamas’s control presents an ongoing challenge both to Egyptian and Israeli officials, which is not getting any easier to manage.
- The recent outbreak of sectarian violence in Gaza is a reminder of Hamas’s consolidated grip on the balance of terror and, more broadly, the complexity of Palestinian-Israeli affairs at present.
- Israel’s commitment to ensuring that a humanitarian crisis is averted in Gaza has been made easier since the ceasefire was agreed, but whether and in what form more extensive arrangements at border crossings will come into effect remains unclear and is hindered primarily by Hamas’s intransigence on related issues.
- Hamas’s critical need for public support might make it more amenable to policies which deliver benefits to ordinary Gazans. However, from Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority’s perspectives, further conflict remains likely as long as radical militants wield too much power.
Last week, Egypt discovered 20 underground tunnels in the weapons smuggling infrastructure upon which Hamas (the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement) relies, as well as an 800 metre fuel pipeline, running under its border with Gaza. The fortnight before that witnessed the most violent sectarianism to have damaged prospects for Palestinian national reconciliation since Hamas seized control of Gaza just over a year ago. Indeed the split between Hamas and the Palestinian authority has arguably deepened. Meanwhile, despite Hamas’s focus on military rearmament, Israel is abiding by its commitment to increase humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
This brief focuses on these contrasting events and trends as the most significant developments occurring since the Cairo-brokered Israel-Hamas ceasefire, or tahdiyeh (the more accurate Arabic term used to describe the temporary lull in fighting), in June. In no small measure due to Egypt’s integral and ongoing role, the lull continues to endure, albeit precariously, almost two months after being agreed. The natural inclination for a casual observer might be to conclude that upon successful implementation of any ceasefire agreement between warring parties, they are on the path to some form of reconciliation. The reality in the case of Israel and Hamas, however, is that the present interest each side has in the lull partially obscures the growing complexity of the situation and propensity for conflict to re-emerge.
Egypt’s key role in sustaining the Gaza calm
In the year between Hamas’s violent coup in Gaza in June 2007 and the June 2008 tahdiyeh, the relationship between neighbouring Israel and Egypt has been juxtaposed by mutual interest on one side, and growing tensions on the other. Indeed a shared mutual interest has developed as both Israel and Egypt remain perturbed by Hamas’s consolidation of its power base, which offers a strategic foothold for a radical terror group with close ties to Iran in their respective backyards. However, diplomatic tensions have also mounted, particularly regarding the need for Egypt to halt terrorists smuggling weapons between Sinai and Gaza.
The Israeli intelligence community has itself been divided with respect to assessments about Egypt’s efforts. Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin believes the Egyptians have intensified their anti-smuggling activity whereas Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin is more cynical, for instance citing evidence of four tons of explosives and at least 50 anti-tank missiles being smuggled into Gaza since the ceasefire was adopted.[i] As such, news last week that Egypt has uncovered 20 underground border tunnels, seized thousands of gallons of fuel, and arrested four smugglers believed to be laying an 800-metre fuel pipeline, is perceived as a significant development by Israeli policymakers.[ii] It demonstrates greater assertiveness on Cairo’s part to counter illegal activities on its side of the Philadelphi corridor.
Nonetheless, Israel remains alarmed by the pace of Hamas’s military rearmament using the tunnels. Recent media interviews with local traders have provided colourful insights into the extent of the tunnels network for importing contraband weapons, fuel, cigarettes, commercial goods and even exotic animals for the Rafah zoo.[iii] The competitive market has afforded various tunnel operators to charge different fees in an infrastructure estimated at around 250 passages snaking under the notoriously porous border.[iv]
In short, the Gaza tunnels are big business. They have enabled Hamas to multiply several times over its more advanced Grad and Katyusha rocket stocks since the last bout of conflict with Israel ended.[v] Egypt may have felt uncomfortable about acting against Hamas and rendering tunnels unusable in the midst of ongoing fighting, but its mediation of the ceasefire ultimately created an incentive to do so. Cairo knows it must stem the flow of rearmament if it wants the lull to endure.
Moreover, it has local and strategic interests in containing Hamas. A strong Hamas is a worrisome inspiration to domestic extremists at an uncertain time for Egypt politically. Egypt also suffers underlying sectarian tensions between the Coptic Christian minority and the Muslim majority, and socioeconomic problems caused by worsening stagflation. More broadly, Egypt takes pride in its regional status and is concerned with stability in the Arab world, which Iran in particular seeks to undermine. An Egyptian diplomat recently commented, “Teheran and Damascus are unhappy with the truce agreement we achieved last month. They don’t want Egypt to play any key role in the region.”[vi] For Israel and the west, however, Egypt’s role is clearly paramount.
