A Stumbling Block In Gaza
For anyone who has spent a significant amount of time watching Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the announcement of renewed peace talks (albeit, by proxy) has likely been met with a mix of emotions. There is the hope that finally progress will be made and both sides will move closer to peace, and yet there is this nagging fear that this latest effort will fail, as so many have in the past. Looking at the situation from the outside, one significant roadblock I can see is it that it’s hard to imagine that Israel will be able to find an effective partner for peace among the Palestinian leadership. The main problem here is that Hamas, a terrorist organization which took control of Gaza, partly through elections and partly through a violent purge of the Palestinian Authority leadership, in 2006, hardly seems like the kind of organization with which Israel will be able to make a lasting deal.
In order for real peace to be made between Israel and the Palestinians, the influence and power of Hamas must be neutralized somehow. Even if Israel could somehow make a separate deal with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, an even more marginalized Gaza with Hamas in charge would spell trouble not only for Israel in the long run, but likely for the new Palestinian state in the West Bank, and likely for Egypt as well. Furthermore, events such as Operation Cast Lead in 2009 demonstrated quite clearly that Hamas is willing to go to great lengths to maintain their grip on power in Gaza.
One possibility would be for the Saudis to fund a “civil society development fund,” which would only be accessible by the PA leadership, and would have strict oversight by a board made up of representatives from neutral nations. The PA could use these funds with the guidance of other developed, stable nations in the region and beyond to work towards creating an independent, viable state. Although, the Saudis played the role of antagonist and spoiler in 1948, in recent years they have shown some interest in getting involved in helping to solve the conflict. If the Saudis keep saying that they want to be a leader in the region, they should be encouraged to take a unilateral step forward, and give the Palestinians what they actually need to start building a state.
Saudi Arabia does give significant financial aid to the Palestinian people, but I think they should make a public effort to help them use that money to bolster the effectiveness and the standing of the PA government. I have written elsewhere that it does not seem like a good sign that Mahmoud Abbas had to go to the Arab League for permission to restart talks with Israel and others have noted this as a sign of weakness as well. But perhaps it represents an opportunity for the broader Arab world to throw its support unequivocally behind the PA, helping to delegitimize Hamas as a political entity.
Once the citizens of Gaza see the PA as the legitimate government of the Palestinian people, political support for Hamas will wane, and once Hamas has been weakened politically, the PA could then work to extend their political control of Gaza. The other piece of this difficult puzzle is the security aspect, and here it seems that there are very few options that are not likely to bring about some degree of bloodshed. Hamas forced the PA leadership out of Gaza with bullets and grenades, and sadly, the PA security forces may have to do the same in turn to dislodge Hamas from the territory.
If there is to be peace at the end of this process, however it is ultimately attained, one thing seems clear to me: Unless and until the Palestinian people choose to reject the rule of Hamas, any peace that is found will be partial, and temporary at best.
-Daniel E. Levenson
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
The New Vilna Review