Saturday, May 3, 2008

Corrupt Leaders or Just the Way it is?

A couple of days ago I came across David Brumer's blog (on account of South Jerusalem) and assuming it may be just the right fix for me for another Israeli point of view, I took a peek into his post about Khaled Abu Toameh, who is an Israeli Arab journalist. It was very interesting and had many points that many Palestinians had already taken into account for the failures of an effective resistance movement against the occupation. (See Rashid Khalidi.) Brumer, who is a member of The Israel Project, was impressed with Toameh's conclusions that the "Palestinian people are the victims of corrupt leadership in the West Bank and now fanatical radical Islam in Gaza. It didn’t have to be this way." Toameh's status as an Israeli Arab who is residing in East Jerusalem is meant to immediately qualify him of a very non-partisan view, and I have to say that it is very hard to argue against it since this is one voice of a Palestinian, albeit one with an Israeli citizenship (which is second-rank if you are a non-Jew). Brumer is correct in highlighting that aspect of Toameh's, but that doesn't necessarily equate that this point of view is correct altogether because of his background, and I don't believe Brumer does that either.
It has been proven that the Fatah party led by Arafat was corrupt. It saw itself estranged from the fellaheen and decided that it was time to play the politics game and get with it. But we have grown accustomed to what power does to people (and politicians): it corrupts. The Palestinians are not immune to this and neither are any other party that vies for control of a nation-state or province or even some little piece of territory. Arafat aimed to get benefits from the biggest superpower, which incidently his successor is doing right now. I guess the main point being that Arafat was a rather weak entity and grappled for something that he could hold on to so he could have some power. MERIP described it as
"[T]he weakness of the PLO after the Gulf War... The PLO accepted this deeply flawed agreement with Israel because it was weak and had little diplomatic support in the Arab world. Both Islamist radicals and local leaders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip challenged Arafat's leadership. Yet only Arafat had the prestige and national legitimacy to conclude a negotiated agreement with Israel."
The MERIP synopsis also included that "[T]he Oslo accords contained no mechanism to block these unilateral actions [in violation of the Accords] or Israel's violations of Palestinian human and civil rights in areas under its control." Arafat had no power and his power was only as a puppet of Israel's making. So much so that he was corrupt since he had no authority to rule over the masses. He had no power to stop settlements. He was even quite draconian in his handling of security since his was very discredited by the process itself by the Islamist factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Joel Beinin quips that "Arafat's undemocratic practices are considered helpful in controlling opponents of the Oslo process." And could it have been a possibility that Arafat's harsh measures were somehow related to his desire to curbed Palestinian terrorism directed against Israel? As many ordinary Palestinians could attest, signing a peace treaty with Israel did not bring forth any serious discussion about East Jerusalem, refugees or even water rights. Simply put, "Signed agreements were open to endless reinterpretation, always by Israel or by the United States" as iterated by Ali Abunimah.
Toameh regrets that Arafat was unable to build any concrete services during his time and that's why the Palestinians felt the need to back Abbas since he represented some kind of change. I don't believe they elected Abbas because he was capable of bringing more stability, it was just a small changing of the guard. Not long after, we saw how paperthin Abbas' support was as Hamas swept into power, which Toameh agrees that "that any Palestinian child on the street could have told you Hamas would win the elections in January of 2006."
Of course, there's nothing generally wrong with what Toameh's says. In fact, Arafat was only guilty of what every fucking party seems to be guilty of. There is no respite from criticism from the constituents; and not to say that there is no legitimate criticism involved. Here in Ontario the economy is doing very poorly and is on the verge of becoming a "Have-Not Province" qualifying it for Federal subsidies. The McGuinty government has been accused of corruption over and over, stealing taxpayer money. And to paraphrase Jeremiah Haber of The Magnes Zionist:
"[I]f you believe that the Palestinians have been oppressed by their leaders -- I don't -- my question to you will be, so what?
It doesn't make a damn difference.
Because, you see, what the Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians, have in common is that their governments were elected in fair elections. The Palestinian elections were monitored by international observers. In each case, the people should have gotten what they deserved. If they voted the bums in, that's their headache."
