The Guardian 20 June, 2007
Israel’s Palestinian quagmire
What happens when one and a half million human beings are imprisoned in a tiny, arid territory, cut off from their compatriots and from any contact with the outside world, starved by an economic blockade and unable to feed their families?
The answer came last week with the explosion in the Palestinian Gaza Strip
The timing of Hamas’ decision to take over the Strip militarily was not accidental. Hamas had many good reasons to avoid it. It has no interest in providing Israel with a pretext for tightening the blockade or for military intervention.
But the Hamas leaders decided that they had no alternative but to destroy the armed organisations that are tied to Fatah and take their orders from President Mahmoud Abbas. The US has ordered Israel to supply these organisations with large quantities of weapons, in order to enable them to fight Hamas.
The Israeli army chiefs did not like the idea, fearing that the arms might end up in the hands of Hamas (as actually happened). But the Israeli government obeyed American orders, as usual.
In the eyes of Hamas, the attack on the Fatah strongholds in the Gaza Strip was a preventive war. The organisations of Abbas melted like snow in the Palestinian sun. Hamas easily took over the whole Gaza Strip.
Peace with honour spurned
For many years the Palestinian Authority had been attempting to negotiate with Israel for some sort of peace with some sort of honour. At every turn the Israeli government and its US masters refused any sort of peace which recognised the right of the Palestinian people to their own state.
The result was the election of Hamas which was seen as a consistent fighter for Palestinian rights. The Palestinian Authority under the control of Mahmoud Abbas consistently refused to recognise the election result as did Israel and the United States.
Their talk of bringing democracy to the Arab countries of the Middle East has been shattered on the rock of this election and is now being further torn to shreds by the Palestinian Authority itself which is violating its own constitution by the actions of President Mahmoud Abbas. He intends to appoint a new government of his choosing, excluding Hamas, and without referring it for endorsement to the Palestinian elected Parliament.
The Israeli government played its part as usual in this charade by arresting a large number of elected Hamas MPs while the US branded Hamas as a terrorist organisation. It has given the Palestinian Authority the kiss of death by backing the undemocratic actions of Mahmoud Abbas and providing arms to Fatah.
It is now being claimed that the Palestinian Authority has control of the West Bank but it needs to be recalled that Hamas won a majority of the votes in the West Bank as well as in the Gaza Strip.
Furthermore, the members of the Fatah organisations (the armed wing of the Palestinian Authority) do not know what they are fighting for. The Gaza population supports Hamas, because they believe that it is fighting the Israeli occupier.
If the leaders in Washington and Jerusalem had been interested in peace, they would have hastened to sign a peace agreement with Abbas, who had declared that he was ready to accept the same far-reaching compromise as Arafat. The Americans and the Israelis praised Abbas but rebuffed him on every concrete issue.
They did everything to demolish Fatah. To ensure this, they arrested Marwan Barghouti, the only person capable of keeping Fatah together.
They did not allow Abbas even the most miserable achievement. After the Palestinian public had patiently waited in vain for Bush to move, it voted for Hamas.
By creating a situation in which Hamas felt forced to take over control of the Gaza Strip they have created another situation for which the Israeli leaders were not ready. What will they do now? Cut off Gaza altogether and let the people there starve to death? Occupy Gaza again, now that it has become one big tank trap? Ask the UN to station international troops there and, if so, how many countries would be crazy enough to risk their soldiers in this hell? Establish contacts with Hamas?
The Israeli government has worked for years to destroy the Palestinian Authority in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal from the occupied territories and the settlements there. Now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.
They comfort themselves with the thought that it cannot happen in the West Bank. There, Fatah reigns. There Hamas has no foothold. There the Israeli army has already arrested most of Hamas’ political leaders. There Abbas is still in power.
But in the West Bank, too, Hamas won a majority in the last elections. There, too, it is only a matter of time before the population loses its patience. They see the expansion of the settlements, the Wall, the incursions of the Israeli army, the targeted assassinations, the nightly arrests. They will explode.
WHAT TO DO?
To go on boycotting Abbas or to provide him with arms, to enable him to fight for Israel against Hamas? To go on depriving him of any political achievement or to throw him some crumbs at long last? Or is it too late?
At present, there is no policy, and no government which could determine a policy.
So who will save Israel? Ehud Barak? Barak’s victory in this week’s Labor Party leadership run-off has turned him almost automatically into the Minister of Defence. He will decide on matters of war and peace.
Until now, practically all his actions have had negative results. He came very close to an agreement with Syria but pulled out at the last moment. He withdrew the Israeli army from South Lebanon, but without speaking with Hizbullah, which took over. He compelled Arafat to come to Camp David, insulted him there and declared that we have no partner for peace. This dealt a death blow to the chances of peace, a blow which still paralyses the Israeli public.
There will be a flurry of activity at the president’s palace. There will certainly be peace conferences, meetings of personalities, high-sounding declarations and illustrious plans. In short — much ado about nothing.
The Israeli leadership fully backed by the US government has no intention of negotiating any substantial agreement with the Palestinians whether led by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
The failed policies of successive Israeli governments have led Israel into their own Palestinian quagmire just as US policies have landed the US into an Iraq quagmire.
With acknowledgement to Uri Avnery Israeli commentator for Gush Shalom.
His article has been shortened for reasons of space and amended with some additional comment.