UPI International Editor Claude Salhani contends that Hamas’ taking control of Gaza by force is even more catastrophic than most observers realize.
The violent confrontation between warring Palestinian factions unfolding in Gaza is far more than a civil war. It’s a coup d’etat accompanied by a civil war. And it’s also the most serious, most nefarious chapter in the short history of the Palestinian Authority.
The heavy fighting pitting forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, against members of the Islamist Hamas movement, have not only revived fears of an intra-Palestinian civil war, but they have shattered the dream of the Palestinians gaining independence and ruling themselves as a sovereign nation at any time in the foreseeable future.
That strikes me as dead-on. I take some exception, however, to his assessment of the causes:
The defeat of Abu Mazen’s Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip represents much more than a defeat for the mainstream Palestinian political/military movement. The mega-fiasco in Gaza is also a defeat of U.S. foreign policy in the region; it is the culmination of a policy of inaction on the part of the Bush administration. It represents a failure of Israel’s policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian territories. After nearly 40 years of occupation Israel finds itself facing a far more hostile environment in Gaza than when they entered the territory in 1967. And possibly far more consequential in the Arab world, the resumption of fighting amongst Palestinians represents a defeat — and loss of prestige — for Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah who tried to broker a cease-fire among the warring factions.
It’s entirely unclear that a different policy on part of the U.S. would have mattered. Israeli policy has gone from one extreme to another and back again, from the diplomacy of Ehud Barak to the bellicosity of Ariel Sharon to the unilateral concessions of Sharon to the bellicosity of Ehud Olmert. Perhaps neither approach was tried hard enough and, goodness knows, Sharon incited much bitterness.
Regardless of the Israeli position, however, the Palestinian situation remained essentially static. Once Fatah, whether under the late Yasir Arafat or his successor Abbas, decided that outwardly supporting terrorism and the destruction of Israel was no longer productive, more militant factions, especially Hamas, became stronger. The Fatah government was unable and/or unwilling to control terrorist violence against Iraeli positions and the Israeli governments alternately overreacted and tried to buy peace through appeasement. Either way, the terrorists won.
If George W. Bush’s foreign policy toward the peace process were a combination Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter (and some of us have argued that, in Iraq at least, it actually is) it’s hard to see that it would have changed any of that. It’s a conceit of American international relations to think that the only thing that matters is how much our president cares.