Saturday, June 16, 2007

"West Bank First" Plan Moves Ahead (We Have No Other Option)

Yesterday's post about the U.S. "West Bank first" strategy is proving to be quite on the mark.

Not that it will be successful (it almost certainly will fail), but it embodies enough of the ol' Realpolitik to make it attractive to U.S. policymakers.

The violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas further dimmed the Bush administration's faint hope of moving Palestinians and Israelis toward peace. But it offered the White House a thin opportunity to pursue one long-held goal: drawing a stark contrast between the Palestinian militant group and the moderate leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Friday, U.S. officials made it clear that they intended to seize that opportunity as calm began returning to Gaza after days of fighting. Administration officials plan to build up Abbas' Fatah government in the West Bank territory it still controls, improving its services, while leaving primary responsibility for impoverished Gaza in the hands of Hamas.

Showing Palestinians the difference, they hope, will strengthen support for Abbas and the moderates.

Hamas leaders "are going to be responsible for feeding and providing for 1.3 million Palestinians," said Sean McCormack, the State Department's chief spokesman. "Through this attack on the legitimate institutions, they have assumed full and complete responsibility."

U.S. officials held out the possibility that with Hamas removed from Abbas' government, international donors would drop their ban on direct aid to that government. The European Union, with a strong statement of support for Abbas, appeared ready to join such a move.

Administration officials are considering ways to build up the institutions of Abbas' government, help ensure its security and bolster support from the Palestinian public. And the Americans hinted that Abbas' rump government could, before long, resume preliminary peace talks with the Israelis.

Yet major obstacles remain. It is not clear that Abbas, who is considered well-intentioned but weak, is emerging any stronger from the struggle with Hamas, experts say. His security forces fled when confronted by Hamas fighters. ...

If Abbas accepts support from the West while Gaza withers, he may appear even more a puppet of Washington and Jerusalem, as Hamas has long contended, said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator who is now a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington.

"I don't think there's any Palestinian leader who could maintain traction with his public in those circumstances," Levy said.

U.S. and Israeli officials say that if Abbas' new government proves acceptable, the Israelis could make concessions that would help the Palestinian Authority president.

But experts say Abbas probably would need to win concessions that were more substantial than Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's weak government is in a position to make.

Nathan Brown, an expert in Palestinian politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said possible Israeli gestures such as halting new settlements in the West Bank would not be enough to dramatically bolster Abbas' standing.

A significant boost for Abbas would require that Israel actually dismantle settlements, or freeze construction of the barrier between the West Bank and Israel, Brown said. But with Olmert supported by only about 3% of Israeli voters in a recent poll, those are steps he probably could not take, Brown said.

Continued Hamas control of Gaza poses troubling new questions for the future of peace talks with Abbas.

"We may be at a juncture where we have to redefine what the peace process is," Porter said.

Excluding Palestinians in Gaza could ease negotiations, but it would cast doubt on any agreement, he said. "Is that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis?"

Hamas' takeover in Gaza has left the United States facing a more serious threat not only to its ally Israel, but also to the administration's policy of confronting Islamic extremism.

U.S. officials are concerned that Hamas-controlled Gaza could become a haven for other Islamist groups, including members of Lebanon's Hezbollah. McCormack called on Egypt to block smuggling through Gaza's southern border.

"That's going to be very important to ensure that you don't see an inflow of more violent extremists, more cash, more arms, more ammunition into the Gaza via those smuggling tunnels," he said.

McCormack insisted that the Gaza upheaval would not derail the peacemaking efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has visited the region five times this year but has struggled to get Olmert and Abbas to meet regularly.

Many outsiders see this week's fighting as a heavy blow to a personal diplomatic initiative Rice began early last year with an enthusiasm not fully shared by some in the White House.

Brown, of Carnegie, said that he believed the U.S. plan to support Abbas may be the "best available option," but that "this is a disaster, from the American point of view."

"I've been calling this a slow-motion train wreck," he said. "But it's no longer in slow motion."

And then there is this:

Hundreds of Fatah gunmen on Saturday stormed Hamas-controlled institutions in the West Bank, including parliament and government ministries, and told staffers that those with ties to Hamas will not be allowed to return.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, his office said. The meeting between Abbas and Jacob Walles took place at Abbas' headquarters in Ramallah hours before Abbas was expected to swear in an emergency government.

The elected Hamas government has now been evicted in the West Bank.

The "two Palestines" feature of the "West Bank first" plan is in play.


Blogger DrewL said...

So much for the push for democracy long touted by Bushco. Democracy is only desired if those elected are in agreement with - and in support of - U.S. policy.

While some refer to this situation as a blow to the U.S., I heartily disagree. This concern that Hamas' leadership in Gaza and the possibility of increasing "terrorist" elements taking up residence in Gaza plays right into the hands of the Bushies and Israel. It's their next front in the war on terror. It also sets up nicely as another in a lengthening line of justifications for attacking Iran. "See, Iran helped supply Hamas in their takeover of Gaza. Just like they've done with Iraqi insurgents and with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They're trying to take over the Middle East. They must be stopped before they own the Middle East and have nukes, too."

It's all setting up quite nicely for the neo-con end-game. And we stupid, ignorant Americans will continue to fall for it, hook, line and sinker. Then, the real question is: how much of the destabilization of Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, is really the result of black ops designed to pin the blame on Iran? I suspect a lot of it. Don't you?

6/16/2007 2:58 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Democracy sounds good to Americans, but in practice (like in the Middle East) it can lead to uncomfortable outcomes for the U.S.

I find it hard to believe that Bush, et al, were naive enough to think that elections in Palestine wouldn't turn out well for Hamas. It does indeed look like the Islamist ascendancy there is going to be played as part of the anti-Iran program.

But I am confident that the war drums against Iran are a strategic PSYOP. IMO, there is not going to be an attack.

6/16/2007 3:42 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home