August 9, 2020

The Logic of the Middle East, a prescient analysis by Prof. Barry Rubin


Residents riot during the forced evacuation of Israeli communities in Gaza, summer of 2005.

Residents riot during the forced evacuation of Israeli communities in Gaza, summer of 2005.

In light of the current situation in Israel and Gaza, the GLORIA Center is reposting Prof. Rubin’s prescient analysis of the likely situation that would emerge in Gaza following the Disengagement.  
This article is, if anything, even more relevant today than when it was first published in 2005:
August 2005
                It cannot be repeated often enough that Middle East politics are not like those of other places. They make sense once one understands the region’s history, politics, and institutions, but they defy the logic that uninformed or semi-informed outsiders expect.
                Consider, as the most recent example, Palestinian politics and the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Here is what might be expected to happen:
                “This is a step forward by Israel showing that this country is ready to make peace,” the Palestinian leader would tell his people. “We must now make the most of this opportunity in two ways.”
“First, we must encourage Israel to agree to a comprehensive deal by proving to its leaders and people that we really do accept their country’s existence and security. The best way to do this is by stopping all incitement to hate Israel and portray it as illegitimate in our media and textbooks, while showing our determination to prevent terror attacks. We will demand all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip in a Palestinian state but we will simultaneously show we are true nationalists by making it clear that all Palestinian refugees should be resettled in our own state in order to make it prosperous and successful.”
“Second, we must show the world that we are worthy and ready for a state by governing the Gaza Strip well. We will put all security forces under political control and disband the extremist militias. A stable government will be established that will not permit anarchy. We will fight corruption and use the aid money well. And we will show our commitment to democracy. We may not succeed completely but everyone will know that we have done our best and made real progress. ”
“Critical in this effort is to show our people that this great day was brought about not by murdering Israeli civilians but as an outcome of the negotiations process begun with the Oslo agreement.”
Indeed, many people in the West no doubt think that this is what already is happening. But what, in fact, is the most likely course of events in the Palestinian debate and politics?
-There will be no decline in incitement or change in the public rhetoric of Palestinian officials speaking to their own people. Thus, of course, Israeli suspicions regarding their intentions will be reinforced.
-The Palestinian movement will continue to be oriented toward conquest and revenge rather than nation-state nationalism.
-No stable government with real control over the territory will be created in the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority will not even try too hard to do that. On the contrary, it will ignore the Road Map’s provisions about stopping terrorism and disarming radical groups and simply keep insisting on getting a state right away without preconditions or concessions.
-The Israeli withdrawal will be claimed as a victory for terrorism (under the phrase revolutionary violence) thus laying the basis for more of the same.
-Palestinian security forces will stand by most of the time and do nothing as not only Hamas and Islamic Jihad but also Fatah gunmen try to attack Israel. Then the Palestinian leadership will scream when Israel retaliates. The big losers here will be the Palestinians themselves since this continuing war will destroy any chance for development.
-Anti-corruption efforts will remain tiny even in the context of modest expectations. The new aid money being offered by the West will disappear without a trace.
-The Palestinian leadership will do everything possible to avoid power-sharing, wider democracy, or fair elections. There is some good reason for this since Hamas will benefit the most if people are given a choice but a large part of the reason for that situation is precisely the current leadership’s failure to do more for the masses’ welfare.
In short, there is every reason to believe that the Palestinian leadership and movements will throw away this opportunity. If you don’t think so, let’s talk about it again in six months’ time.
Does this analysis mean Israel should not withdraw? Actually, one could argue the exact opposite. For if nothing is going to change any way why should it be bound to the status quo? Take away the excuse of “occupation” and let the world—and far more importantly the Palestinians themselves—see the real cause of their problems. Let Israel determine its best deployments and use of security resources rather than have to be permanently tied down to being in the whole Gaza Strip.
Of course, one should quickly add, that Israel largely withdrew from the territory eleven years ago when it was turned over to the tender mercies of Yasir Arafat. The presence of 7500 settlers and Israeli control over certain roads had very little effect on the Palestinian situation there. On my many trips to the Gaza Strip in the second half of the 1990s, I never saw Israeli settlers, soldiers or road blocks. It was like being in Jordan or Lebanon, a Palestinian state in all but name.
The idea at the time was that he would have to deal with schools and sewage, jobs and housing. The problem was that he and his colleagues had no interest in anything other than fighting Israel. Some of his top successors have better intentions but lack the power or determination to do better.  As a substitute, they will complain about inadequate international support, blame Israel for everything, and urge more militancy. Which side will be better off after the withdrawal? Watch the material realities, not the rhetoric to find out.
Barry Rubin was director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC).  He was the author and co-author of many books on history, politics and the Middle East.  He passed away in 2014.
About Barry Rubin

Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia at His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)