Isolating Gaza

By Elliot Jager
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A week ago, in the aftermath of the failed attempt by a Turkish flotilla to defy Israel's maritime quarantine of the Gaza Strip and the ensuing deaths of nine Turkish mercenaries on board, foreign ministers of the 27-nation European Union agreed that Israel's blockade of the Hamas-governed enclave was "unsustainable" and "politically counterproductive." Meeting in Luxembourg, they heard Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign-policy czar, proclaim that Gaza's "dangerous isolation" had to end.

Since then, in the face of withering pressure to abandon the blockade altogether, Jerusalem has acceded to demands for a published list of goods (weapons, war materiel, and "dual-use" items) not permitted into Gaza, with all others allowed.

The arguments advanced by the EU ministers, and by the many in the West who think like them, assume different forms. Some, even while stipulating the absence of any humanitarian crisis in Gaza, assert a need for life there to return to "normalcy." Others go farther, declaring categorically that the policy of isolating Gaza has backfired—that, instead of leading to the collapse of Hamas and its replacement by something better, it has strengthened the group's autocratic stranglehold and hardened its belligerence toward Israel. In this conception, "engaging" the rulers of Gaza will create an opening to persuade them to moderate their harsh policies. A final plank in the argument is that dealing with Hamas will advance the cause of, in the words of the EU ministers, "Palestinian reconciliation behind President Mahmoud Abbas," the leader of the comparatively more moderate Fatah government in the West Bank.

What reason exists to believe any of this is true?

The Gaza blockade itself, usually portrayed as an arbitrary exercise in Israeli power, is anything but. Ariel Sharon's government, finding no Palestinian peace partner, unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in the summer of 2005, presenting the Palestinians with the opportunity to create a Singapore on the Mediterranean. In January 2006, Hamas defeated Fatah in Palestinian elections. Within six months, Gaza gunmen had raided Israel, killing two IDF soldiers and capturing Gilad Shalit; begun bombarding Israeli towns; expelled Fatah from Gaza in an orgy of violence; and installed an Islamist kleptocracy that proceeded to distribute international aid to its supporters while immiserating the Gazan populace. Years would pass before Ehud Olmert's government undertook to halt the onslaught of rockets in Operation Cast Lead, a much-maligned military campaign that has mostly succeeded in deterring further Hamas aggression.

Western media like the New York Times and the Economist maintain that Israel's efforts to weaken Hamas and drive it from power have not only failed but have enabled the Islamists to create a Gaza in their own image. Yet officials in Israel plausibly maintain that Hamas is edging toward political and economic collapse. According to a poll released last week, if presidential elections in Gaza were held today, Abbas would defeat Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh by 54 to 39 percent. Contrary to accepted wisdom, the Israelis contend, the blockade has been working.

One might put the point differently. To the extent that Israel's—and, it bears stressing, Egypt's—efforts to isolate Hamas have failed, if indeed they have failed, it is because the international community has been working so diligently to undermine them. And now the European Union, the UN,  and the international media, faced with the immovable intransigence of a terrorist organization backed to the hilt by Iran, and situated a short drive away from the metropolitan Tel Aviv it has sworn to destroy, are doubling down.

"Engage" with Hamas? It is already happening. On paper, the Quartet—the EU, the U.S., Russia, and the UN—has insisted that in order to qualify for acceptance by the civilized world, Hamas must commit itself to non-violence, recognize Israel, and accept all previous Palestinian peace obligations. Hamas has met none of these conditions, and proclaims it never will. Nevertheless, several EU countries have already been discreetly talking with the organization; Russia has been doing so openly; and Hamas claims it has had indirect contact with the Obama administration.

In short, the Western friends of "peace," ignoring even the pleas of Fatah to cease their flirtation with tyranny, are once again choosing to follow the path of least resistance, while preemptively blaming Israel for the certain consequences. 

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