There has been an array of commentary on Gaza over the past weeks. Hamas’ military takeover of the Gaza Strip brought the malaise of its people, the weakness of Fatah and Hamas’ ability to implement law and order into the world limelight. As outside commentators it is quite simple to chose sides in this seeming Fatah-Hamas divide, and yet what is really at stake for Palestinians in Gaza, now governed by a Hamas cabinet sacked by the president, and Palestinians in the West Bank, governed by a Fatah president and his unilaterally determined emergency government?
A Palestinian once told me, it is better to have corrupt leadership (referring to Fatah) than leaders that cannot provide Palestinians with their daily needs. In the second example he was of course referring to the 2006 election victory of Hamas subsequent to which a majority of international aid to the Palestinians was suspended and Israel illegally withheld all tax monies collected on behalf of the Palestinians. This only added to another Palestinian social crisis. Since the start of the second Intifada in late 2000 Palestinian laborers permitted into Israel, once numbering over 100,000, were on a constant decline. By the time Hamas was elected to power the gate into Israel for laborers was finally closed. One would think that a pragmatic unemployed Palestinian is likely to see the immediate consequences of those years of violent resistance and Hamas’ election win as a disaster. Many Palestinians with their immediate need in mind turn a very critical gaze towards Hamas’ latest actions in Gaza, other than the unprecedented safe internal security situation in Gaza, the material consequences of the Hamas takeover have been largely bad news for most Palestinians and their shattered economy.
On the 4th of July, while many were celebrating the reported release of abducted journalist Alan Johnston, an event which cemented Hamas’ ability to implement law and order, Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization issued a very different report entitled, “Commercial Paralysis: Deleting Gaza’s Economy from the Map.” In it they detailed the recent closure of 75% of Gaza’s few functioning factories since Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip; 30,000 factory workers, 10% of Gaza’s work force stand to loose their jobs. Furthermore, with the shortage of wheat in Gaza, three mills are at a standstill with others soon to follow; it is the poorest of the poor (73% of Gazans live under the poverty line) that will suffer most under these conditions.
With exports at a complete standstill, salesmen are also feeling the crunch as Israel is allowing only a fragment of the minimum Palestinian humanitarian needs to enter Gaza. Although government employees have received the first full month’s wage in 17 months, they aren’t spending much of it, for that the days ahead are too uncertain. The Rafah border that connects Gazans to the outside world has remained closed since July 9th. Thousands remain stranded there with no way back to Egypt and no way to their homes in Gaza.
For some, the solution to all this is Mahmoud Abbas’ newly designated emergency government in the West Bank. The newly formed cabinet, made up mostly of “independents” is taking a strong pro-Western line in order to loosen the burden on their people.
The emergency government is taking a stance of submission.
President Mahmoud Abbas responded to Hamas’ military takeover of the Gaza Strip by forming an emergency government, annulling the Fatah-Hamas unity government and isolating the Hamas leadership, considering them the perpetrators of a military coup. The Palestinian emergency government immediately agreed to the Quartet’s demands (made up of the US, EU, UN and Russia) that included the recognition of Israel, applying all past agreements made between Israel and the PA and condemning all use of violence. Western funds and taxes held by Israel were immediately promised to the new government, headed by US and EU favorite Salam Fayyad. Promises were made by Israel to ease roadblocks and closure on the West Bank. The roadblocks were never changed and yet within weeks a segment of withheld taxes were transferred to the PA who subsequently paid most government employees a full month’s wage for the first time in 17 months.
Many Palestinians that are willing to submit to Israel and international demands are doing so because of a simple pragmatism or an undying party allegiance and yet in the long run their decision will have no positive results for their people. The end of this path will ultimately be the wiping out of the Palestinian cause. Israel will continue to build settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank, implement its vision for a greater Israel and carry out any “security measures” on Palestinians that it deems necessary along the way. The West Bank will eventually become a large number of small Gazas, cities and communities enclosed, walled off and separated from each other.
By submitting to Western and Israeli pressure Palestinians sacrifice their cause on behalf of a pragmatism that includes Western governments paying Palestinian government salaries and returning to a sustained status quo of weakness in the face of harsh Israeli occupation and subjugation. The PA will maintain its status as a collector of handouts in order to preserve its function. Today an illegal process accompanies the choice of submission, which undermines the voice of the people and their election vote and undoes Palestinian legislative laws by overruling the elected parliament and setting up an illegal emergency government.
Submission is a short-term band-aid leading to long-term disaster in the form of the annihilation of the Palestinian cause.
After Hamas formed a government and even during the unity government that followed the Mecca Agreement between Hamas and Fatah in February of this year, the elected leaders were never given control of the security forces in Gaza. On June 14 Hamas used force to finally claim its rightful position, thereby preventing a US funded Fatah plot to overthrow Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Last week, Jordan’s king Abdullah said that Hamas’s control of Gaza was sure to worsen the humanitarian plight of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there. U.N. officials have confirmed the ominous humanitarian crisis. Yet, closure is nothing new for Gazans. Borders remained increasingly closed after Hamas’ election win in early 2006 and again tightened after an Israeli soldier was captured on the border of Gaza in June later that year. With the increased pressure today, mind you without allowing the Palestinians to starve thus preventing an international uproar, the Hamas leadership is not buckling under the pressure. Their response with a variety of forms of resistance is causing a threat precisely because Hamas is not willing to submit to Israel and its allies and their imperial strategies.
On Monday Hamas barred Israeli fruit from entering the Gaza Strip, thereby implementing a plan to boycott Israeli goods. According to the Israeli Fruit Growers Association this will cost Israeli farmers NIS 3-5 million a day. The Jerusalem Post reported that the extra fruit was likely to flood Israeli markets causing a price crisis. Recently Haaretz reported that some Israeli fruit was grown specifically for the Gaza market and was not sale worthy elsewhere. Israel has been using Gaza as a captive market, even at a high price Hamas is not willing to play along.
Another development has pitted Hamas’ position against that of the emergency government and president Abbas. Hamas will not allow Israel to replace the Rafah border crossing with the Israeli controlled Karm Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) crossing as Gaza’s only gateway to the outside world.
The permanent closure of Rafah for travelers would completely isolate Hamas and cripple their leadership’s ability to freely travel while giving Israel full control of who to permit exit and entry to Gaza. In order to prevent the establishment of these unjustifiable “facts on the ground” Hamas and other resistance forces in Gaza have been carrying out continuous attacks on the Israeli crossing. Abbas’ emergency government’s recent calling for the Karm Abu Salim’s opening after government officials visited Palestinians stranded in Egypt, reveals its complicity in the plan to undermine Hamas and oppose any serious form of resistance against unilateral Israeli policies. The Jerusalem Post cites the attacks on the border as “anti-Israeli.” Are not the international community, Israel and the emergency government’s opposition to the opening of the Rafah border anti-Palestinian?
During the emergency government ministers’ visit to Palestinians stranded in the Egyptian town of Rafah, protesters responded by chanting, “We don’t want Fatah or Hamas, we just want to get out of here.” There are likely many in the Palestinian street who would call for this very thing, yet a current poll carried out on the independent news agency Maan’s website, shows a significant point of view. At the time of viewing approximately 81,000 individuals had participated in the survey which determined that over 42% of voters would choose Ismail Haniyeh as their candidate of choice in renewed presidential elections, while 34% would vote for Mahmoud Abbas.
The people have spoken.
Submission is not the answer.
PHILIP RIZK is an Egyptian-German who has lived in Gaza since August 2005 where he works and writes. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org