Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nathan Brown -- "The Peace Process Has No Clothes"

Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, is a distinguished scholar and author of four well-received books on Arab politics. Brown brings his special expertise on Palestinian reform and Arab constitutionalism to the Endowment and his research interests also include Egyptian and Palestinian politics, legal reform in the modern Middle East, as well as democratization. Brown’s most recent book, Resuming Arab Palestine, presents research on Palestinian society and governance after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

Brown was previously a scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute. He has recently been a member of the international advisory committee on drafting the Palestinian constitution and consultant to the UNDP's program on governance in the Arab world.

More weekend reading. Thanks to Marc Lynch for this pointer (and too many others...Hey, I'm just a layman trying to get a handle on stuff).

In the sixteen months since the election of a Hamas majority in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, international actors have combined severe sanctions and ameliorative half-measures married to no long-term policy or strategic vision. A boycott of most parts of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been coupled with an emergency aid program for some of its employees that manages to keep many institutions barely afloat and many salaries half-paid. In other words, international actors facilitated slow decay instead of immediate political collapse. Having staked out a harsh position immediately after the January 2006 Palestinian elections, the United States and Europe then sought to soften the edges off the measures without rethinking the strategy behind them. As Palestinians slid toward civil war, the international actions only eased the way. To be sure, international diplomacy and meetings have continued but without a clear vision or purpose other than an illusory one: that it is capable of undermining Hamas without making either Palestinian society or its institutions feel any negative effects. U.S. diplomatic engagement—markedly low throughout most of the Bush Administration—did finally pick up but in the service of no discernable strategy nor even a clear set of tactics.

The Israeli government is similarly adrift, compliant with but clearly unconvinced by American diplomatic efforts and uncertain on how to respond to the challenge posed by Hamas. And the Palestinian leadership itself betrays deep fragmentation and lack of initiative, with Hamas leaders themselves only a partial exception. Indeed, it is no longer clear how much the term “Palestinian leadership” refers to anything viable at all. Those who lead routinely find themselves following their foot soldiers. Certainly the Hamas takeover of Gaza was centrally coordinated, but it is not clear by whom or why. Thedisorder has allowed armed groups associated with the two main blocs to act with only limited coordination (especially on the nationalist side but also among the Islamists). The only time the various camps of Palestinian society regain some coherence is when they are fighting each other. And more alarming still is the emergence of shadowy radical groups that may make even Hamas seem pragmatic.

The ad hoc international coalition known as the Quartet (the United States, the E.U., the UN, and Russia) has backed a strict set of conditions for the Palestinian government to meet in order to receive international recognition (and direct financial assistance). In the meantime, it has barred all direct international assistance to most of the Palestinian government. The United States has blocked all official contact with any Palestinian affiliated with any part of the Palestinian government that is overseen, even indirectly, by an official deemed connected to Hamas. And it has threatened all public and private actors against any transfer of funds to any Palestinian body that it regards as under Hamas influence. When the Palestinians formed a national unity government in March, the international reaction was slow and limited, effectively undermining what was admittedly a shaky experiment.

I haven't even started reading, but I can tell where this is going. US/Israel "policy" (if the word can be accurately used) seems to have been, and continues to be, benign neglect with the aim and hope of Palestinian self-destruction. This is where terms like interests and principles collide.

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