Monday, January 10, 2005

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What's next for Palestine

It looks like Mahmoud Abbas won a healthy mandate in Palestine. What should he do now?

Seth Jones offers some suggestions in the Financial Times [Full disclosure: Jones did his graduate work in poli sci at the U of C.] Some highlights:

An opinion poll regularly conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, an independent body, shows the percentage of Palestinians who believe there is significant corruption in Palestinian Authority institutions jumped from about 50 per cent in 1996 to more than 85 per cent last year. This explains the frenzied demonstrations by Palestinian crowds against corruption in the authority last year.

The first step after Sunday's election to create a better security and justice system for Palestinians is to restructure their “Balkanised” security services. There are roughly nine Palestinian security services in the West Bank and Gaza each. They range from civil police to the General Intelligence service, or Mukhabarat Salamah. Arafat retained power and control over these services with few checks and balances. They were organised under the rule of political leaders rather than the rule of law. The restructuring should include decreasing the number of services, eliminating direct executive control over them and separating law- enforcement functions from intelligence and other security aspects by placing them in different ministries.

Read the whole thing. And offer your comments about whether Abbas will be able to turn the Palestinian Authority into a functioning, law-abiding state.

posted by Dan on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM


The last is a tall order, but we should see improvements. The security services were kept the way they were by Yasser Arafat for his own reasons, so I think that problem can get solved, too. A bigger question is whether he can establish the government's momopoly over the use of force like Ben Gurion did with the Altalina incident.

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

I'm cautiously optimistic, I suppose. With the death of Yasser Arafat, one of the primary obstacles to peace in the region has been removed. I'd never use the word "moderate" to describe Abas myself (I prefer the term "pragmatist"), but there's ever going to be a regional peace negotiated by the present generation, now would seem like a good opportunity.

Sadly, however, I'm not at all convinced that the problem is a soluble one as it currently stands. The Palestinians do not seem prepared to negotiate away the "right of return," and that's (understandably) a non-starter for Israel.

posted by: Barry N. Johnson on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

Arafat's reasons for keeping several different security services were also Saddam's, and every other despot's - to play one group of spooks off against another and to prevent the rise of rival power centers. Whether Abbas can reform this system, or whether he'll even want to, is an open question. My hunch is that general expectations of what Abbas can accomplish with the PA and with the Palestinians in general are so low that people will be seizing on anything and everything to hold up as a triumph. Hope I'm wrong.

posted by: fingerowner on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

"And offer your comments about whether Abbas will be able to turn the Palestinian Authority into a functioning, law-abiding state."

Presuming he wants to, he has a lot of hard work.

posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

There are so many things the new Palestinian president has to do -- rationalizing Palestinian security organizations, negotiating with Israel territory, fighting corruption -- that before long he is bound to start getting severe criticism for neglecting some of them. He will get it no matter what he does.

But right now I think the focus may shift somewhat onto the Israeli government's response. Can Sharon really carry off the Gaza withdrawal? Will he act to alter the Wall's course so as to do less damage to Palestinian land and property? What about prisoners? I have no specific preferences, only a sense that regional and foreign media will be paying attention to whether Arafat's death has brought about some changes in Israeli policy in addition to making possible new Palestinian leadership.

American policy will also be in the spotlight sooner or later, probably starting with Abbas's first visit to the Bush White House. If this visit produces only warm words the reaction among Arabs will not be positive.

posted by: Zathras on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

What should the west really expect from the man who was Arafat's solid #2? He wears suits more often, but as far as I can tell, that is the only difference between the two.

posted by: Matthew Peek on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

It would be nice if Europe would put as much
(any?) pressure on the Palestinians as that
applied by the USA on Israel.

For too long the Palestinians have been given
a totally free hand to commit their crimes. I
doubt the world is serious about any solution
the Arab-Israeli conflict that does not result
in the desruction of Israel.

In point of fact look at the UN continued
SUPPORT of ARAB aggression since 1947-48.
What a disgraceful show. It pains me as
an American that we had to support such a
farce in order to destroy civilization's
main enemy after WWII - the Soviet Union.

We should stop this absurdity first by
asking the UN to move to Genvea. And
second by making those decadent Europeans
pay their fair share.

But with Bush being PM Blair's poodle, I
doubt if that will ever happen.

So don't expect anything at all to happen
in Judea, Samaria and Gaza district except
the deaths of more innocent Israelis by
Arab terrorists.

posted by: pragmatist on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

"And offer your comments about whether Abbas will be able to turn the Palestinian Authority into a functioning, law-abiding state."
Wrong question, IMHO. The issue is not whether he can but whether he wants to do so. Given Abbas' recent prevarications and outright cave-ins to the terrorists ("Zionist entity" declarations, promising no actions to rein in the "militants", etc.) I am skeptical that he possesses the necessary will to do what is necessary. I hope I am wrong about this. Clearly, given the Presidents extension of an invitation to the White House, those in authority in the US feel likewise.
posted by: D on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

If Abbas shows any signs of progress the israelis will bomb enough targets to stop him.

Bomb enough targets and he'll have the choice between allowing reprisals -- and losing any chance to negotiate -- or else he can hire enough goon squads to severely punish palestinians whenever someone does make a reprisal against the israelis -- losing any support from palestinians except the ones he pays to repress the rest.

It's lose:lose for him unless the israelis stop attacking.

posted by: J Thomas on 01.10.05 at 10:38 AM [permalink]

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