Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks is a classic story of a family that opens with a great celebration of wealth and success and proceeds to its downfall.
From what we are hearing from reliable sources, that is the model likely to develop after Mahmoud Abbas' celebrations for achieving Palestinian statehood from the UN General Assembly.
Don't ask for documentation for what follows. The details come in part from people who talk to people close to the action. The overall picture makes sense, but some of it is fuzzy, and it may not develop as will be laid out below.
The image portrayed is of a regime--Abbas' Fatah Party government in the West Bank--propped up financially by the US, European governments and Israel--that has exhausted the tolerance of its backers, cannot pay salaries, hasn't had an election for leadership since Abbas' term expired four years ago, and is behind in the polls--by some reports 70-30 to Hamas.
Israel is responding to Abbas' pursuit of UN recognition by deducting the Palestinians' electric bill and other obligations from the taxes collected from imports for Palestine coming through Israeli ports. Employees of the Palestine Authority won't be getting full paychecks, or maybe no paychecks.
The great hope of the West--a Palestinian leadership that swears by peaceful means rather than violence--continues to find reasons for not moving toward negotiations. Yet it is to push toward negotiations that has been the justification for the US and European governments to provide Abbas et al with financial support. Muslim governments have promised money, but have stopped delivering. They see Hamas as the wave of the future, and are sending money to Gaza.
Arab Spring may have come from Barack Obama's Cairo speech. He and his supporters still say that it is the onset of democracy. If democracy is in the future, however, the near term has been victories for Islamic parties in Tunis, Egypt, and expected to come from the bloody chaos of Syria. Rich Muslims can read the cards as well as anyone. Those among them concerned with religious extremism are following the established practice of contributing to the least undesirable, and hoping for the best. At the least, their money may provide them with protection from the rising tide.
The West Bank has a corrupt leadership that uses power to enrichen itself and family members. Authorities do not press for tax payments. They have learned to rely totally on outside support, but if that ends history will go forward without them.
Hamas has acquired a reputation for collecting taxes, improving welfare and education. Albeit the welfare programs are meant to buy support and the education provided is religious and extremist. However, it is not all that different from education in the West Bank whose textbooks glorify a Palestinian narrative with maps of the region that omit Israel.
What does this mean for Israel?
Western minders might want Israel to soften its demands, sweeten by a great deal the offers made to Palestinians in 2000 and 2007, hope that Abbas accepts them and that outsiders continue to bankroll a regime that does not support itself despite tangible signs of private investments and improved living standards.
Would this be better for Israel than the spread of Hamas to the leadership of all Palestine?
How much would Israel have to sacrifice for the sake of Abbas and his successors in Fatah, which by the most generous interpretation are about as humane, democratic, and responsive as the government of Hosni Mubarak?
Stop settlement expansion where it is, and turn over to Palestine some acreage equivalent to the size of the large settlement blocs?
Accept the idea of Palestinian control of the Jordan Valley and enough of Jerusalem to call it their capital?
Not something to be conceded in the early stages of negotiations, and perhaps not at all if Likud remains in control and takes seriously the slogan of a united Jerusalem under Israeli control.
Accept Palestinian "refugees" and their descendants moving back to Israel?
This may be a deal breaker. Abbas says that he does not want to return to Safed, but lots of Palestinians continue to demand residence where they or their grandparents lived.
Withdraw some 50,000 or more Jewish settlers beyond the security barrier?
Not likely in the wake of what followed the withdrawal of settlements from Gaza.
Decide that Islamication is the inevitable wave, and accept Hamas' spread to the West Bank on the assumption that it will behave itself under a balance of threat?
The cease fire in Gaza is not yet a month into its trial period. Too early to declare it as a reliable model for all of Palestine.
Will Israel's election return to power a more centrist-leftist coalition more capable than the incumbants of reaching agreement with Abbas and/or living at peace with a Palestine governed by Hamas?
So far the polls are showing that Israel's next government will resemble its present government. The competing parties of Labor, Lapid, and Livni have recruited some attractive people to their lists of candidates, but rivalry remains the theme among their leaders. A day after Labor's primary there was a nasty confrontation between leaders of two factions within the party over basic issues of strategy and policy direction. Those optimistic of a centrist-leftist coalition must also include the Arab parties in their grouping, and that is on the border--or beyond the border--of realism. The prospect requires a shift in the self-conception of Arab party leaders. And even the prospect might move Jewish voters further to the right.
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