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(photo credit: AP)
The developing international campaign to reconstruct Gaza is strategic folly. It is also unlikely to be effective. And, under current circumstances, it is also immoral.
Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, most of the international community has argued that the best way to prop up the more moderate Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was to ensure economic support for his fiefdom in the West Bank. This, it was said, would make it clear to every Palestinian that Hamas is the "bad guy" unable to bring prosperity. This path would convince Palestinians that it is unwise to support the radical Islamist organization. Under this rationale, the PA has continued to draw unprecedented economic support from the world.
The recent military offensive against Hamas inflicted heavy damage on Gaza. Aside from punishing Hamas for its rocket attacks, the beating was meant to demonstrate to reasonable Palestinians that Hamas attacks would only bring them havoc and suffering. Theoretically, the results of Operation Cast Lead would seem to complement the international community's efforts to make the lives of the Palestinians under Abbas better then those of the Gazans.
Yet, this rationale seems to evaporate in a mush of sentimentalist manipulation. Instead of using the tough pictures coming out of Gaza to tell Gazans: "We told you all along that Hamas leadership would only make things worse" (just as it has in other places where radical Islamists gain power), Western leaders seem to have foolishly decided that Gaza should speedily be rebuilt. This, of course, sends the wrong signal. It tells Palestinians that their leadership can make grave, deadly mistakes, and nevertheless gullible Westerners will bail them out. It also signals to Hamas that it can continue shooting; for if Israel repeats its military action, merciful Westerners again will repair the damage.
There is no way to reconstruct Gaza without strengthening Hamas. The PA has no standing in the Strip anymore. Aid through the UN is less objectionable, but Hamas will benefit from this too. Which leads us back to square one, because Hamastan must not be rebuilt by the world. The reconstruction of Hamastan in Gaza - an Iranian base that threatens Israel and many moderate Arab regimes - makes no strategic sense.
America helped reconstruct Western Europe and Japan after World War II to make sure they would be ruled by friendly democratic regimes. Hamas is authoritarian and anti-Western. It is simply daft to facilitate the continuation of Hamas rule.
DOES THE enlightened international community really believe that Abbas is interested in the reconstruction of Gaza and consolidation of the Hamas regime? Is this what the Egyptians and the Saudis are after? Is it not clear that they also prefer the fall of Hamas and will be ready to cooperate against Iranian attempts to channel support to Gaza? Looking at Palestinian economic performance, it is also clear that reconstruction of Gaza is unlikely to be successful. Since the Oslo process started in 1993, the Palestinians received many billions of euros and dollars, scoring the highest per capita aid in the world. Much of it was squandered by corruption and ineptitude. Very little aid filtered down to the people. Like many Third World countries, the Palestinians lack the legal and institutional infrastructure needed for effective dispersal of economic aid. Gaza is behind the West Bank in its development, making it an even less suitable candidate for effective international aid. Nevertheless, the standard of living of the Gazans is still higher than the Egyptians.
From what we know of the fortunes of the humanitarian aid transferred to the Gazans in recent year, it is clear that a large proportion of the benefits of the external aid will be siphoned off to the Hamas leadership, followed by Hamas activists, and only what is left will go to the destitute. Those with arms always get the first and best cut from international aid sent to the suffering.
FINALLY, THE morality of pouring money so that Gazans can live better is questionable. Many, many Gazans are defined by UNRWA as refugees. They have lived at the expense of the international community for more than six decades, on the dole and economically dependent, with no resettlement or real rehabilitation attempted. This is morally wrong. People - even Palestinians! - should be encouraged to take responsibility and get on with their lives. The 1948 war is long over, and these people are not "returning." Additional aid to Gaza only increases their addiction to foreign aid and to their false dreams of destroying Israel.
Hamas was popular among the Gazans and continues to be so. Why should the international community and Israel help people that support an organization intent on destroying the Jewish state? Indeed, all polls show staggering support among Gazans for violence against Israelis.
The international community must think strategically with regard to Gaza, and not be drawn into sentimental escapades of rebuilding and humanitarian assistance that undercut our paramount strategic goals. It is time for tough love for Gaza.
The writer is director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.