Creating new perspectives since 2009

Gaza on the regional decision-makers' negotiating table

January 24, 2014 at 6:47 am

In light of political developments in Egypt and the international and regional support the coup has received, it has become clear that the United States’ current policy is to support the status quo.

This imposes an economic and political isolation on the Gaza Strip which strips it of its legitimacy and Hamas of its authority.

Although Palestinian, Arab, international, and before that, Israeli circles, counted on the isolation of Gaza and support for the West Bank, economically and politically, pushing the Gazans to overthrow Hamas, the movement began to grow and became more powerful. Israel came to effectively abandon its goal of toppling the movement after the 2009 and 2012 wars, for fear of the chaos that would arise if Hamas was overthrown.

There have been growing convictions within these circles of the need to admit defeat in having failed to isolate Gaza, pushing them to adopt a new social, economic and political strategy to weaken Hamas’ grip on Gaza. Perhaps the most important measures they have taken have been to encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to re-establish connections with Gaza, to increase the amount of trade allowed from the territory and to re-open trade with the West Bank.

Indeed, some circles believe it is possible to steer Gaza’s economy away from the tunnel trade with Egypt, after it was closed some weeks ago, by allowing Gazans to open a trade corridor through Israel. The corridor would be subject to the same security as current imports and would allow the flow of goods between Gaza and the West Bank.

In addition to this there has been talk recently, of encouraging Israel to work with the PA to re-establish the suspended transit corridor, allowing Gazans to visit the West Bank and vice versa.

However, the Israeli government, the US and some of their Arab allies consider these measures an unjustified reward or the beginning of greater interaction with Hamas. Yet these measures could act as a solution to the Gaza dilemma that currently benefits Hamas, rather than giving them further legitimacy.

Israeli and American circles close to decision-makers have said that changing current policies may be risky, but the greater risk is to prolong the current situation which benefits Hamas. However, the new approach to weaken the movement could diminish their control over Gaza’s economic life.

These circles also added that while Hamas will try to take advantage of these changes in policies to control the West Bank, the reverse is much more likely. Previously, Hamas’ popularity has been strengthened when they have been harassed, targeted, and subjected to military attacks, all the while proving their ability to govern.

All Hamas opposition parties have recognised that the aim of these measures is to boost the “moderate” Palestinians, putting them in a better position to achieve peace. Doing so would mean there was no need to remove the conditions which currently prevent direct communication between the US and Hamas.

As for the movement itself, it does not want any efforts to be made to undermine its control of the Gaza Strip but, cannot openly object to the new economic relations. A team in contact with Hamas may be able to convince them otherwise, as its continued refusal to participate in such measures could lead to a loss of local support and increased isolation from its few regional allies.

The US and Israel are dealing with Gaza as an ostracised entity and support its isolation as an attempt to undermine Hamas’s authority. That will backfire, as isolating Gaza will only strengthen Hamas’ grip and will help prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and peace with Israel.

This means that re-linking Gaza to the West Bank politically and economically and re-establishing legitimate national institutions is necessary to reach a lasting Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic agreement. Recommendations made in recent weeks have stated that rather than continuing to stifle Hamas and imposing a blockade on Gaza, an end to the economic isolation of Gaza should be encouraged. In addition, regional communications groups should be formed in order to progress Palestinian reconciliation, without having to end the diplomatic isolation of Hamas, which has failed thus far; despite the efforts of Washington, Tel Aviv and a number of Arab capitals!

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.