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Will the Gaza War Produce Better Palestinian Leadership?

A militant fires a rocket launcher during what Hamas says is an engagement with its fighters during a battle with Israeli forces amid Israel’s ground offensive in a location given as near Beit Hanoun, Gaza, in this still image taken from video released November 17, 2023. Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Who should control Gaza after the major combat stops? Can new, better Palestinian leaders be empowered? This is debatable.

One school of thought is that the Palestinians cannot do much better than the men (they are all men) who dominate the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Secretary of State Blinken implies this view by insisting on a PA role in governing Gaza on the “day after.”

Another school of thought is more hopeful, or in any event more ambitious. It sees the Gaza war as a chance for Palestinians, with outside help, to make a quantum-leap improvement in their politics and society.

There will inevitably be large sums of reconstruction aid donated by Western countries and perhaps also Gulf Arab states. Whichever Palestinians are given power to spend that aid will, for that reason alone, become politically influential.

The United States can help arrange to channel the aid through a body whose governors would include Palestinians committed to conditions set by the donors. The main conditions could be radical but hard to argue against: (1) don’t steal the funds, (2) civilian projects only and (3) don’t promote hatred of Israel or the donor countries. There could also be more specific guidance — for example, construct permanent housing rather than rebuild “refugee camps,” and require schools to promote non-violent resolution of disputes rather than extremism. This would be the opposite of the approach taken for 75 years by the UN agency for Palestinian relief (UNRWA), which has dedicated itself to perpetuating the war against Israel.

Palestinians agreeing to administer the reconstruction would need security for themselves and their families, who might have to be removed to safe places abroad. The current Palestinian leadership would see them as political rivals, indeed enemies.

The Gaza war is a major historical event, and donors can set goals accordingly. They need not be content to aim for minor reforms of current institutions. Rather, they can pursue serious improvement in the political culture. The benefits could be large. In any event, there is no harm in trying to move substantially beyond the status quo.

Working with Israelis, Saudis, Emiratis, Bahrainis, Egyptians, and representatives of major aid donors such as Canada, the EU, and Japan, US officials can identify competent, well-intentioned Palestinians and organize security for them. The reality is that a random set of Palestinian business people would likely do a better job than the leaders now in power.

The aid donors can draw on the talents of Palestinian engineers, medical doctors, and lawyers, especially Palestinians who have lived in the West and know first-hand the benefits of living under the rule of law. What is crucial is that the new administrators not come from the ranks of the PLO (which runs the PA), Hamas, or other terrorist or extremist groups. The existing political institutions are the problem, not the solution.

There are capable Palestinians who are not ideologically extreme. The aid donors’ challenge is to recruit those who might have the courage, integrity, and ability to spend future aid money properly. It bears repeating that this means using the aid to buy not explosives, rockets, and tunnels for terrorist attacks, but apartment buildings, sanitation systems, power plants, and financial support for farms and factories. It should finance schools that teach useful skills, rather than indoctrinating kids to become martyrs in hopes of destroying Israel and the West.

The Palestinian people have never had such leadership. They have never benefited as they should from the billions of aid dollars donated to help them. And the aid donors — shamefully — have never before actually insisted that their funds be spent properly.

Would the newly empowered Palestinians have legitimacy? Not at first, but no Palestinian leader now has a democratic mandate. The issue is not democracy but effective, relatively humane administration. New leaders may garner support if they use the aid to improve their people’s lives, without enriching themselves or provoking war with Israel.

Helping better leaders arise would serve not only Palestinian interests but also those of the United States and much of the world. The effort may not succeed. But if it doesn’t, the current leaders will remain in power. The Palestinians will continue to suffer ill-government without a realistic hope of statehood. Though President Biden often talks of a “two-state solution,” there’s not even a glimmer of a chance of that outcome under existing Palestinian political circumstances.

It is hard to overstate the significance of bad leadership. For over 100 years, violent, self-serving authoritarians have failed the Palestinian Arabs, producing neither general prosperity nor statehood, but only endless unsuccessful war against the Jews.

It is telling that the main Palestinian leaders sided with the Turks in World War I, the Nazis in World War II, the Soviets in the Cold War, Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, the jihadists after 9/11 and, most disastrously for themselves, with the anti-Zionists in the Arab-Jewish conflict over Palestine. The ideology, instincts, and reasoning of Palestinian leaders have always favored the wrong side, the losing side, the anti-democratic, anti-Western, anti-humane side. This has been a problem for the Israelis, but a calamity for the Palestinians.

From the 1920s till after World War II, Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini shaped and dominated Palestinian political culture. He used public funds corruptly to accumulate personal power and burned down the homes of Arab political opponents. He fomented anti-Jewish violence by promoting an ideology that combined Islamism, nationalism, and false conspiracy theories about Jewish plots to destroy Muslim holy places.

