US President Bush’s speech on dealing with Fatah and Hamas

US President Bush made a major statement on Israel-Palestinian issues on Monday. You can read the text here , news report on it are  here and here , while a summary of Israeli and Palestinian reactions is here .

First up, the Jerusalem Post parses what the President had to say, and finds a lot to like, especially in the attitude to Hamas, the aid given to Fatah in the West Bank, and the attempt to call in the Arab States to attempt to assist in the process. It is also somewhat critical of his failure here, and the failure of others promoting peace, to call loudly and unambiguously for the end of the demand for a Palestinian right of return, which the paper says is as much as sine qua non for peace as Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state. For the Post’s full view, CLICK HERE <#Article_1> . More analysis of the path to peace set out by Bush comes from Herb Keinon. 

Next up, former Middle East mediator Dennis Ross talks in some detail about what needs to be done if Fatah is going to have any chance of rebuilding itself to compete with Hamas, based on his discussions with Palestinians during recent visits. He also makes it clear why talking to Hamas is a bad idea, as most of his Palestinian interlocutors made clear. While his piece appeared before Bush’s speech, this is Ross’ discussion of what the US should be doing, which seems reasonably similar to what Bush had to say, and you can read it HERE <#Article_2> . Other views on strengthening Fatah and marginalising Hamas come from former Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh  and American columnist Clifford May , while views questioning the efficacy of attempting to strengthen Abbas and Fatah come from former Defence Minister Moshe Arens , former Australian Jewish community leader Isi Leibler , Israeli columnist Nadav Shragai  and a previous Jerusalem Post   editorial.

 <#top> Finally, highly connected and knowledgeable Palestinian Affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh gives his views about the state of Palestinian society, the Fatah prospects of reform, and what Israeli policy toward the Palestinians should now be. He also has some insights into the al-Qaeda and Iranian roles in the Palestinian areas. For all Abu Toameh’s insights, CLICK HERE <#Article_3> .

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Editorial: Break the code

Five years ago, President George Bush issued a clarion call for a new Palestinian leadership not tainted by terrorism. His speech yesterday did not quite match the previous address in its courage, creativity, and moral clarity, but it made some important steps in the right direction.

The clearest part of the speech was its rejection of Hamas’s “lawless and violent takeover.” Bush continued: “The alternatives before the Palestinian people are stark. There is the vision of Hamas, which the world saw in Gaza – with murderers in black masks, summary executions, and men thrown to their death from rooftops. By following this path, the Palestinian people would guarantee chaos, and … surrender their future to Hamas’s foreign sponsors in Syria and Iran. And they would crush the possibility of a Palestinian state.”

Bush described the positive contrast potentially offered in the West Bank. Then he said: “Only the Palestinians can decide which of these courses to pursue. Yet all responsible nations have a duty to help clarify the way forward. By supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad, we can help them show the world what a Palestinian state would look like – and act like. We can help them prove to the world, the region, and Israel that a Palestinian state would be a partner – not a danger.”

Bush pledged $190 million in aid to the Palestinians, plus another $80m. “to help Palestinians reform their security services.” Assistance will come “once a plan to build Palestinian institutions is in place.” And Quartet envoy Tony Blair has been tasked with keeping an eye on this institution-building process.

In other words, the Palestinians will have a lot of financial incentives and outside supervision to steer them toward doing the right thing. This, however, was ostensibly the case all along since 1993, and we have all seen how the situation has unraveled. Palestinians have become more violent and radicalized, and the two-state plan seems, in some senses, further than ever from fruition – despite increasing Israeli support for it.

This is where Bush is suggesting bringing in a new element: the Arab states. Until now, the Arab states have had a free ride. Israel and the international community have shouldered almost the entire financial and diplomatic burden of pushing the Palestinians toward peace, while the Arab states have sat back at best, and allowed the fomenting of radicalism, anti-Semitism, and rejectionism at worst.

“Arab states,” Bush said, “have a pivotal role to play … They should show unequivocal support for President Abbas’s government – and reject the violent extremists of Hamas. … Arab nations should also take an active part in promoting peace negotiations.

“Relaunching the Arab League initiative was a welcome first step. Now Arab nations should build on this initiative – by ending the fiction that Israel does not exist, stopping the incitement of hatred in their official media, and sending cabinet-level visitors to Israel. With all these steps, today’s Arab leaders can show themselves to be the equals of peacemakers like Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan.” This is an important new feeler in the right direction, and should not be allowed to end as a footnote to one speech. The Arab states could do much more, and the US should say so before the regional summit Bush has called for in a few months.

