Searching for a Silver Lining in the Middle East

Searching for a Silver Lining in the Middle East

TEL AVIV, Israel -- As a seemingly inexhaustible source of bad news, the Middle East is arguably the perfect place to go in search for the silver lining that the proverb promises for every cloud. The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki demonstrated last week how it is done: In an article in the Wall Street Journal, he argued eloquently that the desperate situation in Iraq should be seen as part of a struggle comparable with the American civil war and he challenged skeptics with the question: "Why expect freedom to come easy to Iraq?"

As it turned out, al-Maliki is not the only one resolved to see a silver lining in chaos and bloodshed: Even before Hamas had completed its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, comments began to appear suggesting that things "might not be as bad as we fear." In this case, the "we" referred to Israelis, and the writer, an analyst for an Israeli think tank, focused on the possibility that Hamas's military coup in Gaza could free Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas to cut through the "constitutional Gordian knot" that had exacerbated the Palestinian power struggle: While Gaza might turn into "Hamastan," Abbas could seize the opportunity to centralize power in the West Bank under his leadership and thus provide an "effective address" for Israel to once again try to get a political process going.

That might sound like a rather cynical, self-interested Israeli take on the Palestinians' predicament. But in an article in the Washington Post, the Middle East expert Martin Indyk suggested a no less cynical scenario when he argued that it might not have been Abbas's much criticized "weakness" that led to Fatah's defeat in Gaza, but rather a deliberate decision to concede Gaza to Hamas and to consolidate Fatah's power in the West Bank. "Of course," Indyk noted, "all Palestinian leaders will continue to declare the indivisibility of the Palestinian homeland. But in private, Abbas and other Fatah leaders may take solace from the dilemma Hamas will now have to confront."

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