First Gaza, Then the West Bank

Why Israel can no longer let the Palestinian Authority be responsible for security in Judea and Samaria.

Once again, the Israel Defense Forces have been forced to enter the Gaza Strip to fight for the safety of our citizens. We understand the risks of the current ground operation. Despite the fact that it cost me my position as deputy defense minister, I was willing to pay this personal price and vocally advocate for this operation. It was clear to me that the alternative of leaving Hamas's rocket operation and terror tunnels intact would have been disastrous for the safety and security of all Israelis.

In addition to our fight with Hamas, it is high time to reassess our relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA). While we have no desire to control the daily lives of the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria -- the historical name for the West Bank -- the fact is that we can no longer continue to withdraw our security forces and rely on the PA to ensure the safety of Israelis. Numerous events throughout our region, from Israel to Iraq, have proven time and again that when Western forces withdraw and rely on local despots, militias, or even puppet regimes, the forces of Islamic fanaticism quickly fill the void -- and put us all at risk.

Hamas is not a lone organization acting in a vacuum. It is a fellow traveler with extreme forces throughout the Middle East working to overthrow Western-allied governments and replace them with an Islamic caliphate operating under sharia law. Over the past few years, Western diplomats' high hopes for the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring proved short-lived. Leaders who on the surface appeared Western-oriented turned out to be either frontmen for Islamic extremists or weak leaders who could not hold onto power in this harsh region.

The current situation in Iraq is the latest example of this phenomenon. Our American friends meant well: They defeated an evil dictator with a history of horrid human rights abuses, a proven record of using weapons of mass destruction, and a record of threatening regional stability. In the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the United States invested billions of dollars in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and paid an unfathomably high price in terms of American soldiers killed and wounded while attempting to rid the country of Islamist terrorists.

Despite these best efforts, the Iraqi government that the United States left behind has failed to retain even a semblance of law and order. The moment American forces began to withdraw from Iraq, groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which had been waiting in the wings, moved in. With Kurdish autonomy in the north and Iran exerting increasing influence in the south, it is apparent that the Iraq we had known for the past century no longer exists.

Our experiences here in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean are not that different. Beginning in the 1990s, successive Israeli governments signed and implemented a series of agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization. These agreements set up the PA as an autonomous entity tasked with administrating the daily lives of the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The PA was also supposed to uphold law and order in these territories, while aiding Israel in its fight against murderous terrorist organizations.

In retrospect, Israel's decision to withdraw from the main Palestinian population centers did not bring security and stability, let alone peace. Instead, each Israeli redeployment allowed the Islamist extremists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to increase their strength. This eventually led to a murderous wave of suicide bombers in the mid-1990s originating from the territories under PA control, and then an all-out war on Israeli civilians in the first decade of the 21st century. In both instances the PA was either too weak, or unwilling, to confront and halt the terrorists.

Our disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was even more problematic. The PA did not take advantage of its newfound sovereignty and create a "Singapore of the Middle East," as many naively hoped. Instead, Hamas seized power by force, literally throwing their rivals off the roofs of Gaza's buildings. Today, with hundreds of rockets and missiles fired daily at our population centers and dozens of attack tunnels burrowed from Gaza into Israel, the scope of this mistake is clear to all. Every day during this operation, we are reminded what terrorist organizations like Hamas are capable of when our attention is focused elsewhere.

Since 2009, it has been Likud Party policy to strengthen the civil aspects of the PA and allow its security forces to reign as freely as possible in Judea and Samaria. The events of the past few weeks have proven that successive Israeli governments were mistaken to allow such a free hand. The Hamas terrorists who murdered the three Israeli teenagers on June 12 planned their attack from, and then returned to, areas that are fully controlled by the PA. It is not far-fetched to see how Judea and Samaria could easily turn into a full-fledged terror base like Gaza is today. 

Those among us who naively thought we could outsource the security and safety of our citizens to the Palestinian Authority should now understand that this was a dangerous gambit. While we will continue to encourage the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to take responsibility for their day-to-day civilian lives, we can no longer allow the PA even the smallest amount of autonomy when it comes to anti-terror efforts. Only by allowing the Israel Defense Forces and our other security services to operate freely in every corner of Judea and Samaria will we be able ensure that all the residents of this land receive the level of security they deserve.

The events of the past 15 years do not bode well for those who hope for stability in the Middle East. As much as Israel and our Western allies would like the world's Muslim and Arab countries to transform overnight into liberal democracies, we know this is unlikely to happen.

The lesson here is simple, both in terms of Israel's relationship with the Palestinians and the international community's engagement with our neighbors. We must do all we can to provide support to those who truly fight for democracy but at the same time, we cannot compromise one iota on a wide-ranging and in-depth security involvement.

This is true even when it means more boots on the ground, deep in dangerous territory. Israel is discovering this once again during the current round of fighting with Hamas. 

Wishful thinking will not make the world a safer place. Only hard work and a daily battle against international terrorism will inch us closer to a day when the people of the Middle East -- and the world -- will live in the peace and security they so deserve.



How to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Africa

Obama's major summit with the continent's leaders will only succeed if the White House eschews autocrats in favor of a new generation of democratic champions. 

Over the next few weeks, there is going to be an awful lot of chatter about the current and future state of relations between the United States and Africa. That is because U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which will take place in Washington, D.C., from Aug. 4 to 6.

It is clear from the White House's website for the event -- and from my engagement with summit organizers -- that much of the agenda will focus on the promotion of peace and security, as well as private investment, trade, and development. Obama's renewed effort to engage with a rising Africa should be applauded: The summit is an extraordinary opportunity for the administration to fulfill its strong and repeated rhetorical commitments to promoting the twin goals of prosperity and human well-being across Africa.

