The solution to the long and ongoing war between Hamas and Israel is an obvious one, and it consists of two words: Gazan Spring.
Everyone knows the facts. Hamas, pledged to Israel’s destruction, is the de facto government in Gaza. In the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January 2006, it won 74 out of 132 seats. Even though the United States and the European Union refused to recognize Hamas’s right to govern any area of the Palestinian Authority, it took control of Gaza and began to fight with Fatah, its Palestinian rival. Over subsequent years, clashes and truces between the two groups became the recurrent reality. Many hundreds of Palestinians have been killed there by their fellow Palestinians.
Just before the recent spate of violence between Hamas and Israel, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas entered into an agreement with Hamas to form a unity government. That latest attempt to heal the rift between the Palestinian faction that aims to eradicate Israel and the one that professes to back a two-state solution was widely expected to eventually meet the fate of previous, similar Fatah-Hamas pacts, which fell apart as a result of the two groups’ inherently diametric stances.
Now, with Israel’s full-hearted campaign to undermine Hamas’s ability to target Israeli population centers — with some missiles having reached as far as Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim — there seems little hope that Hamas will emerge with anything but the defiant pride of a gravely wounded but still standing “freedom fighter” or, to use the more apt term here, “terrorist.”
The key lies in the phrase “still standing.” It was the Palestinian population that provided Hamas with the legitimacy it has as an elected entity. A population giveth, but it can also taketh away. The media claims that there are many Gazans, perhaps even a majority of them, who are disillusioned, and deeply, with Hamas.
That would be no wonder. Gaza’s infrastructure has been deteriorating for years; civil servants’ salaries haven’t been paid for months, and Hamas’s coffers (although, tragically, not its arsenals) are empty. The blockade of its ports and borders has prevented the building of new homes (with the tons of concrete smuggled into Gaza employed exclusively to reinforce the tunnels used to attack Israelis). Social services have faltered, corruption of officials has increased, Egypt has withdrawn its support from the government and now, once again, Hamas’s lust to kill Jews has brought the population a rain of bombs and their resultant casualties (mostly, but, unfortunately and inevitably, not all of them terrorists).
Any sane Gazan should recognize the origin of his problems.
And if there are sane Gazans, they have presumably heard that despotic rulers and oppressive governments have, for better or worse, been toppled by populaces over recent years in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Were there a similar uprising in Gaza, a Gazan Spring, Mr. Abbas would be relieved of the temptation, to which he cravenly succumbed, to make any new deal with the devil that is Hamas, and might be emboldened to do more toward making peace with Israel than just mouth the bluster and platitudes that have been his stock-in-trade until now.
Whether Israel could come to trust a Palestinian leader of a unified populace is not easily predictable. But the removal of Hamas from governance and its relegation to a mere renegade terrorist group firmly rejected by the clear majority of Palestinians would certainly sweeten the pot for Israelis (who, through regular elections, choose governments to represent their collective will).
A Gazan Spring wouldn’t come without bloodshed. Societal upheavals, particularly in the Arab world, seldom do. But shouldn’t that world’s defiant slogan Ash-sha’b yurid isqat an-nizam (“the people want to bring down the regime”) be ringing out in Gaza City? Shouldn’t the vision of a bomber-less sky over their heads and open borders, not to mention an eventual Palestinian state living in cooperation and prosperity alongside Israel, motivate Gazans to stand up for their futures?
One has to wonder at the fact that it hasn’t, that after eight years of Hamas rule, with all the suffering they have brought, the Gazan street hasn’t seen fit to assert itself. Perhaps the populace just lacks the courage and determination that so many other Middle Eastern peoples seem to possess.
Or perhaps — though one hopes it isn’t the case — Gazans just share the visceral and ugly animosity that is the lifeblood of Hamas and similar groups.
After all, as Chazal teach us, just as love can bend the clear line of reason, so can hatred.