Bush said that Israel “should be confident that the United States will never abandon its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people.” This is code for the US opposing a Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, rather than to Palestine. But why use code? Why not say this clearly? And even more importantly, why not call the Arab states who claim to support peace to say it? It is difficult to promote peace without speaking clearly about the key obstacle to peace. There is no greater obstacle to peace than the Palestinian demand to demographically overrun Israel, which is an obvious back-door attempt to destroy Israel and deny our right to exist. Abandoning this demand is the Palestinian equivalent of Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state: together they are the sine qua non of the two-state solution.

Yet while there has been no shyness to press Israel on Palestinian statehood, and that pressure has been dazzlingly effective, the West – even the US – is still in code stage regarding the “right of return.” This needs to change.

The best way the US, Europe and the Arab states could help Palestinians escape their radicalization spiral is to take the wind out of the radical dream of Israel’s destruction. This can be done by saying explicitly that Palestine and the Arab states, not Israel, are the solution to the refugee problem.

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Can Fatah Compete with Hamas?
Dennis Ross
New Republic Online, July 16, 2007                                                                                            
It may be fashionable among some in Washington or even Tel Aviv to believe that it is time to talk to Hamas. But to the members of Fatah and the Palestinian independents in the West Bank with whom I have been meeting, it surely is not. What you hear from them is that Hamas is made up of killers; that they want to be part of a larger Islamist empire; that they are already trying to bring Iran to Gaza; and that the worse thing to do now is to reward Hamas with recognition.
 For that reason, you also hear criticism of the Saudis who are pressing Mahmoud Abbas to reconcile with Hamas and forge a new national unity government. Indeed, I was struck by the almost unanimous sentiment that the reconciliation talks which both the Saudis and Egyptians are pushing — and Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniyeh favor — will not change Hamas’s behavior. Instead, the story goes, Hamas will use them as a tactic to try to build its international acceptability. Worse, it would use a new national unity government to try to do in the West Bank what it has now done in Gaza.
Strong words, but is Fatah ready to compete? Can Fatah transform itself and connect again with the Palestinian public? Can its members reorganize themselves and build such a strong grassroots base that the balance of forces will change between Hamas and Fatah? (This competition might also affect the balance inside Hamas between those who are more programmatic and those who are most extreme). Listen to Palestinians from different factions like Abu Kholi, a Palestinian Council member from Gaza, or Husayn Al-Sheikh, a member of the Tanzim from the West Bank, and you will hear that Fatah does not have a choice.
They will tell you that the Palestinian public is basically secular and wants a national, secular future. Hamas’s position has grown within Palestinian society by default. The Palestinian public remains more alienated from Fatah than attracted to Hamas. But for Kholi, as-Sheikh, and others, all is not lost, and Fatah can regain its position in Palestinian society.
To do so, several things are required. First, Fatah must have new leaders. If there was one phrase I heard more than any other, it was “Fatah must have new faces.” No one meant that a simple veneer would suffice. Rather that the Palestinian public would never believe that Fatah had remade itself if the same people led Fatah. Interestingly, I found great support for Salam Fayyad, now the prime minister, foreign minister, and finance minister of the new emergency government of the Palestinian Authority (PA). He is not a member of Fatah, but his insistence on creating new institutions in the PA will inevitably build the credibility of the PA and, by extension, the credibility of Fatah.
Second, Fatah must be seen as delivering. What matters more than anything else is action and deeds, not only words. New faces in Fatah represent a starting point. But Fatah and the PA must be seen as active at the local level and being responsive socially and economically. Being responsive also means ending corruption and re-establishing not only the rule of law but a sense of security for Palestinians. It is interesting that Hamas is now trying to present itself in Gaza as restoring law and order. Fayyad is clearly trying to do the same thing in the West Bank. I saw an unprecedented number of heavily armed security forces in uniform on the ground in Ramallah. And Fayyad told me that this is deliberate: He is trying to establish a presence in each city to show that the PA is re-establishing order. Will the armed militias and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades disarm or be incorporated in a disciplined way into the security forces? That remains a huge question, but Fayyad, at least, is trying to make the decree on disarming something other than an empty promise. Time will tell whether he can deliver on what he is trying to do, but I found much support for his efforts among some of the Tanzim that I met.
Third, there does need to be a sense of possibility about peace with Israel. A process, negotiations, dialogue, and the promise of changes on the ground will count for a lot. Ironically, I did not find the Palestinians I spoke with — and the number is now over 40 in my two visits here in the last six weeks — wanting to raise false expectations. No one expects an immediate breakthrough and resolution of the permanent status issues. Of course, that would be desirable. But what I saw was a desire for real, not illusionary changes. Changes that showed that day-to-day life, economically and practically in terms of mobility, would be transformed. Such changes would make permanent status negotiations more believable. Permanent status disconnected from the day-to-day realities will have no credibility. Palestinians would ask me, “If I cannot get from Nablus to Jenin, am I supposed to believe that I will have a state with an East Jerusalem capital?” That is why security and any political process are inevitably tied together.
All this has lessons for American statecraft now. We must keep our eye on the essential objective. The key question now is whether the Palestinians will have a secular future or an Islamist future. Our stake in a national, secular future for the Palestinians is very clear. Without that, there will be no prospect of peace, and Islamists will control the most evocative issue in the region. We should quietly be making that point with the Saudis. Pushing now for a national unity government will only strengthen Hamas, and Hamas’s long-term success will mean that Iran will be able to use the Palestinian grievance and ongoing conflict as an instrument to keep the Saudis and others on the defensive.
Beyond this, our essential challenge is going to be how to ensure that Fatah succeeds. While many in Fatah understand the stakes and what is necessary, the call for new faces in Fatah means that the old faces have to be willing to step aside. There are no signs that they are ready to do so. Is Abbas ready to push them? It will go against his very nature to do so. But there is no alternative, and our role and new Middle East envoy Tony Blair’s role will require constant pushing in this regard. But we can’t just push. We must also deliver real resources. If there was one other refrain I heard from Palestinians, it was “Don’t embrace Abbas and Fayyad unless you are also going to deliver real goods to them.” Supporting them with great words will only destroy their credibility if we do not also deliver noticeable assistance that will at least improve the economic situation on the ground.
 Results on the ground and real hopes will help Fatah. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would do well to keep this in mind. A credible negotiating process is one thing; a symbolic event like an international conference where only hard-line speeches are given that highlight how little prospect of agreement there is, and where there is no practical follow-up, is another. Palestinians are not looking for symbols now. They know the difference between symbols and reality. Let’s hope the Bush administration does as well.
  Dennis Ross is counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World.

