Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Of Leadership and Sewage Treatment

French author Andre Gide once commented that, “It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace."

As a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat morphed from militant guerrilla leader to President of the Palestinian Authority, with responsibility for those areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. At the time, I clipped and saved a wonderful editorial cartoon (sadly, since lost) that showed Arafat slumped behind a desk with his head in his hands, looking at an in-box overflowing with unpaid bills and heaps of books and reports with titles like "Planning Effective Municipal Trash Collection" and "Principles of Sewage Treatment." The meaning of the cartoon was perfectly clear: it's easy to wage war and blame all your problems on a convenient enemy, but when you suddenly have the responsibility for solving those problems yourself, things look very different.

Things haven't changed much in the Middle East. The Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, turning the densely-populated territory over to Palestinian control. They left apartments, greenhouses, and a functioning utility infrastructure which might have served as the basis of a successful state. Gaza has, after all, about 25 miles of prime Mediterranean beachfront property which, properly developed, could alone could be worth billions of dollars in tourist income. So, what happened? The goons of Hamas, more interested in continuing to fight Israel than in improving the plight of the Palestinians, continued to use Gaza as a place from which to launch attacks against the Jewish state...resulting, of course, in repeated Israeli counterattacks. To the north in Lebanon, Hezbollah does the same thing, although with somewhat more of a veneer of public service between bouts of self-destructive violence.

Andre Gide had things right: it's easier to fight than to build. It's easier to fire people up with hate than with calls for peace and reconciliation. It's easier to build car bombs and launch rockets than to treat sewage and collect trash. It's easier to assign blame than to take responsibility.

The Israelis aren't blameless in all this, of course...I've often pointed out that they frequently act as their own worst enemies with their heavy-handed tactics against the Palestinians. But one has to wonder when enough is enough...when the Palestinian people will tire of endless conflict and turn to a leader who will direct their energies from the visceral pleasures of hate and destruction to the mundane drudgery of sewage treatment and trash collection.

Sadly, it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

These people have been fighting since the beginning of time and they likely won't stop until the end. We just have to let them do it and leave them alone.

Anonymous said...

One of your best posts. I do disagree with mistress of the dark. Actualy, the Arab Palestinians and the Jewish Palestinians got along fairly well until the 20th Century breakup of the Ottoman Empire.

All conflict in the Middle East is about who will rule, and in the non-democratic countries, this means "Who will control the wealth."

Arafat got rich on running the PLO, and now Hamas wants its share. Couldn't be put cruder than that, nor truer.

Mike said...

Don't forget you can go to this map and see who's killing who for whatever reason.