Israeli Yossi Alpher today publishes a piece in the International Herald Tribune, under the headline “Stop Starving the Gazans.” Alpher claims that the economic sanctions imposed on Gaza after the Hamas power grab in mid-2007 (what he calls “the economic-warfare strategy”) have failed totally; indeed, they have “produced no political or strategic benefit.” “There is not a shred of evidence,” he adds, that economic punishment or incentives toward Palestinians have ever worked. The “blockade” should be abandoned unconditionally—which, by the way, is precisely the main demand of Hamas.
Not a shred of evidence? Here’s some evidence. Hamas sank in Palestinian public opinion in Gaza after it seized power. The most reliable Palestinian pollster got these answers from Gazans (in percentages):
So something was happening in Gaza: a steady erosion of support for Hamas and its leader, benefitting both Fatah and Abbas. What caused it? No doubt Hamas did much to offend Gazans, from its violent coup d’etat to its attempts at social Islamization. But many analysts have pointed primarily to the economic sanctions and the failure of Hamas strategy to get them lifted. “Hamas was losing popularity before this operation,” says Rashid Khalidi. “It was losing popularity because it had failed to open the crossings.” Hamas could read the trend, and it’s why it refused to renew the “lull” and renewed its rocket fire. “Hamas wanted to weaken the Israeli siege,” says Hisham Milhem, “because they have been hurt politically and economically because of the siege.”
So what would the Alpher plan of unconditionally ending the “siege” mean? Hamas would gain credit for lifting the blockade, and have something to show for the war, beyond its mere survival. The opposition to Hamas would be severely undercut, and the split between the West Bank and Gaza would be made permanent. The “peace process” industry, now gearing up again in Washington, would be reduced to the hopeless task of trying to “moderate” Hamas, probably through desultory “engagement.” While we waited for Hamas to have an epiphany, the maps of various final status options might as well be folded up and put in the archives for another twenty years. And Israel might as well fly a white flag over the crossings.
Economics will be crucial when the guns fall silent and the rockets stop falling. Here, too, Israel and the international community have to remain steadfast if they want an outcome that doesn’t just stop the violence today, but also provides hope for tomorrow. When the dust settles, the people of Gaza will be desperate for a return to some normalcy—one denied to them under the rule of jihadists who fanatically tell them they must suffer on the deluded promise that Israel will be destroyed, and that Gazans will one day “return” to repossess all that they lost 60 years ago. Normalcy can be restored only if the needs of Gazans are answered by the international community and the legitimate Palestinian Authority—without the Hamas middleman.
Hamas in Gaza was a bubble. Let’s not inflate it again.