In choosing Tony Blair as their Mideast Envoy, the fumbling group of ambassadors known as the barbershop Quartet of Mideast Peace Negotiators has proved once again that they they treat peace like the weather…everyone talks about it but no one actually does anything about it.
Mr. Blair is a smart guy, but just like the rest of the group he sticks to the tried and true, the same approach to peace that hasn’t worked for forty years. Land for Peace, Israel is the bad occupier, the terrorist really do want to reform. Sorry Mr. Blair we have heard it all before it was even on 8-track. There no time for your “Same Sh*t Different Day” approach to Peacemaking. That has lead to the growth of terrorism all across the world. As Professor Gerald Steinberg says below, if you don’t change your outlook, you won’t change the result.
Advice for Mr. Blair: Stop Patronizing the Palestinians
Gerald M. Steinberg
- In taking the position of “international peace envoy” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Blair will need to change the basic political parameters in order to avoid another catastrophic failure.
- Most importantly, this will require abandoning the widely held images of Palestinian victimization and demonization of Israel. Palestinians must be shown that massive corruption, as well as terror and incitement have unacceptable costs, and that they must take control over their destiny.
- British and European leaders, academics, NGO officials, journalists, clergy, and others who have fostered the patronizing image of Palestinian helplessness and who have turned a blind eye to corruption and terror must also change frameworks. Continued aid must be tied to performance in these key dimensions.
- On this basis, it may be possible for Mr. Blair to encourage the transformation in Palestinian society that will one day create the basis for pragmatic compromise and a stable peace with Israel.
Given the dismal record of many would-be peacemakers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tony Blair must realize that the prospects of success as the latest peace envoy are not good. Having spent a great deal time on and in the region as Prime Minister, he must be aware of the obstacles, and the absence of any magic formula for instant peace in this most protracted of ethno-national and religious conflicts. Mr. Blair has seen enough to know that good intentions and simplistic slogans are not enough, and that real peace requires the type of societal transformations that take many years, once it begins. The brutality of the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the collapse of the remnants of Fatah and the PLO may provide a small foundation from which to begin this transformation among the Palestinians, particular those in the West Bank. But this process will also require a basic change in international policies and perceptions with respect to Palestinians. In particular, the patronizing and ineffective emphasis on Palestinian suffering and helplessness that has dominated actions since 1948 must end. Palestinians must be given the opportunity and the external push to take control over their own destiny, and stop seeing themselves simply as passive victims. The rampant corruption and failed leadership in Palestinian society is, to a large degree, a product of the massive welfare system in effect since the Israeli defeat of the 1948 Arab invasion, and the refugees that resulted. At that time, “temporary” camps and housing were created under control of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Rather than work to end their refugee status, as in many similar situations of warfare and displacement, (and following Israel’s example of integrating hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who fled violence in Arab countries), this situation was deliberately and cynically perpetuated. The objective was blatantly political – as long as refugees and camps existed, the goal of reversing the UN partition resolution and the establishment of Israel remained alive. In this central respect, nothing has changed in almost 60 years. Beyond the massive economic cost of maintaining this situation (UNRWA spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year), more damage is caused by perpetuating the image of Palestinian victimization. The Arab defeat in the 1967 war led to the reinforcement of this image, as well as further increases in welfare funding through other aid and development frameworks through European governments, major churches, and powerful via pro-Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Although the PLO was founded in 1964, and came to be accepted as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, its leaders limited their activities to the political and military struggle against Israel. Yassir Arafat showed no interest in building civil society or ending the dependence and victimization. On the contrary, for decades, he was a major contributor to this syndrome. The international community, and particularly European governments, perpetuated and widened this process, handing over additional funds, often in bags of cash handed directly to Arafat and his cronies. Officials in London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Oslo, Bern, Stockholm, Rome and elsewhere, ignored the obvious evidence of massive corruption and the lack of interest in building institutions or providing services (the report written much later by the EU’s watchdog agency OLAF remains a tightly guarded secret, making a mockery of European calls for transparency). The core reason for allowing huge amounts of European tax revenues to disappear among Palestinian officials was paternalism. European leaders did not expect anything better from Arafat and Fatah, and did not try or condition aid to fundamental changes. After the 1993 Oslo peace framework established the Palestinian Authority and the refugee camps in this territory ceased to exist, the image of victims and helpless refugees continued, and the corruption increased, abetted by the donors. In parallel, the “Palestinian cause” and the prevalent image of helpless victims was perpetuated among self-proclaimed human rights groups and other NGOs, in the media, in churches, on university campuses, and among politicians. In Britain, powerful groups such as War on Want, Christian Aid, and others held rallies for the Palestinians, collected funds, and demonized Israel through boycott and divestment campaigns. European leaders continued to embrace Arafat until his death, long after his personal corruption and failed leadership was revealed and many Palestinians distanced themselves. By the same token, Palestinians were not expected to behave by the ordinary rules of moral and civilized behavior, or to respect human rights. And no terror attack, including bus bombings and suicide bombers in cafes, was considered repulsive enough by officials in Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch to change in this neo-colonialist image of Palestinian victimhood. Given this dismal condition, Mr. Blair would be well advised to avoid more of the same – more victimization and sympathy for “Palestinian suffering”. A sharp cut-off of all international aid would worsen the situation, but the terms of this assistance should be radically altered. Palestinians must be told that the aid will decrease annually, and that they will have no alternative but to use this assistance to become self-sufficient and to demand effective leaders. And this aid should no longer be used to perpetuate the political and ideological war against Israel being waged, in large part, through the manipulated images of passive Palestinian victimhood. This in itself will be a very difficult challenge for Mr. Blair and his staff. They will encounter stiff resistance from both Palestinian and European officials in UNRWA, the powerful development agencies such as DFID, the pro-Palestinians NGOs that receive this funding, and elsewhere and who know no other approach. Most importantly, if this is to succeed, Palestinians must be taught to take responsibility for their own situation, rather than appealing for international assistance, both economic and political, whenever they are in difficulty. In this process, more Palestinians will come to realize that support for terror and suicide bombers, and the preaching of incitement in schools, mosques and the media, has an unacceptable cost. And along with Mr. Blair, they will also understand that the decades of war with Israel must finally end through difficult compromises on the Palestinian side as well. Without leaders and society capable of such compromises, nothing else will succeed.