To be sure, Africa paints a complex picture. Although overall economic growth has been impressive, expected to top 5 percent this year, levels of inequality continue to rise. A stagnation or steady decline in political freedoms and democratic rights is also cause for concern. Similarly, there has been noticeable backpedaling on continental governance commitments, and ratification rates of regional conventions continue to decline, after hitting a peak in 2005.

A successful summit would address these issues and, in turn, mature America's relations with the continent -- not only during Obama's remaining time in office, but long after he departs. The summit could help the United States catch up with the European Union, Japan, and China, all of which have significantly outpaced America in terms of economic and intellectual investment in the continent.

However, a one-off event, filled with grand speeches and customary handshakes that merely push a few more deals, will not be enough. And there is a real risk that the summit could turn into just such an event, if steps are not taken in advance to ensure otherwise. Most fundamentally, summit organizers -- and the U.S. government more broadly -- need to rethink which African "leaders" merit U.S. support and will secure long-term national interests.

The worst outcome would be a summit that acted as a platform to cozy up to retrograde dictators. A modern U.S.-Africa relationship cannot be built with the remnants of an old guard who stifle democracy and crush dissent with an arsenal of violence, repressive legislation, and stacked judiciaries. Put simply, America cannot embrace those who are enriching and entrenching themselves, rather than investing in their citizens' future. To that end, the White House wisely excluded Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, and Eritrea's Isaias Afewerki, three of the world's most notorious dictators who have destroyed their own economies.

Yet plenty of attendees do raise eyebrows. The Corporate Council on Africa, a leading trade group expected to play a high-profile role around the summit in highlighting the new Africa, has opted to honor the continent's longest-serving dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. Obiang rose to power in 1979 after killing his uncle in a coup and presides over a staggeringly rich oil nation, amassing an estimated personal fortune of $600 million -- all while eight out of 10 citizens live below the national poverty line. Similarly, the World Affairs Council, a prominent policy forum, will play host to President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo at the National Press Club. Sassou has been in power for a total of 30 years, using pilfered oil money to stifle free expression, torture members of the opposition and civil society, and maintain an essentially one-party state.

While the White House does not have a hand in organizing these events, they still reflect a culture that pervades the nation's capital, one that inexplicably allows abusive leaders to be honored and embraced in public while few, if any, ask many questions. The Obama administration can take two important steps in the short term to address this counterproductive way of doing business with Africa.

First, it should more fully include African civil society activists in international dialogue, including at the summit. A platform for the president to engage with African heads of state and business leaders is essential, and time at the event should be devoted to interaction among top leaders. However, it is African civil society that often acts as the primary guarantor of basic human rights across the continent. It is African civil society that works to maintain social stability and cohesion, helping to create positive investment environments while working to increase transparency and hold leaders accountable. In short, African civil society provides crucial leadership, and the White House should treat it accordingly.

In June, the We Are Africa campaign convened in Washington to advocate for civil society inclusion at the summit. It produced a range of concrete policy recommendations to improve U.S.-Africa relations. As a result of this sustained public advocacy, the White House has now included an Aug. 4 State Department event -- the Civil Society Forum -- in its official summit agenda. This is a step in the right direction. Nonetheless, the voices of African civil society need to be recognized as equal shareholders in the future of U.S.-Africa relations, especially at a time when human rights groups across the continent have come under sustained and increasing attack.

It is crucial that issues of human rights and good governance take center stage at the summit. For these issues sow the inevitable seeds of conflict when they are not adequately addressed. No longer can U.S. policymakers and African leaders afford to focus on the symptoms of social discord, including terrorist acts, humanitarian and health crises, and the outbreak of war; rather, they must collectively tackle the root causes of instability by focusing efforts on both protecting and advancing basic human rights and good governance. African civil society remains at the front lines of addressing these critical issues, and therefore its official participation at the summit is paramount.

Second, the United States needs to work more proactively and cooperatively with those who stand at Africa's democratic vanguard. The current leaders of Senegal, Ghana, Cape Verde, Tanzania, Mauritius, and Botswana, for instance, offer intriguing examples of individuals who have both come to power through democratic means and have championed good governance and economic development at the regional level.

The future of Africa as an economic powerhouse is going to be pushed forward and secured by nations that accede to long-standing and emergent international norms, as well as by those that open up their societies. The U.S. government should recognize this by providing preferential trade to emerging democracies that show a genuine commitment to principles of good governance, as well as to nations whose leaders come to power through free, fair, and legitimate elections. Washington can and should robustly support these leaders through diplomatic rhetoric and, as just one concrete example, by supporting their resolutions at the U.N. Human Rights Council that seek to better secure and advance basic rights. If the United States works more with democratic counterparts, then it stands a much better chance of influencing the continent in a positive, constructive way.

The summit should champion these leaders and further encourage their leadership at the regional level, including at the African Union and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, both of which are partly funded by the United States. Instead of the routine finger-wagging that has often left African leaders and their citizens feeling patronized, the White House should use the summit to publicly identify leaders who are capable and willing to champion socioeconomic development and, perhaps more importantly, to influence their regional counterparts to do the same.

In sum, the U.S.-Africa relationship cannot be sustained with African autocrats, many of whom came to power more than three decades ago. The days of kowtowing to dictators and rolling out the red carpet for strongmen who use the oil or terror cards to trump human rights concerns is over. America can ill afford to embrace the ghosts of Africa's past or to shake hands with the retrograde Big Men whose time has come and gone.

The United States is strongest when it works alongside trusted partners who share the core values of protecting fundamental freedoms and advancing democracy and economic empowerment. And the country is most powerful and persuasive on the international stage -- as well as at home -- when the lofty rhetoric of elected leaders matches actions on the ground.

Obama would be well served to use the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to do just that.

Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images