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A Small Ray of Light

In a rare glimmer of good news from the vexed Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israeli government has announced it will turn tax revenues over to the Palestinian Authority, allowing the Palestinians to meet payroll and cover some other basic expenses.  Holding the payments back was Israel’s response to the Palestinian quest for statehood at the UN.

The financial sanctions were a telling blow.  The key difference between states and other entities is sovereignty: the ability and power to manage their own affairs.  The Palestinians do not collect their own taxes; handouts from donors and the delivery of tax receipts from Israel keep the Palestinian Authority alive.  An authority that must beg for the money that keeps it alive may call itself a state, and may for political reasons be called a state by other people, but as a matter of fact and truth it is a dependency rather than a country.

By withholding money from the PA, Israel was delivering a pointed reminder that the Palestinians can only have a state as a result of Israeli actions.  This is an unpleasant reality for Palestinians and understandably so, but there is no way to actual as opposed to nominal statehood except through negotiations with the neighbors.  The reminder was particularly pointed because so many Palestinians depend on the Palestinian Authority for their salaries and the services that make life work.  When the PA runs out of money, it cannot deliver, and the political crisis becomes a personal economic crisis throughout the West Bank.

In a further twist of the knife, a number of Arab countries are behind in the generous pledges they have made to the Palestinians in the past.  The Arabs could have chosen to help Fatah out merely by honoring past pledges; they chose not to do so, demonstrating yet again that for all the talk and all the posturing few Arab governments are genuinely committed to helping Palestinians on the ground.

Having made its point about the limits on Palestinian independence and self reliance, it was not sensible or decent for Israel to press the point too far.  The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority may not like each other or trust each other, but they need each other.  Israel does not need anarchy and chaos on its frontiers.  And it does not need to weaken Fatah, leaving a free field for Hamas.  Nor does Israel need the bad publicity that would result when the financial sanctions closed schools and cut other essential services.

The transfer of money is not a sign that things are getting better; the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is still becalmed.  The early failures of the Obama administration in the region have poisoned the well for now and there is little prospect for a relaunch anytime soon.  But if things aren’t getting better, for now they are not getting worse.  We must sometimes be grateful for small mercies.

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  • Luke Lea

    Slightly off topic, but below is a nice quote from Edwin Montague, British Cabinet member during WWI, about the pending Balfour Declaration. Note how he foresees the shape of things to come. Nor was he alone in this:

    ‘Montagu was the second Jew to enter the British Cabinet. However, he was strongly opposed to Zionism, which he called “a mischievous political creed”, and opposed the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which he considered anti-semitic and whose terms he managed to modify. In a memo to the cabinet, he outlined his views on Zionism thus: “…I assume that it means that Mahommedans and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine. Perhaps also citizenship must be granted only as a result of a religious test.”[4] He was opposed by his cousin Herbert Samuel, a moderate Zionist who became the first High Commissioner of Palestine.’

    This supports my argument that the allies — England, France, and Russia principally — share (with Germany of course) responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such causal relationships do not disappear with time, forget them though we wish.

  • WigWag

    ” An authority that must beg for the money that keeps it alive may call itself a state, and may for political reasons be called a state by other people, but as a matter of fact and truth it is a dependency rather than a country.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    How long will it be before Professor Mead can write the same paragraph about Egypt? Considering that the Egyptian economy is in free-fall and considering the rate that it is hemorrhaging foreign reserves, isn’t it almost certain that Egypt will end up as a dependency of the United States, Europe and the Gulf states?

    There’s one thing I think we can say with confidence; it sure aint springtime in Egypt.

  • Kris

    “it was not sensible or decent for Israel to press the point too far”

    Perhaps. But then again, Israel’s relenting means that the only consequence of the Palestinian Authority’s UN demarche (which can be seen as an egregious nose-thumb at existing agreements) was a delay of the funds. Yet again, the Palestinians get a do-over, which is not an incentive to good behavior. This is especially true given that the PA/Fatah is currently negotiating an agreement with Hamas.

  • WigWag

    Commentary makes an interesting case that Israel should not have released the funds and that the United States is subsidizing Hamas,

  • Kenny

    The real sin is that U.S. taxpayer money goes to the Palestinians who teach hate of Jews and America in their schools, thus poisoning the minds of future generations, making the long sought after peace impossible.

    Want peace between the Palestinians and Isreal, then introduce the Palestinians to reality.

  • Bryan

    I’d like to try a hand at playing the Devil’s Advocate.

    It is possible that subsidizing Fatah and keeping Fatah alive to fend off Hamas might be short-sighted of Israel. Instead, allowing Hamas to push out Fatah might actually work in Israel’s favor in the long run. Hamas is more popular in the West Bank than in Gaza: living under Hamas rule, Gazans have figured out that Hamas has no interest in governing well and they are no less corrupt or dictatorial (and probably more so) than Fatah. If Israel did not offer so much political and military support to Fatah, and Hamas were to take over the West Bank, then West Bankers might have the same falling-out with Hamas that we see in Gaza.

    In any case, pan-Arab nationalism is currently waning while Islamism is waxing. Hamas’ support will probably strengthen as long as they are not in power: once they are in power and they abuse that power, the Palestinians will sour on them. Seeing the failures of both Fatah and Hamas might make the Palestinians more pliable and willing to cooperate with Israel.

    Also, if Hamas ruled the West Bank, Israel might get more of a free hand in the West Bank. It’s awkward to justify expanding settlements and large numbers of military raids while “our Arabs” are in charge, but if Hamas is in charge, it might be easier to justify expanding the security fence and whatnot.

    Caveat: I don’t even have a Bachelor’s and don’t consider myself an expert. I just wanted to share some musings on the conflict.

  • Barry Meislin

    Of course Israel should send money to those who intend to destroy it.

    Isn’t that what all countries are expected to do?

    File under: Doin’ the right thing!

  • Alex Scipio

    The reason the Arabs have not made good on their pledges to the Palestinians is that the only people on the planet who dislike the Palestinians more than the Israelis are the Arabs. Palestinians occupy the same economic space in N Africa and the Mid East as do itinerant hispanic laborers here in the USA: put-up with, at best, allowed only the dirtiest, most menial jobs.

    The Palestinians remain in refugee camps 60 years after departing Israel under the advice of the Arabs (as a purely political ploy) because Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia, certainly wealthy enough to have integrated the Palestinians into their schools, economy and society, have refused to do so. The “plight” of the Palestinians at this point is solely the result of the way they have been treated by their fellow muslims.

    Too bad we lack an administration with the guts to say so. Too bad the Palestinians cannot count on Western, democratic pressure to force their Arab masters to make a place for them in their societies, societies in which they live. The flip side, of course, is that muslim Palestinians living in Israel are accorded Western rights and liberties, both completey unknown in muslim-ruled lands.

  • Nate

    To Bryan,
    I see what you’re saying, and that policy in a way would be less hypocritical. But two major problems appear off the top of my head: 1. Hamas in power in the West Bank would require another Cast Lead–the rockets would come, and they’d come from hills over Tel Aviv. And I don’t know if Israel could survive diplomatically another Cast Lead. It might lead to EU sanctions, for instance. 2. The other problem is that the will of the Arab people is not as important as their government’s policy. It doesn’t matter if the majority of Palestinians see rockets as counterproductive or useless, or their rulers as corrupt or oppressive. They still won’t end the conflict, and they won’t be able to overthrow Hamas. Hamas’ military and political wings are integrated, so it’s not likely their military would stand aside as in Egypt. There’s no sectarian divide to motivate as in Syria. And international intervention as in Libya? Exactly.

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