In just one brutal week, Hamas seized total control of Gaza from Fatah. Both sides acted with unrestrained savagery defenestrating prisoners by dropping them, arms and legs bound, from windows twenty stories high, or executing them gangland style in front of their families. In all, more than 160 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, a toll that will likely rise to close to 200.
Though Fatah had more men and arms, Hamas proved far more determined and disciplined, and had little difficulty surrounding and then overrunning Fatah’s main positions. Fatah’s Gaza strongman Muhammed Dahlan was not even in Gaza, and most senior Fatah commanders were conspicuous primarily by their absence from the scene, even as Hamas was gleefully trashing the luxury villas they had built for themselves.
Hamas’s complete victory represented the worst nightmare not only for Israeli policymakers, but for the Americans and neighboring Arab states as well. All were caught off guard by the speed and magnitude of Hamas’s victory. The Americans must now re-examine all existing (and tired) formulas for dealing with the Palestinian-Arab conflict. Just two weeks ago, for instance, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was pressuring Israel to open up free passage between Gaza and the West Bank – a demand now exposed as the height of folly.
Iran, Hamas’s principle financial backer, has now acquired another client mini-state on Israel’s border. And like Hizbullah-land on the northern border, that mini-state is Islamist in hue and increasingly heavily armed. Egypt suddenly finds itself with a mini-state that espouses the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood – the major nemesis of Hosni Mubarak’s regime – right next door. And if Hamas manages to take its battle against the ever more discredited Fatah to the West Bank as well, the stability of the Hashemite regime in Jordan could be threatened.
The most immediate threat of Hamastan, of course, is to Israel. By giving up control over Gaza’s border with Egypt via the Philadelphia Corridor pursuant to the Gaza withdrawal, Israel paved the way for vast amounts of weaponry to enter Gaza. In addition, Hamas was able to send its men for military training in Iran and elsewhere, training that proved itself in last week’s rapid victory over more numerous Fatah forces, and which, in turn, makes Gaza a far more dangerous place for Israeli troops if and when they are forced to re-enter.
Over the last year, heavy armaments have been pouring across the Egyptian-Gaza border. In addition, Hamas has greatly added to its store of arms by seizing $59 million in armaments supplied by the United States (with Israel’s permission) to bolster the various security services allegedly loyal to Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. A senior Hamas official told the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh that Hamas had captured 50,000 rifles and guns, dozens of military vehicles, tons of ammunition, and thousands of rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
Gaza is already the most densely populated place on earth, and one of the most miserable. Between 1950 and 2007, the population of Gaza jumped from 240,000 to 1.5 million, and is projected to grow to 2.2. million by 2020. That huge population growth has been abetted by the United Natons Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which treats every single Gaza resident as a refugee, and assumes responsibility for the housing, medication, and schooling of every infant born.
Yet despite the huge amounts of humanitarian aid pouring into Gaza – the World Bank reports that international humanitarian aid actually doubled in the year following Hamas’s electoral triumph -- economic development is nil, more than half the population is functionally unemployed, and per capita income keeps dropping. Most of the international aid over the years has been either skimmed off the top by the Fatah kleptocracy or used to buy weapons and pay the salaries of 50,000 armed men.
Nearly a million angry young males, with little to look forward to in life other than blowing themselves up killing Israelis make Gaza highly volatile. Even before Hamas’s lightning victory last week, former National Security Advisor, Gen. Giora Eiland, warned that the instability in Gaza would render any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians worthless.
Former Deputy Chief of IDF Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror succinctly summarizes what Israel can expect from Gaza in the near future: "Israel will face an organized system of guerilla warfare similar to what is going on in Lebanon. This system will grow stronger and stronger with each passing day. In the long term, this entity will have long-range missiles and other capabilities, which will threaten not only Sderot, but Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon, and Ashdod as well."
According to Amidror, Israel has no choice but to re-enter Gaza, or, at the very least, to take control over the Philadelphia Corridor. An alternative would be for Egypt to fulfill its undertakings and more actively patrol its border with Gaza, but past experience shows that Egypt’s primary concern will be to prevent Gazans from fleeing towards Egypt, and not preventing the influx of arms and well-trained guerilla fighters into Gaza.
