During World War One, Germany concluded that its chief ally, Austria-Hungary, was more of a burden than an asset. As one German official put it, that alliance was like being “shackled to a corpse.”
And more than a century earlier, it was said of the doomed French dynasty, the Bourbons, that they learned nothing and forgot nothing.
Welcome to the alliance with Fatah, sort of Austria-Hungary and the Bourbons rolled up into one. It is now ruler of a West Bank-only semi-state after Hamas captured the Gaza Strip from it. The United States is now backing Palestinian Authority leader Marwan Abbas with aid and probably military assistance. Israel’s government will do everything possible to preserve that regime, too.
This is a completely logical policy decision. It makes perfect sense given the balance of forces and the overall situation. I understand why it is being done. The problem is that it isn’t going to work. And if we know that now, perhaps this fact should shape policy just a bit?
But first, let’s sweep the floor of all the debris that belongs in the garbage can. There are now those who argue for backing, or at least parlaying with, Hamas. Reportedly, the European Union is going to keep giving aid to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
As I recall, in wartime one does not send aid to enemy-ruled states, even to help the civilians there. Putting on such pressure is a way to defeat the enemy. Of course, the United States and Europe are not at war with Hamas, or Hizballah, Syria, or Iran for that matter. The problem is that these countries generally don’t understand that these forces are at war with them.
If you send aid to the Gaza Strip, it will strengthen Hamas’s rule. Aid will be diverted to pay terrorists and buy arms. The schoolteachers whose salary you pay will teach the children that their highest duty is to become a suicide bomber and that Christians and Jews are sub-human. The salaries paid are used to buy support for Hamas. Those loyal get money; those who oppose Hamas don’t. Is all this so hard to understand?
And if one wants to do something humanitarian, take the money that would have gone to the Gaza Strip and give it to poor people in Africa, Asia, South America, Iraq, even the West Bank. Don’t finance terrorism, antisemitism, and radical Islamism for goodness sake. Is that so hard to understand?
The second piece of nonsense is that this is some great opportunity for advancing the peace process. Have no doubt. The United States and Israel may give Fatah money, trade some intelligence, and try to get them to stop cross-border terror attacks. But serious negotiations? Forget it.
In understanding the Fatah world view let’s try a simple test. You are a Fatah official. You receive money. What do you do with it? Answer: put it into your foreign bank account. Why? Because aside from pure greed and a mentality of corruption, you are afraid that Hamas will take over the West Bank, too. You will need a bankroll so that you and your family can flee abroad and live comfortably, very comfortably.
As for Abbas, he is a loser and only if he is replaced can one even begin to believe in Fatah’s survival. He is the closest thing in the Palestinian movement to a French intellectual, not the kind of person you would like to have by your side in a knife fight.
Consider his first two decisions. Who did Abbas make prime minister? Muhammad Dahlan, who has been warning about the Hamas threat for more than five years, or some other warrior? No, Salam Fayyad, a professional economist. Why, does Abbas intend to launch a major development and anti-poverty campaign? No, it’s because Fayyad, an honest and experience guy it is true, but certainly no wartime consigliore.
In addition, he has refused to outlaw Hamas on the West Bank. Perhaps he hopes for reconciliation? Or wants to avoid a confrontation on his remaining turf? If Abbas is thinking like a European Union bureaucrat he is really doomed.
There is something deeper in the desire to believe in an alliance with Fatah, an organization which still carries on terrorist attacks and doesn’t believe in Israel’s right to exist. This is the obsession with the peace process idea.
Now peace is a very good thing. It is certainly preferable to war. Such a condition far better serves the interests of average people. But, unfortunately, a comprehensive, formal peace is not going to happen. Get over it. Smell the coffee. Deal with unpleasant reality.
OK, so we have to deal with the cards which have been dealt. But this means a tough policy, showing adversaries that it is costly to be enemies; pressing supposed allies to deliver the goods.
What lesson does Iran draw from Western weakness in opposing its nuclear weapons’ program? To paraphrase the words of the Union admiral during the Civil War, “Damn the diplomatic notes! Full speed ahead!”
What lesson does Syria draw from Israel’s failure to retaliate against it last summer and the stream of Western suitors bearing gifts? Escalate the war against Lebanon!
What lesson does Hizballah draw from Western refusal to get tough on arms smuggling and Europeans trembling lest it attack the UNIFIL peacekeeping forces in Lebanon? Rearm, rebuild positions in the south and start firing rockets against Israel again!
So, all right, work with Fatah but have no illusions or expectations. And don’t give something for nothing.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center, and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. His latest book is The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).