Why are Palestinians Killing Each Other in Gaza: Pollak Takes on Yglesias

Noah Pollak takes on Matthew Ygliesias at Michael Totten’s blog:

Who is responsible for Gaza? A reply to Matthew Yglesias

Read the whole thing, but for here, the conclusion:

There is something very consistent about governance in the Arab world. Among the Arab countries today in which there is a modicum of internal stability, each is controlled by an Arafat-type figure — an anti-democratic strongman who is able to crush all challenges to his authority. Likewise, among those Arab countries that aren’t ruled by a despot, the political dynamic is also consistent: In Lebanon, Iraq, and now Gaza, sectarian violence is the dominant form of political expression. It’s true that Arafat’s authority was weaker in Gaza than in the West Bank, but in Gaza there was always another strongman present to keep a lid on things: the Israeli occupation. When Israel disengaged in the summer of 2005, suddenly Gaza was without any master at all, and that’s exactly when the territory started going full-tilt toward the Hobbesian state of nature it now finds itself in.

And so to blame recent Bush administration choices for this lawlessness — or more precisely, to invent stories about administration choices — is more than a bit much. Even if the PA elections in 2006 hadn’t occurred, I doubt the battle we are seeing today wouldn’t have happened. The fight is foreordained by Gaza’s demography, its political and religious extremism, Arafat’s death, and Israel’s unwillingness to police the territory. The Bush administration is simply along for the ride — as is Israel. And the reason why Abbas has never been able to emerge as a leader of the Palestinians is because his weakness is similarly foreordained. Consensus-based political leadership is anathema to the Arab world. We’re seeing that rather starkly today in Gaza.

All of that said, I think that Yglesias ends up being partially right (even though he doesn’t mean to be) when he lays the lawlessness in Gaza at Bush’s feet. The sad truth is that Gaza today is a testament to the failure of the entire 14-year project of creating the Palestinian Authority, retrieving Arafat from exile, and attempting to drag the Arabs of Palestine, against their will, into western political modernity. This process was started, and most forcefully pushed forward, by the Clinton administration, and today its corpse is still being dragged around the Middle East, Weekend at Bernie’s-style, by Condoleezza Rice.

Readers might be surprised to hear — Mr. Yglesias probably among them — that less than a year ago, Yglesias wrote the following: “I happen to think the White House made the right call on the question of Palestinian elections — even in retrospect, even knowing that Hamas won.” A couple of days ago, he called these administration officials “morons” for having supported the very same elections that he now condemns. I know it’s best to just hurry past the contradictions, especially when they involve the reshuffling of positions in order to condemn the Bush administration. But it is too enjoyable to avoid the conclusion that here, Yglesias is calling himself names.

This last point gets at a key issue: it is at least my impression that if anyone had said that democracy couldn’t work in Iraq because of cultural factors particular to Arabs a decade ago, they’d have been called racists by the same people who heap abuse on Bush for being so stupid as to think that democracy can work in the Arab world.

Also, don’t miss Michael Totten’s own photo-essay on Gaza: The Story of Gaza.

16 Responses to Why are Palestinians Killing Each Other in Gaza: Pollak Takes on Yglesias

  1. fp says:


    as i stated on Totten’s blog, MSM journalists like Yglesias are utterly ignorant about foreing culture, events and policy. like jeff, they rely on “common sense”, intuition and the media itself to produce their output. consequently, they cannot assess properly events, so they fluctuate in the wind, depending on circumstances on the ground. they tend to project american concepts on everything.

    thus, yglesias started with the american elections are good, democracy=elections, palestinians are just like us. he was blind to the reality on the ground. when the outcome was bad — as any knowledgeable about the ME knew, he turned around and blamed the us govt for screwing up (which is easy for a journalist).

    iow, yglesias in essence suffers from the same ignorance as the govt. this is exactly what MSM did with regards to iraq. had both been knowledgeable about the ME and able to reason properly, neither would have behaved the way they did.

  2. Joanne says:

    It’s amazing how a lack of knowledge can make one so credulous. When I read Pollak’s quote from Yglesias, the latter’s argument sounded superficial but somewhat convincing.

    Then I read Pollak’s analysis. The facts he gave–especially regarding the events that had strengthened Hamas before the election–made me change my mind 180 degrees. Now, maybe there’s someone out there who can provide more facts and details that would gainsay Pollak’s conclusions. I don’t know.

    I was reminded, however, of why discussions of Middle East politics can be so shrill and tendentious. I’m sure a lot of people, like me, have some knowledge of ME politics but are not immersed in it. They know enough to follow the arguments of commentators and pundits, but not enough to rigorously evaluate them. So, they can be swayed by people whose talent for polemics eclipses flawed analysis. It’s a question of a little knowledge being more dangerous than none at all.

  3. Sophia says:

    I have questions for fp, rl, Joanne, et.al., and they overlap with the current Lebanon issue as well as with Gaza.

    This bears on the idea of Palestinian integration into other Arab states, UNWRA, UNCHR, and the eventual creation of a monster, ie the “camps”, which in Lebanon at least aren’t even under Lebanese sovereignty.

