The Washington Post has an uncharacteristically dumb article that attempts the blame for the civil war in Gaza firmly on the desk of the President. For some, it’s not Hamas, Fatah, the Iranians efforts to aid terrorism, or the utter destruction of Palestinian society, it’s all about Bush. Even the one valid point that’s made is made through a transparently silly political lens. This article demonstrates the sort of petty political journalism that makes most American newspapers barely worth reading. The Post should know better.
Five years ago this month, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and laid out a vision for the Middle East that included Israel and a state called Palestine living together in peace. “I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror,” the president declared.
The takeover this week of the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group dedicated to the elimination of Israel demonstrates how much that vision has failed to materialize, in part because of actions taken by the administration. The United States championed Israel’s departure from the Gaza Strip as a first step toward peace and then pressed both Israelis and Palestinians to schedule legislative elections, which Hamas unexpectedly won. Now Hamas is the unchallenged power in Gaza.
First of all, the White House hardly championed the Sharon disengagement plan, except as a further step on its mythical “road map” towards Palestinian sovereignty. That decision was almost entirely that of Ariel Sharon, and it’s difficult to say that it was the wrong choice. Disengagement from Gaza was a necessity to maintain Israeli security, and the results of that disengagement don’t reflect on Israel or on the United States, but on the inability of Palestinian society to settle their disputes using political compromise.
The question of elections is a more questionable one. The biggest lesson that must be learned from Iraq and Palestine is that pushing elections when there is no responsible civil society is a recipe for chaos. The way to build a stable democratic country is through developing small institutions that can channel political activity — widescale elections only entrench sectarian lines unless there is a responsible political culture to support democratic activity. Yet at the same time, the Palestinian people made the choice to elect Hamas. A moderate party is not representative of the Palestinian people as a whole — they made this bed, and now they have to lie in it. It may take the Palestinians subjecting themselves to a bloody civil war before any progress can be made. Nothing Israel, the United States, or anyone else can do can magically undo the years of inculcated hatred that has been at every facet of Palestinian society. The choice to push for elections was inevitably to create a Hamas victory — but allowing Abbas’ undemocratic and corrupt Fatah (who are also sponsors of terrorism) to continue to reign was not a better choice for anyone. Blaming Bush for what is at its root a fault of Palestinian factionalism is simply foolish.
The situation in Palestine was a quagmire long before Bush took office. Clinton tried to make the same attempts to negotiate a settlement and that ended terribly as well. Blaming Bush for the Palestinian civil war is no more logical or sound than blaming Clinton for the Second Intifada in 2000. Both made naïve attempts at peace and both ended up watching as the Palestinians chose death rather than peace. If Bush can be blamed for anything, it’s following the longstanding and always fruitless American assumption that there is a “Palestinian society” rather than a death cult who has taken on the trappings of a society.
The only people who have the solution to this problem are the Palestinians themselves, and it seems that will only emerge once most of Palestinian society have killed each other off. The tragedy of Palestine isn’t what the West or Israel has done — it’s what the Palestinians have done to themselves. It is their brutality and their factionalism that is on display in Gaza right now, and trying to argue that Western policy is at the root of this is just enabling the sense of unjustified victimhood that lead the Palestinians down this terrible road to begin with.