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Evidence of Palestinian corruption should put brakes on U.S. Mideast push

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Here is something that President Obama and his advisers should consider before spending any more of their time nudging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to negotiate a peace.


The details are not entirely clear, but reinforce the larger story of corruption in high places of the Palestine Authority, the lack of popular confidence in the Authority among Palestinians, and the likelihood that Hamas would take over the West Bank if Mahmoud Abbas and his people were not propped up by Israel, Jordan, and the United States.

The article resembles what I heard from a lecturer at a Palestinian university who visited me at the Hebrew University. The lecturer’s biography featured numerous consulting activities with Palestinian companies and public authorities that had been financed by European and North American governments. When I probed the details and asked if any of the consulting had produced improvements in administration, the answer was negative. My visitor confirmed my impression that a great deal of foreign aid given to Palestine does nothing but provide employment for a few Palestinians. The article in the Jerusalem Post indicates that a fair amount of the aid ends up in the overseas bank accounts of Palestinian officials. It is more public relations for the donors than anything that helps to develop the Authority. “Is the Authority a serious entity?” I asked my visitor. The answer again was negative.

Other news includes revelations from ranking Palestinians of what they claim Ehud Olmert offered close to the end of his service as prime minister, and what the Palestinians rejected. The acceptance of one thousand refugees from 1948 was not enough to justify a response. Neither was what Olmert offered with respect to transferring neighborhoods of Jerusalem to Palestine, and other territorial swaps. The Palestinians were not willing to accept Israel’s control of Maale Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem where 30,000 Jews have made their homes.

We cannot be sure about the above details, insofar as disinformation is as much a part of Israel-Palestine relationships as it is of other political feelers that may be preparing the road for serious negotiations, or preparing the way to avoid negotiations. However, they fit the image of an Authority that is more comic opera, or Greek tragedy, than serious entity.

The best guess is that Palestinians are willing to turn the clock back to 1967, 1948, or 1947–depending on who is talking–but not to engage in their share of concessions in order to end the dispute.

So what should Israel do? And what should be the posture of the Obama administration?

Nothing is the answer appropriate to both questions.

The Palestinian leadership–whether the corrupt figures who claim to be in charge of the West bank or the religious fanatics in Gaza–are not appropriate managers of a state alongside Israel. They may continue to manage what they have, but Israelis do not want them to acquire the authority to import arms and formulate international agreements appropriate to a state.

Doing nothing appears to be the policy of the current Israeli government, learned from the frustrations of negotiations in 2000 and 2008. Israelis do offer lip service about their willingness to negotiate, and to make certain concessions, as befits a supplicant of the United States. Israelis might be gaining a point or two among friendly audiences from the hardening of Palestinian demands as conditions for beginning negotiations.

Insofar as Obama is Obama, we can expect a continuation of efforts, tweaking this way and that, in the hope that something will produce flexibility from Israeli and/or Palestinian leaders. Think of Obama as Sisyphus, and the prospect of getting that rock to the top of the hill.

As far as Israel is concerned, the stand-off is harmless. It is as secure as it has ever been. Iran looms, but no matter what the Iranians claim as their concern for Palestine, their nuclear efforts are beyond the parameters of Israel’s dispute with Palestinians. The stand-off is also harmless for most Palestinians of the West Bank. As long as extremists remain quiet, or neutralized, economic development can continue. Gaza is something else, but the people voted for Hamas and many cheered the rockets being sent toward Israel. Neither the German negotiator concerned with Gilad Shalit nor Egyptians concerned to resolve the disputes between Hamas and Fatah have produced any flexibility that is apparent. Egypt is concerned with the spread of Hamas’ enthusiasm to its own extremists, and is constructing barriers meant to frustrate smuggling of arms and other material into Gaza.

We remain with the problem of Barack Obama’s itch for achievement, and for that there is no solution on the horizon.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

  1. carol ann goldstein
    February 1, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Evidence of Palestinian corruption should put brakes on U.S. Mideast push, I think not. There is plenty of corruption in Israel and the US and that should not stop either country from pursuing a socially just peace for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Israel should not use this as yet another excuse for not negotiating seriously with the Palestinians.

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