N.Y. Times Gaza correspondent, Taghreed El-Khodary, has a special report at the Middle East Progress site with a moving, first-person account of life in Gaza. It makes for depressing reading. What? You expected something different? Anyway, it’s important for us to know what is happening there and keep in touch with what real people are suffering. That’s why I recommend it:
Daily life has not yet resumed. People are overwhelmed with loss and uncertainty, buying basic commodities and remaining indoors, afraid of what may be coming next, afraid that Israel will cut off electricity, water, medical supplies, food supplies, and petrol.
All people can predict is more fear from Hamas, which is unable to clarify its political vision for the future.
Very few government employees are going to work. Yesterday, a group of Finance Ministry employees, who last week worked for then Unity Government Finance Minister, now Abbas-appointed Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, went to their jobs at the Ministry at 8 but left at 10. They said “we are lost … we don’t understand which government’s orders we should abide by. The one in the West Bank or the one in Gaza.”
…Palestinians in Gaza are still in a state of shock. They are expecting the darkest days in their lives yet to come. They keep talking about their beloved children…
The moderates, the independents, and the silent majority are afraid to walk around. For the first time in their lives there is a feeling that they do not belong; a feeling that Fateh, Hamas, Israel and the U.S. all share responsibility for what is happening to them.
…In Gaza, Hamas will have to confront many challenges, including legitimacy, internal security, and food supplies. Should Israel seal Gaza, how will they provide people with essential supplies such as electricity and water, which are under Israeli control?
In the West Bank, the situation is also uncertain. Employees are relieved that they will get their full salary on time since the international embargo is to be lifted. But what comes next, what will happen with Hamas there, and what will become of the dream of all for a Palestinian state, this is more unknown than ever.
This is definitely the worst time Palestinians have faced. What makes it so painful, is that they are responsible for it.
The Washington Post carries a column by Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller, West Bank First, It Won’t Work, warning that the West Bank First policy must fail because it is based on mistaken U.S. policy premises. It too is recommended reading:
Having embraced one illusion — that it could help isolate and defeat Hamas — the Bush administration is dangerously close to embracing another: Gaza is dead, long live the West Bank. This approach appears compelling. Flood the West Bank with money, boost Fatah security forces and create a meaningful negotiating process. The Palestinian people, drawn to a recovering West Bank and repelled by the nightmare of an impoverished Gaza, will rally around the more pragmatic of the Palestinians.
…The…fundamental problem with this theory is its lack of grounding. It is premised on the notion that Fatah controls the West Bank….Unlike in Gaza, Israel’s West Bank presence is overwhelming and, unlike Hamas, Fatah has ceased to exist as an ideologically or organizationally coherent movement. Behind the brand name lie a multitude of offshoots, fiefdoms and personal interests. Most attacks against Israel since the elections were launched by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the unruly Fatah-affiliated militias, notwithstanding Abbas’s repeated calls for them to stop. Given this, why would Israel agree to measurably loosen security restrictions?
…Since Hamas’s election in early 2006, the United States and its allies have behaved as though isolating the Islamist movement could undo its victory and that supporting Fatah politically and militarily would hasten that outcome. The wreckage of that policy is clear. Yet, having witnessed the consequences of those myths, they are hastening to adopt others. Efforts to deepen the split between Hamas and Fatah or between Gaza and the West Bank will compound the disaster, for there can be no security, let alone a peace process, without minimal Palestinian unity and consensus.
…Dividing Palestine geographically is no more a recipe for success than dividing Palestinians politically.
…Sooner or later [Abbas] will be forced to pursue new power-sharing arrangements between Hamas and Fatah and restore unity among Palestinians. As the United States and others seek to empower him, they should push for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire in Gaza and the West Bank, which will require dealing — indirectly at least — with elements of Hamas. They should resist the temptation to isolate Gaza and should tend to its population’s needs. And should a national unity government be established, this time they should welcome the outcome and take steps to shore it up. Only then will efforts to broker credible political negotiations between Abbas and his Israeli counterpart on a two-state solution have a chance to succeed.
The diplomatic equivalent of the medical precept is do no harm. Since Hamas’s electoral victory, U.S. policy has helped strengthen radical forces, debilitate Palestinian institutions, undermine faith in democracy, weaken Abbas and set back the peace process. Why ask for more of the same?
Hat tips to Sol Salbe.