The re-emergence of Fatah-Hamas hostilities
Ironically, the lull with Israel reopened the door to the deadliest expression of simmering rivalry between the two main Palestinian camps since Hamas seized control. Internecine fighting followed a series of explosions on 24 and 25 July, including at a beach-side cafe popular among Hamas supporters, in which five Hamas militants and a four-year-old girl were killed. Hamas reacted by purging Fatah adversaries from the Strip and violence peaked in the Saja’iya neighbourhood of Gaza City on 2 August.[vii] Hamas reportedly fired around 300 mortar shells and dozens of RPGs to forcibly detain operatives suspected of being shielded by the Hilles hamula, an influential local clan associated with, though by no means entirely loyal to, Fatah. According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, violence that day left nine people dead, including two Hamas militants, and at least 90 wounded, including 12 children.[viii]
Subsequently, approximately 180 pro-Fatah activists fleeing Hamas were permitted to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds.[ix] IDF soldiers tended to 22 wounded men, some of whom required further treatment and were hospitalised. Others were transferred to Jericho in coordination between the Israeli Ministry of Defence and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad after it became apparent that returning them to Gaza would endanger their lives.[x]
These scenes provided a rare tangible demonstration of Israel’s cooperation with the moderate Palestinian leadership, a relationship which tends to remain behind closed doors in secret negotiations with the PA. They do not, however, significantly alter the balance of terror in Gaza. With swift retribution, Hamas illustrated the depth of its control and, in the eyes of many Palestinians, compounded Fatah’s humiliation in forcing Fatah men to run to the IDF for protection. Clearly, the peaceable return of Gaza to the hands of Fatah/the Palestinian Authority is unattainable in such circumstances, presenting an intractable problem for them. As Mohammad Darawshe, co-director of the Abraham Fund, which promotes co-existence and equality in Israel, observed: “Hamas might win the battle but this behaviour makes it so much harder to win international support to create an independent state. This is the behaviour of a brutal dictatorship, not a political party working towards advancing the interests of its people.”[xi] As Jerusalem’s correspondent for The New York Times Ethan Bronner assessed, these developments highlight “the complex set of relationships and shifting alliances that help explain why this conflict remains so difficult to resolve.”[xii]
The humanitarian situation in ceasefire conditions
Despite Israel’s unilateral withdrawal of all troops and settlements from Gaza three years ago, Hamas, since seizing power in June 2007, has fired over 3,000 rockets and mortar bombs at southwestern Israeli communities.[xiii]
Notwithstanding this terror campaign, and attacks by Hamas precisely on those crossings Israel must use to transfer supplies, Israel remains committed to averting a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where living conditions are extremely tough for many of the 1.4 million residents.
Indeed, the June ceasefire included provisions for an immediate increase in the humanitarian aid and other products entering Gaza from Israel. Since then, the number of trucks passing through the Sufa and Karni crossings has increased to levels approximating those prior to the 19 April attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing (after which transfers were reduced).[xiv] So, for instance, on 5 August, 1,063,000 litres of fuel and 110 tons of heating oil were delivered via the Nahal Oz crossing, 8,927 tons of supplies were unloaded in 279 trucks at the Karni and Sufa crossings and 55 people were taken for medical treatment in Israel.[xv] Recently, in addition to food, medicines and fuel, Israel has been transporting construction materials such as cement and steel.[xvi] In sum, 28,112 trucks carrying 654,991 tons of humanitarian aid were transferred between 16 June and 16 July 2008.[xvii] Haaretz correspondent Amir Oren notes that three and a half times more food and goods are now entering Gaza daily than during the period before the lull.[xviii]
It remains unclear whether and in what form more extensive arrangements at border crossings will come into effect. Hamas officials have criticised Egypt for not opening the Rafah terminal between Sinai and Gaza since the ceasefire, but Hamas is unwilling to adopt the terms of the November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which Egypt demands be upheld.[xix] It stipulates monitoring roles for the EU, PA and Israel, which Hamas finds unacceptable. Furthermore, there has been no substantive progress towards a prisoner swap which would see the return of IDF Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by militants over two years ago. This matter is inextricably connected to Israel’s Gaza policy more broadly, as Hamas well knows. Hamas is keen to exact the highest price possible in terms of Palestinian prisoners to be freed by Israel in an exchange, but it also sees the soldier as a means of restricting Israeli operations. Aware of his strategic value, Hamas is in no hurry whatsoever to negotiate. In any scenario, Hamas is likely to pin Shalit’s release to a prior concession by Egypt on more favourable terms for reopening the Rafah terminal which connote Hamas’s authority.
