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Thursday, June 28, 2007

American and Palestinian Arab slums

Gaza and the West Bank are reminiscent of American inner cities in the 60s and 70s. No authority figures, no leadership, poverty, rampant crime, extraordinarily dangerous, ruled by gangs, and the complete absence of any sort of justice. In addition, the criminals are quick to blame the rest of the world for their actions while the innocent residents are stuck with nowhere else to go.

The differences between the two cases are perhaps more enlightening. . Slums were cleaned up by a combination of innovative economic programs, grass-roots volunteerism and outside investment. But in the end, the people who were vital to cleaning up drug-infested neighborhoods were the residents themselves. There were still a significant number of residents who got used to the welfare culture and who had little interest in doing work - they got their food and a little money for doing nothing, which seems like a great deal. Yet a significant number of American slum residents still managed to get to real jobs, to interact with the rest of society and to have hope for the future; they were the heroes who finally stood up to the gangs and put in the hard work necessary to fix up and beautify their neighborhoods.

In the end, those who feel the most entitled are the worst people to have around when a society needs fixing.

Since the Intifada, the Palestinian Arabs are now far more dependent on the world's largesse than any slum community ever was. They have been told for years by the world that a Palestinian Arab state is inevitable and will happen no matter what - sometimes, even within specified timetables. Their once proud Arab culture has been transformed into a series of giant ghettos with pockets of normalcy amongst the twin cultures of death and entitlement.

Before 2000, even though their leaders had little interest in truly building a state, they at least had hope - they had jobs, they had an economy, they had some measure of pride. But we are going on to seven years now of the Palestinian Arab welfare state - billions of dollars thrown into compensate for the economic catastrophe that the Intifada wrought.

The American ghettos still had a critical mass of people who were willing to stand up and take responsibility. The PA ghettos have raised an entire generation of people who not only feel that they are owed everything, but that the violence that caused their problems is laudable and heroic.

Up until 2006, one could still sympathize with the presumed majority of innocent Palestinian Arabs who just wanted to live their lives and raise their families. But it has become clear since then that the majority has shifted, that the culture of death (from the most respected religious figures) and entitlements (from the UN, the EU and the world) has become the major driving forces in the Palestinian Arab psyche. Hamas' victories in 2006 may have been a backlash against Fatah corruption but it is also an indication of the value that this society places on pure terror. It is not surprising that this twin culture has spawned deadly infighting.

If Tony Blair succeeds in building up the economy of the PA it would be a win-win for all the parties involved (besides the terrorists.) In the end, however, the major ingredient for fixing the PA will not come from without but from within, and right now it doesn't look like there are enough people left in the territories to stand up and do what is necessary. Until real eaders emerge, until personal responsibility becomes the norm again, all the money in the world will not only be wasted on the Palestinian Arabs but it will entrench the twin cultures of death and entitlement.