Friday, August 19, 2005

August 18, 2005

From the
"Be Careful What You Wish For"

Who hasn't watched a dog chase a car and wondered what the hell he thinks he's going to do should he catch it.

Well, this week the Palestinians caught that car. Now what?

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is the materialization of Arafat's worst nightmare -- the day when Palestinians would no longer have the Israelis as a foil and diversion to obscure their own deeply seeded shortcomings.

For those who elbowed, embezzled, even murdered, their way to the top of the Palestinian "leadership," the Israeli occupation has been a gift -- their own version of bin Laden and the Axis of Evil boogymen. Any Palestinian reformer who tried to blow the whistle on corrupt Palestinian leaders was branded a traitor to the cause or a collaborator. They were either "with us or against us." Opposing Palestinian leaders was, "aiding the Zionists," and talking about Palestinian corruption was "letting the Israelis win."

Well, starting this week Palestinian leaders will finally have to stand up and deliver. As you know I am not a big fan of governance in the Arab world. After all, what's there to be a fan of? Even the two Middle Eastern nations that would like to become more progressive and democratic, Egypt and Jordan, dare not try. Because the ultimate power over the minds and actions of their people resides not within their state houses, but within their mosques. Even the smallest steps towards western-style government or human rights (particularly women's rights) are made literally at the risk of their leader's lives.

The Palestinians actually have a leg up in this regard because of their large Palestinian Christian community and a history of secular tradition lacking among their Arab neighbors. But, if those secular forces are to prevail the very first thing the Palestinians must do is deal with the Islamo-fascist Hamas forces that currently have the run of Gaza.

HAMAS was formed in late 1987 as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Various HAMAS elements have used both violent and political means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in Israel. It is loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others operating openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda. HAMAS’ strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. (Full Intel Report)

But I remain pessimistic. The Middle East has never bought into the West's idea of representative government. The Middle East has been, and largely remains a collection of tribes. Their idea of governance finds a lot in common with governance as practiced by US inner city street gangs. Living within artificial nations whose boundries were dictated by others, these tribes interact only at the fringes, at friction points where tribes must rub against each other for geograhical or mercantile reasons. First they talk, and if that doesn't work – and it usually doesn't – they'd fight. One way or another matters of tribal-state are resolved until the next friction point flares.

What central government services there are in that part of the world are doled out by tribal leaders. That's why when Saddam, a Sunni, ruled Iraq the Sunni tribe was rolling in clover while the Shiites and Kurds sucked canal water. (Saddam's idea of welfare reform was killing a few hundred thousand Shiites.) Which also explains why the Iraqis can't agree on a constitution. The idea that all tribes would be treated equally is entirely foreign to them, even objectionable.

In Gaza it's been Hamas handing out the goodies while the so-called official Palestinian "leadership" busied themselves embezzling billions in foreign aid. (Investigators are still trying to find roughly $1 billion Arafat stole and secreted out of the country before he died, which is why his widow, now living very well, in France has been so quiet.) None of the new Palestinian leaders, some of whom also worked for Arafat, and must know, or at least suspect, where that money went, are saying nothing. For them the money was stolen fair and square and it's time to move on. Apparently the Bush administration agrees and is cutting new checks (reportedly $3 billion) for both Israel and this new batch of Palestinian leaders. We can only hope this bunch is less larcenous than the last.

So this week the world – including the Arab world – watched Jews expelling Jews from Gaza. It was all televised live, and for a reason. Israel wanted the Arabs to see them expelling Jews from Arab land. Moderate Jews were finally telling crazy fundamentalists Jews, "enough with the Bible Title reports! Comply with what your nation's leaders have democratically voted, or else."

This week we saw Israel actually enforce the "or else" part.

Now it's the Palestinians turn to deliver a similar message to the religious/tribal nuts on their side: "Hamas, turn in your weapons or put your militias under Palestinian government control and behave, or else."

More than just Israelis will be watching. Donor nations of the West which have, for the last quarter century, poured good money after bad too many times already. This time the Palestinians either stand up and deliver, or else. And that begins right now by proving they can govern tiny Gaza. If they can't do that then I believe any sympathy Palestinians now enjoy will disappear, and with it their dream of a state of their own on the West Bank.

Because the last thing the world needs is another Arab state filled with angry young Arabs with nothing to do with their lives but itch for a fight.

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