- On February 3, with some hastily mustered resolve, Hosni
Mubarak closed Egypt's border with Gaza. With that action, he attempted
to restore the physical integrity of the world's largest open-air prison,
while renewing the confinement of 1.5 million Palestinians against their
will. This action was a calculated political act, undertaken to squelch
mainly US and Israeli objections to an open border between Gaza and Egypt,
but it reignited a war crime that has gone on for decades in full public
view. That crime reached its most oppressive stages in the past few weeks,
as Israel increased its military assault and harassment to break the will
of the Palestinians, while unseating their Hamas political leadership in
Gaza. It is time to stop pretending that "peace" talks now underway
will change that agenda.
- Israel's long-term goal, as any honest observer knows
full well, is to make life so intolerable for the Palestinians that they
will leave. Then there will be no barrier to realization of a Jewish state.
In Ariel Sharon's era as Prime Minister-before his illness took him out
of action-occupying Gaza had become expensive, dangerous and politically
costly. Israeli withdrawal left the Palestinians of Gaza to their own
devices, while giving them little to no help. Then, in early 2006, Palestine
held a general election. That election, insisted on by the United States,
was supposed to bring an easy affirmation of Fatah's control of Palestine.
Fatah's leader, Mahmoud Abbas, had shown himself easily manipulated by
Israel and the US. In time, promoters thought, the Palestinians would trade
their resistance to Israeli confiscation of all of Palestine for a chance
to huddle in two shrinking enclaves.
- The plan backfired in three critical ways. First, credible
outside observers declared the election more or less free and fair. Second,
voters in both Gaza and the West Bank rejected Fatah. Third, the majority
of voters favored Hamas, an Islamic group whose insurgents largely had
taken the battle over from Fatah. Hamas had practiced terrorism against
Israel but was observing a unilateral truce. On the critical negotiative
issues with Israel (up front recognition of Israel's right to exist, a
Palestinian state, a right of return, a capital in Jerusalem, and no give
on those issues short of actual negotiated outcomes), Hamas had defined
the Palestinian mainstream. In essence, the Palestinians voted to
continue their struggle for at least a piece of their national home.
- This was a setback to the Zionists, who thought they
had the situation reasonably wired, but it was a body blow to the Bush
team. In the George W. Bush administration the long-term US doctrine of
"no negotiation with terrorists" had flowered into a broadside
"we don't talk to people we don't like." Hamas had won a free
and fair-US-sponsored--election, but it was a "terrorist group";
case closed. That Fatah and its offshoots (three or more major ones)
were once the leading terrorists of Palestine seems long forgotten. It
is now all right to deal with Fatah but not with Hamas.
- US media reports of the past several days have been scrupulous
to point out that the reason the Israelis have put the squeeze on Gaza
is because the Palestinians fire rockets over the wall into Israel. Why
the Palestinians fire rockets never is asked, but the data are clear:
Israeli settlers, defended by Israel Defense Force troops, have encroached
steadily on Palestinian lands in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem and
reduced the already meager water supply available to Palestinians. Moreover,
Israel keeps more than 10,000 Palestinians in permanent captivity, including
cabinet officials, duly elected officers of the Hamas-led government.
- Why do the US and Israel deal with Fatah? The short answer
is because Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas are easy to manipulate. Abbas and Fatah
want exclusive control of Gaza and the West Bank and they are willing to
trade for it. Thus, Israel can have a Palestinian government that talks
but never forces the issue on negotiating the hard issues, and the US can
satisfy its desire not to recognize Hamas or to deal with it. That arrangement
preserves the artificial modalities of the War on Terrorism. It does nothing
to interfere with Israel's plans, and the land grabs move apace-even as
Abbas and Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak mumble to each other about
a peace that virtually no one expects to materialize.
- Before the wall came down between Gaza and Egypt, the
Israelis squeezed the Palestinians in Gaza without mercy. They were tightening
the noose, progressively restricting already limited access and reducing
power supplies as well as reducing fuel to run Gaza's lone power plant.
As the UN Director of Relief and Works stated in late January, the people
in Gaza were living in "abject misery". That was before the
latest Israeli moves to put the Gaza dwellers totally in the dark.
- It is no coincidence that on February 4 two suicide bombers
(one successful and one killed before he could detonate) carried out an
attack in the southern Israeli city of Dimona-the seat of Israel's secret
but well publicized nuclear reactor. As reported in US media, the blast
killed as many as three people and wounded ten or more. Note, the groups
that claimed credit are Fatah/PLO offshoots, but Israel immediately retaliated
with an airstrike on Hamas targets in Gaza that no doubt killed and wounded
many Palestinians. US media do not report such casualties. These attacks
killed and wounded innocent people on both sides, but the impression created
in US media is that the suicide attack was unprovoked; the constant Israel
Defense Force harassment, confinement, killing, and imprisonment of Palestinians
had nothing to do with it.