Almost two months since an agreement was reached on the terms of the tahdiyeh, developments are unfolding which continue to reflect the asymmetries of power among the primaries actors involved.
Egypt’s key role in maintaining a workable ceasefire has been highlighted and Israel will continue to work closely with its Arab partners to try to hamper Hamas’s rearmament and contain the Islamist threat. Further Cairo meetings have been scheduled in which Amos Gilead, Head of the Political-Security Bureau at the Israeli Ministry of Defence, and Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman will discuss plans for an enhanced security fence between Sinai and Gaza. Direct Israeli involvement in the border project is unlikely, but Egypt has accepted assistance by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering with detection equipment and training. A redefined role for the EU in light of new realities and the closed Rafah crossing is also worth exploring.
Hamas’s critical need for public support might make it more amenable to policies which deliver benefits to ordinary Gazans over coming months, with regards to humanitarian aid transfers and perhaps some form of reconciliation with its Fatah rivals. However, it will doubtless continue to lay the blame for Gaza’s difficulties at the feet of Israel, Egypt and the PA and proceed to prepare for future encounters with its opponents both internally and externally. This remains the likely eventual consequence of Hamas’s all-too-powerful position in the eyes of each of its closest neighbours.
[i] ‘Barak Ravid, ‘Jerusalem offers Cairo help rebuilding wall on Gaza border’, Haaretz, 5 August 2008.
[ii] Details were leaked by a Cairo-based security official to the Associated Press before appearing in various Israeli and world media.
[iii] Diaa Hadid and Ashraf Sweilam, ‘Not just guns: Gazans smuggle lions into zoo’, Associated Press, 9 August 2008.
[iv] ‘Egypt discovers 20 tunnels, oil pipeline to Gaza’, World Tribune, 8 August 2008.
[v] Amir Oren, ‘Gaza’s war of nerves’, Haaretz, 4 August 2008.
[vi] Khaled Abu Toameh, ‘Analysis: Egypt enraged over Hamas claims it isn’t honest broker’, Jerusalem Post, 20 July 2008.
[vii] In addition, Hamas rounded up almost 200 Fatah-affiliated Palestinians, to which PA security forces in the West Bank responded by arresting about 160 Hamas opponents.
[viii] ‘Quiet reigns after a bloody day in Gaza City’, Ma’an News Agency, 2 August 2008.
[ix] ‘Assistance in Passage of Fatah Members Escaping Hamas’, IDF Spokesman’s website, 4 August 2008.
[xi] Jason Koutsoukis, ‘Violence dashes hopes for Palestinian state’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August 2008; ‘Palestinian civil strife deepens divide’, theage.com.au, 4 August 2008.
[xii] Ethan Bronner, ‘In Gaza, a Blurry Line Between Enemies and Friends’, The New York Times, 5 August 2008.
[xiii] ‘A year since the Hamas takeover of Gaza’, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 16 June 2008.
[xiv] ‘Summary – one month of calm’, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 27 July 2008.
[xv] Embassy of Israel, London: Weekly Newsletter – 7 August 2008.
[xvi] ‘Summary – one month of calm’, op. cit.
[xvii] ‘Humanitarian assistance to Gaza since Feb 27 escalation in terror’, Unit of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), 1 August 2008.
[xviii] Amir Oren, ‘Gaza’s war of nerves’, Haaretz, 4 August 2008.
[xix] Khaled Abu Toameh, ‘Analysis: Egypt enraged over Hamas claims it isn’t honest broker’, Jerusalem Post, 20 July 2008.
INSS Insight No. 66, August 10, 2008
The violent confrontation between Hamas and Fatah that occurred in the Gaza Strip after the July 25th explosion of a car carrying Hamas activists has brought about a significant strengthening of Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip and an almost total elimination of Fatah’s presence there.
After Hamas’ June 2007 takeover of Gaza, the Islamic movement allowed Fatah to continue its local activities. Fatah leaders were able to travel between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, officials working for PA president Mahmoud Abbas continued to operate in Gaza, and Fatah’s organizational frameworks continued to function. Among the several reasons for this were Hamas’ reluctance to burn all its bridges with Fatah and the PA; the hope of renewing the dialogue with Fatah; and the fact that Mohammad Dahlan’s rivals within Fatah in the Gaza Strip cooperated with Hamas in its takeover of the area.
