Part 1 of analysis
The recent Temple Mount riots and Mahmoud Abbas’ renewed request for a UN discussion of the Goldstone Report again point to the deep structural failure inherent in the Palestinian political culture.
The Palestinians are proving yet again that even the responsible elements among them cannot act in a constructive manner in order to build society and promote stability, welfare, and an agreement with Israel. They cannot do it because, as it turned out again, at the moment of truth we see the irresponsible, violent, and demagogical radicals who incite and fan the flames gain the upper hand.
The radicals win because the Palestinian public is unwilling to back an ongoing and responsible effort that would ensure a better future for its sons, while the radicals present a vision of violence and self-righteousness that offers fleeting achievements and twisted satisfaction in the immediate and short term.
The decisions are indeed taken by the leaders, but the factors that shape their room for maneuver and forces even the most level-headed among them to adopt irresponsible conduct is a politically immature society. This society becomes addicted time and again to “victimization excuses” regarding its failures, instead of enlisting to the cause of successfully promoting its national enterprise.
For the first time in generations, the Palestinians have seen the rise of leaders who understand, even if partially, the needs of their countrymen and are willing to enlist to the cause of extracting them from the deep distress created by the Palestinians with their own hands.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is attempting, for the first time, to utilize the generous foreign aid for constructive aims and build a functioning society. President Abbas and his people realized (belatedly) the gravity of the terror curse and Hamas’ existential threat. Under their political patronage, the United States trained Palestinian security forces (the so-called “Dayton forces”) who are doing well in the fight against terrorism and its infrastructure.
This opened the door for cooperation and security coordination with Israel, allowing for a dramatic improvement in the freedom of movement, economic prosperity, and the creation of a platform for social and political stability in the West Bank. This was followed by the initial buds of a chance to extract Israel and the Palestinians from the “Zero-sum game” characteristics of their relationships, where Palestinian achievements were defined by the level of harm done to Israel.
Should such chance be allowed to develop, it would remove an important obstacle for a more comprehensive agreement that both sides can accept. Expanding and deepening stability and welfare in the West Bank, while suppressing terrorism in Gaza and isolating the terrorists there – and while disregarding the reckless demands of Arab Israeli leaders – are necessary conditions for the success of such deal.
However, this is where the self-destruction mechanism that has been thwarting the Palestinian people since it was formed almost 90 years ago came into action: An irresponsible and belligerent minority turns to violence, radical elements promise a zealous public immediate satisfaction via “victimization demagoguery,” and this immediately prompts the responsible elements to assume a defensive posture and be neutralized in the political arena.
The essence here is not the violence and demagoguery of the radicals, but rather, the defeatism of the responsible elements. The problem has to do with Palestinian society’s political culture. Had Fayyad and Abbas been able to rely on the support of a responsible public for their constructive policy, they could have isolated the radicals and clung to their path. However, they give in to the radicals, because the public becomes addicted to the false message of those who brought generations of destruction, distress, and impasse upon them.
Part 2 of analysis to appear Monday night
Dr. Dan Schueftan is the director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa