Friday, June 15, 2007

The Middle East -- then and now

By Carol Gee

Back at the turn of the century, prospects looked brighter for a peaceful settlement of the decades long dispute between Israel and Palestine over a few tiny parcels of land in the Middle East. Towards the end of the Clinton administration's tenure, Israeli and Palestinian leaders were in peace negotiations at Camp David, under the auspices of the U.S. Those talks eventually failed, perhaps because Yasser Arafat had never learned how to be truly peaceable, or because time ran out, or whatever. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote her thoughts about it in her 2003 book, Madam Secretary. To quote:

If Arafat had chosen differently, Palestine would now be a member of the United Nations, its capital in East Jerusalem. It's people would be able to travel freely between the West Bank and Gaza. It's airport and seaport would be operating. Palestinian refugees would be receiving compensation and help in resettling. Instead the Palestinians have their legalisms, their misery, and their terror.

Now we are at "if only. . . " -- Arafat died, (Abu Mazen) Mahmoud Abbas, a good man, became his successor. The Bush administration became the successor to the Clinton administration, and things have been on a steep downhill slide ever since. Neocons convinced far too many in positions of authority that pure democracy was the answer. Eventually Palestinian voters said OK to Hamas and Ismael Hanaya, who seemed to offer something better than the PLO/Fatah's tired and weak governance. After a time the two factions formed a unity government.

The West: "We'll just starve Hamas; they are terrorists" -- The United States refused to recognize the election results and led in cutting off funds for Palestine. And Israel withheld the money owed to the Palestinian government. Eventually the European Union followed suit. Deutsche Welle carried the story earlier this year (4/11/07) on EU aid to Palestine, headlined "EU Says No to Aiding Palestinian Unity Government" To quote:

New Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad has failed to convince the European Union to agree to resume aid to the Palestinian Authority despite what he called a "very acute financial crisis".

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Fayyad, a respected independent and a former senior World Bank official, warned that the Palestinian coffers only had about a quarter of the funds required for 2007, a shortfall of around a billion euros ($1.3 billion)...

The EU was the biggest aid donor to the Palestinian government until the Hamas militants came to power in March 2006. The Quartet of Middle East mediators -- the European Union, United States, United Nations and Russia -- then suspended direct aid to the Palestinian authority.

Palestinian pie gets cut in even smaller pieces -- The results could have been predicted. As the situation for the people of the West Bank and Gaza became more and more desperate, the basic resources for day to day to life got more scarce. The two factions were competing for power over very limited necessities. They had never been able to functionally unite to govern. And now they, like Iraqis, are in what seems like a civil war. This is that story from yesterday: Yahoo! News/Reuters (6/14/07) with the headline, "Hamas overruns Fatah security command." To quote:

Hamas fighters overran one of the rival Fatah movement's most important security installations in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, and witnesses said the victors dragged vanquished gunmen from the building and killed them in the street...

The capture of the Preventive Security headquarters was a major step forward in Hamas' attempts to complete its takeover of all of Gaza. Hamas later called on Fatah fighters to surrender the National Security compound within the hour...

Israel was considering backing Fatah forces in the West Bank, but did not elaborate. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he discussed the possible deployment of a multinational force in Gaza with the Security Council on Wednesday.

And here we are today: So much for democracy overrunning the Middle East. The United States' misguided foreign policy under the current administration has been an unmitigated disaster. It had been marked by ineptitude, foot-dragging, neglect and interference, ignorance of history and lack of sophistication. Now most of the neocons have fled the scene. This morning's sorry headline in The New York Times reads, "Palestinian split deepens; government in chaos." To quote:

The Palestinian territories seemed headed Thursday to a turbulent political divide. Masked Hamas gunmen took control of the Gaza Strip and the Fatah president dissolved the 3-month-old unity government, declaring a state of emergency and plans for elections.

An aide to President Mahmoud Abbas announced the decrees, including the firing of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas, at a West Bank news conference after Hamas militias overran Fatah strongholds in Gaza, dragging men into the street and shooting them.

It will take years for the next U.S. president even to begin to clean up the debris. Voters might think about checking all the candidates' foreign policy credentials before casting their votes.

Update: The latest news on the situation from Reuters will not stay current very long, but here it is anyway.

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