Creating people's geographies
Hamas’ recent takeover of the Gaza Strip has been described as many things: an escalation of Palestinian civil war, a threat to Israel’s existence, and a major setback for Palestinian statehood. The last of these descriptions, prevalent throughout the American mainstream press, has dramatic consequences for those seriously interested in the peaceful co-existence of both Palestinian and Israeli states.
Newly elected Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak, who is set to take over as defense minister on Monday, is planning to launch a military operation aimed at combating Hamas in Gaza, Britain’s Sunday Times [see below] reported. The British publication quotes an Israeli source as saying that the operation will include 20,000 troops and will be aimed at destroying Hamas’ military capabilities in a short period of time.
ISRAEL’s new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there. According to senior Israeli military sources, the plan calls for 20,000 troops to destroy much of Hamas’s military capability in days. The raid would be triggered by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel or a resumption of suicide bombings. Barak, who is expected to become defence minister tomorrow, has already demanded detailed plans to deploy two armoured divisions and an infantry division, accompanied by assault drones and F-16 jets, against Hamas.
The reality is that the only people who are really behind Salam Fayyad are the European and US diplomats who have long sung his praises behind the scenes to any journalist prepared to listen.
The two discuss US and Israel’s involvement in the recent fighting between Fatah and Hamas which has been commonly referred to as a civil war.
WHAT HAPPENS when one and a half million human beings are imprisoned in a tiny, arid territory, cut off from their compatriots and from any contact with the outside world, starved by an economic blockade and unable to feed their families? Some months ago, I described this situation as a sociological experiment set up by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The population of the Gaza Strip as guinea pigs. This week, the experiment showed results.
Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn’t like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.
After routing Fatah in Gaza and taking over every last security stronghold, it seems Hamas has noticed it has reached a bit of a dead end politically and has declared its continued recognition of Abu Mazen as the legitimate Palestinian president. Fatah on the other hand has responded by naming the Gaza Strip a renegade entity and declaring an emergency government in the West Bank. This is the most bizarre democracy concoction the U.S. has created here.
It may be assumed that the military takeover of Abbas’ symbols of “sovereignty” will serve as an excuse for Israel to sever once and for all the remaining civilian and economic ties between the Gaza Strip and West Bank – a political process Israel started in 1991.
The Palestinians have done more to advance psycho-biological science than all the rats of the world put together. A good million Palestinians know from experience that if you occupy them militarily, coop them up in 360 square kilometres, destroy and loot their houses, cut off electricity and drinking water, regularly bomb them, make them see they have no future and if finally you blockade their economy and arm the leaders, then the very least that will happen is that they set about shooting at one another.
Ever since the Palestinians had the audacity to elect the wrong government – one that wouldn’t recognise the one-sided Oslo agreement, one whose name was not synonymous with corruption and collaboration, one that demanded the right for self-determination – Israel and its backers in the West (the most dedicated of whom, the US and certain members of the EU, are part of the ‘mediator’ Quartet) have been going out of their way to undermine that government. As in Darfur, guns and starvation are a potent combination; throwing arms at the electorally discredited Fatah movement, while choking the Gaza strip (already perhaps best described as an ‘open prison’, the most densely populated strip of land on the planet) with a brutal
seigeregime of sanctions inevitably resulted in violence.
The rout has been complete in Gaza, forcing Abbas to accept Hamas’s terms for a new truce. Gaza, as Abbas aides have said bluntly, “is lost.” Another spectacular Middle East debacle for the Bush Administration’s trophy cabinet. Hundreds of Palestinians have died and thousands more have had their lives ruined by the brutal arrogant folly of Rice, Abrams and company. Hamas is in power because the Palestinian people wanted it there, and no amount of economic strangulation or proxy warfare has altered that fact. It didn’t have to go this way; this was the route that Washington chose, believing it would prevail.
Behind the scenes of course Israel and the west played off the many factions in the Arab world against each other, and nothing ever changed. Sure, there was constant low grade terrorism, but in the world of realpolitik a few dead western civilians a year was a small price to pay for Israel’s regional dominance and western control of the oil. In 2001 it all changed though. A new administration came to power in Washington. More than a politically affiliated administration, these were ideologues. Yes, Bush and company actually believed the propaganda about Israel and its enemies, they actually believed that the world consists of good guys and bad guys.
If what we want to see is a relatively stable Palestinian democracy with the capacity to engage in meaningful peace negotiations with Israel (and again I emphasise that these are not the objectives of the Israeli government), the policies we should follow are obvious, as they have been for months. The Hamas government should be recognised as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and should be engaged with in the form of meaningful final status negotiations. The criminal sanctions regime must end, and the Israeli policies that have effectively destroyed what was left of the Palestinian economy (the roadblocks, the border closures, the annexation wall, etc.) must be reversed. If, on the other hand, our goal is the continuing breakdown of Palestinian society and the further destruction of any chance for peace, then by all means we should continue down the path we’re on.
Oppressed peoples have known similar experiences. At the end of the 80s, a monthly average of 100 black South Africans were killed in black-on-black violence, and between 1990-1993 an average of 259 blacks per month were killed. These were the last days of the apartheid. One hopes that the Palestinian internal bloodshed will come to an end soon and with it the dawn of freedom.