The assassination of five senior members of Hamas’ military wing presented Hamas with the opportunity to wipe out Fatah’s presence in the Strip. Even if the assassination was the immediate catalyst, it is safe to assume that Hamas decided on this objective long ago because all attempts at dialogue with Fatah had failed: the PA in the West Bank, under Abbas’ leadership and in cooperation with Israel, is engaged in an ongoing effort to destroy the Hamas infrastructure there, and Fatah operatives in the Strip continued to challenge Hamas, in part through firing rockets into Israel in order to demonstrate that Hamas control of the Gaza Strip is weak.
Hamas has now forbidden Fatah activity in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of Fatah members have been arrested, including the entire cadre of senior leaders there, and Hamas has taken control of all Fatah assets. The confrontation peaked with the clash between Hamas and the Hilles clan in the Seja’eya neighborhood. Ahmed Hilles, the senior figure in the clan, had served as Fatah’s director-general in Gaza and is Dahlan’s biggest rival. He headed the group of Fatah operatives who cooperated with Hamas, but this did not help him in the current confrontation. It was important to Hamas to break the clan’s military strength, the only locus of Fatah power left in the Strip.
An interesting aspect of Hamas’ actions, though it did not attract much attention, was its use of the opportunity to consolidate its power by dealing with power centers of other rivals not necessarily connected to Fatah. Hamas successfully imposed its rule over clan-based and other loci of power in Gaza. The most prominent among these were the Durmush clan in the Sabra neighborhood that used to operate under the name “Army of Islam,” which surrendered to Hamas forces, and the Ahmad Abu-Reish Brigades, a militia of the Abu-Reish clan active primarily in the southern part of the Strip and a major player in the tunnel smuggling industry. This clan suffered a heavy blow when dozens of its members were arrested and stripped of their weapons. In addition, Hamas closed down the Popular Front’s radio station in the Gaza Strip, the only opposition media left in Gaza and the only voice criticizing Hamas policies.
In Israel, attention focused on the photographs of wounded and destitute Fatah members fleeing into Israel, including some involved in terrorist attacks against Israel in recent years. However, this aspect of the latest development is secondary to the fact that Hamas has now attained full control of the Gaza Strip. If in the period since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza there were cracks in its hold and there was still the possibility that Hamas would fail in the same way Fatah had failed and would not be able to prevent local axes of power from undermining its policies, it is now clear that Hamas’ pattern of control is different and much more efficient. Hamas’ governing problems were apparent to a certain degree in its inability to force various elements to comply fully with the ceasefire. In the new situation, it is clear that violations of the ceasefire will result from Hamas indifference rather than an inability to enforce the ceasefire.
This will presumably influence the stability of the ceasefire. As long as Hamas is interested in continuing the ceasefire, it will likely be upheld without significant violations. By the same token, Hamas will also be able to fulfill any understanding it might reach with Israel or other parties, such as Egypt and the international community. This may have important implications for the possibility of reaching agreements regarding the Gaza-Egypt border. The containment of the Abu-Reish clan strengthens Hamas’ control of the smuggling industry and of all that takes place along the Egyptian border. It will be possible to take advantage of this to arrive at understandings with Hamas if it receives something in return that serves its interests, such as opening the Rafiah crossing.
The sole challenge remaining to Hamas’ uncontested control of the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. There are two possible scenarios here: in one, the organization will learn the lessons of the recent events and not confront Hamas, which will thereby allow it to continue to operate in the Gaza Strip; in the other, the organization will sooner or later find itself clashing with Hamas, whereupon Hamas will force it to surrender. Secret Fatah cells that continue to operate in the Gaza Strip will be weak and not pose a significant challenge to Hamas.
These recent events all indicate that it will only be possible to bring down the Hamas government in Gaza through a military takeover of the Gaza Strip. As a result, the separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank becomes even more pronounced. The developments in Gaza strengthened the determination of the PA and Israel to destroy the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank. The PA’s security apparatuses went on high alert because of concerns that Hamas would retaliate in these areas, and PA forces stepped up its arrests of Hamas operatives. Similarly, there were efforts to prevent Islamic demonstrations and marches, and preachers were arrested at the mosques.
Will these developments affect the chances of reaching a deal to secure the release of Gilad Shalit? Hamas’ increased self-confidence as a result of its recent success might make its negotiating posture even more rigid; on the other hand, it will also reduce Israel’s willingness to soften its stance. Therefore, the chances for concluding the deal in the near future are not very good.
