The strutting ‘new men’ of West Bank

Jamal Doumani

Samuel R. Berger and Stephen J. Hadley were at one time influential honchos in the White House, both as national security advisers, respectively to President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Both these worthies operate out of think tanks now. And both have an idea they want to share with you, which they did already on the Op-Page of the Washington Post last Thursday.
The idea? Disarm, disband and dislodge Hamas, then send the Palestinian Authority (PA) to Gaza and have its troops resume “the good cooperation with Israeli security forces” that for years has defined its tenure in the West Bank. The occupation of the West Bank had been made safe for Israel, so why not now in the Gaza Strip as well?
Have you noticed how for close to a decade no one has heard a beep from Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, as if its people had been turned into docile zombies, with little outward expression of loathing for their occupiers, a people socialized to go along with a surrounding wall, 600-plus checkpoints, an ongoing colonization project, and a network of Jews-only highways, that would have made apartheid South Africa proud? Well, you have to thank the US for all that, or more specifically Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, a three-star US army general who between 2005 and 2010 commanded a little-publicized American mission to build up security forces in the West Bank with the goal, very simply, of pursuing not only Hamas sympathizers there but dissenters of every stripe.
This was made possible after the unleashing of several “special battalions” of the so called National Security Forces, an 8,000-member gendarmerie that makes up the 35,000-strong Palestinian armed forces. The US was happy to foot the bill for their training and salaries. And these folks’ first order of business was to conduct “counter-terrorist operations”: Hamas followers were rounded up, and the group’s social institutions — charitable organizations, free clinics, food distribution centers for the needy and the like — were shut down. Al-Aqsa Brigades, a Fatah militia, was disbanded. Islamic Jihad cells were all but eliminated.
Crushing dissent, however, was not confined to these groups alone. Imams at mosques suspected of speaking up were warned to “keep it down,” at times ordered to show their sermons to the authorities in advance. Innovative political commentators were threatened (where they were not detained). Journalists were silenced. Independent activists had to contend with the midnight knock on the door. And even student leaders, with a penchant for organizing demonstrations in the streets, have had their heads hit when they were lifted and their voices silenced when they were raised. In 2011, the year the latest figures were made available, Palestinian and Israeli forces jointly took part in 1,324 coordinated operations against suspected “militant groups” or “militant individuals,” operations deemed successful.
During an address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 2010, soon after he retired and left the Middle East, Dayton bragged that senior Israeli commanders were so impressed with these Palestinian troops that they asked him “how many more of these ‘new Palestinians’ I could train, and how quickly.” Though I was discomfited at the thought of attending a lecture at an institute considered the think tank of the Israeli lobby in the US, I ate humble pie. Dayton bragged further — the man was an unrepentant bragger — that during the dreadful Gaza war the year before, in December and January, the West Bank remained quiet, though many had predicted an upsurge of violence by Palestinians to show support for their compatriots in Gaza subjected to a murderous assault by the Israeli military — a quiet achieved, all thanks to his ‘new men.’
During the question and answer period, he was asked by none other than Paul Wolfowitz, the neoconservative former deputy secretary of defense, the man who pushed the US to invade Iraq, about these alleged ‘new men’: “How many Palestinians see your people as collaborators?” Dayton hedged, claiming improbably that “each one of them believed” he was working for Palestinian statehood.
There was not then, nor is there now, of course, any thought of Palestinian statehood. The best that Palestinians could hope for, then and now, would be Benjamin Netanyahu’s “economic peace,” which stipulates that development precedes independence, a dependence that may or may not come, and if does, it will be a generation or two down the road, by which time most Palestinian land meant for a Palestinian state would’ve been gobbled up by Israeli colonists.
That is what American policy makers, including Berger and Hadley, having effectively given up on the prospect of a sovereign Palestinian homeland, have in mind for our brothers and sisters in Palestine: Put the lid on dissent and rebellion in Gaza as it had been put on the West Bank. The only place where opposition to the occupation has not yet been crushed is in that tormented enclave. So then, the answer is simple — send the ‘new men’ there and have them replicate the job they had so adequately done in the West Bank. All is well that ends well.
Hamas’s resistance to Israeli occupation may be ineffectual. Its militants may be launching largely futile homemade rockets at Israel that do little, in fact no damage, and may be doing it at an unspeakably heavy cost to the civilian population, but in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, as in the eyes of the rest of the world, Hamas fighters are not ‘new men’ whose calling in life is to act as enforcers of a brutal foreign occupation that, for well over four decades, has ravaged the patrimony and robbed the Palestinian people of their right to live as free men and women, or die as martyrs.
And, what, you ask, of the folks operating the Palestinian Authority? Oh, dear me, we no longer pay much heed to them, do we? It’s as if they are mere phantoms. And maybe they are, for all the good they have done their people. Perhaps, come to think of it, they have both outstayed their welcome and exhausted their relevance.

Courtesy Arabnews

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