A man in Tunisia — a college graduate denied the right to sell fruits and vegetables in the streets — self-immolates and ends up touching off a popular coup d’état. Copycat immolations follow in Egypt, Mauritania, and Algeria. Jordanians join the agitation, rioting against rising food prices.
Suddenly a spotlight is thrown on the misery of the Arab world. People who don’t normally think about such things take note that unemployment is rampant, desperate poverty is growing, and regimes are Mafia syndicates stealing from the populace. Not long before, horrendous incidents against Christians in Iraq and Egypt seemed finally to have drawn some attention to another blight — the persecution of Christians and other minorities throughout the region.
The Arab League now counts 22 members, one of which — Palestine — is actually not (yet) a state. Every one of them suffers from these plagues — lack of democracy, poverty, corruption, persecution. A gargantuan U.S.-led effort to turn Iraq into a democracy has not quelled its political turmoil: mass terror attacks continue, and tens of thousands of Christians are fleeing. In Lebanon, another Arab country that has taken steps toward democracy, the Hezbollah terror organization has now brought down the government.
Yet in the face of all this, the push to convert Palestine into the 22nd sovereign Arab state is only gathering steam.
Recently a string of Latin American countries — Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, and even right-leaning Chile — have recognized Palestine “within the 1967 borders,” indefensible boundaries from which Israel was attacked and could have been annihilated in 1967. And last week Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed that his country, too — not known for championing the rights of Chechens and Georgians — backs Palestine.
And now it turns out that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) — the progenitor of modern terrorism, particularly in its Arab and Islamic forms — has, for the first time, raised its flag over its diplomatic mission in Washington. And the State Department approves.
On Wednesday, Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s internal security agency, warned the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the month of September, when the Palestinians aim to ask the UN to recognize the Palestinian state, could be a “boiling point.” He urged creating “a border, border crossings and Border Police between us and the Palestinians, even if it is a temporary and unrecognized border.”
He also said the Palestinians were assailing Israel “through delegitimization, legal proceedings, economic boycotts and controlled diplomatic tensions” — and that “this process is gaining momentum because the Palestinians have recognized gaps between Israel and the United States, and ‘export’ their struggle to the international community.”
And, clearly, that international community is not concerned at the contradiction between its growing recognition of the dire problems of Arab countries and its yen to create another such country on Israel’s doorstep.
If it were, it would consider the results so far of the empowerment of the Palestinians since Israel began its political process with them in the early 1990s.
One result: Gaza, the Hamas-run Islamist terror entity, probably sharing with Iran and Sudan the honor of most benighted regime in the region. The Palestinian-state enthusiasts don’t explain how Gaza fits into the scheme. Will they bestow full sovereignty on it as it’s raining rockets and mortars on Israeli towns?
The other result: the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Its leaders, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are more presentable than Hamas and seem more moderate. With the help of huge international aid, the PA’s economy has been growing. Though not long ago it exploded along with Gaza in the savage terrorism of the Second Intifada, the PA has been quieter in recent years.
And yet, an enlightened regime, too, it is not. It continues to cultivate an ethos of hatred and delegitimization of Israel no less extreme than that of Hamas. Torture is already rampant in its jails. Researcher Justus Reid Weiner reports that under the PA (as well as Hamas), “Christian Arabs [...] have been victims of frequent human rights abuses including intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycott, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion.”
And if the PA were to attain sovereignty, even its modest economic progress — along with much else — would likely collapse. Israeli intelligence warns that bereft of Israel’s role, the PA security forces would quickly fall to Hamas. Sovereign Palestine would probably absorb hundreds of thousands of indigent Palestinians from “refugee camps” in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, a formula for yet more poverty, unemployment, misery, and violent agitation.
Argentina, Brazil, Russia, folks at Foggy Bottom, et al. would not, of course, have to be neighbors of sovereign Gaza and Palestine. What’s another dysfunctional Arab statelet or two when there are already so many, most of them much larger? But Israel would be a neighbor of both of them, sandwiched between them. A rational standpoint — beyond the reflexive backing for the Palestinians that marks almost the entire international arena — would ask if this is a formula for “stabilization” of the Middle East or exactly the opposite.
In December the outgoing Congress — pro-Israel, but less so than the incoming one — voted unanimously against a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians. The crucial question is whether the Obama administration will support or oppose the Palestinians’ push to gain a state by fiat, and if it opposes it, whether it will do so effectively enough. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out against such a declaration in October. So far the PA is not deterred.
Put aside the fact that Palestinian unilateralism is a gross violation of the principle, enshrined in a series of international documents, that territorial issues with Israel are to be resolved through negotiations. We must not shy away from posing an unfashionable question: what moral or pragmatic purpose can be served by adding the current Gaza and West Bank regimes to the calamitous realm of Arab sovereignty?