An apology for the inelegant title, but that's the best analogy we can think of in describing the campaign to prop up Palestinian "President" Mahmoud Abbas. You've probably heard that the territory under Mr. Abbas's control shrank a bit last week, when Hamas fighters soundly defeated the security forces of his Fatah faction, leaving the terrorist group firmly in control of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas' victory apparently stunned western politicians and pundits, but the handwriting was clearly on the wall. After all, the Hamas-led political faction soundly defeated Fatah at the ballot box in early 2006, winning more than 60% of the seats in the Palestinian Parliament. That victory--which also surprised the same western "experts"--provided some idea of what Palestinian voters thought of Yasser Arafat's anointed successor. Instead of backing a thoroughly corrupt Fatah government (which also supported terrorist attacks against Israel), the majority of Palestinians cast their lot with Hamas, which made no bones about its terrorist roots--or intentions.
Despite Abbas's clear lack of support among his own people, the U.S., Israel and most European governments have continued to back him. At an Oval Office meeting this morning, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered their endorsement once more.
“I’m going to make every possible effort to cooperate with him,” the prime minister said. Bush called Abbas “the president of all the Palestinians” and “a voice for moderation
Bush and Olmert met in the aftermath of Palestinian turmoil that left Abbas, a Western-backed moderate, in control of one Palestinian government in the West Bank and his Islamist rival Hamas in control of the separate Gaza Strip.
“Our hope is that President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyyad — who’s a good fellow — will be strengthened to the point where they can lead the Palestinians in a different direction,” Bush said
To some degree, Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert have no choice. Hamas has made it clear that it has no intention of renouncing terrorism, let alone negotiate with Israel. In terms of working with "leaders" on the Palestinian side, Abbas and Fatah are viewed as the only game in town, and perhaps the only hope for preventing the West Bank from going the same way as Gaza.
But that policy ignores the reality of Fatah, which has raised political corruption and cronyism to levels that Boss Tweed would envy. Yasser Arafat and his inner circle looted the Palestinian treasury for more than 40 years, siphoning off donations from other Arab states, and eventually, aid from western governments as well. In the process, Mr. Arafat became a billionaire (by some accounts), with an impressive portfolio of investments and offshore bank accounts, more than enough to house his wife and daughter in the suite of a 5-star Paris hotel. Meanwhile, millions of Palestinians lived in poverty, a condition that was less the result of Israeli "occupation" that the corrupt stewardship of Fatah's leaders. It was that realization that paved the way for Hamas' electoral triumph 18 months ago, and their military victory last week.
Now, Israel has a genuine terror state on its southern border, and the best solution anyone can think of is propping up Mr. Abbas. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice is asking Congress to rework aid packages for the Fatah government in the West Bank, and approve additional humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in Gaza. New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman criticized the plan, claiming that delivery of the aid when first promised (more than a year ago) could have prevented the Hamas takeover.
Of course, both the Rice and Ackerman proposals assume that the aid would actually reach its intended recipients--the Palestinian people and their "governmental" organizations. In reality, much of the "restructured" aid will probably follow the same path as previous assistance, winding up in the numbered Swiss accounts of Fatah's ruling elite, the same folks now jamming a crossing point along the Israeli border, fearing that Hamas has a bullet with their name on it.
There is a better solution for the Gaza mess, but right now, no one seems to have the stomach for it. Step One: send in the IDF to clear out the nest of Vipers once and for all. As we noted in another post, that operation won't be "clean" or easy, and the Israelis could suffer significant casualties, given the current problems facing their ground forces.
Step Two: Bring in the Egyptians and Europeans, and install a security force with the capability and authority to keep the peace. Gaza would become an Egyptian protectorate, administered with the full cooperation of the Israelis. Under the plan's third step, surviving terrorists would be put on trial and face the full measure of the law, which means that quite a few members of the Hamas "government" would assume room temperature. And finally, under Step Four, the Egyptians, Israelis, Europeans and the U.S. would reestablish a Palestinian government, with strict accountability for all officials. The Palestinians would only regain statehood when they demonstrate an ability to govern themselves, without falling in with the terrorists. Similar arrangement would be established in the West Bank, with Jordan and Israel taking the lead in building a viable Palestinian government.
Unfortunately, this approach is doomed to failure, because (a) It requires heavy diplomatic, military and economic lifting for all concerned, and (b) it requires everyone to admit that the current plan has failed miserably. By comparison, it's much easier to rally around Mahmoud Abbas, with the belief that a few soundbites, more talks (and millions of additional dollars in U.S. aid) will somehow carry the day.
It's a fool's errand. Allowing Hamas to run Gaza is simply unacceptable, and Abbas's so-called "unity regime" isn't much better. At the end of the day, the Abbas regime is the equivalent of a governmental turd, and all the polishing in the world won't change that.