Egypt’s decision to open its border with Gaza is the latest evidence that the fallout from the Arab Spring protests won’t necessarily lead to democracy or peace. The announcement by Egypt’s transitional government appears to be an effort to curry favor with the Egyptian public as well as rewarding Hamas for signing a unity pact with Fatah, the group that runs the Palestinian Authority.
The open border will be an immense boost for the Hamas terror group that runs Gaza. They will now no longer be forced to smuggle weapons in through tunnels but will now presumably be able to have munitions and other strategic materials trucked over the border in larger quantities than ever before. This will not only make it easier for them to conduct terror operations against Israel but raise the price of any possible Israeli counterattack.
This will not only strengthen Hamas’s vise-like grip on the Strip but also reconfigure the balance of power between the Islamist group and its more secular Fatah rivals. The unity pact that brought the two groups together was an admission on the part of the Palestinian Authority that it had no hope of ever retaking Gaza (control of which was seized by Hamas in a bloody 2007 coup). Fatah also had a reasonable fear of growing Hamas strength in the West Bank. The open supply line from Egypt to Gaza will weaken Fatah even further, rendering PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s pledge that Hamas will have no role in a future Palestinian administration even more farcical.
But there is another point to be made about Egypt’s drift toward Hamas. Despite all the talk about democracy in the Arab world, including President Obama’s speech last week, as Sol Stern wrote yesterday at Jewish Ideas Daily, no one seems terribly interested in promoting Palestinian democracy. Gaza is a place, Stern observes, “where more than a million Palestinians suffer under a regime so repressive that Mubarak’s Egypt seems like a bastion of liberty by comparison.” And yet not only did the president have no encouragement to offer those who chafe under Hamas’s Islamist rule, it now appears that the largest victory of the Arab Spring—the fall of Mubarak—will strengthen Hamas’s hold on power.
Democracy and the rule of law are the right of every people but it is far from clear that post-Mubarak Egypt will have either. The army may wind up sharing a bit of power with the Muslim Brotherhood. While some argue that the Arab Spring protests ought to inspire Israel to make concessions that might lead to peace, the reality is that post-protest Arab world may be less interested in peace than in efforts to renew the 63-year-old war on the Jewish state.