Past experience also shows that the United States will never use the $1.8 billion dollars in annual aid to Egypt to pressure Egypt to act more forcefully against arms smuggling. Even when Egypt publicly led the charge in the Arab world against the United State’s democracy initiative, and ridiculed President Bush and Secretary of State Rice in its semi-official press, it suffered no adverse consequences.
The Philadelphia Corridor is far too narrow to defend, and Israel would be forced to greatly expand it and knock down hundreds of Palestinian dwellings in the process. If Israel undertakes a major construction project, such as a sea-water canal along the Gaza-Egyptian border to thwart further construction of tunnels from Egypt, it will have to maintain a large force in the area for many months.
Those forces will inevitably come under constant attack from Hamas forces, just as did Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, and there will be casualties. In addition, Israel will once again be viewed by the international community as an occupying power, with responsibility for Gaza’s population. Yet it is hard to see what alternatives Israel has if it does not wish to acquiesce to Hamas’s further arms buildup.
While the Hamas takeover of Gaza poses serious dangers for Israel, it may also offer some advantages as well. For one thing, Hamas’s absolute control clarifies and simplifies matters both for Israeli military planning and for Israel’s public relations around the world. No longer can Israel be accused of undermining moderate Palestinians when it acts against Hamas, which has never ceased proclaiming its goal of destroying Israel. Hamastan is an enemy state, and Israel can now treat it as such. (Whether it will is a much bigger question.)
Today Israel supplies all of Gaza’s electricity and gas, and most of its petroleum products as well. Israel has not yet used the threat of cutting off water and electricity as a means of ending Palestinian missile fire. But, on the other hand, what country in the world would go on supplying water and electricity to an enemy with which it is at war? And who could deny that continuing missile fire into Israel is an act of war?
With the supposedly "moderate" Fatah forces out of Gaza, Israel will not have to be as careful when targeting armed terrorists as it has been in the past.
A SECOND GREAT DANGER FROM LAST WEEK’S EVENTS is that they might trigger a new round of fanciful peacemaking with Fatah on the West Bank. Here is where the continuation in power of the government of the overwhelmingly unpopular Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert poses a great danger to Israel. Olmert is so unpopular that his only hope of re-election is to pull off a really dramatic peace-making gesture – something on a par with Ehud Barak’s 2000 Camp David initiative. And an almost equally unpopular American administration will likely encourage him in that direction, with far less downside risk from the American point of view.
The premise of that peace-making will be that the Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration of the end of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority permits Israel to deal directly with Abbas and focus exclusively on the West Bank. The theory is that Abbas truly wants peace and is no longer constrained by his partnership with Hamas.
This rosy scenario overlooks the fact that last week’s civil war in the Gaza Strip was not over the issue of peace with Israel, i.e., a Hamas committed to Israel’s destruction vs. peace-loving Fatah. Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyr’s Brigade has been involved in no less terrorist activity than Hamas. The battle in Gaza was over power and the division of spoils, not over making peace with Israel.
Moreover, the events of last week thoroughly discredited Abbas, even within his own Fatah movement. He dithered and vacillated in the face of Hamas’s military initiative, and, in most cases, Fatah fighters put down their arms without offering resistance. Orders to fight never arrived. There is no evidence that Abbas can even give orders to his own valet much less serve as a credible representative of the Palestinians in the West Bank or anywhere else. And if he cannot deliver, he is no peace partner.
Calls have been heard within Fatah itself to try Mahmoud Dahlan for treason and for a WInograd-style commission to investigate the collapse of Fatah in Gaza. But, significantly, those calling for a Palestinian Winograd Commission also reiterated Monday that the one unchanging Fatah position is the end of the Israeli occupation.
Caroline Glick ridiculed the West Bank first strategy with her customary bite on the eve of President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert’s joint announcement of their recognition of Abbas’s new government in the West Bank, a resumption of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, and Israel’s release of $700 million in Israeli-held tax revenues. "Why would a handover of Judea and Samaria to Abbas’s Fatah produce a better outcome than Israel’s 2005 handover of Gaza to Abbas’s Fatah?" she asked.