Now Toameh does believe it was the Palestinian's headache to bear but I believe that the analogy is rather faulty. Neither Israel or the US is under constant pressure of an occupation. Neither Israel nor the US is under a sanctions regime or a boycott (effectively to undercut its main economy and fuel and electricity). Neither Israel nor the US has their taxes under survellience by an occupied power. While Haber does believe that accountability has to be acknowledged, and it does, the Palestinians have decided that enough was enough and they removed Fatah from power. But Haber notes again,
"the elections results overturned by outside interference. After supporting elections -- elections, I may add, that to a large extent, actually threw the corrupt bums out -- Israel arrested the elected officials that it did not like and imposed a siege on Gaza -- not because it was actually being attacked, but because the Palestinians had elected a group viewed by the US and Israel (and much of Europe), to be a terrorist organization."
Even Toameh recognises this:
"So a year later, when Hamas challenged Fatah’s power, Palestinians said to themselves, let’s give these guys a chance."
But Toameh omits the fact that this result was overturned. And Haber again lucidly points out that
"if you justify Israel's actions in the interest of Israeli security (what about Palestinian security?), you have automatically declared Palestinians territories to be, if not under occupation, than under the thumb of Israel. And therefore you have made the Israelis responsible for the governance of thsoe territories."
And that is outright true. Because of the issue of security, it should only be limited to within the recognised borders of the '67 line but Israel brought it upon itself to control the entirety of the territories, hence they are responsible for those territories. While they have no direct bearing on the attitudes and policies of the PA, the fact that it is still under the umbrella of an occupation makes autonomy a complete impossibility.
Toameh does not allude to this at all and that's where I find the problem. "And again the Palestinian people emerged as the big losers." No one could predict what would have happened if Hamas were able to govern unfettered or the Fatah was not provoked into an attempted coup to remove Hamas from power. Toameh even admits that "Hamas did prove themselves untarnished by corruption"; what could their achievements have been if they did not see an attempt on their lives? He even insists that Hamas has not been able to alleviate the advancement of Palestinian rights, statehood or improve their lives. Perhaps Toameh may have mentioned it in the lecture but Brumer makes no mention of the fact that the embargo that has Gaza starving to death. As it so happens, Israel is been urged to undo this very policy to "avert a humanitarian disaster". A recent poll had Hamas' popularity rising because of the said embargo. And Toameh is meant to conclude that this is (totally) Hamas' fault because they are unable to make life easier for Palestinians?
This would not be so odious if we had not read this reasoning over and over. The Palestinians are solely to blame for their plight because of the leaders they chose. It is the same rhetoric we hear from the powers-that-be that dictate who gets to rule whom. How many people actually know that Marwan Barghouti is possibly the biggest voice that the Palestinians have and he is prevented from ever leaving his prison, let alone run a party or provide talks between the two warring parties. As a matter of fact, we hear the same thing from the US about Iraq: the place is a mess because the Iraqis don't know how to govern and that's why the West has to do it for them. They're just backward, alien and don't know a goddam thing about democracy. All they know is clanism.
I cannot fully fault Brumer and Toameh though; he did declare that
"Nothing is likely to change with the current PA leadership. Abbas is a weak and ineffective leader who cannot leave Ramallah without the permission of an Israeli army officer, let alone rally his own people. He has never visited a refugee camp or ordinary Palestinian village. He's traipsed around Europe and the Middle East, but has done nothing to advance his people’s cause. And the more the Palestinians see America and Israel supporting Abbas, the more he is seen as a puppet and collaborator in their eyes. The West Bank is effectively ruled by gangs, thugs, and rogue militias, Mafia style, says Khaled. If it weren’t for the IDF, Hamas would topple Fatah in a heartbeat, just like they did in Gaza, with barely a struggle."
That is exactly why they are funneling funds into Abbas's pocket. They do not want Hamas to rule as they are the bad guys here. You cannot let the bad guys win: that makes for bad lessons in future. This is a precedent that is not make to see reality. It is typified by what Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy stated in an interview:
"There are conditions [for Hamas to be legitimised]: renounce violence, recognize Israel, and be willing to engage in diplomacy.
[Carter's visit] has told Hamas leaders that perhaps in Washington there are important people who are reconsidering, who are lowering the bar that will let them through the door without them having to pay what they need to pay to get the credibility of engagement with the United States."
