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Gaza on the Brink

It is all so bloody and so bloody predictable.  The Mecca deal for a Palestinian unity government is breaking down as Hamas and Fatah's militant factions clash on the streets of Gaza, and simultaneously turn their fire on Israel.

Over 40 Palestinian have already been killed in the internal clashes, and the southern Israeli town of Sderot faces a barrage of Qassam rocket fire with injuries so far, but no casualties.  Israel has responded with air-strikes against Hamas militants and is threatening to further ratchet-up that reaction.  

Those bored already by another tale of Middle East tribalism have lost sight of the implications this clash could have in an already dangerously destabilized region.

American credibility will be further tarnished, the Arab states will feel even more threatened and unwilling to do heavy lifting in Iraq, and the overall regional atmosphere will lurch again in the direction of violent radicalism.

Obviously, this is a moment of truth for the Palestinians, but Israel and the U.S. are hardly disinterested bystanders.

Hamas and Fatah have real political differences, and the Mecca unity deal is a fragile one.  Gaza is awash with poor, young, unemployed males, and guns.  Add to that already combustible mix an international economic embargo and an Israeli, American, and Arab involvement that sides with one faction and provides them with weapons, and you have the recipe for the disaster we are witnessing today.

Rather than easing the economic situation, providing a political horizon, and encouraging the fragile post-Mecca ceasefire, the external actors have been promoting a civil war, with the encouragement of certain elements within Fatah.

For some in Hamas such a scenario provides a convenient excuse for not continuing the difficult path away from violence and into politics, and avoids having to maintain the delicate balancing act of keeping the militants onboard.

Palestinians will have to find their own formula for stepping back from the brink, but Israelis and Americans should be asking themselves some tough questions, too; and a good place to start might be a glance to the Horn of Africa, and to the disaster that is Somalia.

Will Israeli security be improved by having a Mogadishu on its doorstep?  And does such an outcome serve American interests?

A Gazan collapse into chaos and total ungovernability will create a security nightmare for Israel and other surrounding states, and, of course, a humanitarian disaster for the Palestinians themselves.

Fatah cannot win this civil war, forget it.  The alternatives on offer are a serious effort to make the Unity Government work, or Mogadishu.  The Somali capital is now in its second decade of irretrievable chaos and collapse.  The toothpaste is not fully out of the tube in Gaza, but it is preciously close.  Does Israel want to play the role of Ethiopia in Gaza, re-crowning Fatah leaders atop IDF tanks?

Already America is arming certain Fatah factions, and Israeli Vice-Premier Shimon Peres is suggesting that Israel would positively respond to a Fatah call for assistance.  Nothing could be more shortsighted.  If Hamas is kicked out of the government, the alternative is unlikely to be effective Fatah rule and tame Hamas quiescence, but rather the emergence of an al Qaeda foothold inside the Palestinian territories.

Israel and her international allies have to swallow hard and recognize that the route to possible enhanced security and a renewed peace process runs via a Palestinian unity government and the ongoing incorporation of the political Islamists into the governing equation.

That does not mean that the U.S. and Israel need to directly engage with Hamas immediately, or finance them - the Hamas leadership is probably not ready for that either.

But Europeans and others should be encouraged to engage; and their money, together with promised Arab donations, and Palestinian tax money being withheld by Israel should all flow back to the PA.

If and when the fighting cools down, a serious effort must be made to get a unity government to work.  The policy of regime change in Palestine, as elsewhere, has failed.

This is urgent.  As Gaza sneezes, Israel and the region are in danger of catching a very nasty cold.



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Comments (6)


I can only say that anybody who refers to Netanyahu affectionately as Bebe has already forgotten about his corruption or his linear approach to diplomacy.

The fact that Israel's monetary and land-line isolation of the Palestinian government, since Hamas were the democratic majority, has led to the same conclusion as their destabilization -- with similar tactics -- of the previous Fatah government, is as predictable to any simpathetic observer as it was to the hardline Israelis who promulgated these actions.

The deliberation behind Israel's continuous undermining of any Palestinian stability should be obvious to all as their main polcy toward the occupied territories.

Wake up, Israel, if you want peace. Otherwise you will eventually reap what you sow.


Gaza is a premier example of the naïve fiasco that so many wise leaders both within and without Israel warned would happen if land was unilaterally handed over to the Palestinians.

Bebe Netanyahu, for instance, predicted two years ago that if Israel traded Gaza in a "land-for-peace" deal, it would only manage to accomplish two things: propel Hamas into power, and increase the terror against Israel.

First, Hamas would be thrust into power because they would be seen by their people as powerful victors in the war to regain Palestine. By convincing Israel to hand over Gaza after constant shellings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks on civilian tergets, the local Palestinians saw Hamas as powerful victors in the terror war. Netanyahu's prediction proved absolutely true as Hamas handily won control of the Palestinian Parliament bragging they had brought Israel to their knees!

And second, as soon as Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in the land-for-peace deal, the violence did NOT stop for long as the Palestinians stepped up the terrorism under Hamas since they had successfully used violence against civilians to gain the Gaza in the first place! And they will continue to get whatever they want, now that a precident has been set: Hamas terrorism equals Isreali surrender and unilateral defeat.

The moral of the story? NEVER, NEVER negotiate with terrorists. It only gives them more strength and they only commit even bloodier acts of inhumanity spurred on by gaining victory with the weak willed, wishful thinking politicians whom they intimidate with terror in the first place.

Don Key:

I don’t know if it’s being bored by another tribal conflict as much as thinking this snapshot of chaos and violence is any more explosive than past outbreaks (wasn't there worst fighting between the two groups last year?). I trust your expertise here and would hate to see things really blow up there.

The Palestinians, many of who are generational refugees, have been on the edge of catastrophe for some time. I don’t think European or Arab states are going to step in to help as they will be opposing Israel and America. It seems to me that Israel and the U.S. are getting just what they want. They have denounced Hamas and declared it illegitimate from the day it was democratically elected. They have tried to starve it to death and have arrested and assassinated leaders of the government and played the two groups against each other.

The Palestinians have been occupied for decades and what happens in the territories is a reaction to that domination. Israel does not have to take out Hamas if it can get Fatah to do it for them. Remember, it was Abbas who could not deliver and could not be trusted before Hamas was elected. Now he is being played against them.Gaza has been more assaulted, constricted and subjugated since being relinquished by Israel than when it was still officially occupied. I agree it is bloody and predictable.


Things can change in the Middle East so fast. One moment Olmert's saying he's interested in the Arab Peace initiative, the next moment, the Israeli government is obligated to protect its poor citizens and legitimate territory in Sderot.
There's this terrible dual responsibility here- Israel is responsible for a unilateral withdrawal which allowed Gaza's initial descent into a quasi-Mogadishu. Occupation alone created the unique environment conducive to these circumstances. But the country is responsible for its domestic problems at the same time and sending rockets into another country's territory are, indeed, an act of war... It doesn't matter if you are a peacenik, if you were in a bomb shelter right now, you'd most likely want your government to protect you too, whatever the long-term cost.

marvin bleiberg:

Will Israeli security be improved by having a Mogadishu on its doorstep?

If the alternative to a Mogadishu is to have two otherwise warring Palestinian factions working together to blow up Israeli citizens on buses and in pizza shops and to destroy the State of Israel, my answer would be........

Jason S:

If the international community wants to salvage the Unity Government it will support Israel's in Gaza that will bring Shock and Awe to the Palestinians. What better way to salvage unity - Fatah and Hamas will soon be united but not in peace --- in war (against Israel) Intifada III. Note: I am being sadly sarcastic. (or am I)

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