Despite receiving massive quantities U.S. arms and being trained by U.S. Gen. Keith Dayton, Fatah fighters lifted barely a finger in defense last week. Why would they do any better in the West Bank at suppressing terror?
Ever since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the combination of the security fence and an active IDF presence in the West Bank has dramatically reduced terrorist attacks against Israel. It would be a fool’s bargain to now turn the task over to groups who have never shown the slightest inclination to do so.
When we see an end to incitement against Israel, changes in Palestinian textbooks, and signs of realism from the Palestinians and a recognition that they cannot hold onto their maximalist demands forever, then it will be time to talk about the West Bank. But that day of reckoning has not yet arrived among the Palestinians. As Fouad Ajami writes in the June 19 New York Times: "The distinction between the ‘secularism’ of Fatah and the Islamism of Hamas [i]n the cruel streets and refugee camps of the Palestinians is . . . a distinction without a difference," precisely because the Palestinians have never been told by their leaders that they must be prepared to compromise.
ONE FINAL CONSEQUENCE OF LAST WEEK’S BLOODLETTING: it has revealed to the world the toxic effects of the long-term exposure to the cult of death and violence that has seized not only Gaza but much of the Muslim world. Needless to say there will be those who seek to lay the blame on Israel for Palestinians tossing one another of tall buildings on Israel – in this case on Ariel Sharon from withdrawing from Gaza and leaving the natives to their own devices.
The N.Y. Times and Boston Globe editorial pages have already taken that route. And the BBC has made blaming Israel and the West the staple of all its reporting from Gaza in the last week. On the BBC website, one can read many such pearls of wisdom from Jeremy Bowen, its Middle East editor. He writes: "The institutions, and the hopes behind them, have already taken a severe beating from Israel’s military actions over the last seven years and, more recently from the punishing financial sanctions imposed by Israel and other countries after Hamas won a free election at the beginning of last year. . . . "
One would like to hear from Bowen one piece of evidence of Palestinian "hopes" to build a sane polity for themselves rather than focus on destroying Israel, some acknowledgment that Israel’s military actions are responses to missile attacks on Israeli civilians, or that official funding (total funding actually doubled, as noted above) was cut because Hamas would never renounce its calls for Israel’s destruction, not even for appearances’ sake.
There will always be an audience for Bowen’s form of nonsense. But there will also be those who eventually weary of the unending excuses for Palestinian barbarity, especially as voices are raised in the Arab world calling a spade a spade. Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, was a good deal more honest than Bowen when he said, "The Palestinians have come close to putting, by themselves, the last nail in the coffin of the Palestinian cause."
Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, the former dean of the faculty of Islamic law at Qatar University, has recently written in Gulf state newspapers, "We have taught [our children] to die for Alla-h, but we have not taught them to love, to build, to create, to help society for the sake of Alla-h. . . . . How can this miserable creature called the Arab and Muslim individual not turn to extremism, when he is surrounded by an over-all atmosphere of extremism, . . . girded by the ideas of intimidation and terrorization, and of almost endless torment. . . . Go to any Friday sermon, and you will find a preacher who is enraged at the world, angry at civilization, spreading the poison of hatred and enmity."
Liberal Egyptian author Kamal Gabriel explains how the sanctification of violence and blood-spilling initially directed against Jews and Israel eventually spilled over into intra-Palestinian bloodletting and deformed Palestinian and Arab society. "[A]ll against all infighting and its basic code have become the mental and psychological makeup of the Palestinian people, as a natural result of the predominant discourse of hostility and incitement. [This discourse] has been adopted by Palestinians of all persuasions and in all the factions . . . . "
The sooner the world and the Palestinians themselves acknowledge their responsibility for the deformation of their own society into one based on brutality and murder the sooner it will be to imagine the possibility of peace between Jews and Palestinians. Until then, last week’s violence should remain the last nail in the coffin of all talk about a two-state solution or further territorial withdrawal.