From the late 1960s till his death in 2004, Yasser Arafat ran the Palestine Liberation Organization and then the Palestinian Authority more or less in the Mufti’s style. He framed his rejection of Zionism as a matter of honor and ruled out any permanent compromise with Israel. In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to recognize a Palestinian state in an area greater than 95% of the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat turned that offer down. He could have created a Palestinian state. He insisted instead on a Palestinian “right of return” that would have forced Israel to relinquish its Jewish majority.

From 2004 till now, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has also proven inflexible. In 2007-08, he refused to accept an Israeli peace offer similar to Barak’s. Yet Abbas is widely described as a “moderate,” which is true only in contrast to Hamas’ singular fanaticism.

The PA’s civil administration has always been chaotic, dictatorial, and corrupt. That is why Hamas, which at the time had no record of governing, won the 2006 Palestinian community-wide elections. Hamas was able to take control only in Gaza, however. The PA, still today in charge of the West Bank, remains unpopular, which is why there have been no elections since 2006.

Many of the millions of Palestinians are accomplished people who, under the right circumstances, could provide better leadership than Haj Amin, Arafat, or Abbas has done. It’s a low bar. What can be done to help decent people hurdle it?

Gaza war convulsions are making possible changes in the political landscape that did not seem possible beforehand. The opportunity should not be frittered away on small-beer initiatives to try to reform the PA. Considerations of humanity and peace combine here with considerations of security and US national interests. The Biden administration would advance US interests if it tried to empower a new Palestinian governing class untainted by corruption and ideological extremism.

Douglas J. Feith, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, served as Under Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. A version of this article was published on February 13, 2024, by The Free Press. 

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Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Israel is at a crucial juncture after Iran fired more than 350 ballistic and cruise missiles at the Jewish state overnight on April 13, according to Israel’s ambassador to Canada. “We are facing one of the most critical moments in the history of the State of Israel when a country like Iran starts an attack […]

The post Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgThe solemnly named International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has become an arena for the world’s despots and authoritarians to strut and grandstand, projecting their own abuses—torture, censorship, genocide—onto the world’s democracies.

The anti-democratic crusade waged in the name of human rights has impacted Israel more than any other state. The Jewish state is subjected to insulting and, frankly, frivolous lawsuits every time it tries to discharge its basic duty of protecting its citizens—whether that was the security fence constructed along the West Bank border more than a decade ago or the war against Hamas in Gaza right now.

Since the onset of the latest war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the monstrous Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Israel has been the focus of a baseless charge of genocide brought about by South Africa, which largely failed in its bid to make the accusation stick. Many observers pointed out that South Africa’s worsening domestic record—marked by corruption, horrific xenophobia towards migrants from other countries in southern Africa and an inability to deliver basic services like electricity and clean water to those who need them most—hardly qualifies its African National Congress (ANC)-led government to sit in judgment over Israel. Yet Pretoria has continued undeterred, at the same time that it welcomes Hamas leaders for state visits and treats its Jewish community—and anyone else who dares utter understanding for Israel—with unvarnished antisemitism.

Now the baton has passed to Nicaragua, which last week sent its lawyers to the ICJ to charge Germany with aiding and abetting Israel’s supposed “genocide.” The bitter irony is that it is Nicaragua’s far-left leadership, aligned with the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, that should be in the dock.

Daniel Ortega has been in power in Nicaragua since 2007, and he’s not going anywhere—at least, not voluntarily. Some readers will remember Ortega’s name from the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the Iran-Contra scandal that followed during the subsequent decade. But you don’t have to dig deep into that history to get a sense of the kind of regime that he runs. As Freedom House—an NGO that monitors the state of liberty around the world—explains it, the latest period of Ortega’s rule has been “a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms and unchecked corruption in government.”

In the last year alone, the Nicaraguan regime has expelled more than 200 opposition leaders into exile in the United States. It has passed new legislation to strip those deemed “traitors to the homeland” of their citizenship. It has turned the police into an arm of the executive, trampling over the separation of powers that democracies hold so dear. In many ways, this new wave of repression is an outgrowth of the regime’s brutal clampdown on anti-government protests in 2018. Abroad, meanwhile, its authoritarian domestic policy is matched by unflinching support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and a close bond with the Iranian regime, North Korea and other rogue states.

This, in short, is the character of the regime that has brought charges of “genocide” against Israel by targeting Germany’s supply of arms to the Jewish state—as if a serial sex offender was to opportunistically cry out, “rape!”

Why is Nicaragua embarking on this path at the ICJ? Some insight was provided by a German journalist who specializes in Latin American affairs, Toni Keppeler, during an interview last week with Swiss radio. Noting that Nicaragua is quite isolated among the world’s states, Keppeler suggested that the ICJ lawsuit was seen by Ortega as a means of boosting his international image. And Germany, he added, was a much safer bet than the United States, which supplies far more weapons to Israel, because America can punish Nicaragua in ways that Germany couldn’t or wouldn’t. He also noted that Ortega wants to be embraced by left-wing groups around the world. And so the Nicaraguan caudillo figures, not unreasonably, that bandwagoning on the Palestinian cause they are obsessed with is the way he will achieve that.