What Satloff is incorrect at is that these conditions were met by the PLO before they were spoken to. False. It has been noted in many circles that had these conditions been demanded from the IRA or the ANC then we would still be seeing terrorism and violence in both countries respectively, and perhaps an even harsher treatment to rule over them. We should also take note of Robert Pape's theory that suicide bombers peters out when you negotiate with the resisters and pay attention to their grievances. They're not "animals" who take innocent lives gratuitously: they want to rid their land of foreign combat forces.I guess I am a little too harsh on Toameh but I figured that he needed to properly put all of this into context. It is difficult enough to govern a state, province or a nation without an outside power overlooking your every step and suggesting that this is bad for its security and that you must eliminate every portion of resistance movements that are hostile to the occupier's existence. Think about it: the US is using very repressive measures at any hint of terrorism, torturing them and sending them over to Guatanamo. Ironically, Arafat used the same methods on Hamas. Now Hamas has the tables turned and they doing what Fatah did to them back in the Oslo years when they discredited the accord to a submission to Israel. Were they wrong? Are they wrong now?
What is also missing is that Hamas has tried time and time again to accomodate Israel, urged ceasefires and attempts to give over Shilat for prisoners and even a hudna. All of this has been rebuffed by Israel. You could speculate over Hamas' desire to really make lives easier for Gazans but I didn't see Israel blowing up the wall at Rafah, nor do I see Israel sending out feelers to Hamas. They even demonised an ex-President who did such a measure. This only helps Hamas in the end and only hurts Israel. The longer they hold out, the more Hamas will search for players who will listen to them. That means Iran, Syria and even non-state entities (yes, maybe even Al-Qaeda). Ultimately, this helps Israel's rightliners, as this gives them the proper pretext to fully invade Gaza and depose of Hamas, something that a beefed up Fatah could not do. As we have it, Khaled Meshal has been on record that he will agree on the status outlined from the previous PA agreements and to commit to the borders of the 67 Green Line. Gershom Gorenberg had a very perceptive outlook on Meshal and Hamas and one that should be repeated here:
"Let me be clear: Meshaal is still stating a considerably more hardline position than that of Fatah. This isn’t an offer on which any Israeli leader could just sign. Meshaal’s stated conditions for two states falls far short of the Clinton parameters or the Geneva accords. On the other hand, pay attention: The leader of Hamas is saying that the Charter has no practical relevance. He really wishes Israel would vanish, but that’s not his political program. He’d rather take a couple pills against nausea, and accept reality."
This is possibly the most realistic analysis of the situation: Hamas has to continue its rhetoric and may still hope for the "liberation" of historic Palestine, but most of its statesmen see this as a folly and one that will only deflect them into obscurity. They know that they are under fire for results and they somewhat have to accommodate their enemy and give them de facto recognition. Isn't that just as good for now? Why do more lives have to be at risk here? Jimmy Carter did state that "as long as Hamas is not part of the solution, they are part of the problem".
Nothing will absolve the Palestinian leaders of corruption and failure to unify. But under the conditions of occupation and the scope of outside powers constantly at play with your governance, it is remarkably difficult to do the right thing by your constituents when you are living the easy life or a diplomat or an official. You live in decent dwellings while the poor farmers are being removed from their land and Hebron residents are being terrorised. The Palestinian official is aware of this but they are not under this pressure every day. Scratch that, only those that are not under threat of being imprisoned or liquidated, is not under pressure. Those who speak out are possibly languishing in a prison cell already.
But no amount of Palestinian corruption can totally absolve an occupation that has epitomised a dearth of autonomy for the Palestinians. Toameh's narrative is free of the usual vituperation but coming from his focus it is naturally a little surprising, but it really should not be. Every Palestinian is well aware of the failings of their leadership but they are also very aware that this is a vacant leadership that is propped up by the big powers to rule over them. They know they're corrupted; but do you also know that they are occupied? It is on its forty-first year; how long has Palestinian corruption been around? And here we are still scathing over the corruption while the occupation makes scant relevance. No siree.
There can really be no clear ratio on which is more to blame. The constant neglect to even mention that the Palestinians are under conditions that no other government is under is criminal and disingenuous. What should not be forgotten is that the lifelong effects of being brutalised, tortured, harrassed, displaced, distorted, ignored, and flatly called every demeaning name in the English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, German and any other language has on ordinary Palestinians who only see how bad the occupier can be.