This note was written in August 2006 following the earlier (October 2005) posting of a brief history of the Israeli Palestinian conflict: “The View from the West Bank – a history of the conflict”
Hi from Jerusalem (East Jerusalem for those of you in the know),
After leading the IMF technical assistance teams that helped establish the Palestine Monetary Authority in 1995 and 96, I returned a year ago to prepare a blue print for the steps needed for the PMA to introduce its own currency some time in the (ever more) distant future. People in the West Bank and Gaze largely use the Israeli shekel and to a lesser extent the Jordanian dinar for payments and contracts. Keeping the notes in good condition and clearing checks in shekel requires arrangements with Israeli banks. These banks recently notified the PMA that they intend to end these arrangements soon. I have returned to help the PMA figure out what to do.
The political situation in and around Israel has gone from bad to worse, to much worse. You may substitute Iraq for Israel in the previous sentence as well. When Palestinians democratically elected representatives of Hamas in enough numbers to take over the government of the West Bank and Gaze (the Palestine National Authority) from the ineffective and corrupt government of Al-Fatah (Arafat’s party), political life for Israel and the West became more complicated. The military wing of Hamas is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, as is Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group sponsored by Iran and Syria. Hezbollah also has democratically elected representatives in the Lebanese Parliament.
Israel is now at war with Hezbollah and more or less with Hamas. At least one well-known American commentator argued that Israel has a moral right to defend its borders and thus to attack Lebanon (its bombs have fallen on far more than its Hezbollah enemy). This totally and tragically misses the point. Israel is again acting against its own interests, which in the case of Hezbollah is to help build a strong Lebanese government and army that can disarm Hezbollah (as demanded by the UN) and enforce a peaceful and secure border with Israel.
I shudder at those who argue that (if you are strong enough) you just need to smash your enemies. Be tough. They don’t seem to live in the same world I do. Can the Shi’a Muslim Iraqis who now dominate the Iraqi government really wipe out all Sunni Muslim terrorists in Iraq or can the Sunni and Christian Lebanese and the Jewish Israeli’s really wipe out the Shi’a Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon? Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze community and a harsh critic of Hezbollah stated Saturday that “We have to acknowledge that they [Hezbollah] have defeated the Israelis….” Being tough and launching war on Hezbollah/Lebanon has greatly weakened Israel (militarily, economically, and politically), just as the miscalculated U.S. attack on Iraq has weakened America (militarily, economically, and politically). These acts of war have weakened the security of both of our countries, not strengthened it.
Wars between tribes and religious factions can only be “won” diplomatically. The infamous Hatfields and McCoys ended their vicious cycle of feuding only when they mutually came to accept that they would never succeed in totally exterminating the other. There would always be a son, or a relative, or a friend of a son left somewhere to carry on the hatred and revenge. The famous feud ended only when a combination of carrots and sticks and harsh experience led both sides to accept a credible truce as the best that they could do. Read or watch again Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and weep.
A few weeks ago I watched a TV reality show called “The Nanny” (please done ask me why). In the show the well-meaning and conscientious parents of three little monsters were sinking into despair as their spoiled and confused kids walked all over them. The parents were not dumb, but they were failing as parents. My first reaction was that the Third Geneva Convention (on the Treatment of Prisoners of War) should be suspended for these awful brats. Where is George W when we could really use him? The British Nanny brought in to save this family, was wise indeed. She found as many ways to pull out and encourage the cooperation of the children (carrots) as she did to establish clearer and more consistent rules and punishments for violating them (sticks). In short, she found the right balance of incentives that encouraged these children to redirect their considerable energies into positive and pleasant behavior that became a joy to be around. It was brilliant. It is what societies need as well—values and rules under which everyone can get along. I am sure that you have seen perfectly behaved but regimented and dull children and laud, rude and out of control ones and said to yourself, please don’t make me have to be around either.
My boss in Baghdad emailed me last week: “Please don’t go to Jerusalem. I don’t think that you will be safe there. Come back to Baghdad.” She has quit a sense of humor. The security situation in Iraq has finally degenerated beyond my comfort level and I have not returned to Baghdad since December despite many requests to do so. I have been highly critical of that war, when we should be fighting Al-Quaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere (they didn’t exist in Iraq until we attacked it). And I have been even more critical of our ineffective follow-on efforts to establish a stable democracy there. However, there is one aspect of our conduct of that war I am proud of.
Every war has produced atrocities (torture, rape, murder, etc). It is a tragic and unavoidable part of war. We are again seeing examples of this ugly fact with the revelations of the killing of 24 Iraqis, mainly women and children, by American Marines in Haditha in the heat of war. The rape of an Iraqi girl and murder of her family by an American solder (Steven D. Green) in Mahmoudiya was purely criminal. Four of his U.S. Army buddies have also been arrested in connection with those crimes. Iraqis are not surprised that Americans have done these things (in very limited quantities). But they are surprised at the openness with which we expose and punish them. We can be very proud of that. It gives credence to our belief that we try to live by high principles.
Our principles of government revere openness and honesty—what more recently has come to be known as “transparency.” We can thank our free press for making that principle meaningful. While the most professional, well-trained, and well armed military in the history of mankind protects our freedom from attacks from abroad, the most professional and dedicated press in the world protects us from attacks on your freedom at home. Our practice of transparency is the ultimate check and balance on government (or corporate or labor) abuse. When combined with the high standards that guide our military leaders, transparency has helped contain the abuses of power that exist in every military, police force, and government. Three cheers for our free press.
I hope that all is well with you.