If the events of the past 10 years have taught us anything, it is that no autonomous state can emerge or survive where parties competing for political power have their own military forces. Can anyone imagine a recall vote in California where all the gubernatorial contenders had their own militias blowing up buses and cafés in nearby Mexico to attract more political support?
For too long, the international community has tolerated this astonishing absurdity among Palestinians, whether from Hamas and Islamic Jihad or the associates of Arafat—many of whom rely primarily on violence to achieve their goals, not only vis-à-vis the Israelis but toward each other as well. As Shlomo Avineri wrote in the Financial Times last month, “Some Palestinians say they would confront the armed militias once they achieved full independence. They are wrong. They will never achieve a coherent state if they do not monopolize the use of force now: this is the true test of nation building and leadership.”
Under Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), for the first time there was a Palestinian Authority that genuinely sought to control the violence, but the experiment failed because of a weak prime minister who could not do the job alone because the Israelis remained skeptical that he could produce (whether they were correct or engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy is a matter of conjecture), and because the U.S.—having promised to help, did little to make sure Abu Mazen would survive. President Bush’s road map will never succeed if he treats every Palestinian prime minister with verbal support and little else. As we have just seen, the situation will only decline into further chaos if the threat and reality of terror are not stemmed.
The problem is that the task will be much more difficult now that the first Palestinian prime minister has been forced to resign by the machinations of Yasser Arafat. Without question, the long-time Palestinian leader and obstructionist has scored a major victory. Israel threatened to oust him, or worse, and the result was a dramatic increase in his popularity. President Bush repeatedly called for new Palestinian leadership, yet at least for the moment, Arafat is stronger than ever. He presents a peculiar challenge: it is impossible for outsiders to oust him without the effort backfiring, but there is no one on the Palestinian scene who appears able to blunt his effective maneuvering. So he survives politically at the expense of his people and his neighbors.
President Bush has the right idea, in theory, for overcoming this dilemma: keep him there, but limit his power by building up an alternate source of influence under the prime minister until Arafat becomes a symbolic figure comparable to Queen Elizabeth. But the administration has demonstrated little willingness to implement that strategy, and the new nominee for prime minister, Abu Alla, is even more dependent on the cagey Arafat. If we are to build him or a future successor into an effective force to offset Arafat’s venal politicking and the terrorists’ despicable acts, we need more than a few speeches and summits. We need a strategy for making the Palestinian prime minister effective.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Arafat only appear strong because they have not been seriously challenged. They gain from the hopelessness they create, ironically wringing their popularity from the diplomatic process they have destroyed and the economy their actions have crippled. The only way to transform this nightmare is to provide a Palestinian prime minister and his government with the tools and the backing to end the violence. Their achievements will bring them popular support.
Some have suggested that the resort to violence can be controlled once individuals who have previously been members of wayward groups are able to participate in Palestinian politics. The opposite is true. Only preventing the resort to violence will normalize Palestinian politics, just as only after Ben-Gurion destroyed Menachem Begin’s forces in 1948 (in the midst of a war no less) could Begin, the Irgun leader and future prime minister, become a legitimate member of the Israeli political system.
Sen. Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has advocated the possibility of a NATO protectorate in the territories. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk has spoken about a trusteeship for Palestine. But the real work of confronting and ending the violence must come from within. Palestinians opposed to violence must be the leaders of the anti-terror effort, even if success requires additional support from outside. This task is not hopeless and, in fact, would probably be easier than in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Palestine is a compact area where the terrorists are known, identifiable, and can be located.
But to accomplish this task, we need a Palestinian faction engaged with the United States, not an entire polity subjugated by an outside international alliance. Specifically, here’s what America should do:1. We must increase security assistance to the Palestinian Authority once a new prime minister takes office, on the condition that assistance will be translated into action. Many tasks confront the Palestinian Authority, including the discovery of illegal weapons, the destruction of ammunition stockpiles, the dismantling of the workshops for production of weapons and ammunition, and the arrest of those responsible for terrorist actions. The recent interest of Hamas operatives in another possible ceasefire is testimony to their fear of Israeli attacks and their concern that a new Palestinian cabinet will be provided with sufficient assistance to take decisive action. Most importantly, Abu Alla or his successor should be empowered by our support to end the threat of internal and external violence once and for all.2. The U.S. should negotiate with Israel steps toward implementing the road map, including moves on prisoners, withdrawals from areas taken during the intifada, dismantling of illegal outposts, and freezing of settlements. This timeline will specify the actions that Israel will take in response to specific Palestinian actions on terror. Thus both sides will know beforehand what they are gaining in return for their actions, and when it will happen. Israel has indicated it would reciprocate in response to Palestinian action against terror, and America should mediate accordingly. Instead of an eye for an eye, we need a concession for a concession.3. We must put in place the monitors called for in the road map. America has assumed responsibility for this crucial device, something both Israelis and Palestinians insisted was a pre-requisite for any progress. So far, little has been done.4. The military existence of Hamas must end, both in the interests of Israeli security and Palestinian independence. If the Palestinian Authority cannot execute the job of dismantling Hamas on its own, then America should lead an international effort to assist the Palestinians in this essential task. What does this mean in practice? It calls for American leadership, not necessarily American troops. The main goal is to strengthen the security muscles of the PA, to train and equip the Palestinians to take care of security on their own.
