Friday, November 9, 2018

The Time Has Come for Israel to Make a Decision on Gaza - by Jonathan Ariel

For over a decade, Israel has avoided deciding whether its interests are better served by maintaining the current “two Palestinian states” status quo, or by seeing Gaza rejoin the Palestinian Authority. The result is an untenable, chronic-crisis situation that empowers Mahmoud Abbas and is a lose-lose for Israel.

Jonathan Ariel..
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,001..
09 November '18..

In January 2006, the residents of the Palestinian Authority (PA) went to the polls on the insistence of the Bush administration, which wanted elections to be held there as part of its policy to democratize the Middle East. The Americans’ thinking was that the Palestinians, who had, by Arab standards, a relatively large and well-educated middle class, were good candidates for democratization. The hope was that if the Palestinians, who were traditional lightweights in the Arab world, could successfully democratize their society, it would be a catalyst for similarly successful democratization of the Arab world’s heavyweights, such as Iraq, Egypt, and Syria.

Both Israel and several Arab states, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, recommended postponing the elections on the grounds that there was a real danger that Hamas would win. They made it clear to the US administration that Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, promoted a radical jihadist agenda. The Americans insisted the elections go ahead, and since neither Israel nor the Arab states wanted to oppose the US, they acquiesced in what they viewed as a bad decision.

The elections took place. Sure enough, Hamas won, giving the Muslim Brotherhood its first electoral victory in an Arab state (the AKP, which regards itself as the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, has been in power in Turkey since 2003). This event sowed winds of change that would eventually develop into the “Arab Spring,” an erroneous moniker if ever there was one.

Fatah, which had ruled the PA since its inception in May 1994, and before that had dominated Palestinian politics since the late 1960s, refused to peacefully hand over power. A year after the election, Hamas’s militia (Izz ad-Din Qassam) took over Gaza by force, killing or expelling all PA forces. Since then Gaza has been a de facto separate political entity.

Israel has never decided whether its interests would be better served by perpetuating and formalizing the two-Palestinian-state status quo, or by seeing Gaza revert to the status quo ante. For over a decade, Jerusalem has limited itself to tactical responses. When Hamas aggression reaches unacceptable levels, the IDF mounts limited military incursions aimed at containing Hamas, and assiduously avoids formulating a coherent strategy.

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