Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fighting in Gaza

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is once again very much in the news. Juan Cole has a brief history of the entire conflict which is worthwhile as a refresher. One paragraph about Gaza:
The current Israeli military effort to substantially weaken Hamas in Gaza follows on the contradictions in Kadima Party policy. In 2005 Kadima, led by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Gaza Strip, which Israel had occupied in 1967. But since Kadima refused to negotiate with Hamas, Israel was unable to shape the political structures of its former colony, leaving the outcome to chance. It was not a stable place. By 2005 Gaza had a population of 1.5 million. Although it was a relatively nice little Mediterranean region before the rise of modern nation states, its traditional markets were Egypt and Jordan, and after 1967 its only outlet was Israel, which already produced much the same things as Gaza did. So Gaza had become trapped economically.

I am unclear on the legality of Israel's recent bombing campaign but I am fairly certain that the blockade on Gaza is both illegal and foolish. Many western commentators described the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza as a "coup". This is hardly accurate: Hamas became the legitimate government of Palestine by elections pushed by the Bush administration as part of the much-vaunted "freedom agenda". Yet, when Hamas won, we didn't accept the outcome on the grounds that Hamas is a terrorist group. With tacit US and Israeli backing, Fatah refused to give ground to Hamas, and the result has been the division of Palestine into two states, making matters much worse.
In some ways, the events in Gaza are a side-show to the West Bank, where Israel continues to build settlements. Dov Weisglas, a close confidant of Ariel Sharon admitted that the 2005 pullout from Gaza was merely a ruse to expand Israeli hegemony on the West Bank (Israel also rung out concessions from the Bush administration, including a greater willingness to acknowledge the "facts on the ground"). Now a peace between the the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas does not buy peace, because Hamas is kept away from the table. Instead of attempting to negotiate, the Israeli government (with support from the United States) has decided it will simply destroy Hamas. Israel, if it wants to end the current fighting, is going to have to lift the cruel embargo of Gaza. It will find that this cannot be easily accomplished. A summary by the International Crisis Group wisely concludes:
Sustainable calm can be achieved neither by ignoring Hamas and its constituents nor by harbouring the illusion that, pummelled into submission, it will accept what it heretofore has rejected. Palestinian reconciliation is a priority, more urgent but also harder than ever before; so, too, is the Islamists’ acceptance of basic international obligations. In the meantime, Hamas – if Israel does not take the perilous step of toppling it – will have to play a political and security role in Gaza and at the crossings. This might mean a “victory” for Hamas, but that is the inevitable cost for a wrongheaded embargo, and by helping end rocket fire and producing a more stable border regime, it would just as importantly be a victory for Israel – and, crucially, both peoples – as well.

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