SETTLEMENTS COULD HELP THE PEACE PROCESS

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday, 28 Dec 2016. (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

By Gregg Roman / LATimes.com

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which describes Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal, should never have passed last week. But the U.S. refused to use its veto power, in part because, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry explained in a speech on Wednesday, the Obama administration believes settlements are an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. In the outgoing administration’s view, extreme criticism is, conversely, necessary to advance the peace process.

This argument is dead wrong. Still, let’s examine it.

Although administration officials have been reluctant to explain the precise reasoning behind their last-minute series of attacks on a trusted ally, as near as I can tell it rests on three assumptions.

The first, as Kerry outlined in his speech, is that a freeze on Israeli settlement growth makes it easier for Palestinian leaders to make painful compromises at the negotiating table.  It supposedly does this by easing Palestinian suspicions that Israel either won’t make major territorial concessions or won’t implement these concessions once made.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put this assumption to the test in November 2009 when he imposed a 10-month moratorium on new housing construction (East Jerusalem excepted) at the urging of the Obama administration.

What happened? Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to return to talks until the very end of the moratorium and remained every bit as intransigent as before.

The main impediment to Palestinian compromise is not Palestinian suspicion; it is the fundamental unwillingness of Palestinian leaders across the spectrum to accept the existence of a Jewish state alongside their own.

What’s more, a strong case can be made that some settlement growth actually makes it easier for Palestinian moderates to build public support for compromise by underscoring that a continuation of the status quo is untenable and injurious to Palestinian national aspirations in the long run.

The Obama administration’s second assumption is that pressure from the international community or from the United States will bring about this supposedly desirable settlement freeze.

However, by collapsing the distinction between East Jerusalem and bustling Israeli towns just inside the West Bank —  which no major Israeli political party will contemplate abandoning —  and the remaining settlements, most of which Israelis are willing to give up, this policy does the opposite.

“It is a gift to Bibi Netanyahu, who can now more easily argue to Israelis that the bad relationship with America these last eight years wasn’t his fault,” notes the writer Jonah Goldberg.

Finally, let’s imagine it’s true that international pressure would increase Israel’s willingness to accept a settlement freeze and that such a freeze would make it easier for Palestinian negotiators to trust Israel. Even so — and contrary to Obama administration assumptions —  branding Israeli claims outside the 1967 boundaries illegal and invalid could have devastating consequences.

Since Palestinian leaders already have trouble justifying to their people the abandonment of territorial claims to Ma’ale Adumim, the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem, and so forth, they will have double the trouble now that the United States has endorsed these demands. What Palestinian leader can sign away territory to which Washington and the Security Council have declared Israelis have no legitimate claim?

Kerry stated plainly that Israel is to blame for the demise of the two-state process, and that — unless its leaders listen to counsel — Israel will not survive as both a Jewish and a democratic state.  Now that the administration’s views are crystal clear, pundits should spare us the back and forth on whether its eleventh-hour obsessions are good for peace – no one as smart as Obama or Kerry can possibly believe that it is.

The more interesting question, sure to be the focus of congressional hearings next year, is why the administration used its last few weeks to damage relations with Israel.

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum, a research center headquartered in Philadelphia.

Egyptian doctor: Stop exploiting Palestine as wedge against Jewish Israel

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Egyptian medical doctor who also has a master’s degree in cognitive psychology. As a youth, he was a radical Muslim and joined a terrorist organization–Islamic Jihad–along with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who later became bin Laden’s deputy and second in command of al-Qaeda. Twenty-five years ago Dr. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern, peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid says that Islam is combative, sowing destruction and terrorism. Currently he is active in promoting peace and human rights, advocating peace with Israel, and argues that the suffering of the Palestinians is caused by their militant and fanatic leaders who want to exterminate the Jews and who use the suffering Palestinians for political and religious dogmatism. Hamid says that cynical manipulation by the Palestinian leadership is not only immoral, it works against the Palestinians. Those who need to change are the Palestinians.The solution is in the hands of the Palestinians. If they do not change the situation for the Palestinians, the suffering of the Palestinians will not come to an end.
Translated from Hebrew.

Israel breaks off peace talks after PA and Hamas reconcile

By Josef Federman / Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel broke off Mideast peace talks and brought the U.S.-brokered process to the brink of collapse Thursday, protesting a reconciliation agreement between the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and the militant group Hamas, the sworn enemy of the Jewish state.

Israel’s Security Cabinet made the decision during a marathon emergency meeting convened to discuss the new Palestinian deal. The rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah announced the reconciliation plan Wednesday, meant to end a seven-year rift.

Israel objects to any participation in Palestinian politics by Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks over the past two decades.