    First: I was doing some research last night and came across an assertion that the Arab refugees from the 1948/49 war resisted the idea of settlement elsewhere, and that is why UNWRA was created – just to try and keep them alive in the short term. I don’t think anybody expected this to go on for 60 years but it has; and the core argument – the Hamas argument – was there from the beginning: Israel cannot exist as a Jewish state.

    Which brings me to the second question: why is this a big surprise now? Haven’t we just been deluding ourselves thinking the PLO was a moderate party? Has there really been an evolution in Palestinian thinking or is Abbas just a thin cover for a majority unwilling to give up “liberating” all of Israel?

    Also, reading about the history of PLO, PLFP, PDLFP, it seems there’s been an organic progression to Hamas/Hezbollah and even more violent groups and of course religion is now explicit whereas many previous groups were affiliated with the hard Left. But where along the line could this have been averted?

    The only place I see was a brief moment, maybe in the 1950’s, where the Lebanese restrictions against Palestinians holding jobs, etc, MIGHT have changed the equation, at least in Lebanon. But I have also read the the Palestinians themselves rejected modernization of the camps, even tore down trees that were planted, refused upgrades to the sewers. If this is so the “apartheid” in Lebanon is still appalling to our eyes – but it’s clear there’s another side to the story. And it is easier to understand in light of the undermining of Lebanese sovereignty by the Palestinian militias, who attacked Israel and Lebanese as well with the support of Nasser and other Arab leaders regardless of Lebanese wishes. Also there was a lot of incitement from the Left – the revolutionary Left (not the warm and fuzzy American Left! – I’m beginning to see there is a big difference.)

    So – where do we go from here? Is there any sign at all that people in the camps are willing to compromise and integrate with host states or elsewhere? Or is this a situation that is now utterly beyond hope, if only because the population of refugees has now become generations and a few hundred thousand, millions?

  4. Giardo says:

    I had no idea that Yglesias was such a lightweight. Atlantic must have no idea either.

    Palestinians are all about killing. If they are not killing someone, they don’t feel fulfilled. They even dress their own babies up in suicide bomber’s outfits, for the sake of Allah!

  5. Joanne says:

    “So, where do we go from here?” Good question, Sophia. As for the answer, I don’t have a clue. Sorry.

    What’s more, I don’t see things improving any time soon. Many people say that the growing violence and the hardline rejection of Israel is a result of the desperation of the Palestinians living under occupation. But I wonder.

    Sometimes I think it’s not desperation that eggs them on, but the smell of victory. Palestinian leaders misinterpreted the Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza as signs of weakness. They also feel that time is on their side because of demographic trends, as the Palestinian birthrate is higher than that of the Israelis. And they probably see Israeli society as too soft and decadent. So they think that if they keep attacking, and keep making life more and more difficult for Israelis, they’ll eventually win.

    In the first Intifada, they learned that using children was a tremendous propaganda boost. More recently, they learned of the value of suicide bombers. Now you have Iran playing a roll, not only with Hezbollah but with Hamas too. It seems to get worse and worse. I don’t know what the answer is.

  6. fp says:


    exactly right.

    i will add to that the crisis of leadership in israel, the european useful idiots with their anti-zionist ideology, the decline of america’s power due to its ignorant policies and the rise of islamism around the world.

    it is wishful thinking to interpret the societal collapse in gaza as some sort of bottom which will make hamas and the other terror groups sober up. they are where they want to be — in control — and they care very little about the population.

    Destroying israel has always been much more important than building their own state, otherwise they would have had one a long time ago.

  7. Stan says:

    You are wrong. Many people (including myself) never thought democracy could work in Iraq. And yes, I think Bush is stupid for thinking it can.


  8. fp says:


    dk who you say is wrong.

    if you mean my comments about being wrong about iraq, there are always exceptions, but that’s precisely what they are: not the rule.

    the rule is that the most americans do not know or care about foreign cultures and policy. whatever they know is superficial and either based on what the govt or the media says. and as I keep saying, it’s a result of a failed educational system.

    if you’ve ever watched those tv street polls, where people are asked simple questions and they have no clue, that’s what I am talking about.

    had the us had a well educated population, government and media it would have been extremely difficult for iraq to happen.

    even now as we speak, the govt and the media are funding and supporting jihadis in the us and they don’t even realize it. i have plenty of examples if you’d like.

    it’s due to ignorance.

  9. fp says:

    correction: not just in the us, but abroad too.

