Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Gaza War and the Feeble PA

by Elliott Abrams
August 1, 2014

The Gaza war took a new turn today, when Hamas violated a cease-fire in order to kill and capture IDF soldiers. The reasonable conclusion to draw is that Hamas’s agreement to the cease-fire was a ruse, meant to give them this opportunity.

That action has several effects beyond destroying the cease-fire itself and prolonging the war. It certainly solidifies Israeli public backing for the war, which was extremely high anyway. The nature of the enemy is made even clearer. The contemptible nature of so much of the criticism of Israel around the world is also made clearer, coming from voices that appear indifferent to the nature and conduct of Hamas, to Israeli deaths, and to the deaths of Arabs anywhere else—in Syria, for example—as long as Jews are not responsible for those deaths and if there’s no opportunity to criticize Israel.

This war will come to an end, as all wars do. It is part of what has been and will be a long war against Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups, and I wrote about that at length in The Weekly Standard this week. But how does this war end?

It will end with pledges from many parties to help the people of Gaza and rebuild Gaza, but not allow Hamas to rebuild. That will be a neat trick. The problem of course is that Hamas will still be ruling Gaza, so how will it be possible to assure that money and materials do not get diverted to rebuilding Hamas militarily? And how will it be possible to prevent Hamas from rebuilding politically, especially if the economic situation in Gaza is improving?

People have lots of ideas about this and some are even useful. Israel and Egypt will be manning border posts and will be able to inspect the people and goods that are moving. The Palestinian Authority will perhaps man the Palestinian side of those posts. There are suggestions of an international force inside Gaza to prevent diversion of cement to building more tunnels. One can bet on a few things: that lots of aid will reach Gaza, that Hamas will steal or divert a good piece of it, and that no outside force will push back against Hamas very hard. That would be dangerous, after all, and no Swedish policeman or Dutch customs agent is going to risk his life to stop a bit of cement from going off course.

So why doesn’t Israel just conquer Gaza and take it back from Hamas, as some Israeli leaders are urging, and run everything? The prime minister and defense minister have resisted that path, and rightly so in my view. Does Israel really want to run Gaza for years, and station thousands of troops there permanently once again?  Asking that question leads to another: why can’t someone other than Hamas rule Gaza? What happened to the Palestinian Authority, which ruled before the Hamas coup in 2007? Those who favor a complete Israeli takeover say Israel would crush Hamas and then turn the place over to the PA.

It won’t work, due to the feebleness of the PA. In the last few years the PA in the West Bank has been growing weaker, not stronger. The Fatah Party, which is the heart of the PA, is as corrupt and unpopular as ever. The men who ran it when they lost the election to Hamas in 2006 and lost Gaza in 2007 are still in power—just eight years older. The PA security forces, which collapsed in 2007, were built up a bit after that through American efforts, but are again in decline, more and more politicized and inert. Corruption is rife. Some achievements of past years, such as a decent independent court system, are being eroded steadily by Fatah corruption.

So the PA remains too weak to beat Hamas militarily—or politically. That is a huge problem and it’s one of the reasons there will be no good outcome to this war. There’s plenty of blame to go around, to U.S. policy and Israeli policy and above all to the incompetence and corruption of PA officials. But realism requires that we avoid the mirage that the PA will defeat Hamas or “take over Gaza” after an Israeli conquest. Hamas has managed to capture the banner of “resistance” to Israel. Of course its form of resistance is terrorism and the population is its cannon fodder. Briefly a few years ago the PA under Salam Fayyad bid fair to grab the banner back, when Fayyad argued that building a state was the best, and the only real, form of “resistance.” That might have worked as a potent weapon against Hamas’s nihilism. But Fayyad did not get the support he deserved from Israel, the United States, wealthy Arab governments—nor of course from corrupt Fatah, PLO,  and PA officials–to make that project succeed.

So what’s the good solution? There is no good solution, no quick remedy, no magic wand. Israel is in for a long struggle, and at least some of the Arab states in the region recognize this and recognize that they and Israel are on the same side against Sunni and Shia radicalism—against Hamas and other Sunni terrorist groups including ISIS, and against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. That’s why they were so shocked and angered when Sec. Kerry appeared to enhance the roles of Turkey and Qatar, which are on the other side in those struggles.

There are some steps worth taking, to be sure. Israel should enhance its anti-tunnel technology programs and seek a remedy as good as Iron Dome is against rockets. It should seek the closest security cooperation it can get with the PA, and act to strengthen the West Bank economy. The United States and other Western nations, and responsible Arab states, should do what we can to strengthen the PA security forces and push hard (since we are the aid donors to the PA) against corruption and for decent governance. But these steps are no “solution.” Islamic terrorism is a plague now throughout the region, and Hamas is the localized version of that plague. The struggle against it will be long and hard, with plenty of ugly and difficult scenes on television. It seems clear that Israelis have the stomach for that fight, beause their existsnce is at stake. What they seek from their closest friends and allies is understanding and support, in place of distancing and unfair criticism. The basis for an effective U.S. policy is to think about who is on the other side in this fight, about the Arabs and Israelis on our side against the terrorists, and about the actions that will be needed to win.