In a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, the government said it would not hold negotiations with a government “backed by Hamas.”

“Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” the statement said, referring to a name Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also known by.

The statement said Israel also would respond to Abbas’s recent decision to join 15 international conventions “with a series of steps,” language that typically refers to financial sanctions against the Palestinians.

Despite Israel’s decision, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to declare the negotiations over and said the U.S. is “still making the effort.”

Even with the tough stance, Netanyahu left the door open to salvaging negotiations, which are set to expire next Tuesday.

“He still has the opportunity to reverse course, to go to the right direction, to abandon this pact with Hamas,” Netanyahu told U.S. broadcaster NBC. “I hope he does it. Because if we encounter a Palestinian leadership and a Palestinian government that is ready to pursue genuine peace negotiations, we’re going to be there.”

Even Israeli hard-liners concede that reaching a deal with Abbas alone would fall short of making peace with all Palestinians. And yet, any attempt at Palestinian reconciliation is opposed by Israel because of Hamas violence.

Abbas took a big gamble in approaching Hamas. The U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group, and could conceivably cut off some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid they give the Palestinians each year in response.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in 2007, and the Islamic group’s control of the area remains a major obstacle to any future peace deal.

If talks fail, Abbas said to be weighing dissolution of Oslo, PA

Dramatic move would create security and diplomatic fallout for Israel; Bennett: ‘We won’t stop him’

TimesOfIsrael.com

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly threatened to dissolve the PA and disband Palestinian security forces operating in the West Bank if peace negotiations with Israel fail, a move which would create huge security and diplomatic problems for Israel.

According to Palestinian sources cited by Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, Abbas and top PA officials are considering the drastic move, which would involve cancelling the 1993 Oslo Accords and announcing that the Palestinian Authority is a “government under occupation” without full sovereignty, which would technically move full responsibility for the Palestinians, in the West Bank at least, to Israel.

The threat, which has reportedly been passed on to Israel, would also disband and abolish PA security forces operating in the West Bank, theoretically opening the way for expanded Palestinian unrest against Israeli forces. The move could also prompt a surge in international legal and diplomatic action against Israel.

Yedioth said a vote on the move is scheduled for a PLO meeting on Saturday, three days before the peace talks are currently scheduled to end.

The prospect of the PA’s dissolution was greeted with derision on Sunday by Economics Minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, who has been a vocal critic of the negotiations. As PA head, Abbas is “encouraging terrorism against Israel” with his threat, Bennett told Maariv.

“If he wants to go, we won’t stop him. Israel won’t conduct negotiations with a gun to our head,” he said.

The current round of US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are scheduled to end on April 29 after a nine-month negotiating period, and the two sides have been unable to come to an agreement to extend the talks. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said last week that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are striving to reach an agreement to extend their peace talks beyond the deadline.

However, officials in Jerusalem said Friday that no progress had been made in emergency talks that took place between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the night before, and that the two sides would meet again this week after the Passover holiday.

Washington is pushing for an extension, but the negotiations hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as agreed at last year’s launch of the talks.

Under the agreement, Israel had committed to a four-phase release of 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords, but it cancelled the release of the last group of 26 at the end of March. Among them are 14 Israeli Arabs who the Jewish state is refusing to free. It also wanted a prior commitment from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to extend the peace negotiations, which Abbas refused to make.

According to Israel Radio, the Palestinians are adamant in their demand that all 26 prisoners be released, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to concede on the issue of releasing the Israeli Arab terrorists. The head of the Shin Bet security service advised Netanyahu to release the 14 Israeli Arab prisoners in question and deport them to the Gaza Strip or abroad, the report said, but Netanyahu said he would not act in a way that may endanger Israeli citizens. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of Israeli MKs last week that he opposed any such deportation.

The Palestinians retaliated for the delay in the prisoner releases by seeking accession to several international treaties, a move Israel described as a “major breach” of understandings.

Abbas told the Israeli opposition MPs visiting him in the West Bank city of Ramallah last Wednesday that if talks were extended, he would want the first three months “devoted to a serious discussion of borders,” Haaretz reported.

The Palestinians want a state based on the lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War.

San Remo Mandate: Israel’s Magna Carta–video

San Remo’s Mandate: Israel’s ‘Magna Carta’ – CBN.com
Chris Mitchell’s CBN News report following the 90th anniversary of The San Remo Mandate

(Originally uploaded on Jul 9, 2010, following the 90th anniversary of the San Remo signing on April 25, 1920.)
The 1920 San Remo resolution answered a fundamental issue that still plagues the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks today: whether Israel has a right to the land. The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)

Obama’s bad slam

The President’s pressuring of Israel is harmful to prospects for peace.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP
PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP

President Obama is pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make peace right quick — with an implicit threat that otherwise the Jewish state will lose legitimacy. That’s profoundly wrong.

