What Palestinians Want
As Palestinians wonder about what they could do next, they would do well to remember that their starting point is a double failure shaped over the past decade.
The first of the two failures is that of Al Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian politics since the 1960s and exercised control over the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Oslo accords.
At some point in its history, Al Fatah may well have devoted its energies to a grand, though so far futile, struggle to create a Palestinian state. Since 1991, however, Al Fatah has been principally interested in one goal: its own survival and the prosperity of the elite that sustains it. With the late Yasser Arafat showing the way, Al Fatah has kicked its former national aspirations into tall grass. Each time its narrow interests clashed with the broader interest of the national struggle, Al Fatah clung firmly to the former and jettisoned the latter.
Al Fatah, and beyond it the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which it controls, have danced to every tune of the day in the same way western teen-agers go for pop "tubes" of the season.
The Oslo accords were designed to drown the fish, that is to say bury the national aspirations of the Palestinians under tons of paper. The PLO adopted them with excessive zeal.
Then we had the so-called Road Map, presented by President George W Bush, a kind of political bikini, revealing everything except the essential. Again, the PLO, and Al Fatah, bought into it without a flutter.
Finally, we had the "two states" formula, also presented by Bush. The PLO adopted this as a slogan but did all it could to prevent any step towards achieving it.
Arafat's departure from the scene did not change the essentials.
The Palestinian Authority has continued to be mired in corruption of a kind and scale that, if even partially true, would put the Mafia to shame.
Worse still, Al Fatah and the PLO have adopted a reactive posture on the central issue of the Palestinians' future.
They have endorsed every so-called peace initiative but have never come out with one of their own. Their strategy is simple: keep talking to the Israelis, make the Americans happy with a few gestures, and bamboozle the Arabs and the Europeans into loosening their purse strings. Above all, do not forget to line your own pockets.
When pressed to take a position, PLO officials often come out with the insipid assertion that they want nothing but "the full implementation of United Nations' resolutions". This is the lazy man's answer, a position taken by anyone without a clue about the issue. The youngest of those resolutions is already 40 years old. Isn't it time to admit that they are not going to be implemented anytime soon?
Al Fatah and the PLO have failed to develop a strategy either for peace or for war. They live on a day-to-day basis, passengers of a phantom ship caught in the fog, going nowhere. The price is paid by ordinary Palestinians whose daily lives have been transformed into infernal experiences played out in the context of countless personal tragedies.
The second failure is the work of Hamas, the Islamist movement that seized power in Gaza in a bloody putsch and provoked the recent costly fight with the Israelis.
The way it behaves, Hamas appears not to be interested in Palestine as such. It opposes the "two states" formula and rejects the nationalist discourse in favor of the rhetoric of global jihad. It is the only major Palestinian political organization whose name and acronym include no mention of Palestine. If it has any discernible aim, it is the destruction of Israel, rather than the creation of a Palestinian state.
When it comes to corruption, Hamas has little to envy Al Fatah. The only difference is that Hamas-style corruption is slightly more "democratic" in the sense that boasts a bigger clientele.
If Al Fatah regards Palestine as a business, Hamas sees it as a cause. What is missing in both cases is the perception of Palestine as a national aspiration unsullied by business considerations and rising above ideology.
Dependent on Israel and the United States, Al Fatah is no longer capable of developing an independent strategy. It cannot rescue the issue of Palestine from becoming a sideshow in the broader power struggle in the Middle East.
Hamas, for its part, has become dependent on the Khomeinist regime in Tehran. This is how a commentator, writing for the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), out it in an analysis: "Hamas is applying the lessons taught by Imam Khomeini . Its war is our war, the war of the Islamic Republic against World Arrogance."
When Hamas and Al Fatah fight, Palestinians kill one another in a proxy war on behalf of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the United States. When pronounced with a foreign accent, Palestine, the magic word supposed to unite all Palestinians, divides them.
The Khomeinist regime regards Palestine as part of its glacis, and is trying to re-arm Hamas. The Western powers, led by the US, try to solve the problem by signing larger and larger checks. They do not realize that it is not money that Palestinians want but freedom and self-determination. Most Palestinians would rather be poor in their own state than rich under foreign occupation.
Can the Palestinians regain their independence of action? Can they stop fighting one another on behalf of foreign powers? Can they develop a national strategy that could be pursued in the political and diplomatic arena?
Both Al Fatah and Hamas have failed. Neither has anything to offer the Palestinians besides more suffering and disillusionment. A re-composition of the Palestinian political scene has become an urgent necessity. The Palestinians need a strategy that reflects their own national interests rather than the interests of rival powers in the region.
Amir Taheri's new book, "The Persian Night", is published by Encounter Books, New York and London.
Comment on this item
by Alan M. Dershowitz
by Pierre Rehov
For terrorists, the death of innocent children is irrelevant. In a society that promotes martyrdom as the ultimate sign of success, the death of innocent children can sometimes even be seen as a public relations blessing.
In every action, intent is paramount. There should never be a moral equivalence painted between the deliberate killing of civilians, and a retaliation that tragically leads to casualties among civilians.
There is, however, one small difference: in the Middle East, reporters are threatened, except in Israel. Their choice becomes a simple one: promote the Palestinian point of view or stop working in the West Bank. Keep the eye of the camera dirty or lose your job. This show should not go on.
by Khaled Abu Toameh
Since 1948, the Arab countries and government have been paying mostly lip service to the Palestinians.
"They have money and oil, but don't care about the Palestinians, even though we are Arabs and Muslims like them. What a Saudi or Qatari sheikh spends in one night in London, Paris or Las Vegas could solve the problem of tens of thousands of Palestinians." — Palestinian human rights activist.
"Some Arabs were hoping that Israel would rid them of Hamas." — Ashraf Salameh, Gaza City.
"Some of the Arab regimes are interested in getting rid of the resistance in order to remove the burden of the Palestinian cause, which threatens the stability of their regimes." — Mustafa al-Sawwaf, Palestinian political analyst.
"Most Arabs are busy these days with bloody battles waged by their leaders, who are struggling to survive. These battles are raging in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian Authority." — Mohammed al-Musafer, columnist.
"The Arab leaders don't know what they want from the Gaza Strip. They don't even know what they want from Israel." — Yusef Rizka, Hamas official.
by Soeren Kern
European elites, who take pride in viewing the EU as a "postmodern" superpower, have long argued that military hard-power is illegitimate in the 21st century. Unfortunately for Europe, Russia (along with China and Iran) has not embraced the EU's fantastical soft-power worldview, in which "climate change" is now said to pose the greatest threat to European security.
For its part, the European Commission, the EU's administrative branch, which never misses an opportunity to boycott institutions in Israel, has issued only a standard statement on the shooting down of MH17 in Ukraine, which reads: "The European Union will continue to follow this issue very closely."
The EU has made only half-hearted attempts to develop alternatives to its dependency on Russian oil and gas.
by Shoshana Bryen
Proportionality in international law is not about equality of death or civilian suffering, or even about [equality of] firepower. Proportionality weighs the necessity of a military action against suffering that the action might cause to enemy civilians in the vicinity.
"Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute, the death of civilians during an armed conflict, no matter how grave and regrettable does not constitute a war crime.... even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur. A crime occurs if there is an intentional attack directed against civilians (principle of distinction) or an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality)." — Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Court.
"The greater the military advantage anticipated, the larger the amount of collateral damage -- often civilian casualties -- which will be "justified" and "necessary." — Dr. Françoise Hampton, University of Essex, UK.