Better Never Than Late

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa was warmly greeted by Hamas representatives when the Middle East’s top diplomat paid a visit to Gaza on Sunday. It was the first time Moussa—or any senior Arab official for that matter—had set foot in the coastal enclave since Hamas’ June 2007 break with Fatah resulted in the latter’s expulsion from the territory.

The 12-hour stop was hailed “as historic” by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Despite the gracious reception accorded, ordinary Gazans likely seethed at Moussa’s audacity and opportunism.

What were they to think, after all, when he toured Gaza’s ravaged al-Zeitoun district and met with families who had relatives killed or homes destroyed during Israel’s vicious 2008-2009 assault? Were they expected to forget that the monarchs and dictators comprising the 22-member body Moussa represents did nothing to stop, and had silently lauded, Israel’s attack?

The disingenuous expressions of sympathy and solidarity with Gaza’s imprisoned population by the head of the Arab League, one-and-a-half years after the war’s end, surely fell on deaf ears.

The role played by the Arab client states in this tragedy must be understood in order to appreciate these present-day feelings of betrayal.

In January 2006, Palestinians held parliamentary elections, characterized as free, fair and democratic by all independent and impartial observers. The unexpected outcome was a decisive Hamas victory.

After their win, economic sanctions were slapped on the Palestinian territories by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The punitive measures were supported by several U.S.-allied Arab countries, notably Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

In the following months, and again with the assistance of the aforementioned nations, the U.S. directly funded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction with weapons and training in a bid to displace Hamas by instigating a Palestinian civil war (if not an outright coup). Consequently, political disputes over power-sharing between the two factions soon erupted into street battles.

A February 2007 deal brokered by Saudi Arabia resulted in a ceasefire and the formation of a national unity government. Continued clashes, however, meant its quick demise.

Abbas dissolved the unity government in June 2007 and said he would rule by presidential decree. With the majority of support for Hamas found in Gaza though, Fatah officials were ultimately forced to return to their West Bank strongholds.

After the ouster of Abbas’ U.S. and Israeli-supported fighters, both Israel and Egypt sealed their border with Gaza. A crippling land, sea, and air embargo was instituted and remains in place today.

After Gazans had been sufficiently deprived of basic humanitarian necessities, Operation “Cast Lead” was launched by Israel in late December 2008. Many Arab countries quietly hoped that democratically-elected Hamas, an Islamist party rejecting acquiescence to Israel, would be swept aside—irrespective of the civilian toll it would exact.

Gazans withered in the aftermath of this devastating war and continue to do so under the three-year-old siege. Although there have been increasingly vocal calls to lift it, the Arab League has been largely mute, as have its member states.

Although Moussa did not have the decency to visit the beleaguered territory before now he nonetheless had the temerity to declare, “The siege must be lifted. All the world is now standing with the people of Palestine and the people of Gaza.”

The motive behind Moussa’s trip was, of course, worldwide outrage over the Israeli commando raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, resulting in the killing of nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara with scores more injured.

Indeed, Moussa was shamed into going to Gaza. Still some will see his presence as a sign the Arab League has finally recognized they can no longer stand on the sidelines while the deplorable conditions there worsen, especially when Turkey receives accolades for taking a demonstrable stand.

So, better late than never?

Gazans who have endured the collective punishment meted out by the U.S, Israel and the Arab states since 2006 probably had a much different take on the timing of the Secretary-General’s visit. I suspect they would say: better never, than late.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri [at] yahoo [dot] com.





Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.