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg View, Obama asserted that “if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Those words give pernicious credibility to a corrosive movement that sees Israel as the root of all evil in the Middle East.

In fact, it’s the Palestinians, nominally led by Mahmoud Abbas, who are unprepared to formally recognize Israel. In fact, it’s Hamas that is committed to terrorizing and ultimately obliterating Israel. In fact, Israel has repeatedly shown a willingness to strike a deal to recognize a Palestinian state roughly along the 1967 borders, only to see Palestinian leaders walk away. Thrice bitten, fourth time shy.

Speaking Tuesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Netanyahu correctly said: “If this peace is to be more than just a brief interlude, Israel needs security arrangements.”

Obama’s strong-arming will never change that truth. He owes America’s closest ally in the region far better.

Netanyahu vows tough line for White House talks

Obama and Netanyahu meet to talk this week.
Obama and Netanyahu meet to talk this week.
By Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister headed to Washington on Sunday for a high-stakes meeting with President Barack Obama about U.S.-led Mideast peace efforts, vowing to maintain a tough line in the face of heavy international pressure to begin making concessions to the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiant tone set the stage for what could be a difficult meeting Monday with Obama. But with the clock ticking toward an April target date for a preliminary agreement, the Israeli leader could soon be forced to begin laying out a clearer vision for a future peace deal with the Palestinians.

Shortly before takeoff, Netanyahu vowed to “stand steadfast” on Israeli interests.

“In recent years, the state of Israel has been under various pressures,” he said. “We have rejected them in the face of the unprecedented storm and unrest in the region and are maintaining stability and security. This is what has been and what will be.”

After two decades of intermittent negotiations, including five years of deadlock following Netanyahu’s return to power in 2009, the United States relaunched peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last July. The sides agreed to a nine-month target for forging a final peace deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has traveled to the region more than 10 times for meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He has also talked to them on the phone repeatedly. But with no signs of breakthrough, Kerry has been forced to scale back his objectives.

The initial goal of a final deal by April was later replaced by more modest U.S. aspirations of brokering the contours of an agreement. In recent weeks, there were expectations that Kerry would present his own ideas for such a framework, with Abbas and Netanyahu agreeing to continue talks for up to a year on that basis.

But the gaps between Abbas and Netanyahu remain wide, and it’s not certain Kerry will present a framework in such conditions.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Kerry said Netanyahu’s White House meeting should not be viewed as a “showdown.” He said conversations would continue with both sides, “and hopefully, over the next weeks, we can reach some kind of understanding about how to negotiate a final status agreement.”

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories captured by Israel in 1967 — for an independent state. They have demanded that Israel agree to base the final borders with a future Palestine on the pre-1967 lines, with small land swaps that would allow Israel to keep some of the Jewish settlements it has built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has refused to recognize the 1967 lines as a starting point. He wants to retain an Israeli presence in a strategic area of the West Bank along the border with Jordan and keep large blocs of settlements closest to Israel. He has given no indication as to how much territory he is willing to cede and he has rejected any division of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.

Netanyahu has also demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. The Palestinians reject this out of hand, saying it would undermine the rights of displaced Palestinian refugees who claim properties in what is now Israel as well as the rights of Israel’s Arab minority.

Kerry apparently made little headway, most recently at a meeting with Abbas in Paris. The Palestinians fear the emerging American proposal will largely side with Israel, particularly on the Jewish state and by including only a vague mention of Palestinian “aspirations” in Jerusalem, rather than a specific reference to east Jerusalem.

“It’s clear that Secretary Kerry has found out he cannot bridge the gap between the two positions if he insists on the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which we will never accept,” said Hana Amireh, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, part of Abbas’s inner circle.

“Thus he is asking President Obama to intervene, and we know that when President Obama intervenes, there will be more pressure on us,” he added.

Abbas is scheduled to visit the White House on March 17, and Israel is expected to release 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners at the end of the month under a pledge made at the outset of the negotiations. What happens after that remains unclear.

But ahead of his visit, Netanyahu has stuck to his hard line. “I will never compromise on Israel’s security. Never. And never apologize for the fact that the Jewish people are living in their ancestral homeland,” he told a gathering of Jewish American leaders last week.

Behind the rhetoric, however, Netanyahu is facing intense international pressure to begin making concessions. The international community has shown growing impatience with Israeli settlements on lands claimed by the Palestinians.

