Before Peace Talks, the Palestinian Authority Needs to Undergo Political Reform

President Trump is scheduled to meet today with the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas. Before discussing a renewal of the peace process, Grant Rumley argues, the U.S. must jettison the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring the Gaza Strip and focusing solely on the West Bank. Instead, he writes, the White House should pressure the PA to hold elections in both Gaza and the West Bank so that there will be a Palestinian leader with the authority to negotiate:

A renewed push for a new Palestinian political process will undoubtedly evoke memories of the George W. Bush administration, which insisted on holding elections in 2006 — with the support of Abbas—and inadvertently paved the way for a Hamas electoral victory that the U.S. then refused to recognize. But the Bush administration’s errors were tactical, not strategic. Not enough was done at the ground level to prevent Hamas’s triumph. . . .

[In the 2006] elections Hamas merely won a plurality, not a majority, of votes by gaining 44 percent to [Abbas’s Fatah party’s] 41 percent. Fatah entered the elections with deep divisions over who would be the party’s official candidates, and as such saw many of its disenfranchised members run as independents. . . . Crucial to the success of another round of elections is preventing similar disunity within Fatah.

[It will also be necessary] to place conditions on [candidates’] participation in the elections, . . . such as the renunciation of violence and adherence to the PLO’s prior agreements with Israel. Hamas officials will be posed with a dilemma: renounce violence and participate in the first free and fair elections in over a decade, or refuse and risk looking obstinate and out of touch with the Palestinian people. If the former, the U.S. should feel confident of a unified Fatah’s chances of defeating Hamas. If the latter, then the Palestinian street will see clearly which of the two major parties turned down the chances at democratic representation.

This plan is not without risks. Hamas could participate and win, Fatah could fracture at the last minute, or elections could take place only in the West Bank. And admittedly, the West Bank leadership’s incitement, endemic corruption, and payments to families of terrorists make it far from an ideal peace partner right now. Still, that should not prevent U.S. policy from thinking creatively about Gaza. A Palestinian leader needs both the willingness to sign an agreement and the ability to deliver on its implementation. That is impossible so long as a leader in the West Bank does not, at the very least, have a legitimate claim to Gaza.

Read more at Politico

More about: Donald Trump, Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Peace Process, Politics & Current Affairs

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy