The Situation in Gaza
By Juan Cole
June 19, 2007
I have been traveling and not able to spend as much time as usual
scanning the news, but of course have followed the events in Palestine
It is to be expected that a lot of comment in the United States on
these events will be rife with racist attitudes and polemical
dismissals. The Palestinians have long been demonized by the Western
media, apparently for not going along quietly with their expulsion
from their homes, the large scale theft of their land, and their
reduction to an almost slave-like status of statelessness.
Palestinians are not intrinsically more violent than anyone else, not
essentially less able to administer or govern than anyone else. Few
countries have not had civil wars or at least major civil conflicts.
The question should be not "Why are Palestinians like that?"-- which
is a racist question-- but what social and economic factors are
driving the present conflict?
Why is it that so little analysis is offered of why things have
developed as they have? Isn't anyone interested in the important
differences between Gaza's economy and that of the West Bank? Gaza is
much poorer and much more isolated from the world. Is it any big
surprise that its population is more radicalized and might be drawn
into supporting Hamas?
The Gazan population is being thrown into more misery by an Israeli
blockade of electricity, fuel and even food. (Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert says that it will be a humanitarian blockade; if you
believe that, I have a bridge over the River Jordan you can purchase
inexpensively from me). UNRWA is warning against the blockade. With an
unemployment rate of 50% and widespread malnutrition, caused by the
ordinary everyday Israeli pressure on Gaza, the territory's population
can't take much more extra deprivation without an immense human toll
It seems obvious that Hamas will be overthrown in Gaza, jointly by
Mahmud Abbas, Israel and the United States. But it seems unlikely that
Mahmud Abbas will gain any genuine authority there if that is how he
comes to power. And, the events of the past few days have driven a
nail into the coffin of Bush's "democratization" program for the
"Greater Middle East." The Haniyah Hamas government had come to power
in free and fair elections, but was immediately boycotted, starved of
resources, and actually often simply kidnapped by the Israelis; and is
now being put out of office in a kind of coup. The people of the Arab
world are not blind or stupid. If this is what the "Greater Middle
East" looks like, it will too closely resemble, for their taste, the
colonial 19th century, When Europeans dictated government to Middle
If Bush and the Israelis couldn't live with a Hamas electoral victory,
they should have exluded Hamas from running a year and a half ago. The
Egyptians don't let explicitly religious parties contest elections,
and a similar rule could have been made in Palestine. Holding an
election, having people win it with whom you won't deal, and then
overturning the election with militias, is a recipe for violence and
instability. That's what happened in Algeria in the early 1990s, and
it caused untold suffering.
The Israelis may be sighing a sigh of relief that the Palestinians are
busy fighting one another for the moment. But what has happened is not
good for Israel in the medium to long term, since I suspect it signals
the end of the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. And, if you
don't have a two-state solution, ultimately the likelihood is that
Israel will be stuck with the Palestinians as citizens. The world is
not going to look the other way forever as they are kept stateless,
poor, landless and hungry.
Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute
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