Kerry has said the construction raises questions about Israel’s commitment to peace, and warned a burgeoning international movement to boycott Israel over its settlement policies could gain steam. Kerry has also warned that unless a Palestinian state is set up, Israel stands to become a binational state — in which Arabs could soon outnumber Jews.

Yoaz Hendel, a former communications director for Netanyahu, said his former boss is well aware of the dangers of a binational state and is far more pragmatic than many believe.

But he said Netanyahu will delay all tough decisions for as long as possible, and that his pragmatism has limits. He said Netanyahu will never agree to return to the 1967 lines due to ideological and security concerns. He also said that Netanyahu would be constrained by opposition from Israeli hard-liners, his base of support.

Hendel described Netanyahu’s goal as trying to keep “maximum land and minimum Palestinians” under Israeli control. He said Netanyahu would eventually try to reach an interim deal that falls short of a comprehensive peace.

“I know that he’s trying to figure out how to get out of this dead end,” Hendel said. “He’s not talking about a peace agreement. He’s not selling dreams. But he’s also not talking about the status quo.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

Peace Talks Update — Israel accepts, Palestine rejects

John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu
John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu

By Ryan Jones / IsraelToday.co.il

Regional media reports over the weekend indicated that Israel is set to accept U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework proposal for reaching a final status peace agreement, while the Palestinians are looking to stall or outright reject the plan.

Israel’s Channel 2 News reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are all prepared to sign off on a non-binding version of the proposals, which, among other things, recommends:

  • The division of Jerusalem, though without going into specifics;
  • A gradual Israeli withdrawal from most of the “West Bank,” while retaining control over large Jewish settlement blocs;
  • A limited land swap to compensate the Palestinians for the settlement blocs;
  • Recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state”; and
  • Compensation for so-called “Palestinian refugees,” but no “right of return” to Israel-proper.

Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper last week quoted senior Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed Rabbo as rejecting the American proposal as “Israeli ideas.”

Like his boss, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Rabbo has made the “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to Israel a non-negotiable point in the peace process.

On the related point of recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told his audience at a conference in Munich last week that he could never agree to such a condition, as doing so amounted to “asking him to change his narrative.”

Erekat went on to claim that his ancestors had lived in the region for “5,500 years before [biblical leader of Israel] Joshua Ben-Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.” Of course, such a claim means that Erekat and his Palestinian Authority colleagues are either liars, or are in possession of time-travel technology.

You see, the Palestinians claim to be Arabs. They also rightly claim that the Arabs are descendants of Abraham through his son Ishmael. And, as any casual student of history knows, Jericho was around long before the time of Abraham, meaning that the Patriarch’s offspring couldn’t possibly have been around for the founding of the “oldest city on earth.”

Meanwhile, Abbas’s envoy to Iran, Jibril Rajoub, avoided such flights of fancy and went straight to making threats. “If the talks fail, armed struggle against [Israel] could be a strategic solution for the Palestinian people,” Rajoub was quoted as telling Iranian media, emphasizing that Palestinians “never abandoned the solution of an armed uprising.”

Palestinian Corruption

ATM A Palestinian man employed by Fatah displays his money after an ATM withdrawal at the Bank of Palestine in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on June 8, 2012. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90
ATM A Palestinian man employed by Fatah displays his money after an ATM withdrawal at the Bank of Palestine in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on June 8, 2012. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90

By Dr. Jonathan Schanze / TheTower.org

If peace were suddenly to break out in the Middle East, John Kerry would undoubtedly assure his place in the Secretary of State Hall of Fame. Defiantly challenging a chorus of naysayers at home and around the world, Kerry launched a new round of Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy on July 29, 2013, and believes he can conclude a deal between the two sides by the end of April 2014.

He has his work cut out for him, however. Extremely difficult, almost impossible issues remain to be resolved, such as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugee claims, and final borders.

But one obstacle is almost never discussed in public, yet has the potential to make even the most successful negotiation end in a spectacular failure. The present efforts to create a Palestinian state are built entirely atop a Palestinian political system that has long suffered from endemic corruption, abuse of power, nepotism, and waste. This problem has dogged the Palestinians at least since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, radically undermining the most basic elements required for successful governance—including the faith of individual Palestinians in their leaders. This hinders the ability to administer international assistance, encourage investment, or build effective institutions.

Put simply, the current Palestinian regime, led first by Yasser Arafat and now by President Mahmoud Abbas, is ossified, brittle, and distrusted by the Palestinian street. The failure to address this problem would most likely lead to the birth of a failed state that crushes Palestinian freedom and economic growth, threatens Israel, and fosters radicalism—making American diplomatic efforts today seem, in retrospect, tragically flawed despite the huge investment of resources and political credibility.

