Friday, July 17, 2009

Netanyahu's Stress On Economic Peace Plan Being Validated In West Bank

Earlier this month, talk about Netanyahu's Economic Peace Plan--the idea that upgrading the Palestinian economy takes precedence over talk of a second Palestinian state--was decidedly negative:

Prior to the elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his program for "economic peace," which he said would improved the quality of life for Palestinians in the West Bank. However, 100 days after having formed his coalition government, there is no practical progress on economic projects.

The main reason for this is the refusal of senior Palestinian Authority officials to cooperate with Netanyahu and Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, who has been assigned the task of promoting the "economic peace" initiative.

Yet, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times, the West Bank economy is experiences an amazing turnaround:

“You don’t appreciate the value of law and order until you lose it,” Rashid al-Sakhel, the owner of a carpet store, said as he stood in his doorway surveying the small wonder of bustling streets on a sunny morning. “For the past eight years, a 10-year-old boy could order a strike and we would all close. Now nobody can threaten us.”

For the first time since the second Palestinian uprising broke out in late 2000, leading to terrorist bombings and fierce Israeli countermeasures, a sense of personal security and economic potential is spreading across the West Bank as the Palestinian Authority’s security forces enter their second year of consolidating order.

The International Monetary Fund is about to issue its first upbeat report in years for the West Bank, forecasting a 7 percent growth rate for 2009. Car sales in 2008 were double those of 2007. Construction on the first new Palestinian town in decades, for 40,000, will begin early next year north of Ramallah. In Jenin, a seven-story store called Herbawi Home Furnishings has opened, containing the latest espresso machines. Two weeks ago, the Israeli military shut its obtrusive nine-year-old checkpoint at the entrance to this city, part of a series of reductions in security measures.

This is something that was already evident last year, and has clearly been progressing this year. And the best part of the economic turnaround is that it is leading to a political turnaround as well:

Whether all this can last and lead to the consolidation of political power for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, as the Obama administration hopes, remains unclear. But a recent opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a Palestinian news agency, found that Fatah was seen as far more trustworthy than Hamas — 35 percent versus 19 percent — a significant shift from the organization’s poll in January, when Hamas appeared to be at least as trustworthy.

“Two years ago I couldn’t have even gone to Nablus,” said Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who serves as international envoy to the Palestinians, after a smooth visit this week. “Security is greatly improved, and the economy is doing much better. Now we need to move to the next stage: politics.”

The aim of American and European policy is to stitch Palestinian politics back together by strengthening the Palestinian Authority under the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, which favors a two-state solution with Israel, while weakening the Islamists of Hamas, who rule in Gaza. Fatah says it will hold its first general congress in 20 years in early August to build on its successes, but it remains unclear if the meeting will take place.

As important as the turnaround of Fatah vis-a-vis Hamas may be, equally important is the claim made in the article that both the US and Europe want not only to strengthen Fatah, but also to weaken Hamas as well--that seems to go against indications that both the US and Europe were interested not only in opening dialog with Hamas, but also to waive the '3 preconditions': recognizing Israel, stopping terrorist attacks, and honoring past agreements. If the renewed West Bank economy and the rise in Fatah's fortunes lead to the isolation of Hamas on the international scene, that would be an added benefit.

The reason for the entire turnaround goes back to the basics in dealing with Palestinian terrorism:

Asked to explain why the West Bank’s fortunes were shifting, a top Israeli general began his narrative with a chart showing 410 Israelis killed by Palestinians in 2002, and 4 in 2008.

“We destroyed the terrorist groups through three things — intelligence, the barrier and freedom of action by our men,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with military rules. “We sent our troops into every marketplace and every house, staying tightly focused on getting the bad guys.”

This is a validation of something that was said in 2001 by then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw about comparing negotiations with the IRA and with the Palestinian Arabs:

of course, negotiations far, far better, not (ph) infinitely better, than military action.

As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, we welcome hugely the progress has been made following the Good Friday Agreement.

It also has to be said that, before that happened, there had to be a change of approach by those who saw terrorism at the answer. And that approach partly changed because of the firmness of the military and police response to that terrorism. And if there had not been that firm response by successive British governments and others to the terrorist threat that was posed on both sides, we would not have been able to get some of those people into negotiation, and we'd not be marking what is a satisfactory day in the history of Northern Ireland today.

If the West Bank really does experience an economic and cultural revival, it will be because Israel defeated the Intifada and suicide bombers and the thinking that went along with it--because the West surely hasn't.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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