Why the West Bank is not like West Berlin

Last week, Hamas took control of Gaza. Now, writes Helene Cooper in the New York Times, the Bush administration’s reaction is all about “West Bank First”: The United States and Europe appear in agreement that perhaps the only way to salvage some advantage from the Hamas victory in Gaza is to bolster Mr. Abbas in ...

601102_070619_brandt_05.jpg
601102_070619_brandt_05.jpg

Last week, Hamas took control of Gaza. Now, writes Helene Cooper in the New York Times, the Bush administration's reaction is all about "West Bank First":

The United States and Europe appear in agreement that perhaps the only way to salvage some advantage from the Hamas victory in Gaza is to bolster Mr. Abbas in the West Bank, in order to provide Palestinians there and in Gaza with a preview of what life could be like with a pro-Western government in charge.

Let's set aside the fact that Abbas was in charge of a "pro-Western government" for years, and little good came of it—in fact, Hamas's electoral victory was the result. The emerging U.S. plan recalls American strategy during the Cold War: Keep West Berlin shiny and wealthy—as West Berlin's mayor Willy Brandt preached—and it will be a display window for East Germans and the rest of the communist world to envy.

Last week, Hamas took control of Gaza. Now, writes Helene Cooper in the New York Times, the Bush administration’s reaction is all about “West Bank First”:

The United States and Europe appear in agreement that perhaps the only way to salvage some advantage from the Hamas victory in Gaza is to bolster Mr. Abbas in the West Bank, in order to provide Palestinians there and in Gaza with a preview of what life could be like with a pro-Western government in charge.

Let’s set aside the fact that Abbas was in charge of a “pro-Western government” for years, and little good came of it—in fact, Hamas’s electoral victory was the result. The emerging U.S. plan recalls American strategy during the Cold War: Keep West Berlin shiny and wealthy—as West Berlin’s mayor Willy Brandt preached—and it will be a display window for East Germans and the rest of the communist world to envy.

Brandt’s strategy was an amazing success. So would what worked for West Berlin be good for the West Bank as well?

Probably not. Unlike Brandt’s, Mr. Abbas’s authority in the West Bank is not unchallenged; unlike East Germany’s government, Hamas has been democratically elected; unlike in Cold War Europe, there are three major players in the Palestinian Occupied Territories: Fatah, Hamas, and Israel.

But most importantly, “West Bank First” means isolating the enemy, Hamas, whereas Brandt’s approach, known as Ostpolitik, was one of opening to the enemy, socialist Germany. No matter how rich and shiny, a display ain’t that inviting if it carries a big sign saying “Keep Out.” And that’s probably what the West Bank would look like to the Palestinians in Gaza (which, by the way, is 40 miles away from the West Bank).

Erica Alini is a Rome-based researcher for the Associated Press.

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