Friday, June 15, 2007

The "West Bank First" Strategy

So the U.S. has decided "to acquiesce" in the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas? It's not like we have too many more levers at our disposal. Especially since the $43 million that we recently slipped to Fatah's security services didn't carry the day.

Or maybe that was the plan all along.

Bush administration officials said Thursday that they had been discussing the idea of largely acquiescing in the takeover of Gaza by the militant Islamic group Hamas and trying instead to help the Fatah party of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, retain its stronghold in the West Bank.

The United States had quietly encouraged Mr. Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian government and dismiss Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, steps that Mr. Abbas announced Thursday, administration officials said. Before the announcement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Mr. Abbas to reiterate American support for the move, they said. ...

The state of emergency that Mr. Abbas announced has underscored the widening rift separating Gaza, where Hamas has largely routed Fatah's forces, and the West Bank, where Mr. Abbas still has a strong base. But diplomats and Middle East experts said a "West Bank first" strategy might now be the last option for Ms. Rice to salvage something from her plans to push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. ...

Many diplomats and Middle East experts said they read Mr. Abbas's decision as an attempt to cut his losses in Gaza and consolidate power in the West Bank. Israeli officials are promoting a proposal that the West Bank and Gaza be viewed as separate entities, and that Israel act more forcefully in Gaza to crack down on Hamas militants.

Senior Bush administration officials said no decision had been made. Some State Department officials argue that the administration could only support such a separation if Israel agreed to make political concessions to Mr. Abbas in the West Bank, with the goal of undermining Hamas in the eyes of Palestinians by improving life in the West Bank.


The "West Bank first" strategy -- including a strong economic aspect -- features prominently in former Ambassador Martin Indyk's op-ed in today's Washington Post:

Does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas know something that we don't? ...

Over the past year when Hamas would stage attacks in Gaza, Fatah forces would retaliate in the West Bank, where they were stronger. When fighting began this time, Fatah did little in the West Bank to counter Hamas's onslaught. Abbas's passivity further confirms that the fix was in. Abbas and Fatah have in effect conceded Gaza to Hamas while they hold on to the West Bank. Hamastan and Fatahstine: a "two-state solution" -- just not the one that George W. Bush had in mind. ...

The failed state of Gaza that Hamas controls is wedged between Egypt and Israel. Its water, electricity and basic goods are imported from the Jewish state, whose destruction Hamas has declared as its fundamental objective. One more Qassam rocket fired from Gaza into an Israeli village and Israel could threaten to seal the border if Hamas did not stop its attacks. Hamas would then have to reach a meaningful cease-fire with Israel or seek Egypt's help meeting the basic needs of the 1.5 million Gazans. Hosni Mubarak's regime turned a blind eye to the importation of weapons and money that helped ensure Hamas's takeover. But would Egypt allow on its border a failed terrorist state run by an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood with links to Iran and Hezbollah? Or will it insist on the maintenance of certain standards of order in return for its cooperation?

Whatever transpires, Gaza has become Hamas's problem. It's a safe bet that the real attitude of Abbas and Fatah is: Let Hamas try to rule Gaza, and good luck.

This turn of events would free Abbas to focus on the much more manageable West Bank, where he can depend on the Israel Defense Forces to suppress challenges from Hamas, and on Jordan and the United States to help rebuild his security forces. As chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas is empowered to negotiate with Israel over the disposition of the West Bank. Once he controls the territory, he could make a peace deal with Israel that establishes a Palestinian state with provisional borders in the West Bank and the Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza could compare their fate under Hamas's rule with the fate of their West Bank cousins under Abbas -- which might then force Hamas to come to terms with Israel, making it eventually possible to reunite Gaza and the West Bank as one political entity living in peace with the Jewish state. It's hard to believe that such a benign outcome could emerge from the growing Palestinian civil war. But given current events, this course is likely to become Abbas's best option. ...

For the Bush administration, the outcome in Gaza is an embarrassment. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has committed her last 18 months in office to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A failed terrorist state in Gaza is hardly what she had in mind for a legacy. Some will argue that it's time she talked to Hamas. But its thuggish, extraconstitutional behavior in Gaza and its commitment to the destruction of Israel make it an unlikely partner, at least until governing Gaza forces it to act more responsibly. And that leaves a "West Bank first" policy as Rice's best option, too.


The remarkably convenient timing of various parties suggesting a "West Bank first" strategy would lead some folks to suspect that this eventuality had been foreseen and probably even planned for some time in advance of Hamas' recent military success in Gaza.

4 Comments:

Blogger Meatball One said...

Excellent

6/15/2007 4:15 PM  
Blogger DrewL said...

It all does seem just a bit too perfect to be merely coincidence or blind luck. It also would seem to set up Hamas to be a convenient target for Israel - and its U.S. support system - in Gaza. With Abbas and company comfortably ensconced in the West Bank, Gaza will become a battleground in which Israel can let it all hang out, so to speak.

6/15/2007 10:58 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...

M1:

Thanks.

6/16/2007 7:51 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...

DrewL:

Right.

There are no such things as coincidences in international affairs.

6/16/2007 7:54 AM  

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