But there is another, more sinister reason behind Nicaragua’s action. Ultimately, these cases against Israel at the ICJ are aimed at shifting public perceptions of Israel and its history, and in particular, the influence of the Holocaust upon support for Israel in the democratic world. One of the reasons why Germany supports Israel is simply because it was the country that initiated the mass slaughter of Jews during World War II. Since 1945, democratic Germany has been guided by entirely different principles, elevating its backing for Israel into a staatsrason—“reason of state.” Indeed, as I noted recently, one of the several questions about Jews and Israel on the newly reformulated naturalization test for prospective immigrants to Germany asks, “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” with the correct answer being “The crimes of national socialism.”

That is how it should be, but for the international left, such a stance is intolerable. In their jaundiced eyes, Germany has atoned for the Holocaust by backing the nakba—the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by many Palestinians to describe the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948. Germany’s position irritatingly reminds the world that Jews were once victims of nightmarish genocide themselves—hardly the sort of fact you’d want to highlight if your purpose is to turn them into victims once again. And so, Nicaragua’s lawyers (including, disgracefully, a German citizen named Daniel Muller) have trooped into the ICJ to argue that supporting the Jewish state is the wrong way to express solidarity with Jews.

The goal here, make no mistake, is to separate the Holocaust from Israel and to argue that the one entity in the world capable of preventing another Holocaust is actually sowing its seeds! It’s topsy-turvy logic, but if it works effectively as propaganda, generating meme after meme on social media, why worry about that?

Hence we arrive at a situation where the 15 ICJ judges debate a phantom genocide while turning a blind eye to genuine examples of this phenomenon, along with other related crimes. “The government of Nicaragua is perpetrating widespread violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity,” the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect Project noted in a briefing back in February, but you won’t hear a peep about that in the ICJ’s corridors. Ditto for Turkey’s racist treatment of its Kurdish minority, and indeed, for the myriad other examples of government-sponsored cruelty on every continent.

This is yet another demonstration of antisemitism, insofar as antisemitism applies to standards for Jews that no other nation has to contend with. That is the ugly reality behind these fanciful appeals to “international law” that plague Israel. Germany is now receiving a glimpse of what that feels like but only because of its relationship with Israel—otherwise, this case would never have been brought to court.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history. … Steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.” — John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies, West Point, Feb. 17, 2024

“[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children.” — Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2016

In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes … in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured … with little accountability.” — Amnesty International at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022

The recent accidental deaths of seven foreign aid workers with World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip have sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol that highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all and any tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in recent history in which the gulf between good and evil, wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage has been a lamentable aspect of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system and perhaps even before that.

Rarely if ever has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians as Israel. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces … does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscores, “Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting ‘gold standard’ for avoiding civilian casualties

The chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral damage as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions in Gaza above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1:1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare in general is 1:9—six times higher.

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison to non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. In World War II, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities that were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen in March 1945, when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city. It inadvertently hit a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians, including 87 schoolchildren.

Then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100,000 to 200,000 were incinerated and irradiated by the U.S. atomic bombings in early August 1945.

“There is always a cost to defeat an evil.”

Half a century later, after hundreds of thousands were killed by American bombing in the Vietnam War, NATO launched a war against Serbia. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far from accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets. These targets included residential neighborhoods, old-age homes, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, trains on bridges and even a foreign embassy.

When then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, he responded, “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” This is exactly how Israelis feel about the war against Hamas.

These were not the only post-World War II instances of pervasive human suffering caused by large-scale U.S.-led military operations.

More babies died in Iraq than in Hiroshima

After Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Iraq and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. Even after Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, sanctions and military operations continued. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering for the civilian population. The scale of it can be gauged by a 1996 60 Minutes interview with the late Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer Leslie Stahl about the ravages the U.S.-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked,We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-Oct. 7 response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the U.S. homeland nor any U.S. resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime.

‘A tremendous human toll … ’

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in which almost 3,000 people died, a U.S.-led military coalition (in which the U.K. played a prominent role) invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot Al-Qaeda. The Oct. 7 massacre was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the toll of the 9/11 atrocity; the equivalent of almost 50,000 U.S. fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars … have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries.” It presents a 2021 assessment that almost 47,000 Afghani civilians were killed, but adds a proviso that “several times … more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars,” including through “water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease.”

Thousands of civilians hit ‘with little accountability’

U.S. strikes in which indisputably civilian targets were hit are a matter of record. During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, several weddings, parties and processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the U.S. strikes, Amnesty International USA stated: “In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft) with little accountability.”

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition—launched on the dubious or at least unsubstantiated allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction—wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and a death toll upwards of 300,000 non-combatants.

Closing caveat

The current vogue of berating Israel is both unfounded and unfair. Lending this abuse support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering embers of hatred that will eventually engulf those who propagate it.

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