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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2784

The Gaza breach

By Chandra Mohan - Syndicate Features

It may not have been exactly a repeat of the epochal fall of the Berlin Wall that symbolised the defeat of communism in Europe but the breakout at the Gaza border was a political event of some significance. That it may further recede the hope of an early settlement of the Palestinian problem looks hardly relevant when that question has defied solution for decades. But the holes along the 12-km Gaza border with Egypt have suddenly catapulted the outcast Hamas, the militant Palestinian outfit that broke free of the moderate Fatah to take control of Gaza in June 2007, as an important player in deciding the future of the Palestinian territories.

The border breach did not bring only a flood of people into Egypt but it also brought a dilemma before Cairo. Egypt cannot afford to act tough with Hamas by asking its security forces to stop the uninvited visitors from Gaza at the border. It can seal the border only if it wants to alienate the people of Gaza and be ready for escalating tensions. But the bigger problem for Egypt is the certain adverse reaction from its own people and, indeed, the people in the Arab world in general, who may not support the politics of Hamas but are sympathetic towards the people of Gaza who have been ‘chained’ by Israel.

For Egypt, a likely but undesirable fall-out from the Gaza events is the idea, so far only mutely voiced in Israel, that it alone should take over the difficult task of border security in Gaza. Israel will probably be quite happy to wash its hands off Gaza from where it had removed its settlements in 2005.

The January 23 breaches at Gaza border have changed the political map of the area. It has demolished the policy of isolating Hamas, a policy pursued by Israel with clear US backing and supported tacitly or otherwise by Egypt. It was a policy that was supposed to facilitate peace talks between Israel and Fatah, the party of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority that runs the affairs of West Bank in the truncated Palestinian territory. The policy of side-stepping the uncompromising Hamas had raised a false hope of successfully working out a settlement for an independent Palestinian state that would co-exist with Israel. Gaza has shattered the hope that a solution is possible by keeping Hamas out.

Ostensibly, Israel had applied the squeeze on Gaza with sanctions in retaliation for the constant barrage of rocket fires from Gaza into nearby Israeli civilian settlements. On January 17, Israel sealed its border with Gaza and three days later shut down Gaza’s only power plant that made the already difficult life there more difficult. It was becoming impossible to cope with the hardships that the Israeli blockade had brought upon the people of Gaza. Hamas was probably waiting for just such a moment. It sent its militias to bulldoze holes in the border fences at a number of places. The Egyptians guards could do nothing more than watch the bulldozers and subsequently a tide of people from Gaza storming into Egypt.

The people of Gaza flooded the Egyptian towns to buy essentials that they had missed and to meet relatives they had not been able to meet for long. It was reported that one family in Egypt hurriedly advanced the date of a wedding so that all the relatives in Gaza could attend it. The majority among the hordes of people who criss crossed the border were content to do some long overdue shopping for every day needs.

However, Israel and Egypt feared some of them were returning to Gaza with arms. Egyptian authorities had caught a group of 15 militants from Gaza who were carrying guns, detonators and grenades. Cairo cannot be very comfortable with an ‘open’ border with Gaza. The civilians of Gaza may be welcome in Egypt but not armed militants whose movement can only strengthen Egypt’s own radical elements. Egypt has stopped the movement of vehicles across the border at Gaza but is unable to stop the entry of pedestrians.

After the Hamas take over of Gaza in June 2007 the European Union and Israeli monitors were withdrawn from the Gaza border and with them went the closed circuit televisions placed along the border checkpoints. The Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, does not want Hamas to control the Gaza border, not after the defiant manner in which Hamas broke away from him to effectively leave him in charge of only the West Bank. According to a 2005 agreement, the Palestinian Authority was to retain control of the Gaza border with Israeli and EU monitors.

Mahmoud Abbas continues to maintain his position of no talks with Hamas unless, as he said at a press conference recently, it ends its ‘coup in Gaza, accepts all the international obligations, and accepts holding early elections.’ The Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar is equally firm: ‘We will not give up our legitimacy to anyone’. Now, after the collapse of the Gaza border Mahmoud Abbas may well come under pressure, though not from Israel and the US, to open some channels of communications with Hamas, which has challenged the ‘legitimacy’ of Fatah itself.

It is difficult to see how there can be any positive movement on the Palestinian question without the involvement of Hamas after it has physically shown its capacity to break out of any move to ‘isolate’ it. The calculation that the ‘isolation’ of Hamas would lead to an internal uprising by the people of Gaza has proved wrong. It is no longer possible to imagine that the peace process would run a smooth course minus Hamas.

The successful manoeuvre by Hamas at Gaza will embolden it to attack Mahmoud Abbas further. His moderate policies have obviously not got him much from Israel, as the ground realities in his part of the Palestinian territories have not changed much. Abbas will probably not become a hawk if only to neutralise the Hamas influence but he may have to mellow a little to start talking to Hamas. That kind of initiative by him would in all probability encourage Israel to follow suit and pave the way for a comprehensive dialogue on the future of Palestine.

No quick success will be anticipated but some positive signs can open the way for a more realistic hope on the future of one of the most troubled regions in the world; a 60-year old festering wound that often raises the nightmarish spectacle of world wide turmoil.

- Syndicate Features -

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