Palestine: Improvisational Politics
The courage for peace
It’s a narrative of improvisational policies in three acts. The final act is being played now and things are beginning to go awry.
Act I. Organization of legislative elections in the most complete transparency, part of the George W. Bush’s Greater Middle East Initiative, insisted the international community to Mahmoud Abbas. And the Palestinian President began shoveling down double mouthfuls to carry out his mission. Out of conscientious concern, he obliviously insisted upon and obtained the participation of Hamas in the January 25th elections. That’s when things began to sour.
Act II. On the evening of the elections comes an unexpected catastrophe with incalculable consequences. Contrary to all expectations, the Islamic Resistance Movement wins an absolute majority on the Legislative Council, with 76 seats of a total of 132, overtaking Fatah.
Act III. Panic in the diplomatic chancelleries where, in the absence of a plan of action covering all eventualities –any decent plan would have included them– contradictory statement abound. Short statements striving to affirm one thing and its opposite, coupled with threats. Obviously, the West, which didn’t see it coming, now refuses to play the game, denouncing the very rules which it established. Free elections, they told Fatah, but on the condition that you win them!
With the big bad Islamist wolf now among the peaceful sheep, what would you expect to happen? The United States, which does not intend to let the insult go unchallenged, wants to cut the lifeline to that insolent ruffian, hoping that the European Union doesn’t put up an objection. The official story? Khaled Meshaal and his companions are terrorists who have sworn to wipe Israel from the map. They must change their ways and agree to cooperate in the peace processes if they wish to be associated with. Supporting these demands is an argument which would cause anyone to stop and think. Pushing things to their logical extreme, one would say that the Quartet had intended to continue financing the heirs of Yassir Arafat, who had, like any man in a keffieh, raised corruption to a veritable art. But today, the Quartet is attempting to punish the people who chose the other camp following a legitimate vote. Oh, but this kind of opinion could only be held by evil-intentioned persons who see only bungling by the crowned arbiters of correct thinking.
The rest of the situation is grave –even desperate, some say. The envoy of the Quartet and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, a man well known for his frankness, is categorical. The Palestinians are on the verge of bankruptcy, he told the World Economic Forum in Davos last Friday. Explanation? The coffers are empty as 135,000 public employees, including 58,000 police, await their paychecks. These workers are responsible for 30% of all income among Palestinians. Clearly, things point to chaos at the gates of the Occupied Territories. Of an annual budget of a billion dollars, the deficit totals to between $600 and $700 million. Nearly $350 million is covered by donations from the United States ($270 million in 2005), the Gulf States and Europe. A short while ago, Abbas went to lobby for increased aid from certain Arab countries and met with mitigated success. Initially, a Fatah victory, of which everyone was confident, was to be followed up by a request to Salam Fayad, former Finance Minister, to form a government to clean up house after carrying out harsh cuts and thinning out the ranks of the Administrative octopus with too many tentacles. One can imagine the damaging consequences of carelessly manipulated scissors.
There was a moment when, upon the advice of Washington, canceling the election results was considered. But the example of Algeria is still too fresh in most minds. In 1992, the election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front was cancelled by the authorities, resulting in bloodshed that lasted ten years. Now that we are back to undeclared intentions, one can bet thtat Hamas is preparing con dolce a the kind of course correction for which Arabs alone hold the secret. It is going to happen for the sake of its political survival –and for the survival of the people of Palestine.