Sunday, January 28, 2018

Palestinian Failure

One feels somewhat encouraged to see New York Times columnist Roger Cohen calling for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. One also feels encouraged when Cohen says that blaming the ills of the Palestinians on the Israeli occupation is dishonest blame shifting.

But then, as you read through Cohen’s article, you discover the dog that didn’t bark. Cohen neglects to mention that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is largely defensive, a way to defend its nation against an organization that has vowed to kill Jews and to drive Jews out of what they call Palestine. The dog that did not bark is terrorism. If the Palestinians renounce terrorism, the situation will change. If they do not it will not.

At the same time, as reported on this blog, the Arab world has no real use for the Palestinian cause any more. It does not merely want to fight Iran, as Cohen says, but it also wants to have diplomatic relations and open trade with Israel. Cohen neglects the latter point. And, of course, he ignores the importance of the advent of a Trump administration that is markedly and openly pro-Israeli has changed the calculus.

Cohen writes:

Never, through decades of national struggle, have the Palestinians been weaker. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel has been implacable in undermining possible Palestinian statehood. Arab states, Iran-obsessed, have lost interest in the Palestinian cause. President Trump has threatened to cut off “hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support” in response to perceived Palestinian lèse-majesté after his decision to take Jerusalem “off the table” by recognizing it as Israel’s capital.

But even in this environment, Mahmoud Abbas, the 82-year-old Palestinian president, cannot escape responsibility for failure. His government is now widely seen as a corrupt gerontocracy. It is inept, remote, self-serving and ever more authoritarian. Elected to a four-year term in January 2005, he’s entering the 14th year of a largely unaccountable presidency.

Cohen is a journalist, a liberal journalist at that. He seems still to be prey to the illusion that only a liberal democracy, guaranteeing press freedoms, can produce a good life for its citizens. He neglects the simple fact that nations like China and Saudi Arabia have modernized by introducing free market reforms, but without a free press or even elections:

Abbas has stamped on a free press at a time when strong investigative journalism in Israel has contributed to Netanyahu’s woes over corruption allegations. He issued a grotesque cybercrime law last summer that punishes with a year of imprisonment anyone who creates a website that “aims to publish news that would endanger the integrity of the Palestinian state” or “the public order.” The legislation, which also imposes a two-year sentence on anyone publishing information “with the intent to attack any family principles or values,” amounts to a violation of the Palestinian Basic Law of 2003. This guarantees the right of everyone to “express his opinion and to circulate it orally, in writing, or in any form of expression.” Putative Palestine is in a repressive slide.

Abbas ought to liberalize the economy. Cohen misses the point:

By dismantling Palestinian freedoms, by disempowering his people, Abbas has been undoing the foundations of statehood and sapping the energy that comes with personal agency. It is time to organize elections that might usher in younger leadership — and reveal the balance of forces in the West Bank and Gaza. The alternative is a drift to despotism under a bunch of old men long on outrage but short on everything else.

“If you don’t take agency in your liberation, you are not going to be free,” Fayyad told me. “What Palestinians see of their state right now is not very attractive.”

So, we give Cohen credit for showing the extent of the Abbas failure. We deduct points for his failure to see that Palestinian terrorism has produced the situation that Palestinians are complaining about. And we deduct even more points for his assertion that liberal democracy will solve the problem. Apparently, he forgot that the last time the people of Gaza, under the aegis of George W. Bush, held free elections, it put Hamas in power. And he forgot that the Obama freedom agenda supported Egyptian elections that put the Muslim Brotherhood in power.


Sam L. said...

Forget it, Stuart; it's Cohen-and-NYT-town. (H/t, Chinatown) Cynicism are them.

"Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel has been implacable in undermining possible Palestinian statehood." The Palis could have had a state if they'd really wanted it, but NOOoooooo!
They wanted Israel.

Sam L. said...

They wanted Israel because it was a nicer place, not recognizing all the hard work the Israelis had put in to make it that way, and were damned well planning to KEEP it that way.

Malcolm said...

Unfortunately, there will never be peace. Moshe Sharon explains.