The Gaza flotilla tragedy highlighted the Israeli economic blockade against the 1.5 million people of Gaza, and the swift international condemnation of the incident has led to some mildly positive results. Both Egypt and Israel have eased the blockade somewhat, the President has offered an aid package to the Palestinians (just don’t expect it to all go to Gaza), and the entire affair has forced a reassessment of the legitimacy and even the effectiveness of the blockade.
In its three years in power, Hamas has taken control of not only security, education and the justice system but also the economy, by regulating and taxing an extensive smuggling tunnel system from Egypt. In the process, the traditional and largely pro-Western business community has been sidelined.
This may be about to change.
“We need to build a legitimate private sector in Gaza as a strong counterweight to extremism,” Tony Blair, who serves as the international community’s liaison to the Palestinians, said in an interview. The views of Mr. Blair, a former prime minister of Britain, reflected those of the Obama administration as well. “To end up with a Gaza that is dependent on tunnels and foreign aid is not a good idea,” he said.
Businesspeople in Gaza say that by closing down legitimate commerce, Israel has helped Hamas tighten its domination. And by allowing in food for shops but not goods needed for industry, Israel is helping keep Gaza a welfare society, the sort of place where extremism can flourish.
It does not serve the interests of Israeli security to sustain a situation which continues to give Hamas a strong hand, cuts off entrepreneurship, and makes nobody safer. Some Israeli officials claim to be working on a change in policy, and the US has not yet asked for an end to the blockade, but that’s clearly the direction in which we’re moving.
While most of Israel’s defenders would counter that the blockade merely protects southern Israel from Hamas rockets, sometimes they slip up and explain the true goal. This was the case when Chuck Schumer told the Orthodox Union that economic apartheid was desirable and sensible:
SCHUMER: The Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution. More do than before, but a majority still do not. Their fundamental view is, the Europeans treated the Jews badly and gave them our land — this is Palestinian thinking [...] They don’t believe in the Torah, in David [...] You have to force them to say Israel is here to stay. The boycott of Gaza to me has another purpose — obviously the first purpose is to prevent Hamas from getting weapons by which they will use to hurt Israel — but the second is actually to show the Palestinians that when there’s some moderation and cooperation, they can have an economic advancement. When there’s total war against Israel, which Hamas wages, they’re going to get nowhere. And to me, since the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas, while certainly there should be humanitarian aid and people not starving to death, to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go makes sense.
In a way, I appreciate Schumer’s statement, because at least he’s not hiding behind a security argument and giving the true goal, to “strangle them economically.” But “them” in this case doesn’t represent Hamas, but the 1.5 million residents of Gaza being starved through collective punishment. The fact of an election four years ago is sufficient enough for Schumer to advocate for this punishment, even though it serves none of his long-term goals for the region.
You can call this craven or disgusting if you want, but I’ll go with stupid. Schumer would rather look tough than smart when it comes to Gaza.