  10. RL says:

    extremely interesting string of comments. i’ll answer sophia’s separately. right now i’d like to address the issue referred to often enough as naivete or (JeffB’s) “common sense.” i have written about this as “cognitive egocentrism” a term initially coined to describe the way a teenage male with sex on his mind 90% of the time just assumes that it’s on everyone’s mind.

    the kind of liberal cognitive egocentrism that we are addressing here is doubly problematic. on the one hand it represents an enormous accomplishment, the acceptance of “live and let live… do not to onto others what you don’t want done onto you…” as a default social mode is a tremendous achievement which permits the creation of civil societies. in this sense it’s something close to a miracle.

    in a working civil society this attitude makes astonishing things possible — levels of social cooperation, academic research, high levels of production, market sophistication, large urban settlement, etc. — that more distrustful and hierarchical societies cannot achieve. so we, who are raised with this attitude as a default, assume that anyone looking at the superiority of civil societies, will agree and want the same thing.

    what we fail to appreciate is how tenacious the predatory in most human societies, how even as self-defense, predatory behavior is the norm “rule over the other lest the other rule over me.” we who have been raised to cooperate cannot imagine how powerful really nasty forms of competition can be.

    then we have the problem of moral superiority. there’s no doubt that by “progressive” standards, the substitution of mutual respect for the “laws of the jungle” is of course an enormous step forward. (aside from the romantics, no “liberal” in the 19th cn is saying, “oh let’s go back to monarchy, it’s so much more just a system.” at most they’d say it’s more stable.)

    but under current conditions of p.c., in which moral equivalence not only makes radically different moralities equal, but actually reverses them, it’s enormously difficult for us to look at another culture and accept that they have as default not the liberal credo, but the authoritarian one. it’s considered racism, and not entirely without reason. it’s not so much racism as culturalism (our culture’s moral commitments are superior to those of, say, the arab world). whether or not it’s true, it’s an invitation to prejudice. (who is this person i’m dealing with?)

    there are no easy answers to this, but the complete immersion of most of our media — and even more inexcusably, our academics — in liberal cognitive egocentrism is a catastrophe of immense proportions.

  11. fp says:


    anybody who watches or ignores the video clips at memri or palestinian media watch that show the horrendous child abuse, atrocious mysogynism, and primitive barbarism by islamists and then continues to believe that there is something wrong with the west, or with “nazi” israel and that we need to be respectful of a culture or religion which indoctrinates even children with that ought to have their head examined.

    i remember that chomsky criticized the response to 9/11 “if your neighbour steals from you, you don’t go blow up his house and kill everybody” (or some such).
    note that he conveniently uses “steals” to describe 9/11 and “kill everybody” for the response. what is more, this describes the palestinians to a tee (if one accepts their claim that the land was stolen from them, which is untrue), yet he supports them.

    if these are not the reversal you’re talking about, i dk what is.

  12. fp says:

    Here’s something interesting which explains the connection between the collapse of education and the distortion of cognitive egocentrism you refer to:


    it requires free registration

  13. Cynic says:

    The sad truth is that Gaza today is a testament to the failure of the entire 14-year project of creating the Palestinian Authority, retrieving Arafat from exile,………
    …….. This process was started, and most forcefully pushed forward, by the Clinton administration,

    If memory serves me correctly it was during the Reagan Admin that the State Department went along with the Arab League and the Europeans and declared Arafat “King of The Palestinians” and brought him back to centre stage.
    How many could still have been alive today!

  14. Eliyahu says:

    in 1980 or 1981, the EU [or was it still called EEC?] came out with the pro-PLO Venice Declaration. In 1982, during Israel’s First Lebanon War, both George Senior, then VP, and yasser a., still above ground at that time, went to the funeral in Riyadh of King Fahd or King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Don’t recall which. Bush Senior told yasser at the time to keep on fighting in Lebanon even if his side was losing and not to accept any Israeli demands. This was reported in 1985 on the front page of the Wall STreet Journal [sorry that I don’t have an exact date].

    Then, shortly after the 1988 US elections which chose George Senior, the PLO held a convention in Algiers which followed bloody, lethal riots there by several days. The PLO convention issued two proclamations: one declared a state which implicitly covered all of the Land of Israel [“palestine” in their nomenclature]; the other was a political statement. The official English translation of the declaration of a state had some language that one might infer to mean –if one tried very hard to infer it– that the PLO was open to a two-state solution. This ambiguity came in a reference [by number, not name] to the 1947 partition plan recommendation of the UN General Assembly which the 1988 declaration said could be used as an expedient for palestinian Arab purposes. So the partition recommendation was referred to as an expedient, not as a purpose, not as a goal, and it was not accepted in principle. But if one really wanted to infer, then who would stop one? By the way, Prof Rafael Israeli of the Hebrew U and Truman Institute points out that there is no ambiguity in the original which clearly claims the whole land for the Arabs. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, the lame duck administration of Reagan did a favor for the incoming Bush admin. The State Dept told the PLO that they had come a long way toward recognizing Israel’s rights. But that just a little farther was needed. So the UN relocated to Geneva to hear yasser make several insincere attempts to go the last mile. Eventually he did and the State Dept said that yasser was now fit for negotiations on “peace.”

    The State Dept today, 19 years later, is back on the old pro-Arab, pro-PLO track. The difference today is that they have a manipulated body of public opinion, usually called the “Left,” a mob of ignorant and unthinking goons always ready to scream “stop the wall” or “four legs good, two legs better,” or whatever, and march in enraged anti-Israel demos while claiming that Bush Junior and Condi and her State Dept are 100% pro-Israel, despite the evidence.

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