Hamas and economics

Just before the first intifada, Israel started imposing heavy taxes and harassing businessmen in the territories.

hamas rally 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas rally 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
You had to be an "expert" to miss the signs pointing to a landslide Hamas victory. There were the recent municipal elections with a strong Hamas showing. There were the mass rallies and parades celebrating Israel's unilateral withdrawal that so many Palestinians perceived as a Hamas victory over Israel. It could be foreseen that almost two decades of rule by a despotic, corrupt and totally inept Palestinian Authority, that a lack of even a semblance of law and order and the ruin of a prospering Palestinian economy that created such misery for the Arab population, would generate immense frustration and anger. It was also clear that "the cycle of violence" which the Authority kept provoking, forcing Israel to take appropriately severe measures, but often also inappropriate, counterproductive steps (such as total closures, punishing the whole population rather than the terrorists) would fan even greater hatred, and that this hatred would be easily exploited by the Authority and redirected against Israel, which first helped impose this Authority on the Palestinians and then kept propping it up. This cumulative anger made Palestinians eager to depose their despised Authority but also to stick it to the Jews by voting for a heroic Hamas movement which the great Israeli army could not really vanquish. THIS WAS not an inevitable development. To a large extent it was caused by malicious and stupid leadership, mostly Arab, but also ours. Our leaders improbably believed that they could use a terrorist organization to secure peace now, and that their political manipulations could cover up the terrible costs their utopian quest imposed on Arabs and Jews alike. Until the first 1987 intifada, a successful, if non-political, and therefore unacknowledged, peace process was leading to a gradual reconciliation of Arabs and Jews. During the almost two decades before this intifada, Israel maintained a laissez-faire policy, with open bridges and minimal interference in Arab internal affairs. It also upheld a rule of law, facilitating trade and rapid economic development. Tens of thousands of Israelis ate and shopped in Arab towns and markets. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers, freed by Israeli-inspired agricultural developments from subsistence existence, found more lucrative employment in the developed Israeli economy. The results were dramatic. Palestinian GDP more than quadrupled. The level of health and education rose precipitously, especially for women and children. During this period there were remarkably few terrorist attacks, mostly by PLO hirelings. Not that the Arabs loved Israeli occupation, no one likes to be occupied. But they considered occupation a lesser evil, realizing the enormous benefits it brought them (this was even truer after Oslo when Palestinians learned first hand what PLO rule meant, so when it was rumored that Arab sections of Jerusalem were to be ceded to the Authority real-estate prices plummeted). WHAT CHANGED so radically between the aftermath of the Six Day War when most of Jerusalem's Arab residents, fervently Muslim and nationalist even then, chose overwhelmingly to accept Israeli residency, and their vote for Hamas last week? How did Oslo turn a gradual beneficial and peaceful development into an open war? As Ehud Ya'ari and Zeev Schiff demonstrated in their authoritative book about the first intifada, a major reason for its eruption was the sharp economic decline that happened just before it, which impoverished many Arabs so that the conquered areas became a tinderbox of misery waiting to explode. The economic decline was partly due to a crisis in the Gulf states, but it was mostly caused by Israeli stupidity and hardheadedness. Israel started then imposing heavy taxes and harassing businessmen with discriminatory regulation designed to protect Israeli monopolies. These and other economic hardships caused by Israel's failure to quell the intifada, and earlier severe social dislocations caused by contact between a permissive Israeli society and a tradition-bound repressed Arab society, plus the demographic bubble created by the UN in Gaza (when it subsidized pregnant and nursing mothers and doubled the birthrate) which created masses of unemployable youth ready for "action" as hired gunmen, all created the great pool of hatred for Israel. And this enmity has grown exponentially since Oslo, mostly because of the intense hate campaign launched by the PA. The PA hate campaign was far more prolonged - let us remember - more intense and vicious than was Goebbels's propaganda that made a civilized German nation support a regime of racist murderers. The PA exploited this growing anger skillfully until, ultimately, what was unleashed played into the hands of Hamas. Now that we have helped cause a Hamas victory by our failure to fight it effectively and by the stupid hardships we imposed instead on the total population, especially by increasing its economic misery, we can only pray that past Oslo conceits, that posited that a terrorist organization would be willing to grant Israel peace, will not be reinvented. Chances are, however, that they will. Our politicians will choose procrastination and "negotiations" rather than fight Hamas effectively (namely in one fell swoop and not in dribs and drabs) before it consolidates its power. Only Hamas's deadly determination to act on its convictions may wake us up to reality, a little late, as usual. It may be a reality drenched, unnecessarily, in lots of blood.