Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Rafah breach: opportunity? Updated II

Notwithstanding the momentary opportunity for the Gazan population to experience a few days respite from their isolation and externally-imposed impoverishment, the reality is that the strip remains dominated by Israeli power. Despite the announced withdrawal of Israeli forces from the strip in 2005, the IDF regularly intervenes there to interdict and thwart rocket attacks, to assassinate officials and militants pretty much at will, and to insure that Gaza remains sealed off from the world.

In effect, Israel is still the occupier. Even if one challenges the view that Israeli occupation continues after the breach, the fact is that the strip is still utterly dependent upon Israeli services, e.g., electricity and water, that reflects a four decade-long pattern of Israeli control. This clearly implies that Israel may not absolve itself from its humanitarian responsibilities as the occupation authority. If images of hundreds of thousands of Gaza Palestinians rushing into Egypt to buy the mere essentials of life establishes anything at all, it is the extent of collective punishment that Israel has imposed on Gaza.

Now the question is whether the breach should be seized as an opportunity to create new diplomatic momentum, or an excuse for Israel to throw away the key? As for the latter, the fact is that throwing away the key is not an option for an occupying power. Alternatively, some Israeli officials (see below), argue that the breach is nothing less than an incitement for a new Israeli invasion of Gaza, but one hopes saner minds will prevail. Meantime, as Israeli lawyers argued in response to a suit before the Israeli Supreme Court, Israel will continue to conduct what it calls "economic war" against Hamas leaders while insisting that it will not allow a humanitarian crisis to emerge in Gaza.

Hamas, for its part, has seemingly been intent to alienate external opinion. Not only has the group failed to stop rocket attacks that have killed, wounded and traumatized Israelis, especially in Sderot, but it has generally succeeded in validating the worst nightmares of many Israelis who find the prospect of dealing with Hamas risible.

The view that I have expressed here, and in several articles, is that like it or not Hamas is a fact of life in Palestinian society, and it may not be simply expunged or excluded from the political scene. In the last few days, press reports indicate that Hamas is informally cooperating with Egyptian counterparts to regulate the border at Rafah. No doubt, Hamas would love to supplant the PA as the border authority in Gaza. That is clearly an unacceptable answer from the standpoint of Israel, the PA and the United States, as well as Egypt. However, a solution that includes coordination between Hamas and the PA, with the re-institution of European security monitoring (which Hamas presently rejects), would arguably be sensible, provided that Hamas commits itself to stopping the incessant firing of crude rockets into Israel. The group previously maintained a year-long ceasefire with Israel and Israelis who have met with Hamas officials report a willingness to accept a ceasefire of decades.

In press interviews televised on al-Jazeera Abu Mazen insists that Hamas apologize for taking control of Gaza in June 2007, and recognize the authority of the PA as a precondition, and he rejects talks with Hamas otherwise. It would be prudent for influential outside powers, not least the U.S., which props up the weak Abu Mazen, to quietly tolerate rather than thwart a Fatah-Hamas dialogue in Cairo in the coming days. [Some reports indicate the talks in Cairo have produced a local level deal between the Egyptians and Hamas on the border at Rafah.[

In Gaza, Borderline Insanity | Newsweek Periscope | "A large-scale ground attack is now 'much more likely,' says Yuval Steinitz, a member of the Likud party who sits on a key defense committee. An open border, he argues, will make it easier to carry in long-range rockets too big to smuggle through tunnels. 'We have no other alternative,' Steinitz says."

Henry Siegman on Gaza's Future.

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