February 26, 2004

Crunchtime for Fatah

Details surrounding Sharon's proposed Gaza pull-out continue to be hammered out:

"Among the issues that the United States hopes to see settled are the extent of involvement by Jordan and Egypt in any security arrangements in Gaza, and whether Mr. Sharon can ensure that violence against Israelis will not increase if Israeli forces pull out of densely populated areas.

The American fear, shared by Israelis, is that Hamas and other militant groups that have claimed responsibility for attacks on Israelis might assume greater political power in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal. Involvement by Jordanian and Egyptian security forces could forestall that, the official said.

The administration official said that while the United States approved Israel's disengagement plan in concept, it hoped the military withdrawals would "re-energize" political and other reforms on the Palestinian side.

The failure of the Palestinian authorities to stop attacks emanating from the West Bank contributed to past breakdowns in talks with Israel." [my emphasis]

If Sharon pulls out, expect the predictable chest-beating from Jihad Islami and Hamas types about the "victory" in Gaza (similar to Hizbollah in south Lebanon).

The U.S. must expect the Palestinian Authority to mute such celebratory instincts and, indeed, expect Sharon's move to lead to a re-energization (diplo-speak for real action rather than fuzzy verbiage) of Palestinian efforts on political and security reform. Through intermediaries, this message has to be communicated to Arafat loud and clear.

One also wonders if Mohammed Dahlan's stock will rise if Sharon pulls out of Gaza.

If so, this would be a good thing. U.S. diplomats need to focus on helping a younger generation of Palestinian leaders like Dahlan get rid of corrupt, ineffective and recalcitrant Fatah veterans like Arafat and Co.

Put differently, if Arafat attempts to scuttle forward momentum post a Gaza withdrawal he needs to be further isolated. Conversely, if he proves cooperative, perhaps a slight carrot might be dangled to him (the prospects of travelling, on a case by case basis, to Gaza). Such travel should be allowed only if it is manifestly clear he is in Gaza to bolster the PA's security apparatus so as to help limit Hamas and Islamic Jihad's popularity there.

That said, I think Arafat is pretty widely scorned in Gaza, however. So it is imperative that the U.S., without picking favorites, helps create conditions for the organic development of a new generation of PA leaders like Dahlan to emerge. Credible alternatives to Hamas and Arafat need to gain political heft soonest so that a viable partner exists to negotiate with the Israelis after the prospective Gaza withdrawal.

Has the U.S. begun a systematic effort to identify 'next generation' leaders and better understand their local constituencies and motivations? I don't know, but in an election year when Bush and other senior staff will be pretty distracted, this might be the type of below the radar effort that the CIA might pursue to better inform U.S. efforts to push the peace process forward in '05.

Posted by Gregory at February 26, 2004 09:13 AM
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