Washington’s failure to address Palestinian corruption has already had catastrophic consequences. It had a decisive influence on the Palestinian elections of January 2006, in which the terrorist group Hamas and its allies defeated their secular rival Fatah, taking 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament and earning the legal right to form a government.

As a result, the U.S. Congress legislatively prohibited any taxpayer money from aiding a Palestinian government in which terrorists played a role. Observers lamented the Bush administration for ignoring klaxon-level warnings that forcing elections that included an armed terrorist group was a grievous error and would see the Palestinian people bring them to power. And while there is no doubt that Hamas’s grisly record of suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets won over some of the Palestinian population, there was another explanation for its victory that many in the West preferred not to acknowledge: The Palestinians were looking for new leaders after years of living under a corrupt regime. Hamas ran for election under the banner of “change and reform,” and its message resonated.

There is no doubt that Fatah’s defeat was as long in coming as a victory for Hamas. As Zaki Chehab pointed out in his 2007 book Inside Hamas, Palestinians have increasingly come to view the group as not only a violent organization committed to confronting Israel, but also as an independent, less corrupt movement that refused to take part in a dysfunctional spoils system. Hamas was well aware of this, and worked hard to project the image of an organization impervious to the corruption that plagued the wealthy Fatah leaders who returned to the Palestinian territories after years of exile in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

In other words, the most obvious explanation for Hamas’s success at the polls was Fatah’s failure to gain the support of the Palestinian majority due to its ineptitude and corruption. But the West was not interested in this point of view. As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh noted,

For many years the foreign media did not pay enough attention to stories about corruption in the Palestinian areas or about abuse of human rights or indeed to what was really happening under the Palestinian Authority. They ignored the growing frustration on the Palestinian street as a result of mismanagement and abuse by the PLO of its monopoly on power.

In fact, allegations of corruption against the Palestinian Authority have been constant since its establishment. In 1997, for example, the Associated Press reported that a Palestinian administrative report found “$326 million of the Palestinian autonomy government’s $800 million annual budget had been squandered through corruption or mismanagement.” As scholar Nathan Brown observed in his book Palestinian Politics After the Oslo Accords, the PA’s corrupt practices included “personal use of ministry cards, unaccounted international long distance calls, [and] padded expense accounts. A few were more significant, such as use of border controls to divert business to relatives of senior officials.”

A Haaretz report further quoted a Fatah official as saying,

Every honcho got himself a fat slice of the imports into the Authority. One got the fuel, another got the cigarettes, yet another the lottery, and his crony the flour. Gravel is a monopoly belonging directly to the security apparatuses, and they earn a fortune from it that finances their operations.

The official called these crony capitalists a “mafia” that undermined the Palestinian government. Another Palestinian official added that, “Without the monopolies, the economy could be in much better shape.”

Despite the airing of these troubling reports, the problem did not get better. In fact, throughout the decade that most defined Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, the native problems strangling Palestinian civil society in the grave worsened, while diplomats looked the other way. According to Bloomberg News, PA president Yasser Arafat “diverted $900 million of the authority’s tax and business income to personal bank accounts” between 1995 and 2000. Another report from Bloomberg revealed that, between 1997 and 2000, the Palestinian leadership transferred $238 million to Switzerland without notifying its donors.

In September 2000, the peace negotiations collapsed, and after months of planning by Yasser Arafat, the PA launched the second intifada, destroying any prospects for peace that survived his refusal to accept Israel’s outreached hand and historic offers. Despite the violence, however, the Palestinians underwent a remarkable domestic awakening. Poll after poll revealed that a large majority was frustrated by the PA’s corruption, with the numbers peaking at an overwhelming 83 percent. Realizing that they had virtually nothing to show for seven years of state-building and a massive infusion of donor funds, many began to demand reform.

So even amidst the ongoing war with Israel, the Palestinians made an effort to clean house. After Arafat died in November 2004, the Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas as their new president. The West billed Abbas as the anti-Arafat, and the PA’s new finance minister, Salam Fayyad, was hailed for his commitment to reform and institution building. He steadily gained the confidence of the West.

Ultimately, however, the Abbas regime could not change the PA’s negative image among its own people. In the run-up to the 2006 elections, the Voice of America quoted Bassem Eid, head of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, saying “everybody knows that Hamas is just climbing on such corruption of the Palestinian Authority. … I think that Hamas is getting more and more supporters, while the Palestinians start in the street talking about the Palestinian corruption.”

