Perverse Incentives Discourage Palestinian Leaders from Making Peace

May 4, 2021 | Douglas Feith
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In a detailed analysis of the Biden administration’s emerging approach to foreign affairs in general, and the Middle East in particular, Douglas Feith sees a general inclination to pay less attention to the region, with two exceptions: nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Israel-Palestinian peace process. As far at the former is concerned, Feith concludes that “President Biden is not interested in taking advantage of Iran’s current economic vulnerabilities [and] has not shown an intention to fix the nuclear deal’s major flaws.” As for the latter, Feith offers some advice:

Palestinian strategy [has long] aimed for international pressure to do to Israel what such pressure did to South Africa’s apartheid regime—to bring it to its knees and compel it to relinquish power. The strategy became bankrupt, however, and the recent normalization deals exposed its hopelessness. If the Palestinians stick with it, it is they and not the Israelis who will suffer increasing marginalization.

The world incentivizes Palestinian leaders to perpetuate the conflict with Israel. Because they are widely celebrated as embodying an important, as-yet-unfulfilled national cause, those leaders are granted extraordinary diplomatic attention and generous financial aid, much of which they divert improperly to build huge houses for themselves in Ramallah, Gaza, and elsewhere. Were they to settle the conflict, reducing themselves to mere functionaries of a state in poor condition, they would lose much of what they value in life—international solicitude, money, and personal pride in heading what they see as a noble revolutionary struggle against a hated enemy.

Israel’s new friends in the Arab world have an interest in changing the economic and political landscape of Palestinian politics. They may be able to do so in cooperation with the United States and those foreign powers that still provide financial aid to the Palestinians. They may be able to empower Palestinians who are not enmeshed in the perverse incentive system that requires perpetuation of the conflict against Israel. Therein lies the best hope for progress toward peace.

If the Biden team has its eye on the prize, it will direct its energies not at recreating the old “peace process” but at working with Arab states to encourage the rise of new Palestinian leaders.

Feith’s essay can be found on p. 27 of the document linked below.

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