- Gaza has become the acid demonstration of what the outside
world will tolerate. Only after Israel threatened to turn off all electric
power was there any real international resistance to their treatment of
the people in Gaza. Before that, the Gaza dwellers faced bare minimum food
supplies, acute shortages of medications, lack of fuel for transportation,
inability to import even schoolbooks; in short, the oppressive extinction
of Palestinian lives. With the US and Israel in the lead, there was little
visible resistance. Maybe some governments used the "quiet diplomacy"
that the US typically uses with Israel, but it had no visible impact on
- At the apparent nadir of this situation, the Palestinians
blew up the wall and crossed into Egypt. Far from being humbled by the
experiences of the past several months, they were still ready to fight
- This act confronted Mubarak with his long-standing dilemma.
He is the third Egyptian leader in the past 54 years. His predecessor,
Anwar Sadat, was assassinated in October 1981, and he has ruled unopposed
ever since. He wants to retain power, but his last election in 2005 was
only notionally democratic. To avoid frontally offending his friends and
allies he is looking, perhaps, to designate his son as his successor in
order to keep from putting the matter to a vote. Over the years, he has
faced increasing opposition, notably from the Muslim Brotherhood, many
of whose members he keeps in prison. He is wary of Hamas in Gaza partly
because the group is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, but more so because
he sees a domestic political threat in the popularity of Hamas-and its
political success--with the Palestinian people. He approached destruction
of the wall with some sympathy for the Palestinian people, but that was
not enough to overcome his financial and political needs to collaborate
with the US and Israel. He has more or less restored the wall, but how
much traffic from Gaza he will permit through his Rafah gate remains unclear.
- Hamas reportedly is talking with Egyptian officials about
keeping the Rafah gate open, but a tricky problem/opportunity surfaced
on February 5. Hamas seeks a coordinated management of the Rafah gate.
As in many border situations, that would mean Hamas guards/agents on one
side and Egyptian guards/agents on the other side. The two sides would
agree on rules for who comes and goes. To launch such an arrangement, Egypt
would have to recognize Hamas as the governing authority in Gaza, and that
collides particularly with US and Israeli preferences in the matter. The
ingenious solution reportedly proposed would turn control of the Gaza side
of the Rafah gate over to the Palestinian National Authority, meaning Mahmoud
Abbas. He would become the keeper of the world's largest open-air prison
on behalf of the US and Israel, at least until Hamas can be unseated or
defeated, its members and key officers imprisoned or assassinated.
- In line with that gambit, both Israel and the United
States, not exclusively the Bush team, seem bent on preventing the transition
of Hamas from insurgent group to political party. At first, they tried
to ignore the Hamas victory and the formation of a Hamas-led Palestinian
government by not doing business with it. Israel tried to render the Hamasled
cabinet of Ismail Haniyeh ineffective by arresting several cabinet ministers.
The US denied any funding to the Hamas government but sought ways to support
Abbas. When Fatah attempted by force to unseat the Hamas government in
Gaza and failed, the US and Israel chose to prop up the Fatah government
in the shrinking remnants of the West Bank and to ignore the people in
- US and Israeli pressures have worked so far to make life
miserable for the people in Gaza, but the people have not given up, and
they have not rejected Hamas. The reason is that they believe, as do many
Palestinians in the West Bank, that Hamas speaks and practices the only
realistic Palestinian agenda. How much privation the Palestinians can handle
also remains undetermined, but many of them are veterans of decades of
privation and mistreatment by the Israelis. Mere capitulation seems an
- Meanwhile, the United States, European governments, in
a measure the UN, Arab governments, and others passively watch Israeli
commission of an ongoing war crime. Many Israelis object to this crime,
but they lack the political power to stop it. In any case, Gaza needs governance
that Hamas is entirely capable of providing, given a little room. The people
of Gaza need resources to run their communities, hospitals, schools and
infrastructure. Denial of those resources and denial of the opportunity
to acquire them is not merely a collective punishment; it is a war crime
in its own right. None of the governments watching this travesty would
tolerate it for a moment if any other government were dealing with people
in this manner.
- Arab government participation in this travesty is perverse
but peculiarly rational. While some of them have mixed feelings about
Palestinians in general, few, if any, of those governments want a political
openness that could yield a Hamas-like government in their countries. Right
now oligarchies rule the Middle East, including Israel. Those oligarchies
permit more pro-forma than actual participation. If this were not true
in Israel, it would not have a virtually unbroken chain of Zionist supporting
leaders since 1948. The peak of that system, however, lies in banking
and finance where top-level Arab, Israeli, and other interests are altogether
cozy. In effect, big money at the top means Arab/Israeli antipathies are
not what they used to be, and that bodes ill for future Arab protection
of Palestinian rights and interests.
- The solutions are not as obscure or difficult as the
US and Israel pretend. Sensible people everywhere would like to find ways
to transit dissident groups out of the volatile fringes into the mainstream.
The first step toward that is inviting/enticing them into the political
process. Granted, from the US and Israeli viewpoints, inviting Hamas into
the 2006 Palestinian elections was unintentional. That election demonstrated
the political skills of a group that already was moving out of terrorism.
Since then, Hamas has shown more skills in governance than Fatah; it particularly
has shown more capacity to serve its constituents than Fatah. That, indeed,
is why Hamas won. This result should have been applauded, not ignored and
suppressed. Over the past several months, Hamas has demonstrated the ability
to govern, even with a shrinking pool of resources. Given a little room,
what it could do would probably please everyone except the Israeli hardliners
who want any Palestinian governance to fail, particularly any Palestinian
leadership that supports the real Palestinian interests. US support for
Israel in this matter simply plays to that Israeli strategy.
- In both Middle East policy and the War on Terrorism,
the United States needs a new start. Both are in jeopardy because they
consist of short-term tactical maneuvers that lack strategic design. Policies
in the Middle East must serve the real interests of all the players, not
a preferred set. In fact, terrorism is a guaranteed product of present
US bias. US policy toward Israel has sustained the largest terrorism generator
in the region for decades. The present US role as post-Annapolis peacemaker
will not alter that pattern, unless the US becomes the genuine honest broker
that it never has been. US support of Israeli repression in Gaza only
emphasizes that defect.
- Ultimately, Hamas is not the problem in Gaza. The problem
up to now has been the inability of anyone successfully to pursue Palestinian
interests. Through successive stages of the alleged "Peace Process",
the Palestinians have lost ground. That means not only real estate, farms,
homes, water, and valuable trees, but also exposure to harassment, confinement,
privation and sometimes murder. Arafat brought Fatah and the
Palestine Liberation Organization to an internationally recognized status
of leadership for the Palestinian people, but he was never able to turn
that into political or practical concessions from Israel that met Palestinian
need. Instead, he retreated in front of Israeli pressure. The Israelis
usually succeeded in making that failure out to be Arafat's own fault,
but the truth is that he obtained no real concessions, because truly Israeli
leadership intended none.
- US and Israeli fears of Hamas are probably rational,
but not for the reasons usually given, i.e., Hamas is a terrorist group
(US), and we are the victims of its attacks (Israel). There is a practical
refusal of Bush team leadership to concede that the Palestinians are people
with genuine rights and interests, and that their insurgent attacks are
attempts to gain US, Israeli and world attention. By dismissing those attacks
as "terrorism" US officials choose not to look at reasons or
think about talking to the Palestinians. Israeli fears are that Hamas actually
articulates and will defend true Palestinian interests. That would mean
genuine negotiations, not the prolonged standoff the Israelis have sustained
up to now. Thus, the aim of both is to kill or confine the messenger.
- That strategy patently will not work. However, there
is an alternative.
- Do not try to suppress Hamas. It is now the defacto as
well as the elected ruler of Gaza. Make some demands/expectations
of it. Enable it to do the best possible job of caring for the people of
Gaza. Any other expectation is inhumane. See that it has the resources
to do that right. Any other strategy is a continuation of the illegal and
inhumane collective punishment.
- Ask Hamas to stop the rockets, but don't expect that
to happen if Israel does not stop its harassment and murder of Palestinians
in Gaza. Therefore, ask the Israelis to join in a genuine bilateral ceasefire.
Hamas will probably agree to this more readily than will Israeli leadership,
but it is clear that stage one of a Middle East peace cannot be achieved
without this ceasefire-on both sides.
- Try to get leadership in Gaza and the West Bank on the
same page-an overall pursuit of Palestinian long-term interests. That can
be done by recognizing the fact of Hamas leadership in Gaza and pushing
Fatah leadership in the West Bank to cooperate. This is not about the
power of Mahmoud Abbas; it is about the human interests of the Palestinian
- Stop trying to fight and win the war on terrorism in
Gaza. The war is not there, but a million and a half miserable people
are being pushed to do desperate things.
- Call off the IDF. They are simply too accustomed to
shooting first and not asking questions. Their assigned agenda is to keep
all Palestinians under pressure. Replace the IDF as soon as possible with
a neutral peacekeeping force.
- Everybody must recognize and defend the truth that Israeli
and Palestinian rights and interests are equal. The battle has gone on
for sixty years in an unequal struggle of the Palestinians to survive and
for the Zionists to push them out. The idea of two states, living in peace
side by side, as articulated by Bush and others, is practically dead.
Annapolis launched nothing more than a new holding operation.
- There can be only one state in this piece of the Holy
Land, and the only question is what kind. Will it be one in which the
rights of 4.5 million people (close to half the population of Palestine/Israel)
have been systematically extinguished by the Israeli Zionists in the full
sight of an uncaring international community? Or will it be a state in
which all the people who deserve a place in it are living peacefully together?
It is time to face this question squarely. It is time to stop pretending
that there is some other Middle East peace process.
- The writer is the author of the recently published work,
A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist
on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman
of the Department of International Studies of the National War College
and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency
Planning. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org