Hamas knew that corruption was a winning issue, and ran as the party of clean governance. The Associated Press reported that the movement was running ads that accused Fatah of corruption, nepotism, bribery, and larceny. Members of the movement held dinners and other events at which they pledged to tackle these issues. Their top leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh and Sheikh Said Siyam, did the same.

The strategy was wildly successful. When the results were in, Fatah, which had dominated the Palestinian national movement for decades, managed to win just 45 seats out of 132, disadvantaged by a complex electoral math that combined both direct and proportional representation. The dismal showing sent a clear message. One Fatah activist, Nasser Abdel Hakim, put it into words: The electoral loss, he said, was caused by “mismanagement and the corruption by the mafia that came from Tunis” when the PA was formed.

Statistics appear to substantiate this claim. According to the Congressional Research Service, “Hamas’s anti-corruption message during the parliamentary election was apparently successful and many reports and exit polls cited anti-corruption as a motivation to vote for Hamas.” Polling conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that “71 percent of those who considered corruption the most important consideration in voting voted for Hamas and only 19 percent for Fatah and 11 percent for the other lists.” Moreover, 25 percent of voters saw corruption as the number one issue in the election.

What followed was a stalemate. Israel and the U.S. both consider Hamas a terrorist group; as a result, they halted financial collaboration with the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. Tensions between Hamas and Fatah supporters in the Palestinian bureaucracy steadily increased.

Soon enough, violence between the two factions erupted, leading to a period of lawlessness in the both the Fatah-dominated West Bank and Hamas’s traditional stronghold of the Gaza Strip.

In early 2007, Hamas abducted a string of Fatah and PA figures. The victims were often beaten and tortured. According to a Palestinian rights group, “limbs were fired at to cause permanent physical disabilities” in certain cases. In addition, Hamas hijacked a convoy of PA trucks. The violence became so bad that one human rights activist said Gaza had “become worse than Somalia.” Yasser Abed Rabbo, an executive committee member of the PLO, described the situation as “anarchy.”

On June 7, 2007, Hamas launched a brutal military coup to wrest the Gaza Strip out of the hands of the PA, which under power-sharing agreements maintained control of the official security forces in both territories. The battle didn’t last long. By June 13, Hamas forces controlled the streets and government buildings, including Abbas’s presidential and security compounds. By the following day, all of Gaza was under Hamas control.

In Gaza, too, cash is still king. Hamas deputy prime minister Ziad al-Zaza holds up British pounds received from British MP George Galloway on March 10, 2009. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90
In Gaza, too, cash is still king. Hamas deputy prime minister Ziad al-Zaza holds up British pounds received from British MP George Galloway on March 10, 2009. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90

The West, particularly the United States, went into panic mode after the coup, fearing that a similar takeover of the West Bank was imminent. Washington rushed to support Abbas with arms, cash, and intelligence. The message to the Palestinian leader was a simple one: Do not lose power in the West Bank.

It was at this point that Abbas likely realized there was little or no chance that the West would ever challenge his rule over the West Bank, and that weakness was his greatest strength. Thanks to the Hamas record of suicide bombings and rocket attacks, Fatah’s chronic mismanagement of funds seemed to mean very little. The West Bank Palestinian leadership concluded, quite correctly, that the West would turn a blind eye to its abuses of power, let alone its continued incitement against Israel.

And that is precisely what happened. While Abbas’s patrons remained silent, PA corruption continued apace. In August 2007, just weeks after the Gaza takeover, a Palestinian news agency reported on “financial and administrative corruption in the Palestinian power company in Gaza.” The following year, The Jerusalem Post noted additional reports of problematic financial dealings. The Palestinian Authority also came under fire for stifling freedom of the press in the areas under its control. By September 2008, the Post quoted Husam Khader, a young Fatah leader, warning that former loyalists were leaving the party “because of the corruption and the traditional mentality of the Fatah leaders and because they ignore democratic aspects and democratic needs to heal Fatah as we wish.”

Since then, there has been little if any significant improvement in the situation. Abbas pushed Salaam Fayyad out of his position as Prime Minister in early 2013, eliminating the West’s trusted man and bringing Fayyad’s efforts to build accountable institutions and the foundation of a future Palestinian state to an untimely end. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership continued to stifle dissent at home by, for example, banning criticism of Abbas on Facebook. At the same time, it reportedly continued to squander international aid. A European Union audit concluded in October 2013 that the PA may have “misspent” $3.13 billion in financial aid in the previous four years alone. While some have cast doubts on the report’s veracity, the PA itself has acknowledged that corruption complaints in the West Bank quadrupled during 2013.

