Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Break in the Wall between Egypt and Gaza

Today's headlines about a tax rebate aimed at stimulating the economy are getting more airtime than what happened in Gaza yesterday, but events in Gaza are more important. Too bad...or maybe not, if you're the president and want to divert attention from a flat tire in your recent trip to the Middle East. It makes me wonder why he bothered to go at all.

For those who have not been keeping up, the electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza had an invigorating impact on both Israel and the US, inspiring renewed jabbering about peace in the Middle East, especially regarding a Palestinian homeland. Americans hear stuff like this and say to themselves, Look at our president! See how smart and peace loving he is. See how he's telling the Jews to quit messing around and get something settled with the Palestinians.

What most people fail to understand is that displaced Palestinians are to be found to the North and South of Israel as well as on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and they've been living in those three "camps" for two or three generations. Some, of course, were already there when Israel was established in 1948, but many others were displaced from what is now Israel to make way for the Jews.

The image and activities of the late Yasser Arafat are about all Americans know about Palestinians, and they don't know a lot about them. Oh, they know he was a pain in the ass and they recall him and Menachem Begin shaking hands at Camp David with that famous photo-op with a smiling Jimmy Carter. Some may recall that Al Fatah, now called simply Fatah, was Arafat's outfit and it was shot through with as much corruption and duplicity as any hero-focused group anywhere (think Chavez, Putin, Pappa Doc, Mugabe, whatever).

When the name Hamas is mentioned, most Americans' eyes glaze over. And when the name Abbas comes up, they just shrug and drift off. That's unfortunate, because that's where the story gets interesting.

Hamas is the militant group that has been running Gaza since it's election last year. Because of the autocratic and extreme nature of Hamas...but maily because they are on record as wanting to destroy Israel. At this point Hamas has not reversed that stated goal, so Israel has no option but to stand officially opposed to anything connected with Hamas.

Here are a few comments gathered from several sources.

Tony Karon says Hamas Blows a Hole in Bush’s Plans. This is the first paragraph, but he has links to other places adding depth to the narrative.

The hole blown by Hamas in the Gaza-Egypt border fence has finally punctured the bubble of delusion surrounding the U.S.-Israeli Middle East policy. In a moment reminiscent of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, through the breach surged some 350,000 Palestinians — fully one fifth of Gaza’s total population, as my friend and colleague Tim McGirk observed at the scene. And what did they do on the other side? They went shopping for the essentials of daily life, denied them by an Israeli siege imposed with the Wehrmacht logic of collective punishment. And the Egyptian security forces didn’t stop them, despite Washington and Israel urging them to, because U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak would provoke a mutiny among his citizenry and even his own security forces if they were to be ordered to stop hungry Palestinians from eating because Israel has decided that they should starve until they change their attitude.

Robert Malley is one of Karon's links:

...Gazans, grateful to Hamas for having significantly improved their security, will say they are distressed by the economic hardships and angry at the Islamists' brutal behavior. To the extent the movement has lost popularity the attempt to enfeeble Hamas by squeezing Gaza is working. Yet the success is meaningless. Hamas's losses are not necessarily Fatah's gains; Gazans blame the Islamists for being unable to end the siege but they also blame Israel (for imposing it), the West (for supporting it), and Fatah (for acquiescing in it).

Remember that Gaza and the West Bank are two separate geographical areas but both are being discussed as part of a future homeland for the Palestinians. It is a stretch to speak of a "Palestinian State" because without a connecting link between the two areas any such "state" will really be a divided state. (Think Pakistan, East and West, prior to the creation of Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan.)


I have decided not to finish this post. My readership is too small to matter and it's taking too much time. Mostly I want to mark this day as having been important for the reasons I posted so far. Maybe at some future date I can return for a follow-up.

Other reading this morning included a new link to Palestinian Pundit blog which I have not yet had a chance to study. That will be a predictable anti-Israel view, I'm sure.

Via Helena Cobban I found Jonathan Edelstein's thoughts on the Gaza bust-out. Edelstein is truly brilliant. He has a way of pushing the most complicated mess through an optimistic lens and see the most promising of peaceful potentialities...

Questioning received wisdom: I think we've been wrong all along in describing the siege of Gaza as an Israeli siege. In fact, ever since Israel left the Philadelphi route, it's been an Israeli-Egyptian siege, and Egypt has maintained its end for its own reasons. Hamas correctly perceived Egypt as the military and political weak link, and chose to break the siege at the Egyptian border. I've actually wondered why it took so long; there have been partial breaches of the wall before, and I remember thinking at the time that Hamas would gain an advantage by widening them. Maybe it wasn't yet ready, but I think it's now very clear that they and Israel were never the only players.

That's all for now.

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