August 11, 2014


7-year-old border blockade, imposed to isolate Hamas, has hurt Gaza's 1.8 million people (KARIN LAUB, 8/11/14, Associated Press

Mohammed al-Telbani lost his life's work when Israeli shells repeatedly slammed into his four-story snack and cookie factory during the Gaza war, finally sparking a fire that engulfed vats of margarine and sacks of cocoa powder.

As he contemplated starting over, sitting near the smoldering ruins of one of Gaza's largest factories, he looked to Cairo for answers. There, negotiators from Israel and Hamas launched another attempt Monday to negotiate an end to the 34-day-old war -- and, perhaps even more crucial for Gaza's 1.8 million people, reach a new border deal for the coastal territory.

Gazans haven't been able to trade or travel freely since Israel and Egypt imposed stringent border restrictions in response to the violent Hamas takeover of the territory in 2007. The closure also deepened Gaza's separation from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas on the opposite side of Israel that, along with Gaza, are envisioned as part of a future Palestinian state.

The blockade was meant to isolate the Islamic militant Hamas and perhaps loosen its grip on power. Seven years later, Hamas remains rooted in Gaza, albeit weakened by a financial crisis brought on by the closure as well as thousands of Israel airstrikes over the past month.

Gaza's civilians have borne the brunt of the blockade.

Unemployment -- already at 30 percent in 2007 -- has risen to 45 percent, according to official figures. Tens of thousands of jobs have been wiped out. The main U.N. aid agency in Gaza says it provides food aid to about 800,000 Gazans, ten times the number it helped in 2000, when Israeli travel bans linked to unrest intensified.

A ban on virtually all exports from Gaza, along with the destruction of scores of factories in three rounds of fighting, has reduced the number of manufacturing businesses from 2,400 to 400 over eight years, according to a local business association.

Israel trapped itself into negotiating with Hamas (Amir Oren, Aug. 11, 2014, Ha'aretz)

[I]srael's insistence on viewing the Palestinian unity government as a "terrorist entity," or at the very least "a Hamas government," has actually trapped it, and once again forced it into negotiating with Hamas and Islamic Jihad while pushing Abbas into the position of an observer who is not authorized to sign an accord, should one be reached.

The result is that the way the talks are conducted and their likely results - even if Hamas and its partners do not receive everything they want - will revive the standing of the Islamist group as the ruler in the Gaza Strip. It will also probably perpetuate the Strip's status as being a separate land from the West Bank.

This is the strategy Israel has taken for the eight years Hamas has ruled Gaza, underlying the claim in Jerusalem that Abbas does not represent both parts of Palestine. As a result, any agreement with him could not effectively dispel the threat to Israeli security.

The paradox here is that it is this strategy that provoked three rounds of fighting in Gaza and the dozens of incidents of hostilities that have broken out between Israel and the Palestinians in recent years. This is also what has lead to Israel's insistence in relating to the negotiations in Cairo as negotiations with Hamas - not with representatives of the unified Palestinian government.

As a result, when fundamental demands are made of Israel - such as opening of the border crossings, reinstating the overland connection between the West Bank and Gaza, rehabilitating the Strip or building a port - Israel relates to the demands as coming from Hamas, and not as appropriate Palestinian requests that are supported by many countries, including Egypt.

The result is that these demands are included in the profit-and-loss statement of Operation Protective Edge, whereby agreement to any one of them will be seen as a defeat for Israel and a victory for Hamas.

Posted by at August 11, 2014 5:15 PM

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