It seems clear that, despite being rejected by both the ballot and the gun, Abbas has failed to learn his lesson. He has failed to reform the dysfunctional Palestinian Authority, and does not show any signs of attempting to do so in the near future. And the West, addicted to top-down peacemaking, shows little interest in genuinely helping the Palestinian people attain a government dedicated to coexistence with Israel, nor one built on the open, fair and transparent civil society and legal system required to build a successful state.

Abbas, it should be noted, is not going anywhere. Four years past the end of his presidential term, with no elections in sight, despite regular tantrums in which he declares his departure is imminent, Abbas appears determined to continue in office until he is no longer physically able to govern. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Abbas has no heir apparent and, according to Palestinian law, his designated successor is a Hamas member who became speaker of the Palestinian parliament following the 2006 elections.

Washington appears distinctly unconcerned by all this. Indeed, Kerry’s new peace initiative is marked by a strong willingness to throw money at the PA without a plan to bolster its ability to govern or end decades of financial mismanagement. In fact, the cash is already on the proverbial table: In May 2013, Kerry announced that the PA will be rewarded for reaching a peace agreement with $4 billion in aid. More recently, the White House’s Middle East Coordinator Phil Gordon stated that “stabilizing the Palestinian Authority’s finances” was an urgent goal for the administration, while also noting that the U.S. has already contributed $348 million to the PA this year.

Sadly, this means that the administration is now unlearning what past administrations took years to understand: Ignoring the issue of Palestinian governance is a mistake. Ambassador Dennis Ross, for example, who spearheaded the Clinton administration’s peace efforts, has said that “We should have been focused on the state-building enterprise. … We didn’t really focus on that until, in effect, after the collapse of Oslo.”

Aaron David Miller, who worked closely on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking for over two decades, has said that Washington often turned a blind eye to the PA’s abuses of power, so long as the Palestinians maintained a public commitment to peacemaking diplomacy. “State security courts and human rights abuses?” he said. “Terrible. But you’ve got to keep the peace process alive. Corruption? Terrible. But you’ve got to keep the peace process alive.” Miller has expressed regret that Washington’s approach was transactional rather than transformational.

Elliott Abrams, who served as an advisor to George W. Bush, has also acknowledged that the problem of PA mismanagement and poor governance was well known to the administration, but “on corruption, we never had a program. We did not have a five-point plan.”

Indeed, for a time, the only plan the U.S.—and the West in general—had was to bet on Salam Fayyad and his efforts to clean up the PA. But now that Fayyad has been pushed out, there appears to be no plan at all.

Theoretically, the United States could steer the Palestinians back to the Fayyad model, since it doesn’t really matter whether the effort is led by Fayyad himself, or by another competent leader with a commitment to reform and institution building. Unfortunately, this seems very unlikely to happen.

Today, American diplomats are falling all over themselves to placate the wrong Palestinian leaders. Washington’s goal is to reach a peace deal, pure and simple, even as the Palestinian government suffers from the same endemic corruption and abuse of power it always has. The failure to address these issues will inevitably give rise to the same wave of frustration that elected Hamas, an outcome that would threaten the very peace deal Washington hopes to foster. Furthermore, the best possible way to encourage the civil society needed for a stable state, let alone a durable peace, may be better achieved from the bottom up, rather than simply hoping that corrupt leaders will make it happen from the top down against the interests of their profitable patronage networks and their own continued enrichment.

In other words, administration officials continue to ignore the Palestinian struggle for good governance, despite the lessons learned from the election of Hamas and the Arab Spring movements that have recently toppled multiple Arab regimes similar to the PA.

Seemingly desperate for a peace deal and disinclined to challenge the Fatah leadership, Washington now appears only too willing to enter into yet another transactional relationship at the expense of a transformational one, and at the expense of a sustainable two-state solution.

TALKS OVER IRAN’S DISPUTED NUKE PROGRAM HIT A SNAG

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva Switzerland. / photo: Martial Trezzini/AP
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva Switzerland. / photo: Martial Trezzini/AP

Top diplomats meet with Tehran to seek nuclear concessions.

BY MATTHEW LEE AND JOHN HEILPRIN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

GENEVA (AP) — Talks on a deal to temporarily curb Iran’s nuclear program ran into trouble Saturday when France questioned whether the proposal went far enough, casting doubt an agreement could be reached during the current round of negotiations.

Chances of bridging all differences diminished as the day went on.

A Western diplomat in Geneva for the talks told The Associated Press it appeared that a new round of negotiations would be needed to agree on all points of a startup deal meant to lead to a comprehensive agreement ensuring that Tehran’s nuclear work remains peaceful.

He said preparations were being made by both sides for an announcement later in the day of a new meeting within a few weeks. He said earlier that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by the U.S. and France’s other negotiating partners, diminishing hopes of a done deal Saturday.

