Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Palestinians could change Gaza

It should hardly be a surprise that recent coverage by the so-called peace loving left about Gaza retains a remarkable willingness to be blind to what the “government” in Gaza did to provoke Israel into sealing off its border.
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Let me remind you. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Withdrew, that’s right pulled out as it has been asked since 1967. It has no governance or military presence on this strip of land whatsoever. It has removed the 9000 or so Jewish settlements, it has essentially done exactly what all of its opponents asked of it, regarding Gaza. Now some argue that as Israel still controls the airspace, territorial waters and the borders with Israel that there is not complete control, but still, it is sovereign territory notwithstanding that.

The Palestinian authority elections in 2006 saw Palestinian voters have a set of odious choices. The main ones were either vote for Fatah, which supports peaceful co-existence with Israel, but has proven itself highly corrupt and administratively incompetent, or vote for Hamas, which wants to destroy Israel, but also has run schools, medical centres and tends to be far less prone to corruption. There were other parties offering alternatives that were not Islamist and with no background on corruption. Some of these could have provided a more reformist way forward, but no they chose Hamas. By choosing Hamas, Palestinian voters chose war with Israel.
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Without going into the detail about Hamas being effectively ousted from power in the West Bank, it remains that Hamas governs Gaza. Israel’s withdrawal means it is effectively the government of a rump Palestinian state of sorts. What did Hamas do with this power? It started firing rockets into Israel proper – you know, the country that is a UN member state, recognised by the vast majority of countries around the world including Egypt and Jordan. Hamas decided that it was more worthwhile to attack Israel than to try to rebuild the shattered infrastructure and economy of Gaza, blighted by conflict over decades. Why? Because Hamas has little interest in the here and now, but every interest in fighting the “infidels”.
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With over 4,000 rockets hitting Israel, Israel could, on the basis of self defence, have reoccupied Gaza to root out those attacking it. It has not. What it has done is impose economic sanctions against the Hamas regime (Western countries including New Zealand have imposed such sanctions against countries that never laid a hand on it), built a barrier around Gaza (Israeli side not Egyptian) to restrict entry by terrorists into Israel, and put up a blockade against most imports that could aid and assist those attacking Israel. It has also attacked from the air, sites from where rockets are being launched.
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If you listened to the views of Israel’s critics it should have done none of this, but sit back and watched its people’s homes be bombarded from a territory that Israel does not control. It is notable that Egypt hasn’t much tolerated the onslaught of Palestinians on its border either, but nobody blames Egypt do they?
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Gaza, of course, is in an appalling state. It has high population density (though lower than the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore), under developed and hardly a haven of prosperity. Hamas could change that of course.
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It could stop attacking Israel and announce that Gaza will not be a base for attacks on Israel. It might find economic sanctions get lifted. It could seek to be outward looking and encourage Palestinians to seek trade as the way forward, and presumably their wealthy allies in Saudi Arabia might cough up some of their funds to finance simple infrastructure such as water, sewage, roads and electricity. Of course they wont, because keeping Palestinians in poverty, angry and willing to fight to regain Jerusalem is exactly what their rich friends want. The Palestinians are, in some respect, waging a proxy war for Iran and Saudi Arabia, one that makes them the losers.
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In other words, there is a chance for Gaza to, with some effort, be transformed. It is on a stretch of land that could become an attraction for tourists, it has horticulture and could become a free trade area, if only Hamas would also set up an independent judiciary that could enforce private property rights and contracts.
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I doubt whether it will, of course. You see Hamas worships the afterlife, being Islamists. It cultivates a culture that worships violence, celebrates death and honours those who give their lives to take those of others. It actively recruits the young to sacrifice their lives for this cause of violence.
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Gaza could be so much more than a strip of hell. Remember, Israel withdrew – it doesn’t want it back – Palestinians have it, and they wont get Israel proper – ever. If Gaza could succeed, then it would have positive effects on the West Bank, as Palestinians no longer act as victims, but set up a haven of prosperity, freedom and peace. Doing that will open borders with Israel (and the world) more than any militancy ever could.

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