Sunday, June 24, 2007

West Bank First?

“A State Department! A State Department! My kingdom for a functioning, competent State Department!” Don’t you just want to shout it from the rooftops when you think about what has come to pass in Gaza?

It’s like Déjà vu or something…Haven’t I heard what they are peddling now – or a variation of it, anyway – before?

In the wake of the chaos in Gaza, we are being told that the focus now is the West Bank – they have gone so far as to say the words “West Bank First!” Apparently with no qualms about consigning Gaza to the ash heap and turning their faces away in denial (may their tongues cleave to the roofs of their mouths) - and without acknowledging that the operative principle from roughly 2002 forward was “Gaza First!

This “new policy” is accompanied by a huge dose of hypocrisy and a furious editing of recent history.

This floundering about is no way to solve the problems in the Middle East, and it is doomed to failure as surely as the “Gaza First!” policies they were peddling a mere two years ago.

Right up to the minute they…stopped.

Lets retrace the events that led to this point.

First of all, the Bush administration pushed for the complete withdrawal of the Israelis from Gaza – and they pushed for elections to be held too soon in the wake. Hamas has a political arm as well as an armed insurrection arm. Like it or not they are a factor in the future of Palestine.

Case in point: Lots of folks were right pissed when Sein Fein was given a seat at the table, too, since they are the political arm of the IRA. But progress was only realized in Northern Ireland once Sein Fein was brought into the process. The same principle applies to Hamas and the Palestinians. Once a group takes up arms, they either have to be crushed outright, or brought into the process. As the outright crushing didn’t work out, maybe they should have considered honoring the elections and bringing Hamas into the process? The people who elected them knew who they were voting for. You lose a lot of credibility when you claim that you are bringing Democracy to Iraq, while simultaneously you embargo the folks who voted “wrong” and you are cool with the nullification of a democratically elected parliament because you dislike the folks that were elected, and you throw yourself behind the guy whose side lost the shooting war that erupted, as they are wont to do in situations such as those prevalent in Gaza.

"[S]eizing the moment," as Rice said, involves risk. It is inconceivable without some sort of good-faith engagement. There was no way that Gaza, a slither of impoverished territory crammed with 1.3 million Palestinians, driven into the ground by corrupt Fatah governance, was going to show Swiss moderation in its first election.

To believe otherwise is to inhabit an imaginary Middle East - a transnational Green Zone - and it is not in a world of the imagination that anything is going to get solved. Hamas, right now, represents a very large number of Palestinians, like it or not. "West Bank first" will not change that.

Condi’s stirring rhetoric and four bucks will get you a coffee at $tarbuck$. It was not hard to foresee how this was going to play out. Hell – it was writ large for anyone who cared to look.

I thought I was the only person who remembered that they were peddling Gaza First! – until I stumbled across a piece by Roger Cohen at the New York Times, and realized there are a grand total of three of us – Mr. Cohen, myself and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who remember. (Yes, there was a Wolfensohn before there was a Wolfowitz. Had you forgotten?) He went to the State Department in 2005 – to be Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement. But a year later, he was gone, increasingly marginalized by the administration he tried to serve – like everyone else who truly understands the Middle East. "The view on the American and Israeli side was that you could not trust the Palestinians, and the result was not to build more economic activity, but to build more barriers," Wolfensohn said. "And I personally did not think that was the way forward."

When Wolfensohn went to the State Department he raised $15 million ($10 million of it from a single donor) to buy the greenhouses that the Israelis were leaving behind as they withdrew. Do not believe the plaintive wails of “We even gave them the greenhouses!” from the Israelis. But that is not how it happened. That ignores Wolfensohn’s role, and it ignores the money that changed hands.

But more importantly, it overlooks the fact that those commercial greenhouses were on the verge of becoming profitable, and that the opportunity they represented was an opportunity for peace to flower, too. "Once it was clear the business was viable, threats stopped and the community took tremendous pride in growing flowers, fruits and vegetables for export to Israel," Wolfensohn said. “The absolute tragedy was that within months of the commencement of that activity, issues of security at the border, some proven, some not, led to the border being sealed and everything getting wasted," he added. "There is one inevitable truth in the Middle East: Unless you provide economic activity to young people who are 70 percent of the population, you will have conflict. They will shoot the people they blame and in the end they will shoot each other.”

“Gaza First” failed, because Gaza was cut off. The produce and flowers rotted. Economic opportunity was truncated. Unrest was inevitable.

Wolfensohn seems almost dejected in his assessment. "I can only tell you that the Israeli closing of the Gaza borders was made with less consideration of the impact than needed. Aside from the military analysis, you have to consider the impact on a society, because social dislocation leads to anger and violence."