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What to Do Now About the Palestinian Authority?
Khaled Abu Toameh

Jerusalem Centre for  Public Affairs
Jerusalem Issue Brief
Vol. 7, No. 10   
12 July 2007

Within a few months after Abbas came to power, Palestinians started realizing that he was not delivering. Instead of fighting corruption, he surrounded himself with the same Arafat cronies. There was a decrease of perhaps 30-40 percent in the level of corruption but an upsurge in internal violence.
The January 2006 election that brought Hamas to power was mostly about: “Let’s punish these Fatah thieves.” Hamas was building schools and kindergartens and clinics, while the PLO was building a casino and villas for its leaders. I believe some 30-35 percent of the Palestinians who voted for Hamas did so as a vote of protest because they were unhappy with the way the Palestinian Authority was running the show.
Let Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO and Fatah start rebuilding their institutions, reform themselves, get rid of the corruption, and come up with a new list of candidates. Then run in another free and democratic election and offer the Palestinians a better alternative to Hamas.
The Palestinians do not need more guns and military training. If the U.S. has $86 million and wants to help the Palestinians, then help them build civil institutions, help them build freedom, educate them about good things. What’s the point in taking 200 Presidential Guards to Jericho to train them? Who are they going to fight at the end of the day? In Gaza they were defeated.   
What should Israel do at this stage? Nothing. There is no one to deal with on a serious basis on the Palestinian side. Abbas doesn’t even have control over his own Fatah militias. Israel should just sit and wait. Don’t repeat the mistake of unilateralism, when Israel left Gaza to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.
When Abbas Took Over the PA

In the post-Arafat era there was a lot of hope among the Palestinians that the Palestinian Authority would become a better body. There was much talk of reforms and democracy, good governance, and an end to financial corruption. Mahmoud Abbas’ 2005 election campaign was about ending financial corruption and building good institutions. Palestinians saw Abbas’ agenda as aimed at repairing all the damage that Arafat had done.

Within a few months after Abbas came to power, however, Palestinians started realizing that he was not delivering. Instead of fighting corruption, Abbas surrounded himself with the same Arafat cronies. There was a certain decrease in the level of corruption, but it wasn’t enough.

Instead of bringing democracy and restoring law and order in the Palestinian areas, there was an upsurge in internal violence in 2006. For the first time, the number of Palestinians killed in internal fighting was even higher than the number of Palestinians killed in fighting with the Israelis. If a judge can’t issue an order because he’s afraid or if a Palestinian security commander can’t return a stolen bicycle, what kind of an authority is this?

Hamas Wins in Parliamentary Elections

In January 2006 – at the request of the United States, the Europeans, and the international community – there were parliamentary elections and Hamas decided to run for the first time. Hamas actually copied the platform of Mahmoud Abbas from a year earlier and promised the Palestinians reforms and democracy. Hamas’ list was called Change and Reform, and Hamas fielded a very impressive list of candidates that included university professors, doctors, and engineers. If I were living in Gaza back then, I would have also voted for Hamas, not because I support suicide bombings and want to eliminate Israel, but because the January 2006 election was mostly about: “Let’s punish these thieves.” I know Christians, secular Palestinians, and PLO people who voted for Hamas because they were unhappy with the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians felt they did not have much to lose by voting for Hamas. It is true that Hamas is a terrorist organization and a very dangerous ideological, religious, fanatic group. It’s true that Hamas wants to destroy Israel. Yet when I go to the West Bank and Gaza, I and most Palestinians still see the other side of Hamas, providing a vast network of social, economic, education, and health services. I have seen Hamas doing what the Palestinian Authority should have been doing with the international aid. Hamas was building schools and kindergartens and clinics, while the PLO was building a casino and villas for its leaders. So this is one reason why Hamas won the hearts and minds of many people in the election campaign.

But not all of those who voted for Hamas did so as a protest vote. Of course Hamas has its own supporters, especially in Gaza. There are many who really believe in Hamas’ ideology and that Israel can be eliminated. However, I believe that 30-35 percent of the Palestinians who voted for Hamas did so as a vote of protest against Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

It is amazing that Condoleezza Rice did not see what any Palestinian child could see on the eve of the elections, namely, that Hamas was going to win. One day before the January 2006 election, I was asked by the Wall Street Journal to write a small op-ed about the elections and I wrote that the Palestinians were headed toward a regime change. Everyone here knew that Hamas was going to win.

So Hamas came to power and again there was some hope among the Palestinians. Maybe the Islamists would succeed where the secular PLO had failed? Maybe the Islamists would at least bring good governance?

Hamas Would Defeat Fatah If an Election Was Held Today

Yet the election created tensions between Fatah, who refused to give up power, and Hamas. I am confident that if we held another free and democratic election tomorrow in the Palestinian areas, Hamas would win again, and this time by a larger majority, because the man on the street is saying that no one gave Hamas a chance to rule. Besides, why should any Palestinian vote for the same Fatah people he voted out of office 18 months ago?

 Immediately after the elections, the international community should have come to Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah and told them they lost the election because they are thieves, because their people don’t trust them anymore, because they failed to deliver. Let them start rebuilding their institutions, reform themselves, get rid of the corruption, and come up with a new list of candidates. Then run in another free and democratic election and offer the Palestinians a better alternative to Hamas.

This remains the main issue for the Palestinians: reforms and good governance – even more than ending the occupation. There is a feeling that members of the Palestinian security forces are responsible for a lot of the anarchy and chaos on the Palestinian street and this also applies to Gaza.

Palestinians Need Good Governance, Not Guns

The Palestinian Authority continues to be the largest employer in the Palestinian areas. Many institutions are continuing to function including the Ministry of Health and the Foreign Ministry. The Palestinians have 79 ambassadors around the world – much more than Israel. The real problem with the Palestinian Authority is not the civilian aspect as much as the security and judicial systems. This is where we have seen a near total collapse. The Palestinian security forces behave more like militias. Their loyalties are not known. In the fighting in Gaza, many Palestinian security officers refused to participate and there are reports that hundreds defected to Hamas during the fighting.