This approach should be pursued in two stages. In the first, the training of security forces under the control of the prime minister and his cabinet must be accelerated. Today Arafat has reasserted his control over the various Palestinian security forces; even before Abu Mazen fell, he had little flexibility because Arafat controlled 75 percent of the security apparatus. If Abu Alla does not regain the minimum that Abu Mazen had, he will be a failure before his first day in office. We should not accept such a government as having sufficient authority to govern. But if Abu Alla does take office under minimally acceptable conditions, we should attempt to strengthen his forces so that they can address the terrorist threat. This will be difficult, because, as we saw under Abu Mazen, the moderates are caught between the terror and Arafat’s prevention of effective steps to end it.
Therefore, if this more subdued method proved insufficient, and it probably would, then actual troops from outside must be deployed. With the approval of Israel, it is far better to have forces such as the Egyptians, Jordanians, or Turks, or perhaps Canadians, Australians, or British assisting the Palestinian prime minister than it would be to slide back into chaos. These troops would not function on their own authority; instead, they would be acting as guest police&Mac226; under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
Dismantling the basic terrorist infrastructure is vital if the end to violence is to be sustained, and that can only be done effectively by the Palestinians themselves, not by Israel, the Europeans, the Arabs, or the Americans. But each can in its own way help ensure that the Palestinians succeed.5. The U.S. must be fully and consistently engaged. It is worth recalling that an Israeli-Syrian disengagement deal occurred in May 1974 only because Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stayed in the region for 33 straight days. That exact approach may not be appropriate today, but it is clear that the United States must increase its level of engagement. This can be done through deploying the monitors, through sponsoring an international force to back up the prime minister’s government, and through constant, day-to-day mediation.6. One major area in which the Palestinians require assistance is the funding by Arab governments and private individuals of Hamas and other Palestinian groups. Here the administration is correct to single out European-based, Palestinian charity groups—the charitable and military parts of the same organization cannot be truly separated. Funds are fungible, and the military wing of Hamas, for example, is more effective because of its organization’s charitable activities.7. Economic progress is essential. There are myriad actions that the United States, Israeli, Arab, and European governments can take. Israel, for example, can provide transfer of collected duties more quickly. Kuwait, Libya, and Qatar should be called on to deliver the funds they have promised to the Palestinians.
But what if Arafat continues to be successful in blunting any independent stance by a prime minister? What if the premiership becomes a revolving door that thwarts any effort to push for an effective alternative to Arafat? One reason we failed this summer is that we did not demonstrate dedicated commitment to progress at the highest levels. The Palestinians (and the Israelis) concluded that our inattention signaled a lack of interest. Whereas American successes in Iraq this spring signaled new respect for the U.S., American failures in Iraq this summer encouraged rejection of Washington’s wishes.
No matter what happens in Baghdad, the U.S. can still succeed if it is inventive and persistent. New opportunities may arise of which we must take advantage. For example, the second most popular Palestinian leader to Arafat according to the polls, Marwan Barghouty, has been in an Israeli jail for over a year. While he was indeed complicit in terrorist attacks during the first part of the intifada, previously he had a history of moderation. Recently, he has been a strong supporter of a ceasefire. He is a leader with whom the U.S. could work, and whom Arafat would have a difficult time defeating.
For the United States, now is the time to prove whether we are serious or not. Words can be very helpful, and the road map is in many ways the most creative program any U.S. administration has ever presented.
But without implementation on the diplomatic, economic, and security levels, the road map will not succeed, and American policy will fail. We must dedicate ourselves to improving the situation immediately. The violence has gone on long enough. Time is not on our side if we merely contemplate our options.
Steven L. Spiegel, a national scholar at the Israel Policy Forum, is Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA.