Arab Responsibility

Thomas Friedman [RSS] is wildly optimistic about the future of Palestine.

There is nothing like the burden of responsibility to promote accountability. Ariel Sharon has declared his intention to withdraw Israeli forces and settlements from the Gaza Strip — without any formal agreement with the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon has given up on negotiating with Arafat, let alone Hamas, but he finally understands that Israel cannot go on controlling all these Palestinian lands and remain a Jewish democracy. So he is unilaterally pulling out of Gaza, just as his predecessor, Ehud Barak, pulled out of South Lebanon: you want it, it’s yours.

What the Haaretz story tells me is that Arafat and Hamas understand two things: One, the morning after Israel’s pullout, they will get to pat themselves on the back for being Gaza’s liberators. And two, the morning after the morning after, the Gazans will be tapping Arafat and Hamas leaders on their shoulders to ask for jobs, water and electricity. Yes, Arafat and Hamas will continue to blame Israel for shortages of all those things, but those charges won’t quite fly once the Israelis pull out — provided Israel is smart and allows Gaza openings to the world so it doesn’t become just a big prison, and Israel also withdraws settlements from the West Bank.

I hope he’s right. This sounds plausible and is consistent with how politics works all over the world–including the Third World. Except the Arab Middle East. Conceding up front that Friedman knows far more about the region than I do–while I have taken cabs in Cairo, I’ve never actually interviewed a cab driver–his belief that Arab leaders will take responsibility for their own actions and not persuade their people that Israel, the United States, or the wrath of Allah is responsible for whatever misery exists strikes me as inconsistent with the entirety of their history.

Friedman extends his reasoning to the turnover of sovereignty in Iraq to the locals. Again, I agree with him that Iraqis will not feel a sense of responsibility for their own situation as long as the U.S. is in charge and will blame us for everything that’s wrong until we leave. I’m just less optimistic that than he is that they’ll stop blaming us then. After all, we’re still hearing complaints about the impact of colonialism for problems in the region, even though the last colonialist left decades ago.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.