Jan 21 2010
The Palestinian-run territory of Gaza is now essentially a pre-industrial state, where pack mules ferry smuggled goods on broken streets in the midst of ruins that have not been cleared since Operation Cast Lead. But as bad as things are now, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. It doesn’t help when Canadian politicians like the NDP’s Libby Davies, the Bloc Quebecois’ Richard Nadeau and Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj give the downtrodden Gazans incentives to keep doing the exact same thing they’ve been doing, while hoping for a different result than what they’ve been getting.
It’s not just dishonest. This perverse strategy is helping keep Palestinians in a world of hurt. It’s time for the do-gooders of the world to level with the Gazans and give them some real incentives for change – in this case, the dismantling of Hamas – that will give them a real chance at a future.
Freakonomics and Middle East Politics
What’s this about incentives? In Freakonomics, economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner collaborated to help explain how the world works by applying economic theory. One of the main premises of the book is that given the right incentives, you can change behavior. It’s not exactly a new idea. But the entertaining examples made this book an international bestseller.
Professional baseball players will juice up to hit more home runs so they can boost their salary by millions of dollars. When you give bonuses to high-performing teachers, some of those educators will simply inflate grades. On a more dire note, if the incentive to act like a second-class citizen is to avoid a lynching, terrorized citizens will avoid polling stations at election time and bite their tongues as they are ordered to the back of the bus.
Change the incentives and you’ll change the behavior. Institute an ironclad testing regimen, clawback of wages and automatic jail time for athletes using steroids, you just might see the end of juicing. Find an algorithm to figure out which teachers are cheating and get rid of them; the other teachers will get the message. Put boots on the ground to enforce the rule of law and provide real support for civil rights and a formerly brutalized population will happily make use of their freedoms.
The people of Gaza are not immune to the economic laws that govern the behavior of the rest of us. Give them incentives to do what they have to do to end the blockade — namely the rejection of the fascist, thuggish regime of Hamas — and they will do it. Conversely, if respected leaders from the West go in and tell them that they don’t have to do anything, and eventually the Israelis will cave, Palestinians will take that free lunch.
Canadian Politicians Helping Perpetuate Palestinian Misery Through Dishonesty
Today, the motley crew of Canadian MPs mentioned above will attend Toronto’s Ryerson University to deliver a report on what they saw on a fact-finding mission to the West Bank and Gaza, subsidized by stalwartly even-handed organizations including the Canadian Arab Federation, Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and Code Pink.
The main recommendations to parliament from the report? No surprises, here. Canada should hand over a big bag of cash to UNRWA, an agency that could be argued has only perpetuated Palestinian misery. Our diplomats should formally register our opposition to the security barrier, originally put up to protect Israelis from a wave of suicide bombings in restaurants and nightclubs.
In regard to Gaza, these MPs want the government to “assert that an end to the blockade on Gaza is an urgent and necessary means by which to normalize the day to day living conditions of people living in Gaza and to restore the civil and economic infrastructure of Gaza.” And finally, these politicians support a policy roughly akin to that asked for by the multi-headed boycott Israel campaign.
These recommendations are ultimately meant to provide incentives for Israeli leaders to change their behavior. Most immediately, this would mean ending the blockade and take down the wall. That would be a perfectly ethical and reasonable position to take if these barriers were put up purely to make Palestinians miserable. But as we know, the blockade was put up by the Israelis for the same reason that Canadian soldiers put up walls around their compounds in Afghanistan — when the walls aren’t there, psychotic losers are more likely to wander in with a rifle or belt of dynamite and try to kill everyone. As regards the hardships experienced in the “day to day living conditions of people living in Gaza”, well, that’s what the blockade was meant to do, as a means of pressuring the Palestinian people to reject their thuggish, torturing fascist overlords. The basic idea behind blockades and sanctions has always been to squeeze the other side until they crack. Undermining the blockade only makes it easier for Hamas to claim victory and carry on with business as usual; meaning a modicum of power for the top thugs and misery for everyone else.
But where are the incentives for Palestinians to change their behavior? There are none mentioned in this report. In fact, the one key solution that stands a very good chance of getting the blockade lifted is studiously ignored.
Hamas is mentioned just once in this report to parliament: “We wish to make it clear that during our visit we did not meet with representatives of either the Government of Israel or Hamas.” In contrast, Israel is mentioned 79 times.
How do you provide real incentives for change when the stumbling block for progress is treated as though it doesn’t exist?
Get rid of Hamas – or just get Hamas’ leadership to stop calling for the destruction of the Jewish state – and the misery for Palestinians starts to end. The blockade goes away. The economy gets back to work. Poor Palestinian kids who had the awful luck to be born in a permanent refugee camp don’t go hungry anymore. People start thinking about a future that doesn’t involve sleeping rough in missile-blast craters beneath a torn plastic sheet.
What’s Taking Them So Long?
When you don’t present incentives for Palestinians to change their behavior, the implicit understanding is that Palestinians are not masters of their own fate. Democratically-elected Canadian dupes continue to burnish this lie, treating the Palestinians as unthinking pawns who must be patient as others help them behind the scenes:
“Just be patient… we’ll make your oppressors go away. The ICJ is keeping Israeli politicians and soldiers sleepless nights. The United Nations Human Rights Commission is condemning Israel on your behalf every other week. We’re keeping the pressure on. Just you wait…”
Why do the Palestinians not act? Getting a job, being able to provide for your family, enjoying freedom from thugs and torturers are obvious incentives. But for years, politicians and activists have been lying to the Palestinians, telling them they don’t need to change — that they can’t change, that it is the oppressor who must change. Believing these lies, they have no incentive to act:
“You can have freedom, prosperity, a state of your own. Look at your proud legacy of resistance. If your enemies haven’t broken you yet, how can you give up now? Don’t give an inch. Don’t change a thing. You are an inspiration to us. In return, we will win your freedom.”
Truth Be Told
But the game is up. Those who truly want to advocate for the Palestinians have to be willing to tell them the truth:
“The Israelis are exhausted. They’re tired and demoralized from constantly getting slammed as the new Nazis. Some of them really are concerned about these talks of boycotts and extraditing their leaders.
“But they will never, never, never end the blockade. Never take down their wall. Never allow you to have a state where you and your children can be free. They will never do these things, unless you formally reject those who are sworn to destroy them. So you’ve got just two paths out of this living hell. The first is to convince your leaders to give up their maximalist position, recognize Israel and end the violence.
“You’ll probably want to try the first option, since the second way is quite a bit messier. That is, you’ll need to shoot every Hamas official you can find until the rest get on board with your plan. Don’t have a gun? Stab them in the gut. Throw them off a building. Beat them with frying pans. Whatever it takes.
“Anyway, those are your options. Good luck with that, because I really can’t help you. As usual, you’re on your own.”
Those who call themselves friends to the Palestinian people, including our own parliamentarians, now need to tell them the truth. They need to make sure they understand their incentives to get rid of Hamas and to do it quickly. When the Palestinians stop waiting for the international community to pressure Israel to subvert its own security and instead are prepared to do what is necessary to give their children a future, they will take charge of their own destiny.