Hamas’ nearly complete takeover of the Gaza Strip gives Israel better tools to manage the conflict with Hamas in the Strip because now the movement bears full responsibility for everything that happens there and has to account for every development. This new situation allows Israel to arrive at stable understandings with Hamas if it is so inclined. On the other hand, if the basic premise of Israel’s strategy is that the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip must be brought down, the ability to realize this strategy has been severely damaged, and the sole remaining option is occupation of the Gaza Strip, a course of action that would certainly incur a steep price.
By NATAN SHARANSKY and BASSEM EID
Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2008
A tragic peace process turned to farce last weekend. After bloody clashes between Hamas and Fatah loyalists in the Gaza strip killed 11 Palestinians and injured 120 more, nearly 200 Palestinians associated with Fatah sought asylum in Israel. Some have been transferred to the West Bank cities of Jericho and Ramallah, where they are now under the jurisdiction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Dozens more who were considered unwelcome by Mr. Abbas’s office were anxiously awaiting possible deportation back to Gaza. The only thing that saved them from this fate was an appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent the government from sending the Fatah refugees back to Gaza.
The irony of the present situation boggles the mind. In 1993, then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin defended the Oslo accords he signed with Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization to a somewhat skeptical Israeli public by arguing that Arafat would fight Hamas much better than Israel, since he had “no Supreme Court and no Betselem” (an Israeli human-rights organization).
Oslo proponents believed a strong Arafat, unconstrained by the inherent checks of democratic rule, would be able to fight Hamas and forge a final peace with Israel. A weak Palestinian democracy, the logic went, actually served the interest of peace by creating a stronger peace partner.
Yet 15 years later, another Israeli human-rights organization successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to save the remnants of Israel’s erstwhile peace partners from being deported back into the murderous hands of Hamas. In other words, a peace process that undermined Palestinian democracy created a “peace partner” so hated by its own people that the Israeli Army must now protect them.
Israel, America and the free world share much of the blame for this fiasco. As Arafat and his Fatah party were busy hollowing out Palestinian civil society and turning control of the Palestinian economy over to corrupt cronies, the world showered them with money and diplomatic support. Hundreds of millions of dollars were transferred to Arafat’s private slush fund so that he could “strengthen” his standing among the Palestinians.
But the corrupt dictatorship he built would win him and his party only the lasting scorn of his people. The Hamas victory two years ago in the Palestinian legislative elections was as much about Fatah’s misrule as it was about a resurgent Islamism, or Israel’s short-sighted disengagement from Gaza. Rather than link this concession to a positive change on the Palestinian side — such as, for example, dismantling refugee camps where a fourth generation of Palestinian still shamefully reside — Israel’s unilateral concession further empowered extremists.
Last November’s Annapolis “peace” conference continued this misguided approach. Once again the focus is primarily on who is ruling and not on how they rule. Mr. Abbas has replaced Arafat as the recipient of international largess, but the emphasis remains on empowering a particular leader, rather than empowering Palestinian civil society and creating democratic institutions.
Palestinians have suffered greatly for this neglect of democracy. Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, internecine violence has reached unprecedented heights. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, the death toll includes: 122 killed in the streets (suspected collaborators), 41 by capital punishment, 34 honor killings, 48 stabbed to death, seven beaten to death, 258 killed under mysterious circumstances and 818 cases of gunfire. So far no one has been charged let alone tried for any of these unlawful killings.
Where is the money that was supposedly spent on reforming the judicial system? Where is the international outrage as Palestinian leaders drag their own society further into the abyss?
When one of us [Bassem Eid] worked for Israel’s Betselem cataloging Israel’s human-rights violations, the international community embraced every report. But when intellectual honesty demanded that he monitor Palestinian human-rights violations according to the same standards, no one was interested. Those reports were dismissed as undermining the Palestinian leaders — first Arafat and now Mr. Abbas — who would make peace with Israel.
If Israelis and Palestinians are to pave a path toward peace, they must pursue a radically different course. The peace process must be linked to building and strengthening Palestinian civil society. In June 2002, President Bush boldly declared a vision based on such a course and took some steps to implement it — such as refusing to deal with corrupt leaders (Arafat), and meeting Palestinian democratic dissidents. But in the final analysis, his administration did not fundamentally change direction. It is now pursuing a course that essentially resuscitates the failed policies of the past.
It is high time that Palestinian civil society be fully recognized by the international community as a prerequisite to peace, not as an obstacle to it. If Palestinian civil society is not empowered, the Fatah-controlled West Bank may soon be ruled by Hamas, and Fatah leaders there may find themselves one day having to rely on Israel’s Supreme Court to save them.
Mr. Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and Israeli politician, is chairman of the Adelson Institute of Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Mr. Eid is the founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, based in East Jerusalem, and has been its director since 1996.