Friday, August 08, 2008

The three star general of wishful thinking

Ha'aretz has a wide-ranging interview with General Keith Dayton, who is tasked with building up the PA security forces so that they can effectively defend against terror groups as well as give the IDF enough confidence to be able to leave security tasks to them.
The challenge facing him is very complicated. He must convince the Palestinians that if they manage to organize their security forces, they will be bringing statehood closer. He must show the Israelis that if they loosen their restrictions a bit, the Palestinians will prove they are a responsible neighbor, and that it is worth the Israelis' while to support the Palestinians and not focus only on Iran and the Hezbollah. He must also explain to the Congress in Washington that American taxpayers' money is not being wasted on another futile attempt at reform in the Arab world.

"We're trying to build their capacity to govern themselves, in such a way that their territory does not become a launchpad for attacks against Israel."

The question troubling Israelis is whether that force will ever be able to take responsibility, to allow us to live without fearing rockets and without the Israel Defense Forces having to maintain a presence among the Palestinians all the time.

Dayton: "I'll give you a one-word answer, which is yes, but it is going to take time. I work with your defense forces. I understand very clearly the challenges they face. But I take great inspiration from something I heard, and I've heard more than once, from [IDF chief of staff] Gabi Ashkenazi. He says: As they do more, we will do less. My goal is to give them the capability to do more, so that the IDF will do less. And I have to assume logically that, eventually, the IDF will feel comfortable that it can leave altogether. I think they can do it."
Dayton is not stupid. He is doing everything he can and in many ways he is making sure that mistakes from the past aren't repeated.

But this initiative, like all others, is doomed.

Even if we accept the premise that the PA truly wants peace - a dubious assumption at best, given their continued incitement in their media and canonization of terrorists - the fact is that the days of Fatah having a true leadership role are numbered, if not already expired.

The current PA leaders have no charisma and no message. While corruption has decreased since the heyday of Arafat, so has the PA's ability to lead the people. The simplistic Islamist and terrorist message of "destroy Israel" resonates much more deeply with the average PalArab then "say we'll destroy Israel and continue to demonize it while we work together with it to help its security and meanwhile fight against the extremists who are our fellow Muslims and Arabs whom we profess solidarity with." The PA tries to appeal to the base - which consistently supports terror attacks against Israel.

A real leader, by definition, leads. He would use his leadership abilities to convince the people to agree with him. In the Arab world, it is much easier to sway public opinion: in the late 1970s Anwar Sadat managed to convince an entire nation who were weaned on unremitting hatred towards Israel to support Camp David - and then a short time after Egypt reclaimed the Sinai, the entire nation swung almost entirely back to hatred.

The PA does not only need a real leader, but an exceptionally skilled leader who can convincingly say to his people that if they are ever going to have a chance for a state it will involve real compromise and no more sloganeering for "right of return" and "100% of the territories" which are never, ever going to happen. The choice is clear - a real state or a continuation of 60 years of limbo. The Arab world is already getting sick of the Palestinian issue in part because the PA leadership keeps on being wishy-washy.

The people who depend on the PA payroll - really welfare - go with the flow but have no enthusiasm. (The welfare component also hits at Arab pride, a factor that cannot be discounted.) Gaza showed this problem starkly; Fatah simply didn't put up a fight, even with all its support from world leaders. It doesn't matter; no matter how well trained a security force is, and no matter how good its weapons are, its members need to believe that what they are doing is right.

That belief in the cause simply does not exist among the PA security forces that General Dayton is trying so hard to shore up. He can teach them discipline and he can teach them tactics, but he cannot teach them to believe in their cause enough to die for it. This is the fundamental difference between the Islamist terror groups and today's Fatah, and that hasn't changed since Hamas' Gaza coup. Even the polls that seem to show more support for Fatah in the West Bank don't say the whole story, because the passion is overwhelmingly on the side of the Muslim extremists, and passion is what wins in the end.