Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas regime ruling Gaza, has admitted to rejecting the humanitarian assistance delivered on the Rachel Corrie and six other ships diverted to the Israeli port of Ashdod for security clearance. “We are not seeking to fill our (bellies), we are looking to break the Israeli siege on Gaza,” he said.
Haniyeh’s admission is proof-positive there was little need for the supplies on board the ships that sought to land in Gaza. International media reports of full shelves in Gaza belie the prevailing myth that this small territory between Egypt and Israel is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis akin to Biafra or Darfur.
Not that life is comfortable for the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. But misery in the land called Gaza began shortly after the Arab world, in 1947, rejected the UN Partition Plan, the two-state solution of the time. Egypt seized the territory during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and its 19-year occupation of Gaza was not pleasant, nor were there any proposals to create a Palestinian state.
Israel immediately sought to negotiate, in exchange for permanent peace, the return of territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Egypt pointedly did not want Gaza when Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Similarly, Jordan abandoned any claims to the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, the territories it had occupied from 1948-67.
When Israel withdrew its civilians and military from Gaza, and transferred the territory to the Palestinian Authority in 2005, the Palestinians had a golden opportunity to create a foundation for an independent state. It was a chance to realize the vision of the 1993 Gaza – Jericho First agreement Israel had signed with the PLO, so quickly doomed as the Palestinians resorted to devastating suicide bombing campaigns in Israeli cities.
Tragically for the Palestinians, the aftermath of Israel’s total withdrawal from Gaza has not fared much better, as their own leaders again squandered the opportunity. After the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, the Quartet -- the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations -- asked Hamas to recognize Israel, accept all existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and renounce terrorism, so the group could join PA President Mahmoud Abbas in peace talks with Israel.
Hamas refused. Its defiance invited the international boycott of Gaza, cemented after Hamas violently seized control in a coup against the PA three years ago. The blockade has been international, not Israel’s alone, and it has been partial. Israel has consistently delivered tons of humanitarian needs, including food, clothing, and medicine.
It is not a siege. “Grocery stores are stocked wall-to-wall” along Gaza City’s main thoroughfare, and “pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States,” Janine Zacharia of The Washington Post reported days after the May 31 flotilla incident.
Supplementing the weekly truckloads of humanitarian basics entering Gaza from Israel, enterprising Palestinians have dug hundreds of tunnels under the border with Egypt to smuggle all kinds of household items, as well as arms. The Financial Times reported recently that the tunnels have been so successful that “the prices of many smuggled goods have fallen in recent months, thanks to a supply glut that is on striking display across the Strip.”
If Hamas, after participating in Palestinian elections, had transitioned from a terrorist organization to a bona fide political party, and fulfilled the conditions to join with the PA as a peace process partner, substantial European and American investments in the Gaza economy and infrastructure would have been forthcoming. Today, Gaza could be experiencing economic growth similar to the progress seen in the West Bank under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.
But, alas, Hamas is not interested in a two-state solution. This non-state actor, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., continues to call for the elimination of a U.N. member-state -- Israel.
Instant universal condemnation of Israel, with no criticism of Hamas, after the flotilla clash with Israel’s navy, has not helped those who truly seek peace. Rather, the world has further emboldened Hamas in its rejectionist stance. “May 31 was and will be a turning point,” Haniyeh declared. “It marks the beginning of the delegitimization of the Zionist project in our country.” The Hamas leader, for sure, was not speaking only of Gaza.
Totally missing amid escalating calls worldwide to end the blockade has been any word of Hamas’s responsibility for the current situation. Even President Obama, who has called the Gaza situation “unsustainable,” and European leaders, have resisted any efforts to make Hamas accountable. Until the international community accepts that Hamas is the primary obstacle to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, many nations will be complicit in undermining the efforts of both Israel and the PA in seeking a sustainable peace.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s Director of Communications.
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Kenneth Bandler is a public relations executive in New York.