Remember Yassir Arafat?
Until he was confined to a heavily damaged headquarters by the Israeli army, he traveled the world. He consulted with the Saudi king, with the princes of the Gulf Emirates, with Saddam Hussein and other Arab presidents, with European heads of state, and whoever was supposed to be in charge of the United Nations. News about those meetings dealt with one or another option the Palestinian leader was exploring at the time, and his pursuit of financial aid.
In the final analysis those trips did not seem to help the Palestinians or Arafat. When he died, his successors had to clean a few square meters of rubble from the courtyard of his headquarters in order to bury him.
Guess what Mahmoud Abbas is doing?
Currently he is traveling to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, talking about the prospects of making peace with Israel, and making peace between his party, Fatah, and with the people of Hamas who are in control of Gaza. Yemen has its own active civil war, but it has put on the table a scheme for bringing peace between Hamas and Fatah. Another proposal is for the two parties to sit together under the auspices of the Arab League, and sort out their difficulties there.
Abbas also talks to Condoleezza Rice when she visits the region, and enjoys invitations to consult with George W. Bush in the White House. In this respect, he still has more respect than Yassir Arafat in his final days.
Meanwhile, the Palestine National Authority is saying that it cannot pay its bureaucrats this month. It is Israel's fault, insofar as Israel has not transferred the moneys it collects as import duties on goods destined for Palestine. Surely this is one of the items on Abbas' agenda when he meets with the heads of all those governments, and talks with others on the telephone.
Israel's position about this flap is that as long as the Palestinian prime minister lobbies against Israel's admission to the international economic group, OECD, his government may have to do without the money expected from Israel.
I have a feeling that I am living alongside a circus, being managed by its clowns.
Israel is not a paragon of virtue or good management. The prime minister has been living for years with occasional visits from the police concerned about his financial dealings. The case currently in the headlines may be the most serious yet, and is troubling the attorney general who has to decide on the next steps toward a possible indictment.
The same attorney general has not finished with the convoluted allegations against the former president, including sexual harassment and rape.
But in contrast to the Palestinians, we have a functioning administration that collects taxes, and allocates funds to competent people who operate the public services. Israel's health and higher education programs are arguably better than those which serve the average American. Palestinians have not much of either, or anything else.
Israel has an army that can do a lot of damage in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere, but waits on the government to give it orders. Its soldiers are trained to avoid civilian casualties. When Hamas sent thousands of people toward the border with Israel, the officers of the Israeli army had to prepare their troops so that on this occasion they might have to fire on civilians.
Rather than street trials and instant executions, or prisons with open doors that we hear about in Palestine, the attorney general, police, and courts of Israel are professional, and dealing with the detritus in our public sector. A former finance minister has been indicted and is waiting for the onset of his trial. A former health minister has been found guilty, sentenced, and is waiting for the court to hear his appeal.
We are not perfect, but we are not clowns.
I will leave it to my American friends to comment on their political leaders, and the people they are dealing with who are in nominal charge of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325