The dysfunctional Palestinian leadership
Israeli troops recently returned to the Gaza Strip, searching for and destroying arms caches and battling with gunmen who use women and children as shields. Once again, innocent civilians have been killed, and normal life in Gaza has descended into chaos as political militias and criminal gangs battle each other. And once again, the Israelis are condemned in diplomatic circles and by much of the mainstream media for brutalizing the "poor Palestinians," who are invariably regarded as the "victims" in the Middle East conflict.
The late Abba Eban, Israel's former foreign minister and UN ambassador, once said that "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." He was referring to historic situations over the past half-century during which Palestinian statehood could have been established if the Palestinian leaders and their Arab allies had not rejected compromise and had not threatened the security and very existence of a Jewish state on their borders.
The current crisis in Gaza is the latest example of a missed opportunity. Last year, Israel withdrew from the territory, granting its inhabitants self-rule for the first time in their history. At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his successor Ehud Olmert announced plans to withdraw from virtually all of the occupied West Bank and to recognize the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Because of the Gaza crisis, however, the plan to disengage from the West Bank is now on the back burner.
With Gaza under their own control, the Palestinians finally had a chance to set up a modern government that could control chronic corruption and crime and could concentrate on economic development, job creation, and the establishment of civil order. Instead, their leaders failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Israeli withdrawal.
Almost immediately the Palestinians began to launch rockets on neighboring Israeli towns, spend their limited resources to acquire hi-tech weapons smuggled in from Egypt, and even cross into Israeli territory to attack a military base and kidnap an Israeli soldier.
And all the while, a virtual civil war has erupted between rival Hamas and Fatah militias, making a mockery of any effort to establish a stable government. To be sure, the Palestinians have been forced to operate under a severe handicap. Because of the ruling Hamas faction's refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by previous Israel/Palestine agreements, foreign aid to Gaza has been cut off.
The Palestinian leadership has clearly shown itself to be dysfunctional and incapable of governance. How is Israel expected to respond to what is an intractable and untenable situation? It faces an implacable enemy in Hamas, which dominates the Palestinian leadership. Supported by Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran, Hamas is dedicated to Israel's destruction. Israel's natural response is to defend itself, even if it means stirring up opposition from foreign outsiders who insist, in a bizarre twist, to regard Israel's enemy as the underdog.