Home » Blog » Any Attempt to Run Gaza Like the West Bank Will Fail – and Hamas Will Benefit
Crime Featured General News Global News Israel Middle East News Terrorism

Any Attempt to Run Gaza Like the West Bank Will Fail – and Hamas Will Benefit

Two months into the military campaign against Hamas, and there is still little clarity about Israel’s endgame or the future for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank living under occupation. The status quo was irrevocably broken on 7 October. But Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years, is likely to survive in some form despite Israel’s stated aim to wipe it off the map. Its survival as a political entity will have far-reaching implications for all in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

It is unclear to what extent Israel’s intensive bombardment of the Gaza Strip and its ground operations in the north have undermined Hamas’s operational ability. Though the militants have suffered some losses, Hamas still has considerable capacities ensconced in its bunkers and tunnels underneath Gaza from which to attack Israeli ground forces or launch rockets. As Israel resumes operations in the south, the extent of the damage it has been able to inflict on the tunnel system in the north remains unclear. But even if Israel succeeds in eliminating Hamas’s military wing and tunnel infrastructure, Hamas as a resistance movement will probably endure in Gaza and elsewhere for as long as Israel’s occupation continues.

Hamas has refused to renounce the right to armed resistance, not least because when Fatah and the PLO did this in the 1990s at the beginning of the Oslo process that put them in control of the Palestinian Authority, they got promises of a state but few real concessions in return. They got limited autonomous control of isolated pockets of land in the occupied territories under near-complete Israeli security and economic control. Many Palestinians now see them as a subcontractor for the occupation: corrupt, inefficient and bereft of any legitimacy.

When Hamas broke through the Gazan border wall and killed 1,200 people, a majority of whom were civilians, the Israeli policy of containing and isolating Gaza’s population in what many describe as “the world’s largest open-air prison” became untenable. The government has since promised it will usher in a new security regime.

One model it might seek to emulate is in the West Bank. Palestinian resistance in the territory, armed and otherwise, has remained small-scale and unorganised as a result of the geographic and political fragmentation cultivated by the Israelis. The strategy has been to create a checkerboard of small, isolated Palestinian enclaves, coupled with intense pressure from Israeli security forces on any form of political expression. Palestinians there have been unable to halt the massive expansion of settlements or the dramatic escalation in violence and harassment by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has only limited autonomy in the geographically isolated pockets that Israel has allowed it to administer, subject to overall Israeli security control.

The current war is an existential threat to Fatah, which leads the PA and controls the patchwork of Palestinian territories in the West Bank. Fatah has now begrudgingly acknowledged that Hamas can’t be ignored, and as recently as last month gave at least rhetorical support to reconciliation. Long kept afloat by European funding, the PA has become a “burden” to most West Bank Palestinians, according to one opinion poll, and has lost its legitimacy among Palestinians as a result of what they see as its cooperation with the occupation. The PA has also been disadvantaged by Israel undermining the PA’s economy and tax base by withholding tax revenues that Israel collects on the PA’s behalf, and imposing high tariffs and limiting imports and exports. These punitive measures have been compounded by Fatah’s ineffective and corrupt leadership and ultimately led to it splintering, with factions fighting over the spoils. The PA now seems to want to wait out the Gaza war, hoping it survives whatever is to come.

Any attempt to impose a system of control similar to that in the West Bank on the remnants of Gaza will be all but impossible. Israel has stated it is going to retain overall security control of the strip but has yet to clarify what sort of administration it intends for the territory. In all likelihood, Gaza will be almost ungovernable. Any political body that reconciles itself to ultimate Israeli control would be seen as the handmaiden of continued occupation. Hamas and other militant groups, even if no longer present as armed actors, would probably resist such an authority fiercely, with the backing of most of Gaza’s population. Furthermore, Arab states and the PA would be loath to participate in any arrangement in which they appear to be implementing Israel’s occupation.

This leaves no good options. The outcome of the Gaza war will probably be determined by a combination of Israel’s overwhelming firepower and to what extent the US is willing to indulge its ally. Right now the most plausible outcome is that the next administration of Gaza comes about by default rather than design. In the wake of the war, one can imagine the territory being overseen by a collection of international aid agencies operating under the shadow of Israeli aircraft and drones, with Palestinians squatting in the ruins of Gaza or isolated in what might amount to prison camps in the Sinai desert.

Hamas will adapt to the new situation as an underground resistance group in the occupied territories with its political wing in exile. Meanwhile, the PA will limp on in the West Bank, becoming ever more ineffective and irrelevant until western states no longer see a need for it. It is perhaps one leadership crisis away from becoming a disaggregated collection of localised institutions providing only basic services. Israel’s western allies, which have enabled Israel’s occupation through their support for the PA and the Oslo process, while permitting Israel to exponentially expand its settlements, may be left to pick up the bill for the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, together with the Gulf monarchies. And the Palestinians will, as they always have, continue to bear the costs of a seemingly endless and brutal occupation.

Source: The Guardian