Friday, June 15, 2007

Civil War in Gaza

Oh where to even start. I have been trying all day to write something about the pressure-cooker in Palestine that has blown apart in the last few days.

Five years ago this month, the President of the United States made a Rose Garden speech, wherein he laid out a bold, vivid two-state vision for the Middle East. Israel and Palestine, coexisting side by side, their peoples living in peace and prospering together. "I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror." he declared back then.

That vision was a mirage.

I certainly do not have the answers to this dilemma but I do know one thing beyond all doubt – a lot of it can be directly traced to the horrid policies of the Bush (mal)administration and the State Department that wasn’t.

United States policy overtly encouraged Israel to withdraw from the Gaza strip – not in and of itself a bad thing. But they also pressed for elections in both the Palestenian territory and Israel. Abbas won the election to replace Arafat as the President of the Palestinian Authority after Arafat’s passing in late 2004. He arrogantly allowed Hamas to run candidates to stand for legitimate election to parliament, thinking that he could defeat them at the polls.

He thought wrong.

So the Bush administration – on the heels of moving the goalposts in Iraq from WMD’s to fostering Democracy – decided that they didn’t much care for Democracy the way the Palestinians exercised it, because gosh-darnit, they picked the wrong leaders. Money and aid was cut off – a situation choreographed by Washington D.C. – in an attempt to strangle Hamas out of the political process.

This blew up in their faces most spectacularly. The attempt to make Hamas unpopular enough that the Palestinians would blame them and their support would erode, instead engendered hatred and pure, unadulterated resolve toward the west, and by extension, to the man they perceived as a marionette of western masters, Abbas. This week, the seething cauldron boiled over. Hamas and Fatah turned their guns on one another, and as it stands now, Hamas is in control in Gaza.

"The two-state vision is dead. It really is," said Edward G. Abington Jr., a former State Department official who was once an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, whose bouts of vacillation have irritated U.S. officials, yesterday dissolved the Palestinian government in response to Hamas's takeover of Gaza. U.S. officials signaled that they will move quickly to persuade an international peace monitoring group -- known as the Quartet -- to lift aid restrictions on the Palestinian government, allowing direct aid to flow to the West Bank-based emergency government that Abbas will lead.

"There is no more Hamas-led government. It is gone," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the administration must still consult with other members of the Quartet. He said that humanitarian aid will continue to Gaza, but that the dissolution of the Palestinian government is a singular moment that will allow the United States and its allies to create a "new model of engagement."

The evolving U.S. strategy would let the Hamas-run Gaza Strip fend for itself while attempting to bolster Abbas as a moderate leader who can actually govern and deliver peace with Israel. The senior administration official noted that Gaza has no territorial issues with Israel, since there are no Israelis in Gaza, so the Hamas entity there would have no stake in potential peace talks concerning the border on the West Bank.

Referring to Abbas, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters yesterday that "we fully support him in his decision to try and end this crisis for the Palestinian people and to give them an opportunity to return to peace and a better future."

But analysts said yesterday that this strategy of dividing the moderates from the extremists -- which was the core of Bush's 2002 speech -- proved ineffective and may have led to the dilemma facing the administration.

So now, the government has been dissolved, and the Gaza Strip is under Hamas control. Fatah has retreated to the West Bank, and the Bush administration is still supporting Abbas. And a radical Islamic state, committed to the destruction of the jewish state, exists literally on Israel’s doorstep.

No one has asked me, but if they did, I would say that it looks to my eyes like we should probably bow out. Every damned thing we have done has turned around and bit us on the ass. Beyond encouraging the “Quartet” to get aid and assistance flowing, and maybe send a check.

Although I am perhaps the least religious person you will ever encounter, I leave you with a prayer for peace. Oseh Shalom, Gaza.

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