 

 

Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by Adam

    Thank you for a clear and lucid look at why ‘betting on the PA’ in Gaza is not the wise choice. You make a convincing argument, to my dismay. It also speaks volumes about why Israel cannot withdraw from the West Bank.

    If Hamas must be left in charge of Gaza, for lack of choice, then a blockade must be enforced which is little different than what has gone before. Turkey and Qatar will seek to break the blockade, and the U.S. will be caught in the middle…

  • Posted by Aziz

    Type your comment in here…what about the 1300 plus killed ? Are they animals ? Or humans ?
    Too bad that you only care about Jews who are the only ones deserve to live in ur mind and hills for the rest .

  • Posted by EthanP

    I suppose the most disturbing part is, as Elliott describes, the disgraceful double standard of ignoring all other sources of Arab civilian deaths as long as Israel in not involved. I do question whether the Palestinian Authority is seriously seeking peace. After all, the long stated goal of the PA/Fatah is the right of return. Thus they also seek the long term extinction of Israel I have long thought that real peace was as likely as seeing a unicorn.

  • Posted by MrZee

    Egypt was in charge of Gaza until 1967, would it be acceptable for Egypt to run it again till such time there is a strong, but reasonable Palestinian force to take charge?

  • Posted by Ernestine Summer Bonicelli

    I can cut our government some slack in public statements on this war. What I cannot abide is behind the scenes phone conversations, demanding that Israel do more or do less or quit altogether. That is an unacceptable attitude, as is all the rest of the attitudes of the present government. JMHO that this conflict will be resolved when the King of Kings arrives and takes over, administering justice and an end to hostilities once and for all.

  • Posted by jberkmd

    Why not have Egypt take over Gaza? Is was part of their territory for eons.

  • Posted by Martin Weiss

    Stealing cement and steel will be relatively easy for Hamas, however, there are devices that can detect steel underground.

  • Posted by Kenneth Mathews

    “So why doesn’t Israel just conquer Gaza and take it back from Hamas, as some Israeli leaders are urging, and run everything? The prime minister and defense minister have resisted that path, and rightly so in my view. Does Israel really want to run Gaza for years, and station thousands of troops there permanently once again?”

    Israel must run Gaza if it doesn’t want Gaza to provide a perfect sanctuary for its most ferocious enemies. Israel stations its troops through out the land of Israel in accordance with current and potential threats. Why should Gaza, historically a part of Israel, be any different? The alternatives are all ridiculous – the PA pathetically weak, the international community weak and to varying degrees sympathetic to enemies of Israel and totally dedicated to an obviously failed paradigm of the “two-state solution”

    “So what’s the good solution? There is no good solution, no quick remedy, no magic wand. ” – People tend to think that a good solution is always an easy and quick solution but this is not necessarily true – sometimes the good solution is very difficult and challenging and takes an extended effort. The good but very difficult and challenging and extended solution is Removing HAMAS from power over Gaza and renewed and permanent Israeli sovereignty over Gaza.

  • Posted by Maxine Pierson

    Dear Mr. Abra,ms,
    Your analyses-, pragmatic and scholarly opinions are excellent.
    I am a Norwegian American Lutheran who absolutely supports Israel.
    My only criticism for the Israel PR is the lack of pinpoint media attention Israel gives to the reality that the PLO cannot control Hamas even if it wanted to-
    that No natter what the nominal- used deliberately -PLO ? leadership agrees to – there is a radical over which they have no control and will
    bomb -suicide- etc – Israel.,
    Also- MORE coverage of that Hamas “leader” telling Palestinians to stay in their homes.. The media needs to see that .Remember – if there were peace the wealthy Hamas bosses in Qatar would have to find a real job- terrorism is an industry. I wish I had a positive answer- but please know that MANY Americans of all faiths stand beside you.Best Regards, Maxine Pierson

  • Posted by Peter

    Excellent piece!

    “The contemptible nature of so much of the criticism of Israel around the world is also made clearer, coming from voices that appear indifferent to the nature and conduct of Hamas, to Israeli deaths, and to the deaths of Arabs anywhere else—in Syria, for example—as long as Jews are not responsible for those deaths and if there’s no opportunity to criticize Israel.”

    Hear, hear.

  • Posted by EMT

    Alas, the Middle East, except for a few countries, is a mirage. Those countries understand the situation, but they are powerless. I do not think that there is any equitable solution for Gaza. The Palestinians must emerge from their fanaticism and from their way of thinking. I believe that those Palestinians who are in Israel are the best placed, as they are learning from the Israelis, but even those are scared to tell the truth, as we have seen recently. The Israelis, have to take things as they come, with their beauty and the suffering. Only time can heal the situation.

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