Edward Luttwak, a strategist with extensive U.S. government service on presidential transition teams and as a consultant to the departments of Defense and State, the Army, the Navy, and the White House, spoke to a July 14th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about policies affecting Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank. The following is a summary of his comments:
Over the decades of the "internationalized" Arab-Israeli conflict, a common trait among emerging Palestinian Arab leaders is that they were not elected by their people and therefore have no legitimacy. Having no responsibility to the people they claim to represent, they are "indifferent" to the Palestinian Arab people who both inhabit the disputed territory in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Gaza Strip, which is under the separate control of a Hamas dictatorship.
In contrast to the self-serving PA leadership, Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon is concerned about the welfare of his Shia constituency. Although he threatens Israel with bellicose pronouncements, Nasrallah has kept a relative peace since the war of 2006 because his constituencies do not want their properties located "between Israel and Beirut" to be bombed by Israel should he follow up his rhetoric with action. In this way, Nasrallah behaves more like a "national leader" than the Palestinian Arab leaders, who are "willing to do anything for Palestine, nothing for the Palestinians." Attacks against Israeli civilians result in the Palestinian Arabs suffering economically, but reasoning with the leadership to rein in incitement and attacks is futile, because such activity serves the Palestinian leaders' need to foment conflict rather than promote prosperity for their people. "They do not serve Palestinians; they serve Palestine."
The late Yasser Arafat was an "exemplar" of this tactic. Although the former head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) ably convinced willing world leaders that he represented the aspirations of the Palestinian Arab people, any effort by the other side to discuss conflict resolution exposed Arafat's doublespeak. Instead of entering into good faith negotiations, he would depart to far-flung locales to speechify to Muslims who had little or no connection to the Middle East. "Arafat, throughout his career, was dedicating everything to Palestine, nothing to the Palestinians." This is why negotiations with Arafat were futile. These forays did, however, serve as a dodge for Arafat to spread incitement about destroying Israel and conquering Jerusalem. Despite repeated attempts by diplomats to corner Arafat into negotiations, false starts and showcase summits proved to be exercises in duplicity and futility. "The annals of Camp David are ... a parody of diplomacy, there being no substance to it."
Because Palestinian Arab leaders do not represent the Palestinian Arab people nor serve their constituency, negotiations are not possible. The only alternative to dealing with a politically bankrupt PA leadership is to bypass them completely and deal directly with the Palestinian Arab people.
Policies that prioritize "economic welfare in the occupied territories" would address the Palestinian Arab inhabitants—not as a national group, but as individual social categories of public and private professions within Palestinian Arab society itself. Communicate to the inhabitants that they can have a stake in Israel's economic development and welfare, much like the Arabs within Israel, who have a lower participation rate in terror activities.
Following the June 1967 "occupation" of the disputed territories, policies were not labeled "national" or "political." A member of Israel's Ministry of Agriculture at the time, working on crop improvement in Israel, approached Arab farmers in the West Bank and connected on a grassroots level with West Bank Arab farmers by offering to help with crop improvement. Reproducing this model would show the Palestinian Arab people that they can have a stake in economic prosperity "rather than war."
West Bank Arabs must understand that for "economic integration" to take place, they will need to cooperate with Israel as the existing power. To this end, the Israeli government should encourage Israeli companies to develop programs that take advantage of a labor pool and remove "administrative obstacles." Doing so would facilitate economically sustainable exchanges with greater ease of movement, as the process could be "entangled by security controls." Admittedly, the policy's viability would be a challenge given the hatred toward Israel that has been encouraged through all levels of Palestinian Arab society by its leadership.
But generally, "the people who really want Palestine free from the river to the sea are people studying at the University of Toronto who have actually never been there." They ignore the day-to-day reality of everyday people wanting to provide a livelihood for their families. Fostering hope for a stable future should be the focus in order for Palestinian Arabs to see an alternative to a PA more interested in maintaining its power than helping the people prosper. The elites in non-governmental organizations (NGO), much like the PA leaders, ultimately foment conflict instead of fostering economic development. A grassroots policy that circumvents the irrelevant "time wasters" of NGOs and PA power brokers would put the economic power directly into the hands of individual West Bank Arabs looking to build a better life for their family and future.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.