Comments by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif increased skepticism that the two sides would agree on the full contours of a first-step deal at the current negotiating round.

`’There are differences,” Zarif told Iranian state TV, adding that if open questions remained after Saturday, the talks would reconvene within a week to 10 days.

But the current talks in Geneva were still underway late Saturday, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Russia meeting with one another, and some with Zarif. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Baodong Li also arrived Friday evening.

The foreign ministers of the seven delegations discussing Iran convened a meeting late Saturday night, and the Iranian officials were not included.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of `’several points that … we’re not satisfied with compared to the initial text,” telling France-Inter Radio his nation does not want to be part of a “con game.”

He did not specify, but his comments suggested France thought a final draft of any first-step deal was too favorable to Iran, echoing concerns raised by Israel and several prominent U.S. legislators.

The French position was confirmed by another Western diplomat. Both gave no specifics and demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the diplomatic maneuvering.

Iranian state TV strongly criticized the French position, calling France `’Israel’s representatives at the talks.

Iran’s IRNA news agency cited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as urging world powers to reach a deal.

“I hope the parties negotiating with Iran in the 5+1 group use the exceptional opportunity that the Iranian nation has provided to the West and the international community so that we achieve a positive result in a reasonable time,” IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling a Japanese foreign minister visiting Tehran Saturday evening.

Rouhani said sanctions and threats don’t benefit anyone.

Iran “has insisted that threats and sanctions have not resolved any problem and further complicate the path forward, and believes that the only solution is talks on the basis of respect and mutual confidence,” IRNA quoted him as saying.

Optimism about an interim agreement had been high when the talks were extended for a third day on Saturday and raised to a ministerial level.

Fabius cited differences over Iran’s Arak reactor southeast of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year once it goes online.

He also said there was disagreement over efforts to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to levels that would require substantial further enriching before they could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal pointed to “rather large cohesion” among the negotiators and said France wanted “the international community to see a serious change in the climate” of talks with Iran.

`’There have been years of talks that have led to nothing,” Nadal said, alluding to the need for tough terms on Iran.

Iran, which denies any interest in nuclear weapons, currently runs more than 10,000 centrifuges that have created tons of fuel-grade material that can be further enriched to arm nuclear warheads.

It also has nearly 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be turned into weapons much more quickly. Experts say 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of that 20 percent-enriched uranium are needed to produce a single warhead.

Iran says it expects Arak, the plutonium producing reactor, to be completed and go online sometime next year. It would need additional facilities to reprocess the plutonium into weapons-grade material, and the U.N’s nuclear agency monitoring Iran’s atomic activities says it has seen no evidence of such a project.

Fabius said Iran is opposed to suspending work on Arak while nuclear negotiations go on in an attempt to reach a first-stage agreement, then a comprehensive final deal limiting Tehran’s atomic work. He said that `’for us” suspension was absolutely necessary, but it was unclear if that meant France was alone in seeing the issue as non-negotiable or whether he was speaking for the rest of the negotiating group.

Iran also is being asked to blend down “a great part of this stock at 20 percent, to 5 percent,” Fabius said. Uranium enriched to 5 percent is considered reactor fuel grade and upgrading it to weapons-level takes much longer than for 20 percent enriched uranium.

Fabius suggested that the six powers were looking for an Iranian commitment to cap future enrichment at 5 percent.

Kerry and his European counterparts arrived in Geneva on Friday with the talks at a critical stage following a full day of negotiations Thursday, and he said some obstacles remained in the way of any agreement offering sanctions reductions for nuclear concessions.

The presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Chinese deputy foreign minister provided fresh hope for at least an interim deal.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Friday that any agreement in the making was a “bad deal” that gave Iran a pass by offering to lift sanctions for cosmetic concessions that he said left intact Tehran’s nuclear weapons-making ability. Israel is strongly critical of any deal that even slightly lifts sanctions unless Iran is totally stripped of technology that can make nuclear arms.

The White House said Friday that President Barack Obama called Netanyahu to update him on the ongoing talks and that Obama affirmed he’s still committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The White House said Obama and Netanyahu would stay in close contact.

On Friday, Kerry tempered reports of progress, warning of “important gaps” that must be overcome. But Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabov, was quoted then as saying that Moscow expects them to produce a “lasting result expected by the international community.”

The talks primarily focus on the size and output of Iran’s enrichment program, which can create both reactor fuel and weapons-grade material suitable for a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it is pursuing only nuclear energy, medical treatments and research, but the U.S. and its allies fear that Iran could turn this material into the fissile core of nuclear warheads.