by HENRY NORR
A friend with much experience and wide contacts in the Middle East passed along the following evaluation of the current situation in Israel/Palestine by an anonymous (to me, not to my friend) retired American diplomat:
The following are impressions from a week of conversations with Palestinians. Everyone I spoke to seems to have totally given up on the US, now, after the next presidential election and beyond. Every Palestinian I talked to sees the US as always siding with Israel, no matter what, and unwilling to do anything positive for the Palestinians. In the forty years that I have followed this issue, I have never seen such deep disillusionment and almost contempt for the US and its policies. And I think Palestinians were more frank with me than they are with US diplomatic representatives.
The Palestinians will go to the UN in September. Abu Mazen says he will take the request to be seated as a state to the UNSC [UN Security Council], knowing full well that the US will veto the resolution. And when the US vetoes it, the Palestinians seem fully prepared to make this an annual exercise, taking it to the UN next year and beyond.
Other Palestinians, such as Salam Fayyad, think that the Palestinians can get almost everything they want (including the right to participate in the ICC [International Criminal Court] and the ICJ [International Court of Justice]) through a UNGA [General Assembly] resolution and would prefer to avoid a full-out confrontation with the US, but even Salam seems totally disillusioned with the US, and I am not sure he is right that the Palestinians can get full participation in UN agencies through the UNGA route.
Everyone told me that there will be peaceful anti-Israeli demonstrations in September by youth groups and that Abu Mazen has met with youth leaders and encouraged them to carry out demonstrations. Everyone I talked to expects that the IDF will respond to such demonstrations by shooting, wounding and killing Palestinian demonstrators. What happens after that is problematic. [Prominent Palestinian pollster] Khalil Shikaki and others say that Palestinian security services will absolutely not shoot Palestinian demonstrators. At a minimum, they will stay in the barracks and stop all security cooperation with the Israelis.
There is a real fear that the Palestinian security services will somehow be caught in the middle and that the IDF will destroy them as happened during the second intifada. I detected no appetite by Palestinians for such acts of violence as occurred during the second intifada, but there is the clear expectation that the Israelis will escalate with violence and destroy much of what has been rebuilt.
Ramallah is a bubble. There has been a tremendous amount of construction, but that building boom is not matched elsewhere in the West Bank. Palestinian East Jerusalem remains stuck in a forty-year time warp with Israeli construction continuing but the Israelis refusing to allow Palestinians to build. In Ramallah, much of the building of government structures is paid for by foreign donors. If one looks closely at privately funded building, much of it remains unfinished.
The economy is a mess. Commercial banks are over-extended with the PA [Palestinian Authority] and refusing to extend new loans. Private businesses are refusing to bid on PA tenders because many of them have not been paid for previous work or supplies for several years and simply cannot afford to extend credit to the PA anymore. And as Salam Fayyad finds it more and more difficult to pay salaries, that will only constrict the economy even more, since the majority of employed Palestinians have jobs with the PA.
No one could seem to explain why the Saudis have not been paying their subsidies to the PA. They have only coughed up $30 million dollars so far (while paying $1.4 billion to the Jordanians this year) while the Kuwaitis and Emiraties have paid nothing. I wonder about the Saudis: they are pissed off at the US for letting Mubarak fall (in their perception) and for our policy towards the unrest in Bahrain.
And senior Saudis have made in the past six months some remarkably strong statements about the failures of the Obama Administration on getting serious negotiations started and our continual caving in to Israel. I wonder if the Saudis have decided to stop supporting the PA altogether since continuing to do so amounts to little more than subsidizing continued and open-ended Israeli occupation. Perhaps they calculate it’s better to let the PA collapse and let the US and Israel see how they can deal with the situation then.
Reconciliation with Hamas is on hold until after the UN action. Salam Fayyad staying on is the major stumbling block, but most seem to not hold out much hope for real reconciliation. Whether Salam will go seems up in the air. Salam says he has made clear to Hamas that he will not tolerate any violent acts by Hamas on the West Bank and will arrest anyone the PSS catches plotting violence. Who knows what will happen if he goes, although no one doubts Abu Mazen’s commitment to non-violence.
As for Israel, even my most optimistic Israeli friends are deeply pessimistic and see Israel as an isolated, right-wing country with no hope for negotiations. Some friends, who have been there for a very long time, said if they knew what Israel has become, they would never have made aliyah.
I have been traveling to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank for forty years now. I have never experienced the depth of disillusionment that I saw on this last trip. I think the US has finally reached the end of the road and totally destroyed its credibility. It is ironic that some Israelis seem to hold the US in about the same contempt as do the Palestinians.