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The Palestinian Catastrophe

Scott MacLeod writes at Time's Middle East weblog:

The Palestinian Catastrophe: Arab satellite channels carried live pictures from Gaza of dozens of journalists trapped inside a building and ducking to the floor to shield themselves a little better from the blasts of rocket and gun fire outside. The dramatic images perfectly captured the sorry state of Palestinian affairs.... Palestinian journalists who risk their lives to inform the world about the tragic struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, now cowering on the floor as the leading Palestinian factions try to wipe each other out....

The timing of the latest outbreak of factional killing, which has left nearly 50 Palestinians dead, made it as ironic as it was pathetic. Tuesday was the 59th anniversary of... the founding of Israel and wartime exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. A day earlier, European foreign ministers held a first-ever collective meeting in Brussels Monday with their Arab counterparts to discuss the 2002 Arab peace initiative.... But... Israel didn't need to complain there was "no Palestinian partner for peace." The Palestinians themselves, it seems, illustrated that to the world....

To be fair, of course, the Palestinians are in miserable straits. Years of Israeli and U.S. neglect of the peace process have contributed to destructive political, economic and social pressures within Palestinian society. The reasons for the breakdown in Palestinian cohesion is similar to what happened in Iraq. Years of sanctions and isolation weakened Iraqi society to the point that when Saddam fell, chaos ensued. Unrelenting violence and poverty has done the same in Gaza now. It has scarcely helped that Israel and the U.S. have made a practice of refusing to talk to Palestinian leaders, or that they have effectively embargoed Palestine since the democratic victory of Hamas last year.

Yet... leaders and political groups have to earn respect.... Mandela and freedom-seeking South Africans... somehow managed to keep their dignity and honor. If the Palestinians can't produce leaders who serve rather than spoil their just cause, they may be in store for some more catastrophes still.

It was a much nearer-run thing in South Africa than MacLeod admits to himself: too much "necklacing." And MacLeod soft pedals his conclusion. He doesn't say that only with peace and order in a Palestine-ruled Gaza is there a chance for progress on any issue involving the West Bank. But that is the case. I would not have thought that the Palestinians could have worse "leadership" than Yasser Arafat. Yet that is the case today.