The death rattles of a failed Palestinian leadership

In the new Middle East, scapegoating Israel for the region’s woes is no longer the handy, catch-all device that it once was. That's bad news for Hamas and Fatah

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Is the sun setting on the Palestinian leadership?
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Fabio Rafael Fiallo
On 9 July 2014 22:35

The war that is wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, the carnage that Bashar al-Assad is perpetrating against his own people, the proclamation of an Islamist caliphate by an ultra-fanatic terrorist organisation with expansionist designs, Iran’s badly-hidden designs to develop the nuclear weapon, and the frustration of the Arab-Muslim populations with their rulers, have profoundly altered the geopolitical power game in the Middle East.

In the new setup, scapegoating Israel for the region’s woes is no longer the handy, catch-all device that, for several decades, it used to be.

For starters, a number of enemies of Israel – whether governments or terrorist organisations – are deeply engaged in a bloody Shiite vs Sunni inter-sectarian fighting in which Israel-bashing is of little or no use.

Furthermore, the military advances of the terrorist organisation Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), and its control of large swathes of Iraq and Northern Syria, concentrates the attention of global and regional players. A wide range of governments in the Middle East – some more than others – fret about the intention of Isis to redraw in its favor the geopolitical landscape of the region.

Isis may not be able to maintain its territorial gains for long. Its military victories may collapse as swiftly as they were achieved. But the menace that it represents for the stability of the Middle East will not disappear any time soon.

Threatened by that Damocles sword, some of the region’s regimes, among the moderate ones, may be tempted to seek or accept the cooperation of Israel in their fight against that common enemy. As regards Iran’s nuclear-weaponizing intentions, rumour has it that talks are underway between Saudi Arabia and Israel on how to deal with that danger.

This helps understand the statement made by Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, indicating that “Today, there is a basis for the creation of a new diplomatic-political structure in the Middle East”.

The Palestinian leadership can hardly be delighted with these developments. Add to this the fact that demonising Israel – as governments of the region lavishly used to do in order to divert international and domestic attention away from their own failures – has ceased to arouse the support it mobilised in the past.

And the proof of the pudding is in the eating: the “flotillas to Gaza”, which anti-Israel militants organised three summers in a row, have faded away. What is intriguing, and raises questions about the inner motives of the sponsors of those convoys, is the fact that no flotilla has been dispatched to the rescue of Syria’s civil population.

How is it that the spectacle of Syrians killed, tortured and arrested by the hundreds of thousands does not provoke the indignation of those who moralistically sent fleets to condemn the Jewish State for taking measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip?

The Arab-Muslim populations, for their part, have nowadays other fish to fry. Vituperating Israel is no longer a priority. Those populations have been venting their anger on their own, despotic rulers.

The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005, the Green Movement in Iran in 2009 and the so-called Arab Awakening in 2011 are all manifestations of the yearning for liberty and prosperity that have seized the peoples of the region, in particular the youth. Israel being the sole democracy in the region, there is little wonder that anti-Israel slogans have been scarce if not absent in these pro-democracy protests.

Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank are not impervious to the mood of the population in neighboring Arab-Muslim countries. They, too, have expressed discontent with their leaders. A poll conducted at the time of the Arab Awakening indicated that nearly two thirds of Gazans would go along with public demonstrations demanding regime change.

Demonstrations against the corruption, incompetence and lethal infighting of the Palestinian leadership actually took place at that time. The protests ultimately subsided in the West Bank and were brutally repressed in Gaza, but that doesn’t mean that the malaise has gone away.

To defuse discontent in the disputed territories, Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a unity government. The problem is that the formation of a unity government will hardly stop the decline in legitimacy and popularity of the two-headed Palestinian leadership.

If the unity government holds, Fatah and Hamas will have to assume joint responsibility for their incompetence and corruption; they will no longer be able to blame each other for their failures. And if the pact falls apart – as previous agreements between Fatah and Hamas have – the Palestinian population will see the new fracture as proof of the inability of their leaders to put the interests of the people before those of their respective cliques. In either case, scapegoating Israel will not do the trick.

It was also with a view to recapturing some popularity and international attention that Mahmoud Abbas took the Palestinian statehood issue to international forums. Yet, that initiative hasn’t improved the living conditions of Palestinians or the prospects of a functional Palestinian state.

Hamas, for its part, keeps resorting to the tool it is addicted to, namely, terrorist attacks on the territory of Israel – the intention being to provoke a reprisal by Israel that would eventually rally the Gaza population against the Jewish State. Experience shows, however, that once the dust settles, Gazans’ disappointment with Hamas remains high.

For all these reasons, Mahmoud Abbas’s cosmetic move in international forums, Hamas’s protracted recourse to terrorism, and the Fatah-Hamas unity pact, rather than manifestations of strength, may prove to be the death rattles of a failed Palestinian leadership.

Fabio Rafael Fiallo is an economist and a former UN official. The author of four books, he writes on issues related to international politics and the world economy

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