Palestinians should stop playing the victim

If Yasser Arafat has advisors and he heeds their advice, he should replace them.  If he does not heed their advice, he might reconsider and begin to heed.  And if he does not have any advisors, he should invest in experienced and analytical experts as an advisory resource.  For all practical purposes, the policies of the Palestine National Authority (PNA) in the last few years have resulted in one failure after another.  The peace process has floundered, the Palestinian economy has virtually collapsed, and losses in life and property have continued to mount.  The Palestinians blame Israel for all their woes.  Israel certainly is not innocent, but it would be wise for the Palestinians to look at their own policies, reassess their actions, save life and property, and salvage what they can of the land they love and claim as their own.

The policies of the PNA, headed by Yasser Arafat, may be questioned on the basis of their results, logic, and political analysis, illustrated as follows:

1.  As soon as Bill Clinton had ended his second term as president of the United States, the PNA attacked him as biased in favor of Israel. Why did it take Arafat and his ministers almost eight years to recognize Clinton’s bias, especially that Bill Clinton never hid his sentiments toward Israel?  The PNA should know that criticizing Clinton after he had left office would bring them no benefits.  Would it not have been more diplomatic to acknowledge that Clinton brought them closest to realizing their territorial and political objectives than they had ever come before, and to thank him for his sustained efforts to bring about peace?

2. The PNA foresaw or should have foreseen clearly that Ehud Barak would lose the election if he did not deliver on his promise to bring about a breakthrough in the peace process.  They also knew or should have known that Ariel Sharon would replace Barak and bring in a totally different play to the stage, a play that could not be favorable to their cause.  Why then did the PNA wait until two weeks before the Israeli elections to come, half-heartedly, to Barak’s aid?  Barak lost the elections and they lost the peace prospects. By the same token, how did the PNA and the Arabs in general come to believe that George W. Bush would be more even-handed, more understanding, or more helpful to their cause than Bill Clinton was, or Al Gore would have been?  Neither the United States presidential history nor the contents of the political campaign could have led to such a conclusion.  Now the PNA leaders feel disappointed and disillusioned with George W. Gush, but such disappointment is due to false and unwarranted expectations based on poor policy analysis and shallow strategy making.

3. According to available reports, Yasser Arafat had agreed with Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak at Camp David, that an incomplete agreement is no agreement. The agreed also that whatever is agreed upon verbally would be null and void if the negotiations break down or once Clinton and Barak had left office.  Why then would the PNA expect Ariel Sharon to resume negotiations at the point where they broke down, especially since he had publicly stated that he would not honor any such unrecorded agreement?  Was not the example of the disputed Rabin-Asad indirect verbal agreement sufficient to warn them that unwritten and unsigned possible agreements do not count?

4. It has been clear since 1948 that the Arab countries cannot and will not deliver the Palestinians from the snare of the Zionist forces, and that they can be an obstacle in the way to a solution.  Why then would Arafat defer to the Arab countries before deciding whether or not to accept the most radical and as yet most favorable proposed solution as put forward by Clinton?  Why would Arafat give the Arab leaders the opportunity to be the spoiler, as they in fact were?  Did he not learn from the example of Anwar Sadat who would not consult the other Arab countries before making a deal with Israel because he knew that they would do nothing but object? The Palestinians have consulted and now they are suffering the consequences.  The Arab countries, as represented by their leaders, have been generous in boastful rhetoric, short on material assistance, and predictable spoilers in reaching realistic and viable decisions by the PNA, the PLO, and the Palestinians leaders that preceded them.

5. Why do the PNA leaders publicly insist on Israel’s acceptance of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and at the same time deny any insistence or high expectation that the refugees would return to the homes they left behind in 1948? Do they insist on acceptance of the right of return only to gain a moral victory, to embarrass Israel, or to keep alive a claim on all the territory allocated to them according to the 1947 Partition Plan (UN Resolution 181) which they had rejected?  To rhetorically insist on the right of return can only give the refugees false hopes, compound the waste of their human capital, and keep them as wards of the United Nations one generation after another.

6. Why does the PNA insist on an all or nothing agreement when their entire existence as an authority on Palestinian soil has been facilitated and legitimized by a partial rather than a complete agreement? There are many lessons in history which show that it is a good strategy to take what you can now and ask for more later, within the framework of what may be considered internationally acceptable and legitimate.  To say NO to partial solutions and to insist on an all or nothing agreement has certainly cost them more loss of life and territory.

7.  Why would the Palestinians expect Israel to meet violence with mercy or kindness, and why would they expect it to end the occupation under the pressure of violence when it faces no threat of being defeated or of its forces being vanquished by stone throwers or suicide bombers?  Given the economic, military, and organizational power gap between them and Israel, why do the Palestinians believe that they can end the occupation by means other than by negotiation?  Stone throwing, violent demonstrations, United Nations commissions and resolutions, and all the Arab leaders’ rhetoric have gained them little compared with the direct face to face negotiations with their adversary, the Israelis.

8.  Why expect Israel to protect the viability of the PNA economy, knowing that in a state of war a weaker economy is less threatening than a stronger economy?  Complaining about the economic losses inflicted by the Israeli policies and actions, and appealing for outside help to survive these losses, can only strengthen the Israeli resolve to overcome Palestinian violence by choking their economy as much as by military cruelty.

9.  Finally, why do the Palestinians persist in sacrificing their children and young people, putting them in the forefront of the struggle with Israel when neither history nor logic would justify sacrificing the young to do the work of the decision-making adults? The Israelis send their children to school and to shelters when there is danger.  The Palestinians expose them to danger and deprive them of the education they need now and in the future if they were to create and sustain a viable Palestinian economy and society.

The lines of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have been drawn, and so also have been the lines of peace and cooperation between them.  The Palestinians have many legitimate claims and many Israelis agree with them.  However, the Palestinians have yet to formulate viable policies toward Israel and stop playing the victim.  They should not give up their claims but they can pursue them in other ways.  They may, for instance, resort to organized totally nonviolent demonstrations, statesmanship and diplomacy. At the same time they may redirect resources instead toward economic revival, development, and independence.

The author is a Professor of Economics, University of California, Davis, CA.