America’s foreign policy works pretty well around most of the world, but when it comes to the Mideast, Washington seems to make a mess wherever it goes.
After the huge fiascos in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, Washington’s political alchemists are now working their latest magic in the Palestinian Territories, two, giant, open-air prison camps – the West Bank and Gaza - surrounded by Israeli security forces.
Having gotten rid of Fatah founder Yasser Arafat, who refused to condone US-Israeli plans to parcel up his nation, Washington installed Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader. Arafat’s death still remains highly suspicious and should, like the murder of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, be formally investigated by the United Nations.
The compliant Abbas is lauded in the west as a `moderate’ – a code word Arab leaders who faithfully cooperate American policies. Those who do not are branded `supporters of terrorism’ and `leaders of rogue states.’
But once Abbas was in office, Israel simply ignored him and his feeble pleas to halt their colonizing the West Bank. Having undermined Abbas, the Americans and Israeli then built up his tough security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, into a mini-Saddam and heir apparent.
After President George Bush commanded democracy to flower in the Arab World, to his shock and awe, Hamas won a major democratic electoral victory in the region’s second free election. The first, in Algeria in 1991, produced a landslide for the Islamist reformist movement, FIS. Algeria’s French and US-backed army quickly annulled the election and jailed FIS leaders.
Washington quickly sent $80 million of US arms to Dahlan’s Fatah fighters, who were trained and organized by CIA specialists. Mirroring events in Algeria, the Bush Administration and Israel set about planning a coup against the democratically-elected Hamas-led government. Seeing an attack imminent, Hamas struck first, running the US proxy Fatah forces out of Gaza.
The `moderate’ Palestinians Washington has put into power, backed by tens of millions in cash, lack political legitimacy or much popular support. Abbas’ Fatah, like most other Arab regimes, has degenerated into a party devoted to self-enrichment that ignores the plight of ordinary people.
But now, after long scorning the feeble Abbas, the US and Israel are busy trying to build him up as a major political figure to counteract the popularity of Hamas.
Hamas won power in good part because of the refusal of Israel’s rightwing governments and the Bush Administration to halt West Bank settlement even though it violate international law, the 1993 Oslo Accords, and UN Resolution 242.
West Bank Jewish settlers grew from 111,000 in 1993 to nearly 500,000 today – in spite of Israel’s agreement at Oslo to stop settlements. Israeli human rights groups estimate 40% of the West Bank has been taken over by Israeli settlements, military bases, the ugly new Berlin-style `security’ wall, and Jewish-only road networks that chop up the territory into tiny, isolated, South African-style Bantustans.
As 1.3 million increasingly enraged West Bank Palestinians saw their lands and water being taken away by Israeli settlers and soldiers, Fatah seemed to offer only more concessions or overt collaboration with the occupiers. Hamas offered more able, comparatively honest government, as well as resistance and defiance to Israel, however hopeless.
In a campaign that was both criminal and totally self-defeating, both Hamas and Fatah launched suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians. Israeli, with equal illegality, continued its campaign of targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants.
Building up Fatah to fight Hamas, splitting Palestinians, and getting them to accept Israeli land claims will only bring more West Bank violence. In fact, it seems likely that as Israeli colonization and assassinations continue, that more and more West Bank Palestinians will turn to Hamas and against Fatah, repeating what happened in Gaza.
Inter-Palestinian violence and political chaos, of course, suit Israel’s expansionist right-wingers very well. They want turmoil on the West Bank. Palestinian infighting supplies them the perfect excuse to avoid ever having to make serious land concessions and provides useful cover under which to keep building settlements. The Bush Administration appears to have quietly adopted this same view.
America can always buy local yes-men, but it can’t buy popular support, respect, or peace in the Arab World. But the harsh lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Somalia seem to have made no impression on the neoconservatives and born-again Christian extremists who are driving the Bush Administration’s hugely destructive Mideast policy.
If the United States truly wants peace and stability in the region, it will have to enter into a genuine political dialogue with Hamas, as well as Hezbullah and Iran. They are, as Israelis hardliners are so fond of saying, `facts on the ground’ that cannot be ignored.
Finally, we are still hearing rumor in the bazaar that President Bush may name Tony Blair, who is making his long goodbye as Britain’s prime minister, as a sort of peace Czar to deal with the Palestinians. Just when White House policies couldn’t get any more bizarre or counter-productive, along comes this daft notion.
Blair is discredited at home in Britain for launched a war of naked aggression and becoming a serial liar to promote it. He is viewed with hatred and contempt in the Muslim World as a lackey of the Washington neocons. The oleaginous Blair should be selling kitchen appliances or aluminum siding, not dealing with the world’s most explosive issue that he helped worsen when in office.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007.