With the fighting in Gaza seemingly winding down, stories are starting to trickle out about Gaza residents’ unhappiness with Hamas for starting a new war every few years. The Associated Press devoted its “big story” to the topic yesterday; the Washington Post ran a similar story on August 12. Seemingly, that’s an encouraging development. But closer analysis leaves little ground for optimism.
First, the criticism was primarily over tactics: People objected to Hamas launching rockets from their backyards or thought it should have accepted a cease-fire earlier. But as the Washington Post noted, there was virtually no disagreement over strategy: “Most Palestinians, even Hamas’s biggest detractors, say they back the current war against Israel, believing it is the only way to achieve the short-term Palestinian demands of lifting the Israeli and Egyptian economic blockades of Gaza and opening the strip’s border crossings.”
In other words, Palestinians still haven’t grasped the simple fact that the blockade was imposed in response to the nonstop rocket fire on Israel from Gaza, and its primary goal is to limit Hamas’ ability to import war materiel. They have evidently forgotten that when Israel first withdrew from Gaza in mid-2005, a U.S.-brokered agreement arranged for the border crossings to open under Palestinian Authority and European supervision; only two years and thousands of rockets later, after Hamas booted the PA out of Gaza in mid-2007, did both Israel and Egypt institute stringent restrictions at the crossings. Thus instead of concluding that the best way to get Israel to end the blockade would be to stop shooting at it, Palestinians still think the best way to end the blockade is to bombard Israel with even more rockets.
Even worse, however, is that both Washington and Europe seem hell-bent on proving them right. One might have thought the discovery that Hamas diverted enormous quantities of imported cement – enough, as one Israeli officer noted, to build “two hospitals, 20 clinics, 20 schools, and 100 kindergartens” – into building tunnels to attack Israel would have led the West to realize that Israel’s insistence on regulating construction imports had some merit. Instead, Western leaders are pressing Israel to agree to significant concessions during the Cairo cease-fire talks. On July 27, for instance, a White House readout of a call between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Obama had demanded a cease-fire “that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs,” while relegating Israel’s demand for Gaza’s disarmament to an ever-elusive “lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – i.e., the far-distant future.
In short, the West has been pressuring Israel to show Gaza residents that Hamas’ strategy works, and that a war every few years really will force it into concessions. And Israel has begun capitulating to this pressure, having reportedly agreed to several steps to ease the blockade, though not yet to removing it totally.
Even without this, the chances of Gaza residents revolting against Hamas were slim, given the organization’s reign of terror. As one Gazan critical of Hamas bluntly told Haaretz last week, “One mustn’t express an opinion about the war. They’ll make you trouble if you say anything. I speak my mind, but others, if they say what they think, they’ll say they’re collaborators, or they’ll beat them or even kill them.” AP similarly warned that “Under Hamas rule, it’s rare and dangerous to share even as much as a hint of criticism of the government with outsiders”; indeed, few Hamas critics quoted in any of the articles were willing to be identified by name.
But if Hamas had nothing to show for its endless wars, even cowed Gazans might someday decide they’d had enough. Instead, Hamas seems likely to return from Cairo with Israeli concessions that will force even its critics to shut up and admit that its strategy works. It’s hard to imagine a better way to ensure that the countdown to the next Israel-Hamas war will be short.