Hamas v. the Palestinian Authority

Via Shmuel Rosen in Slate:

With events in the Middle East moving rapidly, with political landscapes shifting week to week, few observers care to remember how the situation in Gaza came about and why. Since 2007, the policy of the International Quartet has been to isolate the government that controls Gaza after Hamas forces ousted the forces loyal to the official representative of Palestinians from the Strip in a coup. An ugly and violent coup. “In five days of intense fighting,” reported Der Spiegel, a respectable European publication, “Hamas wrested political control over the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Fatah’s troops offered surprisingly little resistance. By the end of [the] week, victorious Hamas fighters were driving [a Fatah leader’s] few remaining men half-naked through the streets, before executing them in the desert.”

So, there were very good reasons for isolating Hamas and attempting to contain the Gaza Strip. True, the government in charge of Gaza is a headache for Israel. But it is no less of a nuisance to the legitimate representative of the Palestinians—the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Those who want to strengthen the parties of peace have a choice to make: Recognizing Hamas would signal that the Palestinian Authority could no longer claim to represent the people of Gaza. It would signal that the world is willing to work with a bully, with a group refusing to commit—even rhetorically—to the cause of peace, that it has given up on a better life for the Palestinians of Gaza.

And the world has, indeed, given up on them. Masquerading as peace activists, wanting to do something about Palestinian suffering without always knowing how, the flotillas of naiveté and malice have set sail. “Insofar as they were bringing food and medicine to Gaza, they were humanitarians; but insofar as they were striking a blow for the government of Gaza, they were anti-humanitarians,” wrote Leon Wieseltier in a New Republic article that was generally critical of Israel’s actions. Wieseltier identified the dangerous island of isolated self-pity in which Israelis now reside. Enumerating the justifications for this self-pity, he refers to the “leaders, states, organizations, and peoples whose hostility to the Jewish state is irrational and absolute and in some cases murderous”—but he forgets to count a no-less-important reason for this sense of isolation: the international community’s dangerous impatience and unreliability.

Yes, hostility toward Israel played a role in the festival of criticism that followed the bloody raid on the blockade-defying flotilla earlier this week. But no less problematic was the show of untrustworthiness on the part of leaders, states, and organizations. Not even the United States, generally mellow in its response to the raid, could resist the temptation to define the situation in Gaza as “unacceptable and unsustainable.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “we have to deal with the situation in Gaza in a way that both protects Israel’s legitimate security interests and fulfills the needs of the people of Gaza.” That suggests the likely outcome of the flotilla affair will be that Israel’s security needs will be met, but less vigorously, and the “people of Gaza” will be abandoned. They will get more aid, more food and supplies, maybe some roads and buildings will be repaired—but abandoned they will be. Destined to be ruled by the ruthless and undemocratic Hamas regime without the international community’s protests or objections.

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