We didn’t have this under Arafat because he was a strong and charismatic figure who brought the Palestinians together. There was a feeling back then that you don’t mess around with the Palestinian Authority because Arafat is ruthless. But today you have Abbas who is very hesitant and weak and unwilling to carry out serious decisions. So people no longer relate to the Palestinian Authority in a serious fashion.

If the U.S. really wanted to help, the Palestinians do not need more guns. Everyone has guns, there are too many guns on the streets. The Palestinians don’t need more military training. If the U.S. has $86 million and wants to help the Palestinians, then help them build civil institutions, help them build freedom, improve their education system, teach them something positive. What’s the point in taking 200 Presidential Guards to Jericho to train them? Who are they going to fight at the end of the day? In Gaza they were defeated. Palestinians need good governance, better media, freedom and democracy, and to rebuild their civil institutions. They don’t need more guns, militias, and Force 17s. This is what I hear in the Palestinian street.

Arafat used to tell the international community: “Give me more millions and I will kill Hamas and Islamic Jihad; I will prevent all the suicide bombings.” He took the money and under him Hamas became even stronger. Hamas is in power today because of Arafat and Abbas. Giving Abbas guns and more millions of dollars is not going to help. Indeed, just by announcing that the West is going to give Abbas money, this is backfiring and causing him a lot of damage on the Palestinian street. It makes him look like a puppet and makes Hamas even more popular.

Al-Qaeda’s Limited Penetration of Gaza

 In Gaza we are seeing attempts by some Palestinians to imitate al-Qaeda more than the actual penetration of al-Qaeda. Various groups in Gaza are operating al-Qaeda-style. One is the Army of Islam, another is the Righteous Swords of Islam. Yet there is no real evidence that al-Qaeda itself is in Gaza, but some of these groups may be funded by al-Qaeda-linked organizations or global Jihad institutions. In the past six months over fifty Internet cafes have been bombed in Gaza. Women have had acid thrown in their faces. Four women were killed by Islamic groups in Gaza in the past four months. There is reason to worry because the border with Egypt is practically open and there are all these elements coming in and out.

 Some of the reports about the presence of al-Qaeda bases are exaggerated. We saw how Fatah lied when it said it raided the Islamic University in Gaza and claimed that it found an Iranian general there. Some of these reports are being spread by Fatah as part of the war against Hamas and to frighten the West – “If you don’t give us money, look what you’re going to get in Gaza.”

Iran and Fatah

 We hear about Iranian money coming into Gaza, but we don’t see any Shi’ite influence. There were individuals in Gaza and even in the West Bank who tried to establish Shi’ite groups, but we don’t see any impact.

 Hizbullah is also involved, but most of the people taking money from Hizbullah are from Fatah in the West Bank. According to Hamas literature, Hamas doesn’t like Shi’ites and doesn’t like Hizbullah either, so Hamas is not taking money from Hizbullah. But I’ve interviewed several armed Fatah groups, especially in Nablus, and most of them were on the Hizballah payroll and said it openly. So money plays a very important role.

What Should Israel Do?

 What should Israel do at this stage? Nothing. Israel should stay away from the internal affairs of the Palestinians. There is no one to deal with on a serious basis on the Palestinian side. Abbas doesn’t even have control over his own Fatah militias, so what are you going to talk to him about? Israel should just sit and wait. Don’t repeat the mistake of unilateralism, when Israel left Gaza to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.

 I’m one of those who argued before Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza that this would send the wrong message to the Palestinians and empower Hamas. Hamas came to power a few months after the unilateral disengagement because the man in the street was saying: “This is wonderful. Hamas has managed to drive the Jews out of Gaza with rockets and bombs, while the PLO has been negotiating with the Jews and they didn’t get as much. Look at what Hizbullah did in Lebanon. Kill them and they’ll give you more.” This is what worries me. Israel’s unilateral disengagement undermined the moderates throughout the Arab world.

I also don’t see any Arab country willing to send forces to maintain order in Gaza. The feeling in the Arab world is to try to disengage from the Palestinians

The Palestinians need to get their act together and find a way to resolve their problems, and then Israel can talk with them. But under the current circumstances, if I was Israel I wouldn’t pull out from one inch of land because there is no strong and reliable partner on the other side.

Khaled Abu Toameh is Palestinian Affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. He has also served as a correspondent for US News and World Report. He has also produced several documentaries on the Palestinians for the BBC and other international networks. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on May 24, 2007 – before the Hamas takeover of Gaza in mid-June.