The Gaza 'siege'

The truth is that Gaza's misfortunes are largely self-inflicted.

Hamas gunmen CHECK CAPTION 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas gunmen CHECK CAPTION 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Here's what anyone who follows events in the Gaza Strip - cursorily - might reasonably conclude: An Israeli "siege" periodically leaves 1.5 million people hungry and in darkness. Innocents are "collectively punished" while the IDF capriciously "raids" Gaza killing Palestinians. Yesterday, the UN agency which for the past 60 years has been charged with providing Palestinian Arabs with direct relief (though forbidden to permanently resettle them) warned that its Gaza operations could run out of wheat, meat, powdered milk and cooking oil by the weekend. THE TRUTH is that Gaza's misfortunes are largely self-inflicted. Hamas has made battling Israel its highest priority regardless of the damage this causes Palestinian society - its founding charter calls for the obliteration of the Jewish state. Paradoxically, Hamas remains immensely popular. In fact, some Israeli policymakers argue that it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population is Hamas. But Hamas cares about how the West perceives it. Its spokesmen have resurrected an offer of a 10-year truce. The cost? Total Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines, release of all Palestinian prisoners, creation of a militarized Palestinian state, and flooding Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees. Israel disengaged from Gaza in the summer of 2005 and the Palestinian Authority could have theoretically begun turning the area into a Singapore on the Mediterranean, making it a prototype of what a Palestinian state could look like. Instead, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas squandered the opportunity. When Hamas ousted Abbas, taking control of Gaza in June 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak pursued a strategy aimed at turning Gaza's population against Hamas, isolating the Islamists within the international community and preventing them from overthrowing Abbas in the West Bank. Only the latter goal has been unequivocally achieved and only because the IDF remains stationed in Judea and Samaria. With Hamas in control of Gaza, Israel imposed a limited embargo on the hostile territory. Nevertheless, on any given day dozens of trucks carrying food, fuel and medicine are allowed in. The shekel continues to be Gaza's currency. The US and EU spend millions of dollars trying to help ordinary Palestinians, and Abbas continues to pay the salaries of most government workers. ISRAEL AND Hamas accepted an Egyptian brokered six-month truce in June giving respite to the people of Sderot. But lately, Hamas has been setting the stage for the next round. On November 4, the IDF destroyed a tunnel that Israeli intelligence believed was going to be used - at any moment - to infiltrate into Israel for the purpose of kidnaping soldiers. Since then Hamas has fired 60 Kassams and 20 mortars at southern Israel. Wednesday's fighting is a continuation of Hamas aggression near the border. With Hamas shooting, Israel temporarily closed the crossing points used to deliver humanitarian goods and fuel. Hamas then cynically ordered Gaza's only power plant closed, plunging Gaza City into darkness, and brought thousands of children into the streets for a candlelight protest. The plant, in fact, provides just a quarter of the Strip's electricity. Israel provides 70% via 10 high-power lines, Egypt supplies the rest - none of it interrupted. PLAINLY, Israel's Gaza strategy isn't working. Olmert himself thinks "a collision with Hamas is inevitable." Hamas has used the truce to further enhance its sophisticated subterranean supply lines. Advanced weaponry is brought in; so too, is everything from tobacco and sheep to car parts - all taxed by Hamas's "tunnels administration." So much diesel fuel has been flowing through pipelines under the Philadelphi Corridor that a glut on the market has reportedly been created. Only cement and iron can't easily be smuggled. What now? Israeli defense officials do not want the cease-fire to fall apart. At the same time, Jerusalem is not willing to allow a creeping escalation of Hamas violence. If the Islamists end the cease-fire, the cost must be a relentless pursuit of their leaders so as to diminish the capacity of Hamas to govern. Over the long haul, Israel simply can't tolerate an Islamist regime anywhere between the Mediterranean and the Jordan that is dedicated to its destruction. Those concerned about the well-being of the people of Gaza should put the pressure where it belongs - and tell Hamas to stop the violence.