Reminders of what’s really needed

Two really important points were made of late about what really needs to be done to see real progress here:

Elliott Abrams wrote of the need to turn attention away from pointless negotiations in Jerusalem hotels and toward the critical work of creating tangible, functioning institutions in the hills of the West Bank.

Khaled Abu Toameh wrote of the very real dangers of ignoring the total lack of a free press in the Palestinian Authority.

A sample from Abrams:

[Recent examples of competency in providing basic security are] an example of the change in the West Bank and the beginnings of building the institutions of Palestinian statehood. But let’s take that example. They have now a competent police force, but they don’t have the rest of the legal system: that is to say prosecutors, courts, jails that can be relied upon.

What we and the Europeans should be doing is helping Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad build all of the institutions of the legal system and helping him build a productive economy and a better education system. The real sinews of a Palestinian state are not going to be built at a conference table. They are going to be built on the ground in the West Bank. The focus in the latter years of the Bush administration and the first year of the Obama administration on negotiation seems to me to marginalize what should be central and instead [makes] central what is not essential to the building of a Palestinian state. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can come later.

Abrams goes further, exposing the absurdity of the notion that Israel-PA talks would magically solve the Syrian problem. This notion is symptomatic of the obsession with negotiations at the expense of any real steps toward normalcy.

More on negotiations and what’s holding them up:

I don’t think that Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would be good for negotiations. I would argue that negotiations progress only when there has been progress on the ground. Or to put it another way, diplomacy has got to reflect what is happening on the ground and not vice-versa. If the Israelis see the development of a representative system of government, a legal system, law and order, and a thriving economy in the West Bank, that is much more likely to make them willing to negotiate successfully for establishing a Palestinian state. That is what has to come first.

Abu Toameh, who has been trying for years to shine a light on Palestinian press abuses, makes some powerful points. Among them:

Arab journalists are often taught that they should place the interests of their leaders, governments and homelands before above anything else, including the facts and the truth.

Americans and Europeans who are pouring billions of dollars on Abbas and Fayyad need to be aware of the absence of an independent media in the West Bank. One can understand why the Iranian-funded Hamas is repressing journalists, but there is no reason why American and European taxpayers should be funding a regime that has no respect for independent reporters.

If the West nevertheless insists on dealing with corrupt secular regimes to keep radical Muslims away, then Washington and its Western allies should demand good government and free media. Western donors have every right to demand something positive in return for their money. The financial corruption and lack of democracy and freedom of expression is, meanwhile, driving many Arabs into the open arms of Hamas and al-Qaeda.

And:

In the West Bank, the Western-backed “moderate” government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has been exerting pressure on journalists to “toe the line” and refrain from reporting news that might reflect negatively on the two men.

Abbas and Fayyad are using the US-trained Palestinian policemen not only to crack down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, but also to silence critics and intimidate local reporters and editors.

Some journalists who have dared to publicly criticize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have either found themselves behind bars under the pretext of “supporting” Hamas – an allegation aimed at keeping human rights organizations and Westerners silent. Other journalists who are not renowned as Fatah loyalists often receive threats over the phone directly from officials close to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

Finally:

A free media is one of the basic foundations of a healthy and prosperous society. It’s also an important element in the construction of a solid infrastructure for the much-desired Palestinian state.

Hear, hear.

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Neither strength nor moderation

Israel’s decision to release about 200 security prisoners is only the latest of dozens of such steps taken by the cabinet in the past several years. Invariably, the early release is justified as a “goodwill gesture” meant to move the peace process forward, or as a way of “strengthening the moderates” within the Palestinian Authority.

Not only do these diplomatically motivated prisoner releases antagonize and undermine Israel’s security agents, they have, obviously, been entirely uneffective at achieving their stated goals.

In a cogent and important analysis in today’s Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh explains why this is so. He lays out why these gestures were unhelpful in the past, and why they remain unhelpful now. I’ll not restate his argument here, as it is long and thorough and worth reading on its own. I’ll only conclude with this quotation, which is as true as it is simple and honestly delivered:

The best way to strengthen the “moderates” at this stage is by putting pressure on them to reform the PA and end financial corruption and the state of lawlessness and chaos in the West Bank.

We need more straight talk from Khaled, and less nonsense from the cabinet!